Walking the Valley
We often associate today’s text with funerals where it is most often quoted. David’s imagery, however, has more to do with life than death.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, 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.”
David’s words in context go beyond clichéd associations and reveal a powerful example of the life of faith. He makes a persuasive case for staying close to the shepherd.
The metaphor of sheep enjoying lush pastures and quiet streams is symbolic of David’s contentment under the care of Jehovah. He categorically states that the Lord always leads His sheep along the right path.
When David says, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” does he really believe that God always chooses the right path?
We aren’t left to draw our own conclusions. Yes, David believes it even though he’s walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Please note that David doesn’t call this place the valley of death, but rather the valley of the shadow of death. He is not talking about the death experience. Rather, the shadow of death represents potential danger. David asserts that even when the path is unpleasant and characterized by seemingly menacing threats, the shepherd has chosen the right path.
For some of my adult life, I lived in sheep country near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. By the end of June, sheep ranchers move their flocks from the valleys to cooler pastures on plateaus high in the mountains. On the way to summer pastures, their sheep inevitably pass through narrow and rocky ravines. It is not necessarily a pleasant course and presumably the sheep don’t like being there, but the path through the ravine takes them to the better pastures.
Speaking of this formidable valley, David’s speech changes. Even the pronouns are different. He is no longer talking about the Lord; he’s talking to the Lord. There seems to be no explanation, except the possibility that as David composed this psalm, he was personally experiencing what he describes as the valley of the shadow of death.
If so, his words comprise an instructive prayer of faith. David tells God, Even when I’m going through the potentially dangerous realities of life, I am not afraid, because You are with me.
Nothing calms a flock of sheep like the sight of their shepherd. When a pack of coyotes lurks in the shadows, the sheep will remain calm if they can see the shepherd and know he is nearby.
The shepherd of David’s day was equipped with a rod or club to neutralize predators. He also carried a shepherd’s staff used both to guide his flock and assist in rescuing stranded sheep.
No matter the circumstance, whether the path was easy or potentially dangerous, David knew he was safe under the Lord’s watchful care.
We all experience challenges and adversity, which is the reality of life. Our minds obsess about the potential dangers. We become overwhelmed. We panic. We frantically seek avenues of escape much to our detriment.
David speaks from a lifetime of experience. His words soothe and encourage as he reminds us that the Lord always chooses the best path—the right path. Not every path he traveled was enjoyable. Paths through the rocky ravines of life were frightening and sometimes painful. But, David experientially knew that those paths would lead to the place of God’s blessing as long as he followed his Shepherd.
Living the life of faith doesn’t require understanding every set of circumstances you face. If you know the Lord is leading, is with you and has the perfect destination in mind, you can live confidently with hope in the valleys. Tell the Lord you trust Him today. Then, watch Him lead you to higher and better places!
1) A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie. (Illustrative photo) (Photo credit: by Albert Bierstadt [Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.