Even 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. –Psalm 23:4
Some things can become so familiar that we can no longer see them. We place the beloved Psalm on coffee cups, with pictures of beautiful valleys. It is the most famous poem in the world for a reason.
But the text speaks of a very different valley than the one we often imagine: “the valley of the shadow of death.” It is the valley of deep darkness. A valley concealing bandits and predators. A valley of unknown and unseen danger. A valley where eyes stare from shadows, enemies lurk in disguise, and fear preys on the imagination.
And yet he says he walks through it. This dark valley is not the end. The deep darkness is not his final resting place. It is transitory, a hallway which leads to life on the other side. He walks through it, surrounded by peril, as all in a broken world of sin and death must, but he will not get buried there.
Another in the Valley
Why? Because he is not alone; there is another in the valley. Not one who lingers in the shadows intending him harm, but a Shepherd who is leading him — even through this valley. This path of shadows was not self-chosen. He who leads beside still waters also leads through dark valleys. He is a sheep, exposed and helpless before those who mean him harm, but a Shepherd is with him. How can he “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” and “fear no evil”? He explains: “for you are with me.”
This is a comfort because the Shepherd is not feeble. Nor is he a hired hand likely to flee when the wolf comes (John 10:12). The vulnerable sheep sees his Master armed. “Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” David could not see all dangers ahead of him, but he did see the Shepherd. What should he fear?
Another in the Fire
How many times had the three Hebrew boys sung David’s song before they entered into their own treacherous valley? A savage bear named Nebuchadnezzar prowled the darkness. He saw them refusing to bow before the golden idol of himself. He threatened, but they defied the king,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16–18)
They saw their Shepherd with them in the valley, and as a furnace burned seven time hotter, they “feared no evil, for God was with them.” He could stop the blazing mouth of the flames, but if not, they still would not compromise. They would not cave. They would rather burn than turn from their God.
Nebuchadnezzar gave the order. But soon a report came back: “I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25).
Another in the Heavens
There will always be, for the child of God, another walking in the valley, another standing in the fire. What a promise. Can any other brace our backs like Christ guaranteeing to be with us? What suffering cannot be endured, what affliction cannot be stomached, what difficulty cannot be overcome, if we only know — truly know — that God stands beside and in front? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:32).
And this is crucial: he is with us when evil overtakes us and the hoped-for deliverance doesn’t come. Some flames will burn us. The Psalm says, “I will fear no evil,” not “I will face no evil.” “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Jesus, the great Shepherd, led Stephen, the first martyr, through a dark valley straight into heaven. He did not fear but “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” And as the beasts emerged from the dark and struck him with their stones, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:55–60).
Whether the flames burn and we emerge intact, or the shadows fall and we die like Stephen, we all will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In life, or in death, we need not fear, for he is with us, the darkness bows to him, and one way or another, he will lead us down that hallway which leads us home.