People Who Say Such Things: Fear No Evil

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February 27, 2020

Psalm 23:1-6 (NIV)

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

CONSIDER THIS

O.K., what happened to “the valley of the shadow of death?” 

The NIV went too far with v.4. “The darkest valley” just doesn’t seem to do it justice. Right? 

Let’s dig a little deeper. The Hebrew more accurately renders into English as a deep, dark, death-like shadow. So “darkest valley” may be just a bit understated perhaps. Why do I make so much of this? Because the most common rendering of, “the valley of the shadow of death,” is what makes this Psalm so famous as a funeral text. This verse comforts the bereaved, so much so that most people have little dealing with the Psalm anywhere beyond reciting it at funerals. 

Psalm 23 is a life text. In fact, it is an eternal life text—not as in after death—but as in a right here Jesus, right now Jesus, eternal life text. So let’s try this home grown amplified version:

Even though I walk through the deepest, darkest, shadow of death like valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff , they comfort me.

You are seeing the point. This could be the death of a loved one or it could be about a thousand other deepest, darkest, shadow of death-like valley situations life throws our way. 

It’s interesting how this Hebrew word occurs 18 times in the Bible, 10 of which come from the book of Job. Sounds about right. It also shows up in the famous prophecy of Isaiah. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

And all of this could be an adventure in missing the point if we don’t get to the real point here. No matter how deep, dark, shadowy, and intolerably death-like the valley may be—no matter how slavish the addiction, how obsessive and compulsive the disorder, how terminal the cancer, how grievous the divorce, how painful the betrayal, how devastating the death—even of your only child, . . . Here’s the point:

I will fear no evil

It doesn’t say I will not feel sadness or grieve horrifically or suffer depression or be angry at God or struggle to believe or even fear the worst possible outcome. It says,

I will fear no evil

It doesn’t say my worst nightmare will not happen or my marriage will survive or my kids will not have significant problems or the cancer will be cured or I will not fail the test or I won’t have to go to rehab . . . again. . .  It says,

I will fear no evil,

Now, that is a curiosity to me. I will fear no evil. Why that? It means Satan, demonic powers, and all the forces of evil and darkness cannot and will not prevail against you. It is one thing to lose the battle with cancer, another thing entirely to lose the war with Satan. Remember the Good Shepherd context of John 10:10—the most favorite bible verse: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” 

What if the threat is not evil? What if the real threat is the fear of evil? There is something deep within everyone of us; something primal and even ancient, that fears evil. What if it is this fear that brings us into anxiety and leads us into sin which shields us from awareness of the presence of God, our Good Shepherd? What if it is our fear of evil that keeps us from the abundant life of Jesus—even in the midst of the deepest, darkest, shadowiest, deadliest valleys of life? 

This is ponderous. I’ll admit it. But I believe the Lord put it on my heart to say it—and this:

There is only one reason we can say, “I will fear no evil.” It is not because evil is not powerful and all around us all the time. It is this:

for you are with me;

And maybe that’s what the rod and the staff are all about.

your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Maybe at times, especially in these valleys, we need the fear of evil poked and prodded out of us. Maybe we need to be hooked by the staff and pulled back onto the path because of where our fear of evil is taking us.

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

People who say such things are learning not to be bullied by evil into fear. They know the one thing more powerful than fear: faith. And they now the other thing more powerful than fear: love. They know “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,” (1 John 4:18)

This is who the Shepherd is. This is what the Shepherd does. This is why we must know the Shepherd today more than we knew him yesterday; and why we will need to know him more tomorrow than we knew him today. 

THE PRAYER

Father, I want to be a person who says such things. I confess, even beyond my awareness, something deep in me primally fears evil and it drives me in an incomprehensible way into the law of sin and death. But you, who are in me, are greater than he who is in the world. You, Jesus, are my Shepherd, my good Shepherd. You are with me. I will fear no evil. And I welcome your rod and your staff. Come Holy Spirit, and train me to be such a person of faith. I pray in Jesus name, Amen. 

THE QUESTION

So how do you understand this ponderous thought today about the fear of evil? And how do you understand the comfort of the rod and the staff of the Good Shepherd?  

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

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