Why Do We Have/Need Valleys? | 2 Samuel 12:1-14
Heather and I love to hike. One of our favorite pastimes for most of the early years of our relationship was to disappear into the woods on a Friday after work for a weekend camping trip. We have hiked all over the southeast and as we have moved around, the Midwest and Mountain West. We have learned to be careful, knowing that we are not always in safe places and have seen everything from the average squirrel or field mouse to black bears and rattlesnakes.
Part of our method for being careful is getting a trail map or following well established trails until we get used to an area and can kind of wing it. Even with these precautions, we have not always ended up where we intended. For instance, we went on a family camping to a place in North Carolina called Deep Creek with my parents and my sister and her family. The park we camped in was a national park and had the typically good signage that you expect at a national park. With that in mind, we set out on a little two-mile loop trail, thinking only to carry a bottle of water for such a short jaunt.
We left camp and walked up to a ridge line with beautiful views of the mountains in late summer, an occasional breeze crossing over the hills. It was mid to late afternoon, not too hot and very comfortable beneath the shade of trees that weren’t even thinking of turning yet. The signage was pretty good for the most part but there was one sign that was a little confusing. If I remember right, it seemed to be pointing kind of in between two trails or something like that. We took what looked to be the more established trail, assuming more people would choose the short loop trail rather than the extended trail that followed along the canyon ridges.
And that was wrong.
One trail led into another and another until we found a sign high on a ridge illuminated by the sun sinking toward the horizon: “Deep Creek campground – 7.5 miles.” With an empty water bottle and rather tired feet, we turned down the trail leading back to the campground. By the time we got back to camp, the sun had all but set and our family was close to calling the park rangers to see where we were. Our little two-mile saunter in the woods before supper turned into a fifteen-mile hike with a single bottle of water. Not the worst thing in the world given that we had plenty to eat and drink before we left but it wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.
What we experienced was a combination of choice and circumstance. We made the choice to go for a hike later in the afternoon and we chose to follow the trail markers as guides for the hike. We also chose to only bring a bottle of water rather than a small hiking pack with a few supplies (mostly because we hate having to carry things when we go for a walk). We could not have predicted the circumstance, however, of one of the signs being turned. The combination of choice and circumstance added up to a difference of thirteen miles before all was said and done.
When we look at the passage today, we need to put in the context of David’s entire story. While this is a great turning point, it is not one that can be looked at in a vacuum. David’s story begins as the faithful hero who is following after God’s own heart. He endures the insecurities of Saul until the day that David can be properly crowned king of Israel. With God’s help and guidance, he leads the armies of Israel against all enemies and defeats them with one exception in the passage, the Ammonites. He is living the proverbial dream of perfected spiritual, emotional, and personal peace. If you know anything about Jewish storytelling, you should know that this is where the bottom falls out. David’s story is no exception. It is at this point David begins the journey into the greatest valley of life because he starts making bad choices.
The first of these bad choices is that he sends out the army against the Ammonites, but he doesn’t go with them. Notice the first verse of chapter 11,
“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.”
Imagine if you will a man who has everything at the snap of a finger and nothing to do but practice finger snapping. David is in what many might consider and enviable position but one fraught with emotional and spiritual danger. Anything he might want to indulge in is at his fingertips and given enough time, even the best of us are prone to make bad decisions. Instead of doing what he has always done – leading the armies of Israel from the front – David decides to delegate and have his trust commander Joab handle things. In doing this, David has unwittingly set himself up for the fall to come.
Second, David starts acting like a king. In 1 Samuel 8, the Israelite people are demanding a king, so they can be like the other countries around them that have great warrior leaders. The prophet/priest Samuel tells the people that having is king is bad idea because kings take the best from the people and leave them whatever is left over. In fact, Samuel mentions five very specific things that kings take: sons for the military, daughters to serve in the palace, slaves, livestock, and finally, even the people’s freedom as the king makes slaves of them as well. By the time David comes to power after the fall of Saul, these practices are already well in place, though the idea of freedom may be a spiritual/emotional bondage as well as physical. Specifically, here in the chapter, David begins to act kingly – sending the sons away to battle and casting an eye toward the daughters, specifically the daughter of one of his soldiers.
Finally, David makes the choice to act less like the follower after God’s own heart and more like the follower of his own desires, desires in this case that are unchecked.
“It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So, David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” – (2 Samuel 11:2-5)
Notice the series of events that happen here and the speed at which they happen – in one afternoon. In one afternoon, David saw Bathsheba, sent for her, and committed adultery with her. There is scholarly disagreement about Bathsheba’s level of involvement in all this, whether she was coerced by a man of power against her will or a willing participant. Her level of involvement aside, in the end, she sends a simple missive to the king, I am pregnant.
David at this point tries to cover his tracks by ordering Uriah, her husband, home from the battlefield. David tries to get Uriah to go home and spend some ‘quality time’ with his wife in the hopes that he could have Uriah help him cover up the fact that Bathsheba was pregnant by another man. Uriah however, acts in the duty-bound manner of a soldier, staying with the other soldiers, ever ready to return to the front and David’s plan is thwarted. With little other option in his mind, David sends orders to the front for his trusty commander and yes-man Joab, to put Uriah in a situation guaranteed to have Uriah killed. After the death of Uriah, David sends for Bathsheba and she becomes one of his many wives, bearing him a son.
It is at this point that we find out from the text, that the thing that David had done displeased the Lord and the Lord sent Nathan to David. Nathan tells the story of the lamb taken unjustly from the man who had only one by the rich man who has an entire field of lambs. This is a set up if there ever was one, and David walks right into it. You are the man is one of the most powerful indictments of the Old Testament and that phrase spoken in that moment becomes a turning point for David’s life hereafter. David is repentant – as Psalm 51 alludes to – but the choices have born their fruit and it will have far reaching consequences on the house of David for generations to come, most immediately, the loss of the son born to he and Bathsheba.
There are, from my perspective, two kinds of valleys here – choice and circumstance. Valleys of choice have to do with us making decisions and the consequences of those decisions. In the story, David makes a series of decisions that lead to the valley he walks through. Valleys of circumstance are valleys that we walk through for reasons we may not know or understand. Uriah was betrayed and murdered as a result of circumstances he had no control over and could do very little about.
We all live in and through valleys of choice and circumstance. Why do we go through these valleys?
- Some say punishment for past sins – such as David and his lineage after him
- Some say because it brings us closer to God / helps us to grow
- Or that we are there to help those with us / prepare to help others in the future
- Some say its just the luck of the draw, an act of pure chance without divine connection
- Some say God only knows so there’s nothing to do but ride it out and hope for the best
- Jesus said, “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (MSB Matt. 5:43-48)
In all honesty, I believe it could any one of these or any combination of these. If we stop and think, most of us can remember a time when we made poor decisions and those decisions had consequences (a valley) that we had to deal with (go through). I believe most of us have been through life situations where we were able to grow as the result of going through a difficult circumstance. I believe it possible to go through situations where we look back and have no idea why we went through that situation.
While we can’t or don’t choose for our journey to take us through a valley, we can choose how we respond to it when we get there. We can choose to accept and live in the grace that is always afforded to us from the hand of God and we can offer that grace to those around us. By doing so we can make what may be a time of pain and heartache a time of growth and renewal while being in the presence of God who brings peace and pain in the circumstance. I think a good reminder of this comes in Psalm 23,
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
May we all walk through our valleys in this graceful way knowing that no matter how deep it is, we walk with God as we go.
Barron, Robert. 2 Samuel: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Publishing, 2015.
Bruggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
 2 Samuel 11:27-12:1