“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
Psalm 23:4 speaks of a rod and a staff, communicating that our God is a God of presence and protection. Think of the image that the valley of the shadow of death evokes in us – thoughts or experiences of danger, difficulty, heartache, even death itself. This is a universal human experience because everyone walks through the valley of the shadow of death sometime in his/her life.
The natural bent of our hearts is towards fear, not fearlessness. Fear can come at any moment, but the ability to “not fear” has to be produced from a cause, something greater than fear.
So, what is the cause?
All of us tend to fear when we walk through valleys and we begin to face our mortality. Maybe we have walked through cancer, disease, illness, and we have had fear in our hearts. Maybe we have walked through family turmoil and strife – abusive relationships, wayward children, unfaithful spouses – valleys of the shadow of relational death, and we have been fearful. COVID-19 has produced much fear in many of us. Maybe we were afraid of losing our jobs, family members, health, even life itself.
But David says that even though he walks through those valleys, he will fear no evil for the shepherd is with him. We, like the sheep, find courage in the presence of the Shepherd, specifically His presence to protect with the rod and the staff.
And that is the cause to “not fear.”
The image of a shepherd’s rod (a wooden club used to fight off animals) and his staff, a hooked stick (used to prod) portrays God’s protection and guidance. Sheep were helpless animals. They depended entirely upon the shepherd for everything. Oftentimes, a shepherd at night would lead the sheep into an alcove in a rock, or into a cave, and the shepherd himself would lay across the mouth of the cave to provide a line of defense for the sheep. As predators would come, the shepherd would rise, rod and staff in hand, and fend off the predators seeking the lives of the sheep.
Our minds on this side of the cross cannot help but think about our Lord Jesus. Immanuel, the ultimate expression of God with us, who as our Good Shepherd, has not lost nor will lose any of His sheep, but laid down His life for their protection – protection from sin, death, and the grave.
Are you fearful today? Are there enemies seeking to rob you of life and joy? Trust the protecting Shepherd who will keep your soul from failure. He is with you on the highest mountains and in the darkest valleys.
Written by Austin Baker, Teaching Pastor, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church