Question: "What does it mean that God is the God of the hills and valleys (1 Kings 20:28)?"
Answer: The expression God is the God of the hills and valleys originates from the narrative of two battles in the book of 1 Kings. Essentially, saying that God is the God of the hills and valleys means that God’s sovereign power is not limited or confined to any one location or sphere of influence. The Lord Almighty rules and reigns supreme over every place on earth—every hill, every valley.
It was common in ancient pagan nations to perceive each god or goddess as having a particular domain or sphere of power on the earth. Baal, for example, was the god of fertility and weather. The god Baal Peor was a local deity whose range seems to have been confined to a certain geographical area. There were additional gods for the forests, the crops, the mountains, the seas, and the rivers. In this cultural framework, monotheism was unique, and the idea that any god was supreme in all areas was unheard of.
First Kings 20 opens with King Ben-Hadad, ruler of Aram, attacking the city of Samaria in Israel. Ben-Hadad demands that King Ahab surrender his wealth, wives, and children to him. Initially, Ahab agrees, but when Ben-Hadad adds the condition that he be given anything that his servants lay their hands on, Ahab refuses. His refusal infuriates Ben-Hadad such that he threatens to destroy the city so thoroughly that not even enough dust would remain for each of his soldiers to take a handful.
An unnamed prophet announces to Ahab that God will grant Israel victory so that “you will know that I am the LORD” (1 Kings 20:13). In this instance, King Ahab obeys God. True to God’s promise, the Arameans are driven back, and the siege is brought to an end.
Because Samaria is in the hill country of Israel, the Arameans mistakenly believe that the God of Israel is only the god of the hills and not of the valleys or anywhere else. Thinking Israel’s ability to triumph was limited to higher terrain, they regroup and begin to strengthen their forces for an attack on the lower plains.
Once more, the anonymous prophet warns King Ahab that Ben-Hadad’s army will strike again in the spring: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Because the Arameans think the LORD is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the LORD’” (1 Kings 20:28).
Not only did the Arameans discover that Israel’s sovereign God knows no limitations, but Ahab and all of Israel did as well. The one true God proved that He rules everywhere. Ben-Hadad’s forces were defeated so thoroughly in the second battle at Aphek that the king surrendered to Ahab while pleading for his life to be spared.
God gave Israel victory both at Samaria in the hills and at Aphek in the valleys to show that, unlike the ineffective and finite gods of Canaan, God is sovereign over all territories and regions. It is a mistake to think of God as only a “hill god” or a “valley god.” He is the God of both the hills and the valleys. In fact, He is the all-powerful, infinite Ruler of the whole earth. “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).
The expression God of the hills and valleys was popularized by the 2017 song “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells.