Go Tell it On the Mountain

Go Tell it On the Mountain Summary and Analysis of the Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel's Prayer


During a period of weighty silence during the prayer meeting, Gabriel remembers the silence before he had his conversion experience. He had been walking home early in the morning after a night with a prostitute and feeling a burden he just wanted to be freed of. He remembered his mother and how she lay dying in bed, waiting only for him to be saved, praying and wrestling with God for his soul. Deeply conflicted, Gabriel wanted all the glories his mother talked of. He hated his sin even while running toward it. Crossing the grassy field in front of their home, Gabriel experiences conversion. He remembers flinging himself on a tree and crying like he'd never cried before. And just as he felt as though God had refused him, he heard the voice of his mother singing so that God would accept him. He was saved at twenty-one years old.

After his mother's ensuing death, he marries Deborah, who supports him faithfully in his ministry though her reputation is wholly sullied by the rape she experienced as a girl. She is severe and devout. After being invited to preach at the Twenty-Four Elders Revival meeting, he counts on her support to prepare and preach. Unasked, she fasts and prays with him and sits where he can see her during the sermon. Though he is the youngest and most inexperienced preacher, his sermon is well received. Afterward, all the elders eat together. Gabriel is ill at ease among the other elders who seemed so worldly and experienced to him and hold the power of God so carelessly. When they make jokes at Deborah's expense, Gabriel is horrified and speaks up for her, to the other preachers' patronizing remonstrance. He feels that they are ashamed by his purity. He then and there decides to marry her, to lift her up out of her circumstances, and to continue a holy and faithful line together.

He has two dreams. The first one is a wet dream where he dreams of danger and of women and prostitutes he'd slept with reaching for him and him trying to escape and stay away. He wakes and cleans himself, knowing that it was a warning about going back to his old ways. In the second dream, he is climbing an impossible mountain because he hears the voice of the Lord calling him to go higher. Just as he feels he can go no further, the clouds break and he enters a clearing where he sees the elect. God tells him that they belong to Him. When he wakes, Gabriel is grateful. He goes to Deborah and asks her to marry him, and she breaks down in tears.

The narrative returns to the church as Brother Elisha falls backward under the power of the Lord. Gabriel hears John join the singing and is afraid that the one who is not his son is lying there on the threshing floor, neither of his sons by blood ever having done so. He is tormented after the scene with Roy earlier that day, when his wounded son had cursed him, and he wonders if Roy is payment for his own sins. The first Royal had been conceived in sin and had died in sin, but Gabriel lays the blame for that on Esther, who had never repented of her sin. Though he is disappointed and angry with the second Roy, who had been conceived in the marriage bed, he thinks too that the blame for his son's recalcitrance must lay with Elizabeth, who must never have repented of her affair with Richard (that had resulted in the birth of John.) Though when he had married her it was with the intention of raising her and her son up, but she refuses to apologize for her son's existence and won't say she wouldn't do it again.

Gabriel remembers Esther and how she flirted with him upon their first meeting, incredulous that a "pretty man" like Gabriel could be a preacher. In spite of himself, Gabriel is dismayed and a little pleased to find himself responding to her flirting. When she comes to church, he preaches solely to her. She doesn't respond. At their second meeting, he tries to convict her again but they reach an impasse. The next time they meet, Gabriel is locking up a house, only to find Esther outside waiting for him, smelling of whiskey. He offers to walk her home once he's finished locking up. When he comes down, she's drinking from the master's supply of whiskey. She chides him for the intensity of his pursuit of her -- but he thinks he is pursuing her because the Lord has laid her on his heart (though he knows he is playing with fire.) He quickly gives in to an affair that lasts nine days before Gabriel ends it, to Esther's patronized amusement and loss of respect. Though happy the affair had ended, he realizes now the ease of falling again, and tries to waken Deborah to sexual passion, but is unsuccessful and finds his hatred for her growing quickly.

However, Esther had become pregnant. She tells Gabriel, who is horrified and ashamed, and suggests that Esther get married to one of the men she runs with. She tries to get him to leave with her, but when he refuses she is unsurprised and tells him that it took a "holy man" for her to truly become a whore who is ashamed of herself. He steals money that Deborah had been saving and gives it to Esther, who goes to Chicago.

Gabriel's shame follows him. Though he suspects Deborah knows, when she fails to ever bring it up he allows himself to think the danger has passed. However, he feels guilty and filthy and hypocritical as he preaches, especially after a letter from Esther lets him know how much she despises him and how she will teach their son not to be anything like his father. Though plagued with guilt, Gabriel finds his resolve not to abandon his faith and the calling God has given him strengthening, particularly as he observes sin in the world.

Esther dies. Her body is brought back for burial, and Gabriel watches as her son, whom she named Royal to spite Gabriel, grows up headlong, irreverent, and headed down the wrong path. When WWII hits, 16-year-old Royal wants to go to war, but ends up working in another town. Gabriel sees him one more time before Royal dies.

The narrative again reverts to the prayer meeting, with John trying to pray. John is deeply conflicted, realizing that if he accepts God's call on his life, he and Gabriel would become equals--but he does not want that. He doesn't want Gabriel's love, not after having experienced his abuse. Even if Gabriel were dead (which John wished for), he would still be his father.

The story then reverts to when Gabriel receives news of Royal the first's death through a letter his grandmother had sent Deborah. Deborah, watching him cry, asks if Royal had been his son. She reveals that she had always known, since the day Esther had first come into the church (before even he had first slept with her.) She tells him he was wrong to send her away and that regardless of what people said, she would have welcomed Royal as her own son.

Gabriel rises from his knees, as the prayer meeting is starting to wrap up. John, Elizabeth, and Florence are still on their knees, though John gets up and meets Gabriel with an evil glare that reminds him of the women in his life: his mother praying for him, Florence mocking him, Deborah praying for him, and others. Gabriel is horrified at the evil in his eyes and tells him to kneel again.


This section, more than any of the others, is steeped in allusions and references to Scripture, due mostly to the two sermons Gabriel preaches. A list of the major references follows:

"Yes, he wanted power--he wanted to know himself to be the Lord's anointed, His well-beloved, and worthy, nearly, of that snow-white dove which had been sent down from Heaven to testify that Jesus was the Son of God" (pg. 104). This is a reference to the baptism of Jesus by his follower John in Matthew 3.as no

"But: 'I remember," he was later to say, 'the day my dungeon shook and my chains fell off" (pg. 105). This is a reference to Acts 12, where King Herod imprisons the Apostle Peter. In prison, an angel visits him, and his chains fall off.

"'Yes,' she sighed. 'The Word sure to tell us that pride goes before destruction.' / 'And a haughty spirit before a fall'" (pg. 111). This is a reference to Proverbs 16:18.

Gabriel preaches a sermon on Isaiah 6:5 in pages 115-118. In addition to the text, which is written in full, he also cites Romans 6:23 (For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.), the fall as laid out in Genesis and Exodus, David's Psalm 18, Job's line "Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him" from Job 13, Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, John 1 (In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God--yes, and in Him was life, hallelujah! and this life was the light of men.), Abraham's sacrifice of his son stopped at the last minute in Genesis 22, Isaiah 6:5 (Mine eyes have seen the King," and Matthew 7:21-23 (Depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

"And, fired with this, a baser fire stirred in him also, rousing a slumbering fear, and he remembered (as the table, the ministers, the dinner, and the talk all burst in on him again) that Paul had written, 'It is better to marry than to burn'" (pg. 122). This is found in 1 Corinthians 7:9.

"And Gabriel turned and fell on his face, and the voice said again: 'So shall thy seed be.' Then he awoke. Morning was at the window, and he blessed God, lying on his bed, tears running down his face, for the vision he had seen" (pg. 126). Throughout this chapter, Gabriel strongly parallels the biblical patriarch Abraham. In a key section in Genesis 15 (known as the Abrahamic covenant), God tells Abraham (who is very old at this point) that his children will be as numerous as the stars. Abraham's wife Sarah is old and barren, so she gives him her handmaid to impregnate--hence the reference to the son of the bondwoman in 128.

In his second sermon on pages 133-136, Gabriel uses the text 2 Samuel 18. Apart from that, he also refers to the betrayal of Abel by his brother Cain in Genesis 4, of Job again, of Absalom (the son of David who tried to assume the throne and died through a freak accident. His hair got caught in a tree and hung him), and the prophecy surrounding his coming (Matthew 24)

Moving on, it's interesting to note that Gabriel takes on another antagonistic role here: him and Esther. The only people who unceasingly back Gabriel have been Deborah and Elizabeth, and yet his treatment of them is still so self-centered that the reader feels no sympathy. Up to this point, Gabriel has made enemies of everyone due to his views of his role as God's chosen prophet and spokesperson--even though his actions don't back that.

Note too the powerful nature imagery used in describing Gabriel's conversion. Nowhere else is it used so prominently, and it serves to invest Gabriel's conversion with the same tempestuousness and elemental passions that characterize the man.

Finally, also note the use of foreshadowing when Gabriel first really notices Esther. "The voice to which he listened in his mind, and the face he watched with so much love and care, belonged not to Deborah, but to Esther. Again he felt this strange chill in him, implying disaster and delight: and then he hoped that she would not come, that something would happen that would make it impossible for him ever to see her again" (pg. 132).