Psalm 23:4: “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”
This is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. But what does that mean? What is the “valley of the shadow of death?” We hear this verse a lot at funerals and to comfort Christians in really difficult times of loss, but what is the most accurate translation of the original Hebrew text?
The Hebrew word for “shadow of death” is sal-ma-wet, which means “darkness” or “darkest shadows.” As we are reading in the context of the Hebrew, as it was written, we would say “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, which is the darkest valley, I will fear no evil.” The verse goes on to read, “for YOU are with me.”
I am going to pause. Although, this entire Psalms 23 passage is POWER PACKED with amazing promises for believers, I want to visit five words that MOVED me in a different way as I was studying for this devotional. “FOR YOU ARE WITH ME.”
I have faced some really tough things in this life. I remember looking at my pastor and telling him that I am not afraid to die, that if I did not wake up the following morning it would be ok with me. I proceeded by saying, “However, I am afraid to live; I do not know how to move through this.” Have you ever felt that way? Even though I am a child of God, a weapon for the Kingdom, a “right-fighter”, an alpha female-go getter, I am human. You are human.
When we consider David’s history, we can sort of understand why he realized his deep need for the Lord and why the Lord was truly his Savior.
David faced potential fatality while caring for his sheep. As just a boy, he fought away a lion and a bear to protect his flock. David was fearless in the face of Goliath. He had a warrior’s heart, prepared for battle even when it made no sense. With all odds stacked against him, he stood strong, faithful, and fearless.
David was tactical in his dealings with Saul. He used stealth and wisdom. He also brought great comfort to Saul as he skillfully played music and provided peace for his predecessor.
David was an anointed King. He was meant to be the King of Israel, the royal bloodline of Jesus. David was the “apple of God’s eye”. He found favor in the heart of the Father.
David lusted after a woman with whom he then had an affair, the woman became pregnant, and he had her husband killed. David was a man, in need of THE Savior.
Now, with that very brief history in mind, reading this passage, well it reads a little differently. He was not just a little shepherd boy writing a song. He was a fearless warrior, a revered leader, a skilled musician, and a sinner.
In all honesty and conviction, having a real human experience with God, David wrote: “Yea, though I walk through the darkest valley, the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me.”
I can imagine that David must have thought that sometimes the shadow, the darkest valley, is so cold. We cannot see the light of day; we cannot feel the warmth of the sun. Sometimes we cannot feel the light of our Father, the warmth of His arms. It is scary and unsure. Fear grips our hearts and we want to sit down and not move through to the other side. It is in that darkest valley, that shadow of what feels like death, that David reminded himself, “FOR YOU ARE WITH ME.” God did not need for David to tell Him where He was, David needed David to tell himself where God was.
But wait! What about Ps. 91:1 We believe that the scripture was an account by David but was actually Moses’ writing of the exodus. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty”? David was recording this song of his hero; he was reminding himself of what the forefathers of his faith sang as they headed to the Promised Land. Actually, there are seven times in the book of Psalms that “shadow” is referenced as a hiding place of comfort and keeping.
Yet, even as I read these scriptures, I am transported to times that I, personally, was in that covert place with God, under His wings, because I was so wounded that I could not move. But guess what? Even that shadow felt cold. I am sure Moses felt the weight of the world, cold, lonely, scared, frustrated, angry when he returned from the mountain to find the Israelites building an idol, or as David must have felt when he was running for his life from Saul. That shadow of hiding and protection felt like I was so far removed from everyone and everything, it felt dark and cold, so lonely and isolated.
David KNEW God! David CONNECTED with God! David LOVED God! David CRIED OUT to God! David wrote this in his old age: Psalms 37:23-25 “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread.”
For all of the trials and triumphs that David faced, these are the words that he wrote about his Father. It seems as though David figured out that the source of the shadow does not make the circumstance less dark, less cold, less isolated.
The source of the LIGHT that is creating the shadow is all that matters.
And just like David, we have to remind ourselves “FOR YOU ARE WITH ME”.
When we recognize that the Light of the World is the author and finisher of our faith; He is the Alpha and Omega, the Great I Am; His word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path; and He will NEVER leave us or forsake us, THAT is when the shadows do not matter.
The Light that is larger than the circumstance, is shining on us, and He holds our hands as we walk with Him.
By Kristina Cornell
“…I have been delivered so many times by the hand of God that any creativity that I have I only want to give back to Him. I really have nothing else to say, as I have learned that I have nothing of significance to offer of myself. I am just like everyone else, in need of a Savior. I write from my heart, I write devotionals, stories, songs, messages, even starting on a book, and all I have to offer is Jesus and what He has done in my life!” — Kristina Cornell. Visit her website at www.tellthemministries.net.
You can find out more about Kristina on Facebook HERE.