The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Psalm 23

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Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.. . . . .Psalm 23:4

Today we look at the second half of Psalm 23, which as I said back on Thursday, last week is probably the best known of all the Psalms in the Bible. I had a very irreverent friend who used to quote the verse above from Psalm 23. He used to say, "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, cause I'm the ugliest most evil one in there" (cleaned up slightly). It still makes me smile, if he is the worst thing in the valley of the shadow I have nothing to worry about. He that is in me is stronger than he that is in the world and certainly stronger even than anything in the valley of death, He already conquered it.

The image of Jesus as our shepherd, lovingly caring for our every need, is a welcome vision in a time of need. These words of King David's have been a treasure of comfort for thousands undergoing difficult times. But When we explore the context of this psalm, its message becomes even more powerful.

According to Jewish tradition, this psalm was written by David when he was running away from King Saul and took refuge in the forest of Hereth (1 Samuel 22:5). The Rabbi's teach that in spite of being called a forest, Hereth was more like a desert. It was a dry, arid place where no vegetation could grow. How could David survive? What would sustain him? When the prophet Jeremiah talked about those who “dwell in the parched places of the desert,” he called it a place “where no one lives” (Jeremiah 17:6).

Yet David was not long alone, in a very short time, he was joined by a multitude of great warriors and fighting men. God provided for them all and they thrived in spite of being hunted relentlessly by King Saul. David’s faith in God elicited miracles from Him. In this dry place, David described the lush pastures to which God, as his shepherd, lovingly led him, when he was a young shepherd boy. That was why David had nothing to fear. He knew that if God could feed him in a desert, He could sustain him in any situation. If God could give David life in a place where no man could live, then God could save him from any enemy.

It’s interesting to note that the forest is called Hereth. Hereth, that harsh place of bareness, shares the same letters as the word Heruth, which means “freedom.” In Hebrew, when two words look alike, they are alike and connected in some way. But what could possibly be the connection between the lacking and limited forest of Hereth and the emancipating qualities of freedom? Living in a forest of limitations, we find our true freedom is in God.

Maybe you are walking right now through the valley of the shadow, a dry, barren, lonely wilderness in your life? How will I pay the bills? How will I make it through this day? Sometimes it seems that we are living through challenges that most people couldn’t survive. Yet, if we place our faith in God like David did, we, too, will find freedom from fear and despair as we realize that God can bless us with abundance and health anywhere. In the darkest alley or in the driest desert, even as Corrie Ten Boom found in the hell on earth, of a Nazi Concentration Camp, nothing can separate us from Jesus. Cling to his light in the darkness.

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The Valley of the Shadow of Death