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The Valley of Baca

August 8th, 2004

“Beyond the dim unknown, /
Standeth God within the shadow,
keeping watch above his own.”

James Russell Lowell,
The Present Crisis (1844), 8.


There is but one reference in the whole Bible to the term, “Baca.” It is found in Psalm 84:6: “As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a valley of springs…” (ESV). The New English Bible translates this, “…as they pass through the thirsty valley”. The Revised Standard Version has, “the valley of weeping.” The expression, “the Valley of Baca” seems to admit of some kind of troublesome human experience. It does not exactly reveal the specific nature of this human experience though. Could it possibly be an experience of personal loss, danger, loneliness, or sin? Whatever the Psalmist had in mind, perhaps a broad-based idea, he leaves no room to doubt that one can emerge from this “Valley of Baca.” But, to emerge will mean that certain things are in place:

1. (Ps. 84:1) – The LORD must be perceived [“your dwelling place”].
2. (Ps. 84:2) – The LORD must be pursued [“My soul longs… for”].
3. (Ps. 84:3) – The LORD must be personalized [“my King and my God”].
4. (Ps. 84:4) – The LORD must be praised [“ever singing your praise”].
5. (Ps. 84:5) – The LORD must be our power [“whose strength is in you”].
6. (Ps. 84:8) – The LORD must be in our prayers [“hear my prayer”].
7. (Ps. 84:10) -The LORD must be preferred [“I would rather be”].

The German of Psalm 84:6 is Jammertal, “vale of sorrow” (Luther’s translation). Leupold sees in 84:6 a “parched valley,” which serves to bless others and brings springs into their lives through the exemplary life lived (Exposition of the Psalms, p. 606). A Balsam tree was also called a “weeper” (Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 94). If this valley was indeed a valley of balsams, they exuded, as it were, “tears of gum.” May our tears, similarly, be turned into springs and pools of joy to the living God (Ps. 84:2).

–Robert M. Housby

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