The valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4)
Many people think that Psalm 23 was composed while David was fleeing from his son Absalom (II Samuel 15-17). After a tense few days travelling from Jerusalem and crossing the Jordan, under threat of ambush and assassination (verse 4?), he finally reached safety at the house of Barzillai the Gileadite (verses 5,6?).
The expression ‘shadow of death’ is quite infrequent in the Bible, and seems to represent the threat or fear of death. Certainly David was under threat from those conspiring with Absalom – he escaped only because of God’s overruling (II Samuel 17). Isaiah uses it to describe the state of those Israelites living in the northern kingdom, shortly to be obliterated by the Assyrian empire (Isaiah 9:2, quoted in Matthew 4:16). The coming of Jesus was a light in that darkness (Luke 1:78,79); and His presence similarly transforms any desperate situation we may find ourselves in.
The Valley of Baca (Psalm 84:6,7)
There are other valleys as well. This is “the Valley of Tears”. Those who seek God’s presence (like the pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem) do not have it all ‘plain sailing’. Life is full of troubles and sorrows as well as joys. But the Valley of Baca can become a place of unexpected refreshment (verse 6), and it will not deter the determined pilgrim from pressing on to his (or her) goal (verse 7).
The Valley of Achor(Joshua 7)
This is “the Valley of Trouble”. The conquest of Canaan nearly failed because of one man – Achan. He took for himself some of the plunder that should have been dedicated to God, and so God ceased to help the Israelites in their battles. In order to put themselves back under God’s protection, the Israelites had to repudiate both Achan and his ill-gotten gains. He was identified by casting lots, made a full confession, and was then executed in the Valley of Achor. So this was a place of death – but once Achan and everything associated with him had been buried, the rest of the nation could leave the whole episode behind and move on.
Centuries later, when the whole nation had rejected God and turned to idolatry, God spoke through Hosea to remind the people of this truth: that sin can be dealt with, and our relationship with God can be restored (Hosea 2:14,15). “I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” He offers us a new start, and a new life.