Through The Lens with Rabbi Eric Walker – Life Happens In The Valleys
Shalom and welcome to this edition of Through the Lens. I’m Rabbi Eric Walker. The trend for many years has been to promote living from Mountaintop to Mountaintop – although this is quite a concept to keep people striving for prosperity – is real happiness found on the mountaintop?
Who wouldn’t want to win the Lottery?
Researchers interviewed Illinois State Lottery winners and compared them with non-winners and with people who had suffered a terrible accident that left them paraplegic or quadriplegic. Each group answered a series of questions aimed at measuring their happiness level.
The study found that the overall happiness levels of lottery winners spiked when they won, but returned to pre-winning levels after just a few months. In terms of overall happiness, the lottery winners were not significantly happier than the non-winners. The accident victims were slightly less happy, but not by much. The study showed that most people have a set level of happiness and that even after life-changing events, people tend to return to that set point.
Psychologists have been fond of stating in recent years that human happiness, or what psychologists call subjective well-being, is largely independent of our life circumstances. The wealthy aren’t much happier than the middle class, married people aren’t much happier than single people, healthy people aren’t much happier than sick people, and so on.
One might reasonably conclude, therefore, that changes in life circumstances would not have long-term effects on our happiness. This indeed has been the dominant model of subjective well-being: People adapt to major life events, both positive and negative, and our happiness pretty much stays constant through our lives, even if it is occasionally perturbed. Winning the lottery won’t make you happier in the long run (goes the theory), and while a divorce or even a major illness will throw your life into upheaval for a while, your happiness level will eventually return to where it was at before—that is, its set point.
Moses spent 40 days on the mountaintop with the Lord twice and 40 years in the Wilderness. Life happens in the valleys!
The word says, I look to the hills from where my help comes . . . My help comes from the Lord maker of heaven and earth (Ps. 121)
“The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.”
People reference their mountain top experience with the Lord. And I’m so thankful that these are a “thing”. It’s exhilarating. Both spiritually and physically.
Have you ever been on top of a mountain? I have. Mount Rigi in Switzerland. It started snowing and there was something beautifully alien about the atmosphere. I felt tingly and accomplished (even though I only rode up in a train and there was no climbing involved). The view up there was breathtaking and I don’t think pettiness is even a word on the top of mountains. Things are simple. There’s no Starbucks up there… with their 1,001 ways to order your drink. No car payments. No plugs to charge your phone.
But you know what struck me very odd? It happened on the ride up. There were thick trees on either side of the train tracks. And then at one point, very high up, there were no more trees. Like an imaginary line had been drawn where no trees were allowed to cross. Now, scientifically I knew that this would happen. Yet it caught me off guard anyway. The atmosphere no longer allowed for growth.
Suddenly things looked barren.
I became increasingly aware that things were being stripped away. Even basic things like trees. Don’t get me wrong: the mountain top experience was truly incredible and something I’d never regret. However, the mountain top was not designed for living. It teaches and brings perspective. Then it’s time to head back down to flatter lands.
Do you know what you’ll find in the valley as you return?
You’ll find trees and lush vegetation, food, and shelter. You might be bombarded with chaos as soon as your feet step off the mountain, but you carry something precious with you: fresh perspective. Maybe you went to the top of the mountain because you were lost and now you can find the road that leads you towards home. Maybe you were running away to find an escape because your problems seemed too big to conquer and now you’ve seen just how small they really are in the grand scheme of things.
Mountain tops are beautiful things, but valleys are where life happens. It’s where choices are made. Mountain tops might hold the wedding ceremony or the birth of a child, but the valley is where your life takes place. It’s where your kid holds tightly to your neck and whispers “I love you so much” after a tough day. Valleys are where you hear the voice of the Lord.
Joel 3:14-21> 4 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. 16 The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. 17 ‘Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. 18 ‘In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house and will water the valley of acacias. 19 But Egypt will be desolate, Edom a desert waste, because of violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they shed innocent blood. 20 Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations. 21 Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned, I will pardon.’
Many evangelists have drawn from this passage to challenge audiences to “make a decision” for Messiah. Others view this valley of decision as a time of judgment when the Lord decides the fate of the nations. Which is it? An invitation or a prophecy of doom?
The context of Joel 3 clarifies that this is a time when God judges the earth. Verse 2 says, “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel.” The Valley of Jehoshaphat is the same as the “valley of decision.” Jehoshaphat means “Yahweh judges”; the “decision” being made in the valley is God’s, not the multitudes’. The literal, geographical location of this valley is likely the Kidron Valley on the east side of Jerusalem.
The focus of Joel 3 is on the future Day of the Lord. This time will include a gathering of the nations (verse 2), a judgment on wickedness (verse 13), and astronomical signs (verse 15). Joel’s prophecy of the valley of decision finds its counterpart in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and the judgment of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).
Matt 25:31-46> 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Immediately following the prophecy of judgment, Joel transitions to a description of the Lord’s millennial reign, a literal 1,000-year time period that follows the tribulation. During the millennium Messiah rules as king from Jerusalem. Some interpreters argue the millennium is figurative, yet many passages, including Joel 3:18-21, describe this time in great detail. Further, Revelation 20:1-6 refers to “1,000 years” three times. It seems that God desires us to know that the millennial kingdom is a literal time period.
Ultimately, the “valley of decision” in Joel 3:14 is not about humans choosing whether or not to follow Messiah; it is God handing down His decision of judgment at the end of the tribulation. Wickedness will be dealt with decisively, swiftly and justly. Praise the Lord for His promise to make all things right one day and to be “a refuge for his people” (Joel 3:16).
Our battles are fought in the valley – Exodus 17: 8 Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. 9 And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
Our victory comes from the mountaintop, but our life and battles happen in the valley where it is lush and green and water flows. Today, as we are all navigating in the valley, let us keep our eyes looking up for where our help comes from and walk in the victory purchased for us through the shed blood of Messiah. Our hope is not in the world and for those who have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah these tumultous days we are living in are only temporary. If you have not made a decision to accept God’s plan of salvation, today is your day to say yes. Do not put it off even one more day for tomorrow is not promised to anyone.
And that my friends is this edition of Through the Lens.
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