“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” (Hosea 2:14-15)
Trouble tends to engulf us when we least expect it and at the most inconvenient of times. News of a relative suddenly taken ill just as I’m about to board a flight for a much-needed holiday. A rail strike scheduled for the precise day that I need to travel by train for a crucial appointment. Sickness striking (of the man-flu variety or something more serious) at the one time that I need to be at my very best for work. Notification of redundancy received when I’m fully committed financially, with a mortgage and a family to support. A technology failure just at the point when I’m desperate to print an important document.
How ought we to respond as Christians to times of trouble, difficulty and hardship? There are a number of good and biblical responses, of course. We should not be anxious about anything but rather pray. We should trust God and remind ourselves that he’s sovereign over every aspect of this world and of our lives, in the big things as well as the small things. We should be thankful and joyful – not in a trite or masochistic kind of way but rejoicing in the Lord and his goodness no matter how tough the circumstances we face.
The writer of Hebrews also urges us, as a general principle, to “endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” (12:7). Now we’re not encouraged to try and match specific troubles we might be facing with certain sins that we may have committed. Rather we’re simply to accept that any form of difficulty or hardship we face in this world is being used by our perfect Father in Heaven to discipline and train us. To conform our lives just a little bit more to the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s people Israel are facing God’s discipline in Hosea Chapter 2. “I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals”, declares the LORD through his prophet, “when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me” (verse 13). In the very next verse, he promises to allure her and bring her into the wilderness. And we might expect the next words to be something like ‘and punish her harshly’ or ‘give her a right old telling off.’ But no. God’s intention, even in the midst of exercising his fatherly discipline, is “to speak tenderly to her” and to “make the valley of Achor a door of hope.”
The valley of Achor is a reference back to Joshua Chapter 7. It’s the place where rebellious Achan was buried. He was stoned to death because he kept back for himself some of the plunder from the victory over Jericho, in direct disobedience to the LORD’s clear instructions. The Hebrew word Achor (Akor) means trouble or disturbance. But in Hosea, God promises his people that he’ll turn the Valley of Achor into “a door of hope.” So the disturbance of his discipline will become a gateway leading to hope. The hope of forgiveness, mercy, restoration.
Hosea’s God is our God. He hasn’t changed. Still today he is the God who can turn troubles into hope. Difficult circumstances will undoubtedly come your way, things unexpected and inconvenient that will disturb your comfort. And we’re to endure such things as the discipline of a loving Father. Is he perhaps trying to shake off those other lovers; the things or people that we allow to become more important to us than the LORD and that cause us to forget him? Maybe. But whatever his plans and purposes in allowing hardship into your life, remember that with the God who is rich in mercy and who abounds in love and faithfulness, valleys of trouble can always be transformed into doors of hope.