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Read |Psalm 23: 4; Exodus 14|
"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." (Psalm 23: 4, ESV).
There are moments that encourage gratitude for the simplest of things: inhaling the crisp air atop a mountain is one of them. The steady flow of cold air to the warmth of my nasal passages and into my waiting lungs, almost always makes me wonder if this is what it felt like to have God breathe into our dusty ancestors. I come to value breathing. There are also moments that throw you to the floor and dare you to breathe. They come to mock any conviction you have ever had to give thanks in all things. They come to make you lay low in the valley.
In the valley, with two towering high places on either side, you come to terms with the reality of your smallness. In the valley, with the sun shining high in the sky before you, shadows are cast as the straight trajectory of the sun's faithful rays are interrupted by objects that cannot receive light. How large the shadows loom. So large, that you come to feel their weight as you press forward. So large that they compel you to turn to behold them. So large that they draw your gaze from the sun's faithful light. Soon all is shadows, and you come to be in need of great comfort: "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." (Psalm 23: 4, ESV).
The fourth verse of the twenty-third Psalm brings to mind, not only my personal valleys, but the valley the Israelites traversed when God's man held his rod over the Red Sea and it split to make a way out of no way. The Israelites had just been to the mountaintop. God had acted mightily on their behalf, through Moses, in order to deliver them from the grip of Pharaoh. Plague after plague God made a mockery of the presumptuous powers of Egypt--proving them to be impotent and Himself strong. With the tenth plague striking dead every firstborn male in Egypt, Pharaoh agreed to release the Israelites. (Exodus 12: 29 - 31). They were on their way to the Promised Land with wealth the Lord had moved their enemies to give to them. (Exodus 12: 35 - 36). They were breathing the crisp air of the mountaintop as they left over four hundred years of slavery behind. And then the Red Sea--the impassable Red Sea and the fierce pursuit of Pharaoh. (Exodus 14: 8 - 9).
"When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord." (Exodus 14: 10, ESV). God's man replied, "'Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.'" (Exodus 14: 13 - 14, ESV). God's man then took the rod in his hand and held it high above the waters and the Lord blew them apart to form two towering mountains of sea and make plain a path for His people to the other side. (Exodus 14: 21 - 22).
The Israelites made their way through the valley--God before them. But, behind them were the hardened Egyptians, too puffed up in their hearts to be humbled by the Lord's display of strength on behalf of His people. I can imagine the awe of the Israelites as the sea split. I can imagine the terror that threatened them as they witnessed their enemies, persistent to destroy them. I can imagine that many, as they made their way forward, were tempted to look back. I can imagine that some did look back--and that as they did, their hearts grew heavy with fear. I can imagine the grandeur of the shadows cast as Pharaoh's drivers and chariots refused the light. I can imagine their need for comfort: "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." (Psalm 23: 4, ESV). And I can imagine the relief as God's man holds the rod over the Red Sea and God Himself drowns their enemies into the sea. With the breath of His lungs He had toppled the most presumptuous of all authorities in Egypt--Pharaoh. He had removed the terror of a man who exalted himself to the place of God, so that His people could live freely in the fear (reverence) of Him who had shown Himself mighty on their behalf.
Beloved, do you find yourself in the valley today? Do you find yourself pressing forward under the light of His countenance, towards the promise, yet drawn to consider what you are leaving behind? Do you find yourself contemplating--even meditating on--the shadows? Do you fear the return of Pharaoh, i.e. that which enslaved or hindered you? Be encouraged that our God is still a mighty deliverer: holding up his rod to protect you from all harm.
Won't you give Him your vote of confidence by fixing your eyes on Him? He goes before you to make a way for your feet to safely trod. He upholds you with His right hand. (Isaiah 41: 10). He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31: 6). Don't look back. Face forward and enjoy the peace He grants you because you trust in Him. (Isaiah 26: 3). Soon the "'Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.'"(Exodus 14: 13, ESV).
Carolyn Sinclair McCalla is a daughter of God, with a passion for encouraging women to embrace the fullness of God's love for them in Jesus Christ. She leads the Be-Held Community: a group of women seeking, living and being transformed by the truth of God’s Word together.