“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Psa. 23:4
I recently was reading Psalm 23, and while I was reading this verse I remember stopping cold after reading the phrase “valley of the shadow of death”. It struck me odd. I remember asking myself, “why did the author write “valley of the shadow of death”, instead of “valley of death”? Why use shadow in there? Why this adjective? I believe the Bible doesn’t add words for the sake of adding words, but that every word in it has a purpose, a meaning, a message to relay.
I started to think about it. Why the word “shadow”? What’s the idea behind this word? Well, this word has many meanings depending on the context and what you’re talking about, but based on the context we read in this Psalm, I believe it means a faint indication of something, a foreshadowing. We can see this idea behind Plato’s allegory of the cave.
In Plato’s allegory, he describes a group of people who for all their lives have been chained to the wall inside a cave facing a blank wall. Inside this cave, the people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and they begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Plato, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He explains how the shadows on the wall do not make reality at all but are just mere shadows of the true form of reality.
I believe the author uses this idea of shadows to convey the message that whatever we encounter in this valley is just a shadow of the true form of death. But not death itself.
Through this text the author reminded me of a couple of things. First of all, that these shadows of death, namely afflictions, are only temporary. He talks about the “shadow” of death, not death itself. So God is talking through the author telling us that whatever we endure in this life is nothing but a shadow, is temporary, it doesn’t last forever. That relieves me. That strengthens me. Life is but a dream, a blink of an eye. We die and only then starts real life. Life for all eternity. So we can rest knowing that whatever the tribulation we are going through, whatever is bringing you down, is nothing but only temporary. It won’t last forever.
But wait, there’s more. I haven’t gotten to the best part, the meat and good news of this verse.
This shadow of death is nothing but a shadow of the true form of death, the second death, namely eternal condemnation. And this is what we deserved and were bound to: Death.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because wall sinned.” Rom. 4:12
“For the wages of sin is death.” Rom. 6:23a
The foreshadowing in this verse points to Jesus’ work for us. The reason why the author describes the “death” we would find in this valley as a shadow is because Christ has already conquered death for us and now we are alive in Him! And how do we know this? Because He died in the cross for us? Yes, that’s true. But that’s not the whole story. Sometimes we get caught up only in His death. But the way He conquered death was by His resurrection!!! As Paul says, if He wasn’t resurrected then our hope is in vain! But He was! So our hope is not in vain and now in Him we’re alive and won’t find the true form of death in the valleys of affliction and tribulation in this life, but only temporary suffering, only shadows of death!
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” 1 Cor. 15:20-21
“But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 6:23b
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for fall men.” Rom. 4:18 [ Emphasis added ]
Because Jesus died for our sins, and because He conquered death and we’re now alive in Christ, and because He first loved us and gave us life when we were dead in our trespasses and we weren’t able to ever save ourselves, and because we get this life and gift for FREE, we humbly only get to say: THANK YOU, OH LORD, FOR YOUR GRACE AND MERCY.
O Death, where is your sting?