Psalm 23 is my favorite Psalm and verse four has always been a great comfort to me. Did you know that The Valley of the Shadow of death is a real place in Israel? How do we know that? Well because Psalm 23 was written by a very famous former shepherd boy – David. As a shepherd he would have led his sheep through this valley. He understood the dangers there so he equated God’s sovereign protection and care for His people to that of a unique relationship between a good shepherd and that of his sheep. People of David’s time – Biblical times would have understood the customs of shepherding and the dangers facing the sheep as they were being led to pasture. They could relate to what David was referring to but those of us who have no clue about shepherding need a little clarification.
In Israel to this day there is a wadi (valley) called the Wadi Kelt which literally means the valley of the shadow. It’s between modern day Jericho and Jerusalem. It got its name from shepherds because of its steep sides and sheer rock walls. This pass enabled the shepherds to lead their sheep from one mountain to another to pasture. But it was a terrifying place for skittish, defenseless sheep because in the cliffs on both sides of the valley there were rocks and crevices where wild animals and even human predators waited in the shadows to harm the sheep. The sheep faced death at every turn in the shadows, hence the name. The scary sounds would echo and be amplified in the dark shadows of the valley terrifying the sheep. But the good shepherd gently prodded and comforted the terrified sheep through the shadow of death with his gentle rod and staff.
We often hear Psalm 23 quoted at funerals. But this Psalm not only gives comfort to the dying, it’s also meant to encourage, give strength and hope to the living.
Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd. No matter what dangers you face in the shadows and the steep cliffs of your life -- He is there shielding you from the scary dangerous things that are frightening you and keeping you skittish. As Christians we will with certainty travel on the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Yet in those terrifying times of tragedy, loss, sickness, abandonment, betrayal, economic hardship, emotional stress, loneliness, etc. We can take comfort knowing that our Good Shepherd is there guiding and protecting us along the way leading us to greener pastures. Therefore, there is no need to fear, the staff and rod of our Good Shepherd are never far away.