The 23rd Psalm is the most beloved of the 150 poems that make up the Bible’s Psalter. It is recited at more dangerous moments and at more funerals than any other text of scripture. David begins by likening himself to a sheep, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.” Then he imagines the experience of walking down a very dark path, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4). It was not uncommon for shepherds to have to steer their flocks down dry riverbeds between sheer cliffs, places where the sun’s light doesn’t penetrate. It can be very disorienting walking from sunshine into shadow. It is unnerving to think what could be waiting for us there.
Two prepositions in Psalm 23:4 make all the difference. First is the word “through.” “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Notice God does not lead us into Death Valley in order to leave us there. It may be necessary to walk into the shadows for a time, but our true destination is the green pastures and still waters that David describes at the beginning of the Psalm. As Winston Churchill said, “If you find yourself going through Hell, keep going.”
The second key preposition is “with.” “I will fear no evil because You are with me.” No one wants to descend into a death-shadowy season of life. But we will quickly discover we can go anywhere with the ultimate security—We are accompanied by the One who has defeated evil by means of Jesus’ cross and defeated death by means of Jesus’ empty tomb.
Many miss the essential promise of Psalm 23 because they believe God’s job is to keep me out of trouble. The truth is, God’s job is to reveal His goodness to us. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is by teaching us to trust Him during the times we find ourselves in trouble. The “valley of the shadow of death” is grad school for the soul.
Are you walking down a dark path? Keep walking through whatever you are facing. The Lord is with you every step of the way!
-Rev Dr William Lewis