The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Psalm 23 is perhaps the most known Psalm in the Bible, and the most known verse in that chapter is probably verse four which says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” This verse brings tremendous comfort to Christians who are dying, family members who have lost a Christian brother or sister, and those believers who are walking through hard times on this earth.

If you studied Psalm 23, you would learn that everything in the six verses of this Psalm stems from verse one, which says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” As you might know, sheep are really helpless animals. They are totally dependent on the shepherd to lead, care for, and protect them. This why the Bible compares Christians to sheep. Left to ourselves, we can do nothing. The good news is, if we belong to the One who is self-sufficient, inexhaustible and utterly unchanged by time, we will lack nothing. God, the all-sufficient One, is sufficient for us. This is the main point of the Psalm, that with God, we have all we need. 

As I looked at Psalm 23:4, there were four things that stood out to me. I pray they encourage you as they have me. 

First, Christians will walk through valleys. I like what C.H. Spurgeon says, “To walk, here, indicates the steady advance of a soul which knows its road, knows its end, resolves to follow the path, feels quite safe, and is therefore perfectly calm and composed. The dying saint is not in a flurry, he does not run as though he were alarmed, nor stand still as though he would go no further, he is not confounded nor ashamed, and therefore keeps to his pace.” When I read this, it reminded me that the Christian, who truly walks with God, is not in a hurry nor a standstill, but moves at the right pace, with the right faith, and keeps the right perspective. There should be no alarm for the Christian. That is not to say that Christians will not have struggles, for we will, but rather that as we walk with the Lord in this life, we grow stronger and deeper in the faith with the One who walks with us. 

Second, Christians should fear no evil. The Psalmist does not say, “Walking in the valley, but through the valley.” That is a very important prepositional difference. To get to the “light,” if you will, you and I must walk through the valley of darkness. The truth is, knowing what awaits you when you die helps you understand how to live. This is why Christians can “Fear no evil.” Psalm 23:4 does not call it the valley of death, but the valley of the “shadow” of death. Why? For the Christian, in the valley, death in its substance has been removed, and only the shadow of it remains. Someone has wisely said that when there is a shadow there must be light somewhere, so we will either focus on the shadow or the light. I love what C.H. Spurgeon says, “Nobody is afraid of a shadow, for a shadow cannot stop a man’s pathway even for a moment. The shadow of a dog cannot bite; the shadow of a sword cannot kill; the shadow of death cannot destroy us. Let us not, therefore, be afraid. Death is but a shadow, and the valley is simply something we walk through.”

Third, when Christians fear, they must remember God is near. As you probably know, one of the most used commands in the Bible is “fear not,” or “do not fear.” Since God knows we are prone to fear, He reminds us over and over why we are not to live in fear. It is in the valley where we have questions. Questions like, “Is God still in control? Is evil going to harm me? Will I be swept away?” It is in these moments we must remember that there is only a shadow in the valley, and our God is greater than anything we face. Jesus is the Light of the world, and the Shepherd’s presence is the answer, the remedy to our fear. Jesus, our Great Shepherd, traveled through the valley of the shadow of death and came out triumphant on the other side, and so too shall we.

Finally, God provides what we need in the valley. The Psalmist says, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” The Shepherd will protect, defend, and lead us! We are, therefore, safe in every possible way. God defends us and walks with us down every road, including the roughest ones. We need God in death,because He is the only One who gives us eternal peace and eternal hope. We also need Him in life, because life can feel like death, and He helps us overcome all we face. Truly, He is all we need, and because we have Him, we lack nothing.

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