We are continuing our look at Psalm 23. In this article we come to verse 4, "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."
Death is not a topic we like to think about or discuss for long. Unfortunately, because of sin, death is total in every generation. C.S. Lewis once observed that death does not increase in time of war, it is 100 percent in every generation. He's right. One out of one dies. So while we may not want to think of death, its presence is painfully real.
Gregory Zilburg, a prominent psychologist, said, "Fear of death is present in our mental functioning at all times."
Death is not always a "sweet release" as some Christian writers have said. The Bible describes death as "the last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Now David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (and I cannot emphasize this enough. The Bible is not man's word it is God's word.), says something very interesting about death. He says it is but a shadow.
Dr. George Sweeting, president emeritus of Moody Bible Institute, use to say about this passage, "Just as the shadow of a gun can't shoot you, or the shadow of a knife can't stab you, so for the Christian, death is nothing but a passing shadow - it can't hurt you."
He's right. The shadow may be dark and scary, but in the hour of our greatest need, Jesus Christ promises to be with us. The Good Shepherd will not let those of us who know him venture through that dark valley alone.
One more thought along these lines. Often we use this psalm in funerals. Death is the final enemy. But, I think there is more going on here than a reference to death. The sheep are not going to death; they are going through a valley fraught with dangers, fraught with fear and they normally would be scared to death. (Remember we talked about scared sheep in our study of the first verse of this wonderful passage). These sheep, by all accounts, should be scared to death, but they are not. Why not? The shepherd is with them.
As I put these words in print, I was saddened to watch a television program the other night in which a dying patient expressed his hope in life after death to the doctor treating him. The doctor in that television drama flew into a rage and belittled the patient, discounted his expressed hope as a worthless fantasy, and by time he left the patient was in tears.
A fellow doctor, observing all this confronted the antagonist asking him why he felt it necessary to destroy the last hope of a dying man. The angry doctor replied, "Better to die in misery than with a foolish and false expectation."
I find it disconcerting that a growing number of people today seem to subscribe to the expressed actor's view. I for one am banking on the fact that Jesus promised there is life beyond the grave (see John 14:2) and proved it by rising from the dead himself.
A foolish expectation? If the skeptics are right and this is all there is, I've lost nothing. If they are wrong and there is an eternal destiny and judgment they will lose everything.
I don't know what dark valley you may be in today, but I do know you are not there alone. The Good Shepherd is right there with you, leading you, guiding you, guarding you, keeping you, and he will deliver you safely out on the other side. Count on it.
Even in death, the believer has nothing to fear. Christ promises to be with us. Take heart.