Month: March 2023

Even in Death Valley You Are With Me

“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 23:4 ESV

If this six verse Psalm 23, written by David were an artichoke, the above verse would be the heart.

For just as it lies as the centering line of the psalm, it offers our life a centering line too. And just as it serves as a transition from the shepherd/sheep motif to a direct address using I and you, so too are we able to personalize this powerful psalm. This verse is the heart of the whole psalm and should be at the heart of every believer. So let’s peel away at this artichoke.

Here we have the first “dark note’ of the psalm. The shepherd has taken us through green pastures and beautiful pools of water, He has refreshed us and led us. But now we see a dark valley, not a mountop or lush field. A valley surrounded by foreboding peaks and rocky ledges casting cold, dark shadows on our path. We are now walking through death valley, under it’s ever present shadow.

Shadowed valleys

Psalm 23 can be divided into two balanced stanzas, each with 4 couplets. The first stanza presents the shepherd/sheep relationship and the second moves into the personalized King/servant picture with personalized direct address using “you” and “I”. Have you ever noticed this before? And smack dab in the center of it all is the beautiful assurance that even in death valley, we can be certain of His presence and have no need to fear – for He is with us. This very thought centers us, and personalizes His presence with us no matter where we are, or it should.

But it is a shadow. There is no substance to it. It is the shadow of death, not the substance of death. When faced with that shadow of death, defeat seems immenent, in fact, death is guaranteed for us all. But in this verse, the Shepherd leads the sheep right down Main Street of Death Valley fortified with His presence. That presence dispels all fear, panic or alarm, as the sheep confidently proclaims, “I will fear no evil”, even in this shadow of death.

Death Valley, CA

The Shepherd’s presence made all the difference. The presence of evil was not eliminated, but the fear of evil was.


Psalm 23:4

This phrase and its reality is our centering line of life. It is the heart of our life. He is with us. With us in the darkest, lowest, most evil valley. With us in the dangerous, predator infested hideouts. With us in the valley cast with dark, scary, violent and cold shadows, of deep, dark, dirty and fruitful valleys.

Rivers in the valley, green grass too

Yes, fruitful! It is in the valleys where we find the richest food and choicest meadows – along the river banks. Valleys are well watered. There you’ll find the rivers, springs, and quiet pools. And you know what else? The only way to get to higher ground is to go through the valleys! Those shadowy valleys are actually a road to higher ground.

Our Shepherd, like any shepherd, will only take His flock where He has already been. He has scouted out the way through the shadows in death valley and now He walks with us through that valley, taking us to higher ground. (Notice too, the peaceful walk. We’re not fearfully running through the scary valley.)

I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

Your rod and your staff they comfort me.

The shepherds of David’s day typically carried a rod or sturdy wooden stick, used as a weapon to protect and count the sheep, and a staff, a long, thin stick with a hook, used to direct the flock.

The rod was an extension of the shepherd’s right arm and speaks of his power, strength and authority. It was used to defend the sheep against attackers and discipline the wayward, wandering sheep. The sheep would “come under the rod” to be counted and examined. Here the shepherd would part the sheep’s wool, to check the skin for trouble. He would then run his hands over the body feeling for disease or ticks. The shepherd would examine in detail each sheep with his rod and hands. There was no “pulling the wool” over his eyes. The rod protected the sheep, they were comforted by it.

Shepherds are the only profession who use a staff. (Unless you consider the musical staff…) It is caringly used to manage the sheep, direct them, and guide them. It is a symbol of care and concern, of kindness. For with it, the shepherd draws sheep together into a close and loving relationship. He also uses it to draw the sheep unto himself.

By gently placing the staff against the animals side and applying pressure, the sheep is guided and is reassured of his proper path. Many a time, the shepherd will get “in touch” with a sheep, and they will walk this way, “hand in hand” – close, personal, intimate contact between sheep and shepherd. This comforts the sheep knowing that the shepherd is at its side.

Could The Good Shepherd’s rod and staff actually bring us comfort?

Haven’t we seen the power and authority of God is our world, life? Haven’t we recognized His love come after us and rescue us year after year? Haven’t we experienced His inspection under our wool and His gentle hands massaging our broken heart time and time again? Haven’t we then experienced the comfort of His rod?

How many time have we felt that gentle prodding inside of us to do, or say something or to go somewhere? Wasn’t it recently that we thought we felt God? Felt Him asking to walk beside us, close and personal? Isn’t it comforting to know that He wants to walk closely connected to us every day whether we are in death valley or not?

for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 23:4

Is that phrase the center point of your life? Is the presence of God in your life the heart of who you are? Have you found your way to a personal God, who is yours, and personally involved in your walk?

His presence, His rod and His staff comfort me, because the Lord is MY shepherd.

He is with us. Isn’t THAT the heart of the issue?




  • ESV Study Bible, Psalm 23
  • Quest Study Bible, Psalm 23
  • Life Application Study Bible, Psalm 23
  • NASB Study Bible, Psalm 23
  • David Guzik, Commentary Psalm 23
  • Matthew Henry Commentary Psalm 23
  • A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23; Phillip Keller; Zondervan 1970,2007

He Restores and Leads Me

Psalm 23:3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his names sake.

As we run with the herd through the busy fileds of life, over each hill and through every valley, there have been endless times when we need to stop, catch our breath, renew our strength, and be refreshed. Finding and following the right path during those times is always challenging. And that is why this verse is so encouraging to those who are His sheep, because the Good Shepherd –

Restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness…”

Psalm 23:3 ESV

When we are weary or downcast, our Shepherd restores us. He returns life’s vitality, energy and joy, He revives our passion, in all areas, and He renews our strength. We find our body, mind and soul fully restored and recharged. I have experienced this often, haven’t you?

Have you heard of a sheep being cast down? It is interesting about sheep and insightful as it applies to us people.

a cast sheep

A “cast” sheep is one who is on its back and cannot get up again by itself. On its back, feet in the air flailing, struggling to stand up but without success, often bleating, frightened and frustrated. The owner, the shepherd must find it within a short time or the sheep will die.

As it lies there struggling, gasses build up in their rumen. Because they are expanding, this cuts off the blood circulation to the extremeties, especially the legs. If the weather is hot, the sheep will die within a few hours. If it is cool, it may survive in that position for several days.

When the shepherd does find it, he will tenderly roll it on its side, relieving the pressure from the built up gases. Then he will lift the sheep, straddling it to hold it up, rubbing the limbs to restore circulation to the legs. Little by little it would regain its equilibrium, until it runs off again into the herd. The sheep has been restored. From downcast to restored. That’s the exclusive work of the shepherd.

How often have I been cast down? Unable to get myself out of the funk I’m in? Stuck. Unable to move forward. Left on my own, waiting for a, force greater than myself to act upon me. Something to get me going again.

It is the sheep whose Shepherd is the Lord, that will be found in time, in the hot sun and restored to vitality. It is the sheep, whose God is the Lord, who will be rescued from an upsidedown world, be revived, find strength and keep on going refreshed. It is because the Lord is my Shepherd, that my body, mind, and soul is restored.

I love that this verse doesn’t end with the sheep being restored and renewed. That is wonderful and absolutely needed. But when we are revived, restored and renewed, we need detailed direction next. We need to be led. We need to know what to do and where to go. Right?

So, of course the psalm next says –

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His names sake.

We sheep, being creatures of habit, if left to ourselves will follow the same ole path and trails until they become ruts. We will graze the same ole hills ’til they become desert wastelands. The land will become “sheeped to death” with deteriorated trails that now look like muddy gullies. This is what happens if we sheep, are left to ourselves. We go our own way, the way we always have gone, the way of our own destructive habits.

Can you identify within yourself those destructive ruts your habits have entrapped you in? I can.

That is why “The greatest safeguard a shepherd has is to keep his sheep on the move,”according to Phillip Keller, a professional shepherd and scientist. He states in his book, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”:

  • No other aspect of ranch operations requires more attention than moving sheep
  • On average, new ground almost every week so that the sheep don’t overfeed the same ground too frequently or too long
  • There must be a plan of action regarding the rotating of grazing
  • Contrary to popular thought, sheep cannot “just get along anywhere”
  • They require careful handling and detailed direction, more than other livestock

You see, we sheep need to keep moving, but moving in the right direction and on the right path, not rut. No wonder, the emeny of our souls convinces us to look for comfortable spots, soft, easy spots. But in those comfortable spots, we become wolly – fat, not healthy or productive. Undisciplined and lazy – spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

a wolly sheep needing shearing

God knows what He is doing with me as He sets me on my feet with a restored soul and leads me in the right path. Not the wrong rut, comfortable path, but the right path – naturally, morally and legally. He guides me along a new normal path of justice and rightness.

The Shepherd is guiding and leading us in the right path, but the problem is, we don’t want to follow Him. It’s so much more comfortable in our dreary rut with our predictable habits. Moving us into unfamiliar fields to graze on new thoughts and principles is scary. Mixing our life up and rotating our ideas to become more like His is challenging, and difficult and SO new.

But as He leads us along the right paths, and as we choose to follow His ways, we are learning to honor Him. The name of our shepherd is being honored and His character is being seen in our lives. And other lost and worn out sheep can see that there is a Shepherd who cares, leads, restores and loves His sheep. They too can join His fold and find restoring and leading.

For God’s sake, won’t you let Him restore and lead you? Aren’t you glad that He does?



“A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”, Phillip Keller; Zondervan Books 1970, 2007

Green Pastures and Still Waters

Psalm 23:2 – He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.

He makes me lie down in green pastures

As sheep, we are free to chose our shepherd, the one that leads us and the one that we willingly follow. For it is the shepherd that is responsible for the care, feeding, health and protection of his flock. That task of shepherding is cumbersome and requires a vigiliant shepherd, otherwise the sheep and the herd will find itself in brown, barren fields, thirsty, matted, malnourished and unsettled. But if The Lord is your shepherd, He leads you in green pastures and beside still waters.

As we mentioned last time, sheep can’t find water or pasture without a shepherd. They have no sense of direction and wind up following another sheep, usually to a dirty, insect infested pothole filled with muddy water. Sheep will settle for less, that momentary satisfaction; they lack discernment and don’t know what’s good for them until the shepherd comes to their rescue.

And according to the professional shepherd, Phillip Keller,

… it is almost impossible for sheep to be made to lie down”.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23; page 41

Here are the four requirements that must be met, in order for sheep to physically lie down –

  1. They must be free from all fear
  2. They must be free from friction with others of their kind
  3. They must be free from pests
  4. They must be free from feeling hungry

So, if our text says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures…” (which it does), then these four requirements have been met for the sheep to actually lie down for the shepherd. Let’s consider each one, briefly.

Free from all fear – Sheep are prey animals, remember? So they are constantly on guard for coyotes, bears and the like, which if they sense them, they will become agitated, restless, and easily panicked. They are defenseless and feeble and so their only choice is to run. That is why they stand up and are ready to run for their life at all times. It is the shepherd’s presence that allows them to lie down.

Free from friction with others of their kind – Within the flock there is a literal “butting” order, a rivalry where sheep stand up and defend their rights, where they actually challenge intruders or other aggressors. This constant jealousy makes the sheep edgy, tense and restless. There is a tension that comes when standing up for themselves, their rights and trying to get ahead. Again, the shepherd’s presence makes the difference for them. They are safe and accepted by him.

Freedom from pests and parasites – There are seasons where sheep are under constant attack from flies and ticks making it next to impossible for the sheep to lie down. Extra care is needed by these sheep who are “being bugged”. These all consuming distractions, “nose-flies”, demand the sheeps full attention and there is no way that sheep will lie down.

Free from finding food and hunger – Have you ever considered that most sheep countries are in dry, semi-arid areas of the globe? You’re not gonna find green pastures there. To find those lush, verdant grazing fields takes the skill of an experienced shepherd, who has planned and labored to get his flock there. For the good shepherd, a worn-out field, lacking vegetation does not allow for a sheep to eat, much less lie down. Hungry sheep are forever on their feet searching for food.

With these four requirements met, the Shepherd has released the sheep to be able to lie down in lush, green pastures, confident they are safe, healthy, defended, and satisfied.

Looking back at these four requirements for sheep to lie down, do you see any parallels with your life, your needs or behaviors?

How’s your “fear factor”? Are you waiting for the other shoe to drop? Stressed, feeling panicked and sometimes just ready to bolt?

How trapped have you become by trying to get ahead? By standing up for your rights and yielding to the rivalry?

What are your distractions that keep you from truly resting? What distractions are bugging you?

Have you settled for grazing on meaningless, empty fields that bring you no spiritual nutrition? Are you searching for food that satisfies?

The Good Shepherd provides the peace and the place for His sheep to lie down. He has made a place for them to lie down. The sheep know this, trust him and rest because of his presence with them.

He leads me beside still waters

Even though sheep thrive in dry climates, they still require water, for without it dehydration sets in, which effects the tissues and causes serious damage. Most of sheep’s water will come from either

  • dew on the grass
  • deep wells
  • streams

Although the skilled shepherd will lead the flock to those streams, sheep can go for months without actually drinking from a stream. Why?

Streams in the desert are hard to find, yes, that’s one reason. But more interestingly, sheep are able to drink every day, if there is heavy dew on the grass.That water is enough to sustain them for weeks without coming to a well or stream. Sheep will graze just before dawn on drenched vegetation and become fully satisfied.

A fully satisfied sheep is happy and refreshed and will lie down to rest and ruminate.

This, again, is the shepherd’s job – to keep the sheep watered, satisfied and able to lie down, even if they are in a dry place. The shepherd knows where the next watering source is and allows for his sheep to find daily thirst quenching from the early morning dew until they reach their goal – beside still waters.

As His sheep, be encouraged, that even in the dry times, He has provided the early morning dew (first light prayer time) for you to find satisfaction. You can go for months on just those dew point – prayer times. Without them tho’, dehydration sets in and your Spirit shrivels up, causing you serious spiritual damage.

As His sheep, He is able to provide for each and every requirement that it takes for you to be at rest enough to lie down. He is the Good Shepherd and He cares for His sheep.

Ponder, won’t you, are you grazing in green pastures and beside still waters or have you been feeding on some barren hillside, drinking from dirty potholes of muddy water? The Good Shepherd will lead you if you chose to follow Him.

He will lead you to lie down in green pastures and drink beside still waters.

Let’s graze on that dew soaked meal each day.



  • A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23; W. Phillip Keller; Zondervan Books; 1970, 2007

The Lord Is My Shepherd

Psalm 23:1- The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Last time we talked about people being like sheep without a shepherd, (see previous blog) and were reminded that King David (who at the time was a shepherd) proudly declared, “The Lord is my shepherd!”.What a boastful pronouncement! What confidence and connection.

How could a mere mortal, made from clay, claim to be connected to and led by the diety? How could David assert that the creator of the universe in all of its vastness is his Lord, his shepherd? Here was David, made in God’s image (like each and every human), claiming connection with the Lord, Jehovah God, creator of all things, author and originator of all life actually leading him.

David was basically saying, “Look who MY owner is! The Lord is my manager, my boss, my caregiver, my provider, my shelter, my shepherd.” “I belong to His flock, He is MY shepherd”. David was announcing God’s legitimate claim on His life. “I belong to Him because he created me.” David recognized and yielded to God’s claim on His life.

As a shepherd David knew that each of his or any flock bore the mark of it’s shepherd. With an awl-like tool, an ear of each sheep would be marked with a permanent label, forever identifying it as belonging to his flock. David was publicizing to all that he had been marked by his shepherd, the Lord, and would forever belong to Him, to His flock, all the days of his life.

This is where each of us begins with our connection to the Shepherd. We begin by acknowledging His claim on our life. Acknowledging He is our Lord, shepherd, manager and boss. Recognizing His right, as our creator to our ownership, and willingly being marked by the cross upon which He died. He bought me, He owns me. I gladly and proudly proclaim, “The Lord is my shpeherd.”

I shall not want.

Psalm 23:1 ESV

To “want” is to lack. To not “want” is to be content.

The shepherd was the one responsible for the welfare of the flock. The sheep’s care, protection, and well being fell solely on the shepherd. The care they received depended on their shepherd. Whether they had grass to graze in, fresh water to drink, a roof over their head, their wool groomed and injuries tended to depended on who their shepherd was.

Not all flocks are watched 24/7. Not every flock is defended against all predators. Not all sheep were fortunate enough to always have plush grazing, shaded rest spots, healing medicines, and other healthy sheep to hang out with.

But David had experienced all of those provisions from his shepherd – the Lord. He was never in want knowing that his shepherd was tending to his every need. Peace permeated his life because the Prince of Peace was his shepherd. There was an assurance that the Good Shepherd was never sleeping and would never leave him. He would lack nothing with the Lord as his shepherd.

The Lord, our shepherd is filled with such love for His flock that he leaves the 99 sheep safely in the pen to go after that one who is forever wandering off. He searches for and finds it, putting it on His shoulders and carries it back to the fold to be cared for.

There is danger in our world, for there are many who would seek to drive you, dear sheep, as your shepherd. But the care they provide you is lacking. The pasture is barren and the water polluted. There is no protection from the ravenous wolves and predators who seek to devour you. The Good Shepherd is not caring for you and you are not content. You live in danger and want, lack.

“No man can serve two masters…”

To come under the care of The Good Shepherd begins by acknowledging that He is your Lord – The Lord, is your shepherd. You’re not following any other leader, voice, manager or shepherd. The Lord is your shepherd and you will follow Him. You recognize His claim on your life and you willinging present yourself to His leading and care. You will trust Him and you will not lack, for He is YOUR Good Shepherd.

Who we follow determines our spiritual health. Who our shepherd is matters because that shepherd’s claims on our life will either satisfy us or destroy us.

Do you belong to Him? Is the Lord YOUR shepherd?