“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.”
(Psalm 23:4 NKJV)
Psalm 23 would immediately bring to mind to its original hearers the Exodus from Egypt when Israel wandered through the wilderness for 40 years with Yahweh as their shepherd. In fact the Hebrew word for “leads” is the same word used for Israel's journey through the wilderness (Exodus 15:13). “I do not lack” brings up the wilderness journey with Moses as well where God provided manna, quail and fresh water. Psalm 2:9 spoke of the scepter of the coming Messiah which portrays God’s King as a great shepherd. We should be comforted knowing that God has always been in the business of shepherding His people through dark valleys. He is not surprised by our circumstances or unable to help us in our time of need.
Notice how David switches to the second person singular “you" as he now converses with God with more direct intimacy. David now emphasizes Yahweh’s presence as "with me.” One of the most common promises from God in the OT is “I will be with you.” How we need to know this truth today! One commentator writes, “The darker the shadow, the closer the Lord!” God is not repelled by our predicaments but rather the Psalmist reminds us in chapter 34 that “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”
While verses 1-3 emphasized God’s good shepherding of sheep, now David personalizes verse 4 as he imagines himself going through a “valley of the shadow of death.” How will God protect David as he encounters personal trials?
David again imagines Yahweh as having a rod and staff as any shepherd would have had in their possession. A rod was a disciplinary tool but also a powerful weapon against both animal and human enemies. Formed out of a single solid piece of wood with a natural bulb at one end, the young David likely used his shepherd’s rod against the bear and lion he claimed to have killed.
The staff is a symbol of care and guidance while other practical purposes to provide for the sheep. It prodded, rescued and reminded the sheep of the shepherd’s closeness.
The presence of the rod and the staff were comforting and reminders of God’s strong presence and very real protection. tough and strong presence, more than a feeling but real action.
Living Out God’s Word
Many people are going through a dark time right now and could use a reminder of God’s presence. Choose to email or call someone today with Psalm 23, not so much to challenge them to “cheer up” but mainly to let them know that God goes with us even in our darkest times. If David could admit he had dark times so can we! Let’s encourage one another by allowing people—even Christians—to wrestle with difficult circumstances as they grieve in different ways. Allow yourself to grieve just as the Psalmists did as they wrote their songs of lament and eventually found their way to praise the Lord who is always faithful.
LORD, thank you being a Good Shepherd to me personally who delivers me time and again as I struggle through this new life amidst a global pandemic! Fill me with Your Spirit in my speech, action and my listening that Your name might be known. I exist to glorify You and choose to align myself to Your will and ways today as I seek to bless someone I encounter this week in practical ways. As I walk through this dark valley of loss, isolation or worry, remind me that You will never abandon me and are very close in my distress. Help me remember that when people see me they are learning something about You. May I be a glimmer of hope in dark times because of You in me. Use me for Your glory! Amen.