Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
In the first phrase of today’s verse David writes “even when I go through the darkest valley”. But what does the phrase “darkest valley” mean? Some argue that the Hebrew term “tsalmaweth” is related to an Akkadian word (“tselem”) that means “deep darkness”. Others say it comes from two Hebrew words, “tsal” and “moth”, and means “shadow of death”. It occurs approximately twenty times in the Old Testament. It is clear that it implies intense darkness that represents extreme danger. The translation of this word as “darkest” fits this specific context, since it is in the “darkest valley” where the greatest danger (such as predators) lurks. As David encounters this challenge, he switches from the third person to the second person – he stops talking about God and starts talking to God.
In the last phrase of today’s verse David writes “I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me”. What is David telling us here? He is telling us in times of danger, difficulty and even death, those who follow God fear no evil. Why? “For you are with me” in every situation of life. The “rod” (a short club) is both a weapon of defense against predators and an instrument of discipline for the sheep. It symbolizes God’s strength, power and authority. The “staff” (a long slender stick with a hook on one end) is used to bring a sheep close to the shepherd, guide it in the right way or rescue it from trouble. God’s rod and staff reassure us of God’s love and guidance in our lives. Which is why those of us who follow God fear no evil.