"Even though I walk through the darkest valley" Psalm 23:4a
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and Lydell and I were heading to my church’s picnic. We were riding on this beautiful stretch of road when Lydell commented on how differently the road looked in the daylight. I asked him what he meant. He said that he had only been on that road at night and described it as looking like “Satan’s expressway!”
I understood because this particular stretch of road at night is like a scene from a horror movie. It is a very spooky, dark road with no streetlights. There are trees and shadows looming on either side, seemingly stretching back into infinity and housing, or hiding, God knows what.
In the daylight, however, we could see that beyond the trees wasn’t the home of the creature from the black lagoon or the Jersey devil, but a well-manicured golf course. On the other side, it wasn’t the black forest from Lord of the Rings’ Return of the King, where the dead lurked and from which no one returned. Instead, it was a peaceful, wooded area where you’d expect to find the likes of Bambi.
“You’d never know while driving in the dark that it looked like this,” Lydell said.
“Yup, and there’s a lesson in this,” I said.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Don’t let the darkness fool you.”
I know that it is daytime as I am writing this (and sending it out). The sun has risen and will reign for the next several hours. But for many people, the chronological time of today has not synchronized with what is going on around them. It is dark for some people today.
For some, it is physically dark and life is filled with health concerns or bodily pain. For others, it is emotionally dark and the prospect of spending more time alone is straining their sanity. For many, it is financially dark as they worry about jobs, childcare, and sick leave that is not covered. Those who are brave enough, may concede that it is spiritually dark, not just in their personal lives, but now the whole world seems dark, too. Right now, it seems like we have all been quarantined at Psalm 23:4a.
The traditional rendering of this verse is “valley of the shadow of death.”
But this psalm isn’t just a funeral text; it is a life text. The writer isn’t merely talking about physical death. He’s describing a situation that is so dark, that the only way for him to express the despair, desperation, and desolation is to compare it to death.
Darkness. I can be so hard to bear especially when we know what it is like to have daylight. However, the daylight of verses 1-3 does not prevent us from experiencing the darkness of verse 4. The psalmist who got to lie down in green pastures, enjoy still waters, walk down right paths, and declare his soul restored is the same person going through the darkest valley. You see, verse 4’s darkness can come into the life of any believer. Although verses 1-3 do not prevent us from entering the valley, verses 1-3 can prepare us for the valley.
As you go through the valley, do not forget your verse 1-3 experience. While you are in the dark, I dare you to declare that the Lord is still your shepherd, you shall not want. I encourage you to believe that because the Lord is still your shepherd, you have everything you need. In the valley, God is still Jireh. God is still our supplier and our source, the giver and the gift itself.
That’s why I prefer the NRSV translation, “darkest valley,” to the KJV “valley of the shadow of death.” I refer it because our valleys don’t have to exterminate us. They do not have to be the place of death. Valleys can expand us and become a place that develops us. However, in order to grow in the dark, we must not allow the darkness to scare us into paralysis.
One of the biggest enemies in the valley is fear. What trips us up in the valley is not what is happening. No, it is often our fear of what could happen in the valley. So take courage, my friends. The same God who blessed the psalmist in verses 1-3 is the same God who gets the psalmist through in verse 4.
Translations may disagree on how to describe the valley; whether it is “the darkest valley,” or the “valley of the shadow of death,” or the “valley dark as death.” However, they all agree that no matter how we describe the valley, the psalmist walks through it!
My brothers and my sisters, we will get through this. Let’s purpose in our hearts to go through in a way that pleases God. For I am convinced that the old song is true:
Step by step we’ll make this journey
Even though times get so hard
Step by step we’ll make this journey
But we must put our trust in God