David finishes his Psalm 23 by telling us how sure he is of God’s goodness and mercy to him. He expects it to continue as long as he lives. He will always be with the Lord! He is emphatic about this.
He actually says goodness and mercy will pursue him. The word he uses means ‘pursue like someone wanting to persecute you’. Sometimes we feel that trouble is chasing us like a mad dog. But David says goodness and mercy are chasing him! The latter word is actually ‘faithful love’—a word with special meaning for those to whom God reveals himself.
This world is a shaky place. And we often share the shakes! But Psalm 23 is not about the world being good. It’s about the Lord being unshakably good. Every blessing David refers to arises from him. How deeply we need this assurance!
Many say there is no God. And this is much the same as saying there is no-one to look after us. The trouble with this is that we then do look around to be looked after by someone or something else. We are structured to have God bless us, for him to be our benefactor and ‘go to’ person for living. When this is denied to us, we seek support from other things. Our life can no longer be the shape it was meant to be. We become harsh, or weak, or irresolute, rather than resilient. It is happening all around us—or even, to us.
So, the question is pressing: ‘Is God being good to me?’ Let’s try to be really sure of this! And to be sure of this, you need your Bible—more than you need your breakfast! It’s no good looking at your circumstances. They change too often and too much. What does God say, and what does he do to show us his goodness? Here are some key points in the story—and some references to look up.
The Lord tells Abraham he will bless the world through his family—and he does (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:13-14). He tells Moses he will save Israel from slavery and give them a homeland—and he does (Exodus 3:7-8; Psalm 78:52-55). He tells David he will make him king and will preserve his dynasty forever—and he does (2 Samuel 7:8-12: Luke 1:67-75). He tells Jeremiah he will renew his relationship with Israel after they do everything to break it—and this is what he will do (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:14-18). These are covenants God makes with his people.
But now look at this last covenant. It is put into action by what Jesus does. He says, ‘This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26:28). Jesus comes to renew the relationship—or covenant—between us and God. He wants to guarantee it, to put it beyond any doubt, to get it into our minds that we can rely on it. ‘Here’, says Jesus. ‘Eat this bread. It is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’
By this covenant, he not only assures us that God is being God to us, but he ensures that we respond in love to be faithful covenant partners. He puts his law in our hearts. There can be no assurance of God’s love in us until he changes our hearts to be faithful like his. If you like, if you are false, you’ll suspect that God is too. This covenant heals our suspicious hearts and brings us to faith.
We need to hear God saying to us, ‘I am making all my goodness pass in front of you’—just as he did to Moses (Exodus 33:19). We look at Jesus and we are looking at God’s goodness—towards us. The Son of God will give up his body for us—for me! And I am being asked to eat it—that is, to take up what he is doing and make it mine.
And then he goes out and does it! The Son of God, the perfect man, the helper of all, the revelation of God—he, no less, becomes sin instead of righteousness, hated instead of loved, weak instead of strong, hung on a cross. He wants you to know you have a Shepherd, so he lays down his life for you. He needs to take away your life-long dread of not being good enough for God. He needs to take away your resentment of being under his authority. And he does it so you and I can stand before our Father without shame.
This is the reason God gives us for being sure we will be pursued by his goodness and mercy. If the Father gives up his Son for us, and Jesus gives up his life for us, and he is our Shepherd, what lack should we then fear (Romans 8:31-34)?
David also says, ‘I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever’. He probably means he will always have access to the Lord and friendship with him. But things are even clearer now. We will dwell in a new heaven and earth forever. All the unfinished business of this present life will be completed. There will be no more pain, tears, injustice or even unselfishness. As we say, ‘It will be heaven!’
We really need to know this. When we are fretful, we are living for ourselves. Only when the Lord takes away all cares can we be free to live.
I have fears of my own. I want life to be cosy, and rosy. When trouble comes, I get troubled. But then, I get out my Bible, and see what God is about, and what he is about with me. I see how he has made his goodness pass in front of me. I see how wonderful the Shepherd is, how near he has come to me, how fully he has made an end of all that separates me from God. The Shepherd becomes the centre of my attention again.
Then, I notice that the troubles of my heart have subsided. Life is back where it should always have been. And I can say with David, ‘Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’