I was reading in 1st Kings chapter 20 this week, not a passage I usually frequent. (I’m four years into my quest to read the entire Bible in one year, haha!) As a teenager, I vaguely recall hearing a preacher talking about this moment in Israel’s saga, but now, forty years later, this historical account struck me in a new way.
The children of Israel were facing yet another battle against the ominous Syrian army, led by a wicked and self-absorbed King, Ben-Hadad. Ben-Hadad means “son of the god Hadad”, the god of storms, thunder and “noise”, worshipped by most Syrians at the time. Indeed, King Ben-Hadad came on like a frightening storm, boasting his threats to Ahab, King of Israel.
“Your silver and your gold are mine; your loveliest wives and children are mine.”
King Ahab’s response seemed completely cowardly to me when I read it:
“My lord, O king, just as you say, I and all that I have are yours.”
Thankfully, King Ahab consulted with the elders of the land and told them about the pickle they were in — and that he’d given in to King Ben-Hadad’s demands. The elders response to Ahab was excellent (brave and faith-filled) advice:
“Do not listen or consent.”
Needless to say, Ben-Hadad was madder than a wet hen, as my grandma would say. Just as his armies were getting drunk and preparing to attack Israel, a prophet of God told King Ahab, “Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
Just as God had promised through the prophet, a small number of God-fearing Israelites conquered multitudes of trained Syrian soldiers in a miraculous victory!
Afterwards, the prophet warned the king of Israel that the king of Syria would attack them again in the spring. He told Ahab, “Go, strengthen yourself; take note, and see what you should do.” (Don’t you wish we always had warning and preparation time when the enemy was going to attack us?)
The servants of King Ben-Hadad (who had just barely escaped with his life after the last battle with Israel) shared their opinion of how to defeat Israel this time (1 Kings 20:23):
“Their gods are gods of the hills. Therefore they were stronger than we; but if we fight against them in the plain, then surely we will be stronger than they.”
In the spring (just as the prophet had said), Ben-Hadad mustered his armies to attack Israel, and Ahab mustered his much-smaller armies. In fact, verse 27 recounts, “…Now the children of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, while the Syrians filled the countryside.”
Ever feel outnumbered by your attackers? Whether literal, health issues, financial, familial breakdowns (that’s the worst), so-called friends, or spiritual forces behind these attacks — we often feel like the “little flock of goats” against an army that “fills the countryside”.
The bible accounts that a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel:
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys,” therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
Now, I’m no theologian, but I understand that idol-worshipers accredited various “powers” to different “gods” or idols they worshipped. Much like Hindus of today, one god just couldn’t do it all! That’s because they didn’t know the one TRUE GOD and Creator of everything — the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Lord, Jesus, the Son of God.
So that “little flocks of goats”, the small number of Israelites on the battle field that day, killed one hundred thousand foot soldiers of the Syrian army! The Syrians who fled to the nearby city of Aphek, twenty-seven thousand men, were killed when a wall fell on them! God will protect His children and vindicate His Holy name!
The enemy, in this case, was a wicked Syrian king. Our enemies, in this life, are not who or what we see with our physical eyes, but spiritual, invisible forces working against our very souls and those we love. (See Ephesians 6:10-20)
Being recently (and very unexpectedly) widowed last year, my children and grandchildren and I have been walking through a “valley” — a valley of grief. Even since then, I, probably like you, have faced many other types of valleys along our paths. Things that bring tears, anxiety, fear, disappointment, anger, helplessness, and grief.
As I absorbed the various facets of this biblical battle, it was as if the Holy Spirit turned on a flashlight, illuminating an often obscured vantage point.
I don’t like pain – physical or emotional.
No normal person does.
The famous 23rd Psalm talks of “the valley of the shadow of death”. I’ve walked in that valley — many times — and I do not enjoy it.
In 1st Kings Chapter 20, the Syrian army thought that if the Israelites were in the valley, they could be easily defeated. All of the sudden, as God “shined His flashlight” (a lamp unto our feet), I saw another angle of relevant truth.
When we are at our lowest, we are most vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. Grief, or any type of anxiety, leaves us feeling like an injured, caged animal. Our tempers are short, our patience is thin, and we just can’t handle one more thing.
Our natural response to pain of any sort is to avoid it, ignore it, and relieve it some way. Humans do this in various fashions, including anything to make us feel just a little better — just to relieve the sting and heaviness of a great loss — even momentarily.
Some turn to alcohol or drugs, some jump into a romantic relationship to avoid loneliness, some to excessive shopping, buying things, spending money (this one was a weakness for me after Hank died – spending money on my kids and grandkids, giving money away to several charities and ministries). Or, we’ll bury ourselves in distractions – television, social media, books, anything to keep our minds off the pain.
Often, we will sleep excessively to deal with grief and depression. If we’re asleep, maybe we’ll dream of the one we’ve lost. (That one was a comfort to me, personally.) These are all normal reactions, but Satan knows we are weakest in situations like these.
Suddenly, several scriptural truths came to my mind — and I know that the Holy Spirit was teaching me something significant and life-changing!
Isaiah 53:3 prophecies of the coming Messiah: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;” Jesus didn’t go looking for trouble and grief — but He suffered lots of it during His time on earth. Even to leave the comforts of Heaven and take on flesh and blood brought suffering. He didn’t run from it — although He could have. Thank GOD that He didn’t!
My life and untold others have been forever changed because Jesus endured the emotional, physical, spiritual, familial, betrayal of friends, and every type of suffering — so WE could have life — on this earth, and for eternity. The bible says He could have called thousands of angels to come deliver Him from the cross — but He didn’t.
A truth that I am still learning, still discerning, and trying to live out (and teach to my 15-year-old daughter, the only child still left at home) is that all pain is not bad. Digging out a splinter hurts, but it’s not to harm us, but to help us. Even emotional pain and grief — as much as I dislike them and want them to end — as quickly as possible, please — can be used for good in our lives, if we will let them.
Grieving softens our own hearts, and helps us gain compassion for others who are hurting. Even though I consider myself a compassionate person, I have never prayed more for the other widows and widowers that I know, than since I lost my dear Hank in January 2020. I prayed for these dear ones for a few weeks after their spouses died, but then I kind of forgot about praying for them.
Not any more.
Psalm 91:1-2 describes the “secret power” of the believer in Christ, especially when we feel under attack:
“He that dwelleth in the secret place [shelter] of the Most High shall abide under the shadow [protective covering] of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him will I trust.”
When we feel like we just want to crawl under a rock and hide, let us hide in the Rock! Psalm 61:1-4 is a song and prayer
for just such moments!
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.
1 Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3 For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
4 I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
In my grief at times, I was tempted to distract myself from the pain by perusing sites for single Christians. I had no intention of dating or talking to anyone, but my thoughts were, “I’ll just look.” Kind of like thinking we’ll go to the car dealership just to “test drive” a vehicle, with no intentions of buying. That rarely works well! (I never did look at any websites, but my emotional torment made me a target for such temptations!) I’m not saying that it would be wrong or outright sinful for someone to do that, but a verse I’ve stood on time and time again kept coming to mind. Again, the Holy Spirit was at work, tenderly steering me back onto the right path:
“Whatever is not from faith is sin.” (from Romans 14:23).
I’ve come to understand that if the Lord didn’t lead me to do something (that stems from my faith in and allegiance to Him), it’s WRONG for me. To follow my temporary feelings — instead of my faith in what God has told me– is always going to lead to disaster, disappointment, and regret.
So, what did I do (and am I still doing) in this “valley of grief”? During this time when the enemy works overtime trying to distract, deter, and ultimately destroy me?
+ I cry when I need to (most of the time). Sometimes when I’m about to crumble, I manage to brush it off and get busy doing something else. (In those moments I think, “I don’t have time to fall apart right now.”) Just being honest.
+ I talk to God throughout the day, when I’m driving, when I’m in the shower, when I see a glorious nature show on TV (thanking God for His magnificent creation), or praying instantly when I see a building collapse or children ravaged by war on the news. And, since I’m sleeping alone and have no on else’s agenda to hurry me, I lean over my bed and PRAY every night. Every. Night. God is my Husband. This is our time together, without distraction.
+ I give financially, and of my time, to a handful of ministries and charities I support. Mostly (in addition to my home church), to the orphanage / school in India that my ministry sponsors. We are helping change the trajectory of thousands of people through our friends with “boots on the ground”, doing a tremendous work over there. (I welcome you to join me in this task! Many hands make the work light.) I am making “eternal investments” — the only kind we can count on to last. Helping others in destitute need helps alleviate our own grief.
+ I make a deliberate effort to stay in touch with the ones I love, and I don’t take one moment, one conversation, one photograph, one laugh or one tear, for granted. Ironic that Covid-19 hit right after I buried my husband — and took that away from all of us for a time. Don’t take your loved ones for granted. They won’t always be here.
+ I work in the yard and the garden a lot. Hank used to take care of those things, and it is therapeutic to carry on his work. It makes me miss him (and cry, sometimes), but it also helps me heal. Plus, we enjoy the fresh vegetables!
+ I am staying busy working a lot, but on things I feel that God has called and gifted me to do. And, these things are all making a difference in the lives of others, as well. My work has purpose, and that brings comfort and helps immensely! (Things like tuning pianos to support the Indian orphanage, and real estate investing & rehabilitation to support my family, and to provide good housing for people in need.)
+ I am work diligently to get out of debt and put all my financial and legal affairs in order, to make things easier for my children in the future, and less stress for myself right now.
+ I still have goals, dreams and aspirations for the future — like writing my books, writing more songs, composing film scores and TV/ film cues, and even working on family scrapbooks and sewing projects. I will live, not just survive.
+ I know that there are still happy days ahead. We’ve had many joyous moments of great blessings even amid the tears of losing my husband, and then my brother, only 8 months later. God still gives us reasons to be grateful and happy.
House I just rehabilitated and sold to a single mom. Answer to two prayers!
What will you do with your “valley”? Love to read your comments below!
Let’s remember that Jesus is LORD during our mountaintop experiences, but also when we’re in a valley. He is very close to the brokenhearted. So, we’re in good company!
LORD, let me not despise or run from these times of grief and heartache. Instead, help me to treasure these special moments with You, hiding in the secret and secure place of Almighty God. Thank You that You walk with me and hold my hand, even more so when my heart is heavy. I look forward to the day when You will wipe away every tear from our eyes! Help me to keep my eyes upon YOU until then. Amen.