1 Kings 20:28

The Syrians, in their blindness, decided that God was restricted in His capacity. He was a “God of the hills” but not of the valleys. The Syrian army has just been roundly defeated at the siege of Samaria. Why did they fail? Samaria was situated on a hill and, if they fought on the plains, the people reasoned, their victory would be assured.

The ancient world was accustomed to local deities associated with some natural feature like a mountain or a stream. This God of the Hebrews, the Syrians concluded, was a hill god. After all, had not God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, and was not God’s temple in Jerusalem a city on a hill? Samaria was similarly located. When the Syrians planned their next war, they would fight on a plain rather than on a hill—and this would assure their victory! A God of the hills would be helpless in the valley, right? How mistaken they were!

Many today subscribe to this Syrian misconception of God. He is a God of the hills. After all, does He not make Himself known in the high places of spiritual experience? And there is this persistent notion that somehow the valleys are out of God’s domain. We are tempted to associate the activity of Almighty God exclusively with the striking and unusual occasions of life and virtually banish Him from the realm of the routine and ordinary. Therefore, we crave the mountaintop and forget that the humdrum valley also belongs to the Lord.

It may be that God is about to challenge us through this Old Testament text. We need to be taught that what is required of us is not “some great thing” but obedience and faith in that which seems small and unimportant. There are three salient features of this verse.


The Syrians had a restricted view of God. Being faithless pagans, their outlook was narrow and incomplete. Yet modern unbelievers have a different distinction between belief and unbelief. They complain about the restraints imposed by faith and claim that theirs is the broader viewpoint. On the contrary, however, no life is so narrow as one that is hemmed in by unbelief.

In his book Your God Is Too Small, J. B. Phillips argues that those who discard the revelation of Scripture and the fullness of Christianity live in a shrunken world. They confine God to a “box” of their own making or confine God to the pages of the Bible or to the four walls of a church. They are so out of touch with spiritual truth that, to them, God is no more than a vague benevolence with about as much moral authority as Santa Claus! Their world is a vast emptiness. They are left with what H. G. Wells called a “God-shaped blank” in the soul. But if they could see the “bigness” of God in the Milky Way to remind them of the vastness of His creation, or a bowl of flowers to remind them of His love and beauty, or the structure of the eye to remind them of His meticulous accuracy as a designer, then they might be led to abandon the inadequacy of their ideas. Blaise Pascal declared, “If you say that man is too little for God to speak to him, you may be very big to be able to judge.” If we rush to the conclusion that God is confined to the hills, we may discover, to our cost, as the Syrians did, that He reigns in the valleys also.

That leads us to the second feature of this text.


Not far from the place where the Syrians suffered their setback, Jesus talked to a woman by a well. He taught her that God is not of the hills only. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain [Gerizim, the headquarters of the Samaritan cult]; and ye say [that is, as a Jew] that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Note the drift of the argument: God is the God of the hills. In effect, she is saying, “but which hill is it to be—Gerizim or Zion?” Jesus’ answer makes it clear that He is the God of the valleys as well as the hills. To borrow the terms used by the Bishop of Woolwich in his controversial book Honest to God, He is “down here” as well as “up there.”

If we are to know God at all, then we need to see Him in a form we can understand. He must “speak our language” and live with us. That is exactly what He has done. In the Incarnation, God becomes a man in the person of Jesus Christ. The enfleshment of God! It takes your breath away. But what does it mean? The incarnation makes possible our emancipation from sin, for upon Him “was laid the iniquity of us all”; it makes it possible for us to be what He Himself is, and because He is Emmanuel (“God with us”), He will be with us in the valleys (see Hebrews 2:14-18).

Our Christianity must be lived out down here on the plains of earth. But, on this journey, we are never alone. Wherever we are or whatever our need, He is there—in the valley or on the mountain! This truth will indeed “set you free.”

But there is a further and final feature of this text.


The verse before us sets two sayings in opposition. The Syrians claimed, “The Lord is the God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys.” But God declared, “Therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the Lord.” What was the proof? God demonstrated that He was as powerful in the valley as on the hill. Down on the plain, 100,000 Syrian infantrymen were slain, and the 27,000 who fled to the heights of Samaria’s city of refuge were crushed when a great wall collapsed on them. God’s victory was in the valley as well as on the hilltop

That is what God is waiting to do in your life and mine. He knows what your particular need is. It could be the valley of fear, depression, temptation, or moral defeat. Whatever it is, God is there and will enable you to conquer. No situation is too big for Him. He is El Shaddai, the “Enough God”—enough for all, enough for each, enough forevermore.


So, what is your conception of God? Is He the God who cannot or can? Is He only a God of the hills who leaves you in the lurch down in the valley when you need Him most? No, He is the God of hills as well as the valleys because when Christ is ours, this God is ours. This God, in the words of Isaac Watts, is:

“That God that rules on high, that all the earth surveys, / That rides upon the stormy sky, and calms the roaring seas: / This awful God is ours, our Father and our love: / He will send down His heavenly powers, to carry us above.”

Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.