Victory in the Valley (Psalm 23)
“Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for Thou art with me . . .”
The twenty-third psalm is unarguably one of the most beautiful songs ever sung. Here David eloquently describes the benefits of knowing God. These include frequent rests in the green pastures of divine mercy, daily walks beside still waters with the Lord, and the restoration of the Holy Spirit when the cares of life leave us weary (vs. 2-3). Perhaps these verses were again at the forefront of David’s mind as he later penned Psalm 68:19, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits.”
Of course the same Shepherd that leads us faithfully in the paths of righteousness also promises us His presence as we walk through the valley of death’s shadow. Three things are especially noteworthy here:
First of all, the valley is inevitable.
Trials are certain, but so is the love of God and the assurance of our redemption.
David ends verse three in contemplation of the paths of righteousness, and then immediately continues, “Yea, though I walk through the valley . . .” The implication is that the path of righteousness actually leads through this valley. It’s never a matter of if, but when you will encounter it. “The way of holiness” (Isa. 35:8) will indeed lead us to heaven, but following its course unavoidably means encountering difficulty along the way.
The words of Christ in John 16:33 are quoted far less frequently than Psalm 23, but they carry a similar message: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Trials are certain, but so is the love of God and the assurance of our redemption (1 John 5:13). And because of this we can “rejoice evermore” (1 Thess. 5:16) and say with David, “I will fear no evil.”
Secondly, peace is persistent.
These six verses represent the theme of David’s life: uncertain circumstances endured by the grace of his unchanging, ever-present God. The spiritual rest he found in the green pastures of verse two was not withheld as he passed through the valley of verse four. In fact, the transition is so sudden that it would seem these pastures of peace were actually found in the very middle of the chaos that so often characterized the Psalmist’s life.
As a shepherd, he faced wild animals that came against his flock. As a young man, he encountered Goliath who “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:36). As the Lord’s chosen successor to king Saul, he slept in a cave fearing for his life. As a father, his rebellious son Absalom attempted to usurp the throne. But as God’s child, he feasted daily at the table of the Lord in the presence of his enemies. His cup overflowed as he considered the goodness and mercy of God, who graciously “sendeth the springs into the valleys” (Ps. 104:10).
Finally, the trial is temporary.
Although David accepted the inevitability of the valley and made the best of his time there, he joyfully anticipated the day when there “shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying” (Rev. 21:4). He would not dwell here forever, and so he wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley.” (The key word here is through.) He would indeed pass through its dark shadows, but this was not his final destination; his eternal home and resting place would be the “house of the Lord”, where he would dwell in peace forever.
Just four chapters later, David proclaimed from the valley, “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear” (Ps. 27:3). This proclamation was not made in self-confidence, but in absolute faith in the God who promised, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee” (Isa. 43:2). As he awaited his deliverance, his prayer was simple and sincere: “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD” (Ps. 27:4).