Yea, 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 comfort me.
This verse implies much love, care and provision and it requires a closer look to grasp it all. First, let’s set the stage for this verse. It is common practice among sheep herders in Yisrael, Palestine and in the U.S. to keep their sheep on the home range during the winter and early spring months. Then they embark on a journey that gradually moves the sheep to higher ground for the summer and early fall season. As winter approaches, the sheep are driven back down the mountains, through the valleys and onto the home range. It is this latter part of the journey that is described in Psalm 23, verse 4.
The journey to the high places, the mountain meadows, with crystal clear water and abundant grasses and plants to forage among is a delightful time for the sheep. Each day brings fresh and tasty delights with abundant water to drink. Ewes and young lambs are making this voyage and they need to move slowly, and this journey requires vast amounts of fresh water and nutritious forage. This journey to the alpine meadows allows the home pastures to be reseeded, replenished and readied for the winter needs of the sheep.
Getting to and returning from those high meadows requires exceptional skill from the shepherd. He must be knowledgeable about the path they will take. Learning where the cleanest and most abundant water sources are along the way. Knowing where the best forage is at each stopping place. He must also know how to identify poisonous plants and be able to locate them and steer his flock away from them. The shepherd must know what type of predators are living and hunting in the same place that he leads his sheep. He must be prepared to defend the sheep and be well able to dispatch the predators. He must know where the rough terrain and dangerous cliffs are located. He must be able to navigate the flock through and around those troublesome areas. The shepherd must know how to do first aid and care for injuries.
Philip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm writes,
“David, the psalmist, of course knew this type of terrain first hand. When Samuel was sent of God [Yahweh] to anoint him king over Israel, he was not at home with his brothers on the ‘home’ ranch. Instead he was high up on the hills tending his father’s flock. They had to send for him to come home. It is no wonder he could write so clearly and concisely of the relationship between a sheep and its owner.
He knew from firsthand experience about all the difficulties and dangers, as well as the delights, of the treks into high country. Again and again he had gone up into the summer range with his sheep. He knew this wild but wonderful country like the palm of his own strong hand. Never did he take his flock where he had not already been before.
Always he had gone ahead to look over the country with care.
All the danger of rampaging rivers in flood; avalanches; rock slides; poisonous plants; the ravages of predators that raid the flock, or the awesome storms of sleet and hail and snow were familiar to him. He had handled his sheep and managed them with care under all these adverse conditions. Nothing took him by surprise. He was fully prepared to safeguard his flock and tend them with skill under every circumstance.”
For the sheep to get to the high meadows, they have to climb. The best route is up through the valleys. Together, shepherd and sheep climb winding pathways, through dark valleys, over rough terrain, past craggy outcroppings that make a perfect place for predators to hide. Forward they move past steep-walled canyons and places with sheer cliffs on either side. Carefully they navigate the narrow pass on their way to the best summer grazing lands.
As believers and followers of Yahweh, the Great Shepherd, we can be encouraged by the words of Mr. Keller. He continues,
“…we will sooner or later discover that it is in the valleys of our lives that we find refreshment from God [Yahweh] himself. It is not until we have walked with Him through some very deep troubles that we discover He can lead us to find our refreshment t in Him right there in the midst of our difficulty. ‘We are thrilled beyond words when there comes restoration to our souls and spirits from His own gracious Spirit [the Ruach haKodesh].”
Why is it that we wiggle and writhe trying to get away from the dark valleys, the trials, away from the difficult times in our life? I know that I do this, do you? Of course, they are uncomfortable; they push us out of our comfort zones. These are the places that help to burn off the dross in our lives. If we will allow the Father’s work within us, we can be strengthened and grow in our faith. We can grow in our assurance that He will provide for our every need. Yahshua told us that in this life, this world we live in, we would indeed have tribulation, pressures and trials (John 16:33.) Do you know believers who seem to breeze through life without serious trials? People who seem to look down on those of us who go through difficult and hard times, as if there is something wrong with us? They clearly communicate that if we would conduct our lives as they do, we wouldn’t have problems. And in some way, their words and actions send a clear message that there must be something wrong with us, some sin in our lives that has brought about the trial, test and difficulty. I suppose those same people would think badly of the talmadim, the taught ones (disciples) of Yahshua. Perhaps they would think that Stephen must have deserved to be stoned.
I can’t say why, some seem to avert troubles and tests, but it is not my job to figure it out. That is Father’s business. Those who think that we won’t have troubles if we walk in his will and ways perfectly are in for a shock. Stephan, John, Shaul, and many others would beg to differ. Yahshua told us to expect difficulty, but (and it is an enormous BUT) we are to be of good cheer because He has overcome the world (John 16:33b.) It’s one thing to be going through the trial, the valley of the shadow of death but another thing to go through it with joy and a cheerful heart! That is the instruction, to be of good cheer. Why? Because the Great Shepherd is with us every step of the way. If we want to follow Him to higher ground, to times of growth and refreshment, to a closer more intimate walk with Him–that means we will go through the scary valley, too. With Him by our-side, we can make the journey with JOY!
When you think of the care, planning of the journey’s trail, training, and skills required of a capable and responsible shepherd–think also of what the Father has done ahead of time to prepare for the journey we are on. He will provide for us. He will protect us. He will see that we are feed and watered. He will ensure that everything is done so that we can find times of rest even in the trial, test and valley. We need to focus on this and the comforting knowledge that He will never leave us or forsake us. In fact, Deuteronomy 31:6says,
“Be strong and courageous, do not fear not be afraid of them. For it is Yahweh your Elohim who is going with you. He does not fail you nor forsake you.”
He is always there, leading and guiding us and even if we get ourselves into trouble as sheep are apt to do, if we repent and call to Him, he will be a very present help in time of trouble. Psalms 46:1 in the KJV says,
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
All of this makes me think of the future, of the Great Tribulation. Perhaps you, like me, get many many doom and gloom emails. So many people are fixated on the evil that is in this world; the evil that is being held back which will soon be unleashed. There are lists of hundreds of things we are told to buy and things to do in order to ‘be prepared.’ I’m not against preparation; I am, however, against the idea that we can do this by the preparation of our own hand. That if we don’t do all the things outlined on survival documents and websites, then we are fools and will not make it. Each of us is in a specific place in our lives and some can do, and buy and others cannot.
I think what is truly pivotal is that we get to know our Shepherd in a real and intimate way. He is the one who will lead us, navigating us around this obstacle and over that mountain. He is the one who knows where the good water is; the shepherd who has scouted out the best and most gentle way for us to travel. The shepherd will see that we are fed and rested and protected from every evil. His word is filled with hope and promise. Do what you feel led to do in the way of preparation but don’t ignore the preparation of your heart and faith in Him. Know that He cares for you and He know intimately what you need and is well able to provide for you, his precious sheep.