Psalm 23:4a

 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;

There are lots of things to unpack in this passage.  Let's get started...

Notice first that the psalmist changes from speaking about  the Lord as his shepherd to speaking to
Him.  Perhaps the truth conveyed there is that when we are personally acquainted with our Shepherd, we can't go long talking about Him without soon talking to Him! Haven't you found that to be true in your life?  So many times I will be having a conversation with a friend about Jesus and, before long, I burst into spontaneous prayer, praising Him or thanking Him or just including Him in our chat.  That may be what the psalmist is doing here.  Or it may be that the topic, the valley of the shadow of death, requires a more intimate approach.  The psalmist is responding to the need to have close and direct communication with the Shepherd when walking through the valley.

Next, what are the valleys that shepherds traverse and why? In hill country, where sheep are most common, mountaintops often offer the best grazing land.  Getting to those spots requires taking routes through deep ravines and valleys.  These places are often narrow and dark, shaded by rocks and crags.  It is a difficult journey to pass this way but these paths are often the most well-watered routes, the gentlest grade (which makes for better climbing), and provide choice grazing spots along the way.

What about the "shadow of death" reference?   Valleys are usually flanked by cliffs on either side, which prevents the sun from reaching there except for a few brief hours.  This creates a  cold and gloomy atmosphere of shadows.  In the shadows and darkness, it is easy for predators(bears, wolves, coyotes, etc) to hide and wait for a sheep to stray off from its shepherd. Other dangers such as rock slides, mud or snow avalanches are more catastrophic in a valley than in an open field because there is no way of escape.  Thus,for the shepherd, "shadows" and "death" are linked with the paths through valleys.

Yet, in the face of such gloom and danger, the psalmist says he doesn't fear...because the Shepherd is with him.  Through these valleys, these paths to the mountaintop, the sheep are cared for vigilantly, protected with the shepherd's very life.  A good shepherd is aware of the potential danger and keeps constant watch over each member of his flock.  So it is with our Good Shepherd....

Every life has valleys. And in those valleys, there is the threat of evil.  Lots of different kinds.  Sometimes evil comes in the form of rejection or discouragment or depression.  Other times it appears as condemnation or even physical danger.  Yes, most of the time, the presence of evil lurks in these valleys. Sometimes we get in these valleys through our own errant wanderings but other times, the Shepherd leads us right into them on purpose....and with purpose.  He wants to get us to the mountaintop. And the valley, though seeming gloomy and dangerous, is full of the choicest grazing spots and the best water sources.  It is in the valleys - not just through them--that we have the closest intimacy with the Shepherd, the best access to Him as our source of Living Water and Bread of Life.  The most valuable treasures are those that are hidden in the cold shadows.  Unless we go there, we never obtain them.

During one such "valley season" of my own, the Lord gave me a Truth that was of great comfort to me, provided some answers for me.  In this time, I felt so alone.  I wanted friends to minister to me but it seemed as though they either didn't understand or perhaps didn't care.  This deepened the valley.  It was during this time that He spoke to me with this: "The path through the valley of suffering is ultimately single file".  He taught me that He intends for the valleys to be so narrow in certain points that no one can walk beside us.  While we are called to bear one another's burdens and to care for each other sacrifically, what He requires ultimately is that we learn to lean not on others but only on Him.  When we get to the tightest spots in our valley, no friend can pass through with us - we walk single file behind the Shepherd, holding tight to His hand....or He gathers us up in His arms and carries us Himself.

Yes, there are shadows in the valley.  It is rocky and narrow and difficult.  And there are ever-present dangers there.  But if we let those shadows and difficulties and dangers press us close to the Shepherd, we will have good grazing, fresh water, and intimate security.  And, for those of us in Christ, we do not fear evil in any form, even  Death.  It is only a Shadow because it has no hope of victory in our lives.  We have Eternal Life.

You may be in a valley right now.  It is my prayer that you will trust the choice of the Good Shepherd to lead you to it, in it, and through it.  Don't miss what He has for you in this valley.  Cling to His Hand and know that, even in the valley of the shadow of death, you need fear no evil...He is with you.