“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6
There is a stark difference between the way Emily and I walk our dog and the way we walk our daughter. Our dog rarely goes on walks because she refuses to be trained for her leash. She pulls and tugs and, I’m sure if we let go, would sprint after squirrels or into traffic. She seeks to lead or drag us against our will and our presence is of no real concern to her. Our daughter, on the other hand, enjoys going for walks. She responds fairly well to our guidance and generally heeds our prohibition of wandering too far from us or stumbling into the street. When I follow behind her I do so in order that I can experience her delight in the sticks and flowers she finds. I follow her as a hedge; with hands stretched to keep her from falling too hard or from wandering too far. There is a certain significance in Psalm 23:6 of the how the Shepherd follows after His sheep—it is found in the way a parent delights in a child. That child will always live in the joyous guidance of the father.
The actual understanding that the poet expresses in this sentence is far more splendid than we might first expect. The more appropriate phrasing of “your goodness and love” is “surely Goodness and Mercy follow me,” that demonstrates that these words are something more akin to titles. This expounds on the new reality that the Psalmist is seeking to identify: God is loyal and is never forsaking of His sheep. Goodness and mercy are not blessings that characterize the person being followed… they are expressions of the identity of the Giver of such blessings. Who is it that exudes Goodness? Who is it that pronounces Mercy?
Understand that a person does not simply merit these qualities and go on with their days, but that God reveals His glory in and through His people; God’s people are known for their proximity to the Lord! These words are being used to reveal that God goes with us in His glory wherever we walk, like the Shepherd that He is, guiding the flock with the delight of forever always prepared in His mind. He will never leave nor will He forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; John 16; Hebrews 13:5-6). This is a mark of His presence; not the leaving behind of blessing, but the continued favor that belongs with His glory. His goodness and mercy are the same that we find in the story of Moses experiencing glory, the presence of God, on the mountain, where God makes all His “goodness” pass before His servant (Exodus 33:19). Our Shepherd is the only ‘Good Shepherd’ because statements like this show that He is Goodness and Mercy personified (Luke 18:19).
Sometimes we think that everything must be well and to our standards, that only then will we see the result of God’s glory or affirmation of His presence. This is problematic when we consider the logic of such a thought. If God does not leave us or forsake us, how can I still believe this to be true when so much is on my plate? Note the verse just prior, of our being in the presence of enemies. Goodness and mercy are not subjective, they are not feelings accorded with our experiences, but an acknowledgment of He who goes with us through all that we experience. The attributes of God are an assurance for us in spite of all our joys and sorrows. The Psalmist sees it this way and these attributes serve as security that he dwells with the Lord forever. It is not up for debate where security is, it is with the Shepherd. We are assured of the same promises. It is His goodness and not my own. It is His mercy and not my own. I rely on His promises and not my own, for I must acknowledge that I’m not as faithful as the Shepherd.
When I consider these things I can be assured that He who promises goodness, mercy, and love is faithful and that He who began a good work will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). I WILL dwell in the house of the Lord for He is already dwelling with me. He is leading me to that house all the days of my life. I am assured of this because in spite of all the turmoil I see the peaceful waters beside me (Ps 23:2). In spite of my wandering heart His rod and staff comfort me to His bright horizons (Ps 23:4). In spite of my enemies my cup overflows (Ps 23:5). Perhaps the things that I face during my lifetime only serve to prove the gloriousness of my Shepherd, only prove to demonstrate that trust that I can have in Him, if my gaze were always so steady fixed.
This week let us pray to recognize the presence of our Shepherd walking with us no matter our circumstances. Let us be witness to His delight in His sheep. Let us trust the steadiness of His hands and the forever-ness of His grip. Rejoice that we dwell with Him forever!
Pastor Chris Osterbrock
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.
Bruce K. Waltke. The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010. 443.