Psalm 23:4 – 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.
As a child, I feared the dark. We lived in an 1808 Colonial home my parents were renovating, with many dark corners and squeaky floorboards. Outside my bedroom window a walnut tree cast shadows, compounding bedtime worries. Since Mom cared for Scott and me all day, Dad usually put us to bed, read a Bible story, calmed us, and helped us say our prayers.
When I was ten, Dad suggested I could memorize Scripture to guide me through life. He promised to help me learn whatever verses I chose. Three suggestions resonated with me: Psalm 23 (The Lord is My Shepherd…); 1 Corinthians 13 (If I speak with the tongue of men and angels but have not love…); and Matthew 6:28b-33 (Consider the lilies of the field…). Psalm 23 spoke most strongly. Every night I recited a few verses until the psalm became part of my being.
One day I blurted out, “I don’t want to walk through the valley of the shadow of death!” Dad responded that even though life is a blessing, we all sometimes face events that are dark and scary. If I would memorize some Scriptures, during those times I would be able to rely on God’s words to calm myself. (I doubt Dad envisioned me climbing squeaky staircases in our house and reciting those words, but I did…and it helped!)
Years later I read a Philip Keller book that describes shepherding and gives a line-by-line interpretation of Psalm 23. I learned the staff has a unique shape, allowing a shepherd to insert it into dangerous places and pull a particular sheep to safety quickly. I then imagined God doing the same with me: walking ahead, watching for danger, and rescuing me (even if the ‘rescue’ was spiritual rather than physical).
During the pandemic, verse 4 regularly blessed me with reassurance. Usually I recited it while washing my hands. When I would reach its sister verse at the end (“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”), I often felt my burdens lessening.
These words have been a lifelong comfort, and I am grateful!
The people of Grace share their favorite bible stories for the 2023 Lenten Devotional: I Love to Tell the Story. Each day's devotional will be automatically posted so come back daily after 7 am for a new reflection.