At this stage of the psalm, the writer shifts from boasting about the goodness of His Shepherd, to a more intimate conversation with the sheepherder. Having been handled with care in the most adverse conditions, the sheep often must trek through valleys, in the presence of rockslides, avalanches from melting snow, poisonous plants, and predators lying in wait. Yet David, the psalmist, holds special trust and confidence in the fidelity and the ability of the Good Shepherd for protection and safety. For he knows the Master has treaded this ground before, and knows the terrain and, better yet, the dangerous places. It is this confidence that gives him security in saying, “I fear no evil, for you are with me.” (ESV). He also knows the destination is always higher ground.
Keller notes every mountain has valleys, and the best route to the top is always through them. What a sobering thought! None of us like to go through valleys in our lives. Particularly, the death of a loved one. The verse states “even though I walk through” the valley. We are not to stay there or die there, but to walk through. The Lord is with us. This is a hard saying, but some have physically left their loved ones at the cemetery, but the “real them” is still graveside. If this is you, the Good Shepherd is still by your side, waiting to guide you out of the valley to the mountaintop.
Although we prefer not to go through our own valleys, whether relational, financial, or otherwise, Keller points out there are benefits to going through the valley. First, it is the way of the gentlest grades, – no steep climbing. Second, the Shepherd knows the valley is well watered. There are times of refreshing as you walk through. Often it is during our lowest times, where we truly experience God’s strength, care, and love. Also, for sheep, the valley contains some of the richest feed and best forage for food. As believers, it is when we can look back over life and trace His hand guiding and sustaining us in our darkest hours that renews and strengthens our faith. I am reminded of a line in the hymn penned by Elisha Albright Hoffman that reads:
“In my distress, he kindly will help me; He ever loves and cares for his own.”
from “I Must Tell Jesus“
This is my confidence. He will never leave me or forsake me. even in the valley, I will not fear.