The Valley of the Shadow of Death
In the late 1800’s, Jorge Rodriguez successfully robbed banks along the Texas-Mexico border. He’d slip into Texas border towns, raid the bank and slip back across the Rio Grande. Finally, a Texas Ranger saw Jorge cross the river and trailed him as he returned to his village and entered the nearby cantina.
The Ranger walked in on Jorge. With pistols drawn, he said, “I know who you are, Jorge, and I’m here to arrest you and recover the money you have stolen in Texas. Give it to me, or I’m going to shoot you.”
However, Jorge didn’t speak English and the officer didn’t speak Spanish. Just then a clever onlooker walked up and said, “Senor, I speak Spanish and English. Can I translate for you?” The Ranger agreed, and the fellow started speaking Spanish to Jorge.
Nervously, Jorge listened, frowned and responded, “Tell the big Texas Ranger I have not spent one cent of the money. If he will go to the well south of town, face north, count down five stones, he will find a loose one there. All the money is behind that stone. Please tell him quickly.”
The little translator got a solemn look on his face and said to the Ranger in perfect English, “Jorge Rodriguez is a brave man. He’s not telling. He says he is ready to die.”
Are we ready to die? We don’t like to face the frailty of life or the reality of death. Yet we’re confronted daily by obituaries in news media along with reports of freakish accidents. Recently, two college students participating in an academic program in Guatemala joined their parents, who flew in for vacation, at a hotel. While swimming in the hotel pool, both were somehow shocked. The young man was electrocuted, and the young woman seriously injured. Another young family vacationing at an Oak Island, N.C. beach, lost the husband when an intense wave slammed him to the ground, breaking his neck. Lee Dingle left behind his wife and six children. Both families are believers, so they grieve, yet receive comfort from knowing their loved ones are in heaven. See Romans 10:13 and John 14:1-3.
Being human, grieving is hard. The Psalmist 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” (23:4).
Psalm 23 reminds us God is with us in whatever valley we face. His presence is a huge comfort. Therefore, we fear no evil because the Lord, my shepherd, walks with me. David, the shepherd boy, confronted the shadow of death when he stood before Goliath. Can you imagine his butterflies as he faced this gigantic warrior? Yet David was confident in the Lord’s presence and strength.
Psalm 23 reminds us that valleys were made to walk through not dwell in. Years ago, a little girl was terrified of tunnels. Every time they approached a tunnel, she would bury her face and look up only when assured they were again in daylight. Finally, her fear completely disappeared. While driving along the turnpike, she was completely at peace as they passed through tunnel after tunnel.
Her mother one day asked, “You used to be afraid of tunnels. Why aren’t you now?” The daughter replied, “I like tunnels because they have light at both ends.” The valley has light at both ends, so not even the shadow of death can touch us! Finally, because the Lord is our shepherd, God is sovereign.
As a Ph. D. student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, James Denison taught a philosophy of religion class that always tackled the problem of evil and suffering. He presented the idea that God is with us in suffering and wants to redeem it for an even greater good. Then he would ask for examples of ways God had been with them in hard times.
One semester, after several shared the typical problems of losing a job or facing a financial or marital crisis, a man sitting on the front row stood. He told about the year during which, at separate times, his wife and four of his children died. The class members were stunned. Denison asked him how he got through it.
He replied, “I had a pastor. And every day my pastor called and said, ‘God is still on his throne.’” Then he turned and faced the class, tears running down his face. And he said, “Men, God is still on his throne.”