The next valley is the Valley of Baka which is mentioned only once in the Bible in Psalm 84. There is much debate about whether this valley (mentioned in Psalm 84:6) is (a) picturing a place of tears and weeping (New Living Translation), (b) a place of drought and dryness (the word Baka might indicate a thorny Balsam tree which managed to grow in barren places) or (c) wild and lonesome valleys (Message Translation). Both (a) and (b) have their supporters and (c) is an interesting take on this also. Verse 5-7 are indeed a tricky verses but whichever option is correct it is clear that the picture this valley is portraying (by concepts like tears, weeping, drought, dryness, wild and lonesome) is a pretty challenging one.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. (NIVUK)
5 What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 6 When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. 7 They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem. (NLT)
And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-travelled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn—Zion! God in full view! (MSG)Psalm 84:5-7
Then there is also a question as to whether the valley was an actual place (possibly the Valley of Rephaim) or just metaphorical. This Psalm however was a poem, set to music for the annual Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In that context it speaks of a valley (or valleys) encountered on the way. It seems likely to me that this valley was indeed based a specific place (or places). The key thought is not where it is but what it was like. However we interpret the meaning of the word Baka it was certainly not an easy place to be and that is the main point! I imagine that the Psalmist (along with many others) would take a long pilgrimage once a year to the tabernacle (or temple) in Jerusalem and has used some of the natural features of that journey as a metaphor for life more generally.
Set on Pilgrimage (v5)
The first thing we note is the sheer longing the Psalmist (identified as the sons of Korah) has about being in the dwelling place of the Lord. These are of course well known and well loved verses but it is good to reflect afresh on the passion he has to be in the presence of God. For the Psalmist his soul is yearning and fainting and his heart and flesh are crying out. He mentions that even the sparrows and the swallows have made their nests near the altar of the Lord. It is such a blessing he says to dwell in the house of the Lord.
1 How lovely is your dwelling-place, Lord Almighty! 2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. 3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.Psalm 84:1-5
Then comes verse 5 which introduces this idea of pilgrimage. Indeed he says we are blessed if our strength is in the Lord and our hearts are set on pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance and the context here as we have seen is the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In light of all that Jesus achieved at the Cross we know that we can encounter the presence of God anywhere. In fact rather than the Tabernacle (or temple), the New Testament says that God now dwells through His Spirit in the hearts of those who love Him. The challenge here is whether we are willing to set our hearts on meeting with Jesus and resting in His presence.We need to set our hearts on pilgrimage to the Lord.
Just passing through (v6)
We have already touched on verse 6 and the Valley of Baka but now we need to flesh out what it says about it. Notice that the Psalm says as you pass and not when you pass! There is an expectation here that we will spend time in such a valley. However the word through, clearly implies that our time in the valley is not permanent. Out time in the dry, barren, sad, lonely and desolate valley of Baka is very hard but it is also temporary. It is a phase of the journey and the journey does not last forever. Sometimes when we are going through a rough period we need this encouragement that better days lie ahead. Those who have been reading this blog for some time will know that we have spent quite a bit of time over the past 6 years in and out of such a valley. That is the journey we have been on but we are hopeful that God has better times ahead of us.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.Psalm 84:6
There is more hope here though and we mustn’t miss it. the Psalmist says that they make it a place of springs. The idea of making it suggests some sort of decision or action on the pilgrimage. I know from firsthand experience in the mountains of Norway what a blessing it is to find a source of water and refreshment on the way. It seems the Psalmist has also encountered such blessings as well as the impact of the Autumn rains creating pools of water. This it seems is a picture of how God, in response to our faith, brings us refreshment as we rest in His presence. Even in the bleakest of valleys God can provide all that we need to be revived and make it through to the other side. I know for myself how quality time in the presence of Jesus can totally transform my outlook on what is going on around me. It doesn’t necessarily take away the situation or problem but it gives me a new perspective.
Going from strength to strength (v7)
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.Psalm 84:7
In verses 7 the Psalmist goes on to say that because of these springs and pools we will go from strength to strength. Though we may be weak and weary from our pilgrimage, we are promised strength from these sources of refreshment. Moreover the promise is for increasing strength as we get closer to our destination, pictured here as appearing before God in Zion. I can remember some years ago feeling exceedingly weary on a hike in Norway (Bolstadnosi). We had been back in the UK for a wedding and the team were up in the mountains and so we went up to meet them. I ended up going all the way to the top and then back again to Skjolden. On the way down I was struggling and so I began chewing over Isaiah 40:28-31 and talking to God about it: bit by bit my strength was renewed as I placed my hope in Him.
…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.Isaiah 40:31
We too can have renewed strength and indeed go from strength to strength as we experience God in these pools and springs. They are sources of great encouragement and hope. We cannot avoid the valley but God can (and will) help us through it (Isaiah 43:2-3).
Better is one day in your courts (v8-12)
My time is up here, but I want to just comment briefly on the second part of the Psalm. Verse 12 says we are blessed if we trust in God. That is the key: if we want to experience God’s refreshment we need to be coming regularly into His presence. For the Psalmist this is clearly the essence of life and he says that better is one day in the courts of God than a thousand elsewhere. He would rather be a doorkeeper there than be in the tents of the wicked. Verse 11 really sums it up: God bestows favour and honour and does not withhold any good thing from those who are blameless.
8 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob. 9 Look on our shield, O God; look with favour on your anointed one. 10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.Psalm 84:8-12
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose way of life is blameless. 12 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.
As we continue on our pilgrimages lets resolve to thirst for the presence of God…for it is only there that our thirst will be quenched and we will find the strength to continue our journey towards an eternity with God.
Thanks for reading. Very well done if you made it this far…
Experiencing God in the Valleys Series