Psalm 23 is one of my favourite Bible passages. Psalm 23 can be broken down into about four  separate but interrelated topics each appropriate for Devotion. The part of Psalm 23 that is of interest to me for the purpose of this Devotion is verse 4:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me
Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.”
The operative words and phrases in this verse are as underlined above.
Central to this verse is the concept of ‘fear’; that ‘fear’ is the product of the experience of “the valley of the shadow of death.” The physical description of a ‘valley’ is a low level land between hills or mountains. The metaphorical representation of a ‘valley’ as depicted in this passage is that of:
- A very difficult, stressful, or indeed traumatic life experience
- A period “when the going gets tough, and the tough gets going”, a time of great tribulation
- A period of immense spiritual challenge, temptation and vulnerability, when Faith is challenged and the individual is prone to opportunistic ungodly ‘infections’.
Such could be the seriousness of the experience, that for the individual, it feels like they are hemmed in, and looming above them is the dark overcast or “the shadow of death” from which there appears to be no escape. The reassurance that the Bible gives to us as Christians during such trying times is one of: “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
The following are the implications of verse 4:
- That ‘evil’ times are part of human experiences
- That walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” is inevitable in our individual journey on earth
- That these ‘evil’ times engender fear
It could therefore be said that ‘fear’ is acquired. At the beginning when God created Man, Man had neither the concept nor knowledge of fear, until Man experienced the first recorded ‘evil’ time, i.e. a time of great temptation and deception by the Devil, followed by the first recorded act of sin, the sin of disobedience. Upon the realisation that he had sinned against God, Man was afraid [i.e. fearful] and tried to hide when God called. Having eaten of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Life, Man realised the consequences of sin and at that point ‘fear’ was imprinted in Man’s consciousness.
Following this encounter between God and Man, God has used ‘fear’ for two main purposes:
- God sends His fear before us to overwhelm the enemy and make us triumph over the evil contending with us. “I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you” [Exodus 23: 27]. This presupposes that the ‘fear’ of God as referred to here is the Angel [Messenger] of God.
This is further confirmed in Exodus 23: 20: “God says, Behold I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.” And also in Exodus 23: 23: “God says, For My Angel will go before you ……….”
- The second purpose for which God uses ‘fear’ is to implant it in us so as to deepen our insight and knowledge of Him and thereby enable us to walk according to His precepts and Laws. Proverb 1:7 says, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom [or knowledge].” So ‘fear’ could, in this sense, be interpreted as the Word or Law of God. If the Word of God dwells in us, it follows by implication, that we have the “fear of God” in us. The relationship between the “fear of God” and God’s blessing is exemplified in the following passages of the Bible:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly nor stands in the path of sinners. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord. And in His Law he meditates day and night” Psalm 1: 1-2.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” [Joshua 1:8].
“Now is shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God” [Deuteronomy 28:1-]
However, there is a different kind of fear. This is the fear that is indicative of Man’s frailty and weakness; the fear that results when we are overwhelmed by adverse life experiences, when our Faith in God and in His promises are being tasked through difficult life experiences, such as prolonged or enduring ill-health, work, relationship, family, or financial circumstances.
These represent the ‘evil’ times or “the valley of the shadow of death”. However bad and contending life circumstances may be, we have a reassurance in the rest of Psalm 23: 4: “I will fear no evil. For You are with me. Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.” This should be the time to remember to deploy Faith, when to draw on God’s promises and put our trust in Him.
Such life experiences may be tough-going. Nonetheless, God’s “rod” and “staff” are there to comfort us. The “rod” is a metaphor representing the spiritual pillar or backbone that keeps us upright and steady in the face of the storms of life. The “staff” represents an insignia of authority and power that comes through faith in the omnipresence and omniscience of God. It is this authority and power that we need to invoke to counter evil machination and seek and refuge and comfort in God.
When life is tough-going and we are bowed low by the storms and harsh experiences of life, we should remember God’s promises and draw from His exhortations as provided in the following passages:
- “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” [Joshua 1:9].
- “Then Joshua said to them. ‘Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; be strong and of good courage, for thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight” [Joshua 10:25].
God promises that such ‘mountains’ as may have created the “valley of the shadow of death” along which we walk, shall be made plain, “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” [Zechariah 4:6].
Psalm 130: 1-2: “Out of the depths I have cried to You O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
Let us be reassured that when we call: God hears, God listens, God considers, God decides, God answers