32. WALKING THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH AND EMERGING VICTORIOUS
Felix Ngunjiri Gichuri
Psalm 23: A Psalm of David. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Ps 23:1-6 [KJV])
The Valley of the Shadow of Death is the World We Live in
The words “shadow of death” (composed from the Hebrew words ‘tsel maweth’ where tsel means “shadow,” and maweth, “death”) are used in the text in relation to the idea of “the valley of the shadow of death” that was characterized by deep ravines, darkened by over-hanging briars, etc., through which the shepherd had sometimes to lead or drive his sheep to new and better pastures in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The words are used in the scripture poetically to illustrate thick darkness of the land of death where those who go there never return (Job 10:21) and figuratively as of deep distress and terrors of darkness (Job 24:17) and the “thick gloom” of the deep, steep, very narrow canyon where the sun only hits the floor of the valley at high noon and he rest of the time the valley is dark.
The valley of the shadow of death mentioned in the above scripture above is this world we are living in where fear of death follows us the way our shadows follow us wherever we go. Our shadow reminds us that though we are alive, yet, death is all around us. Psalm 23 was written by David, who spent his early years as a shepherd. David understood how much sheep needed to be led well by a caring shepherd. Sheep are defenseless creatures, in need of constant care, and guidance and they follow the shepherd because they know that no danger shall come upon them as long as their shepherd is with them. David understood humanity’s great vulnerability to death while we are here on earth and the urgent need for God’s protection and his gracious salvation.
David wrote Psalm 23 as a worship song to God after reflecting on how God had repeatedly delivered him from the jaws of death. Greater danger was always lurking in the shadows as he passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death as he looked for greener grass for his sheep.
The valley of the shadow of death is an actual place found between Jerusalem and Jericho and was well illustrated by David when he said that “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).
When In the Valley of the Shadow of Death, do not Fear any Evil for God is With You
As you walk through this world which is a valley of the shadow of death, do not fear any evil: for God whom you cry to is with you; His mighty rod (illustrated by the shepherd’s rod) and His mighty staff (illustrated by the shepherd’s staff) will comfort you.
David used to sing that “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). David had no fear of any kind when grazing his father’s sheep in the valley bottom of that deep canyon because he had a God who protected him from any danger using His mighty rod. The shepherd uses the rod to kill the animals which might try to snatch away his sheep. The shepherd also uses the rod to prod the sheep to move to the right direction. When the sheep were faced by death, the shepherd was there to pull them out of danger with the staff. The staff is a long straight thin and strong stick with a crook at the end. The shepherd uses the staff to rescue the sheep that might have fallen into a pit by hooking and pulling it to safety.
When You Are at Valley Bottom, Look at What You are Lying On: Green Pastures and Then Look Up
When you are down, look up to the Good Shepherd. When he was down, David would sing that “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:1-2). David knew that the Lord was the one who made him lie down at the valley bottom: only to burst into song upon realizing that he was lying on green pastures. Then you wonder why people struggle a lot to go to greener pastures when all that is required is to humble yourself in the Lord and he will lift you up and lie you on green pastures.
The valley of death is UNAVOIDABLE in life
In Israel there is a real Valley of the Shadow of Death illustrated by David in Psalm 23. It’s deep. It’s steep. It’s a very narrow canyon. The sun only hits the floor of the valley at high noon. The rest of the time the valley is dark. I want to give you three quick facts about the valley of the shadow of death.
The valley of death is going to happen to you and I – you can count on it. The Bible tells us that “People die once, and after that they are judged.” (Hebrews 9:27 GW) The Bible makes it plain that it is appointed for all people to die – we don’t live forever in this world. Death is a fact of our existence – no matter how much we struggle against this fact – it is unavoidable. The valley of the shadow of death is an actual location between Jerusalem and Jericho. It is found on the narrow, winding, difficult and dangerous mountainous road and it signifies where we either meet our death when shadow of death falls on us or where the light of the world, Jesus, penetrates the length and depth of the valley to become the lamp unto our feet and a light to our path. The word of God (who is Jesus as explained in John 1:1-14) can illuminate for us where to step on lest we stumble. “And your ears will hear a word from behind you, saying, This is the way; walk in it, when you turn to the right hand and when you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21 AMPC) For ‘The word of God is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.’ (Psalm 119:105 [KJV])
You are the Sheep of His Pasture and You Should Find out Who is Leading You in the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
God is asking us to find out who is leading us in that valley of the shadow of death. If it is the devil leading you, you will be attacked by thieves. “And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30 [KJV]) Our Lord Jesus illustrated who the devil is, who comes as a thief, and can kill and destroy you. “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 [KJV])
If in deed you have made Jesus Christ to be your Good Shepherd, He will lead you through the valley of the shadow of death. His Holy Spirit will lead you in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. ‘His rod and His staff will protect you and comfort you’ (Psalm 23:4). As you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is comforting you by saying ‘fear no evil: for you are with me. ’ God is telling us that in that valley of shadow of death down there in the deep canyon, nobody will be bothered with your problems even if they see you dying by the roadside. Nobody will come to help you, not even your friends or pastors or teachers of the law because in the valley of the shadow of death, it is every one for himself.
The good news is that Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd is there to save you from near death experience. Jesus told His disciples that unlike the hired shepherd who on seeing the wolf coming leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them. He said that He is the good shepherd who is prepared to die for His sheep to save them from danger. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15 [ESV2011])
In the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Don’t Walk Alone
When you find yourself (and we all shall find ourselves) walking in that treacherous road in the valley that has a shadow of death, make sure that you are not walking alone. Sing the hymn that says that “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: You anoints my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” And the Lord will join you there in that dark valley the way He joined Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace because they believed that their God whom they served was able to deliver them from the burning fiery furnace, and that He would deliver them out of his hand. “And the king commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Dan 3:20-25 [KJV])
When down there in the valley of the shadow of death, preach the good news of the Kingdom of God and the Lord will join you there. The Lord joined Peter in the dungeon as prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him and He saved him. “And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.” (Acts 12:7 [KJV])
“When Joseph was taken to prison, God went down to prison with him and gave him favour before the prison warders. “And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison. But the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Gen 39:20-21 [KJV])
While down there in the valley of the shadow of death, tell the person whom you may walk with along your journey down there about the resurrected Jesus. Tell him “about Jesus of Nazareth, that He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and before all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.” (Luke 24:19-23) The moment you start testifying and preaching about the resurrected Jesus, He will join you and walk with you in that valley of shadow of death and dine with you and reveal Himself to you, that He is the Lord your God. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.” (Luke 24:27-31 [KJV])
When you walk with Jesus, He will be with you even when you are in trouble. He will be with you in trouble. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you.” (Isa 43:2-5 [ESV2011]) Once God walks you through the valley of the shadow of death, through the bottom of the Red Sea and you emerge victorious, break into song and dance and thank Him for He is good, His love endures forever. Like Miriam and the other women (who represent the church) sing and dance unto the Lord to celebrate the deliverance of the Lord. “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exod 15:20-21 [ESV2011])
You shall have overcome the valley of the shadow of death, den of lions, fiery furnace, dungeon, the Red Sea, Egypt your land of bondage. You shall have overcome the world little children if you remain “the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12) to the end. “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them (the false prophets, antichrists, seducers, terrors, snares, temptations, demons, burden of sin and death): because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4, King James Bible). “In the way of righteousness is life; And in the pathway thereof there is no death.” (Proverbs 12:28, American Standard Version)
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow them (who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and Redeemer, the Son of the Living God, and after believing, they preach Christ to others), all the days of their life: and they shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.