When King William III died, his cousin, Anne, became Queen of England. She initiated a general persecution of Congregationalists, because they refused to cooperate with the State Church. Daniel Defoe, who later became famous as author of Robinson Crusoe, defended the Congregationalists with a anonymous satirical pamphlet. The writing was very popular, and he was soon found out as the author. The government accused him of seditious libel, and, on this date in 1703, ordered him placed in a pillory. Because of his popularity, however, the crowds that gathered to watch his public punishment, pelted him, not with garbage and animal dung, but with flowers. It was later said of him that no one else ever stood in the pillory that was later raised to a position of honor and respect. His writing and his character turned what was meant as a condemnation into a means of advancement.Turning something bad into something good always makes a good story, but nowhere more dramatic in our text from Prophet Hosea today. He knew what it meant to be pelted with embarrassment and shame. His wife, Gomer, left him to become a prostitute. That would be bad enough for anyone, but since Hosea was a preacher, it looked especially bad for him. He was able later to redeem her from the sad life she had chosen, and his experience became a living illustration of the redemptive power of God toward wayward humanity. Our text for today has an extraordinary way of expressing it, but before we can get to the happy ending, we need to go back to the sad beginning, at a place called the “Valley of Achor.”
We’ve all heard how Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, haven’t we? That was hundreds of years before Hosea and Gomer, but it’s when it all began. After the famous walls of Jericho came a-tumbling down, Joshua sent a small detachment of soldiers to conquer an insignificant village called Ai. When his soldiers returned defeated, Joshua was discouraged and wondered how such a thing could have happened. Jericho was a great success, but now Joshua had doubts about going any further.
Apparently, one of his soldiers, a man named Achan, had taken treasure from Jericho that belonged in the Lord’s service. Joshua confronted him, and Achan admitted that he had hidden the treasure in the ground under his tent. Joshua ordered Achan and all that he had into the Valley of Achor. He was executed and buried under a pile of rocks. The name is a play on words. Achan was the man’s name, and Achor was the place he died. The Valley of Achor means the Valley of Trouble.
Our next reference to the Valley of Achor is from Isaiah 65. This prophet referred to the Valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble, as part of an oracle that he spoke to the leaders of his day, about 800 years before Christ. They had a form of religion, but the way they were living denied God’s influence in their lives. Isaiah warned them that they would be held accountable, yet, for all their brokenness, God still loved the people. Isaiah 65:8, “The plains of Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me.”
The Prophet said that this place of disaster will become a place for herds to rest, a pleasant pasture where people can find God. The traces of fire that consumed Achan and all that he had were gone. The rock pile had become a green grassy knoll. It had become a place of peace and rest, a place where the herds could lie down. At the Valley of Achor, trouble had given way to tranquillity.
In our lives, too, trouble can surrender its grip on our lives as we look with faith into the face of our Savior. Stuff happens in life, but we don’t have to live there. By grace through faith, Christ can heal our brokenness if we let him.
That brings us to our text for today: Hosea 2:14-15. Speaking for the Lord, the Prophet Hosea said, “behold, I will speak comfortably unto her, and give her the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth.”
Hosea spoke words of comfort to his wife. It probably took months, maybe years, to get over the pain she had suffered. Perhaps she never got over it entirely, but she had God’s promise that the valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble, would became a door of hope, and there she would sing again
In place of damage, God gives healing. In place of despair, God gives hope. In the Gospel, the Lord speaks words of comfort to us. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The Gospel does not say that we will never be in the Valley of Trouble. The Gospel says that when we find ourselves in the Valley of Trouble, we don’t have to live there. God opens a door of hope, and there, we will sing.
We pray. We all have been in the Valley of Trouble. Some of us are in the Valley right now. Open for us the Door of Hope, O Lord, where we may sing again. Amen.