by Amanda S. Sorenson
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Next to the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm is perhaps the most familiar passage in the Bible. Children memorize it. Composers set it to music. Commentators explain its deeper meanings. And for many, it provides great comfort during times of suffering. People who have endured great physical or emotional pain often tell how they have repeated the phrases “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…The Lord is my Shepherd…” during their times of trial. Sometimes those are the only words our pain-wracked minds can form.
Sometimes our familiarity with this Psalm dulls our senses to its true meaning. I have found this to be true of my experience. In fact, I recently discovered an image buried in the middle of that wonderful Psalm that gave me a whole new picture of God’s presence in the midst of my suffering.
At the time, I felt utterly abandoned by God. I could not feel His presence. I could not seem to reach Him with my prayers. Even His Word had grown cold. I felt frustrated by His apparent lack of concern for my well-being. But when I read R.C. Sproul’s commentary on David’s description of what it is like to go through the valley of the shadow of death, my picture changed. Let me share what Sproul writes.
The valley of the shadow of death. It is a valley where the sun’s rays often seem to be blotted out. To approach it is to tremble. We would prefer to walk around it, to seek a safe bypass. But men and women of faith can enter that valley without fear. David told us how:
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.
David was a shepherd. In this psalm, David puts himself in the place of the sheep. He sees himself as a lamb under the care of the Great Shepherd. He enters the valley without fear for one overarching reason: the Shepherd goes with him. He trusts himself to the care and the protection of the Shepherd.
…We have a Shepherd who cannot fall. We have a Shepherd who cannot die. He is no hireling who abandons his flock at the first sign of trouble. Our Shepherd is armed with omnipotent force. He is not threatened by the valley of shadows. He created the valley. He redeems the valley.
David’s confidence was rooted in the absolute certainty of the presence of God. He understood that…God will not send us where He refuses to go Himself.
Did you see it too? David’s God wasn’t far away in heaven, David’s God was right next to him! David’s God walked by his side as he stepped through that dark and terrifying valley. David’s God was ready to do whatever was necessary to keep him from harm.
David did not, as I did, call out to a God who was far away, shrouded in heaven’s bliss and hope that He would hear his cry and answer before he perished. David could reach out and grasp onto the Shepherd at any time because the Shepherd was with him – walking beside him, close enough to touch. The Shepherd’s presence was David’s refuge and strength, and by virtue of the Shepherd’s immediate presence, the terror of the valley could be conquered.
The fact that David’s God is also my God has encouraged me to look for Him and to trust that He is, indeed, with me. I no longer see myself walking through the valley alone, I intentionally see my God and Savior fully armed and walking beside me. And that gives me hope.