Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
Psalm 23:6 ESV
Can you believe we’re about to wrap up the the first leg of our annual Lenten series here at His Own Heart?
It’s absolutely true. During this third week, we finish the first official section of a seven-post journey through The LORD is My Shepherd.
If you’re new to the series or had problems accessing Part Two during the Great Facebook Outage last week, this is your opportunity to catch up – or even review – as we take another tenuous step toward that beautifully empty tomb we’re aiming to reach on Easter Day 2019. Regardless of where this week’s post finds you, don’t forget to watch for our three basic truths to unfold as we continue examining factors that set a person’s life apart for the better when Christ is his or her Shepherd:
- Jesus is the perfect Provider; He provides all needs for one’s soul.
- Jesus is the perfect Protector; He defines and defends His flock.
- Jesus is the perfect Promise; He delivers on His Word at any cost.
Our goal is for these truths to flow together seamlessly as we evaluate the following topics:
- The LORD is my Shepherd: Are You Pulling the Wool?
- The LORD is my Shepherd: What Does That Make Me??
- The LORD is My Shepherd: Oh No He DIDN’T!?!?!
See that first item, Are You Pulling the Wool?Using this topic as a study of Psalm 23, we discussed in Week 1 the shepherd-esque roles of Leader, Feeder and Healer that Christ serves for followers who accept through faith His identity as Son of God and Savior of the world. Last week, we looked at David’s reference to the provision God offers us through His rod andstaff. Let’s conclude the topic this week, then, with a look at the psalm’s final verse. David delivers a point here that is both short and sweet, but it carries a theologically rich and life-altering revelation about the Shepherd Himself.
By now you know the drill and may be tempted to skip this portion of our usual reading together through Psalm 23. For the purposes of an important point to come later in this post, though, I hope you’ll skip the temptation instead of the Scripture:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters,
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
We’re dealing with that final verse – verse 6 – here, so per our routine it’s highlighted in bold italics above just for you.
That statement you read several lines ago – the one that described this verse as theologically rich and life-altering – it really is. Think about it with me for a moment: David is telling us that when you and I allow Jesus Christ to live and truly reign over our lives as Shepherd, His goodness and mercy are daily ours the whole length of our lives in the here as well as in the hereafter.
But can David pack a punch like that into such a brief statement?
Divinely inspired by God – Author of Scripture – not only can David pack that punch; he does pack it.
Here’s how David does it. And no, he’s not pulling the wool on us.
The first suggestion I’d like you to consider this week is pretty straightforward, so come along this path with me for a moment if you will. Tucked into the final verse of Psalm 23 is a clearly-inspired assertion of the existence of this place called eternity. That fact creates one of the most interesting aspects of the Psalm, mainly due to its placement within the Old Testament. The fact that this statement – verse 6 – appears in this portion of the Bible is actually a remarkable gem for the Christ-follower. You see, the collective subject of eternity – heaven and hell – is a scarce one, very scarce, in the Old Testament. Unlike you and me, OT Israel never actually met Jesus Christ; not by the standards we’ve met him, anyway. David and his ancestors as well as several generations to follow anticipated the coming of the Messiah, but the anticipation of such a Savior was literally based on unwavering faith in promises made by God the Father. You and I are called to exercise faith in Jesus Christ – that’s true – but we also have the rich history of His incarnation, His life and ministry as a man, His death, His resurrection and ascension as recorded in the New Testament – plus our own personal experiences with Him – to bolster that faith along.
All David had to go on were promises and prophecies, but God used His servant’s faith to reveal the Truth of truths to him. And David, in turn, revealed that Truth long before said Truth came to pass. In other words, David spells out in Psalm 23:6 that man’s hope lies in being with Christ in the house of the LORD forever.
The second suggestion I’m making in this post dovetails off of the first. If you’ll recall from last week, we discussed that David is thought to have written Psalm 23 while on the run from his son, Absalom, who seeks to abdicate his father’s throne. We talked about David looking back on the better days of his life in verses 4-5, but I wonder if there’s more to what he’s saying there than meets the eye. I do believe that David is looking backward toward the comforts of his palace in these verses. Why wouldn’t he, after all? It’s only natural that he wishes to be home again.
But at the same time, he recognizes that his earthly palace with its feasts and festivals cast only a small glance of the coming kingdom of God and all that will take place in that kingdom. Frankly, then, I think David is also looking ahead toward the already/not yet goodness and mercy of God; the kind of goodness and mercy that both blesses now and goes beyond even physical death for those of us who look to Christ as our Shepherd. David drives his point home with one little word when he tells us he’s looking toward dwelling there forever.
So essentially, what we get in verse 6 is an eternal perspective. Think of it this way. Have you ever been in a really tough spot and cried out in helpless exasperation to God? Admittedly, few of us have been forced into a literal well to save our necks like David was, but – oh my word – I’ve gotten into some doozies of figurative wells. You too? Even if you’ve never spoken the words outright from within those dark caverns, you likely know and relish the blanket of security that comes from the kind of knowledge David displays:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Stop here for a moment and read and reflect on those words. How do they speak to your soul? Grab a pen and jot out some ideas if you’d like.
For me, those 24 words strung together aren’t just a sentence. They’re a promise; one that assures me down to my very bones that – regardless of the size of whatever obstacle or challenge or difficulty I face today, the goodness and mercy I receive from the LORD is so much bigger and stronger and more powerful that the obstacle is no match for it.
Not even close to a match.
What’s more, that obstacle is arguably temporal when compared to this goodness and mercy found in God. Listen, David is telling us that God’s goodness and mercy are eternal. And make no mistake: the eternal – by God’s own Law of Nature – can and does and will– overpower and overcome all things temporal, all things sinful, all things Satan.
Because – don’t miss this – God’s own Law of Nature is none other than our Shepherd, Jesus Christ Himself.
Do you feel the full weight and power of that statement? The work of our Shepherd – God’s only Son – fulfills nearly every single word of Psalm 23. In other words, the gospel of the New Testament shows up right here in the first five verses and is capped off in the sixth.
The gospel story progresses like so:
You and I are like sheep – the Bible says so. We’re foolish; we tend to wander off into dangerous ways that lead us astray; we even sometimes have the idea that we know better than God where the greenest pastures and stillest waters are (Isaiah 53:1-6).
But the glaring truth is that none of us is any more adept at finding green pastures or still waters than a sheep is. In fact – and like a sheep – we find ourselves wandering the same pastures, sorting through the same dirt, eating things that kill us. We’ve fallen onto our backs and can’t right ourselves to get up again.
Face it: you and I are sheep in need of a Shepherd willing to pick us up, restore our souls, lead us where we need to go.
Thankfully, we have One. Did you know that God is identified as Shepherd in the very first book of the Bible (see Genesis 49:23-24)? I make that point to make another: one of the amazing things about Jesus is how he consistently takes on the names and roles of Yahweh, also known as I AM. He gets really specific to our post topic in John 10:11: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
So exactly how and why would Jesus lay down his life? Isaiah 53:6-10 gives us a good start to answering the question:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on [Christ] the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Isaiah is saying, in other words, that Jesus – our Shepherd – lays down his life for us – His sheep – in order to deal with the sin, death and evil that results when we go astray or reject God.
Jesus, then, makes a way for us to find true restoration for our souls. See for yourself:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one (John 10:27-30).
The beautiful, unfathomable point is this: Jesus came to earth to live the life we fail to live. He never went astray as we so often do. There was not one speck of deceit in His mouth. He died a sinner’s death in our place. Think of it. Our iniquity was laid on Him; our Shepherd offered His spotless, unblemished life on Calvary’s cross as penalty and payment for our guilt before His Father.
He once-and-for-all defeated death when He took up His life again and rose from the dead…all for the express purpose of giving us – the sheep of His pasture – eternal life.
Think back, if you will, to the top of this post and our brief definition of eternal life in the words of David: goodness and mercy all of our days as we dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Revelation 19 is one of my favorite chapters of Scripture; it illustrates the idea of eternal life so well with John’s report that in Heaven – our eternal home – there will be tremendous feasts in honor of Jesus Christ, including the marriage supper of the Lamb. Through John’s words, God promises that there we will drink new wine, eat rich food, and bask – yes, bask– in the presence of Christ, our King. Our Shepherd.
So the Shepherd’s promise in Psalm 23, you see, is ultimately a promise that looks forward to the day when Jesus Himself will fulfill it. Although David didn’t see at the time and had no inkling of exactly how the fulfillment would come to fruition, he knew by a heart of faith that God would provide a Savior – because David had come to know I AM in the way that I AM yearns for His sheep to know Him: as a compassionate, reliable, redemptive Shepherd.
Beginning next week, we’ll look at how Christ’s identity as that Shepherd defines the identity of His flock.
Copyright 2019 Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.