Theme: Safety in Shadow
This week’s lessons focus on how God acts as a shepherd toward his sheep, and what we are to do in response to him.
Scripture: Psalm 23
Verse 4 deals with safety. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” What is this valley of the shadow of death? The popular way of looking at this is to regard it as a promise of God’s presence in the moments of dying, that is, the shadow just before we actually die. That verse has been used that way many times, helpfully, I believe. But, even though that is true as a principle, I do not think that is what the verse is dealing with. Because, if you follow the flow of the psalm, you find that it covers the progress of the Christian life from the moment of belief in God (at the beginning) to our heavenly home (at the end). And this verse is not the step before the end; it is in the middle. So I think what it is dealing with is not death but the shadow or threat of death, the fact that we go through difficult times, sometimes when even our life is threatened.
We become worried and say, “I wonder if God can take care of me now—when these things seem dangerous and I don’t know whether I can get through this with my whole skin or not.” The Psalmist says, “Yes, you can. God will be with you even in the valley of the shadow of death, and because of that you need fear no evil.”
Our Shepherd is carrying His rod and staff as He travels with us. The rod was a club used for defense. The shepherd knew how to use it. The staff was what he leaned upon. It speaks of rest from weariness. The imagery says that our shepherd has a club for defense and a staff upon which to lean. So, when we go through difficult times, we are not to look to ourselves and say, “I don’t know whether I have the resources to go through a time like this or not.” If you look at yourself, you will become worried, and rightly so, because you do not have the resources that you need to go through the most difficult times. But you should look to the shepherd who has the resources. When we put that in New Testament terms, we have Jesus who is with us every step of the way.
Have you noticed how the psalm changes at this point from referring to the shepherd in the third person he (used in the early portion of the psalm) to the second person you (in this section)? Read it with that in mind: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing. 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.”
Now comes the break: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” That is where it changes. “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 anoint my head with oil.” In this language we have a testimony to the secret David had found for living his life in the midst of many difficulties: personal contact and fellowship with the shepherd.
Do you know the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ like that? He said to His disciples toward the end of His life, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. . . . I am going . . . to prepare a place for you. . . . And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever’’ (John 14:1, 2, 16). Or again, as He spelled it out at the end of the Great Commission: “Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your companion in that way? Is He with you in every difficulty, even to the end of the age? If that is the case, you will not lack safety either and you will know that you are safe in His care.
What are the different views on the meaning of “the valley of the shadow of death”? Why is the one preferred over the other?
What change takes place in the psalm at this point? Why is that significant?
Reflection: In what ways do you need to lean more upon the Lord Jesus Christ to give you the safety and protection you need from the spiritual dangers that weigh upon you?
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to James Boice’s study of Psalm 102, “Frailty Anchored in Eternity.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)