Something hit me today that has changed the way I think… and no, I wasn’t hit by a rock or some other flying object.
It started when I was thinking about the 23rd Psalm and the phrase, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
I’ve always pictured this in my head as a great peace amid turmoil, strife, danger or even in dying. That Jesus is there with a comforting hand on my shoulder assuring me that everything is going to be OK.
"The Valley of the Shadow of Death" by George Inness, 1867
There’s nothing wrong with that picture, I just now think that I’ve been missing something all this time.
It struck me to ask—when was David, the author of Psalm 23, most often walking through that valley? Most often, it was in battle.
We know David was a man after God’s own heart—I believe that he was one who was pursuing after God’s heart—not that everything about him was as God would want him to be. There is one way in which we don’t typically think of David’s heart reflecting God’s heart, but it does. David had the heart of a warrior.
Most of us will remember David as a boy having the courage to stand against Goliath when grown men dared not. But we must not forget that David is also described with this phrase, “Saul has slain his thousands and David, tens of thousands.” David had spent so much time fighting—successfully, I might add—that God would not let him build the first temple in Jerusalem because he was a “man of blood.”
David was a warrior. His life had been in danger during many battles. It struck me while thinking about this to also ask, where did most battles take place during David’s day? Typically, they occurred in the valleys—where there was open fields for horses, chariots, regiments. Bodies would be lying on the left & right, fighting on all sides—they truly turned into valleys of death. Which is where Revelation gets the imagery of the valley of Armageddon being full of blood.
This is where our “Good Shepherd” comes to us—during battle—and not just to rest a peaceful hand on my shoulder—but to join me in battle and fight to get me out of the valley.
David had an elite guard of might men for a reason. Their primary duty was to protect the king and guard him—to watch his back. I’ve never been in battle but I suspect that nothing is scarier than to be surrounded by your enemies, cut off from friendly forces, outnumbered and alone. By yourself, staring at a number of enemies before, you know that it’s over—your done. You might be tempted to give up, despair, lose hope or even kill yourself as Saul did. You know you won’t survive unless someone comes to rescue you. Even if just one other person was there to fight with you, you’d have hope to fight on.
With one other, the two of you would stand, back to back & swing away with whatever weapon you had at your disposal. Suddenly my picture of this phrase in Psalm 23 changed. He doesn’t just come to bring you peace and take you out of the battle. He comes to bring hope and encouragement to Keep Fighting. To help you fight through the valley of death.
“I’m here, I’ve got your back –Keep Fighting! Don’t give up!”
I then pictured Jesus with His shepherd’s staff swinging away like at the end of the movie Davey Crockett on the walls of the Alamo—swinging at anything that got close.
His rod and staff comfort me—in other words—He is armed and dangerous—He has a weapon and He knows how to use them. Usually when people talk about the rod and staff they think of how it is used on themselves—typically as a disciplinary tool. But they were also effective weapons for fighting off other animals or thieves. Now I think of them also being used in a fierce battle when my Shepherd comes to my rescue and fights alongside me. Knowing Jesus is right beside me, swinging away at the enemy, watching my back is a great comfort. He is right there, fulfilling…
Isaiah 52:12b --for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
58:8—“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.”
He is on a Rescue mission—
Colossians 1:13—“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”
Jesus is not passively walking us through or even just carrying us through the valley (there’s nothing wrong with those ideas remember) but He is actively fighting alongside us to deliver us through the valley of the shadow of death in Victory—not defeat.
Jesus has my back! That is awesome! And He will never leave us nor forsake us. And if God is for us—who can be against us?!
We have to keep in mind that sometimes the paths of righteousness lead us into the valley of the shadow of death. Living for God, living by faith, doing what is right is not safe, is not always well received—but thankfully we are not sent off into battle alone. He is right there with me—and I will fear no evil—no defeat—because He is with me. Our Shepherd is not just Good, He is a Warrior.
Tomorrow I'll share how this perspective has reshaped another popular passage in my mind. Can anyone think of another Scriptural account that could be affected by this reflection?