I remember as a little girl being scared of the dark when going to bed at night. I would see mysterious dark shadows on the wall in my bedroom which made me so afraid of closing my eyes because if I did one of those scary shadows would get me! Maybe some of you can recall a similar experience when you were growing up.
When I felt afraid of these shadows as a young girl, I would always remind myself of a bible verse that I had memorized from the passage Psalm 23…even though I didn’t fully understand what it meant. And yes…I did memorize the King James Version!
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Psalm 23:4 KJV
Many nights my mother would sit beside me and hold my hand until I fell asleep. Her presence always comforted me and the fear of these looming dark shadows would somehow disappear.
Even though we may no longer be afraid of the dark shadows on our bedroom walls, fear is still very real and can be present in our lives as adults and even as Christians.
Fear has a way of creeping in especially when we find ourselves in the valleys of life. These valleys can be lonely and dark and scary.
Perhaps you’re in a valley today…a valley of physical or emotional pain or a valley of financial loss and difficulties. Maybe you’re in a valley of marital struggles or a valley of great uncertainty of what your future holds.
No matter what frightening valley you may find yourself in, God wants to comfort you and encourage you to not be fearful in and through your life’s valleys.
How many of you know that unfortunately this Christian life is not free of valleys or trials or difficulties or challenges? The Bible clearly says when we face trials, not if we face trials. (James1:2) So trials will come…even if we aren’t in a valley right now.
We can also see this in our key verse today from Psalm 23:4. (I will spare you the King James Version.)
Even though I walk through the shadow of the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Psalm 23:4 ESV
Psalm 23 is a well-known psalm full of promises…promises of care, provision, rest, peace, healing, guidance, God’s presence, comfort, friendship, protection, hope and our eternal home. It is a beautiful metaphor describing God as a shepherd and God’s people as His flock. It gives us invaluable insights into the character of God and His plan for us, His children.
Psalm 23 was written by David…David the little shepherd boy who killed lions and bears to protect his flock…David who killed the giant Philistine Goliath with just a sling and a stone…David who was the least expected choice to be appointed as King over Israel…David who committed adultery and murder…AND David who despite his flaws and failures is commended as a man after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14. Acts 13:22)
David firsthand experienced God’s comfort, protection, and hope in and through his valleys of life. And so can we!
Just as I didn’t fully grasp the depth of this verse as a little girl, maybe today some of you, although familiar with Psalm 23, may not have grasped the depth either. I believe a greater understanding of this verse will bring greater encouragement to us, especially when we face fear in the midst off our valleys.
Psalm 23:4 says…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 ESV
This verse begins with the words “even though” which means “in spite the fact that”. Again, reiterating the fact that we will face valleys, trials, difficulties, and challenges in this life.
The verse goes on to say “I walk”. Isn’t that interesting? Because most of us don’t want to walk through our valleys, but would much rather run or sprint through them! I know I do!
So we walk “through” the valley. How encouraging because no matter what valley we’re in, it is temporary because the word “through” is defined as “in one end and out the other; past or beyond.”
Valleys are conduits. They have an entrance and an exit. They have a beginning and an end.
I know sometimes we can’t see the end and we can easily become discouraged if we’ve spent a lot of time in a particular valley, but God’s timing is perfect and we will get through!
The next phrase has great significance. It says that we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
Bible translators agree that the “valley of the shadow of death” can also be translated as “darkest valley.” Some bible translations like the NIV, NLT, and HCBS actually use the phrase “darkest valley”.
The Hebrew word for “shadow of death” is sal-ma-wet which means “darkness” or “dark shadows”. It contains the same root as the Hebrew word for “death” (ma-wet) so we can see why some bible translations include the mention of death.
In addition, this concept of darkness seems to fit much better in the context of Psalm 23 which uses the language of a shepherd and his sheep to describe our relationship with God. Sheep do not understand the concept of death but they do understand that entering a dark valley can be dangerous.
During the winter months back in David’s day, shepherds would take their sheep down into the low land (aka valleys) where there was more grass and it was warmer. But once summer arrived, it was in the best interest to move to higher ground. The only way to get the sheep from the low land to higher ground was to go through the valleys and gorges.
These valleys were deep hollows between mountains. They were low lands flanked on both sides by high lands. Valleys always had deep waters, streams, and wells flowing through.
Shepherds loved valleys because grass was so green and lush… perfect for sheep to feed on.
The fact that it was flanked on both sides by mountains shaded it from direct sunlight; thus covering the valley by the shadow of the mountains. The height of the mountains would impose darkness on the valley.
Although these valleys provided food for the sheep, they were also home to wild animals like bears and wolves down in the lower parts that waited to kill any sheep that fell off the path.
What is so interesting is that the verse says “valley of the shadow of death” and not “valley of death”.
Oftentimes, we feel like giving up in the valleys of our lives because we grow tired and weary and feel like we will not live through it. But it’s so important to see that it is not death but the shadow of death! Shadows cannot hurt us.
Just as I feared the shadows on my bedroom wall as a little girl, they could not hurt me. And neither can the shadows of darkness in our valleys.
In fact, a shadow can only be produced in the presence of light. The darker the shadow the greater the presence of light. This should give us hope that no matter how dark our valleys are, God’s light is still present.
The verse further says “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. We do not need to have fear in our valleys because the light that is present is the light of Jesus. He walks with us in the valley and will stay with us through the valley. He will never leave our side!
And because He is described as the Great Shepherd, He will guide us, protect us, and comfort us. He is in complete control. He knows what He is doing and has our best interest in mind.
I love this commentary…
“God will lead and guide me in the path of righteousness, even though that path lies through the darkest and most gloomy vale through deep and dismal shades … It is still a right path; it is a path of safety; and it will conduct me to bright regions beyond. In that dark and gloomy valley, though I could not guide myself, I will not be alarmed; I will not be afraid of wandering or of being lost; I will not fear any enemies there – for my Shepherd is there to guide me still.” Barnes Commentary.
What great hope for us when we face the valleys, the trials, the difficulties, and the challenges of this life.
Just as my mother’s presence always comforted me and the fear of looming dark shadows seemed to disappear, so too is God’s presence a great comfort to us driving out the fear of our darkest valleys.
Always remember that God never gives us fear and He will never leave our side.
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control]. 2 Timothy 1:7 AMP
For He has said, “ I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [ nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax my hold on you [assuredly not]!” Hebrews 13:5 AMP
Be strong, courageous, and firm; fear not nor be in terror before them, for it is the Lord your God Who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6 AMP
So what should we do practically when we feel fearful as we go through the valleys of life?
- Draw Close to God in the Valleys.
Just like sheep must follow and stay close to their shepherd, we too need to draw close and stay close to our Great Shepherd. God will guide us and protect us through our valleys if we stay close to Him.
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:2-3 NLT
- Talk to Him in the Valleys.
When David got in the valley, he stopped talking about God and started talking to God. If you compare the first 3 verses to the last 3 verses in Psalm 23, you will notice the pronoun changes. The psalm opens with “He leads” … “He guides” … “He restores” but then David shifts his language and says “You are with me” … “Your rod and staff comfort me.”
David knew the value of crying out to God. And so did Jesus when He cried out to God in his darkest hour in Gethsemane. (Mark 14:35-36)
Don’t equate darkness with distance. You can cry out to Him. Pray and talk to Him in your valleys.
- Focus on What God is Doing in the Valleys
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 NASB
God did not say all things are good, but that all things work together for good. God is our redeemer!
Any valley we go through, God will walk with us to bless us and change us so that we look more like Jesus.
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1Peter 1:7 NLT
- Keep Walking Through the Valleys
Keep walking through… “through” is the key word as discussed earlier.
When the darkness closes in and you don’t know what else to do, just take the next step…even if it’s with a limp!
For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2Corinthinians 5:7 NASB
We walk by faith, not by our sight…not by our feelings…not by our thoughts.
God never explained the valley to Job…considered one of the most obedient and faithful servants of God…who lost everything…and I mean everything! (If you aren’t familiar with Job check out the book of Job in the Bible for his story)
The phrase “valley of deep darkness” is used 9 times in the book of Job. Job was on the right path, but He never understood why God sent him through the valley of deep darkness.
- Praise Him Through the Valleys
Gratitude has a way of changing our attitude!
Praising God will shift our focus off our problem and onto our problem-solver.
…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT
Trust God today in the midst of your valleys and know His presence is always with you to comfort, protect, and give you hope that you will get through!
Remember we may not have His perspective, but we do have His promises!
- Are you in a valley today? Are you facing a trial, difficulty or challenge in your life?
- Are you experiencing fear in the midst of your valley, especially when the end doesn’t seem near or if you have grown tired and weary? Do you feel like giving up?
- Read Psalm 23 if you aren’t familiar with this passage. Do you believe God is present in your valley? And that you do not need to be fearful because He will walk closely with you through your valley?
What should we do when we feel fearful as we go through the valleys of life? (Refer back to the numbered steps above.)