Summary: This is Part 6 of a series on the 23rd Psalm. This lesson is about how the Shepherd sometimes leads us through dark valleys.
This week we are continuing our journey through the 23rd Psalm and looking at Psalm 23:4a-c, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.” Let’s look now just as the first phrase…
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” We can see several things in this, but first I want to point out that although the 23rd Psalm and this portion in particular, is often recited at funerals, that in reality, the entire Psalm speaks much more to life than it does to death. In fact, I looked up all occurrences of the Hebrew words for “shadow of death” in the Old Testament, and all but one very obviously referred not to death, but a difficult place or circumstance. And even the one that may have referred to death physical death could have just as easily referred to a difficult place in life. So while this could apply to physical death as well, we should not primarily look at this verse in that way. It is a Psalm to live by.
Now there are several other things I would like to point out in this verse. The first is that there will be seasons when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
In past lessons, we have seen that a shepherd leads his sheep to various pastures. In the Middle East and in parts of the American west, there are seasons during which the shepherd leads the flock into the mountains, up to higher ground. Do you know that old hymn, Higher Ground? Higher ground is something we all want to get to….for by higher ground, we mean that we will be closer to God and less affected by earthly cares. But when we sing that song or pray for God to take us to higher spiritual ground, perhaps we don’t realize completely what we are praying. Perhaps we think that God is going to just magically lift us up to higher ground. And no doubt, sometimes He does. Sometimes a certain scripture or thought of God can lift us to a higher place, but more often, it isn’t that easy. More often, we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death to reach higher ground. I know that doesn’t sound like much fun but very few things that are worthwhile in life are easy to obtain. Haven’t you found that to be true? Children are wonderful, but childbirth isn’t! Getting a personally rewarding and well paying job is wonderful, but the education you must go through in order to get it is expensive in money, time and energy. Good things always cost something --- except salvation. But often, even when people accept Christ, they have to make a decision to give up other things. It is only after they make the decision that they realize those things they gave up weren’t worth having anyway! Or as they say in exercise, no pain, no gain! The fact is, if the Shepherd wants to get the sheep to higher ground where the good pasture is, he must lead them up the mountain, past shadowy valleys.
Now, some of you know that I grew up in Kansas. Have you ever driven across Kansas? DON’T! Let me tell you, the landscape there is about as flat as landscape can ever get. In fact, until I was 17, the only mountains I’d ever seen were in photographs and paintings or from the air. When you look at them in a picture, the view is almost always from a distance, and sides look pretty smooth. But when I saw them for up close and for real for the first time, to my surprise, that the sides aren’t smooth at all. They are filled with ravines and valleys and pits. You come upon precipices long before you get to the top. Yet…if you want to get to the top, the best and even the safest way is not to scale the cliffs but to go along the valleys and ravines to the top.
And so it is with sheep – both literal sheep and spiritual sheep like us. There are seasons in which in order to get to the high ground where the good pasture is, the Shepherd must make us climb. And we sometimes must climb past some scary and challenging places. It isn’t always fun, but it is the only way to get to higher ground.
The second thing I’d like to point out is that the Psalmist wrote, “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” The valley of the shadow of death is not a permanent habitat…it is a place you walk through in order to get somewhere else – somewhere wonderful. It doesn’t last forever.