The Shadow Journey
“The valley of the
shadow of death.” We read of it in Psalm 23. It stirs up ominous feelings in our hearts that are quickly banished by the
comforting realization that our God is with us.
But do we
really know what God is trying to show us in this Psalm? It occurred to
me that if the Psalms are about Jesus’ life, then I should be able to see
something of this Psalm in the New Testament.
I looked up every
reference to the “shadow of death” in my bible, and found only
four. I’d like to take you on the journey that I took and show you what
I found. What you find may be quite different.
The journey starts in Job, chapter 38, where God speaks out of the storm. As God answers Job, he is telling the creation story in a series of questions. The very first question, verse 2, is a reference to before creation- “darkens my counsel” and “words without knowledge” speaks of the darkness and disorder before The Word was spoken. Verse 4 through 14 is the creation story. Verse 13 introduces the “wicked”, which in the creation story are Adam and Eve. In Verse 15 we see that the arm that grasped for the fruit (and the Godhead) has failed and they are denied their Godly nature as they are driven from the garden. In verse 17, we see their way back barred by the “gates of the shadow of death”. In this story God speaks and calls the place where Adam and Eve ate from the tree “the shadow of death”. It is a reference to the tree, possibly the shade of that tree. Now that we know what we are talking about we can proceed in our journey.
A Well Lit Passage
Our journey takes us to a well known passage from Isaiah. Chapter 9 is widely acknowledged as a prophetic view of Jesus. Verse 1 refers to the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, two tribes of Isreal and Galilee where Jesus lived. Verse 2 says, “…on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” So now we know that the land of Isreal is the land of the shadow of death. It is the very garden where Adam and Eve fell, the same land where the tree of the knowledge of good and evil cast its shade upon the earth. Isaiah speaks of the shadow of death in the present tense, as if the land is still owned by that shadow or that it still plagues the land. The “light that has dawned” is a foreshadowing of its demise.
A Different Psalm 23
Now that we know that “the shadow of death” is the shade cast by the tree, from which they ate and died, Psalm 23 may sound a little different. Verse 1 makes more sense when it says “…I shall not want”. It’s not about being supplied with all of your needs. It is a contrast between Adam and Jesus. This verse shows that Jesus did not want what Adam wanted- the Godhead. He did not grasp for equality with God, but humbled himself to do God’s will. In verse 2 and 3 he lists four reasons why he doesn’t need to be in charge of his own destiny. In verse 4, “the valley of the shadow of death” is once again brought to light. Even though he walks through the valley where Adam fell and did evil before the Lord, he does not fear doing evil. So it’s not about fearing that someone may do harm to him, but that he obeys the law of God. Why does he not fear doing evil? Because, in verse 4 it says, “for you are with me”, in contrast to Adam who did not perceive God’s presence but thought that God could not see what he was doing. Jesus knew his father was always with him, even when he did not feel his presence. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The rod of affliction, the scriptures say Jesus was a man well acquainted with suffering and affliction. His lifelong affliction enabled him to experience a small portion of the consequences of sin that all men would
endure for eternity if he didn’t save them. The staff of protection, God protected him many times when the rulers of the people tried to kill him. God’s word defended him against both Satan and man. Verse 5, “You prepare a table…” is in contrast to Adam, whose table was prepared by his enemy, Satan, in the presence of God. Verse 5 says, “You anoint my head with oil…” The anointing with oil is about receiving your heritage, as a priest or king is anointed when receiving their position, in contrast to Adam whose heritage was stripped away. Verse 6 says “…and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”, in contrast to Adam, who was driven out of the presence of God and barred from returning by the “gates of the shadow of death”.
A Loose Ending
When you read Psalm 23 in this light, it speaks of very specific events in the life of Jesus. Our journey has brought us to the New Testament. In the Gospel of Mark we hear the story of Jesus as he curses the fig tree. The story never made sense to me before now. Verse 12 of chapter 11 says, “…he was hungry.” Was he hungry? John 4:34 says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Maybe he saw an easy meal in the distance. Verse 13 of Chapter 11 says, “And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf…found nothing…it was not the season for figs.” I believe that Jesus saw in the distance the evil shadow that the tree cast upon the land. I think it was the same tree that had been there from the beginning, the same tree that Isaiah prophesied about. Jesus was not blind to the spiritual as we are. The tree would stand out to him as an evil blemish in the Garden of Eden. As his mission drew to a close, the destruction of the source of death was a loose end that needed tying. In verse 14 he curses the tree saying’ “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The fruit of that tree was death, just as the shade from that tree was the “shadow of death”. In his desire that no man experience spiritual death, he cursed the very source of death, that when he
restored men to the Father, it would be finished. Psalm 23 is the prophetic view of this event. When Adam met the tree he grasped for its fruit and died. When Jesus met the tree, he cursed it and it died. Death, the only thing that Jesus ever cursed, died.
Job 38:1-18 (NIV)
The Lord Speaks
1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? 8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? 12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, 13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? 14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. 15 The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken. 16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? 17 Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? 18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
Isaiah 9:1,2 (NIV)
To Us a Child Is Born
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Psalm 23 (ESV)
The Lord Is My Shepherd
A psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd;I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death , I will 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 anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Mark 11: 12-14, 20-21 (NIV)
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.
13 Seeingin the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.
14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.
21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”