There is no Psalm as well known as Psalm 23. Sometimes when a portion of Scripture is this well known, it becomes a sort of cliché or platitude. You also see this with John 3:16, Romans 8:28, and many others. But these texts are well known for a reason. They contain comforts and promises that Christians have clung to from the time of the Early Church.
Recently, I started preaching through the Psalms of David and came to Psalm 23. I have read these well-worn verses countless times but in preparation for my sermon, I was surprised at how the comforting words of David hit me as if I had never read them before…
· The Lord is our Shepherd who brings us to His soul restoring Water.
· He walks with us through the desperate valley of the shadow of death.
· He comforts us with the rod of His cross, and He uses it to defeat death.
· He faithfully guides us with the staff of His Word to His gift-laden Table.
· He serves us Himself in the presence of our enemies: sin, death, and the Devil.
Every line is rich with wonderful, peace-giving words of comfort, hope, and promise. Psalm 23 is only six verses long, but in that sixth and final verse, David says something utterly incredible—and it’s easily missed.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” —Psalm 23:6
“Follow” is not a word we struggle to understand. It’s a word we use all the time. If I’m going somewhere with a group of people and I don’t know the way, I will say to someone else who does, “I’ll follow you.” And in the context of Psalm 23, I think we all assume “goodness and mercy” following us means something like “they will always be around” or “we’re never far from them.” But that’s not really what the text is saying.
The word we translate as “follow” is the Hebrew word “radap.” It means: “to pursue or chase down.” In other words, God’s goodness and mercy are not passively hanging around behind us. They are actively pursuing us. They are chasing us down. Like a lion hunting its prey, so the goodness and mercy of God are hounding us. God is the Hunter, and He has given chase. There is no escape. We will find ourselves caught time and time again by a good and merciful God.
We know David had days of incredible victory and days of incredible defeat. Days of humbling obedience and days of impassioned sin. He had days of meditation on the Word of God and days of running, wondering, and even brazen unrepentance. But he makes no distinction between any of these days when speaking of this relentless goodness and mercy of God. Their unstoppable hounding has been the constant through “all the days” of his life. And so it is with us.
Psalm 23 tells us we have nothing to fear. Even when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death, our great Good Shepherd goes with us. And those rapidly approaching footsteps you hear are not those of the Devil coming to do you in—they belong to the Holy Hunter, and they are known as the goodness and mercy of God.