by Rich Freeman, D. Min.
One of the ways that we often describe intimacy with God is by calling it a mountaintop experience. We are in a real spiritual battle, and our enemy Satan will do anything and everything he can to make sure we do not get to where we want to go. Our path up to the mountaintop often takes us through the darkest valleys, with the greatest dangers, despairs, and disappointments. It would be so much easier if a helicopter would swoop down and take us to the top of the mountain. However, God has not chosen that route for us. He uses the struggles we face in our lives to grow us stronger to serve Him. God, over time and taking us through some deep, dark valleys, draws us closer to Him, leading us up to the top of the mountain one step at a time.
PSALM 23:4 (NASB)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
David was familiar with the shepherd’s annual trek, his sheep on the mountain ranges during the summer, and the pitfalls and dangers in the valleys. He chose to use the following metaphor, under the inspiration of God, to describe his own experiences of growing more intimate with the Lord: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4).
For the Living
What is “the valley of the shadow of death”? Some say it is a real place—a steep, deep, and narrow canyon. The sun only hits the bottom of it when it is directly overhead at high noon. The rest of the time, the bottom of the canyon is dark. It is purported to be between Jerusalem and Jericho and is the location of the actual road where the story of the Good Samaritan took place. Considering where Bethlehem is, David would likely have led his sheep through the valley of the shadow of death as he was growing up. Is that what David had in mind?
I do not think David was thinking of an actual, physical place. Instead, I believe the valley he wrote of represents any difficult life experience that makes us afraid, especially death. In essence, David was saying, “Even though I am going through this very dark, difficult, and scary situation, I am going to trust that you will enable me to get through this, in the same way that sheep trust their shepherd.” Sheep lack good vision and are easily frightened in new circumstances, especially when it is dark. It is the presence of the shepherd that keeps them calm. Though it has become a tradition to read this psalm at funerals, this psalm is not about the dead; it encourages the living.
When we go through the difficult valleys of life—even today, as we go through the valley of the coronavirus pandemic—we should run to the presence of God and desire intimacy with Him.
Faith in Yeshua
Before discussing the valley of the shadow of death, David had been speaking to the reader about God. He started out saying to the reader, “Let me tell you about the Lord. He is my shepherd! I shall not want. I do not lack anything.” But once David got to this part about the dark valley, he changed his audience. Instead of talking to the audience about God, he began speaking directly to God.
It is as if David started to think about the tough times in his life, and as he did that, he ran to the presence of God. What a great picture for us. When we go through the difficult valleys of life—even today, as we go through the valley of the coronavirus pandemic—we should run to the presence of God and desire intimacy with Him. The only way to have that intimacy is by reading the Word of God and putting our faith in Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah. He promises never to leave us nor forsake us when we put our faith and trust in Him. I pray that you can lean on Him during the dark times of your life.