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Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

God’s people are equated with sheep often throughout Scripture. We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3), the sheep of His hand (Psalm 95:7), and we like sheep all wander astray (Isaiah 53:6). Along with us being like sheep in this regard, sheep also do not like change. They love normalcy. They are creatures of habit, just like we are. They like and prefer the familiar, the safe, the known. The unknown is far too frightening to even think about and thus, the valley of the shadow is terrifying.

The valley of the shadow… 2020 could be called the year of the valley of the shadow. Trials, troubles, times of darkness, domestic abuse, grief, and both physical and emotional pain can overwhelm us any year of our lives. But last year it seemed like a massive, worldwide tidal wave of it all swirled together swept over everyone everywhere bringing about a pandemic of panic caused by none other than the devil himself who goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

The roar of a lion is said to grip the hearts of his prey, causing them to react in panic, either freezing in fear or wildly running away. When sheep run away, they tumble and roll and trample one another in a mindless frenzy, heedless of where they are going because panic has rendered them irrational. After all, the definition of the word panic has everything to do with irrational fear. The history of the word goes back to the most ancient of all false gods named Pan who is equated with the devil of the Bible. It is said that “…mass panic and hysteria, is derived from Pan, the name of the Greek god of shepherds, woodlands and meadows…” (Greeker than the Greeks), for he has a “stentorian voice” which is a fancy word for a really loud voice – like Goliath whose voice made the Israelite military men run and hide.

With every so called myth is a powerful kernel of truth. For, the ancient god Pan is indeed equated with the devil who goes about roaring like a lion. And that roar last year, brought about great unreasoning panic. That grip of panic webbed the world with confusion and unnatural reactions. There were countless drug overdoses, skyrocketed suicides and in some places upwards to 300% increase in calls bombarding suicide hotlines; an increase of domestic abuse in locked down homes, churches padlocked by authorities, pastors and congregations exorbitantly fined for daring to meet as the church; police intimidating Christians around the world who had dared to gather for worship; neighbors betraying neighbors, social distancing which is contrary to the nature of humanity (for we are innately social creatures—just like sheep); the enslavement ritual of masks; the inhumane lockdowns of nursing homes that caused too many to die prematurely of loneliness and isolation; cancellation of life-giving medical treatments that caused untimely, preventable deaths, and the emotionally scaring shutdown of schools and the shameful masking of little children.

Why? What overcame people that they would succumb to such extreme even cruel behavior in the name of life and the common good?

Fear. Fear of evil in the Valley of the Shadow of death. Fear of the unknown, the unseen, the possibility of death; an unreasoning fear, inspired by the lion’s haunting roar (though unheard in the natural), overtook and scattered them. In short, people were terrified. And though Christians would deny this up and down, they were too.

It Is Inevitable

Yea, though I walk…”

The verse begins by saying, “Yea though I walk…” It is assured by this verse that we will inevitably walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Just as surely as we will have still waters and green pastures as mentioned in the verses before this, we are absolutely assured of the sudden appearance of frightening, unknown shadowy places. The verb for walk used here is the type of verb (Qal Imperfect) that is yet to be completed, and can often be translated as a future – in other words, it is something that will happen (Hebrew Syntax). Furthermore, “The imperfect [tense] also denotes habitual or customary action –past, present, or future tense,” (Becoming Jewish). Thus, this walking through the valley of the shadow will happen, and it will happen over and over again. The repetition is unavoidable. Its suddenness assured.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

So, what is this valley that we are inevitably going to walk through over and over again in the past, present and future of our existence? It is a steep-sided, narrow gorge (1516), with tall, rugged, proud sides that rise far above one’s head. Its root means (1342), “”to rise, to grow up, to exalt, to lift up,” (Strong’s) and is related to many words referring to pride or exaltation.

free duck-duck-go pic from the book The Happy Lamb by Richard Gunther at Christart.com.

The shadow being cast in this steep, narrow valley is a “death-like…deep shadow” (6757). Now these are not just some shady little shadows that dance playfully across the pathway. No. These are deep, dark, heavy shadows which are figurative of extreme danger, intense tribulations, grave distress, stormy, even life threatening situations. “It is true it is used of the “grave” or “underworld” (Job 10:21-22). But it is also used of the “darkness of a dungeon” (Psalm 107:10), of “the pathless desert” (Jeremiah 2:6); or, possibly, since it is there parallel with drought, of “the blinding darkness of a sandstorm,” and metaphorically of “affliction” (Isaiah 9:2), and of the “dull heavy look” that grief wears (Job 16:16).” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, on BibleHub.com). Thus, it is a place of grief, the unknown, blindness, affliction, and deep darkenss.

Sheep and Shadows

What is important to note here is that sheep cannot see very well at all, especially when their heads are up. They have exceedingly bad depth perception and because of this they cannot see well right in front of their own noses, and definitely cannot see behind themselves. Plus, “shadows, dark surfaces and water are an issue,” (sksheep.com). They are deathly afraid of shadows and murky things, because they cannot see.

Think about that. This is just like we are with anything unknown or uncertain; we cannot see. We do not know why we are going through what we are enduring. We cannot see what the end will be. We are fearful of the unknown. Why? Because we cannot see it. We cannot see the spiritual warfare raging all around us. We cannot see our enemy. We cannot see our angelic defenders. We plain and simply cannot see. And in times of overwhelming emotional and physical things, we are blinded even more by the inky, nearly tangible “shadow of death” all around us and hanging above us like sentinels and gargoyles perched upon the proud cliffs.

What is Fear?

I will fear no evil…”

But David the psalmist says with great firmness, “I will fear no evil”. According to the Becoming Jewish website the specific Hebrew word for “no” used here is “an absolute or permanent prohibition.” Therefore, this is not merely a one time thing: “I will not fear this time or in this situation”. Rather, it is a forever and always thing: “I will never ever fear evil no matter what it is, at any time, in any place EVER and FOREVER.”

Often we think of fear as an emotional sort of thing, something that makes our hearts race, our hands sweat, our breathing labored. Even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fear as, “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines fear as, “an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or bad that is happening or might happen”.

Though fear is experienced as an emotion, there is more to it than just an emotion. It is also a verb and carries with it a lot of meaning that most miss. The Hebrew word for “fear” actually has a lot to do with reverence, awe, and high esteem. This exact word is used in the Proverbs over and over again regarding “the fear of the Lord”, and calls on one to reverence the Lord.

So, what does reverence mean? It means “honor or respect felt or shown : especially : profound adoring awed respect,” (Merriam-Webster). It is the act of showing honor and veneration to someone or something deemed worthy of it. This can be displayed outwardly by bowing. It is an attitude of “profound respect” (Free Dictionary). One shows reverence to those held in high esteem such as a kings and queens or other sovereigns or monarchs bearing titles of royalty and great authority, for rulers have great power behind their title. With one word, a subject could be imprisoned or put to death. With one word they could give you up to half their kingdom. Thus, those who understand this reverence those who bare such titles of authority and power.

Another way to understand this Hebrew definition of fear, is this: whatever we are scared of we are reverencing; whatever we are afraid of we have elevated to a high position of authority and power over us. We are bowing to it.

free duck-duck-go pic from the Christianpost.com

Have you ever thought of that? I sure hadn’t thought of it. But when I was researching for this article, I was alarmed to see this, and after thinking on it, it really does make sense. It makes sense because when we are afraid, that which we think of and are afraid of becomes larger than life, and in essence it becomes our monarch, our master.

And think about this: our adversary the devil wants our reverence, our worship. The way he obtains this is when we panic, and so the lion roars. And unbeknownst to us (until now) it is then in our panic that we ascribe the honor of our awe to evil instead of to our Shepherd. This makes evil appear bigger than our Shepherd, when in reality, it is not.

Psalm 23 states that this reverence, awe, esteem – this fear – we are not to give to evil. By evil (7451) it is meant anything that is “bad, evil.” It is bad in every way, and is “something disagreeable, unwholesome, or harmful” and can be something disgusting or impure or anything less than good. “Calamities, failures, and miseries are all connotations of this word when it is used as a noun.” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Hebrew) According to Strong’s it is “adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, displeasure, distress”.

What instead is to be the object of our reverence in times of calamity, adversity and any and all bad? Or rather, Who is to be the focus of our dimly sighted eyes?

The Shepherd’s Presence

…for thou art with me”

When faced with the horror of the unknown, when all hope seems lost, when the palpating darkness is darker still, when things keep getting worse, when we cannot see in front of our own noses, when the devil has roared and the thing we’ve feared most has come upon us, it is then that we must remember the Shepherd is “with us” (5978 possibly rooted in 5975).

He’s with me. He’s with you. And He is greater and bigger than anything we are facing or ever could face. He’s standing firmly there, unflinching and undaunted, and is attending to our needs and the situation at hand. And He will never ever leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5). Not only this, but remember, the Shepherd is leading the way. Deuteronomy 31 emphatically states, “6 Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee…8 And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” He is in front of us. He has gone before us. He has and is facing the darkness first, and His light is piercing it. After all, He is the light of the world (John 8:12). And He and all the warmth of His radiant, overcoming splendor is with us, parting our Red Sea, raining down manna, driving out the giants, and miraculously gushing water from the rock in the parched wilderness.

free duck-duck-go pic entitled Emmaus Road Ministries: The Valley of the Shadow from Emmausrevelations.blogspot.com

We Are Secure

Thy rod and thy staff…”

Though we cannot see – and just like sheep we definitely cannot see in the valley of deathly shadows – our Shepherd can. And He who can see with eyes that pierce the murky blackness, is holding two incredibly powerful instruments that render the enemy powerless: a rod and a staff. There is no other rod and staff like our Master’s, for no other rod is so authoritative, and no other staff so firmly faithful.

Oh if we could only just believe and lean upon the protection of our Shepherd and trust Him implicitly with our frail forms! For oh the power and might of our Lord! Oh the awesomeness of our God! Oh the authority that is in His name!

So what is this rod? What is this staff?

A rod (7626) is just that, a “rod, staff, club, scepter…” and was a crude instrument used for a good many things as mentioned by Scripture including shepherding, ruling, and disciplining. Servants, fools and sons were disciplined with the rod (Exodus 21:20; Proverbs 26:3; Proverbs 13:24). God is said to have used a rod against Assyria (Isaiah 30:31). It also can mean “tribe” and is a symbol of authority. “The connotation of tribe is based on the connection between this term and the concept of rulership,” and was only used in conjunction with Israel’s tribes and no others. Thus, a rod is an implement of a ruler and symbol of authority.

A staff (4938) is just that but also has to do with a supply of necessities like bread and water (Isaiah 3:1), and is a support upon which one can lean. It comes from a Hebrew word (8172) meaning, “to support oneself.” Also (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Hebrew, pg 1182), “to lean, to rely” on with all of your weight. While God can be fully relied upon, other nations cannot (2 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 36:6; Ezekiel 29:6), for they are fallible, breakable reeds. God is not.

Furthermore, a rod and a staff is what the Shepherd uses to defend the sheep. With the staff of support He hooks a lamb from danger and draws the lamb close, and with the rod of authority He beats back predators, and even disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6). As Proverbs 13:34 correctly asserts, the one who loves his son will diligently look for ways to admonish his son. And there is nothing that can separate us from His love, as Romans 8 so beautifully says, “37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This staff is unlike any other staff, for it is God’s, and the One who wields it is the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34; John 10). It is an unbreakable staff, and the Shepherd holding the staff is reliable and His support steadfast. He supplies all of our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4). He is an ever present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). He is Emanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; John 1).

This rod is great for it is the rod of God’s Kingdom authority, and the One who wields it is the One to whom every knee will bow in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). He is the Great I Am (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58), the eternally existent One (John 1; 10:30-33; 17:5), who wields that rod with hands that have been given all things by the Father (John 3:35; 13:3), in order that He might bring it all into perfect oneness (Ephesians 1:10), and will rule all with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:27), and who will reign until all enemies are put under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

A Sigh of Relief

…they comfort me.”

And in the Shepherd’s rod of eternal authority and His staff of unwavering support, we can be comforted. The Hebrew word for comfort (5162) means “to be sorry, console oneself”. Furthermore it is a Piel Imperfect Hebrew verb, which means that the definition is intensified and often repeated. According to Chaim Bentorah “a Piel imperfect form…is a continuing process”. But there is more! Chaim Bentorah also explains that the “very Semitic root” for comfort “means to breathe in and/or let out air. In other words, it means to give a sigh…it is usually an expression to show resignation, frustration, disappointment, regret or relief. [It] could mean any of these and it is up to the context to determine which English word you will apply.In the context of Psalm 23:4’s Shepherd defending the sheep in the distressing valley of the shadow, it quite obviously means, “a sigh of relief.”

And did not God breathe into us the breath of life? Are we not still breathing that breath now? Is it not He – the breath giver – who goes before us, leads us, guides us, defends us, protects us, and gives us a breath of relief with His rod of protection and discipline and His staff of support and supply?

free bing pic

Reflections

Hebrews 2:14-15 says that Jesus took on flesh and died for us in order that “…through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

In 2020, and even now in 2021, this fear of death still is subjecting many to the same bondage. This is the fear that shackled the minds and hearts of millions, causing them to do illogical, damaging things. Though so much was said to have been done for the common good, in reality, it was brought about by the pan pipe tune of fear for the sake of stealing, killing and destroying and was contrary to the words of Jesus.

Luke 17:33 Jesus said, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” Over and over again Jesus told us ahead of time that we would be faced with deadly situations: persecution, famine, war, pestilence, etc. but never once did He give us permission to fear. Quite the opposite. Time and again He said, “do not be afraid.” And when such perilous times inevitably descend upon us– and they are and have and will continue to do so – Jesus did not tell us to look to man or science or medicine for solutions, but to “lift up our eyes, for our redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

“11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God…19 And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (1 John 5:11-13, 19-21).

Jesus rose from the dead, overcoming death, and He has made us more than conquerors (Romans 8). Who then are we to fear anything other than He who is greater than all and over all (Colossians 1). And this resurrected, death conquering Savior is our Shepherd who is leading us, His little sheep, through the valley of the shadow. Who then alone is worthy of our fear?

Let us then continually give “thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son..” (Colossians 1:12-13) And may “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”

Fear not, little sheep! Jesus is with us! And When He is for us, who can be against us?! (Romans 8:31) Even so, let’s keep looking up!

Pressing on through the valley of the shadow,

Holy Light Ministries

For parts 1-3 of the Psalm 23 series please see the links listed below:

Sources:

“Sheep Senses,” Sheep 101, http://www.sheep101.info/senses.html

“Sheep Sense: How Animals Experience the World,” Hobby Farms, https://www.hobbyfarms.com/understanding-sheep-sense/

“Understanding Sheep Behavior,” Saskatchewan Sheep – Sksheep.com, https://www.sksheep.com/documents/Ex_Understanding_Sheep_Behaviour.pdf

“Learning Hebrew: Qal Imperfect Verbs,” https://www.becomingjewish.org/learning_biblical_hebrew/pdf/qal_imperfect-hebrew.pdf

“Biblical Hebrew: 06. Simple Verbs (Qal, Niphal), https://ginoskos.com/biblicka-hebrejstina/simple-verbs-qal-niphal

“Chapter 15: Qal Imperfect…” https://hebrewsyntax.org/bbh2new/15_overheads_bw.pdf

C. L. Seow, A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew.

“Strong’s 5975 עָמַד”,https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/eng/hebrew/5975.html

“Lesson 24: The Subjunctive Mood,” http://www.theology.edu/greek/gk24.htm

“Can God Regret?” Pastor Zev Porat of Messiah of Israel Ministries, Feb 26, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSKj6EdxP7A

“Hebrew Word Study – Patiently Waiting,” by Chaim Bentorah, Jan 2021, https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2021/01/hebrew-word-study-patiently-waiting/

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, “The Mythological Origin of Panic,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/the-mythological-origin-of-panic

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, “Fear,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fear

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, “Reverence,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reverence

The Cambridge Dictionary, “Fear,” https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/fear

The Free Dictionary, “Reverence,” https://www.thefreedictionary.com/reverence

“Pan,” https://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Pan.html also https://www.sacredwicca.com/pan

“Pan,” https://occult-world.com/pan/

Britannica, “Pan,” https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pan-Greek-god

Bible.org, “2. Caesarea Philippi (Banias)—From The God Pan To The God-Man,” https://bible.org/seriespage/2-caesarea-philippi-banias-god-pan-god-man

“The Word Panic Originates from the Greek god Pan,” https://greekerthanthegreeks.com/2019/06/did-you-know-the-word-panic-greek-panikos-originates-from-the-name-of-pan-the-greek-god-of-shepherds-woodlands-and-pastures.html

“The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Spirit of Pan | Understanding it and Breaking Free from the Spirit of Fear,” March 2020, https://www.curtlandry.com/coronavirus-pandemic-spirit-of-pan/

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