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I heard a preacher talk about Psalm 23:4:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

She made an interesting point about that word, through, that we don't stay in the valley but that we should read that word through as, in the English, implying not only "being in" but also "coming out of" [the valley of the shadow of death].

However, when I checked Strong's I don't find that word in the original Hebrew.

So is this understanding of the word through, to include "coming out of" reasonable from the original text?

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Interesting - the relevant bit of Psalm 23:4 is:

גַּם כִּי־אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת
gam kî-ʾēlēk gêʾ ṣalmāwet

As Briggs & Briggs translate, "Yea, when I walk in a gloomy ravine..."

The preposition bĕ- has its basic meaning as "in" (in Brown-Driver-Briggs, and Driver did the "bĕ-" entry). The meaning "through" isn't listed, although it is by far the most common translation of this verse.

The idiom used here, "HLK + B-" ("walk [qal] + in"), occurs ~163 times in the Hebrew Bible. I only spotted once when the preposition needed to be "with" and that was Exodus 10:9 ("we will go with our sons and daughters"). Otherwise, "in" was in the vast majority of cases (whether literal, as in "paths", or metaphorical, as in "laws") the most natural translation.

And bĕgêʾ as a prepositional phrase occurs 14x in the Hebrew Bible, but only here is it translated "through the valley". One might have thought this is because of the verb of motion which most of the others don't have (but compare Jeremiah 2:23 where there is plenty of "motion", but still "in the valley").

Interesting, too, is that the fairly (but not slavishly) wooden translator in the Septuagint rendered it this way:1

(Rahlfs) ἐὰν γὰρ καὶ πορευθῶ ἐν μέσῳ σκιᾶς θανάτου...
(Brenton) Yea, even if I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death...

I'm not sure that "through" quite captures it, in fact, and the preacher's point that "through" implies "coming out of" is not a nuance of either the Hebrew or the Greek.

In Mark Smith's analysis, such an understanding seems to counter the "flow" of the poem. He (persuasively to my mind) points out this movement (p. 62):

  • vv. 1-3 = God before the psalmist
  • v. 4 = God with the psalmist
  • vv. 5-6 = God's goodness and mercy follow the psalmist

He sees v. 4 as pivotal to this structure (p. 63):

The recognition of this pattern ... highlights v. 4, the turning point of the psalm. Verse 4 especially creates a sense of this presence by speaking to God rather than about God as in the previous verses.

On this reading, the point is that it is precisely in the dark place that the LORD's presence is experienced. To draw attention (at this point) to the "coming out" seems to me to undercut the force of the psalmist's evocative language.


  1. This may be an Aramaism, however. This is the only place in the Psalms that gêʾ "valley" appears, but it looks a lot like Aramaic gêw, "amid"; see Jastrow, vol. 1 p. 216. This is the only place in the Tanak where this equivalence occurs (I believe).
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