Walking Through Shadows
How can one small ant teach you anything? Ants are supposed to be wise, resourceful, and, socially, highly organized creatures. But one ant?
One evening before our scouts returned to camp from an afternoon hike, I decided to test this idea out with one ant. Squatting against a juniper stump, I spied the little fella dashing around by my foot. For my first test, I made a little hill in the dirt in front of him. To the ant, it must have seemed like a mountain. And he scampered right over that mountain. So, I then created a valley by scooping out a hole in his path. He plunged straight down into that valley and up the other side without breaking stride. relatively easy tests so far. So, next I placed a rock in his path. He tried to climb it, fell back, tried again, appeared to reconsider, then scurried around it. Picking up a twig, I tried once more to hinder his progress. With a little more struggling, the ant found his way around the twig as well.
It was my turn to reconsider. God said, "Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise." (Proverbs 6:6, nasb) The ways of this ant brought another Scripture to mine: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me...." (Psalm 23:4a, NASB) Normally we interpret the verse as a source of comfort in the face of death. And it certainly provides such comfort. On two occasions at the time I first penned this meditation, two of my dearest friends each saw his father "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" into the presence of the Lord. And each knew and felt the comfort and the joy that only the Lord can give in the midst of such difficult experiences. Both encouraged me by the strength of their faith in our Great Shepherd and in His promise of a future reunion. No wonder the death of a Christian brother is a celebration among the saints. and difficulties.
But this Psalm means even more. The Hebrew word tsalmaveth means literally "death-shade," a strong poetical expression for the profoundest darkness. You see, it doesn't have to describe only the experience of facing death, but can apply as well to all kinds of problems--the valley, the mountain, the rock, the twig--or our human equivalents. The Psalmist suggests how to handle them.
For instance, the first verb in the verse is walk through. In the Judean wilderness where David led his flocks, there were narrow gorges and deep ravines filled with real darkness. Any of them might possibly hide a wild beast lurking in the darkness, waiting to pounce upon a sheep. No matter what perils or problems or obstacles he faced in these ravines (or in his life), David, like my ant, walked through them all. Nothing in the passage implies stopping or getting stuck with a problem and needing to stay there. instead, David pressed on through all the experiences, confident of the care of his Shepherd.
And we can walk through our shadows without fear because "Thou art with me." If my ant knew any fear, he failed to show it. But David could say he knew no fear because of the presence of God. A rabbi once told of a devout man who was found sleeping alone in a desolate, forbidding wilderness. Someone asked him, "Are you not afraid of the many wild beasts?" to which he replied, "I am too ashamed before God to be afraid of anything in the world except for Him." Similarly, David's heart was so filled with the fear of God, the awe of God, that there was no room left for the fear of anything else.