In a slightly roundabout way, my intention here is to write the introduction to my series as its conclusion. If you follow the blog you will know that I have been blogging my way through the valleys of the Bible. For whatever reason it seemed better to get into the heart of the matter rather than set up where I wanted to take this. Now however we are on the cusp of another trip to Norway where we will be looking at the theme of Experiencing God in the Valleys and in particular seeking to bring hope for life’s toughest moments.
In that regard what follows is a brief introduction to the use of Valleys in the Bible and some overall key lessons that come up time and time again. For me it also serves to help internalise one of the sessions I am giving in Norway on this very subject!
Some years ago while Debbie and I were walking she commented on how much she liked valleys: we were in a valley at the time and many of her favourite hikes include time in the valley. She suggested we could follow up our series on Experiencing God in the mountains (2014) with something on valleys. So we pondered together what the Bible had to say about valleys.
The Bible actually contains lots of references to valleys; some literal and some more metaphorical. Firstly valleys are good places to camp or to settle. Valleys seem to play host to a lot of battles (e.g. David & Goliath in the valley of Elah). Valleys are places of fertility: things were grown in valleys precisely because the conditions were helpful for things to grow (e.g. grapes in the valley of Eshkol). Valleys are also places for worship: sometimes this was a positive thing but often it was more of a negative association (e.g. idolatry in the valley of Ben Hinnom). Finally, valleys are used to describe the future (e.g. the valley of Decision or the valley of Dry Bones).
The richness of this metaphor is developed further when we realise that there are five words used for Valley in the Bible depicting some quite different settings (lowlands, plains, narrow steep gorges, ravines, wadis and so on). As seen from the six valleys examined here these valleys are often difficult (or depicting difficult) places to be. In each however there is plenty of hope and encouragement. The main thrust of this blog is summed up by the following: Even in the valley God is still God, God is still at work and God is still with us. We have seen that throughout our journey and that is where we spend some time here now.
1. God is still God (1 Kings 20)
We began the series at the Valley of Achor and in that blog we briefly mentioned 1 Kings 20. This valley was the scene of a battle between Ben Hadad (King of Aram) and King Ahab (King of Israel). God sends a prophet to tip of Israel and gives them success in battle against all odds. The Arameans infer that Israel were strong because their God is a god of the hills and they set in motion a plan to attack them in the valley.
“Their gods are gods of the hills. That is why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they.”1 Kings 20:23b
This plans comes to fruition some months later but it turns out that they got it all wrong. God is not the kind of God that can be put in a box. He is not merely a God of the hills but a God of the valleys also.
28 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
So Israel was victorious again and the Arameans (including their King) were humbled and defeated. What we see here is that even in the valley God is still God. He is still Sovereign and is always in control.
God is still at work (Jeremiah 18-19)
We have already noted that our time in the valleys can at times be something of a challenge. We saw that in a number of the valleys We have looked at. We don’t have time to get into these chapters but there are two ideas that come out strongly. The first is that the Valley of Ben Hinnom (renamed the valley of Slaughter) is a place that represented unfaithfulness for the people of Israel. We know that Israel was soon to be exiled from the Promised Land but even in that God was still at work. Both the prophesy of Jeremiah and Isaiah describe us as jars of clay and God as the potter.
“Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”Isaiah 64:8
Jeremiah develops this further for us as God shows him the potter working at the wheel. The pot he was shaping is marred and so he reshapes the pot into something different as seemed best to him…
3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.Jeremiah 18:3-6
The valley is a time of great potential for growth as God uses it to shape and reshape us for His purposes. Can He no do with us as He sees fit? Its a great example and a huge encouragement to us during our time in the valley. While God is always at work (even in the valley) there is also a response for us to make in allowing Him to continue bringing the work that He has begun in us towards completion.
3. God is still with us (Isaiah 41, 43)
We could leave it there but there is one more lesson we need to hear. Not only is God still God and God still at work but He also promises to be with us. Isaiah 41:10 puts this quite succinctly for us but it also implies that God will strength and uphold us.
I know from my own life how challenging life in the valley can be and sometimes it feels like we are on our own. Hindsight is however a great thing and even when there was only one set of footprints in the sand God has shown me that it was actually because He was carrying me!
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.Isaiah 41:10
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
A few verses later Isaiah develops this theme a bit more to include the sense of provision. God promises not to forsake His people but rather to make rivers flow, pools of water to come up in the desert and springs to come up within the valleys. God will provide refreshment and all that we need even when things feel like they are all going against us.
17 “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. 18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.Isaiah 41:17-18
Time has gone and this blog is already long enough but I wanted to finish with a verse from Isaiah 43 about passing through waters and fire (both also used to describe tough times). In this passage God makes clear that He will not only be with us but that none of these things will overwhelm us.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.Isaiah 43:2
Have times been tough? Maybe yes or maybe no. Whichever it is we can be confident that God is still God, God is still at work and God will always be with us and will not forsake us. Not only that but one day He will fill in every valley and bring every mountain low: He will make all things new!
Experiencing God in the Valleys Series
- God of the Valleys – Hope for Life’s toughest moments
- The Valley of Eshkol – From faith to Fear
- The Valley of Elah – Finding Courage for the battle
- The Besor Valley – Rest for the Weary
- The Valley of Achor – A door to hope
- The Darkest Valley – Safe in the Shepherd’s care
- The Valley of Baka – A place of Springs
- The Valley of Dry Bones – Hope out of Hopelessness