God of the Valleys – The Valley of the Shadows

God of the Valleys – The Valley of the Shadows

God of the Valleys – The Valley of the Shadows.

“Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4). 

One particular word jumped off the page this time when I read Psalm 23. There are lots of rich words even in this one verse, words like walk, valley, shadow, death, fear. But the word that blares like a trumpet blast this time is “with.” “For you are with me.” David’s simple declaration of trust in God’s presence meant that he would follow his Good Shepherd anywhere. He would not need to run through the dark valley, he will walk in confidence. David would be fearless as he journeyed through the dark shadows. David was convinced that his Lord was truly with him, and that made all the difference. That was his secret to his fearlessness. David knew he had the companionship of God wherever he went.

It would take pages of notes written in tiny script if one were to record all the passages in Scripture that included His promise of personal presence, that He would faithfully be “with us.” That wonderful truth is even woven into His name Immanuel, which means “with us is God.” From the very creation of the world, God has had a strong desire to be with us… from His walks with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day in the Garden, to the presence of Yahweh all through the ups and down of His Chosen People, to the Incarnation when God sent God to be with the ungodly, to Jesus’ baptism when He didn’t mind identifying with the sinful in order to be with us, to the very last words Jesus said before He went home to be with the Father. And don’t forget that His desire is eternal… “Behold, the dwelling of God is with His people, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.’ (Revelation 21:3). God has made it abundantly clear that He desires to be with us. That desire is an astounding part of His heart for humanity, it is His mission and His destiny to be present with us. That’s not just Good News. That is Best News! What could be better than that? What else can we do but take joy in the with-ness of God?

One might wonder why it is that we are so important to an almighty and everlasting Creator God. With-ness appears to be in God’s very nature. Take Emmanuel, for instance. (Emmanuel is Greek and Immanuel is Hebrew). The messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, “and shall call His Son Immanuel,” is quoted and fulfilled in Matthew 1:23. Remember that Emmanuel means “with us is God” according to the order of the name’s words. The renowned biblical scholar Lancelot Andrews (1555-1626) was amazed at this name of Emmanuel, because when God put that name together, He put us before Him! We are in the front of the name, and God placed Himself second to us! In His own name, God held the door open for us! “In His very name we might read that we are dearer to Him than Himself, that He so preferred us. Oh, which is greater in Him, His humility or His grace! It is hard to say which, but both are unspeakable.” 

The valley of the shadow of death has been poetically described in various versions of the Bible: a valley as dark as death; a sunless valley of the deepest darkness; the ravine with deep shadows where death lurks; a dark valley with deadly shade. The preacher Charles Spurgeon in a sermon once described this valley as “a valley shaded by the mysterious wings of death.” However one describes this valley of the shadows, we know from experience that these valleys are perilous trials, times when the sun threatens to hide forever.

When we find ourselves in a valley of the shadows, whether we deserve it or not, or when God’s path seemed to lead us to this particular valley, or it is simply thrust upon us, remember Emmanuel, with us is God. Remember God’s promised presence. God is with us in the midst of our incurable sickness or debilitating depression. God is with us as we endure unbearable grief or tragic loss. Emmanuel is right there when we experience unending pain or crushing disappointment. God remains with us in our life-altering disability or broken heart. God is personally present as we suffer through a persistent addiction or a failed relationship. God is with us in our deepest shame or our paralyzing guilt. God is with us in the NICU unit or the nursing home. When we are watching helplessly as a loved one suffers, the Lord is with us as well as with the loved one. When we are groping our way through a sunless valley of the deepest darkness, the Light of the world is deeply shining within us. The Good Shepherd will never leave us. And now what were the very last words of Jesus in Matthew 28:20? “Look! Understand this and take it in! I am with you always! Yes, to the end of the ages of ages.” And sure enough, through the Spirit of God, we now have the comforting companionship of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.