“Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines.” (I Samuel 17:2)
Some places are known by name for the danger that our troops faced there. Tarawa is one. So is Pork Chop Hill. The Sunni Triangle is another. For the army of Israel, it was the Valley of Elah. In the days before guns and bombs, most battles were fought face-to-face. The victory usually went to the biggest and the strongest. That’s the way it was when Saul was king of Israel. If he had known in advance what his army would face, he never would have entered the Valley of Elah. There, his troops came within shouting distance of something that terrified them. They were challenged by a giant. He was the famous Goliath.
Since we know how the story turns out, it is hard for us to relate to the fear that paralyzed Israel’s army. But when they heard the taunting challenge of Goliath, they saw no escape. They knew they were no match for him. They knew that surrender to the Philistines meant the slaughter of many, and miserable life as slaves for all the rest. No wonder Samuel wrote: “Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.”
We probably have never had to face a killer giant. But we may have been in fearful situations where we saw no way out. We may have wished we had never gotten into those situations. We may walk into such situations in the future. The threat may be physical, or emotional, or spiritual. It makes no difference.
It becomes our very own Valley of Elah.
Saul had no idea that the way out of this valley would be provided by a shepherd boy. We may not be able to think of any way out of the situation we find ourselves in. But God is not limited to the options that we can think of. Where we might be able to consider two possibilities, he probably can envision two thousand. He can make things happen. He prompted a shepherd boy to come to the valley. He guided the stone that hit the giant. He allowed the once-terrified soldiers to walk out of that valley. The boy went on to write the famous words, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
Valley of Elah? Valley of the shadow of death? Makes no difference. David’s God is our God.
We pray: Heavenly Father, at times we cannot see our way out of situations that frighten us. Sometimes we lose hope. Sometimes we doubt. Sometimes we fear. Remind us of your presence. Remind us of your power. Then lead us out of our fearful valleys. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida. Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military