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The Valley of the Shadow
An enquiry into the Scriptural meaning of the words
"The Shadow of Death" (Psa. 23: 4).
pp. 173 -176
An assurance of redeeming love, of heavenly provision, of tender care, and of blessed
guidance is no guarantee that the object of such love will be immune from the troubles
and afflictions that are in the world. David knew this redeeming love, for he said "The
Lord is my Shepherd". He knew that heavenly provision, for he said "I shall not want".
He had experienced the Lord's tender care, when the Lord has made him to lie down in
green pastures. He knew the blessed guidance that had led him beside still waters. Yet
the self-same Psalm speaks of walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
But, some may say, David spoke of death which comes to all. A moment's thought
upon the Psalm as a whole will reveal that this is untenable. Death is the end of all things
in this life. Rod and staff may comfort while life lasts, but are useless after death.
Moreover, to introduce actual physical death into the middle of the Psalm, is to ignore the
fact that the Psalmist continues without break to speak of a table spread, of an anointed
head, and of goodness and mercy following all the days of his life.
"The valley of the shadow of death" is a figure found in a number of O.T. books, and
in none more than in the book of Job, a man who, for a time, longed for death though it
came not. At first sight the reader who is seeking immediate comfort in his hour of trial,
may be repelled by a long investigation into the meaning of the phrase, but all those who
really value "the comfort of the Scriptures", will be among the first to see to it that they
do not rely for their comfort or peace upon the uncertain foundation of incomplete
While we may be obliged to admit that Psa. 23: speaks of an experience (`dying
daily') rather than the dissolution of the body in the article of death, there are passages
where the valley of the shadow of death includes death itself. Yet even so, it is death
accompanied with sore distress and trouble that is in view. One such passage is that of
Job 10: 21, 22, where such a death is contrasted unfavourably with death at the moment of
birth (Job 10: 21, 22):
"Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of
death. A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any
order, and where the light is as darkness."
This chaotic condition implies however something more than death itself; there is all
its terrible accompaniments and consequences. Shakespeare uses the same figure:
"Let order die . . . . . and darkness be the burier of the dead."