In one of the Peanuts comic strips, Snoopy is shown on his doghouse typing a novel. He begins his story with the words: "It was a dark and stormy night." Snoopy always begins his stories that way: "it was a dark and stormy night."
Lucy happened to come by and put in her two cents worth of advice. In her aggressive, blunt tone of voice, she scolds him: "You stupid dog! That is the dumbest thing I've ever read. Who ever heard of such a silly way to begin a story? Don't you know that all the good stories begin, 'Once upon a time?" Lucy berates and belittles him more and then leaves.
The last frame of the comic strip shows Snoopy starting over on his story. This time he types: "Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night."
There are some stories whose writing seem to always begin by necessity with Snoopy's description of things: "A dark and stormy night." You and I have experienced such times in our lives when the darkness is at its worst. We remember our experience as vividly as the psalmist David when he said: "Even when I walk in the valley of deep darkness."
Though translated death, the Hebrew word conveys the idea of darkness at its worst. The word carries the meanings of deep darkness, gloom, death-like darkness. Job 28:3
describes this darkness as that of a mine shaft beneath the earth, shut off from any sunlight.
Have you ever gone deep inside a large cave when the tour guide said: "In this part of the cave, sunlight can never reach. Let me show you how dark it would be without the light." All the lights are turned off and for a moment he speaks to you in the dark. It is so dark that you cannot see anyone standing next to you. It is darkness so thick you could cut it with a knife.
The picture of Psalms 23:4
is of a valley cut so deeply between mountainous hills that even when the sun is shining there is a darkness on the path of the shepherd and his sheep. And when night falls the dark is so deep it causes everyone to shiver. In such darkness one can only feel, not see.
David translates the sheep and shepherd experience in the valley of deep darkness to his own life. We humans who live on the earth have no more option than the shepherd and his sheep; each of us must also face the inevitable moments when we must pass through the deep darkness. It is not a matter of whether the dark event will come, but rather when.
David did not choose this word by chance. It is a word that captures the whole array of disastrous possibilities when we live life. David could have used the Hebrew word for death or the place of the death, but he does not. He could have used the words for darkness, night or shadow, but he does not. He could have used the words for trouble, evil, pain, persecution or affliction, but he does not. He uses a word that describes that moment for us when life is at its worst.