The sun was hot over the Wilderness of Paran where a group of expectant families looked to the land of Canaan, anxiously awaiting the return of the twelve men who had been sent to check out the land. Everything in their lives hinged on the moment they would cross the Jordan River. The long hours they had toiled as slaves in Egypt, the years spent in the desert, the stories they had heard as children – everything was building up to this.
Then, to their families’ delight, a dozen tired men cast shadows on the road home. What tales of the land would they bring? What were they carrying? Could it be fruit? Indeed, two men were carrying an enormous cluster of grapes on a pole between them. Others had packages laden with pomegranates and figs. Taking everything in, their hopes must have soared. The Promised Land was everything they had hoped it would be.
But then the spies issued their report.
In spite of the riches they had encountered, most were upset. In observing the people of the mountains and the harvests of the valleys, they could only see trouble. In spite of the fertile soil and abundant harvests, they only saw the hardships ahead. In spite of God’s awesome promise of provision, they could not seem to take Him at His word. When they looked across their valley, they could only see the giants that blocked their pathway – not the nourishment that would keep them through it all. Sadly, it was this mindset that caused Israel a forty-year delay before they could set their feet in the Promised Land.
But the story goes on.
With their aged leader near the end of his life, the children of the previous generation looked across the fertile valleys, awaiting Moses’ instruction. They were ready. They took in the rolling hills and bubbling springs and could not wait to cross over. God had promised that there were valleys filled with nourishment. For a people who had spent years as slaves, struggling to get by, then years in the desert, living on faith that God would provide, it was an awesome promise:
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9)
While it is wonderful to live in the promises of God, it does not mean we will not walk through valleys. It does not mean there will not be obstacles to face. But it is often in the valleys were the soil is richest and nourishment abounds. If we only focus on the giant obstacles that block us from reaching everything God has for us, it can be so easy to overlook the blessings He provides for us along the way. Even in the darkest valleys of life, God provides everything we need to flourish.
Joshua surveyed the Valley of Aijalon that stretched out before him. Reason told him it was too late. A troop of Amorites rushed across the plain, fleeing his army as quickly as the rolling hills of the Shephelah would allow. The moon had already risen over the valley. Night was falling fast and there was no human way his army could complete the chase.
When they had left Gilgal in pursuit of five Amorite armies set to attack their ally in Gibeon, it had been an intense journey. They had climbed uphill for the entire night in their efforts to cover the sixteen miles that separated them from their foe. Even after exhaustion had set in, they had managed a furious fight, mowing down a significant number before the remaining Amorites chose to scurry down the mountain and flee.
Sleep-deprivation notwithstanding, they had chased the five armies into the foothills, running an additional seven miles until they arrived at the Beth-horon pass where Joshua now stood. Just below, the plain of Aijalon glowed with the impending moonlight and he saw the enemy escaping toward the Mediterranean coastline. He had led an army as far as he possibly could through his own strength. If the sun set, Amorites would be lost to the cover of nightfall before he could fulfill the promise he had made to his ally. And so Joshua turned his eyes upward.
There was one truth he had carried throughout his life: the land beneath his feet was promised to him.
He was a child of the covenant God had made with his ancestors – a part of something bigger than this individual moment. Joshua knew that victory was promised. He had heard it growing up as a slave in Egypt. He had believed it when he had scouted out the land. He had watched God part waters and level a city without a single clashing of swords. Perhaps he thought of Jericho’s ruins in the moment. Perhaps he saw the hail storm forming on the Mediterranean and rushing furiously across the Valley of Aijalon toward the Amorites. Whatever the case, Joshua lifted up his voice in one of the boldest prayers ever uttered:
"Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.” (Joshua 10:12)
And, incredibly, heavenly bodies froze in their appointed places. The sun shone over Gibeon and the moon glowed over Aijalon simultaneously. The day was extended, allowing time for the impending storm to wipe out the majority of the rival armies and lasting just long enough for Joshua to finish his conquest of the valley.
Valleys often seem full of impossible timings. We strive to do everything right but sometimes it seems like moments and opportunities have passed us by. But God operates on a different timetable. When He makes a promise, He knows how to live up to it. In so many situations, it is through His perfect timing that He receives all the glory.
We may have to climb a mountain at midnight with our target just out of reach but God can cause time to stand still and bring victory to us.
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.
It must have come as quite a surprise. When he was at the age many would have planned for retirement, God issued a challenge and a promise to the 75-year-old Abram: Leave the familiar and step out into the unknown and I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. So Abram packed up his life and obeyed. He endured loss, failure, and had plenty of reasons to doubt but somehow he held on to that promise.
Some years later, Abram’s faith was put to the test. After hearing his nephew had been kidnapped during a turf war between rival kings, Abram and his servants won back everything that had been stolen. What a sight it must have been to watch the nomadic herdsman and his caravan of riches, food, and freed hostages as they marched into the Valley of Kings. Families were reunited. The hungry were fed. Crown jewels were returned to their kings.
Among the dignitaries in the desert was the king of Sodom, who offered Abram a huge reward. It must have been tempting. Hadn’t God promised this? He could have taken the praise and he could have taken the fortune. He had marched into the very pit of death and had accomplished what the armies of five kings could not. It was impressive – especially for a man in his twilight years. Who would have blamed him for taking a reward? Hadn’t he earned it?
But Abram saw the temptation in the valley for what it was: letting man supply his needs instead of God.
He held onto his promise and rejected the king’s offer: “I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” Abram resisted the quick path to success. He was offered some of the very things God had promised him but realized this didn’t line up with God’s plan. Abraham maintained faith even though all he had to go on was the possibility on an inheritance.
Immediately after, Abram received a message from the King of Kings: “I am your shield and your exceedingly great reward.” After Abram refused the riches of earthly kings, God confirmed His plan once more. God Himself would be everything Abram needed and He would enter into a covenant with Abram that would turn the world upside down.
We often walk through our own valleys of temptation. We rest in God’s promises but it can be so easy to be distracted by human impatience, letting our eyes focus on manmade solutions. When we try to force things to unfold on our own, we will always be disappointed. God promised Abram riches and a family.
The king could have provided him with riches but when Abram held out for everything God had to offer, he received everything he had ever wanted.
When we hold onto God’s promises even in the face of temptation, we receive riches beyond compare.
The sun shone high over the lone shepherd and his flock. From his vantage point in the valley, young David could see salivating wolves sprinkled across the mountains, casting deathly shadows across the pastures where his sheep grazed. However, the sheep continued to amble through the valley in search of tender grass, confident their shepherd would keep them safe. The eyes of their enemies were upon them but they were at rest and without fear. Their shepherd had led them through green pastures and had tended to their wounds.
As far as they were concerned, the worst the wolves could do was cast shadows.
What an image: wolves glaring down upon their prey, growling through jagged teeth, the very picture of fear. But as powerful as they seem, they are kept at bay, unable to attack, because the shepherd is stronger than their shadows. So the picture is one of peace. The sheep feast in the valley of shadows, gaining strength under the shepherd’s protection and their enemies can only look on in envy, powerless to do anything more.
David’s thoughts must have returned to that valley when he penned Psalm 23. Each valley in his life was darkened by a particular kind of deathly shadow. His family did not value him. The king who had once been a friend spent years trying to kill David. His wife scorned him as he worshipped. He fought battle after battle with a ragtag team of society’s rejected wild men.
But David had learned long ago what it meant to be a shepherd. He would bear the worst battles so his sheep could live in peace. He would walk through valleys beset by shadows of his enemies without fear because the Creator of heaven and earth was his Shepherd. Death could stand on the mountaintops and project its scariest image but David knew a shadow had no power over him. God’s light stood behind death, overshadowing and overpowering it.
Even though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God gave him strength in the presence of shadows.
As we walk through our own valleys, shadows may look down on us. Still, although darkness may be near, it is not yet upon us. To the Christian who has eternal life, death is but a shadow. It is merely a resting place before the final reward. Even though they may darken the valley momentarily, shadows are nothing to fear. We have a Shepherd who prepares goodness in the presence of evil. We may still encounter evil but that evil is only a shadow – an ephemeral mist that has no power in the presence of the Shepherd who guides us. When we walk on the path and follow Him, goodness and mercy will follow us. He will provide strength over shadows. In the end, death may overshadow but God will always overpower.
It was just an ordinary day. The sun rose over the tall oaks in the valley of Hebron and young Joseph began his day, unaware that he would never see his homeland again. In one instant, he would lose his family and his freedom. Still, somehow the boy from the valley rose above it all to become the second most powerful leader in Egypt.
His years in Hebron gave him something no one could ever take from him: an enduring identity.
As a boy, the family legacy was passed down to him as his father wove together stories of the incredible faith of Abraham and Isaac. His beautiful coat of many colors told the story of who he was: the beloved son of Jacob. Most of all, the stories he heard in the valley told him who he was – that the God of his fathers was also his God.
The valley also taught Joseph who he was destined to become. If he learned his heritage while sitting on his father’s knee, he learned his destiny while working in the fields. It was there that God spoke through dreams and revealed the great leadership role he would come to play in his family’s legacy. The valley taught him that he was not merely a young man from Hebron – he was Joseph: a man with a tremendous heritage and an awesome promise.
Thoughts of identity must have occupied his mind as he marched in the slave caravan, deprived of free will. His father’s words must have echoed as Egyptian masters tried to redefine him according to their own culture and religion. Those dreams must have been a lifeline as he spent his first night in prison for a crime he did not commit.
The identity that had been forged in the valley of Hebron strengthened him enough to give him hope during the years of slavery and of prison.
It grounded him enough to keep him humble when he eventually rose to power, fulfilling God’s promise from so long ago. Then, as his starving brothers knelt before him and pleaded for help, the pull of that valley-crafted identity was so strong that he wept, forgiving all the years that had been stolen from him.
A valley has the potential to bring out who we really are. Identities are molded and carefully crafted as we walk through life’s trials. Valleys remind us of who we really are but they also remind us that we were created for more – that trials come to pass, not to stay.
As he threaded his arms through that multicolored coat for the first time, dreaming of his future, Joseph could not have foreseen how God’s plan would unfold. Still, no matter how the world around him tried to redefine him, he remained true to the message that both his earthly father and heavenly Father had poured into him. God was able to position him in just the right place to save the world – all because a young man held onto an identity born in a valley.
It must have been disheartening. The Israelites had tried to do things their own way and had failed miserably. They had watched everything crumble around them and for the past thirty-eight years they had wandered around a desert, hoping and praying for a fresh start.
Finally they came to the valley of Zered. It was the turning point their generation had been waiting for since birth.
Zered was a wadi – a special type of desert valley. Shaped by a coursing river, it was destined to dry up completely when the rains were gone. The land bore the imprint of faded river trails – memories of life that had long since departed – and most of the year it was dry. But when the rains came, the sound would echo from the mountains, faint then thundering as the burgeoning river crashed to meet the thirsty ground once again. Its flow may have been short-lived – sometimes only annual – but the river brought a time of rebirth and renewal in the desert. Wildflowers burst from the ground and scattered their color across the sienna backdrop. The desert sprang to life for a short but beautiful season.
When the Israelites arrived at the wadi, the fresh growth of life around them echoed their own circumstances. They had spent so many aimless years wandering in a dry place, surrounded with memories of old mistakes and faded promises. There were still obstacles ahead – they still had to cross Jordan and conquer the land – but the crossing of this valley was a pivotal moment. They were entering into a new season.
So often we wander through our own very personal wilderness, haunted by past mistakes, and wonder if God could possibly breathe new purpose into our lives. Still, whether you are on your second, eleventh, or even hundredth chance, God will still reach out to you.
II Corinthians 5:17 offers an awesome promise:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
As you wonder in your wilderness, don’t despair when you come to a valley – it just might be the signal that your new season is about to begin.
bonus: watch the river rejoin the wadi
RGV residents have known it all along but it bears repeating: there is something unique about a valley. For geographers, valleys are depressions – low areas that are longer than they are wide. For anthropologists, valleys are the birthplace of human civilization. It was in the valley of Mesopotamia where God sculpted man from the rich soil among the river deposits.
In popular culture a valley is a difficult place; life’s trials are often called valley moments. One dictionary describes a valley as “a low point or interval in any process, representation, or situation.” Perhaps valley moments are difficult because they remind us of how far we have to climb. Perhaps it is because mountains obscure our view and we cannot see the sky and path beyond.
Still, there are certain views that can only be seen in a valley. G. K. Chesterton once remarked,
“One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”
When we take in the vast vista from the mountaintop we can see far ahead but our vision is small and unclear because we can only see it at a distance. The valley is where we can finally take in the details: the impressions on a flower petal, the intricate carvings on a rock, the faint impressions of footprints that have walked the path ahead of us. The things we saw from the distance on the mountaintop become our intimate companions as we walk among them in the valley.
There is a reason the view from the mountains is so beautiful: mountains overlook the valleys that are lush and rich with foliage. Sediment that falls from the mountains collects in the valleys, so it is in the low places of life where the soil is the richest and where flowers and plants can bloom freely. We may sacrifice a panoramic view, but we walk among abundance as new life blossoms around us.
There is something truly special about a valley! For the next few weeks, our articles will be exploring the topic “Ten Things You’ll Find in a Valley.” We hope it will encourage you, whether you are looking on from a mountaintop or are walking through a valley yourself.