Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a three day Men’s Retreat based on the eye-opening book by John Eldredge called “Wild At Heart” (which is why I was unable to put up a new post last Sunday…so I apologize for that…I was busy “refilling my tank”). It was mostly about helping men to get in touch with the man that God created us to be. You probably have noticed (I know I have) that the world around us and modern society has created these false concepts of manhood and masculinity. The results of all this societal pressure has been like a double-edged sword in a lot of ways, as so many men have not only had a hard time living up to these skewed images of manhood, but whenever they did try to fit into these more modern male images, it felt a lot like wearing a straight jacket. It probably made other folks happy to see it on…just not the one wearing it.
Needless to say, it was refreshing to hear that we don’t have to be Captain America or Captain Kangaroo….or anyone else for that matter. We just have to discover who God made us to be, as individuals, and do our best to walk in those shoes and we will be just fine. But enough about all of that. That was last week. I really wanted to talk about something a little different this week….mountains and valleys.
Say what? Mountains and valleys? I know…but there really is a connection. Trust me.
So, every morning I take one chapter out of the Bible and I choose a portion of it and make a post on our Men’s Group Facebook page….and make a few comments about it….sort of like a casual online Bible study for the guys at our church. It has been a blast…I have really enjoyed it and I have learned so much by doing that on a daily basis….it has been amazing.
Right now, we are going through the Book of 1 Kings, which was written by the prophet Jeremiah. We were in Chapter 20, one day this week, and I came across this amazing passage. It was amazing because, at first, it did not seem to make any sense. But the more I studied it and pondered it…I began to see something that I think is pretty darn cool. Here is the passage:
At the turn of the year, Ben-hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. Then a man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “ The Lord is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord .’” [1 Kings 20:26,28 NASB]
So there was this king of Aram. His name was Ben-hadad and he was going around to all the little tribes and nations around him….just “kicking butts and taking names”. He was the “bully on the block”, you could say. And he was lookin’ to go after Israel next. He even sent a messenge to the king of Israel that they were coming to take their gold and silver, and their women and children too. And at first, it seemed that the king of Israel was going to agree to it (I’m guessing out of fear…since he saw what happened to all those other tribes and nations). But when he took it to the council of elders, they loudly objected. So he agreed that they would fight Ben-hadad’s armies and God actually gave them the victory.
After that battle, Ben-hadad’s officers came to him and said, “Israel’s God is a god of the mountains. We cannot beat them there. We need to draw them out to the plains, away from their God. Then we will be able to defeat them.” So, they did try again and this time they were defeated even more decisively. Then, they decided to go and see if Ahab, the King of Israel, would be willing to make a peace deal with them and let King Ben-hadad live. And believe it or not, Ahab agreed and made a covenant with Ben-hadad and let him live.
What happens next is pretty bizarre (as if what has been happening up until now has been routine or normal). A prophet shows up and concocts this elaborate scheme to show Ahab the error of his ways….and Ahab walks right into it.
As it turned out, God was prepared to make Ben-hadad pay the ultimate price for saying the God of Israel was only a “god of the mountains”…and not the valleys, too. So God was not pleased that Ahab was ready to make peace with an enemy of Israel, one that God was ready to judge for his unbelief. It turns out that Ahab, then, would be the one to be judged…and he knew it. After all, it says that Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than any of the other kings (and most of them were no peaches, either). Plus, we know Ahab was married to Jezebel…and she was no Mother Teresa, herself.
But it raised a question, at least in my mind. Why was it so important to the Lord to be recognized as both the “God of the mountains and the God of the valleys?”
Well, for starters, let’s see what King David had to say about the subject:
The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. [Psalm 24:1 NASB]
It seems pretty obvious that King David, a man who was said to be “a man after God’s own heart,” saw the Lord as much more than just a “god of the mountains.” He actually believed (and so do I) that the whole world and everything in it belongs to God, including all the creatures and all the people who have ever lived here. So, it seems that at the very least, the Arameans view that God was just a “god of the mountains” was an attempt at doing what so many still try to do today…to minimize who God is or cut him down to size and make us all, as the famous movie title suggests, “Children Of A Lesser God.”
If a person has spent anytime in church or reading the Bible, it probably did not take them long to begin to understand that God is not big on compromising who He is or “going along just to get along.” No, He is pretty firm on the whole “Lord of all or not at all” line of thinking. But there is another facet of this whole “mountain and valley thingy” that I really want to touch on, if I may.
It has often been said that it is easy to praise God when you are on the mountaintop (when things are going good…let’s say). But it is not always easy to do that when life drags you down into the “valley of death” (as David called it)…and it seems you are all alone in your pain and there is no end in sight.
Some have referred to this as the “dark night of the soul” and those who have experienced it might tend to agree with King Ben-hadad and the Arameans by saying, “God might exist on the top of the mountain, but He is nowhere to be found down here in the valleys of life.” Based on my experiences, interacting with God over the years, I would have to strongly disagree with that view. When I was going through the most difficult times in my life, I found that if I would quiet myself and listen, God was not only there with me, He was speaking to me quite clearly in His gentle and comforting voice. I was definitely not alone. That much I know for sure.
Another portion of Scripture from 1 Kings confirms this, as well:
So He said, “ Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord ; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.” [1 Kings 19:11-13 NASB]
You see, God was not speaking to Elijah through the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire. He spoke to Elijah through the “gentle blowing” and it says Elijah heard it and went out of the cave. God provided him with that “light at the end of the tunnel.” He did not leave him alone in his time of trouble and the Lord does not abandon us then, either.
While it is true, it may be harder to see Him or hear His voice when those strong winds are blowing or the ground is shaking beneath our feet, but He is right there working on our behalf every bit as much as when we are rejoicing on that mountaintop. I have no doubt.
Those who know me, know that I have a fondness for many of those classic, traditional hymns of days gone by. The words and messages of those old hymns were so clear and so powerful, they never fail to touch my heart or, sometimes, even bring a tear to my eye.
One of those is a beloved song made famous by the gospel group, The McKameys, and has been sung by just about every other traditional gospel artist or group since. It is a song called “God On The Mountain.” I recently saw a documentary on this classic hymn and I was not surprised to find that the songwriter, Tracy Dartt, was in a pretty dark and deep valley in his life when God woke him up in the middle of the night and gave him the words to this amazing song in about twenty minutes, start to finish. Here are the words to the chorus of this famous hymn:
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
How’s that for putting a little icing on this cake. Now I can’t say for sure, but I would not be surprised to find that Tracy had been reading 1 Kings Chapter 20 around the time that these beautiful words to this hymn were penned.
Isn’t that just like the Lord, who sometimes allows His children to go through a valley, so that they may come to know Him better and He can lead them back to the mountaintop, if they will only put their trust in Him? I can confidently say from experience…yes..it is.
So how does this relate to the things we learned at the Men’s Retreat last weekend? Oh yes, thanks for reminding me.
We heard from dozens of men, down there, who had spent much of their life “in the valley.” Poverty, bad neighborhoods, abusive parents (especially fathers), you name it. We heard it all. Some had spent their entire childhood there, feeling hopeless and seeing no end in sight. But God continued to love them (even if they did not know it at the time) and eventually He reached out to them and opened their eyes so they could follow Him out of the darkness and into the light.
And now that they know the truth, they have absolutely no doubt He was with them every step of the way.
They know first hand, He is certainly “God of the valleys,” every bit as much as He is “God of the mountains.” But they had to go through the valley first, to see it.
Author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”