“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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:4-5).
Psalm 23 is undoubtedly one of the best masterpieces of literature ever penned in the history of humankind. Out of all Psalms written by King David, this Psalm stands out clearly in comforting hurting, grieving and sorrowful hearts. Christian ministers often use today’s Bible verse at the time of funeral services or at the time a person is nearing death. It is very comforting to the ears and souls of people who experience various types of pains and difficulties.
It says, “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.”
In many people’s opinion, “valley of the shadow of death” may not be the right translation from the original text. Many other translations like NIV, NLT, HCBS, TPT, NCV, TLB, and GNT uses the phrase darkest valley, deepest darkness instead of “valley of the shadow of death.” The original Hebrew word used here is sal-ma-wet, and that means “darkness” or “dark shadows.” However, the Hebrew word has the same root for ‘death.’ This could be the reason some translators used the term ‘death.’
In the context of a shepherd and sheep, we know animals, or specifically sheep do not think about the concept or possibility of death. However, they sense when they enter into valleys where the steep and narrow slopes are dark, the danger is ahead and get afraid. Even though a good shepherd always leads and guides his sheep in the paths of righteousness or the right path, it could contain narrow and steep valleys where is sunlight is hidden and darkness present. Such deep valleys are dark, and sheep get afraid in the absence of the presence of a good shepherd. However, in our scenario sheep does not need to get frightened because their good shepherd’s presence is with them. Shepherd is right there with them in the deep and darkest valleys. Even in the darkness, they could feel the rod and staff of their shepherd who walks with them and guides them. Rod is a thick pole made out of wood that shows shepherds supervision. It is used to count the sheep and protect them from dangers. The staff, a long and curved one is used by the shepherd to guide and lead them properly. It is also used to support them when they need help. There is one another reason for no fear. Did you notice it says “even though I walk ‘through’ the valley of the shadow of death”? Valley of darkness or darkest shadow is not a permanent place. Sheep is just going through it for some time. They are not going to camp there, only passing through. They will be out of the gloom and doom eventually when shepherds lead them out. The shepherd’s presence, transitory nature of the darkness, his rod and staff gives them reasons to get courage instead of fear even in dangerous places.
David takes the imagery to apply his relationship with the LORD God in heaven and lays the foundation to shake off fear from our hearts. It appears David was facing the deepest darkness experience in his life when he wrote this psalm. Due to thick darkness in his path, he was afraid. The reason could be because of his enemies who want to destroy his life. This thought is because of the next verse that says the Lord prepare a table before me in the presence of his enemies. Also, God has already anointed his head with oil. God anointed his head with oil or already appointed him for the divine task ahead is the reason why the LORD prepares a table for him before his enemies, and his cup overflows.
Beloved, you may be in the darkest valley now. Maybe a recent doctor reports make you afraid. Maybe your spouse died or left you. Maybe you are in a financial crisis. Perhaps you are lonely and depressed. Or you may in the shadow of death. In our fallen world, all these and many other sorrowful possibilities are there. However, remember, the good shepherd, your savior, Jesus Christ, who sacrificed his life to save you, is with you, no matter what you are facing now. He has perfect and powerful tools to guide you through the darkness victoriously. Beloved, remember darkest valleys are not permanent. It is a pass-through experience only. You don’t make a camp and stay there forever. You will come out of it and gaze the face of the LORD who delivered you and worship Him.
Got a moment for today’s prayer? “Father in heaven, Thank you for your presence and perfect tools to protect and help me amid my darkest valley experience. I know this is only a pass-through experience and you already gave me victory over it. I believe Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died and rose again for my sins is the good shepherd. I know He promised his presence with me. I call upon the name of Jesus Christ, the savior of the whole world. Save me, Lord. Help and deliver me. In Christ’s name, I pray. Amen.”