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We live in the valley of the shadow of death - a reflection by Jessica Miller

Psalm 23 is classified as a hymn of confidence in the Lord’s care. David knows God as his shepherd who cares for him in such a way that he does not lack. He is led by God in paths of righteousness. He experiences God as a generous host who bestows blessing upon those gathered at His table. While the psalm begins in green pastures and ends in the house of the Lord, the middle of the psalm is marked by deep darkness--the valley of the shadow of death. 


While the setting is not given, it is clear that David has lost worldly comfort and security. Perhaps David wrote Psalm 23 when he was fleeing from Saul. Or maybe he is describing a valley in Judah in which he cannot know who or what lurks in the dark (perhaps enemies or wild animals or flash floods). While I think the valley of the shadow of death can represent seasons in our own life that are darker and more trying than others, I also think we live here. On this side of heaven, we are living in the valley of the shadow of death. As I studied this passage, I discovered that the hebrew word for “shadow of death” is a poetic term for thick darkness and can also be translated as terror, calamity, deep darkness, and the grave. It’s also the same hebrew word used in Isaiah 9:2:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” And what is this great light? Or rather, who is this great light? It is God’s promised Son (Isaiah 9:6), the Shepherd of our souls (Ezekiel 34:11-16), and the One who is preparing a table before us (Isaiah 25:6-9; Matthew 26:28-29; Revelation 19:9).


As Psalm 23 continues, David then experiences God as the host of a lavish meal. It is unclear to me as to whether God has prepared this table for David while he is still in the midst of the dark valley or if David has already made it out. But, what is striking to me is that David is seated before his enemies--perhaps enemies he met in the valley--and they are powerless to prevent the enjoyment of God’s generous hospitality. David’s head is anointed with festive oil and his cup overflows. The imagery surely calls to mind the day that is still to come when we are seated at God’s table, but I think it’s also meant to be the glorious experience of God’s children here and now as we find ourselves in the valley. However deep the darkness or broken our situation, it is powerless to prevent our enjoyment of God. There will come a day when we no longer walk in the valley. Rather, light will shine, the valley will be raised and God will gather us to His table. Until that day, I pray that we would have spiritual eyes to see that God is with us in such a way that our cup is filled to the brim and overflowing. 

Jessica and her husband, Chad, have been a part of Northside Church for almost seven years. She particularly enjoys the way that people show up for each other.  

Comments

  1. Thank you Jessica. Beautifully written and very encouraging.

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  2. Preach, sister! Thank you for taking the time to so beautifully and thoughtfully show us how God's word reveals the power of His love to overcome the deepest of darkness and brokenness this world can throw at us. Your words are such an encouragement. Amen and amen.

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  3. Clearly God is real and you really know 'em. Your exegesis has encouraged me and reminds me that yea though I walk in the valley of shadow of death, the soothing rays of protection from The Son cast out all fear and he has saith, Know that I am always with you, yes ma'am, until the end of time. I'll keep my eyes to the hills from which cometh my help knowing corona can't keep me from him as he's declared "She's Mine!" So, don't stop, I'm looking forward to what more you might write that further points us to the one in whom our faith shall (one day) be sight.

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  4. Thank you, Jessica! Your words are lovely and full of truth!

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  5. Amen. Thank you for these reminders.

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  6. Amen! Thank you - and praise the Lord! - for these insights and Scripture references. What a beautiful encouragement, Jessica. Thank you for allowing the Lord to use you! :)

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