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.