The Valley of No Return

Newer translations have updated the words, but it is the older text that is most often repeated by and to those who are in the valley of grief:  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 KJV). The assurance of God’s presence, protection, and guidance is consolation for the soul in sorrow.

Comfort, too, is in the phrase “through the valley.” The soul gets through the gloomy place, for God is guiding and shielding. There is, however, a valley where there is no way out: “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there . . . .” (Joel 3:2 ESV).

God is also in that valley but not as Guide and Protector. He comes there as Judge:  “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14 ESV).

The only decision made in the Valley of Jehoshaphat is God’s. Time for decisions by all others has run out. It is now the LORD’s time to hand down His verdict on their past decisions. From that valley there is no escape.

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Who Heard God’s Fourth Double Knock?

The Bible records only eight times when God reiterates someone’s name. The first time was to Abraham. Skipping a generation, He spoke the next one to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. More than four hundred years elapsed before God used the third double knock on Moses. The next one was not heard until another four centuries had passed.

Hannah tightened her arms around her little man and squeezed and kissed him again and again. Steeling herself to stop, she released her toddler to the arms of Eli and turned away. As Samuel’s screams ran after her, she quickened her steps and let her tears flow freely. Somehow she gathered up the courage not to look back.

The heart-wrenching agony was worse than that of a few short years ago when she begged God for her firstborn child. But she could not keep him. What she could and would keep was her part of the deal–the holy vow of her own making:

And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV).

With her steps hastily distancing her from Samuel, Hannah grasped for any consoling thought to soothe her stomach-churning pain of separation. She imagined how happy she would be this time next year when she came to Shiloh for the annual sacrifice and saw her son. In the meantime she would not let a day go by without holding him up to God in prayer that he would grow in faith and courage.

And there was something else she could do! The minute she got home, she would start spinning wool to weave him a coat. Next year when she made her pilgrimage, she would take it to him. And every year thereafter Samuel would see his smiling mother greeting him with a new and larger coat.

He was such a good boy! Oh, he was bound to become a fine man. She would always be proud of him, a man of God’s choosing!

Well, if she couldn’t keep him with her, there wasn’t a better place for him to live than in the house of God under the tutelage of the nation’s judge and high priest. Thus Hannah assumed. But there must have come a time when she had second thoughts. For things were not as they ought to be in Eli’s household.

His sons–worthless, lawless priests–habitually, shamelessly desecrated the worship of God (1 Samuel 2:12-17) and the morality of God. Surely, the devout Hannah was among those who complained:

Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the LORD spreading abroad (1 Samuel 2:22-24 ESV).

Eli gave his sons a slap on the wrist. Verbally criticized them but took no action to correct them. And that’s when God took the purehearted, twelve-year-old Samuel into His counsel, beginning with the fourth double knock:

And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them (1 Samuel 3:10-14 ESV).

Samuel grew up to become judge and prophet for the entire Jewish nation.
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