It is an oft-repeated scene in my ministry. I’m standing next to the bed of a person who is breathing their last here on Earth. I pull out my Bible and begin reading.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
As I read the well-known, comforting words of Psalm 23, some people smile; others cry. Some do both. Hurting family members and friends hang on every beautiful and profound word.
But then I read, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” At that point, I sometimes hear an audible gasp or whimper as they react to such poignant words.
Their loved one is passing through that dark valley of death.
The truth is, however, that’s not exactly what Psalm 23 is saying, or at least not in the way people often think. You see, when people hear the phrase, “the valley of the shadow of death,” they think David is talking about the passing through the dark valley of death.
In the original Hebrew, though, the word often translated as “the shadow of death” actually seems to simply mean, “deep darkness.” In other words, even when we walk through the valleys of deep darkness, we don’t need to be afraid. Dark valleys in David’s days were dangerous. A modern paraphrase might be, “Even when I walk through a dark alleyway in the bad part of Houston at two o’clock in the morning, I will fear no evil.”
The valley of the shadow of death includes all the dark and scary times in our lives. We’ve all experienced such dark places – when we are hurting, afraid and confused. But when we find ourselves in those really dark places, we don’t need to be afraid. Our Good Shepherd is with us. He will protect, guide and comfort us.
No matter where you go, no matter how scared you are, no matter how dark of a place you find yourself in, your Good Shepherd will never leave your side. You don’t have to be afraid. He will protect you. He will make it all work out for your good.
And, no matter what, he will lead you to heaven.
Sometimes, the really dark place is death. In fact, death is the darkest and scariest valley through which we must pass. Even as we walk through the dark valley of death, however, we don’t need to be afraid. Our Good Shepherd is with us the whole way.
Because of Jesus, your Good Shepherd, death is not the end. Death is not darkness. Death is not something to be feared.
Because Jesus, your Good Shepherd, gave his life to rescue his sheep – because he won for you forgiveness and a home in heaven – death for you is simply a door. When you go through that door, you will see the table he has prepared for you in the banquet hall of heaven, where your cup runneth over. Through faith in Jesus, you will live in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23 isn’t meant to be read only at a person’s deathbed or funeral. It reminds us of God’s providence, protection and presence every day of our lives. It points us to the luxurious banquet of heaven waiting for us.
It comforts us and takes away our fears, especially when we are in a really dark place.