Pursued by Love Psalm 23 Conclusion
David the Shepherd King of Israel has given the world one of its best loved songs, the 23rd Psalm, and here is its conclusion: ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’
The Lord has been my Shepherd. He has provided me with the finest green pastures and safe rest by quiet waters. He has restored me when I’ve wandered bringing me back into paths of righteousness. He has stayed with and comforted me through the darkest valleys, protecting me from the deceptions of the evil one, treating me like an honoured guest, indeed like His own beloved child, even when cruel enemies had me surrounded.
The Lord, the Good Shepherd won’t leave me now. He’ll see me safe home.
This strong confidence didn’t mean the author’s life was easy or uncomplicated. Early success often prompts jealousy and resentment. While this young giant killer was initially welcomed to the royal court he soon had to flee for his life and actually spent years as an outlaw nomad, under threat from Philistines and countrymen alike. And while David seems to have been for the most part a good man and a noble ruler he was not above doing wrong, most dramatically when he forced himself on Bathsheba then had her husband killed to try and cover up.
The constant factor in David’s life, and ours, is the ‘goodness and mercy’ of God. Let’s consider four wonderful truths revealed in this one verse.
The first of these is ‘goodness’. The original language suggests something beautiful or lovely, having an attractive quality. We might think of God as powerful or holy, ‘attractive’ may not be the first word we think of! But there is something very attractive about the thought of a ‘good’ Shepherd, one who has no selfish or ulterior motives, one who is always concerned for the wellbeing of his flock. The thoughts and desires of the Lord Jesus towards His followers are good, He constantly wants what is best for us.
We might remember how in the Old Testament how, even though God temporarily disciplined His people with exile for their persistent sin, He never stopped loving them and in time brought them back to the land of promise. Through His prophet Jeremiah God said, ‘I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29 v 11)
God’s intentions for His people are consistently good and kind. David learned to depend on this goodness of God’s character through widely differing circumstances.
The second truth in this verse is coupled with the first one, God’s ‘mercy’. The King James version translated this word as ‘mercy’, the NIV as ‘love’. The original Hebrew word is ‘hesed’ meaning ‘steadfast love’. Unchanging. Never failing. Solid. Dependable. And therefore, when necessary, merciful.
The Shepherd is filled with goodness so He protects and provides generously for us whatever life brings our way. When we in our pride and folly turn away to explore the paths of sin His steadfast love grieves for His lost sheep and longs for our safe return. He so loves us He laid down His life for us, that if we repent and turn back we find not the punishment we deserve but mercy, forgiveness, wonderful saving grace!
Which brings us to the third truth, this idea of the Shepherd’s goodness and steadfast love and mercy ‘following’ us throughout our lives. Again the language is important. It suggests vigorous pursuit! Someone has suggested that if the Shepherd is at the front leading the way, this goodness and faithful love are like sheepdogs bringing up the rear, nipping at our heels, driving us ever closer to the Shepherd!
It’s a nice picture but we’re probably better to focus on Jesus the Shepherd Himself, pursuing us with unrelenting love. Refusing to give up, Christ goes after the one that is lost, the one that has fallen behind. He came into this world to ‘seek and to save the lost’ that children who have gone astray and made a disgrace of themselves can now come home to a Father’s generous welcome.
When David was living in exile, far from home, even when he made some seriously wicked choices in life, the constant factor, the bedrock, the greater power that always brought him back was the Lord His Shepherd, pursuing him with goodness and loving grace.
At times in the wilderness David must have thought about his childhood home in Bethlehem and longed for his homeland. But more, David missed being able to worship in Israel. The Temple wasn’t built yet but there was the Tabernacle, a sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It represented God’s presence among His people. Later, when king, David would have it brought to his capital Jerusalem and plan a permanent structure there to honour God’s name. He knew the Maker of heaven and earth doesn’t need a man made building still he pictured himself returning to that place of worship and being secure there all his days.
And this is our fourth truth, the final assurance of dwelling in God’s presence. The Lord our Shepherd can be trusted to bring His people home to Himself.
People have some fanciful ideas about life after death. Often people think it’s pretty much like this one but without the problems. Like children being permanently excused from homework and given the keys to a toyshop!
While the New Testament does promise the coming age will have no more crying or sorrow or pain, there’s more to it than just self-indulgence. Heaven and resurrection are much more focussed than that, focussed on the Lord.
In Psalm23 God has already proved Himself a good Shepherd, providing and protecting thus far. The Lord had been with David in the green pastures, by the quiet waters, through the dark valley. So David was assured that he would be with his Lord, kept safe in His presence forever.
Christians trust in David’s God, that He is with us here, now by the Holy Spirit and that we shall one day be with Him in heavenly glory. Jesus the Good Shepherd made His home here on earth for a time that we might share His Father’s house for eternity.
That’s what we’re looking forward to and longing for most– to be with Him, to live finally and completely sanctified in the presence of the One Who loves us, gave Himself for us and pursues us with relentless grace!
Home at last. Secure. Free from sin and shame, welcomed and blessed for all eternity.
‘Surely goodness and loving mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’
One of the children in church last Sunday gave us a simple but excellent definition of a New Year’s Resolution – ‘doing something different’!
Something different to the way we thought and acted last year, yes, that makes sense. Less of a slave to our appetites and instincts, more in control for the better. Less addicted to resentment and self-pity, more free to celebrate every day with gratitude! A resolution begins with decision and resolve on the inside – we have to want to be well.
But it is very much doing something! Airy-fairy dreams don’t last long. We need to practise daily. We need to make good things our regular way of going. It’s easy to develop harmful habits. Aim at nothing and you’ve already started! New Year is a fine opportunity to begin establishing some good patterns.
A habit is something that has become very much the natural rhythm of our lives, like eating and sleeping. I’m reminded of the final advice Moses gave the Israelites where he reminded them of the commandments and laws God had given to guide them. He said, ‘These commandments… are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them …on your hands and…your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses…’ (Deuteronomy 6 vs 6-9)
In other words it is wise to set God and His Word as a kind of compass bearing at every point of the day, every aspect of our living!
Over these last years I’ve been suggesting spiritual ‘resolutions’ for members of our congregation to practise. Here are a few of them:
1, Every day, before your feet touch the floor, name your loved ones to God in prayer. One natural rhythm of life is waking up. Before/as we get up let’s acknowledge an infinitely more powerful Being than ourselves and seek His grace and blessing for that which is most precious to us, our family and friends.
2. Every night when your head hits the pillow (regardless of what time it is) give thanks for something. It may have been a tough day, even heartbreaking, but it will not have been without some mercy. The sun still rose. There was something of beauty and virtue if we were watching for it. Remember it, let the thought of it warm your heart and balance your mind as you drift temporarily into the dark and unconscious.
3. With your first coffee of the day, read a little Scripture. Maybe you don’t drink coffee but with your first food and drink of the day feed your mind with a Psalm or a passage from the Gospels. Take just a few minutes early in the day before the tidal wave of other info starts rolling. Consider the wisdom of the ancients. Pay attention to what our Maker and Judge has to say.
4. Every Sunday you’re fit to rise, come to Church. One day of rest, refreshment and worship in every seven is a true gift for a healthy life rhythm, beneficial for body, mind and soul. Don’t waste it. If at all possible, include in your day a gathering for praise, prayer and fellowship with people who follow Jesus.
Now these things are not a guarantee of a trouble free life, or a magic formula for success. But they are practical lessons for beginners who recognise their need to grow in relationship with God. Little steps in the right direction. I feel very much still in the ‘beginner class’ but have found these disciplines genuinely beneficial. In a confused and often vicious world, seeking the counsel and comfort of One Who loves us and gave Himself for us opens a refuge of truth and wisdom and an oasis of wellbeing for our souls.
Rev Andrew Watson, Minister of Dunfanaghy and Carrigart Presbyterian Churches, Co Donegal.
Further material by Rev Watson can be found at www.wordsurfers.com
Rev Watson has also published a book of reflections and prayers, "Finding Our Way Home", with all royalties going to charity.