“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.
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.
YOU ARE WITH ME”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