By Vicky Moots
Psalm 23:4a: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”. Notice first of all that David says, “I walk through the valley.” He does not stay in the valley, and neither do we have to, but we must walk through it. The children of Israel had to walk through the wilderness to get to the promised land of Canaan. God had a purpose in doing that. He wanted them to learn to trust Him for all their needs and to strengthen them for the battles that He knew would lie ahead of them. There were giants in the land of Canaan that would need to be overcome through faith in God’s power, not in themselves. The wilderness, due to its lack of water and food supply, would teach them to trust God. They were, in fact, like sheep being led by their shepherd through the wilderness. He provided them food and water miraculously for forty years. There were no green pastures in the wilderness, but they had to be led through the wilderness in order to reach the green pastures of Canaan. However, they were not always willing to be led and often rebelled against the Lord.
It was only an eleven-day journey from Egypt to Canaan, but it took them forty years because of their unbelief (Num. 14). Those who had faith made it through because God promised them that they would. We go through valleys for a reason. Don’t pray to be taken out of your trial, or your wilderness experience. Pray for the Lord to teach you through it what He wants you to learn so you won’t have to go through it again. Valleys and trials are not permanent, even though they may seem like it at the time. They serve a purpose, and we must stay in them until that purpose in our lives is completed.
Paul tells us in II Cor. 4:17 that the trials are only temporary. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” He was saying that the reward, the glory, was eternal, but not the trial. Paul’s afflictions and trials were not exactly what I would call “light” or “but for a moment” and neither are ours. Paul was beaten and left for dead, he was imprisoned, he was shipwrecked, and there were many other times when he barely escaped with his life. He could only refer to his trials as “light” and “momentary” when he compared them to eternity and to the rewards that he would receive in Heaven. He looked beyond his suffering to God’s eternal purpose for his life. We must be willing to do the same. Our Shepherd must take us through some dark valleys at times in order to reach greener pastures on the other side. Valley experiences increase our faith and cause us to grow spiritually, for we learn to draw closer to our Shepherd during those uncertain and dark times.
Paul encourages us in Rom. 8:28. He said, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Paul learned this by experience in his own life. He didn’t say, “I’m pretty sure that if you stick with it, everything is going to work out for the best, so just hang in there.” No! He said, “I know!” There was no doubt in his mind for it had already been proven to him by God, He had first-hand evidence. God will also use our trials to work His purpose in our lives, if we will let Him.
The valley in this Psalm is called “the valley of death;” it is only a shadow. A shadow requires light in order to be produced. A shadow is a guarantee that the sun is shining on the other side. It is evidence that the light exists. Just like faith, it is the evidence of things not seen. We do not like shadows because we cannot see clearly when we are in them. But if we could see clearly, we would not need faith. We do not need to fear shadows or to fear death if we know the Shepherd. Jesus, the light of the world, conquered death when He went to the cross. Now, it is only a shadow and no longer has a sting. The Good Shepherd laid down His life and tasted death for all His sheep that we may follow Him through our valley and be victorious. He leads us through many valleys in our lifetime where death may seem eminent, or even preferable, but we are not expected to walk through them alone, and they are not without a purpose.
God never wastes our pain or tears. David tells us in Psalm 56:8 that our tears are so precious to God that He keeps them in His special bottle. Even Jesus wept when He was sorrowful after the death of His friend Lazarus. We also are instructed to weep with them that weep. In Isa. 38:5 we see that God comforted Hezekiah with these words when he was faced with death: “…I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears...”. We can continue to walk through our valleys, through our tears, by faith, knowing that our Shepherd is with us and will never leave us or forsake us.
Psalm 23:4b: “I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” It is normal to fear a dark, gloomy place if you are alone and don’t know what lies ahead of you because you can’t see it. But the fear is gone if you can hold the hand of someone you trust, someone who knows the way because He has been there before is able to protect you from harm.
The word “evil” means “something harmful or bad” and would refer to anything that has the potential to hurt or harm you in any way. It is not just referring to sinful things. A shepherd’s duty is to protect the sheep from danger, from predators, snakes, poisonous weeds or anything else that could harm them.
As Christians, we do not need to fear Satan, the evil one, because our Shepherd defeated him at the cross of Calvary, but he does try to put fear in our minds. Sometimes circumstances that are unexpected that happen in our lives, affecting us or our family members, that can darken our pathway and have the potential to cause us to fear.
For me, personally, I experienced this situation when I was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer 2 1/2 years ago. At that point I did not know what lay ahead of me. I knew the cancer would take my life if it was not treated and that it might not even respond to treatment. I also knew that the treatment itself, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, also had the potential to harm me and cause side effects. But this verse showed me that I did not need to fear that evil thing in my dark valley, because the Lord, my Shepherd, promised to be with me all the way. I did not need to fear the cancer, or the treatment or death.
God encouraged Joshua after Moses dies, in Josh. 1:9 “…Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” He has also promised to be with us, and He will lead us all the way through our valley to the other side. We are promised again by the Lord in Isa. 41:10: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
If you find yourself crippled by fear, it may be because you are not fully trusting in the Shepherd to never leave you or that you do not understand how much He loves you. His love for you is not based on any merit of your own. He will not stop loving you even if you happen to stray or stumble. A shepherd will carry a lamb that is unable to walk on his shoulders until it is able to walk again. Our Shepherd’s love is even greater than that.
We are told in I John 4:18 that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear…”. Allow His love to be perfected, or fulfilled, in you by accepting it completely without questioning it. The apostle Paul assured us in Rom. 8:35-39 that nothing (no person, no power, no thing, no circumstance) is able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus (not even death). Jesus loved you enough to die for you. There can be no greater love than that. His love cannot fail even when you do. It is a love that is eternal, a love that you can trust. Let His love cast out your fear, for His love is perfect.
Paul prayed a prayer for us in Eph. 3:17-19: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge…”. How can we know something that passes knowledge? His love is so great that our minds cannot comprehend it. We have to experience it personally in order to know it. We experience it during the dark times when we need it the most, especially during the times He has to carry us on His shoulders.
We find out how deep His love is when He reaches down to us after we have fallen, or when we are in the depths of depression. We find out how high it will go when we are lifted up with pride and He has to bring us back down. We find out the breadth of His love when we experience how far He will go to bring us back after we have strayed. What about the length of His love? It is eternal and never runs out or wears out. We learn His love as we experience it in our lives, with our hearts.
We are safe in the Shepherd’s care, no matter how dark the valley. We have no need to fear, for He will always be with us. “I will fear no evil for thou are with me.”
To be continued