Psalm 23:1, 4
This word is from Psalm 23, a psalm of David. David begins the psalm by saying:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing. NIV
Then he speaks about all the provisions that come to him as being the one whom the Lord shepherds, and in verse 4 he says this:
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. NIV
You see, God does not guarantee His people that we will not walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In fact, the psalmist really assumes that at some time or another we will. I don’t believe that valley is just dying physically. I believe there are many occasions in life when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death – occasions of bereavement, loneliness, sickness, poverty, discouragement. God does not promise that we will not walk through those valleys, but He does promise to be with us.
And in particular He promises that His rod and His staff will comfort us. For me, the rod represents discipline, the staff represents comfort. And I believe the implication is that if we want God’s comfort we must submit to His discipline, and on that basis His presence with us is guaranteed even in the darkest valley. And His presence illuminates the darkness of the valley.