The valley of the shadow of death

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Psalm 23

When his son Absalom briefly usurped his throne, David withdrew from Jerusalem.  He crossed the Kidron valley, ascended the Mount of Olives and escaped to safety.

“And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness. (2 Samuel 15:23)

Here was the King after the LORD’s own heart, but now he passes through the valley of deep shadow (Kidron is related to words for blackness and mourning).  It is a walk of shame as he passes through this valley at the people’s head.  He is heading towards the summit of the Mount of Olives (where the garden of Gethsemane stands).  And he seems to be abdicating his throne forever.

Some contend that David had the Kidron Valley in mind as he wrote Psalm 23:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Perhaps though it’s the other way around.  Psalm 23 is, originally, the words of the Messiah’s sufferings and glories which are placed on David’s lips.  David’s own typological experiences in the Kidron Valley are foretastes of Christ’s ultimate valley.

Jesus is the King who takes that great and fearful walk of shame.  He enters into the darkness of death itself.  And John felt it was necessary to add this detail as he recounted Christ’s final hours:

“Jesus went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.”  (John 18:1)

Where David crossed the Kidron and then passed through the garden of Gethsemane, Christ stopped at the garden.  Christ could have kept going to safety, just as David had.  He could have used this ancient escape route.  Instead He pauses, prays and accepts the cup of suffering from His Father (Matthew 26:36-46).  Jesus awaited arrest in this garden that He might be brought back to Jerusalem and face death’s darkest valley.

Christ has chosen to walk our path and to do so at our head.  Like a needle piercing the black shroud of death He passes through, bearing the brunt of its terrible curse.  And we trail behind Him like the thread, pulled through in union with our suffering King.

We cannot pray the twenty-third Psalm by ourselves.  Hebrews 2:15 reminds us that we are naturally slaves to our fear of death.  As we contemplate this valley we fear much evil.  And so we should – death is our ultimate enemy.

Yet we do not pray Psalm 23 alone.  First of all Christ prays it.  First of all He walks that path and comes through into feasting, victory and joy.  But He does it as our Forerunner.  If we belong to Him, His victory is our victory.  Today He still prays this Psalm for us and in us as our Intercessor, High Priest and Friend.  As we hear His song, we allow His voice to tune our hearts.  And soon – imperfectly but no less really – we will find ourselves joining in:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me!

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