Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“Marvelous things did He (God) in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt in the field of Zoan where Pharaoh resided. He divided the Red Sea and caused them to pass through it, and He made the waters stand like a heap. In the daytime also He led them with a pillar of cloud and all the night with a light of fire. He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as out of the deep. He brought streams also out of the rock and caused waters to run down like rivers.”
“’Tis good to dwell on years now past,
And on those problem days
When we could only on Him cast
The future with its maze:
To find He brought us through at last
By unexpected ways.
‘Tis good to view, yet once again,
And grateful songs to raise,
On all that He did for us then,
And to His name give praise:
God wrought for us, on things and men,
By unexpected ways.
What if today we wistful stand,
And on the future gaze;
We see not far – nor understand –
The road is wrapped in haze:
God still will lead, by His good hand,
By unexpected ways.”
J. Danson Smith
Today’s Study Text:
“Yea, thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Psalm 23 Part 13
“Lurking In The Shadows”
“In ‘pastures green’? Not always;
Sometimes He Who knoweth best,
In kindness leadeth me in
Weary ways where heavy shadows be.”
At difficult times in my life, how has it made me feel, to “walk in the shadows”?
In what ways has God guided me during my dark and depressing times?
“There is a good purpose in shadowed valleys. They test the quality of the soul. They reveal our weak places. They unveil the stars that peer down through the interspaces of rock and tree. They make us follow the Shepherd closely, lest we lose Him…Blessed are those that do not see, but who yet believe; and who are content to be stripped of all joy and comfort and ecstasy, if it be the Shepherd’s will, so long as there is left to them the sound of His voice and the knowledge that He is near.”
F. B. Meyer
“In the valley we do not talk about God, we talk to God.”
During my teen years, I had one mode of transportation – it consisted of two legs and two feet – and they belonged to me. Walking was how I navigated city streets.
Thankfully, in the town where our family lived, there were wide sidewalks, lined with large trees that provided shade from the sun. It didn’t take me long to notice, however, that the shadowy figures of those trees, rarely matched the actual height and width of the uppermost portion of the leafy area, which rounded out the top of the tree. Simply put: the shadows caused by the trees were frequently distorted, many into proportions that did not parallel reality.
Quite possibly, it was this same type of alteration of life in a deep valley that was the impetus behind the Psalmist’s words: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” This one phrase contains so much important information, that at first I found myself asking, “Where do we start digging?”
However, with the thoughtful reading of these familiar words, I came to the conclusion that the best place to begin was with the very first word, “Yea.” This single word is not to be confused with a cheer let out when a favorite team scores a touchdown. Instead, it denotes a connection, a link, a transition between Psalm 23: 3 and Psalm 23: 4. It is as if we are told that indeed we will have restful times in our lives when we are lying in green pastures. We will have times when we are refreshed by the waters of a bubbling brook. And we will have times when we rejoice that we are being led by our heavenly Shepherd on the right path. But just as assuredly as we enjoy these moments of reflective peace and refreshment, we can count on the fact that there will be times when we enter a valley – and to be clear, “valley experiences” may arise for some of us more frequently than others.
As I studied every word found in this passage, I was made aware that the specific part of the text, “shadow of death,” did not necessarily mean that this portion of Psalm 23: 4 was referencing our literal demise. As author David Roper in his study of Psalm 23 explains, “The phrase ‘shadow of death’ is actually one word in Hebrew meaning ‘deep darkness.’” He then continues with this expanded definition, “It’s a dreary word, used elsewhere in the Bible to describe the impenetrable darkness before creation (Amos 5: 8), the thick darkness of a mine shaft (Job 28: 3), and the black hole that is the abode of the dead (Job 10: 21; 38: 17). It’s a word associated with anxiety and unfocused dread.”
This clarification of the passage gives us a broader perspective. Psalm 23 is not limited only to those times in our earthly journey when grief and sorrow are the painful partners which stalk our steps. Commentator Kent M. French gives us this insight when he shares the fact that Psalm 23: 4 does not refer to “the valley of death, but the valley of the death shadow (tsalmaveth). The Septuagint translates this as ‘in the midst of the shadow of death’…Death has not yet come, but its shadow lurks over the faithful, creating a sense of darkness, futility, hardship, and despair.”
In a very personal sense, I liken this description to the day of our car accident when after an hour of hearing metal being cut and glass shattering, I found myself extracted from twisted wreckage only to wake up lying on a gurney while many hands pushed various tubes into my body. Several days later, when I was awake enough to recognize that I could not breathe on my own, eat on my own or perform any other normal bodily function on my own, I felt as though the valley I had entered was extremely dark, indeed. Author Robert J. Morgan hits the nail on the head when he describes not only the literal reality of walking in a “geographic” valley or as he calls it, a “metaphorical” valley. He observes that, “Any of us would rather be in green pastures or on mountain heights, but sometimes we’re down in the valley. Valleys can be long, dark, and severe. The shadows are deep and the temperature chilly because the sunlight is blocked.” And then he continues with a description of the experiences in life which can cause us to feel as if we are walking in a valley: “What we’re talking about are real-life problems. Disease and disability. Protracted legal problems. Prolonged financial pressures. Loved ones in crisis. War. Children in trouble. Marriage on the ropes. Loneliness. Addiction. Depression. Terminal disease. Old age. Death.” I’d say he easily sums up the many situations in life which can cause us to feel as if we have entered the “valley of the shadow of death.”
But in one of the most enlightening points contained in this entire text, I checked the meaning of the word “through” and found this interesting definition: “In one side and out the other.” We may enter the valley…we may be at the lowest point in the valley…but we will, as we follow our Shepherd, come through the valley. As Pastor and author F. B. Meyer reminds us, “It is ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’ Christ met the substance, we encounter but the shadow…A shadow is the exact counterpart of its substance. But it is not in itself harmful. The shadow of a dog cannot bite; of a giant cannot kill; of death cannot destroy…You cannot have a shadow unless there be a bright light shining somewhere. The shadow is temporary, the light is eternal; for ’God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.’” (1 John 1: 5). Praise God, when we follow our Shepherd, He will take us through the valley of the shadow of death and in His presence all the shadows in our lives will disappear.
“Valleys don’t go on forever…the road ahead is always bright for the child of God, as bright as His promises. There are no cul-de-sacs on His maps, no blind alleys in His will, no dead ends in His guidance.”
Robert J. Morgan
“I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”
“What though the way may be lonely,
And dark the shadows fall;
I know where’er it leadeth,
My Father planned it all.
The sun may shine tomorrow,
The shadows break and flee;
‘Twill be the way He chooses,
The Father’s plan for me.
He guides my halting footsteps
Along the weary way,
For well He knows the pathway
Will lead to endless day.
A day of light and gladness,
On which no shade will fall,
‘Tis this at last awaits me –
My Father planned it all.
I sing through shade and sunshine,
And trust what’er befall;
His way is best – it leads to rest;
My Father planned it all.”
“He sends forth springs into the valleys; their waters run among the mountains.”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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