King Jehoshaphat looked across the desert valley, his brow creased with worry for the upcoming battle with Moab. The kings and armies of Israel and Edom stood alongside him. They were all stranded and desperate for water. Their battle plans would fall apart if they could not find sustenance for all three armies, along with their animals.
They had surely heard tales of a grizzled prophet who had prayed for rain during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel in Israel. Although Elijah was gone, Jehoshaphat was still determined to find a prophet in the wilderness. A servant remembered a man called Elisha, who had been the apprentice of the fabled prophet. They sought him out and he offered a very simple set of instructions:
“Make this valley full of ditches.” (II Kings 3:16)
It must have seemed insane. Three armies of fighting men, their swords and shields gleaming in the desert sun, were there for a fight – not to do the kind of work an unskilled laborer could handle. It must have seemed like a waste of their strength and training. Why bring together the armies of three kingdoms just to dig ditches? But they obeyed. They dug the Edomite valley full of ditches. And then came the morning. Although no rain had fallen, water blanketed the valley, filling the newly dug trenches. Their odd job resulted in enough water to satisfy the thirst of both the armies and their animals.
Meanwhile, the Moabite army watched the scene across the border. They saw liquid gleaming in the ditches and were convinced it must be the blood of armies that had turned on each other. Operating under the assumption that their enemies were dead, they impulsively saddled up and rushed the border, hoping for spoils. Instead, a hoard of newly strengthened warriors were ready for them. The victory was won because the armies took the time to dig.
As we wander through life’s valleys, there are times we feel all hope is lost. Dreams may be on hold. All of the things that propelled us forward seem far away and we wonder how we will survive. When we pray God asks us to do something totally unrelated to what we had originally planned. We wonder if we misunderstood – after all, why would God ask us to do something that has no possible chance of helping us?
Had the armies not dug ditches in their valley even though were there to fight a war, they would have found themselves unprepared for battle while the enemy would have been ready. Instead, God turned the tables in such a way that He alone would receive the glory. Even when you do not understand what God asks of you, rest assured that He knows what He is doing.
Sometimes it is in the digging of a ditch that we pave the way for our miracles.
The Valley of Achor had a reputation. Its name literally meant “trouble.” On the heels of an astonishing victory in Jericho, God issued a command: no one was to take the spoils of the city. Silver and gold were brought into the house of God but everything else was destroyed. Or so they thought. A man named Achan simply could not resist the luxurious leftovers. He hid them among his belongings, hoping no one would notice. When their next battle produced a horrific defeat, Joshua sought the Lord, who instructed him to root out the thief. It was after Achan’s punishment that the valley earned its sad name.
The stones marked Achan’s grave for many years. They had built altars in the early years to remember God’s miracles but Achan’s grave commemorated trouble. It was etched into their minds as a continual reminder of the judgment for sin, seared into their memories as a place of failure.
We find the Valley of Achor again in a somewhat unlikely place. Isaiah was nearing the end of his prophecies. Directly after a passage on judgment, he began to describe redemption, recasting a vision of a valley that had been associated with trouble for so long:
“And the Valley of Achor [shall be] a place for herds to lie down” (Isaiah 65:10).
The valley bore a mark of trouble, but Isaiah promised it would become a place of peace where cattle and sheep could be nourished.
Hosea reiterated the promise. He had described a relationship in which his people constantly failed God. They had promised to be faithful and had strayed time and time again. Hosea wrote about God’s justice but then immediately reminded them that God’s love and mercy are unfailing:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness and speak comfort to her. I will give her the vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope” (Hosea 2:14-15).
Of all the transformations God has wrought, how beautiful it is that He turned the Valley of Trouble into a door of hope.
Perhaps the old song says it best: “In the valley He restoreth my soul.”
You may have a Valley of Achor in your life – a moment that seemingly marks you and tells you that you will forever bear the burden of your mistakes. Perhaps you are simply going through a season of trouble and there’s no end in sight. But God specializes in both creation and re-creation. Trouble may have defined your life for a time but He can take the most troubled valleys in our lives and turn them into gateways of hope.
Two armies faced off in the Valley of Elah. The Philistine army had sent their best man to fight and had demanded the same of Israel’s army. Tradition dictated that the man who won would secure victory for his people while the remaining army would be their slaves. If Israel chose the right man, they could win the war without a single casualty.
There was just one problem: the challenger was a giant.
Elah was known as the Valley of the Terebinth, a tree sacred to various tribes in Canaan. Perhaps the Philistine armies felt bold, knowing they would be surrounded with the trees they worshipped during their big showdown. Whatever the case, the Israelite army stood the side, cowering in fear at the thought of facing a giant. The stakes were high – if they lost, they would lose both their Promised Land and their freedom – a fate they had suffered once before. In fact, they had been through much of this before. After years of slavery in Egypt, their first trip to Canaan led them into the Valley of Eshcol where they found fruit and giants – giants they knew they would have to face one day in order to claim their Promised Land. Yet here they stood in Elah, wondering if anyone was strong enough to face this giant in the valley.
But then along came a young man, fresh from herding sheep. He was no stranger to valleys but this one presented a unique challenge. He saw the giant but did not fear him. His only focus was on the fact that this man was insulting his God and his people. As he stared down the giant, David must have remembered the stories he heard as a boy: stories of the patriarchs, of his people enslaved, of the Exodus, and of Israel’s desert wanderings of almost 40 years after they did not face the giants in their valley. David knew the stakes. He decided he would do things differently – after all, God was on his side. What follows is possibly one of the most famous stories in the Bible. A little Hebrew boy took up his slingshot, having rejected the king’s armor, and hurled a stone at his enemy who immediately fell. David learned a vital lesson that day: through his own strength he could do nothing but God made him into a conqueror and later a king.
We encounter giants in our own valleys. Physical threats, financial obstacles, and emotional upsets may seem insurmountable. In many cases, giants from our past torment us. And yet God still sees. Sometimes He moves the storm out of your life. Sometimes He joins you in it. And sometimes God sends divine enablement. When your heart is right and you are seeking to do His will, God supplies strength and encourages you throughout the process.
No matter the size of the obstacle in your valley, remember that your God can make any giant fall before your feet.