Psalm 23:4
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) The valley of the shadow of death . . .—This striking expression, to which the genius of Bunyan has given such reality, was probably on Hebrew lips nothing more than a forcible synonym for a dark, gloomy place. Indeed, the probability is that instead of tsal-mâveth (shadow of death), should be read, tsalmûth (shadow, darkness), the general signification being all that is required in any one of the fifteen places where it occurs. It is true it is used of the “grave” or “underworld” (Job 10:21-22). But it is also used of the “darkness of a dungeon” (Psalm 107:10), of “the pathless desert” (Jeremiah 2:6); or, possibly, since it is there parallel with drought, of “the blinding darkness of a sandstorm,” and metaphorically of “affliction” (Isaiah 9:2), and of the “dull heavy look” that grief wears (Job 16:16).

By valley we must understand a deep ravine. Palestine abounds in wild and gloomy valleys, and shepherd life experiences the actual peril of them. Addison’s paraphrase catches the true feeling of the original—

“Though in the path of death I tread,

With gloomy horrors overhead.”

Thy rod and thy staff.—Used both for guiding and defending the flock.

Psalm 23:4. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death — Through a dark and dismal valley, full of terrors and dangers, as this phrase signifies, Job 24:17; Psalm 44:19; Jeremiah 2:6; that is, though I am in peril of death, though in the midst of dangers, deep as a valley, dark as a shadow, and dreadful as death itself: or rather, though I am under the arrests of death, and have received the sentence of death within myself, and have every reason to look upon myself as a dying man: I will fear no evil — I will not give way to my fears, but will confidently rely upon the word and promise of God, persuaded that his grace shall be sufficient for me, and that he will make even death itself work for my good. Observe, reader, a child of God may meet the messengers of death, and receive its summons, with a holy security and serenity of mind. He may bid it defiance, and say with Paul, O death where is thy sting? For thou art with me — Here is the ground of a true Christian’s confidence when in the valley of the shadow of death, God is with him, and his presence inspires him with confidence and comfort, hope and joy. It affords him light amidst the darkness of the valley, and life in the death of it. Thy rod and thy staff — Thy word and thy Spirit; comfort me — His gospel is the rod of his strength, and there is enough in that to comfort the saints, both while they live, even in their greatest troubles, and also when they are dying. And his Spirit is the Comforter himself, and where he is, support and comfort cannot be wanting. His rod of chastisement and correction also ministers to the comfort of his people, and much more his staff of support, his upholding grace, which, under all their trials, and even in their last and greatest trial, is sufficient for them. Or the rod may signify his pastoral care, and inspection of the flock, (alluding to the shepherd’s crook, or rod, under which the sheep passed when they were counted, Leviticus 27:32,) and the staff, the defence, and protection afforded them, the shepherd with his staff being wont to defend his sheep from the dogs and wolves that would worry them. Or, as others interpret the words, the rod here, in allusion to the rod of Moses, may be considered as an emblem of power, especially as the word שׁבשׂ, shebet, here translated rod, often signifies a sceptre, or some other ensign of authority. And the word translated staff, משׁענה, mishgneneh, properly signifies what a person leans upon for support. Thus interpreted, the clause means, The sceptre of thy kingdom, or thy power protects me, and thy support upholds me, and so both minister to my comfort.

23:1-6 Confidence in God's grace and care. - "The Lord is my shepherd." In these words, the believer is taught to express his satisfaction in the care of the great Pastor of the universe, the Redeemer and Preserver of men. With joy he reflects that he has a shepherd, and that shepherd is Jehovah. A flock of sheep, gentle and harmless, feeding in verdant pastures, under the care of a skilful, watchful, and tender shepherd, forms an emblem of believers brought back to the Shepherd of their souls. The greatest abundance is but a dry pasture to a wicked man, who relishes in it only what pleases the senses; but to a godly man, who by faith tastes the goodness of God in all his enjoyments, though he has but little of the world, it is a green pasture. The Lord gives quiet and contentment in the mind, whatever the lot is. Are we blessed with the green pastures of the ordinances, let us not think it enough to pass through them, but let us abide in them. The consolations of the Holy Spirit are the still waters by which the saints are led; the streams which flow from the Fountain of living waters. Those only are led by the still waters of comfort, who walk in the paths of righteousness. The way of duty is the truly pleasant way. The work of righteousness in peace. In these paths we cannot walk, unless. God lead us into them, and lead us on in them. Discontent and distrust proceed from unbelief; an unsteady walk is the consequence: let us then simply trust our Shepherd's care, and hearken to his voice. The valley of the shadow of death may denote the most severe and terrible affliction, or dark dispensation of providence, that the psalmist ever could come under. Between the part of the flock on earth and that which is gone to heaven, death lies like a dark valley that must be passed in going from one to the other. But even in this there are words which lessen the terror. It is but the shadow of death: the shadow of a serpent will not sting, nor the shadow of a sword kill. It is a valley, deep indeed, and dark, and miry; but valleys are often fruitful, and so is death itself fruitful of comforts to God's people. It is a walk through it: they shall not be lost in this valley, but get safe to the mountain on the other side. Death is a king of terrors, but not to the sheep of Christ. When they come to die, God will rebuke the enemy; he will guide them with his rod, and sustain them with his staff. There is enough in the gospel to comfort the saints when dying, and underneath them are the everlasting arms. The Lord's people feast at his table, upon the provisions of his love. Satan and wicked men are not able to destroy their comforts, while they are anointed with the Holy Spirit, and drink of the cup of salvation which is ever full. Past experience teaches believers to trust that the goodness and mercy of God will follow them all the days of their lives, and it is their desire and determination, to seek their happiness in the service of God here, and they hope to enjoy his love for ever in heaven. While here, the Lord can make any situation pleasant, by the anointing of his Spirit and the joys of his salvation. But those that would be satisfied with the blessings of his house, must keep close to the duties of it.Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death - The meaning of this in the connection in which it occurs is this: "God will lead and guide me in the path of righteousness, even though that path lies through the darkest and most gloomy vale - through deep and dismal shades - in regions where there is no light, as if death had cast his dark and baleful shadow there. It is still a right path; it is a path of safety; and it will conduct me to bright regions beyond. In that dark and gloomy valley, though I could not guide myself, I will not be alarmed; I will not be afraid of wandering or of being lost; I will not fear any enemies there - for my Shepherd is there to guide me still." On the word here rendered "shadow of death" - צלמות tsalmâveth - see Job 3:5, note; and Isaiah 9:2, note. The word occurs besides only in the following places, in all of which it is rendered "shadow of death:" Job 10:21-22; Job 12:22; Job 16:16; Job 24:17 (twice); Job 28:3; Job 34:22; Job 38:17; Psalm 44:19; Psalm 107:10, Psalm 107:14; Jeremiah 2:6; Jeremiah 13:16; Amos 5:8. The idea is that of death casting his gloomy shadow over that valley - the valley of the dead. Hence, the word is applicable to any path of gloom or sadness; any scene of trouble or sorrow; any dark and dangerous way. Thus understood, it is applicable not merely to death itself - though it embraces that - but to any or all the dark, the dangerous, and the gloomy paths which we tread in life: to ways of sadness, solitude, and sorrow. All along those paths God will be a safe and certain guide.

I will fear no evil - Dark, cheerless, dismal as it seems, I will dread nothing. The true friend of God has nothing to fear in that dark valley. His great Shepherd will accompany him there, and can lead him safely through, however dark it may appear. The true believer has nothing to fear in the most gloomy scenes of life; he has nothing to fear in the valley of death; he has nothing to fear in the grave; he has nothing to fear in the world beyond.

For thou art with me - Thou wilt be with me. Though invisible, thou wilt attend me. I shall not go alone; I shall not be alone. The psalmist felt assured that if God was with him he had nothing to dread there. God would be his companion, his comforter, his protector, his guide. How applicable is this to death! The dying man seems to go into the dark valley alone. His friends accompany him as far as they can, and then they must give him the parting hand. They cheer him with their voice until he becomes deaf to all sounds; they cheer him with their looks until his eye becomes dim, and he can see no more; they cheer him with the fond embrace until he becomes insensible to every expression of earthly affection, and then he seems to be alone. But the dying believer is not alone. His Saviour God is with him in that valley, and will never leave him. Upon His arm he can lean, and by His presence he will be comforted, until he emerges from the gloom into the bright world beyond. All that is needful to dissipate the terrors of the valley of death is to be able to say, "Thou art with me."

Thy rod and thy staff - It may not be easy to mark the difference between these two words; but they would seem probably to refer, the latter to the "staff" which the shepherd used in walking, and the former to the "crook" which a shepherd used for guiding his flock. The image is that of a shepherd in attendance on his flock, with a staff on which he leans with one hand; in the other hand the "crook" or rod which was the symbol of his office. Either of these also might be used to guard the flock, or to drive off the enemies of the flock. The "crook" is said (see Rosenmuller, in loc.) to have been used to seize the legs of the sheep or goats when they were disposed to run away, and thus to keep them with the flock. "The shepherd invariably carries a rod or staff with him when he goes forth to feed his flock. It is often bent or hooked at one end, which gave rise to the shepherd's crook in the hand of the Christian bishop. With this staff he rules and guides the flock to their green pastures, and defends them from their enemies. With it also he corrects them when disobedient, and brings them back when wandering." (The land and the book, vol. i., p. 305.)

They comfort me - The sight of them consoles me. They show that the Shepherd is there. As significant of his presence and his office, they impart confidence, showing that he will not leave me alone, and that he will defend me.

4. In the darkest and most trying hour God is near.

the valley of the shadow of death—is a ravine overhung by high precipitous cliffs, filled with dense forests, and well calculated to inspire dread to the timid, and afford a covert to beasts of prey. While expressive of any great danger or cause of terror, it does not exclude the greatest of all, to which it is most popularly applied, and which its terms suggest.

thy rod and thy staff—are symbols of a shepherd's office. By them he guides his sheep.

Through the valley of the shadow of death; through a dark and dismal valley, full of terrors and dangers, as this phrase signifies, Job 24:17 Psalm 44:19 107:10,14 Jer 2:6.

I will fear no evil; I will not give way to my fears, but confidently rely upon God.

Thy rod and thy staff; two words noting the same thing, and both designing God’s pastoral care over him, expressed by the sign and instrument of it.

They comfort me; the consideration thereof supports me under all my fears and distresses.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,.... Which designs not a state of spiritual darkness and ignorance, as sitting in the shadow of death sometimes does, since the psalmist cannot be supposed to be at this time or after in such a condition; see Isaiah 9:2; nor desertion or the hidings of God's face, which is sometimes the case of the people of God, and was the case of the psalmist at times; but now he expressly says the Lord was with him; but rather, since the grave is called the land of the shadow of death, and the distresses persons are usually in, under apprehensions of immediate death, are called the terrors of the shadow of death; see Job 10:21; the case supposed is, that should his soul draw nigh to the grave, and the sorrows of death compass him about, and he should be upon the brink and borders of eternity, he should be fearless of evil, and sing, "O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory?" 1 Corinthians 15:55, though it seems best of all to interpret it of the most severe and terrible affliction or dark dispensation of Providence it could be thought he should ever come under, Psalm 44:19. The Targum interprets it of captivity, and Jarchi and Kimchi of the wilderness of Ziph, in which David was when pursued by Saul; and the latter also, together with Ben Melech, of the grave, and of a place of danger and of distress, which is like unto the grave, that is, a place of darkness; and Aben Ezra of some grievous calamity, which God had decreed to bring into the world. Suidas (w) interprets this phrase of danger leading to death; afflictions attend the people of God in this life; there is a continued series of them, so that they may be said to walk in them; these are the way in which they walk heaven, and through which they enter the kingdom; for though they continue long, and one affliction comes after another, yet there will be an end at last; they will walk and wade through them, and come out of great tribulations; and in the midst of such dark dispensations, comparable to a dark and gloomy valley, covered with the shadow of death, the psalmist intimates what would be the inward disposition of his mind, and what his conduct and behaviour:

I will fear no evil; neither the evil one Satan, who is the wolf that comes to the flock to kill and to destroy, and the roaring lion that seeks whom he may devour, since the Lord was his shepherd, and on his side: nor evil men, who kill the body and can do no more, Psalm 27:1; nor any evil thing, the worst calamity that could befall him, since everything of this kind is determined by God, and comes not without his knowledge and will, and works for good, and cannot separate from the love of Christ; see Psalm 46:1;

for thou art with me; sheep are timorous creatures, and so are Christ's people; but when he the shepherd is them, to sympathize with them under all their afflictions, to revive and comfort them with the cordials of his love and promises of his grace, to bear them up and support them with his mighty arm of power, to teach and instruct them by every providence, and sanctify all unto them; their fears are driven away, and they pass through the dark valley, the deep waters, and fiery trials, with courage and cheerfulness; see Isaiah 41:10;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me; not the rod of afflictions and chastisements, which is the sense of some Jewish (x) as well as Christian interpreters; though these are in love, and the saints have often much consolation under them; but these are designed by the valley of the shadow of death, and cannot have a place here, but rather the rod of the word, called the rod of Christ's strength, and the staff of the promises and the provisions of God's house, the whole staff and stay of bread and water, which are sure unto the saints, and refresh and comfort them. The Targum interprets the rod and staff of the word and law of God; and those interpreters who explain the rod of afflictions, yet by the staff understand the law; and Jarchi expounds it, of the mercy of God in the remission of sin, in which the psalmist trusted: the allusion is to the shepherd's crook or staff, as in other places; see Micah 7:14; which was made use of for the telling and numbering of the sheep, Leviticus 27:32; and it is no small comfort to the sheep of Christ that they have passed under his rod, who has told them, and that they are all numbered by him; not only their persons, but the very hairs of their head; and that they are under his care and protection: the shepherd with his rod, staff, or crook, directs the sheep where to go, pushes forward those that are behind, and fetches back those that go astray; as well as drives away dogs, wolves, bears, &c. that would make a prey of the flock; and of such use is the word of God, attended with the power of Christ and his Spirit; it points out the path of faith, truth, and holiness, the saints should walk in; it urges and stirs up those that are negligent to the discharge of their duty, and is the means of reclaiming backsliders, and of preserving the flock from the ravenous wolves of false teachers: in a word, the presence, power, and protection of Christ, in and by is Gospel and ordinances, are what are here intended, and which are the comfort and safety of his people, in the worst of times and cases.

(w) In voce (x) Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 9. 2. Jarchi & Kimchi in loc.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the {d} shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

(d) Though he was in danger of death, as the sheep that wanders in the dark valley without his shepherd.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. The figure of the shepherd is still continued. “The sheep districts [in Palestine] consist of wide open wolds or downs, reft here and there by deep ravines, in whose sides lurks many a wild beast, the enemy of the flocks” (Tristram, Nat. Hist. p. 138). Even in such a dismal glen, where unknown perils are thickest, where deathly gloom and horror are on every side, he knows no fear. Cp. Jeremiah’s description of Jehovah’s care for Israel in the wilderness (Psalm 2:6). Bunyan’s development of the idea in the Pilgrim’s Progress is familiar to everyone.

the shadow of death] The word tsalmâveth is thus rendered in the Ancient Versions, and the present vocalisation assumes that this is its meaning. But compounds are rare in Hebrew except in proper names, and there are good grounds for supposing that the word is derived from a different root and should be read tsalmûth and explained simply deep gloom (cp. R.V. marg.). It is not improbable that the pronunciation of the word was altered at an early date in accordance with a popular etymology (like our causeway, originally causey, from Fr. chaussée).

for thou art with me] God’s presence is His people’s strength and comfort. Cp. Genesis 28:15; Joshua 1:5 ff.; &c. &c.

Thy rod and thy staff] The shepherd’s crook is poetically described by two names, as the rod or club with which he defends his sheep from attack (Micah 7:14; 2 Samuel 23:21; Psalm 2:9); and the staff on which he leans. The shepherd walks before his flock, ready to protect them from assault; they follow gladly and fearlessly wherever he leads.

Verse 4. - Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. A sudden transition and contrast, such as David loved. The quiet paths of righteousness and peace remind the poet of the exact opposite - the dark and dismal way through the valley of the shadow of death. Even when so situated, he does not, he will not, fear. I will fear no evil, he says. And why? For thou art with me. The same Protector, the same gracious and merciful God, will be still with him - leading him, guiding his steps, shepherding him, keeping him from evil. Thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff - i.e. thy shepherd's crook, and thy staff of defence - they comfort me. They make me feel that, however long and however dreary the way through the dark vale, I shall still have thy guidance and thy protection. Psalm 23:4Rod and staff are here not so much those of the pilgrim, which would be a confusing transition to a different figure, but those of Jahve, the Shepherd (שׁבט, as in Micah 7:14, and in connection with it, cf. Numbers 21:18, משׁענת as the filling up of the picture), as the means of guidance and defence. The one rod, which the shepherd holds up to guide the flock, and upon which he leans and anxiously watches over the flock, has assumed a double form in the conception of the idea. This rod and staff in the hand of God comfort him, i.e., preserve to him the feeling of security, and therefore a cheerful spirit. Even when he passes through a valley dark and gloomy as the shadow of death, where surprises and calamities of every kind threaten him, he hears no misfortune. The lxx narrows the figure, rendering בגיא according to the Aramaic בּגוא, Daniel 3:25, ἐν μέσῳ. The noun צלמות, which occurs in this passage for the first time in the Old Testament literature, is originally not a compound word; but being formed from a verb צלם, Arab. ḏlm (root צל, Arab. ḏl), to overshadow, darken, after the form עבדוּת, but pronounced צלמות (cf. חצרמות, Hadra-môt equals the court of death, בּצלאל in-God's-shadow), it signifies the shadow of death as an epithet of the most fearful darkness, as of Hades, Job 10:21., but also of a shaft of a mine, Job 28:3, and more especially of darkness such as makes itself felt in a wild, uninhabited desert, Jeremiah 2:6.

After the figure of the shepherd fades away in Psalm 23:4, that of the host appears. His enemies must look quietly on (נגד as in Psalm 31:20), without being able to do anything, and see how Jahve provides bountifully for His guest, anoints him with sweet perfumes as at a joyous and magnificent banquet (Psalm 92:11), and fills his cup to excess. What is meant thereby, is not necessarily only blessings of a spiritual kind. The king fleeing before Absolom and forsaken by the mass of his people was, with his army, even outwardly in danger of being destroyed by want; it is, therefore, even an abundance of daily bread streaming in upon them, as in 2 Samuel 17:27-29, that is meant; but even this, spiritually regarded, as a gift from heaven, and so that the satisfying, refreshing and quickening is only the outside phase of simultaneous inward experiences.

(Note: In the mouth of the New Testament saint, especially on the dies viridium, it is the table of the Lord's supper, as Apollinaris also hints when he applied to it the epithet ῥιγεδανῶν βρίθουσαν, horrendorum onustam.)

The future תּערך is followed, according to the customary return to the perfect ground-form, by דּשּׁנתּ, which has, none the less, the signification of a present. And in the closing assertion, כּוסי, my cup, is metonymically equivalent to the contents of my cup. This is רויה, a fulness satiating even to excess.

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