The dictionary defines a valley as: 1) an elongated depression between uplands, hills or mountains, especially one following the course of a stream; 2) an extensive flat, low region; 3) any depression or hollow resembling a valley; 4) any place, period or situation that is filled with fear, gloom, foreboding or the like.
Even at the very lowest points in our lives, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me…” The Good Shepherd, Jesus attends us. He is with us to guide us and to minister to our greatest needs. Jesus himself warned His disciples before He left this world, “in this world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” The valley is tribulation, trials and tests that come our way.
David (the author of this Psalm) as a shepherd knew what the valley represented for his flock. He and other shepherds took their flocks away from home during the summer months into the fall and then would make their way back to the safety of the home ranch for the winter season. The language of this Psalm is very intimate between the shepherd and his sheep. Never did a shepherd take his flock where he had not already been before. Always he had gone ahead to look over the country with care.
All the dangers: rivers in flood season; rock slides; avalanches; poisonous plants; predators that would seek to raid the flock; storms; adverse conditions~ nothing would take the shepherd by surprise. He was fully prepared to protect his flock.
Sheep are taken to the mountain tops by way of the valleys. It is in the valleys that one finds fresh water in streams or rivers. In the valley is where the richest food if found. The shepherd knows in the shadows of the valley, that coyotes, wolves and cougars hide. He keeps his eye out for any danger that might develop.
Our Good Shepherd is fully prepared to protect his sheep. There is nothing that comes our way that surprises Him. His attention is on his flock. And the wording of this Psalm is so beautiful because we “walk through the valley…”. We are not stopping there. We do not settle there. We are passing through the valley of the shadow of: death; despair; depression; disappointment; discouragement; etc. The Spirit of the Living God in His loving leading will lead us through it. Even in death, we are just passing through to the true mountaintop! Even that is nothing to fear! We can boldly proclaim, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Naturally, through the valley is the well-watered route and the best grazing lands on the way to the mountaintop. The shepherd wants his sheep to feed as they move toward the high grounds. Refreshing springs, rivers, streams, quiet pools are plenty in the valley. When we, God’s flock, are in the valley, how thirsty we are. In the valleys we receive water from the source of God himself. In the valleys we receive food from God himself. He alone knows how to give us strength to sustain us despite the threats around us. It is not until we have walked with God through some very deep trials or troubles or tribulations that we discover He can lead us to find our refreshment in Him right there in the midst of our difficulty. We can say, because God is with me in every circumstance, I will not fear! The person with a powerful confidence in Jesus is one who has proved by past experience that God is with him in the “valley of the shadow…”. The question for us is: How do I respond to the valleys? How do I go through them? As we allow the Good Shepherd, Jesus to lead us through the valley, we will be on our way to higher ground with Him.