It must have come as quite a surprise. When he was at the age many would have planned for retirement, God issued a challenge and a promise to the 75-year-old Abram: Leave the familiar and step out into the unknown and I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. So Abram packed up his life and obeyed. He endured loss, failure, and had plenty of reasons to doubt but somehow he held on to that promise.
Some years later, Abram’s faith was put to the test. After hearing his nephew had been kidnapped during a turf war between rival kings, Abram and his servants won back everything that had been stolen. What a sight it must have been to watch the nomadic herdsman and his caravan of riches, food, and freed hostages as they marched into the Valley of Kings. Families were reunited. The hungry were fed. Crown jewels were returned to their kings.
Among the dignitaries in the desert was the king of Sodom, who offered Abram a huge reward. It must have been tempting. Hadn’t God promised this? He could have taken the praise and he could have taken the fortune. He had marched into the very pit of death and had accomplished what the armies of five kings could not. It was impressive – especially for a man in his twilight years. Who would have blamed him for taking a reward? Hadn’t he earned it?
But Abram saw the temptation in the valley for what it was: letting man supply his needs instead of God.
He held onto his promise and rejected the king’s offer: “I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” Abram resisted the quick path to success. He was offered some of the very things God had promised him but realized this didn’t line up with God’s plan. Abraham maintained faith even though all he had to go on was the possibility on an inheritance.
Immediately after, Abram received a message from the King of Kings: “I am your shield and your exceedingly great reward.” After Abram refused the riches of earthly kings, God confirmed His plan once more. God Himself would be everything Abram needed and He would enter into a covenant with Abram that would turn the world upside down.
We often walk through our own valleys of temptation. We rest in God’s promises but it can be so easy to be distracted by human impatience, letting our eyes focus on manmade solutions. When we try to force things to unfold on our own, we will always be disappointed. God promised Abram riches and a family.
The king could have provided him with riches but when Abram held out for everything God had to offer, he received everything he had ever wanted.
When we hold onto God’s promises even in the face of temptation, we receive riches beyond compare.
The sun shone high over the lone shepherd and his flock. From his vantage point in the valley, young David could see salivating wolves sprinkled across the mountains, casting deathly shadows across the pastures where his sheep grazed. However, the sheep continued to amble through the valley in search of tender grass, confident their shepherd would keep them safe. The eyes of their enemies were upon them but they were at rest and without fear. Their shepherd had led them through green pastures and had tended to their wounds.
As far as they were concerned, the worst the wolves could do was cast shadows.
What an image: wolves glaring down upon their prey, growling through jagged teeth, the very picture of fear. But as powerful as they seem, they are kept at bay, unable to attack, because the shepherd is stronger than their shadows. So the picture is one of peace. The sheep feast in the valley of shadows, gaining strength under the shepherd’s protection and their enemies can only look on in envy, powerless to do anything more.
David’s thoughts must have returned to that valley when he penned Psalm 23. Each valley in his life was darkened by a particular kind of deathly shadow. His family did not value him. The king who had once been a friend spent years trying to kill David. His wife scorned him as he worshipped. He fought battle after battle with a ragtag team of society’s rejected wild men.
But David had learned long ago what it meant to be a shepherd. He would bear the worst battles so his sheep could live in peace. He would walk through valleys beset by shadows of his enemies without fear because the Creator of heaven and earth was his Shepherd. Death could stand on the mountaintops and project its scariest image but David knew a shadow had no power over him. God’s light stood behind death, overshadowing and overpowering it.
Even though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God gave him strength in the presence of shadows.
As we walk through our own valleys, shadows may look down on us. Still, although darkness may be near, it is not yet upon us. To the Christian who has eternal life, death is but a shadow. It is merely a resting place before the final reward. Even though they may darken the valley momentarily, shadows are nothing to fear. We have a Shepherd who prepares goodness in the presence of evil. We may still encounter evil but that evil is only a shadow – an ephemeral mist that has no power in the presence of the Shepherd who guides us. When we walk on the path and follow Him, goodness and mercy will follow us. He will provide strength over shadows. In the end, death may overshadow but God will always overpower.