We enjoy the mountains for the vistas they offer. However, we live down on the plains and in the valleys. The psalmist now takes us into one of the numerous valleys of life which even the right paths have to negotiate. David, seemingly takes a deep breath and confesses his thoughts about the valley of the shadow of death. Even then he will face any fear in the confidence of knowing his Lord. Sheep are guarded from brigands and predators by the shepherd’s rod and staff. Their spiritual applications are applied to the believer as he or she faces this and other shadowy valleys.
The rod can be translated as a sceptre. As such it defines authority and kingship, Psalm 45:6. And it is also translated as a rod which smites as in Psalm 2:9. Here is the flock’s protection. The regal nature of the Shepherd plus His righteous character and power unite in the image of ‘thy rod.’ The staff is used for rescuing the sheep caught in a difficult situation. It is also a source of strength on which the shepherd can lean. When we apply this to God’s word and its many shades of meaning we also will know comfort. It is through God’s involvement in people’s lives we realise He keeps His promises. Consider the case of the weeping prophet, Jeremiah. He was opposed though he walked the right path. His God given messages and warnings were despised and rejected. God’s judgement upon the nation, courtesy of Nebuchadnezzar, meant a valley of the shadow of death experience. Innocent though he was, Jeremiah suffered with his nation.
Jeremiah wasn’t deported to Babylon. He saw the destruction of his beloved city and temple. Evil had fallen. How did Jeremiah handle the sorrow, the grief and answer the fear of the survivors. In what way would he, could he, endorse the nice sounding words of the psalmist about being strengthened by comfort? In Lamentations he records, through tears, his hope. As you read the following from that book, understand it as referring to the ‘Rod and the Staff’, God’s word and promises. ‘The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24).
How could he feel that way in the shadows of suffering? Because he believed God’s promise about a coming Messiah, about the reign of that descendant of David over Israel and about God’s promise to Abraham. God had taken His flock through many valleys and endured their bleating and waywardness, especially in the Wilderness. He would not abandon them now. Interestingly, that experience is likened to going through the valley of the shadow of death. (Jeremiah 2:6 in KJV) Why does the Good Shepherd persevere with them? As we have said in the previous blogpost, it’s ‘for His name sake.’ He keeps His word. It was in that certainty Jeremiah trusted as he sat in the rubble of Jerusalem. It is the confidence of the prophets about Israel’s future role even as the nation endures judgement. It is the assurance for those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah and their personal Lord and Saviour. In fact, it is your personal commitment to Jesus that declares the Shepherd took the nation through their valley of the shadow. It culminated in the fulfilment of Scripture about the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Sure, Israel is in another valley of unbelief at the moment, but Scripture points to them coming out of it.
Hosea spoke of another valley called ‘Achor.’ It means sorrow and its story is in Joshua 7. The prophet likened Israel’s history to one of defeat and dispersion and being disowned. However, in Hosea 2:15 he foresees a future time when that valley will be transformed. The Lord (Israel’s Shepherd) said He will ‘make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.’ How? The Lord will reclaim them, will gather them and will make them conquerors. Truly, as the psalmist wrote ‘even though I walk through [notice it is ‘through’] the darkest valley … your rod and staff comfort me.’
Can you find comfort through God’s word for whatever valley is the way your path of rightness is taking you? Let His rod of authority protect you and His staff keep you safe. Then even the valley of the shadow or the valley of sorrow will be faced with faith and hope.
To be continued.
©Ray Hawkins, February 29th 2016.