BIBLE VERSES EXPLAINED
Psalm 23:4—“Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death”
“Though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear no harm, for you are with me; your rod and your staff reassure me.”—Psalm 23:4, New World Translation.
“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.“—Psalm 23:4, King James Version.
Meaning of Psalm 23:4a
Those who worship God enjoy his protective care—even while they endure difficult situations. The verse uses the metaphor of a sheep under a shepherd’s care to illustrate how God looks after his worshippers.b They do not feel alone when they face dire circumstances, described in this verse as a place of deep shadow or darkness and risk of death. They feel secure, as though God were right there with them.
In Bible times, a shepherd would use his rod or club to protect the sheep from predators. He would also use his staff, generally a long pole with a crook at one end, to guide the sheep or pull them away from danger. Similarly, Jehovah God is like a loving Shepherd who protects and guides those who worship him. Even during the darkest days of their life, Jehovah cares for them in various ways.
He instructs and comforts them through his written Word, the Bible.—Romans 15:4.
He listens to their prayers, granting them mental and emotional peace.—Philippians 4:6, 7.
He uses fellow worshippers to encourage them.—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
He gives them the sure hope of a better future, when he will undo any harm they currently experience.—Psalm 37:29; Revelation 21:3-5.
Context of Psalm 23:4
Psalm 23 was written by David, who was a shepherd in his youth and eventually became king of the ancient nation of Israel. (1 Samuel 17:34, 35; 2 Samuel 7:8) The psalm begins by describing Jehovah as a Shepherd who leads, feeds, and refreshes his worshippers, just as a literal shepherd does his sheep.—Psalm 23:1-3.
In Psalm 23:4, when highlighting God’s protection, David switched from referring to God in the third person (he) to the second person (you). That subtle change emphasizes the intimate relationship David had with Jehovah. David knew that God cared for him and that He was aware of his personal trials. As a result, David feared no harm.
In the next two verses of Psalm 23, verses 5 and 6, the metaphor changes from that of a shepherd and his sheep to that of a host and his guest. Like a generous host, Jehovah treats David as an honored guest. Even David’s enemies are powerless to prevent him from enjoying God’s care. At the end of the psalm, David expresses his confidence that God will show him goodness and love for the rest of his life.
The word pictures used in Psalm 23 describe the loving care God continues to provide for his worshippers.—1 Peter 2:25.
a Some Bibles number this Psalm 22. Although there are a total of 150 Psalms, some Bibles number them according to the Hebrew Masoretic text, while others follow the numbering of the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew text completed in the second century B.C.E.
b God, whose name is Jehovah, is often portrayed in the Bible as a tender Shepherd. His worshippers, pictured as sheep, depend on him for protection and support.—Psalm 100:3; Isaiah 40:10, 11; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:11-16.