“No Fear of Evil”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Psalm 23.4
Psalm 23. We are in Lord’s supper series on Psalms 22-24. Tonight we will look at just Palm 23:4, but let’s read Psalm 23 and as you do you’ll recall the sheep imagery.
Psalm 23:1–6 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I 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 have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23 is all about how You can rest in the LORD’s care for you.
In verse 2, You can rest in the LORD’s care for you because he gives you nourishment…both in literal food and in spiritual food. And also from the first part of verse 3 … You can rest in the LORD’s care for you because He provides spiritual restoration. “He restores my soul.” We’re tossed about by are own sin and troubles of life and he “restores our soul.” He has great compassion upon us and like a shepherd does for a wondering sheep, He brings us back close to Himself.
Tonight, verse 4… you can rest in the LORD’s care for you because… …get this … because of His comforting presence. You don’t have to be afraid of any evil or harm, or any disaster because the Great Shepherd of the sheep is with you.
What we’ll see tonight is…
First, the fearful situation.
Second, the proper response.
And third, the reason you don’t have to respond with fear.
Situation: Walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil.”
Up to to this point in the psalm, the psalmist is focused on truths about what the shepherd does for him. Verse two, “he makes me lie down; he leads me; verse three he restores my soul; he guides me.”
And now it’s a prayer. End of verse four “you are with me your rod and your staff they comfort me.” verse 5…You prepare a table before me.”
It’s as if the sheep is praising the Shepherd to another sheep. One sheep telling another sheep all the glorious works of the Lord … “Well, my shepherd makes me lie down in green pastures; he restores my life…. “ and now it’s time to talk to the Shepherd directly.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.”
As you would expect, shepherds in Palestine care for their sheep differently depending on the time of year. Phillip Keller in his book on Psalm 23 notes that many shepherds would take their flocks on long summer drives.
The hundreds of sheep would move along, slowly feeding as they go and work their way up the mountains. When fall begins, early snow forces the flock back down to lower elevations. And finally the sheep are led home to the ranch to spend the winter.
That track is the focus of this verse. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” During this part of the year, the sheep are intimately close to their Shepherd.
And as they are close to the Shepherd going through the long drive this time of year, in the background there are majestic mountains lush meadows, rushing rivers … and valleys of the deepest darkness. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
But in the midst of that terrible valley full of fear, out from the shadows comes the comfort of the presence of the strong and gracious Shepherd.
The future king of Israel David is writing this psalm. You remember he was a shepherd boy. David would have experienced those long drives during the warmer months. He would’ve also experienced the dangers.
But he would not have taken his flock where he himself had not already been before, so he would know of the dangers to come… The flooding rivers, avalanches and rockslides, poisonous plants, the sleet and hail … not to mention the predators!
What poor sheep! Do they have cause for fear? No, the Shepherd is near.
Even if if they were to walk through the darkest of valleys, they have no reason for fear. Keep in mind from verse three that the Shepherd guide syou in the paths of righteousness for his namesake. And these righteous paths include not only green pastures but sometimes also these dark valleys.
“The valley of the shadow of death” is a kind of valley where death seems imminent. Death is so near that it can cast it’s shadow upon you. And any Shepherd in Palestine would know that with every valley there’s also a mountain. In order to climb the mountain, you have to go through the valley.
Be careful to understand this tonight. The verse says, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” It does not say I stop in the valley or I die in the valley, no, “I walk through the valley.” He’s going to make it through! To get to the mountain, walk through the valley of death’s shadow. It won’t keep you, go on through it…Jesus is there. He’s been there, he’ll help you, draw near to him…
APP: Death can be a scary thing. But those who are Jesus’ sheep can have confidence even in the face of death. Only the good shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ, can lead a man through death. All others who claim to guide your soul in this life will turn back at the face of death and you’d have to go through it alone.
Luke 9:51 says that when the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem…
The focus there was on His ascension, His going back to glory. He knew what was going to happen. He predicted his own death and resurrection. “Destroy this temple” he says, “and in three days I will raise it up again.” “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”
Jesus came to die, he pursued death for you and me… that he might conquer it for us. And He went and died on that cross to take away all our sin from before God’s eyes. And He lived a perfect, sinless life that He might give us His own righteous standing before God. And He raised himself from the dead to prove it all to be true.
And that thief on the cross next to Christ was about to die but, but he kept on saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
It was simple for that thief that day and it’s simple for us today. Jesus saves from sin; that’s his delight. If you would forsake your sin, turn from it, and throw yourself onto Jesus Christ and like that thief plead with the Lord to save you and remember you in his kingdom, he would do just that and he would be your Shepherd guiding you through the darkest of valleys, even the Valley where death is so close that it casts its shadow.
TRANS: You have two choices in the valley of death’s shadow, fear or comfort.
The Proper Response: No Fear, but comfort.
And whether it is death or some other thing to which you respond with fear, you need not be afraid. Taxes, social situations, spiders, the dark, family problems, your job…whatever thing there is that you have a tendency to respond in fear, you can get over that. We discussed how to get over our fears on a past Thursday night, and here is a key verse…
Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
“I fear no evil.” The word evil there refers to calamity or disasters, not to moral evils. Disasters do come. It’s not that when you trust Christ, it’s all a bed of roses from there on. Evil or disasters do come. But in Christ, you no longer have to fear them. “I fear no disaster.” Even if disasters were to happen, I would not be afraid.
TRANS: I would have comfort! But how? By knowing God’s presence and protection.
The Reason for the Response: God’s Presence and Guidance
I don’t have to fear why? First, because of God’s presence..
Psalm 23:4 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, …why? … for You are with me.” The shepherd is with me.
I can have comfort even in the midst of disaster because the good Shepherd is with me. “His rod and his staff they comfort me.”
It’s in the deep valleys of this life that I often find the Lord to be the nearest. The darker the shadow, the closer the Shepherd.
And for sheep and shepherds in the valleys of Palestine, that’s where they find good water to drink. Melted snow in the mountains would flow down into the valleys and there the flocks of thousands of sheep would find refreshment, even though some of those valleys are of the deepest darkness.
And the same with those who trust Christ. Often it’s when you go through the most difficult times that your walk with God will be the most refreshing.
It’s in those valleys that there could be rockslides, mud or snow avalanches, let alone coyotes bears wolves or cougars … storms and flash floods. But it’s through the valley that the sheep must go in order to get to the high country. But there are in these valleys at the same time… some of the best grazing grounds.
God is faithful to sustain us the most difficult of times. “I fear no evil because you are with me.”
Come what may, I am confident in Christ. He’s lead me through it before without fear; he can do it again. Predators may attack, but because he is with me I will not fear any disaster.
“These things I have spoken to you,” Jesus says, “so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
I would trust no one unless He shows He has the power over the world and over death, which one day will cast it’s looming shadow over you. Christ has through death made him powerless … him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.
Christ has conquered death for you; He pursued it and conquered it that you too may conquer it by His grace.
TRANS: God is with us! That’s why I need not fear anything in this life…except God.
But I also don’t have to fear any disaster or anything at all because of the Shepherd’s rod and staff.
Psalm 23:4 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Take the rod. The rod, like the staff, would have been carved out of a young sampling. After it is completed, a shepherd in training would spend hours practicing with this kind of club. He would learn how to throw it with speed and accuracy. He would use it to defend himself and his sheep.
You can picture these young shepherd boys having competitions to see who could throw his rod the farthest with the most accuracy.
The rod of course was used to ward off predators. But it would also be used to discipline any wayward sheep who always find themselves wandering away.
So the rod then is the symbol of the shepherd’s strength and his power, his authority in any situation. This is his flock and he will take charge of his flock; the sheep will fall in line and all manner of protection will give to them in case of any would be predator.
For us, the rod speaks to our Lord’s strength, his power, his authority, his right over us. He will protect us and he will discipline us.
He will protect us. Just like a shepherd has great compassion on his sheep that they not be devoured by predators, so also the great Shepherd of the sheep Jesus Christ will protect those sheep who are his. Though our sin natures may tempt, though troubles arise, though Satan should seek to harm, all of these things are on a tight leash. Jesus Christ will protect his sheep and see us through on into eternal life.
Jesus said … John 6:39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but [will] raise it up on the last day.”
He will protect us. How will He do that? By his Holy Spirit in our hearts, by his kind sovereignty, and by his word. The more you’re controlled by His Spirit the more His Word dwells richly in your heart, the more you will experience the gracious protection of your gracious Shepherd.
But he will also discipline us.
Now, there is a common myth preached I don’t know how many times, and one you’ve all heard. The myth is this, the Shepherd will break the leg of a perpetually wandering sheep. That’s not true. Boy that’ll preach, but it ain’t so. The sheep authorities out there tell me it’s a myth. First, it’s simply impractical. If you’re caring for hundreds of sheep, it’s simply impractical to always carry a broken-legged sheep on your shoulders. Plus, if it doesn’t set right, that poor sheep wouldn’t be able to run fast and would likely get eaten by predators. Plus, let’s face it: it’s cruel.
So no, the Shepherd doesn’t break his sheep’s legs. How that myth got started, is a matter of debate. But it’s likely from the common practice of braking a leg, b-r-a-k-i-n-g. No e…like, putting your foot on the brake. To make a sheep, wander off, they’d tie a weight to its leg to slow it down.
The good Shepherd Jesus Christ disciplines his sheep as well. His Spirit and His Word discipline our spirits. When we are off in sin, his Holy Spirit brings conviction. Or when we are practicing some evil thing, His word will teach us what is right. His Spirit and His word bring conviction of sin. Sometimes the weight of our sin is unbearable. The conviction we experience is sometimes so profound in our hearts that we must get rid of it… we must repent and be cleansed of our sin.
There is a third use of this rod. He protects us, He disciplines us, but He also searches our hearts. In Ezekiel chapter 20 sheep are said to “pass under the rod.” They used it to count the sheep, but also to look over the sheep to make sure that the sheep was doing well. The long wool of the sheep can hide skin diseases or wounds on the skin. The skillful Shepherd will take his rod and move the wool in order to view the skin. The Shepherd uses the rod to search for defects in the sheep.
Just like that, our good Shepherd searches for defects in our hearts. As it says… Psalm 139:23–24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”
The rod of God isn’t something to fear… “Your rod and staff… they comfort me.” It’s a comfort. His protection, discipline, and searching of our hearts is a comfort. With conviction comes encouragement knowing that God disciplines those children who are his. He protects us from sin, Satan, and our own sinful desires. He searches our hearts to reveal wickedness or wisdom. When He’s active like this, it’s a great comfort. Take comfort in God and His work. Do you know him to be a good shepherd?
Now, the staff. The shepherd’s staff is specifically designed for sheep. There’s no staff for cattle or pigs; no, it’s especially adapted for the needs of sheep. The very sight of the shepherd’s staff conjures up the sense of concern and compassion the Shepherd has for his sheep.
The rod is the power, the authority and the protection of the sheep. But the staff symbolizes the kindness the patience and long-suffering toward the sheep.
The Shepherd will use that staff to lift a lost newborn lamb and bring it to its mother. This keeps the human odor off of the lamb so that his mother does not reject it.
Similarly, the shepherd will use his staff to catch individuals sheep and draw them close to himself so that he may examine it.
The Lord does this with his sheep as well. He draws us in and beckons us to come next to him and to have fellowship with him.
The shepherd will use his staff to guide his sheep as well. He’ll use the staff to guide his sheep down a new path or along difficult routes. And he’ll provide just enough pressure to the sheep in order to get the sheep to go where it needs to go.
And for some, the Shepherd uses his staff to simply give special treatment to a particular sheep that is his favorite. So he’ll use it to delight in some of his sheep and walk as it were hand in hand.
Our gracious Shepherd the Lord Jesus also delights in his people. He guides us down new paths applying just enough pressure to get us to go in the direction he wants us to go. And he’ll draw near to us by his Holy Spirit to love us and care for us and embrace us.
If you stay close to the Shepherd, He’ll guide you in every circumstance. If you wander in the fields of sin, he will bring you back.
Luke 15:4–5 4 “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
How much more our Good Shepherd?
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Psalm 23.4
Perhaps you’re here and you feel you need to come back…there’s a sense in which we need to come back every day, every moment…but maybe it’s been a while for you. You really haven’t squared up to the Shepherd lately and you need restored…you want to comforting touch of His staff again…you long to know His nearness, that He’s singled you out from the crowd of humanity.
Come back to Him; draw near to Him tonight.
Or maybe you’re here and you’re not sure if you’re one of his sheep at all. Call upon him tonight; ask him to save you and shepherd you through your life, which is the valley of the shadow of death.