God’s Antidote to Dark Valleys (Psalm 23)

Life is a journey, with a beginning and end. We’re all travelers, somewhere on that journey, forever on the move, learning, growing, changing. The disruption caused by Covid-19, the daily news updates of casualties and the attempts to find a vaccine inevitably lead to a rollercoaster of emotions, highs and lows, hopes and fears.  Psalm 23 is probably the most widely known and best loved of them all. In part it is because it addresses the strong emotions we often feel at times such as this. There are two parts to Psalm 23:

23:1-3 “The Lord Is My Shepherd” – What I affirm about God.
23:5-6 “Your love will follow me” – What I experience of God.

Verse 4 links the two together.  The Lord is my Shepherd because I know Lord you are with me.

The English translation refers to the Valley of the Shadow of Death. In Hebrew it actually means The Valley of Deep Darkness. David probably had a specific place in mind.  There is a narrow, winding canyon that cuts deep into the hills winding down from Jerusalem to Jericho to the lowest place on earth close to where Jesus encountered the temptations of Satan. It is called the Wadi Kelt. The sun only reaches the bottom of the valley it when it’s directly overhead at noon.  The rest of the day the bottom of the canyon is dark.  As a boy, David probably led his sheep through that valley regularly, as Bedouin still do today.  ‘The Valley of Deep Darkness’. I wonder if that is your experience right now? How do we to handle the dark valleys of life especially at times such as this? Three lessons: 

1. Refuse to be Afraid

‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil’ (Psalm 23:4).   

David says, ‘Even when I walk’ — not, ‘I run’ or ‘I panic and run the other way’.  To walk means calmly, deliberately taking steps, even through the valley. When darkness comes, as it invariably will, we have a choice. Fear and discouragement is a choice. So how do I choose to not be discouraged?  By focusing on God’s power rather than on your problem.  My circumstances may change but I choose to continue to walk with you Lord. David says ‘I’m not going to be afraid.  I will calmly walk through the valley.’  So, refuse to be afraid. 

2. Remember that God is with you

‘For You will be with me.’ (Psalm 23:4).

You’re with me every moment.  God promises to be with us in dark valleys. In the first part of the psalm all the pronouns are in the 3rd person — David talks about God:  ‘He leads me beside still waters, He guides me into green pastures, He restores my soul’.  David is talking about God. But when he walks into the dark valley his language changes to the second person pronoun. ‘You are with me. Your rod and your staff comfort me.’  It’s the valleys of darkness that often bring us face to face with God.  All of a sudden the ultimate becomes the intimate.  Religion becomes a relationship.  In the valley of darkness we learn from Psalm 23 not to be afraid because God is with us.

3.  Rely on God’s Protection 

David reminds himself that God’s rod and staff comforts him.  The rod and staff were the two basic tools that a shepherd used to protect and guide the sheep. God is saying, ‘When you go through the valley, I’m defending you.  I’m protecting you.’  David writes, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’. He didn’t walk through the valley of death, but the valley of the shadowof death.  One day, someday, maybe today, a shadow is going to fall over your life.  Count on it.  You will experience one of those shadow moments.  When those times come you need to remember three important things about shadows:

Shadows are always bigger than reality

Fear is always greater than the actual problem.  It’s the fear that is enormous.  

Shadows cannot hurt you

Have you ever been run over by a shadow?  There is a difference between the shadow of a truck and the truck itself.  Shadows are images without substance.  They cannot hurt you.  They can scare you, but they cannot hurt you.  They are just shadows.

There is no shadow without a light somewhere  

When you’re going through a dark valley, you think the sun has stopped shining.  We are all alone.  You can’t see at all and you think you’re in total darkness.  But any time there is a shadow it means there is a light somewhere.  When you start to get afraid of the shadow in the dark valleys of life turn your back on the shadow and look directly at the light and the shadow falls behind you.  When you’re afraid, don’t look at the shadow. 

 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.” (John 8:12).  

If you look at the world you’ll be distressed.  If you look within, you’ll be depressed.  If you look at Jesus, you’ll be at rest.  It’s your choice.  It all depends on what you’re looking at.  

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”  

So when the shadows fall, look to the One who has created them.  When you’re walking through the valley, look at the light.  Like David, refuse to be afraid; remember that God is with you and rely on his guidance and protection.

What matters in life is not absence of the shadow but the presence of the Shepherd.  When you walk through the valley of deep darkness, do not be afraid, God is with you and he will sustain you.  Lets pray.