The God of the Valleys
"And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Because the Syrians have said, The LORD is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the LORD ." (1 Kings 20:28)
I want to speak tonight, beloved brethren, about the God of the valleys. Rather a striking title. These were words that came from the lips of one of Israel 's enemies. The setting of this chapter is very interesting. The preceding chapters deal with the history of Elijah and the decadent nation of Israel. In response to his testimony there was a contest on Mount Carmel between Elijah - one man - and the prophets of Baal - one hundred and fifty - and consequent upon Elijah's testimony the fire came down upon the burnt offering and when the people witnessed this there came from their lips the confession, "the Lord He is God; the Lord He is God". There were features in victory, in recovery in the hearts of the people of God. Now it is against this background we come to this chapter of victory, 1 Kings 20. The Syrians, enemies of Israel, came and they were utterly defeated. There followed from them the testimony that Israel 's God was a "God of the hills" at the first victory (v.23) and the second victory proved that He was the "God of the valleys".
Now I want to suggest, dearly beloved brethren, that in our meetings at times we likewise have seasons when we prove the God of the hills. Let no-one mistake, happily in various places and in different times we have climbed to those hills and God has given us an impression of the God of the hills, the Pisgah view, if you like, Canaan (Deut. 34); and it is a very, very good land. Sometimes we have climbed the Mount of transfiguration (a prelude to the world to come) and we have seen Him whose face is as the sun and His garments white as light, and we have heard that conversation concerning the exodus which he accomplished at Jerusalem.
At other times we have climbed that exceeding great and high mountain and have seen that holy city of Revelation 21 and we have had our hearts warmed in regard to the administration of the world to come, the assembly in its rightful place. These are wonderful times. I was coming back from one of these sessions recently and I wondered, beloved brethren, if it would not be appropriate sometimes to consider not the God of the hills , but to have a look at the God of the valleys.
I came across pure gold almost at once when I looked up the Hebrew word for 'valley'. I was most interested to find that there are no fewer than five Hebrew words used. The first is used for the valley of Megiddo for example, the valley of Jezreel, 'the breadbasket of Israel 'a low plain with distant mountains. The second is more like the English valley where the mountains are a little bit closer, the valley of Jordan is an example. The third is like the valley of Hinnom, 'the waste-paper basket of Israel', the place where "the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched", a very deep valley. The fourth is like a wadi you might call it, a river bed where the water runs in the winter, you do not see it in the summer. When you come to it the guide says, "that was the river Kishon". Where? You cannot see it; it is a river bed. An example of the fifth is the Shephelah, south-west of Jerusalem going down to the Philistine country where you would not know it was a valley at all.
Why have I said all that? For this reason, that as God brings home the saints, as the Lord Jesus leads home many sons to glory, we have to pass through an infinite variety of circumstances and they are not always mountain top experiences, there are valleys, sometimes very deep valleys, so I want tonight to spend a little time looking at some of the valleys of Scripture. Of course in this hour we can only allude to one or two of the valleys through which we pass, but I want to stress immediately it is not the valleys so much I want to engage you with, but the God of the valleys. The God who is victorious in 1 Kings 20, the God who having begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6), the God who wants you and me to get the maximum out of those valley experiences through which in His wisdom and His love He puts us through. I am glad to say the Scriptures I will refer to are all pretty well-known, particularly in a company such as this, but I am going to refer to them and, I trust, "stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance" and if I happen to forget some of the points I am sure that you will pursue this yourself later and get the gain of all the valleys of Scripture and the God who is over them all.
1. The Valley of Elah
"And the Philistines stood on a mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side: and there was a valley between them. Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel , were in the valley of Elah , fighting with the Philistines " (1 Sam. 17:1, 17)
Most of us will have some familiarity with this valley. Here we find a full length portrait of the enemy of our souls, figured in Goliath of Gath in all his armour with his armour bearer going before him. When he made the challenge to Israel they were dismayed and they were greatly afraid. I do not think anyone who walks with God in sobriety will fail to have some thoughts concerning him who is the enemy of our souls. By the time we come to the book of Revelation 20:2 we get his full title, "the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan". He is too much for man, he is too much for you and me. Indeed in Jude 9 we read, "Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee". Goliath, prefiguring him who is the great enemy of our souls, stands in the valley of Elah. There came up one who answered this challenge - God has His man, a man of a beautiful countenance, goodly to look upon, and that man was David, a mighty valiant man and a man of war.
Take account of the way on which he went. Saul's armour would not do to defend him and for a weapon he selected five smooth stones for his sling. How do we do this? We have to get down on our knees. It is very attractive to see when we consider the Lord Jesus dealing with the enemy of our souls how He selected exactly the right stones to deal with him. Not all five stones were 'used', as it were, in the temptation, but only three. Then in the garden another was used when He said, "Not my will but Thine be done." In a world where man does his own will (sin is lawlessness), here was a man who is utterly devoted to God's will and that stone, rightly directed, brought the giant down and David stood on him, drew the sword out of its sheath and with it cut of Goliath's head, "death by dying slew."
David returning to Jerusalem with the head, put the armour of the giant in his tent (there was still more work to do), and Abner, asked the question by Saul, "Whose son is he?" could not answer. But we can answer the question. It is the Father's only begotten Son in whom He is well pleased; Jehovah's Servant, God's King. He has met the adversary and shortly He is going to undo the works of the adversary, but in the meantime a stronger than he has come upon him and taken away all the armour in which he has trusted and proceeded to spoil his goods. We can rejoice, dearly beloved, first of all in this first valley, and not only in the valley but in the God of the valley. Who is He? It is Jesus, who has met the enemy and defeated him, spoiled principalities and powers, now at God's right hand with all power in heaven and earth given to Him.
2. The Valley of the Shadow of Death
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me " (Ps. 23:4)
I want now to introduce you briefly to the second valley, a valley described by another word in the Hebrew, like the Valley of Hinnom. If any of you have been in Israel and have been down to Petra you will know exactly what I am talking about. This is the kind of valley where the bottom is only a matter of fifteen to twenty feet across, maybe less, but the walls may rise to as high as eight hundred feet very close together so that at the bottom of the valley the sun hardly penetrates it, it is a dark valley. Now there are plenty of this kind of valley in the Judean foothills and if you use the old road from Jerusalem to Jericho you see some good examples of it.
I do not know whether you have ever pondered the time when David was fleeing from Saul just how close Saul seemed to get to David sometimes but he never caught up with him. David knew these deep valleys, they were excellent places for fugitives, just as they were excellent places for robbers. It is also a very dangerous place for sheep. This is the place where the wolves, the lions and the bears were found in Biblical times, and any sheep who found itself in such a valley was in the greatest danger.
What is the point of safety in this psalm? "Thou art with me". Here the sheep turn their eyes away from the dangers to the shepherd and his business was to deal with adversaries and foes, the grievous wolves. If sheep are in danger their safety is found in the shepherd. Have you every pondered the words, "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me"? That rod is something like a club, two foot long with a bulb on the end, perhaps a nail as well, a tremendous weapon against wild beasts, and if you are in the hands of a shepherd who loves you so much that he is prepared to give his life for you, you are safe, and that shepherd is Jesus. My dear friend, we can approach the valley of the shadow of death in all confidence. In the first three verses of Psalm 23 David speaks about the Shepherd - "the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want", but when he gets down to verse 4 he no longer talks about the Shepherd, he talks to the Shepherd - "Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me". Some connect the valley of the shadow of death only with the circumstances of death, but rather it seems to me that it represents the whole of our pathway, all is connected with danger, but safety is found in Him who is the Shepherd, the God of the valley.
3. The Valley of Baca (Psalm 84:5-6)
"Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools"
This valley has occasioned me personally a great deal of exercise. If you look up the best Biblical map you can find you will find that against the valley of Baca you come to this entry - "situation unknown". Now if you move amongst the saints of God, if you get a little bit nearer to the burdens that saints carry, you discover that, like the valley of Baca, there are many places of weeping, situation unknown. If you lose your husband to a coronary or a car accident or your wife or your child to leukaemia, then you can locate the area, but there are many areas of sadness amongst the saints of God that are unidentified. In a company like this tonight there will be a good many bearing trials and burdens that nobody else knows about. That is why we want to talk a little bit about the valley of Baca.
There are a lot of tears in this world - that is what Baca means, literally 'lamentation' and 'weeping' - national disasters, weeping amongst men of the world, but there is also a good deal of weeping amongst saints if they are sensitive at all in these closing days of the testimony. Jeremiah, for example, closed his dispensation as "the weeping prophet of the nations".
Let us look briefly into the matter of tears in the Bible. We read about tears of remorse - Esau sought the blessing with tears (Heb. 12:17), but remorse did not get it for him. Malachi also covered the altar with tears, remorse, unavailing tears (Mal. 2:13).
There are however better tears such as those of the woman in Luke 7, tears of repentance shed at the blessed feet of the Lord Jesus with which she washed His feet. But let us also consider the tears of a servant, "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Ps. 126:6). Do you feel hard sometimes, a long way removed from the compassions of the Lord Jesus? I do. One of General Booth's captains in the Salvation Army sent a message to him, saying he had tried everything and there was no response from the hard hearts of the community where he was, and the general sent back the message, "Try tears". That is a very testing word for us all.
There are other tears too; Paul in serving the Lord in all humbleness of mind in Ephesus wept for three years night and day (Acts 20:31). Timothy was a man of genuine feeling as to how the saints get on. Where did he learn this? Probably from Paul. Paul yearned over the Ephesians, he wrote also to the Corinthians "out of much affliction and anguish of heart . with many tears" (2 Cor. 2:4). Do you feel hard and unresponsive, removing your affections from the saints? I do. But that does not hold us back from at least admiring the features in others. Where did they learn it from? They learnt it from the Lord Jesus Christ. When He came to Jerusalem He wept over it with an audible expression. Then in John 11 He shed tears of silence expression, deep feeling, a unique word in the Greek original. The Lord cried the tears (Heb. 5:7). This is the God of the valleys. This is the One whom we love. "My sorrow", said Lady Powerscourt, "lies too deep for human sympathy". Thank God we have One who does draw near to us, and even when our brethren or our nearest and dearest cannot understand there is One who delights to draw near and it is in these circumstances, dearly beloved, we learn how precious is the Man of Sorrows.
It is against this background that we can begin to appreciate Psalm 84. "Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee". This is not the natural man, it is the man of faith, the man of God who is drawing his resources from another sphere, he knows his God. The man had Old Testament limitations in his knowledge of course, nevertheless he could say "For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly" (v.11). He knows where he is going - "How amiable are thy tabernacles" (v.1), "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house" (v.4) - he wants, he longs, to be there, but in the meantime we read "Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them" (v.5). He realises that he has got a path through these various circumstances for the education of his soul. He understands it and he accepts it. That is very testing. Are we going to kick against the sorrows, are we going to hit out - many do - or are we going to be exercised? This man is exercised and passing through the valley of Baca he finds a well, he finds refreshment in the God of the valleys. But that is not the end, "the rain also filleth the pools", there is education, there is something liberated for the whole church of God. In 2 Corinthians 4:1 the apostle Paul says he went through all this. Why? That he might be able to comfort the saints in any tribulation whatever with the comfort wherewith he was comforted of God. It is tremendously encouraging to belong to the family of God, and if we have proved God in any circumstance at all the good and gain of it is available for the whole church of God . He is the God of the valley.
4. The Valley of Achor
"And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor , unto this day ." (Josh. 7:24-26)
There is no difficulty in identifying this valley on the map, and there is no difficulty in identifying this valley in the Scriptures, the only difficulty about this valley is that we cannot always identify it in our experience either individually or collectively. Geographically it is down near the Red Sea and we read about it in Joshua 7 and Hosea 2. It is "the door of hope". Achor is the place where sin is confessed, judged and put away and it is very important to understand a little about it.
Let us spend a little time on this important matter. Historically, when the children of Israel came over Jordan they had a tremendous victory at Jericho, but at the next place Ai they sent only three thousand men thinking it was a small place and the people of God were defeated before the people of Ai and thirty six died. In that chapter we find Joshua with the elders of the children of Israel on their faces before the Lord crying, 'What shall we do? would to God we had been content and dwelt on the other side of Jordan!' Before we are too hard on Israel let us recognise that this is the language of many hearts today, put to flight before the adversary and so humbled, we think 'We wish we had not taken heavenly ground at all. Let us get out of it as soon as we can'. Some do. Some do in heart. Ah, but the Lord said to Joshua, "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned". They were to confess their sin and deal with it. There was a man who had coveted a goodly Babylonish garment, silver and gold and had hidden them in his tent, and so the victory of God was halted. In the mercy of God that sin was brought out into the open, confessed, dealt with drastically, judged and put away and Ai became the second city of victory in the triumphant march of Israel through the promised land.
In Hosea 2 we get the prophetic picture in regard to Israel in a coming day. They are also guilty of sin in that they have crucified their Messiah. In this chapter, sometimes called 'the Luke 16 of the Old Testament', God brings His people into the wilderness and there speaks to their hearts. The steps of recovery in Israel are three - lamentation, confession and response, and their door of hope is in their confession and their putting away of their sin, which we read about in Zechariah 12:12-14, "And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart . of Nathan apart . of Levi apart . of Shimei apart . every family apart, and their wives apart". There they are in their mourning and confession, and "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness" (13:1) - sin is put away. The valley of Achor for a door of hope.
This is right up-to-date. If there is with us the ability to bring sin out into the open and confess it I believe we will still prove that He despises not the exercises of His people, "a humble and a contrite heart, O Lord, Thou wilt not despise" (Ps. 51:17). I was privileged to be in Dearborn , Canada , in 1970 when we were having talks with our beloved 'Kelly' brethren. There was a difficulty in America concerning the Mory brethren, for there had been a division there in 1953 and things were at stalemate. But I remember one meeting particularly well. A great number of brethren, sober and grave, were there, and a brother from Montreal, with the Lord now, stood up in the meeting with tears in his eyes and confessed before the brethren that the Mory brethren were wrong in the 1931 division. Those tears and that confession altered the picture in America. Again, I was in Switzerland in the autumn and we had meetings there, reasonable meetings, quite ordinary. A sister there asked me for a copy of Hamilton Smith's book on Daniel and I was able to oblige. I got a letter from her just a week or two back, she said that when she got to the ninth chapter of Daniel and she recognised the condition of her own assembly and the state of her own heart she got down on her knees and with tears confessed it before the Lord. Since then, she said, there have been two families added to the meeting with children. There seems to have been a turning of the tide because one person took up the valley of Achor and the door of hope. I am just telling you the way God has worked in the past and what He is waiting to do today.
5. The Valley of Berachah
"And on the fourth day they assembled themselves in the valley of Berachah; for there they blessed the LORD: therefore the name of the same place was called, The valley of Berachah, unto this day ." (2 Chr. 20:26)
This is a very happy valley, a precious valley, mentioned as another chapter of victory. This is a prophetic chapter, there are features in it that carry with it teachings that are referable to things which must shortly come to pass. Most of you in this room are intelligent to the fact that the world to come will be introduced by judgments. Babylon, religious and commercial (Rev. 17 and 18) first, then the Western powers next, the Arab powers third and Russia fourth. This chapter deals with some of the prophetic elements that are found in connection with the Arab states in a coming day. You remember how the king of the north will come down in an overflowing scourge (Dan. 11) and he is found in Egypt. There he hears tidings out of the east and out of the north (probably the eastern powers and the western powers being dealt with by God at Armageddon - Rev. 16) and he returns towards Jerusalem. Then as he gets as far as the valley of Berachah news reaches Israel (Jehoshaphat) that there is this great army waiting to overrun Jerusalem. This reminds us of Psalm 46. The Lord will have partially intervened for His people, so they are encouraged to "Be still and know that I am God", and although the army was only twenty-five miles from Jerusalem Jehoshaphat approached this situation in a dignified way and called for a fast.
Then there was a great prayer meeting in Judea. Jehoshaphat and the whole city gathered in the temple court. Can you picture them? There were no absentees from that prayer meeting, the wives and the little ones all stood before the Lord with real, earnest prayer, and Jehoshaphat prayed like a man who was used to praying. He quoted the Scripture, bringing the situation into focus. It must have been a very moving occasion.
This was a prayer meeting that turned into a word of ministry for the prophet Jahazial spoke, "Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's". They fell down in worship, and they lifted up their voice and praised the Lord. What a happy prayer meeting. On the next day they went out to meet the great host and Jehoshaphat "consulted with the people". Some leaders are in danger of steamrollering the saints, but here was one who called in the saints, he consulted with the people and they appointed singers to go before the army. The praise was too much for the enemy. "God dwells in the praises of His people" (Ps. 22:3). The enemy oftentimes attacks our praise and if that is missing the enemy gets an advantage. It was not so with Jehoshaphat, they appointed singers in the front line and went out against the enemy and we get the delightful picture, so many times repeated in Scripture, where the enemy began to slay one another - the children of Ammon, the children of Moab, stood up against the children of Seir and slew them and when they had dealt with them they slew one another. I am not quite sure how many references there are (I think about six) but this is God's approved method of dealing with the opposition - praise is given to the Lord and the enemy begins to slay one another.
So in the valley of Berachah when they looked upon them they were all dead corpses, just as in Exodus 15. They stripped them of their precious things and it took them three days to gather in the spoil because it was so much. Israel had a session of praise on the battlefield but then they went back to Jerusalem. They went to the very place they started from, the temple. This incident started with prayer and ended with praise. We can see this picture of the valley of Berachah, the intervention of the God of the valley Jehoshaphat, no doubt a picture of One greater than he, in the temple leading the praise, the song going up to the God who has blessed His people in valley conditions.
The God of the Valleys
In 1 Kings 20 we saw that God in His grace came in for a people who said "The Lord He is God; the Lord He is God". Graciously victory is given to Israel, the God of the hills, the God of the valleys. There is one character however in this chapter who I submit to you in utterly despicable - that man is Ahab. He did more to provoke Jehovah to anger than any other king in Israel. He sold himself to do evil, his wife Jezebel stirring him up. Now you may not have noticed, but in the first victory (when God was declared to be the God of the hills) with thirty three kings against him Ahab come not in the forefront of the battle but in the rear. Who shall order the battle? It is set in motion by the young men, the servants of the prince of the provinces. These two hundred and thirty two go out for the battle, then the seven thousand go out to the battle, and when Ahab sees that the enemy is routed he joins them, he comes in when the victory is won; despicable I say. When we come to the God of the Valleys God has given a signal victory, Israel slew a hundred thousand footmen slain in one day, then twenty seven thousand died when in the city to which they fled a wall fell on them, tremendous intervention. Then we find an encounter between Ben-hadad and Ahab. Ben-hadad, I may say, is a religious type of the kings of Syria, he was an idol worshipper. Ahab said to this idol worshipper, "he is my brother" (v.32), for he too was an idol worshipper.
Here we find the test at the close of our talk together. Where is your heart? And where is mine? Are we just going to stand by and see these victories, God proved to be the God of the hills and the God of the valleys? Are we going to be spectators? Are we? It depends altogether, dearly beloved brethren, as to whether your heart and mine are taken up with the idols of this world, are we lovers of pleasure, lovers of money, lovers of ourselves, or whether in devotion our hearts are going out to Him, who is the God of the valleys, the God of the hills, our precious Saviour and Lord.
This is the message I want to leave with you tonight. The God of the hills, the God of the valleys, our God has been fully revealed in the Lord Jesus, but the final test is what is in your heart and what is in my heart. "My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways" (Prov. 23:26). Let our affections flow out to Him who is worthy to be praised.
"In heavenly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here;
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?"