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.
Psalm 23 is surely the best known of the psalms, and probably the best known chapter in the entire Bible. Alexander Maclaren - the great stalwart of the Victorian pulpit in Manchester - once wrote that “the world could spare many a large book better than this sunny little psalm. It has dried many tears and supplied the mould into which many hearts have poured their peaceful faith.”
Although the Psalm is often read at funerals - no doubt because of the reference to the ‘shadow of death’ - we should not think of it simply as a psalm of comfort in death. The “shadow of death” was a Hebrew phrase simply meaning a very dark place. The phrase crops up again in Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
Death may be, of course, one such place of deep darkness but we all can bring to mind other experiences where life has seemed very dark indeed. There are periods of time where little light seems to shine, and the mental landscape is bleak indeed. Times when much evil seems to abound.
It is in these times we should cling to some of the words in this verse. Hold fast to “through”. You walk through the valley, to the far end. You do not stop, but press on.
Keep in mind “fear no evil”. The darkness is often brought about by fear, as we can feel out of control - yet the presence of the the Good Shepherd means we need have no fear.
Remember the “rod and staff” which beat away the wild animals which bring about such fear, and threaten to overwhelm.
And then dwell on the fact that this verse exists. Its presence in a Psalm which speaks of God guiding his people must surely remind us that in the Christian life there are plenty of valleys. Yet these valleys are part of the purpose of God, they are the path through which he leads us.