Psalm 23 4 Commentary: Despite our Shepherd’s leading us down the right paths (as we studied in our Psalm 23 3 Commentary article) that doesn’t mean a total absence of fear-inducing realities, as verse 4 of Psalm 23 admits.
4 [Yea,/Even] [though/when] I [must…] walk through the [valley of the shadow of death/darkest valley], I will fear no [evil/danger]:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they [comfort/reassure] me.
Psalm 23 4 Commentary: Protection
Now, what is the Shepherd providing in this verse? We’ve seen him providing material provisions, peace, direction. And now we see him providing his sheep with protection.
Psalm 23 4 Commentary: Valley of the Shadow of Death
I’m not able to verify the following assertion, but legend has it that there is a Valley of the Shadow of Death in Israel in the southern region. It’s really perilous. The paths are steep. The valley is dark. There were wild dogs waiting down in the lower parts on the sides of the paths that would kill sheep that fell off the paths. Et cetera. Again, I can’t verify this claim. It may be true. Maybe it’s a little exaggerated.
But we can picture the scene from the biblical text here. A valley that is dark. So dark it’s like a deathly shadow. It’s a place where sheep would fear evil and danger.
Valleys can be frightening places – especially when the sun goes down and when there are hostile animals in the area. That’s true for both sheep and humans.
Psalm 23 4 Commentary: Fear in the Right Path
And so, David says that as God leads him in right paths, sometimes those paths create an occasion to fear. Sometimes those paths lead through deathly-dark valleys. The right paths can feel wrong because of this kind of danger.
Psalm 23 4 Commentary: Fear to No Fear
But in these dark valleys, God our shepherd provides protection. That’s how David can fear no evil. He fears no danger. There is danger. It’s there. It’s present. But David won’t fear and we don’t need to either.
Psalm 23 4 Commentary: Thy Rod and Staff
Why? Because of God’s protecting presence. His rod and his staff are there for us. A shepherd uses his rod with the crook at the end to pull a sheep out of pits. He uses his staff to beat off dogs and wolves and other harmful predators.
Psalm 23 4 Commentary: Pits and Enemies
And for us human sheep of the divine Shepherd, how many times have we been pulled out of pits by our Good Shepherd? How often have the enemies of our souls been beaten back by this protective Shepherd?
Psalm 23 4 Commentary: On to Verse 5…
And those enemies that are beaten back by the shepherd’s staff sometimes are forced to watch as the shepherd lavishes us with goodness, according to verse 5 as explained in our Psalm 23 5 Message article.