We are continuing our study in Psalm 23. In today's article, I want to focus on the phrase, "the valley of the shadow of death." In my last article we dealt with the subject of death. In today's column I want to explore the concept of this valley.
The picture David is painting for us in this verse involves - it seems - the movement of the flock from their winter pasture to their summer pasture. In that journey, they had to go through dangerous territory. David describes it as "the valley of the shadow of death."
Some commentators believe that this is a description of an actual chasm that David may have had to lead his sheep through - a chasm where wild animals could hide in ambush, a chasm where the sudden rise of waters could become a deadly torrent, a chasm that was deep and dark.
Phillip Keller says, "In the Christian life we often speak of wanting 'to move to higher ground with God.' How we long to live above the lowlands of life. We want to get beyond the common crowd, to enter a more intimate walk with God. We speak of mountaintop experiences and we envy those who have ascended the heights and entered into this more sublime sort of life.
"Often we get erroneous ideas about how this takes place. It is as though we imagined we could be 'air lifted' onto higher ground. On the rough trail of the Christian life this is not so. As with ordinary sheep management, so with God's people, one only gains higher ground by climbing up through the valleys.
"Every mountain has its valleys. Its sides are scarred by deep ravines and gulches and draws. And the best route to the top is always along these valleys" (Keller: "A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23" Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapid MI 1970 pp. 83-84).
Now, it is through these dangerous valleys that the shepherd's rod and staff come into play. The rod was an instrument of protection, correction and inspection while the staff was an instrument of intimacy, guidance and rescue. In my next article we will look closer at these two important tools of the shepherd's trade.
As I bring this week's article to a close, let me assure those of you who may be in some dark, dreadful, scary valley - the Good Shepherd is in that valley with you.
Remember, the sheep in David's Psalm would not even have been in the valley if they had not been following the shepherd.
Now, the Good Shepherd is not going to lead you into a dangerous, dreadful place just for the thrill of it. He has a plan.
If you find yourself in a valley right now, consider the fact that the Good Shepherd has brought you there. He has put you in. Did you catch that? We often try to protect God from the hard things of life. How silly. He who is all-knowing and all-powerful doesn't need the protection of we who are limited and weak. We need his help; he doesn't need ours. Burn that thought into you heart.
If you are in a valley right now, you can be sure that it is a valley that the Good Shepherd has chosen for the purpose of getting you safely to higher ground. Don't panic, follow.
Even the sheep know that those valleys of deep shadows (through which none of them would go willingly because of their skittish natures) is a safe passage as long as the shepherd is with them. So is your valley. Take heart.