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Monday, August 24, 2009

Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

We do not think of death that often. We know it is coming but it is considered to be far off. We say it won't happen today so it is of little concern. That is, we do not think of it often until it becomes a real possibility. Then, death can dominate our minds.

There are many types of death. Of course, there is physical death which we often refer to. But there are also other types of death in our lives. Death has a finality from which we cannot return. Death is something we can't avoid. Death is the loss of something that we hold precious.

There can be the death in a relationship. I have seen the divorces of many people affect them even more severely than death. They see it coming. They dread it. They feel the pain of losing the relationship. Many times it is amazing what they will do to salvage the relationship. It resembles chemotherapy. They will do whatever the leaving spouse wants even though he or she will leave them anyway.

The loss of a job can resemble a death. The person expected that job to provide the things he or she really needed for life. The company fails or must cut employees to survive. It may even be that the skill set this person has is outdated. Regardless of the reason, death of the job may come suddenly or it may be expected. Termination is exactly what the term implies.

We may face the death of a child or a friend. We may face the death of living in a community which we always thought we would live. We may see our children accept jobs so far away that we will no longer be able to see them at a moment's notice. We may see our investments on which we planned our retirements disappear. Each of these are like deaths to us. They end what we once had.

David wrote that he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. The thought is of a place where there were predators waiting to ambush the traveler. His comfort comes from God's rod and staff. What were these things which helped him walk through this valley with confidence?

The rod was a stick that was used for counting the sheep. The shepherd knew he had all his sheep because he counted them. It means that every one of them counted and he would go looking for any sheep that came up missing. It is a comfort to know that God always knows where we are. He is not surprised to find us in the circumstances we are in. His rod keeps a tally.

The rod was also used to protect the sheep from the predators. The shepherd would use the rod to beat off those who would try to take his sheep. It is also a comfort to know that God will fight for us as we walk through this valley.

The shepherd would also use the rod as a means of discipline. A tap from the rod could keep a wandering sheep on the path. It would be extremely dangerous for the sheep to go into the valley with predators on each side. It would be more dangerous if the sheep got off the path. It is a comfort that God disciplines us as His children when we wander from the path. It is an act of love and protection.

The staff was something the shepherd would lean on. It represents the weariness that can come from facing the valley. It means that we can lean on our Lord when we face the valley. He is the strong shepherd who knows each of us, protects each of us, disciplines each of us and on whom we can put our trust.

Yes, there are tough times. There are days that you walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death but you need never go alone. Take His rod and His staff with you. They will comfort you.

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