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Psalm 23
The Lord is my Shepherd
Even Though I Walk Through The Darkest Valley,
I Fear No Evil, For God Is With Me

Psalm 23 

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Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil, for you are with me 

Read : Psalm 23, Isaiah 43: 1-7, Romans 8: 18-19, 31-35, 37-39 

'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.'

As we have already seen in our reflections month by month, Psalm 23 is reassuring. The image of the shepherd guiding, guarding and feeding his flock is comforting.  

But in this month's phrase, the comfort is offered in the midst of much darker circumstances than have previously been described. The psalmist has written confidently that God guides him in the paths of righteousness, but now follows this immediately with 'though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death'.  

To be led in paths of righteousness sounds good, especially after we have been in green pastures and by still waters! But then comes the valley of the shadow... 

It is as if the Psalmist is saying that paths of righteousness may not always lead to still waters. Sometimes they will lead to dark valleys. The assurance that the Shepherd is with us and leading us is not a guarantee of a trouble free journey.  

The Shepherd is with us, not to make life easy, but to surround us with love and to give us strength for the next step forward. 

'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.'

Sometimes the path of which we are led will take us through dark valleys. It has to be. One hymn expresses it well. 

'Not for ever in green pastures
do we ask our way to be;
but the steep and rugged pathway
may we tread rejoicingly

Not for ever by still waters
would we rest and idly stay;
but would smite the living fountains
from the rocks along our way'

The comfort and assurance we are offered is in knowing that even in these dark valleys the Shepherd is with us - so we need not fear. HE is with us to comfort and strengthen us. 

dark valley

This is affirmed in the prophecy if Isaiah when God says 'Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine' 

God assures us that he will be with us, even though we pass through waters or rivers; even though we walk through fire... 'Do not fear, for I am with you' he says 'You are precious in my sight' 

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. We remember in this season how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days. The gospels tell us that he had been baptised by John in the Jordan, affirmed by God and anointed by the Holy Spirit. Luke says he returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit! Still waters and green pastures indeed. And then Luke says 'and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness'. 

Yes . . . led . . . The right paths took Jesus from a place of great blessing to a place of hard testing. But God was as much with him in the desert and the testing as he was in the River and the baptism.  

Lent also is the time when we journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem... towards the Cross... towards his death. 

though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

The phrase in the Psalm may not mean only death... it is a description of any deep and dark and dangerous valley in life. But it certainly includes death, and so is an assurance and strength and comfort to us that even in the shadow of death... whether the shadow of bereavement in the face of the death of a loved one or the dark journey of our own death, we need not fear, for the Shepherd is still with us. 'Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me'.  

Indeed, as we will be reminded over the coming weeks, the Good Shepherd is not only one who is with us on that dark journey, but he has himself gone that way and is no stranger to death. It is he who is with us, who accompanies us, comforts us, and strengthens us in the valley of the shadow of death. 

Paul affirms that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ . . .not even death.  

One of many versions of Psalm 23 that are available, is one which comes from the Native American tradition. In that version we read; 

Sometime, it may be very soon, it may be longer, it may be a long, long time, He will draw me into a narrow place between mountains. It is dark there but I'll not turn back, and I'll not be afraid, for it is in there between those mountains that the Shepherd Chief will meet me

Let us pray: 

Lord, you are our Shepherd. You make us lie down in green pastures, you lead us beside still waters, you guide us in right paths.  

We could so happily spend all our time on the green pastures and by the still waters . . .content. 

But when the dark clouds begin to block out the sun, or the path on which you call us seems to lead us into dark valleys we can all too readily begin to fear and panic.  

When we tread these dark and difficult and dangerous ways, remind us that you are there, as present in the dark and narrow valley as you were in the sunlit, broad pastures.  

'I will fear no evil' 

May we know that you are with us, may we be assured of your presence and strength and comfort, and so may we fear no evil.  

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd, and in his name. Amen.  

Rev David Denniston, 2014


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