- The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
- He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
- He restoreth my soul: he leadeth 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 thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
- Thou preparest a table before in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
- Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
This chapter begins with a beautiful description of “green pastures” and “still waters.” As a visual person, reading this makes me envision what these descriptions must have looked like. My imagination takes me to miles of rolling hills with luscious greenery. Nothing is gloomy or dead. It is full of purpose, life, and peace. It is a place where people go to meditate on the Lord and the wonderful things of life. I see a stream of water that is trickling over beautiful rocks. The quiet stream is relaxing and refreshing. It is a place where splendor and comfort are found. This is a place where people have plenty of food to eat and enough water to quench their thirst. It is a place where people love to go to find restoration when they are weary.
In verse 4, about the middle of the chapter, the tone changes from paths of righteousness to a scene that is dark and scary. The change seems sudden and drastic. It is the Valley of Death. This valley is a cold place that nobody wants to visit. Evil lurks in the shadows. Pain, sorrow, and disappointment reside there. The sting of death tears into the souls of those who are walking through this dreadful place. It is unwelcoming and fear overshadows the people that are passing this way. There are no words that describe the experience that travelers face in the Valley of Death.
The word in this verse that stands out to me is, “THROUGH.”
A couple of years ago I experienced a drastic change in my life that happened so suddenly it made my head spin. On March 30, 2016, I had a wonderful dinner with my parents. We spent the evening laughing and joking together. The night ended with us heading to our own rooms, laughing as we readied for bed. What a wonderful evening indeed!
The next morning, I had just pressed the snooze on my alarm when I heard frantic footsteps coming from down the hall. I met my dad at the door and at that moment I entered my own personal Valley of Death. Without warning, my mother had passed away in her sleep.
This sudden loss has changed my life forever. It has left me broken hearted, hurt, uncertain, confused, scared, and with a multitude of other emotions that words cannot even begin to describe. This experience has shown me that there are some experiences or trials that God does not bring us out of, rather we have to walk all of the way through them. In my example, the death of a loved one, God does not simply bring you out of it. The deceased cannot be brought back to us in this lifetime. We must go through it. This realization is a tough one to accept.
The interesting thing about verse 4 of the 23rd Psalm is that only the first half of it focuses on the Valley of Death. The second half of the verse reminds us that we do not need to fear because God is with us. He is there to comfort us. We may have to continue to walk through the valley, but He will be there through it all, holding our hands all of the way.
In verse 5, we see that God is not only with us, He invites us to His house (“I will dwell in the house of the LORD”) and He prepares a table before us in the midst of our trial (“the presence of our enemy”). We do not have to fetch our own water and prepare our own nourishment. He provides that for us. He overflows our cup with refreshing water that helps keep us from becoming dehydrated and weak. He anoints us with oil that is a balm to our hurting hearts and wounded spirits.
When you’re walking through the Valley of Death, where dark shadows are casts over our lives, it is difficult to see the hope of verses 5 and 6. So, what do we do? How do we make it when every breath we take hurts because we are living that moment without the person we love? How will we survive?
The conclusion that I find from Psalm 23 is that although we experience heart-wrenching trials in life, His goodness and mercy are still following us. If we look behind us, we will see it and remember, “Thou art with me”.