Here we sit on the eve of a New Year. 2017 is about to pass into the annuals of time and 2018 is about to arrive with all of its mystery, and fear, and excitement. I don’t know what the New Year may hold for you, I don’t even know what the New Year holds for me. But this is what I do know: GOD IS STILL IN CONTROL. Praise Him!
I also know that it’s possible the New Year may hold despair for you and those you love. But if this is the case then I invite you to consider the fact that: GOD IS STILL IN CONTROL!
I also invite you to consider the fact that perhaps your despair is not as deep or as life gripping as you might perceive. Consider this: have you ever walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death? I mean the actual Valley of the Shadow of Death. Have you ever found yourself there? Before you answer that, lets consider where and what the Valley of the Shadow of Death actually is and where we might encounter it in our lives.
King David wrote in the 23 Psalms:
“1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
The valley here (in verse 4) in not a happy place. The depiction embodies a place of high mountain walls (that cast deep shadows) that are impossible to climb. The valley is a place from which there is no escape. It is a place where you feel trapped and vulnerable. If you are a soldier, it is a place where your enemies are perched on the high ledges surrounding you waiting to rain down death and destruction upon you. If you are a sheep, it is a place where the wolves roam the high ledges surrounding you waiting for the moment to pounce. This makes it a place of fear and trepidation. A place of never knowing when death and destruction are going to strike next.
There are shadows. And not just any shadows, we are talking shadows that create a darkness like night. If you were to look at Psalms 23:4 in the NIV, you would read “even though I walk through the darkest valley“. Because the word shadows means an intense darkness. The Englishman’s Concordance calls it “an intense darkness as night itself“. So it is a valley like night, without any light. It is a very dark place. And even though the text does not say this, I would suspect that it is a cold place. The lack of sunlight, being sheltered by the mountains, being at the bottom of those prepices, it must be cold there.
And finally, there is death. You are in a valley that smells of death, it reeks of death, it reminds you of it everywhere you look.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death talked about in Psalms 23:4 is a place of fear and a place of NO HOPE. It should probably have a sign at the entrance to it that reads” “ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE”.
I’ve seen these signs on people’s doors before. They think they are being funny (and it kind of is, if you think about it). But they wouldn’t consider it very funny if they really did have to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
It is a place of hopelessness and despair. Complete hopelessness and despair, Have you ever been there? Completely and utterly without hope? Few of us really have. Sure, you may have your hard times, your trails and tribulations in life … but completely hopeless? Probably not. Most of us, the vast majority of us, always have at least some glimmer of hope in our situations.
This is a place of NO HOPE. At all. Whatsoever. And yet the Psalmist writes: “I will fear no evil“. The Psalmist IS NOT afraid. Why? Because King David had experienced the protection and the awesome power of the Rod and the Staff of the Lord. And once you have experienced the power of God, not even a hopeless situation can sway you. Once you understand the awesome power of God, you understand that it really doesn’t matter if he protects you or not. What you understand is that God has the power to save, and if he chooses not to – HE IS STILL GOD. That is the what the Psalmist understood and it freed him from the grip of fear.
The good news here is that few of us ever really do walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I personally believe that it is a place reserved for Prophets to walk through. I believe God does this on purpose in order to keep the Prophets humble (a very hard task when it comes to Prophets) and to ensure they remain empathetic with the people (a very hard thing for Prophets to do).
So you can probably rest assured today that even in the midst of your pain and suffering, you at least have not yet come to the place of NO HOPE where all is lost.
And if God can take the Prophet through the place of NO HOPE and utter despair, the actual Valley of the Shadow of Death, and the Prophet can walk through without any fear of evil and be comforted at the same time, how much easier is it for God to take you through your own hard times?