Walking Through Life's Valleys

Charles C. Pugh III

In a brief but inexhaustible verse from the incomparable Shepherd Psalm (i.e. Psalm 23), David implied the reality of both the joys and sorrows, peace and anxiety, and highs and lows of life. He wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). The meaning of the phrase, “valley of the shadow of death,” is much wider in scope than may appear in most English translations. Leupold says, “The Hebrew word used contains no reference to death as such but does refer to all dark and bitter experiences, one of which may be death. So, in the common use of the passage the thought of death need not be excluded, but the reference is certainly much broader” (213). Leslie says the reference is to “… gorges, so characteristic of Canaan, which by early afternoon lie in the deep, dark shadows where wild animals lurk and where danger to the sheep may be imminent” (284). The following is a good summation of the meaning and application of the valley of the shadow of death: “… [It is] one word in Hebrew and probably should not be limited to the experience of death. The phrase really should be seen as including not only the idea of death, but also any horrid, lonely event similar to it. The writer apparently is thinking of the big valleys of life, the ones which cause us to cringe in fear when we think of them” (Cloer 301).

Life is not always lived on the mountaintop. There are lower elevations physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. There are dark trials, disappointments, and distressful situations. What are the valleys through which we must walk while living on Earth? More than thirty years ago James D. Bales wrote a wonderful treatment of Psalm 23 which he titled The Psalm for the Frightened and Frustrated Sheep. He discussed five valleys through which we are challenged in life. They are (1) the valley of physical needs, (2) the valley of physical dangers, (3) the valley of sickness, (4) the valleys of frustrations and anxieties, and (5) the valley of death (78-90).

Most of us do not want the valleys of life. We would rather be on the mountaintop in the sunshine of success, blessing, achievement, and accomplishment than to be walking through deprivation, disaster, despondency, desertion, desolation, disease, darkness, and death. However, the question is not whether we want to experience life’s valleys, or whether the valleys will be challenging. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The question is, “How will you and I respond to life’s valleys?” The valley may be economic ruin, a job loss, family failure, a terminal disease, natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a problem child, a broken heart, nuclear war, a shattered dream, spiritual defeat, a loved one’s death, depression, devastation, desertion, despair, discouragement, disease, deprivation, or death. However, we can be more than conquerors as we go through life’s valleys. Paul wrote, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither … height nor depth … shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).

Across the shores of time, and into the dark valleys of life, comes the voice of Him who is the hope of glory. He speaks words that can forever heal our broken hearts, calm our apprehensive souls, wipe away our blinding tears, relieve our pains, quell our doubts, and give us hope of life forevermore. He bequeaths us the richest legacy as we walk through life’s valleys when He says, “… I am with you always …” (Matt. 28:20). -1601 31st St., Vienna, WV 26105. pughciii@ovis.net

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