“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
A child left alone whimpers and cries.
A child left alone in the dark howls and screams.
Do you “my little children” (I John 2:1) cry or scream?
Your answer will tell you whether you are a child of God or a child of this world.
Let me explain. According to the words of our text our pilgrimage is described as a passing through the “valley of the shadow of death.” Because the light of God’s countenance shines upon our pathway we pass through the shadow of death and even then know that He is with us. We often cry in the midst of our loneliness, but each time the lamp of His Word illuminates our darkness and we dry our tears and remain fearless. This is quite different for the unbeliever whose pilgrimage is a passing from death unto death. The wicked can only weep and howl in their miseries both in this life and that which is to come. They lie in darkness.
How blessed it is to dwell in the light.
David was a shepherd. As he sat beside his sheep whether in the quiet of early morn or in the reflecting moments of twilight, he played upon his harp and sang the sweet melodies of praise. One of the songs David must have sung at such a time was this beloved Psalm. This is a pastoral Psalm, bearing the reflections of a shepherd dwelling with his sheep.
This fact gives us a clue to understanding the imagery of our text. If you take the time, you can transpose yourself mentally to the very scene. Night is beginning to fall. The prince of the heavens has ruled for another day. His descent is in royal splendor for he paints the heavens in purple and scarlet. What a contrast from the valley! We are wont to fix our eyes upon the hills, but our Psalmist bids us look into the valley. By now it is blanketed with night. Yonder jutting peak clasps in her glory the waning splendor of the day, under her shadow the valley sinks into darkness. How careful the shepherd must now be. In the darkness of the shadow of the mountain, danger lurks on every hand. The brittle silence is soon broken by the piercing cry of the predatory wolf. The sheep become uneasy and bleat in naked fear. The shepherd understands and lovingly takes in his hand the harp and begins to play and sing. As the notes flutter over the restless flock a marvelous change takes place, the sheep, even the lambs come close to the shepherd. There is calm, for fear is gone when the familiar voice of the shepherd is heard.
The Psalmist saw in this nightly occurrence a picture of our life as a pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death. This we must not forget. I know these words have special meaning to the aged saint whose “keepers of the house tremble, and whose golden bowl is about to be broken.” To all who stand before that last enemy and descend into the bottom of this valley where the darkness is most intense and the way unknown, these words of faith are so precious, “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” Yet, these words are no less true for a new-born babe, for each one of us in our place in life. While we go to work each day, whether in the factory, in the home, in the school, or in the field, we go forth into the valley of the shadow of death. We eat, we sleep, we grow up, we suffer, we pine away and die—all in the valley of the shadow of death.
God is the light of the sun. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all. In the light of His countenance purity, truth, and righteousness shine forth in all their splendor. He dwells in the light and hates darkness.
The mountain has come between God and us. That mountain is sin. Long ago our first parents rebelled against the command of God and ever after have begotten children conceived and born in sin. God is not pleased in sin. He warned our first parents, “The day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” Our sins rise up against us prevailing day by day. As the mountain peak blocks the full ray of sunlight, so our sins come between God and us, blocking out the rays of His righteousness and grace. Literally we pine away and die in the shadow of death; Sin’s shadow is death. Apart from the light of God’s countenance we lie in the midst of death; we are spiritually depraved. God has no delight in our depravity; he hates our every sin. That’s the terrible story of death. Our pilgrimage is through such a valley. Constantly we are going down, we fall into sin and the power of death encircles us, we are prone to halt and stumble, all of which finally ends with our dying gasp as we descend into the deepest and darkest portion of that valley.
It’s a fearful place. Let’s not be so superficial and claim that because we are children of God we are never afraid. It is because the Spirit knows that we are so terribly afraid that He sends us the soothing assurance of our text. With the Spirit of God in our hearts we too can say, “I will fear no evil.”
No doubt, we are afraid of many things. Be sure to remember however, that this fear is peculiar to sheep. Our text isn’t speaking of all kinds of natural fear, though they are real. We are afraid of depression, afraid of sickness, afraid of losing our job, war creates fear, death. itself from a natural point of view instills fear. Yet, these things are not the “evils” of our text. They go much deeper. The fear mentioned here has to do with our safety as sheep in the fold of Christ. It centers mainly in that shadow of death. We ask, will we on account of our sins be taken away from the light of God? Will death overcome us?
That fear expresses itself in various ways. We know ourselves as creatures of the dust. Our old nature is still so active. There lurks within us greed, lust, envy, hatred and every evil work. In our sojourn through this valley of death, sin has a terrible appeal. We are troubled with fear that God will punish us for sin—will He forsake us when we sin? The world which remains in the power of death, comes to us as wolves. Sometimes the wicked identify themselves as wolves, unashamedly telling us they eat, drink, and are merry, for tomorrow they die. More often they come with a hypocritical cloak of a sheep, but within are ravening wolves. We’re afraid of them. Will we yield to temptation? Are we going to be deceived by their pretense? Will we adopt their way of life, will we be deceived by the false prophet? What if we expose them for what they are? You know what happens then, don’t you? Rip from a wolf his outward cloak of piety, expose his spiritual shame and he becomes ferocious in deadly hatred. History tells us many terrible stories of what happens to the sheep who do that. They make us afraid.
I will fear no evil!
It would almost seem too bold.
There is a very good reason why the sheep of Christ may say this. “Thou art with me.” What a difference. Our shepherd is close by.
This becomes evident in the imagery of the text itself. A shadow assumes that light is present. If at night you turn out all the lights in your living room and close the drapes, you can’t find a shadow. The shadow of death which results from sin is principally only a shadow. Principally our whole, life, the whole earth, all mankind are bathed in the light of God. God’s face is as the light; remember Moses when he came down from Sinai having spoken with God? He bore the reflection of God. God’s face is toward His people, he shines upon us so that we are the light of the world, even as we wander through this valley of the shadow of death.
God is light unto us through our Good Shepherd. Here is the heart of the Gospel. God so loved His sheep that He sent His only begotten Son into our darkness! God knew that we could never liberate ourselves from death1 He sent His Son to do what we could not do. That was a terrible mission that Christ had to fulfill. His path was not a shadow of death; He had to descend into the valley of death! We tremble to think of it. It was to make this clear to us, that God also covered the cross in physical darkness. No one can stand before the cross and deny this fact. Jesus had prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” The answer from Father was darkness. That was the way of forgiveness. It was stony silence while the Good Shepherd descended into the darkness of hell. While the waves and billows of wrath passed over Him, He cried out, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me.” That was the lowest depth in the awful valley of death. That’s hell.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, did that for you and me, His sheep. He did that, not to die in hell, but to conquer death for us. The cross reverberated with the triumphant cry, “It is finished.” The sun began to shine, light had the victory over darkness. Jesus died, not defeated, but victorious. If we have any doubt, we need but gaze into the empty tomb and believe. Our death has been swallowed up in victory.
That Good Shepherd is now with us while we yet tred our pathway through the valley of the shadow of death. I know He went to heaven, but He is with us in a far more glorious way than He was with the disciples while He was on earth. Now He is crowned with power to direct all things for our deliverance, even from the shadow of death. Now He has received the Holy Spirit in order that He may sit down beside us in Spirit and truth.
He is with us by His rod and staff. The shepherd’s cane served a double purpose. As a staff, he leaned upon it as he watched the sheep and softly sang to them. As a rod, he used the crook to lift up the ensnared sheep, he nudged the sheep along the path, he beat the wolves who threatened.
That’s a picture of the preaching of the Word, the voice of the Good Shepherd calling His sheep. It’s a picture of Christ attending to His needy sheep, whether they should be corrected, encouraged, or exhorted. Christ as the Good Shepherd dwells in the midst of His church calling and calming His frightened sheep.
Are you afraid? As you wander through this valley of death’s shadow? As you suffer on a sick bed, as you struggle with your flesh, as the inevitable power of death draws you deeper into the valley, are you afraid? Afraid of the wolves? Afraid that as a helpless sheep you may be lost somewhere in the dark valley? Afraid that God may forget you or that you may forget God?
Look now, this pilgrimage is through the valley. I know that takes faith, the faith of sheep that know theShepherd! Now, as you tend to be afraid of the dark, listen. . . . .the voice of the Shepherd calls, “It is I, be not afraid.” My rod and my staff are with you. I will protect you, I will guide your feet. I, who have overcome death’s darkness for you, will never leave nor forsake. My grace is sufficient for thee.
Fearless, let us pass through this valley. While we work, while we carry on the cause of Jesus Christ, while we suffer in body, or while we suffer for Christ’s sake, let us press on.
Presently we shall reach the bottom of the valley, but even then it will not be absolute darkness, for there the light of victory shines. Our Shepherd will be with us till presently we shall arise beyond the mountain of sin, the shadow of death will be dissolved, and we shall behold our Shepherd face to face.
We shall ascend Zion’s hill where the light never fades.