This is my preaching script for a morning exposition that I gave on Tuesday, 22 September for the Cornhill Training Course.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,Psalm 23:4 (ESV)
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. “
But let’s look at the text here. The verse is divided into a couple of phrases and it starts with a fairly bold statement.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
Whether it is a national lockdown or the preaching of the gospel being considered hate speech, life in this fallen world will necessarily take you through valleys. Even while David was telling us about how good life is if the Lord is your shepherd, it remains true that hardship is coming. What’s interesting is the way that this follows David’s description of being lead down paths of righteousness. Would we feel the same way about the first two verses if we knew those paths were going to lead through great struggle and difficulty?
But it wasn’t just that David was lead through the valley. David faced evil as well! Whether it was Saul or Absalom or the sin in his own heart, he faced it. A king on the run like a fugitive or prey to Saul’s psychosis.
Why could he face these? Where is his confidence? We see it again in our passage.
For you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me
God is with him. David’s confidence isn’t in his ability to handle things but in knowing that even in this trial, through this valley, he is not alone. And it goes further than that, as David comes to the rod and the staff.
There’s a bit of controversy these days about the use of a rod, but here, it’s purpose in the hands of a shepherd is clear. The shepherd would use the rod to count his sheep, it was a way for him to know that they were all there. He knew if one of them was missing or had fallen in need of the rescuing power of the staff. And this was David’s comfort in the midst of his valleys. The people of Israel would have understood this from their national story as well. They would have known how God had guided them through the wilderness, cared for them and saved them.
Our lives may not be marked by time in the actual wilderness, unless you like camping, but we do still experience dark times. We lose our loved ones or our jobs. My wife and I have experienced the pain of miscarriage and estrangement from family. We had to live outside of the UK for a year after my visa was refused last August. A friend of mine remarked at seeing my family hold it together as we worked through being apart for two months only to have to have our reunion in a place that felt truly foreign. But my wife and I have often talked about how it didn’t feel like we were doing the holding, we were being held together. We only made it through because God carried us through.
In the midst of these things, it is possible to be comforted and confident. Why? Because our shepherd is with us. His rod and staff comfort us. Our God knows our state because he lived it through Christ. Jesus walked through the valley of the shadow of death. He feared no evil. He lived his life in complete dependence on his Father. Hebrews 2:10 tells us that he suffered. When God relates to us, it isn’t as a far off power who just watches. He, like a shepherd, lives and dwells with his sheep.
The fact that we experience trials in our lives should not cause us to doubt God’s care for his children but instead to hold to his unchanging hand. The same God who leads us beside still waters is the God who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.
What about us, here today? What trials may come as we work to grow as Bible teachers and as Christians? Preaching the gospel could become illegal. Or unearthing and contending with the sin that lives inside of us so that we can become more Christ-like. As we do all of this, take heart. Don’t fear. Be confident and comforted because we are not alone in these valleys. Our God is faithful. He is with us. He knows us.