It is easy to read this verse and focus solely on the valley of the shadow of death. Grief has a way of overwhelming everything and overshadowing our every emotion, thought and imagination. It blocks out every ray of hope and turns our world dark with despair. It appears to loom larger than anything else around us.
This was not the intention of the author and is not the focus of this verse at all. This verse is a call to focus on something much bigger than the grief that is looming over us. Once we understand the powerful truths contained in this one little verse, we can then see the bigger picture from God's perspective and can once again be filled with hope in the midst of our grief. No, it doesn't make the grief go away but it allows us to rise above it.
The focus is not the valley of the shadow of death but on us in the middle of it. Notice the word through. It is important to understand that God never intends for us to ever stay there. Though grief seems to be a permanent existence, grab hold of the promise that you will get through it. When you are in the middle of a hurricane it seems that the sun and blue sky have been swallowed up, but the truth is that not far above your head, the sun and blue sky are right there. The hurricane has just blocked your ability to see it creating a shadow. When something stands in front of a light source it creates a shadow. The shadow, therefore, is visual proof that the light source is still there with you.
Grief is like that hurricane that suddenly appears above you, blocking out the light of God's presence and casting a long, dark shadow. God wants to remind you that when you are walking through that shadow, let it remind you that it proves that he is right there with you even though you can't see him. It takes a great deal of faith to do this. We have to trust not what we see (the storm) but what we can't see (the Lord). This is what Hebrews 11:1 means: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
Finally, this verse contains a second promise that not only is God there with you, but he will also protect you the whole way. His rod and staff are testaments to that promise of protection. A shepherd carries a long stick or staff, usually with a crook on one end. The straight end is used to fight off attack from wolves or other predators and the crook end is used to pull a sheep out of a hole or deep water. Many have taught that the rod and staff are used to discipline the sheep when they get out of line. That is not the case. They are instruments of protection that are meant to create a sense of comfort in the midst of danger. Like that shadow, the shepherd's staff is a visual reminder that you are not alone and are safe in his presence.
If you are walking through grief, you can be of great courage that though you are going through a deep valley that seems like it will never end and that you may not survive, you are not alone for the Great Shepherd is right there beside you. He will walk you through it and he will comfort you with his divine protection.
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