“…Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness, I fear no harm, for You are with me…” (Ps. 23:4a)
Up to this point in the Psalm, the picture is of a sheep standing by a fence and talking to a neighboring sheep, and telling it of the tender care received from the shepherd. Now it turns to address the shepherd directly. Take notice of the inclusion of the personal pronouns I and You. The relationship between the shepherd and his sheep take on a more personal affectionate nature.
During the times the sheep are pasturing on mountain ranges they are entirely alone with the shepherd. They are in intimate contact with each other and under his personal attention day and night.
Both in Palestine and on our western sheep ranches dividing pasture lands between summer and winter is a common practice. Shepherds lead the flock up to the mountains in the spring, and bring them back down to the lowlands in the fall.
A few years ago I was sitting on my porch on Fruitland Mesa in Colorado when a “mob” of sheep (over 500) were being moved down the road from the mountains to their fall/winter grazing. The shepherds or owners were on horses guiding them along, making sure they stayed on the road. After they had passed, the gravel road was littered with little black pellets causing breath to be held and noses pinched.
In the Christian life, we speak of mountain top experiences, and sing “Higher Ground.” Like sheep, the only way to get there is by climbing up through the valleys. Notice how the passage is worded: “We walk through the valley of death” – it doesn’t say I die there or stop there – but rather “I walk through.”
When adversity comes to the sheep, as it often does, the shepherd’s presence is there to console and protect. Jesus, the Good Shepherd said, “Surely I will be with you always” – yes, even in the valley of darkness. What a comfort and what a delight!
Prayer: Dear Lord, you know the valleys I walk through. Thank you for your presence, comfort, and grace.