The Valley of the Shadow
Psalm 23:4
Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me…

We are debtors, every one of us, to that old poet, whoever he was, who, in ransacking a teeming brain — teeming with images of idyllic peace and happiness, and also with images, of nameless dread and gloom — lighted upon the "valley of the shadow of death," as Bunyan afterwards lighted upon a "place where was a den," and gave to all that in human experience which before death is worse than death itself, a local habitation and a name. Different forms of the religious sentiment have their different values in regard to the dismal experience thus happily named. None of them has actually the value assigned to it. Religion, natural temperament, courage, cheeriness, all mingle in the confidence of him who here says "I will fear no evil." For aught we know, there may have been as much of the one as of the other. Natural temper and disposition count for much, usually for more than anything else, in the most trying moments of human life. Then, the natural man is apt to part company with his costume of habits and customs, and to show himself as he was born, the bravest of the brave or the weakest of the weak. It is not the most pious man in the regiment, I suppose, who is always the coolest in the forlorn hope. Some men, like John Wesley, are brave on land who are great cowards at sea; others, like some of Elizabeth's buccaneers, are timid in regard to the least adversity occurring in a hospital, but undaunted in regard to it if it threatens in a gale. Not according to differences of religious belief, but according to idiosyncrasies of disposition or accidental habits of mind, the valley of the shadow of death varies its character. As regards the last fact of all, which makes all human life a tragedy, we who look forward to it with a shudder cannot help envying the coolies of St. Helena and elsewhere, who lie down to die as peaceably as if it were to sleep; or the Turkish soldiers at Plevna, who preserved such coolness in presence of the horrors there. You can scarcely call their fatalism religious sentiment, yet it did that for them. Some surgeons say that there are people without nerves. What is a terrible ordeal to some in the way of pain, to others is a mere trifle. Now, though religious people will hardly allow, it, it is a fact that natural temperament has far more to do with heroism in its most striking forms than religion has. But religion has to do with it, and different forms of the religious sentiment have, therefore, different values in this respect. That it is glorious to die for one's country was an idea with which the whole Greek and Roman life was saturated in a way unknown to the Hebrew race. That sentiment produced its natural effect in Plutarch's Lives, the reading of which is like reading the Charge of the Light Brigade. But it is when you come down to Christian times that you have the religious sentiment, the rise of which takes you back to this Psalm and earlier, and we find it so pervading the lives of multitudes of common men and women that they are found to be instinct with a courage and patience which can hardly be matched in Plutarch. It is a heroism, not of the general and his staff, but of plain people. And we have it here in this Psalm. The trust in the Divine Shepherd is an antidote to all alarm. What that sentiment has done to lighten, for countless multitudes of human beings, all adversity, and the last adversity of all, to make the unendurable tolerable or even welcome, may be partly imagined but cannot certainly be told. It is still what it has been — to multitudes it is still what nothing else is or could be in the way of solving the enigmas of life and making the heavy and the weary weight of it intelligible and supportable.

(J. Service, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: 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.

The Shepherd's Rod and Staff
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