We can rejoice in the Shepherd's clear leading and share enthusiastically with others that he never fails -- until he suddenly seems to lead us into a blind alley. Does the trust then evaporate and the rejoicing stop? Whatever the initial impact may be and however we arrived there, this is a chance to discover that our Lord does not lead into blind alleys, yet he sometimes allows us to enter dark valleys. At times, it may seem that the long, dark, uncharted way will last forever, and that I may even die there (if only I could...). Yet it seems that David is not here referring to death itself, as verse 5 speaks of enemies so cannot refer to heaven; yet even the shadow of death conveys a picture of loss, of grief and of gloom.
We do not need to fear the shadows, however real they may seem, when the substance has been conquered by our resurrected Lord. The presence of a shadow across our path often indicates that there is sunshine not far away -- indeed, shadows may fall precisely because we have our backs to the light. Even when completely in the dark. we can trust that the Light of the world will finally break through. Bewildered and frightened sheep are not left by their shepherd to panic alone in the valley, and neither are we. There is no possible evil that our Good Shepherd cannot either keep at bay, or slay. He is a match for them all.
Christ, who knows all his sheep,
will all in safety keep.
He will not lose one soul,
nor ever fail us;
Nor we the promised goal,
though hell assail us.