Psalm 23:4
The Valley of the Shadow of Darkness

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What are two or three of your greatest fears in life? And when I say “fear” I am referring to things that you would go out of your way to avoid. And if they do happen, they fill you up with all kinds of anxiety and dominate your thinking. I think this sermon will be more helpful to you if right at the start you pick out two or three or four things that you fear – other than God. I am not talking about fear of God here – I am talking about earthly fears. When you think of the various troubles or disappointments or losses of this life, which ones tend to be the most frightening to you?
Maybe it’s losing your job. Or maybe your biggest fear is that you might have to keep your job. Maybe you’re afraid of what might happen with your kids, or that you won’t have enough money in the future. Maybe you are afraid of health problems, or afraid of getting old, or of dying young – or all three. Maybe you struggle with fear of what is happening with the government or the economy. Some of you are afraid you will never get married. Some are afraid of living the rest of your life in your current marriage. Some are afraid of getting pregnant, or afraid that you will never get pregnant. Many people fear being abandoned and alone. Some of you are terrified that people might find out what you are really like, and at the same time afraid that no one will ever truly know you. Some are afraid that one of these days you are just really going to mess up so bad that it will be beyond recovery. Maybe you are afraid that your past has damaged you beyond repair. Some are afraid of the end times, afraid of persecution, afraid of failure, afraid of rejection, afraid of injury or disease, afraid their deepest desires will never be fulfilled.
Life is full of threats and dangers, and when we can see them coming, we are naturally afraid. In fact, sometimes we are even more afraid when we can’t see them coming. So often our fear is not because we foresee any particular threat looming on the horizon; we are afraid just because we don’t know what might be looming on the horizon. We feel like we are in the dark when it comes to knowing what is going to happen, and that scares us. Little children are afraid of the dark, and we never really grow out of that. What happens when they announce an upcoming round of layoffs at work?
You don’t know what is going to happen to you, you can’t see into the future, and so what happens? Fear. What happens when you feel a mass under your skin and you don’t know what it is? Fear. What happens if it’s a blizzard and your spouse is hours late and hasn’t called? Fear. Why? Because of what you don’t know. For a little child to feel threatened there doesn’t have to be a monster coming after him. All that is needed for him to be afraid is darkness, because if he cannot see then for all he knows there might be a monster. And it is the same for us. When life goes dark - if you don’t know what to do in a certain situation – your eyes are blind to wisdom so you can’t see which way is the right way and which way is the wrong way – that is terrifying because there might be something bad right around the corner. Not being able to see what’s coming terrifies us because it places us in a position of vulnerability.
I asked a question this week on Facebook about fear and two different people used the word “crushing” to describe how their fears feel. That is exactly how the psalmist felt in Psalm 139.
Psalm 139:11 …Surely the darkness will crush me …
The Place of Fear
Sometimes the Valley
We are in the midst of a verse by verse study through the 23rd  Psalm, and we come today to verse 4, where the psalm changes keys. Up to now we have been lying down in green pastures and restful, quiet waters getting our souls refreshed and being guided along by our loving Shepherd. But all that happiness and sunshine disappears in verse 4. Clouds come over, and the psalm goes dark.
Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…
How did that happen? One minute I am in green pastures, now I’m in death valley – what happened? What happened is David understands something about the Good Shepherd that the prosperity preachers do not understand - namely, the fact that the Good Shepherd leads His sheep through some dark valleys.
That is reality. Beware of overly-smiley preachers on TV who come on and try to paint a picture of the Christian life that edits verse 4 out of the 23rd Psalm. They try to tell you that Jesus’ plan for your life is nothing but sunshine and roses, and if you find yourself in the dark valley it is because you don’t have enough faith to claim the prosperity that is yours in Christ. Don’t fall for that. Any belief system or religion that does not deal with the reality of the dark valley is worthless. God does make us lie down in lush, green pastures, but not all the time. Sometimes we are in the deep, dark, painful valley.
Theology and Prayer
And that has a tendency to drive us to God. Notice the change in pronouns starting in verse 4. Up to this point David has been talking about his shepherd; now he starts talking to his shepherd. Instead of “He” now it’s “You.”  The psalm moves from theology to prayer.
Darkness will do that to you. I read about a little toddler who was on a train ride with his dad – first time on a train. The kid was fidgeting and having a hard time sitting for so long, so his dad let him get up and walk a little bit. The kid ended up talking with the lady over on the other side of the aisle. The lady asked about the button he had on his shirt, and the kid said, “My daddy got it for me for this trip. And he also got me this hat. My daddy…” And right then the train went into a tunnel and it got pitch dark. The kid immediately ran back over to his dad and wrapped his little arms around his dad’s leg and everyone in that car could hear him, “Daddy! Daddy! It’s dark! Why is it dark?” That is exactly what David is doing here. The moment it gets dark and scary, David stops talking about God and starts talking to God.
But then in verse 5, when he is back out in the light and things are good, he is still talking to God. Then in verse 6 he is back to talking about God. That is a great lesson for us for how to do theology. All theology, if done properly, will drift back and forth from theology to prayer – talking about God to talking to God. Beware of one without the other. Beware of talking long about God but not much to God. And beware of talking only to God without considerable thought about God. If you try to pray without a solid foundation of theology, your prayers will not be what they should be. Prayer is next to worthless without theology, because you don’t know who you are talking to. The less you know about the one you are talking to, the less good it will do to talk to him. But theology without prayer is even more worthless. If you have lots of information about your wife, but you never say a word to her, what good is that? The purpose of theology is prayer.
Especially theological prayer. Notice that even though David is in the dark valley, and he is addressing God, he is not asking for anything. He just affirms the fact that his shepherd will protect him from all the dangers.
This psalm is a celebration of the fact that if God is your shepherd, you will have absolutely everything you need. And one of the things we most desperately need is protection. One of the many ways we resemble sheep is in our helplessness and vulnerability to danger. I would love to know how the evolutions explain the existence of sheep. How could such a creature evolve in a survival of the fittest world? If evolution were true, it seems to me that the shepherd would have to have evolved first, before the sheep. Otherwise the very first sheep that ever came into existence would have gone right back out of existence before it had a chance to mate with anything. Sheep cannot survive without a shepherd.
That is why there are no wild sheep. If there were, they would soon be dead. It is hard to think of any animal more helpless than a sheep. They cannot blend in and hide, they can’t outrun anything, they can’t bite or claw or outsmart anything. When a predator attacks they just stand there and die. If not for the shepherds, sheep would very quickly become extinct. And yet, there are far more sheep in this world than wolves, because they are protected by the shepherds.
If your shepherd stopped protecting you, your spiritual life would be over before bedtime tonight. Your faith would be gone – and the enemy would devour you. And every hour that doesn’t happen is due to the protection of your shepherd.
When Nightmares Come True
So God protects us when we are in the valley of the shadow of death, but what is that valley, exactly? The word “death” is not actually in the Hebrew. That phrase “shadow of death” is all one word. Some have argued that the word “death” might be part of the root of that word, but even if it is, the focus here is not on death.[1] It is on the darkness. This word is the strongest word in the Hebrew language for darkness. It could be translated “deepest darkness” or “gloomy darkness.” So the idea is “Even though I walk through the valley of the really severe, extreme darkness, I won’t be afraid.”
And the fact that David says, “Even in the dark valley I will not fear,” gives us a clue about what the valley represents. It is the place where the most natural response is to be afraid. So the valley of the shadow of darkness is when those things you are afraid of in life – happen. Either they are happening to you, or they are threatening to happen to the point where your natural reaction would be fear. The valley is the place where your nightmares – the things you fear, come true.
I started the sermon with that long list of things that we tend to fear. When those kinds of things are happening, or are threatening to happen, that is the valley of the shadow of darkness. If those things are not happening or threatening to happen, then you are not in the valley. So what David is saying here is really profound. He is saying, “When all the things I’m most afraid of happen, I won’t be afraid. Even when my worst fears come to pass, I won’t fear.”
The Source of Courage
Why not? Because I am really strong? No. Because I am really brave - just a big, wooly bundle of courage? No. Because I can handle any wolf that might jump out at me because I’m supersheep? No. Why am I not afraid in this dark, dangerous valley? Is it because I believe in myself, and I have high self-esteem? No. I am still just as sheep-like as ever. I am still just as weak and vulnerable and defenseless and helpless as any other sheep. But I am not afraid, why?
4 …because you are with me.
It was the presence of God that took away David’s fears in the valley. That was the source of his courage in the place of fear – the nearness of the shepherd. He does not say, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of darkness, I will fear no evil, for you will get me out of this valley.” He does not even say, “I won’t be afraid because my shepherd puts a hedge of protection around me.” That might be true, but it misses the point. The point is, “I won’t be afraid simply because you are with me. Are there any four sweeter words in the Bible – you are with me!
Paul knew what that was like. One of the things we fear most is being abandoned by the people we trust and being left all alone in our time of need. Imagine you were unjustly accused of a crime, and all your closest friends, your mom and dad, your kids – everyone turned against you. No one believed you, no one stood by you, and you are left utterly alone. I think this painting captures that:  You are on the ship in a terrible storm at night, trying to stay afloat, but the wind and the waves are just more than you can handle, and you feel like you are going to go under. The wheel rips out of your hand and you can’t hold it steady, and even if you could, you wouldn’t know where to steer it anyway. It is all just more than you can handle because you are all alone. Paul found himself in that situation once – abandoned by his friends.
2 Timothy 4:16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.
Now the picture looks like this. The waves are just as big, but suddenly you feel the Lord’s hand on your shoulder. And you look ahead, and you can see a lighthouse in the distance.
When Paul says the Lord stood by him, what does that mean? Jesus was not physically standing there in the courtroom. He wasn’t there physically, but Jesus’ presence was there in a very real way. Jesus turned His face toward Paul in that courtroom, and Paul could tell that Jesus was right there with him, affirming him and accepting him and vouching for him and protecting him – and the way Paul knew that was happening was by the strengthening that he felt. Paul felt himself go from weak to strong, and that is how he knew the Good Shepherd was with him in the valley of the shadow of darkness. That is exactly the same thing David is saying here – even when I am in that valley I won’t fear anything because You are with me. I can feel Your hand on my shoulder.
Have you ever felt that? Have you ever had one of those moments in the dark valley when it just really hit you, “Whatever all these other people think of me and are saying about me – I know the Lord is on my side”? And at that moment nothing else even matters to you anymore. That moment when you feel His hand on your shoulder, it wouldn’t matter if the whole world turned against you – all that matters is that God is for you. And at that moment you can just feel your heart fill up with strength and courage.
Fear No Harm
And you realize – no harm is going to come to me. When David says I will fear no evil - the word translated evil, in this context, means harm. It is not talking about evil in the moral sense. The best translation here would be harm, or ruin, or destruction. David says, “Even in the dark valley I’m not afraid of something harming me or ruining my life.”
 “Wait a minute – if the things I fear most have already happened, isn’t my life already ruined? Isn’t that the definition of harm?”
No! It is not. One of the most important spiritual principles you can learn is what “harm” is – and what it is not. Harm is not the same thing as pain. It is not synonymous with suffering. It is not trouble. It is not hardship. All those things can happen without causing harm.
Luke 21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 All men will hate you because of me.  18 But not a hair of your head will perish.
They might hurt you, they might kill you, but they will never be able to harm you. God’s idea of harm is very different from our concept of harm, because God sees the big picture and we see a microscopic picture. When a two-year-old can’t have cookies a half hour before dinner, as far as that child is concerned, that is harm. But mom and dad know it’s actually for that child’s benefit. When that child really, really wants to play in the street, and mom says no, that seems like harm to that child – lost opportunity for happiness. When our worst fears come to pass, that is not harm. Harm is when something happens that will hurt you in the long run – in eternity. And since we can’t see into eternity, we have no way of knowing if a particular thing is ultimately harming us or not. Only God knows that.
So the way we measure harm in our lives is not by how hard things get or how painful things get. The way we measure harm is by whether the shepherd is with us. And guess what.
Hebrews 13:5 … God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."  6 So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
When God puts His hand on my shoulder, what can human beings do to harm me? Nothing. I don’t need them to approve of me as long as God approves of me. I don’t need them to respect me, love me or treat me well – as long as I have God’s approval. These disasters happening in my life are not going to be able to do me in as long as He is with me. And after His resurrection, Jesus promised this:
Matthew 28:20 … surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Sometimes we experience His presence in greater ways than other times, but if you are one of His sheep, there is never a time when He leaves you altogether.
Fear Insults your Protector
And so there is never a time when it is appropriate for us to be crippled with fear.
Isaiah 51:12 I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, … 13 that you forget the LORD your Maker?
We have no right to be afraid, because fear is an insult to your protector. We talk about this in marriage counseling. It is the husband’s job to protect and provide for his wife. If you are afraid and worried about the future all the time, what are you saying about your husband? You are calling him a worthless provider and protector. It would be like if you told your husband, “We’re having dinner tonight at 6” and he says, “Oh, who’s cooking?” and you say, “I am,” and his face turns white and he says, “Oh no!” and he falls into depression for the rest of the day. And when he pulls into the driveway you see him out in the car finishing up a Big Mac. Would you take that as an insult to your cooking? That is the same kind of insult millions of wives give their husbands every day when they worry about provision and their well being.
Now, of course, some husbands are terrible providers and protectors so it is no wonder that their wives are scared to death. But our Provider and Protector in heaven can be fully trusted. He has infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite love for us, so any fear we have really is a slap in His face – even when we are in the valley.
Seek God in the Valley
So what is the valley? It is the place of our fears. And what is the source of our courage in the valley? The presence of God. I hope that is what you pray for when you are in the valley. Does it glorify God when you are in the valley and you pray, “God, get me out of here”? Maybe. But how much more does it honor Him when we say, “God, I’m in this valley, and I need one thing – Your hand on my shoulder. Do that, and that will be enough to drive away all my fear.”
Ask yourself - When you find yourself in the valley of the shadow of darkness, and you cry out to God for help, what is it that you require in order for your fear to go away? All too often, instead of looking to the nearness of the shepherd for comfort, the only thing we will accept is removal from the valley. If I have dangers and threats and problems, is it enough for me just for the shepherd to draw near to me? Or do I have to be able to see the solution to my problems first?
When you have a big problem in your life, do you have to be able to see how God is going to work it out before you can relax and rest in Him? If so, that is not trust. Suppose your friend wants to go to the zoo but he doesn’t know where it is. So you are driving him there. And you can tell that your friend is all worried and agitated – constantly asking, “Shouldn’t you have turned there? Is this the right direction? Isn’t it the other way?” Finally you say, “Look, I know right where it is – just trust me.” But he stays agitated right up until he actually sees the zoo. Then, once he sees it, he says, “Ok, now I trust you.” No he doesn’t. That is not trust. That is sight. If you feel better because you can see how things are going to work out – that’s not trust. Trust is when you can feel better while you are still in the pitch dark valley, and nothing in your circumstances has changed. The only thing that has changed is the Lord has drawn near to you.
Comfort, Not Answers
God offers us comfort in the dark valley. And that is what we need. We need that more than we need answers to our questions. So often when we suffer we think what we really need is answers: “Why is this happening? Why me? Why now?” But if God answered all those questions, would that really help us? If God came to you and said, “Which one would you like – answers, or comfort?” which would you choose? Wouldn’t it be better to have comfort with no answers than to have answers with no comfort? We need to take a lesson from our children. A little kid is not concerned with why his tummy aches. It doesn’t make him feel any better when you explain the physics of why his toy broke. He is not interested in a dissertation on why slamming fingers in the car door generates pain. What he wants is not explanations; it is comfort. He wants to know that mommy understands that he is hurting, he wants her compassion, and he wants her to do something about the pain. I don’t know if anyone ever wrote a psalm that said, “The Lord is my professor; I shall not wonder. He gives me answers in the valley of the shadow of death” – but if they did, there is a reason why that one didn’t catch on. What we need in the valley is comfort, not answers. When the answers are needed in order for God to give us comfort, then He gives us answers. But if He does not give them, then you can trust the fact that those answers are not needed for you to have the comfort that God wants to give you.
New Pastures
But having said all that, there actually are plenty of answers that God gives us in Scripture as to why we suffer. The Bible has a whole lot to say about why God sends suffering into our lives. Suffering exposes true faith, exposes false faith, builds and strengthens our faith, teaches perseverance, drives us to prayer and dependence, enables us to experience all kinds of attributes of God we could otherwise never experience, and the list goes on and on. There are plenty of good reasons for the valley given in Scripture. But the only one we really need is right here in this psalm – the Lord is my shepherd. He is the one leading me. So if He decides I need to walk through a valley, then I need to walk through a valley. Can God be trusted to always do what is best for His children? Or does He sometimes mess up? He can be trusted! If my shepherd led me here, then this is where I need to be right now, and nowhere else.
Think about the metaphor for a second – why would a shepherd lead his sheep through a deep, dark, dangerous, frightening, threatening valley? To get to the next green pasture. In the part of Israel where David was, there weren’t really very many green pastures. And there was a lot of wilderness, a lot of deep canyons called “wadis,” that were extremely difficult to travel through. But you had to in order to get from one green pasture to another. The green pastures were not just all linked together side by side. When the sheep had eaten all the grass in one pasture and they were getting down to the dirt, the shepherd had to take them to a new pasture, and that required some travel.
So in the image that David is painting here, what is the purpose of the dark valley? It is the only way to get to the next green pasture. That’s hard for us. We like our old, familiar pasture. Sure the grass is mostly gone, but we are comfortable here. We know what to expect here. But our shepherd knows if we stay here, we’ll die. This pasture was great for you, for a time. But now it has served its purpose, and it is time to move on to greener pastures. And the path to those pastures requires that you make your way through some deep, dark canyons. Why else do you think God would take you through the valley of the shadow of darkness? Just because He enjoys seeing you stumble around? Do you think you are in the canyon right now because God lost control of the situation and people took over and shoved you into this valley? Did the Good Shepherd fall asleep? No – He has got you in this valley on purpose because He is taking you to a new pasture.
A few minutes ago I read 2 Timothy 4:17, about how God stood by Paul’s side when everyone else abandoned him. Do you know why the Lord stood by his side? It wasn’t just to make Paul feel better. There was a specific purpose God had in mind.
2 Timothy 4:17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth.
God stood by Paul and strengthened him in that dark valley so that Paul could get up, make it through that valley, and then get on with spreading the gospel to the nations. God’s comfort in the valley has a purpose. We are tempted to just curl up in that valley and lick our wounds and withdraw from ministry and take a time out from relationships and responsibilities, and wallow for a while in self-pity. But God does not give us strength in the valley so we can curl up and die. He gives us strength so that we can keep going. Notice we are no longer lying down. We were lying down in the green pastures in verse 2, but in the valley of the shadow of darkness we are walking. Everything in you wants to quit right now, but the shepherd is leading you to some new pastures. He has some big purposes for you. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. The Lord will give you strength, just keep moving and you will come out the other side of this valley to the next green pasture.
The Tools of Comfort
“I’m in the valley, and I want to feel His hand on my shoulder, but I never do. How do I actually get this comfort from God if I’m not getting it now?”
One way is to understand how God delivers His comfort.
4 … your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
The comfort comes through the rod and staff. The rod was like a club – a thick, heavy piece of wood maybe two feet long, sometimes with nails driven through the end – a very effective weapon to protect against wild animals or thieves. The staff was another tool the shepherd used – possibly for guiding the sheep. So the rod and the staff are simply the implements the shepherd used to do his job – the tools of his trade.
Scripture and Fellowship
So, let’s interpret the metaphor. What are the tools that the Good Shepherd uses to protect us and guide us when we are in the dark valley?
His Word
Spiritual Gifts
So in those times when we are down in the bottom of the dark valley, if the tools our shepherd uses to comfort and protect and guide us are prayer, His Word, His teachers, and the spiritual gifts of the saints, where is the best place for us to go in those times when we are in the valley? The church. Isn’t that where you find the Word of God taught and applied to your heart, and fellowship and the ministry of the spiritual gifts? The place to run to when you are in the valley is the assembly of saints, and yet how often do we do the exact opposite? We show up to church and prayer group every Sunday when things are going well, but when things get hard, one of the first things to go is church. The excuses are legion: I don’t want to be around people right now. People will ask me how I’m doing, and I just don’t want to talk about it. Everyone there is all smiles – I don’t want to pretend nothing’s wrong. Things are so hard for me right now – I just need some rest … on Sunday morning. Whatever the excuses – putting distance between myself and the implements of God’s shepherding is insanity any time, but especially when I am in the dark, dangerous valley.
Everything Else
But having said that, let me also add this: Prayer, scripture and fellowship are the primary implements of God’s shepherding, but they are not the only tools He uses. What else does God use to protect us or to guide us? How did God the Father guide Jesus? One of the greenest pastures Jesus ever came to was just outside of Sychar where He met the woman at the well. At the end of that encounter Jesus’ soul was so satisfied and full that He did not even want to eat when the Disciples brought Him food. He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” That is a green pasture. How did the Father lead Him there? How did Jesus end up at just that place at just that time? Two factors brought Him there at that time. One was the Pharisees. Jesus had a great thing going down in Judea. He was baptizing, and more and more people were coming to Him, and it was a rich, fruitful ministry. Green pasture. But then the Pharisees got stirred up, and Jesus had to leave. So Jesus heads up toward Galilee. But Sychar is not in Galilee – it is half-way to Galilee. Why did Jesus stop in Sychar at the moment He stopped? Scripture says it was because He was tired from walking and needed rest.
So how did the Father lead Jesus to that place at that moment? Two factors – evil, wicked, hostile enemies, and Jesus’ own human weakness and limitation. So those are two more implements of God’s shepherding in your life – evil, sinful people who shove your life around, and your own weakness and fatigue and limitations.
What else? How about traffic lights? If God wants to make sure you end up in a certain place at a certain moment, could He make sure you hit just the right number of red lights on the way? What about the weather? Could God make it really hot or really rainy or really cold, depending on whether He wants you to stop at Dairy Queen or Starbucks or not to stop at all? What about lost car keys or frozen computer screens or troubling phone calls?
Isn’t it true that every single thing you see around you all day every day is nothing but an implement of God’s shepherding? Everything you see is God’s rod and staff. What is God’s rod and staff but the very creation? Aren’t the clouds of the heavens His servants? Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the rain and snow fall only at His bidding to fulfill His good purposes? Is not the breeze and the tree and the fence and the grass and the houses and mountains and this room, that door, and the ringing phone – are they not all His rod and staff, the implements of His tender care? Comfort and joy in the dark valley will come when you see His rod and staff for what they are. Everything around you can bring you comfort in the valley if you see it for what it is – a tool of God’s shepherding. All too often God’s hand is on our shoulder but we do not feel it, because we fail to understand that God works through ordinary things.
What are you afraid of? Is the Lord your shepherd? If not, you have reason to fear. But if He is, then do you realize that omnipotent love would have to fail for any of those dangers to harm you?
No matter how much pain you are in right now, you have reason to celebrate, because if you are a believer, the Lord is your shepherd, He supplies everything you need, He makes you lie down in green pastures, leads you beside quiet waters, restores your soul, and leads you in paths of righteousness for the sake of His name so that even in the valley of the shadow of darkness, you need not fear any harm because He is with you.
Benediction: Isaiah 43:1-4 But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you…he who formed you: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you
Application Questions (James 1:25)
What are the one or two greatest earthly threats that you are most tempted to fear?
Would you say you tend more toward prayer with not enough theology? Or theology with not enough prayer?
Do you have a story you could tell about when you were in the valley and you felt God lay His hand on your shoulder and stand by you, so that you were comforted and strengthened even though you were still in the valley?

[1] At the level of the metaphor, the sheep’s comfort comes from the rod and staff, which would protect the sheep from death.