Monday, May 6, 2013

The Valley of Baca

So, for the last few months I've been studying the psalms. No rhyme or reason, I just pick a random one every day to study in depth. I love digging into these scriptures because each psalm is so different, yet so relevant to our lives.

About two days ago, the random psalm that I picked to study was Psalm 84. This is a great chapter in the Bible, a lot of great words packed into just twelve verses. 

You can go here to read Psalm 84, in whatever Bible translation you're comfortable with.

Most of this scripture was pretty straightforward. Great stuff, but very simple. My heart and flesh cry out for the living God. My strength should lie in God. My heart should follow God's ways. God is my shield. God is my grace and glory. I will be blessed if I trust in God. These are awesome truths, but very easy to understand. So I got a little stuck when I was reading verses 5-7.

5: Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.
6: Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.
7: They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.

Okay, did anyone else read that and go, "Uh.. what??" I can understand verse 5. That's easy. A person is blessed if he gets strength from God and has God's ways in his heart. But what is this valley of Baca? What's this rain filling the pools? I'm lost. If you are too, then keep reading, because I did some research to figure some of this out, and I'm about to share with you what I've learned.

Most people agree that the valley of Baca was a valley in Palestine that was known as the "Valley of Weeping". You may know that consistently in scripture we see people give a name to a location based on an event, or some other connection. 1 Chronicles 14:11 talks about how the place of Baalperazim got it's name. Look in 1 Samuel 23:28 to find the meaning of the place Selahammahlekoth. There are tons of these background stories in the scriptures. So it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for this valley to be called the valley of Baca because it was a gloomy, dried-up valley. A valley of lamenting. Some people think that this was a figurative place. But others think that it really was a dried-up valley that was part of the journey one took to get to Zion. Note: Zion in the Old Testament was also known as the "city of David" and was part of Jerusalem. 

I believe this could have been literal. A real person making a literal trek from City X to Jerusalem, and they have to go through this dry desert as part of their passage. I can definitely conceive of that thought. If that's the case, this is what we can take from it. When going on a journey like this, in the driest part of the desert, what is the one thing you can't live without for very long? Water. You can live about three days without water. So on a journey through a desert such as this, what travelers would do is build wells. (see verse 6; we're getting somewhere on this.) Imagine a long path through a desert, traveling from Damascus to Jerusalem, or traveling from Hebron to Jerusalem... you're trying to get to the big city of Jerusalem but first you have to survive the journey. Wells are dug alongside your path. And as it rains, those wells fill up. There you have it. The pools of water have filled, and you can drink from those pools.

Suddenly, this valley of weeping is no longer that. It's not dry anymore. You saw that it was dry, and you created a solution for that issue.

I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. So let's say it's not a literal place. There wasn't really a valley of Baca, this is just the author of Psalm 84 using a figure of speech. That's fine too - let's go there!

What's your valley of Baca? What's the section of your journey that just makes you weep? Infertility? The loss of a loved one? The loss of your faith? Losing trust in other Christians? Losing the trust of your spouse? Finances? Anxiety? Feeling abandoned? Having a child turn away from you? Whatever your reason for weeping, you have a choice to make when you're in that valley.

Are you going to struggle to make it? Or are you going to make wells and have them fill with rain?

I'm sure you see the metaphor here. We all have a road to travel. Sometimes that road is easy, and sometimes we feel dried up and deserted.

If you've gone to church your whole life, you know the story in Acts 16:25 -
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.  Yes, these two followers of Jesus were imprisoned, and yet they sat in there singing praises to God. They were in a desert section of their journey, but they chose to make wells. 

As I said, I do believe this could have been speaking of a literal journey to the city of Zion. But I also believe it could be alluding to the fact that we're on this journey to our Zion. For a Christian, that's eternal life in heaven. On our journey to heaven we're going to shed a lot of tears. A true Christian is going to be in mourning over his sin and over the sin of the world. Sometimes we can feel so defeated and so discouraged when we think about the direction of the world. I am scared for my children. I am saddened that they honestly will not have as carefree a childhood as I feel I had. But when I have those moments of sadness or defeat, there's always some comfort that comes from knowing God is in control. I have some pools that have filled up, and sometimes I have to pull from that when I am thirsty for answers. Sometimes I just have to relinquish control and hand it over to God. In those times, my faith gets strengthened, and so does my resolve; to reach as many people as possible in my short time here, and to change the world as much as I can with my husband and two children.

You know what I really think is interesting? A lot of people translate the valley of Baca as a place filled with balsam trees. I don't know how they came upon that, and I don't know if it's correct or incorrect. But I did some research on balsam trees. They are trees that you would use for your Christmas tree. That's pretty insignificant, I'm just telling you that so you can picture this tree. But let me tell you about some of the properties of balsam trees.

The resin from balsam trees can be made into a salve which alleviates sores.
The bark can be made into an herbal tea which relieves chest pains.
The twigs from the tree can be steeped in water and used as a laxative.
The resin as well as vapors from the branches could be used to alleviate breathing problems.

Now, this may be stretching it, but does anyone else see this?

The balsam tree can be used to alleviate sores - it heals your pain. It relieves chest pains and breathing problems - takes away your anxieties. It has a laxative effect - cleansing. 

God never said our lives will be easy. We will go through valleys. There is no doubt about that. But God provides little wells of relief along the way. He provides balsam firs which take care of our pain... our anxiety... and leaves us cleansed and renewed. We just have to trust Him when we get in the valley. We can't do it on our own. Yes, we can dig a well on our own. But God must send the rain to fill that well up. Yes, we can plant a balsam fir. But only God can make that tree grow to adulthood. 

Blessed is the man whose strength is in God. He will be able to pass through the valley of weeping. He will gain strength with every adversity until he finally reaches his destination. Zion. (Amanda's translation of Psalm 84:5-7!)

Any thoughts on this? I'm certainly no Bible scholar, just trying to dig a little deeper into God's word. I would love comments or questions.

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