Monday, May 6, 2019

Passing Through the Weeping Valley

Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion…”
(Psalm 84:5-7 NKJV)

I love the Psalms. I love the way that David and others talk to God, and how God responds to the Psalmists. In the Psalms, you get all the spectrum of life, as men rejoice, weep, struggle, doubt, and ultimately overcome all fears. When I’m in a struggle, I find it of great help to find someone who has faced the same struggle, and yet was able to overcome. This is the legacy left us by the Psalmists. The Psalms are beautiful. The Psalms are gritty. The Psalms are real.

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 84. This is a beautiful picture of Jewish pilgrims heading to Jerusalem to celebrate a feast. Yet, it is much more than that. I see in this Psalm a picture of each of us making our way to the Heavenly Jerusalem (See Hebrews 12:22). It’s a picture of our travels through this life. In the first part of this psalm, this unnamed psalmist (all we know of him is that he was of the “Sons of Korah,” who were temple musicians), he describes his longing to be in the place where God dwells, which in those days, was the temple in Jerusalem. He even expresses envy for the birds that make their homes in the nooks and crannies of the temple grounds.

In verse five, he turns to those who are making their way to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the many feasts prescribed in the Torah. He says that the man (or is generic here) is blessed who finds his strength in the Lord. He says about these pilgrims, that their hearts are set on pilgrimage. In other words, wherever they find themselves along the way, whether a joyous place or a rough one, it is really of no consequence, because it is not their home. Their home is up ahead in the City of God. They are determined to get there...and nothing will stop them! What a lesson for us as we travel this road to the Celestial City! If our hearts are set on pilgrimage...if we are determined to make it, no matter what obstacles, nothing will deter us! This world is not our home. We are just passing through.

Verse six is peculiar. “As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring…” What is the “Valley of Baca?” Baca has two meaning...It was a specific kind of tree, probably a Balsam. But it also meant “weeping” (as the Balsam tree was a type of “weeping tree” similar to our “weeping” willow). So, the Valley of Baca was the Weeping Valley. What is this Weeping Valley? For those of us who have been on the road to the Heavenly Jerusalem for very long, we know very well what this “Valley of Weeping” is, though we may have never heard the term before. I wish I could characterize the Christian life as being one of victory upon succeeded by joy. Yet, though there are great victories and “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” this walk with God is not a tearless journey. Jesus Himself said as He neared the cross…”In the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33). The Valley of Baca is something none of us have escaped.

What Weeping Valleys have you encountered as you have made your way through this world? Sickness, divorce, or death of those near and dear to you may have led you into dark nights of your soul. You might have encountered struggles with finance, struggles with relationships, or struggles with unsaved family members. Sometimes, for many of us, it seems like one Valley of Baca is succeeded by another, with little break in between. Heartache may seem at times to be your closest companion.

For some of us, though there may or may not have been these outward troubles, yet we find the greatest struggles are in our own souls. We want to serve God and to please Him. Yet, we have to say, as Paul did in Romans 7…

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want…” (Romans 7: 18, 19)

There are times for us when God seems so near. We could almost reach out and touch Him. Then again, we have other times, when our testimony is not so encouraging. We’ve come to the Weeping Valley. He is distant. We know by faith that He is near...but we can’t find Him like we could in the past. Sometimes these “Valleys of Baca” may last a few weeks...and few months...even a few years.

My mind takes me back here to an old hymn we sang when I was growing up. It was written by John Newton, the former slave ship captain who became a Christian and wrote “Amazing Grace.”

How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus no longer I see
Sweet prospects sweet birds
and sweet flow'rs, Have all lost their
sweetness to me

The mid-summer sun shines but dim
The fields strive in vain to look gay
But when I am happy in Him
December's as pleasant as May

John Newton certainly knew what the Valley of Baca was.

In a later verse he describes the former times He had with Christ…

Content with beholding His face,
My all to His pleasure resigned,
No changes of seasons or place
Would make any change in my mind.
While blest with a sense of His love,
A palace a toy would appear;
And prisons would palaces prove,
If Jesus would dwell with me there.

Prisons would palaces prove...if Jesus would dwell with me there. When you’ve tasted the sweet wine of God’s presence, nothing else will do!

Yet, for each of us, God has called us to walk through the Valley of Weeping. I’m convinced that it is the same place that, in Psalm 23, David calls “the valley of the shadow of death.” It wasn’t literally death that David was walking through...but it felt like it!

Notice also in verse six of the 84th Psalm, the writer says, “Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; The early rain also covers it with blessings.” This “Son of Korah” says that when we walk through the Weeping Valley, we don’t just have to grit our teeth and get through it, we can, even in such a place, find “streams in the desert” (see Isaiah 35:6 KJV). In whatever valley we find ourselves in, we can discover springs of water. Actually, notice the wording of the Psalm…”they make it a spring.” This tells me that, whatever struggle we find ourselves in, we have the power within us, through the Holy Spirit, to “make it a spring.” How is that possible?

One Old Testament example of a man who did exactly that is found in 1 Samuel 30. David has been running from wicked King Saul for almost a decade. He’s gone from one “Valley of Baca” to another. Though anointed as king by Samuel in his youth, that experience must have seen distant to him now. He is head of a renegade bunch that called themselves “David’s Mighty Men.” In this instance, David and his men, as they are chasing their enemies the Amalekites, come to their home base at Ziklag. David and his men had left their families there for safety. Yet, when they topped the hill at Ziklag, all they could see was ruin and destruction below. The enemy had attacked their home base and carried off their family members! Verse four tells us their response:

Then David and the people who were with him lifted up their voices and wept, until they had no more power to weep.”

Without a doubt, David had come upon Weeping Valley. Unfortunately, it only got worse from there. David’s men, in their distress, irrationally spoke of stoning their leader. David was no more responsible for the calamity than any of his men, but the men in their grief were not thinking soberly...they were acting out of emotion.

Yet, at the close of verse six of 1 Samuel 30, we find David’s response…

...But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God…” (KJV)

Here is where David found his “streams in the desert.” He had made a spring in the Valley of Weeping. He didn’t look around at the devastation he saw. Nor did he look to his friends around him, who were hardly being friends to him at the time. He looked up to God...and found encouragement. There are sometimes in our lives, when all seems lost, that we must “encourage ourselves in the Lord.”

I wonder how David did this? What encouragement could he find in the Lord that day when nothing
around him was encouraging? Perhaps, he might have looked back to another valley, when he was just a boy. It was the valley where he met Goliath...with only a sling and a stone. No one...NO ONE...gave him any chance against the Giant of Gath. You probably know the story. God gave David the victory...and the giant’s head was removed from his body. Maybe David also thought of the many times that God had delivered him from the half-mad King Saul. Whatever the case, David looked back and found courage to go forward.

When David encouraged himself in the Lord, he began to act not out of fear but out of faith. The remainder of the story is one of victory upon victory. Read it for yourself. David asks God, “Shall I overtake them?” (Notice, he doesn’t ask God, shall I crawl in a corner and console myself? We need to be asking the right question!) God’s encouraging answer was “Pursue for you shall surely overtake them and WITHOUT FAIL recover all.” (1 Samuel 30:8) And, that’s exactly what happened. After encouraging himself in the Lord, David encourages his men with God’s word, and they march off and recover all. Not one of their loved ones perished at the hands of Amelek.

Perhaps, that is why in verse seven of Psalm 84, it says that these men and women who make the valley of Baca a spring “go from strength to strength.” When we walk through our valleys of Baca, encouraging ourselves in the Lord as we contemplate God’s past mercies, we go from our puny human strength to God’s amazing heavenly strength. Strength to strength. Faith to faith (see Romans 1:17). Every Weeping Valley that we walk through gives us strength to take the next hill. Later on, in the psalm, we are told the reason for such encouragement as we find even in the Valley of Baca”

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)

What encouragement there is in this verse! The Lord, who is our sun and shield, has promised to give us grace for every Valley of Baca that we walk through. Ultimately, he will give us glory...eternal glory. He will not withhold one good thing from us, here or in eternity, when we walk uprightly before Him. This doesn’t mean that we have to do everything perfectly. It just means that we obey Him, that we follow Him as best we know how. In the end, everyone who is on the road to our Heavenly Jerusalem...and who stays on the road...will, as it says in verse seven, appear before God in Zion.

If you find yourself in Weeping Valley today, be encouraged! If you are in a struggle, keep struggling! (As my pastor has said, many times, “Strugglers make it!) If your strength is in Jesus, He has promised you that He will never leave you nor forsake you. He is a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1). Weeping may indeed endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning! (Psalm 30:5)

I'd like to invite each of you to follow us as we study Paul's Epistle to Romans here on this blog...I believe you'll be encouraged! Each blog post includes a video of the lesson, plus my notes, so that you can follow along if you wish.  To access Lesson #1, click here.

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