Work over the past few weeks has been quite draining. It’s a particularly busy time of year for us with our ministry and I have at times found myself feeling somewhat discouraged. In that context I have been thinking a little about valleys. If you know me well or read this blog regularly you will know that I am quite obsessed with mountains (see Escape to the Mountains). Earlier in the year Debbie encouraged me to think also about valleys. Mountains and valleys go hand in hand – if you have one then you will have the other. One of our favourite valleys is in the Sognefjorden area of Norway. Impressive mountains give way to the Fjords and are connected by huge valleys full of rivers and waterfalls. One of these is shown below, “Morkridsdalen” and is a place we regularly visit each year. In fact it is Debbie’s favourite hike which follows a cascade of waterfalls up the valley and then back again.
Both mountains and valleys are key characteristics of the landscape of Israel and so it is not surprising that both feature heavily in the Bible. There are many stories about mountains and they are often places where God meets with His people. I’ve also been seeing that are also a whole lot of valleys mentioned in the Bible and I want to focus on one of those today. Why? Because God is not only a God of the mountains but a God of the valleys…
“The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, ‘This is what the Lord says: “Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord’.” 1 Kings 20:28
Most of the Bible references to the Valley of Achor are in the book of Joshua. Achor is first mentioned as a place of judgement. Joshua 7 begins by telling us that Israel had been unfaithful to God because someone in their midst, “Achan” had helped himself to some of the devoted things. After Israel’s amazing victory against Jericho they had sent a smaller force to conquer the small city of Ai. Israel had lost this battle badly (Joshua 7:4-5) and when Joshua enquired of the LORD, He made it clear that the actions of Achan and his family were the reason for this calamity. The place of their death was to be known as the Valley of Achor. The footnote tells us that Achor means trouble!
Joshua said, ‘Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.’ Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since. Joshua 7:25-26
If this blog ended here it would be a pretty sobering read! However one of the Prophets, Hosea refers to the valley of Achor in a much more positive light.
‘Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me “my husband”; you will no longer call me “my master”. Hosea 2:14-16
These verses look forward to a time in the future when this place of Judgement would experience transformation. They speak of a renewed and restored Israel. God uses the imagery of marriage and says that he will lead Israel back to the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. God says that He will turn this valley of trouble into a door (or gateway) of hope. The New English Translation says God will “turn the “Valley of Trouble” into an “Opportunity for Hope” while the Message says “I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.” In essence God is saying that this place, which represented Israel’s sin and punishment, would once again flourish and experience God’s blessing. At the hands of a gracious and merciful God, here Judgement will be swallowed up in hope.
This hope was not however automatic as there was some response required. Israel had to close the door to Achan’s sin in order to open up this new door of hope. With Hosea God was showing him how He was going to transform trouble with blessing. God had commanded Hosea (Hosea 1) to marry a prostitute Gomer: it was a prophetic picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. The situation seemed hopeless both for Hosea and for Israel but God says that He is going to turn this situation around (Hosea 2). It is a beautiful passage of restoration. There was however a price to be paid. God commanded Hosea to go and show his love to his wife even though she was an adulteress (Hosea 3). He was to buy her back for silver and barley. The valley of Achor is a door to hope because Jesus Christ came to buy us back: to pay the penalty that we deserved. The challenge for us is whether we will move forward and take hold of this opportunity for hope. Let me encourage you today to accept the amazing offer of mercy, grace and forgiveness that Jesus offers to us with open hands.
The final reference to the Valley of Achor (and also where we will finish) is in Isaiah 65. Here this Prophet again looks forward to a bright future for his people Israel. Again the Valley of Achor is mentioned this time as a resting-place both for the herds and for His people who seek Him.
Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting-place for herds, for my people who seek me. Isaiah 65:10
My prayer today is that the Valley of Achor would also be a door of hope and a resting place for each of us as we seek God and seek to make Him known. God is the God of transformation and this valley is surely just that: a place of judgement that has become a door of hope. Whatever life brings our way we can be sure that God can turn it around. He may not choose to do so, or He might wait but we can be sure that He will turn it into a door or opportunity for hope.