Valleys in prophecy
Isaiah 22 is titled “The burden of the valley of vision.” A curious feature of this chapter is that while it is a prophecy about the valley of vision, it describes the desolation of Jerusalem, which naturally leads us to wonder what might the significance of a “valley” might be. Why is it called “the valley of vision“? Most commentators agree that the prophecy in this chapter is about Jerusalem. In Isaiah 2:1-3, the prophet identifies Jerusalem, and the hill of Zion, with “the mountain of the Lord’s house,” which he says will be established in the tops of the mountains. Paradoxically, in chapter 22 he refers to Jerusalem as a valley. How can it be both a valley, and a mountain?
The prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5 tells of mountains being made low, and valleys exalted. This was the theme that characterized the ministry of John the Baptist.
And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Obviously, the mountains and valleys here must be symbolic. But of what?
In Isaiah’s prophecy, mountains represent revelations and promises of God, and prophecies. The converse of mountains are valleys, which represent the opposite; that is, they are symbolic of missing information, and things unknown. Valleys that are to be filled represent mysteries, or things yet to be revealed.
The teachings of Jesus filled many valleys; that is, he added new knowledge about the gospel, and the holy covenant, and God’s plan for the salvation of men. And this was continued in the teachings of the apostles, as we see in the epistles of Paul and Peter, and in the book of Revelation. On the other hand, mountains were made low. The Mosaic legislation given at Sinai is represented by that mountain in Galatians 4:25. This is one of the mountains that is made low in the teachings of the New Testament. The literal mountains and hills of Palestine were no longer the focus of the covenant, but instead were revealed to be shadows and types of the more enduring spiritual realities of the heavenly kingdom. The literal mountains were thus “made low,” by revelations about the New Covenant.
A notable example of a symbolic valley is “the valley of the shadow of death,” mentioned in Psalm 23:4. The phrase “the shadow of death” appears several times in the book of Job, where the days of man are likened to a shadow. “For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow:” [Job 8:9]
Since death, like the days of man upon the earth, is compared to a “shadow,” does it not follow that the state of death is also transient, and of limited duration?
Since David associated “the shadow of death” with a “valley,” he connected the subject of death with the unknown, and a mystery, but he said, because he trusted in God, he would not fear any evil from it.
In scripture, valleys are associated with warfare. They were the sites of several major battles. The Midianites and the Amalekites were gathered together in the valley of Jezreel, in Judges 6:33. God raised up Gideon to deliver the Israelites. This valley is called the valley of Meddigo, or Armageddon, in Revelation 16:16, where in the previous verse, Christ warns, “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” The battle is thus spiritual in nature. “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”
The valley of Elah was where the Philistines gathered together against the Israelites under Saul, and it was where David slew Goliath. [1 Samuel 17:2-4]
In scripture, valleys are also associated with judgment. The valley of Hamongog is the name given to the place of burial of the remains of the hordes of Gog and Magog, in Ezekiel 39:11-15. It has been suggested that the name Hamongog alludes to the valley of Hinnom, as it resembles “Hinnom” plus “Gog.”
Joel wrote of the valley of Jehoshaphat:
For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.
This valley is sometimes identified with the Kidron valley that lies between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Joel referred to it as “the valley of decision.” “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. [Joel 3:14]
The valley of Shittim, where Israel dwelt before they entered the promised land, and where they committed whoredom with the daughters of Moab, [Numbers 25:1] was where many died in a plague. The prophet Joel said a fountain would flow from the house of the Lord, that would water the valley of Shittim. [Joel 3:18] This could not be a literal river, as the valley of Shittim is located on the far side of the Jordan River. Joel’s prophecy applies to the church, which dwells in a spiritual valley, analogous to Shittim.
Christians in a spiritual wilderness, not having entered the land of promise, and not possessing the land, or the spiritual things that the land represents, suffer from spiritual plagues. The river from the house of the Lord, that represents the truth of the gospel, waters the valley and heals those dwelling in it.
Joel said, “all the ravines of Judah will run with water.”
Joel 3:18 NIV
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. …
The valleys are places where rivers might be expected to flow. This prophecy indicates that the valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna, will be the site of a similar spiritual river, as it is located in the territory of Judah.
In the “valley of vision,” in Isaiah 22, Jerusalem is a metaphor representing the heavenly city. The prophecy must apply to the church. The prophecy suggests that the existing governor is to be replaced. Isaiah wrote of the ruler of the house of the Lord, a person named Shebna, of whom little is said, being removed, and replaced by Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, called a servant of God, who would possess the key of the house of David. “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” [Isaiah 22:22] This is quoted in the book of Revelation, where Christ occupies the place of Eliakim.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
Perhaps Isaiah referred to his prophecy about Jerusalem as the burden of the valley of vision because its significance was hidden and obscure. It tells of the spiritual desolation of the church, something which was yet to be revealed.