Through The Shadows Of The Valley
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
All paths of righteousness lead to and through the valley of the shadow of death. There are no royal by-passes.
I would not be dogmatic in saying that in this connection there is no thought of natural death, but I positively do not believe that the Psalmist’s main thought was that of physical death. For the saints of God “the dark valley” is this side the gate of death. For God’s children, there is no Bible proof that the exit from this world is a “dark valley” in any sense of the word. Elsewhere the Psalmist writes, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Jesus said, “He that liveth and believeth on Me shall never die.” Paul speaks of departed saints as those who “sleep in Christ.”
The testimonies of thousands who have gone to be with the Lord have given to us no hint of the dark valley idea. When Paul faced Nero’s block he said, “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness . . When Peter was approaching the end, even by cruel crucifixion, according to tradition, he speaks of “putting off this my tabernacle.” John Wesley passed through many shaded valleys, but at death he said, “The best of all God is with us.” A saintly mother was surrounded by her children as she came to the gate of death. She had supposed there would be a dreadfully dark valley, judging from what she had heard preachers say, but she joyfully exclaimed, “Children, there is no dark valley here.” Someone asked Catherine Booth if the waters of death were deep. Her reply was, “I don’t know, for I am not going under, I am going over. Another man of God said to a companion sufferer, both of whom were burning at the stake, “This is our crowning day.”
Note the dissimilarity of these testimonies with the “dark valley idea” for passing saints:
Auntie Jordan said, “The chariot is come, and I am ready to step
Dr. Cullen said, “I wish I had the power of writing, I would describe how pleasant it is to die.”
John Arthur Lyth said, “Can this be death? Why, it is better than living.”
Mrs. Mary Frances exclaimed, “Oh, that I could tell you what joy I possess! I am full of rapture. The Lord doth shine with such power upon my soul. He is come! He is come!”
Another eminent saint of God triumphantly cried, “Victory! Palms of Victory!”
The sainted Fletcher exclaimed, “Satisfied, abundantly satisfied!”
One of God’s young servants lay dying. Said his mother tenderly, “Is Jesus with you in the dark valley?”
“Dark valley!” he exclaimed, “It’s not dark. It’s getting brighter and brighter, Mother.” “Oh,” said he, “It is so bright now, that I have to shut my eyes!”
As further proof that this “valley of the shadow of death” is not physical death for the sheep of God, we find the presence of “enemies” on the other side of this valley. There are no enemies in heaven. We find “goodness and mercy” still following “all the days of my life,” then comes “the house of the Lord.”
Let not the children of God go through life with a dread and fear of natural death. Jesus took into His own heart and body the “sting of death” that we might go free. Death for us carries not with it a sting, but a song.
Let not my readers feel that I have done injustice to this great old text. It is an established fact that nearly all of us have associated these words with eternity’s border land, but why should we have done so? The sheep’s journey with the Shepherd does not end here. The text is in the center of the Psalm. It speaks of the “shadow of death” — death in its dark and doleful meaning. It is only the “shadow,” but even the shadow of death in its dreadful sense is no minor affair. Death in its dreadful sense no saint of God shall ever know, but there shall be shadows plenty, and they shall come to us long before we reach eternity’s border.
It is readily understood that in the world where Satan is the prince he will see to it that the sheep of God cannot slip through on flowery beds of ease. The denizens of darkness are sworn enemies of the Good Shepherd and His sheep. No soul passes through this world and into heaven conveniently and easily. Those who follow our Lord must count the cost before the journey is begun. However, we should not get the notion that Satan’s will alone is being executed by our valley experiences. Satan wills to oppress us and destroy us amid the darkness, but our Shepherd has other designs for us. Our Lord may permit Satan to do his worst toward us, but his worst is limited. As in the case of Job, so it is with us. The devil can go so far, but no farther. The marvel is that in every event Satan’s worst shall turn to God’s best for us. Joseph’s dungeon led to his throne. The three Hebrew boys’ furnace led to their promotion. God’s way up is down. The shadows of the valley lead to the sun-kissed mountain peaks. Jesus’ humiliation and shameful death, borne voluntarily for our sakes, led to “the joy that was set before Him” the redemption of the world from Satan’s bondage, and to His, our Lord’s, exaltation which exceeds that of the highest archangel of the heavens. Our bitterest crosses lead to our brightest crowns. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him … In reality those who draw back from the most dreadful shadows of some deep valley are actually drawing back from the highest honors of eternal glory. Satan would not have us see this truth at all; but even though we may see the truth and rejoice in it while residing in the sunshine, Satan will be on hand to blot it from our minds, if possible, as we enter the death shades of the desert.
No temptation comes to us but such as is common to man, but while in the deep darkness of some heart-hurting experience we are tempted to believe that no other person on earth has known such a test, and that we shall never be able to come through triumphant.
Let us not lose sight of the exact words here: “Yea, though I walk through the valley Note that the testing place is the place of walking. As a young preacher, some years ago, I decided to rearrange a great text in order to put it in better homiletical order. The text is found in Isaiah 40:31: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” I got the idea that it would be best to speak of walking first, running second, and flying third. The Holy Ghost revealed to me that He knew more about homiletics than I did. Flying is pleasant and easy going, running is not such a slow gait, but walking is rather a trial to those whose natures are geared high. The valley of testing is the place of plodding. Young believers delight in soaring, and our Lord often grants this luxury to them, provided they are truly spiritual. This is a spiritual luxury which we all like, but it takes more faith to be faithful in practical running, than in soaring; then more faith and courage to plod over rugged steeps and through dark valleys than are required in running. The New Testament also speaks of “standing.” Only those who are made of real soldier stuff are prepared to stand when the fight is stiff.
Look again at this word — “through” — not into the shadows to be defeated and destroyed, but there is a triumphal exit where the light is shining on the other side. This walk with the Shepherd through the ghastly shadows of the valley constitute our training school of faith. Faith grows in the storm and in the shadows. Here is where we unlearn many things which we supposed we knew, and learn what we had never known. It is in the deep night shades that faith comes to full fruition. Here sight cannot function, therefore we are shut up to faith alone in our ever present Guide. It is while passing through the valley that our Lord becomes infinitely nearer to us. Until now the Psalmist has spoken of the Shepherd in the third person, but as he enters the shadows he draws nearer and says, “Thou art with me.” This is the place where we make love to our Lord and want Him ever near. In the darkness He becomes more intimate and our love increases more rapidly. Here we die to great emotions and to special sensational thrills. It is no longer the blessing we crave, but the Blesser; not His gifts, but the Giver Himself. We lose sight of the tinsel of things and rejoice only in knowing that our Shepherd is near.
I Will Fear No Evil
This word of boasting is not the fruit of our own will power, and our stiff fight against fear, but it is because He is near. David said, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord.” We are safe only because of His presence and care. “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.” Ps. 27:3. Our Shepherd admonishes us not to fear, and gives us precious promises which should relieve us of all fear. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” Is. 41:10. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” Is. 43:2.
A little boy stepped out into the darkness with his father. He drew up close to his father, and with his small hand secure in that of his parent’s hand, he rather boastfully remarked, “Daddy, I am not afraid of bears.” The big bear of fear does not trouble us when we are sure that our Shepherd is near. Faith in His absolute care will eliminate fear from our hearts. When we truly fear the Lord, and love Him with burning hearts, there is none other to fear.
LET ME TRUST
Let me trust Thee, when shadows are darkest,
As alone through the valley I go.
Let me rest in the word Thou hast spoken:
Deep waters shall not overflow.
When pressed by the foe in the conflict,
Let me prove that Thy promise is true;
Let me look for the rift in the storm cloud,
And the light of Thy love shining through.
Let me tell how my fetters were broken,
At the touch of Thy nail-pierced hands;
Of the peace that still flows like a river,
And of grace that has caused me to stand.
Let me sing with a heart filled with gladness,
Of the joy that doth ever increase;
Let me trust Thee for power to proclaim it,
The message of pardon and peace.
Let me wait on my Lord in the stillness,
Until His sweet voice I can hear,
And then, in the strength that He gives me,
Unfettered by doubt or by fear,
Let me rise up on wings like an eagle,
In the power of Thy wonderful Name.
Let me sing all the days of my journey,
Of the Lamb that for sinners was slain.
— Alfred Easterbrook —
If you are in the deep shadows because of some strange, mysterious providence, do not be afraid. Simply go on in faith and love, never doubting. God is watching and He will bring good and beauty out of all your pain and tears. — J. R. Miller