The valley of the shadow of death

‘The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’ 1 Kings 20:28.

The background story

Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, remembering the Syrian triumph over Omri, Ahab’s papa, and motivated by the probable fortunes from Samaria, decided to prosecute a war against Israel.

He augmented his large army by roping in armies of thirty-two neighbouring rulers with the allure of victory spoils. He then besieged Samaria and quickly dispatched a message to King Ahab, saying, “Thy silver and thy gold are mine; thy wives and thy children are mine also!”

The feeble and fearful Ahab capitulated to the opprobrious order and sent word to placate the rapacious king of Syria. Nevertheless, it seems that Ben-hadad had elected to lure Ahab to war. His second message was, consequently, even more, impertinent than the first. He directed to be allowed to Ahab’s palace, to comb it, and to take whatever he desired. Ahab’s temper was stirred. He conferred with people’s elders and flatly dismissed Ben-hadad’s instructions. When Benhadad swaggered that “the dust of Samaria will not suffice for handfuls for all the men that follow me,” Ahab returned the favour in bellicosity: “Let him that girds on his armour not boast as if he were taking it off, his deed accomplished.”

Ahab’s stand was moreover inspired by a prophet of God who entered the scene and told the king not to be terrified of the disturbing preponderance of the besieging soldiers. In the same vein, the prophet gave a promise that God would hand over the foes to Ahab. This would make the king acknowledge that God is the Lord. 

Invigorated by this advice, Ahab attacked Ben-hadad at noon of the same day, when the Syrian king was resting in his crib. The army of Ben-hadad was caught flat-footed and decamped in disarray, leaving many fallen and hurt on the battleground. Ben-hadad himself disappeared on a fast horse. The kings used to ride fast horses – for obvious reasons. It is the same way we see world leaders and who’s who ride AMG S 63, and the equivalents.

So, we see Ben-hadad survived Ahab’s assault. But he was not through with Israel. One year later he reappeared, seeking retribution for his ignominious beating. This time he dodged a battle in the mountains because his astromancer had suggested that the God of Israel was powerful in the mountains, and could only be upset in the flats. The warring duo met in the plain of Aphek. In the face of the large Syrian armies, the Hebrew army looked “like two flocks of kids.” The circumstances were dismal for the Jews. However, a man of God came to Ahab again and instructed him to shun apprehension. “Because the people of Syria say I am only a God of the mountain and not a God of the dale, I shall deliver this large army into your hands so that you may recognize that I am the Almighty God.”

Interestingly, for six days the two armies stood against each other in stillness. The seventh day ushered in significant action – a clash. Shockingly, the Syrian bands were utterly levigated. Their bigheaded king Ben-hadad escaped to the town of Aphek. There, he mustered the rest of his men peradventure to decide the next course of action. They advised him to wear sacks and put ashes on his head and go to King Ahab to ask for conciliation, “For we know that the kings of Israel are merciful.” Ben-hadad hearkened to their judgment and meekly pleaded with Ahab to spare his life. Ahab was touched by the humility (it was not genuine humility) of the great king of Syria. He made a pact of bilateral understanding and brotherhood with him and set him scot-free. But this only happened after Ben-hadad had agreed to restore all the cities his father had taken away from Omri, Ahab’s father.

The meat and the bones

The mountain accords us a clear view of the road ahead. It is the most desirable strategic point to observe what lies ahead. Wouldn’t it be glorious to remain on the mountain all the time? God allows us to encounter the mountaintop at times. 

Joseph’s first mountaintop appointment was as a budding chap. He had the favour of his father, Jacob. He was given an exceptional coat and even had a dream about his future. As a tender fellow, Joseph had a touch of destiny about his life. God usually furnishes us with a portrayal of our tomorrow so that we will recall it when we are subjected to the tests of life. This helps us trust Him in the valley. The picture usually does not disclose how God plans to bring about the visions for our lives.

However, none of us derives the character qualities God desires for our lives while we are on the mountain. It is in the valley where the fruit is planted and harvested. It cannot thrive on the mountain; it must flourish in the valley. God is a God of the mountain, but he is, even more, a God of the valley. 

In the valley, it is more demanding to scan the horizon; the clouds often envelop the valley and restrict our vision. A valley is a solitary place. It is that point you stand before God as self. It is a place of self-reflection.

Joseph was thrust into a dark valley that left him wondering if the God of his father had deserted him. His father Jacob had his night in the valley as he prepared to meet his brother Esau. The Bible notes that Jacob was in great fear and distress. Alone at night, he wrestled God (Genesis 32).

Jesus desired that He might be able to bypass the valley that was to cause Him unutterable mental and physical anguish. Daniel was in the pit of lions, and God was still there. Paul of Tarsus found himself in valleys so many time; beginning with the blinding lightning. Ruth went through the valley of widowhood; a not-so-good place to be. Esther had to carry the fear and anguish of his people as Haman prepared to slaughter them. 

There is a valley that each one of us must go through, albeit unwillingly. It is the canyon that teaches us that the God of the mountain still dispenses His faithfulness even in the valley of the shadow of death. His jerrican of goodness never runs dry.

Our time in the valley mutates every cell of our being. The valley produces much fruit into our lives so that we might sow seeds into the lives of others. God does not waste valley experiences. If we are faithful in the valley, we will begin a new dimension with God that we never thought possible. There is a harvest of wisdom and virtue that can only be grown in the valley.

A valley is a place of fruitfulness; it is a place of testing. It is where God brings what we know in our head into our hearts. The only value of knowledge is when it becomes part of our heart.

Don’t squander your valley moment. God will hold us accountable whether on the mountain or in the valley. 

The valley of COVID – 19

Valleys have names. And our current valley is called COVID-19. The COVID-19 disease, which is caused by a family of coronaviruses named SARS-CoV-2 has generated a near-apocalyptic panic across the globe. The fact that the disease is highly contagious troubles not only the scientists but laypeople too. This explains the existing radical public health interventions. Epidemiologists will tell you that without these interventions, SARS-CoV-2 will keep spreading until about 70 per cent of the population has been infected, at which point herd immunity will be achieved, protecting the remaining 30 per cent. But here is the catch: the nations of the world lack health systems that can handle that level of disease burden. Most of our health systems suffer from chronic weak leadership and stewardship; poor service delivery; inadequate and unequipped health workforce; improper management of health information systems; challenges with medical products, vaccines and technologies; and financing challenges.  

Nevertheless, this does not mean we become either flippantly arrogant or fearfully paranoid. We need to calm down and follow the directives of our governments. The messages being passed across by health authorities are for our good. We can only disobey authorities when their directives conflict the principal Christian doctrines. 

Can you picture this: you are travelling from Eldoret to Kisumu, and as you arrive at Kapsabet, a traffic police officer waves you down and asks you to find an alternative route to Kisumu since River Yala is swollen. Will you disregard the advice? What if there was a security alert – an impending terror action – and the government advises citizens to take precautions, what would you do? Will the actions taken imply fear or wisdom? We need to avoid fear and at the same time shun imprudence. God has given us His Spirit to help us strike a balance.

Certainly, God gave us all the resources we need to make it through this fractured world. We have all the avenues at our disposal to show forth our love to Him. He gave us the heart, the soul, the strength and the mind. We have to love Him with our heart; love Him with our soul; love Him with our strength and love Him with our mind. 

Take home

Finally, let us not forget that the Omniscient God can turn anything to serve His purposes. The COVID-19 valley cannot be wasted. God uses suffering to transform us. He allows suffering so that He changes us through it. In His boundless wisdom, God works all things – hurtful stuff, challenging stuff, sad stuff, terminal stuff, and painful stuff – together for good. This is the brutal truth. 

The Omniscient is also teaching us to depend on Him; and not on our wealth, prosperity, education, good health and societies. All these things are fleeting. Our permanent satisfaction, safety and joy are not found in the present world but in the world to come. 

The Holy One wants us to repent. The COVID-19 is a rallying call for repentance. That is why Clive Staples Lewis noted, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The Almighty God can use our valleys to show forth His glory. Think of the Lazarus (John 11) and the blind man’s (John 9:1-3). Think of the most embarrassing situations in your life; the lowest moments in your life; the curveballs of life! God uses them all for His glory. 

We may never see the immediate good, but it will be manifested at an appointed time of the LORD. Yes, He may never tell us the purpose of these valleys, but we can always trust His processes; for He is Immutable and Trustworthy. Nothing takes God by surprise. 

I leave you with the words of Lynda Randle, from her famous ‘God on the Mountain’ song.

Life is easy, when you’re up on the mountain

And you’ve got peace of mind, like you’ve never known

But things change, when you’re down in the valley

Don’t lose faith, for you’re never alone

For the God on the mountain, is still God in the valley

When things go wrong, He’ll make them right

And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times

The God of the day, is still God in the night

You talk of faith when you’re up on the mountain

But talk comes so easy, when life’s at its best

Now it’s down in the valley of trials and temptations

That’s where your faith is really put to the test

For the God on the mountain, is still God in the valley

When things go wrong, He’ll make them right

And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times

The God of the day, is still God in the night

The God of the day, is still God in the night

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