Friday, January 4, 2019

Valleys

Valleys, do you like them? Scripture refers to valleys 160 times, only once in the New Testament and that quote is from Isaiah 40:3-5 saying, “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth” (Luke 3:5, Isaiah 40:3-5). This quote is by John the Baptist regarding the results of Israel’s repentance and the resulting forgiveness from God, but they would not have it. Why just the Old Testament?  Some might say it is because the Old Testament is about a wrathful God and desolation. I don’t think that is right. Indeed there is much reference to death in valleys; in fact most of the references are to military defeats and slaughtering in the valleys. These were places where armies could assemble and fight, like when David met Goliath in the Valley of Elah. Here it is about death to a giant and deliverance to God’s people. Now there is the theme that makes sense. God describes valleys, as that is where battles took place. But it was also where God brought victory to obedient people.

Now we are beginning to get to the reason for this devotional. Valleys are where decisions are made by generals and by God. “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision… In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house and will water the valley of acacias. (Joel 3:14,18).” Joel prophesied the coming of the Messiah, Lord Jesus Christ to bring bounty if the right decision was made. In fact this metaphor and truth started in Genesis, “Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there” (Genesis 26:19). That is where we find water, often in the difficult places.  Elisha the prophet tells Jehoshaphat King of Judah regarding the Lord’s victories for them: “This is what the Lord says: I will fill this valley with pools of water” (2 Kings 3:16)

The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Lord’s Messiah and deliverance very graphically using valley language: “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain” (Isaiah 40:4). “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 41:18). He is speaking of the coming of the Lord and the peace and prosperity He will bring.

Perhaps the most remembered verse on valleys is in the “Shepherds” Psalm 23:4 saying, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  There is so much in this psalm written by King David near the end of his life. He has indeed been walking and running through many valleys to escape death. But God protected him. The death he speaks of was real and it was also a shadow. They valley shadow refers to death and the second death. In other words it refers to physical and spiritual death. The verse is saying that death cannot hurt a believer because we have eternal life in the Lord. A shadow cannot kill your soul, only your body. We might fear the pain of a physical death, but God is saying that we should not because He is protecting and comforting us through this valley. He is as Isaiah wrote making the mountains low and the valleys high and lifted up.  I often tell counselees or hospital patients I serve that it is in the valleys that the rivers flow and the flowers grow. The psalmist says it this way. “The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing” (Psalm 65:13). In the Song of Solomon God’s love and grace is described as bringing life and “new growth” in the valleys. “I went down to the grove of nut trees to look at the new growth in the valley, to see if the vines had budded or the pomegranates were in bloom”  (Song of Solomon 6:11).

I have come to understand valleys as a very common part of the earth and our lives. We do not escape the valleys. Suffering and death are indeed part, a big part of all lives. We are not to try to escape them, but instead to find what God is telling us in the valley. When is times of trial as James, Jesus’s brother said, “Consider is pure joy” (James 1:2).  This is a tough verse, but God is testing our faith, making us mature and compete, lacking nothing the remainder of the verse exhorts. He wants us to develop perseverance and staying power in and through the valleys.

What does God say to do in the valleys? He says, “Persevere.” But he also says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).  We must ask God for help. He does not answer the “why” of the valley, but He will tell you what to do and how to do it. Perhaps on of the most encouraging passages in Scripture is from God speaking through the prophet Isaiah to the Hebrew people in Exile in Babylon saying, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive” (Jeremiah 29:11-14 NKJV). This letter, written to those in exile told them to pray for their enemies, to plant gardens, build houses and live a full life. As soon as they obeyed, God brought them out of the valley of exile.

We will go through valleys if life. But we must know that God means it for our good and if we seek Him, He will bring us through and we will be walking as Palm 23 tells us. So do not fear, but be of good cheer for the Lord is near to all who call upon His name.








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