Psalm 23 Series, Part 11

The Shepherd’s Goodness and Mercy

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” —Psalm 23:6

DAVID, in his meditations on the Lord’s tender watchcare over all his interests, became so impressed with the reality of his Heavenly Shepherd’s love as to leave no room for even the shadow of a doubt concerning it. Therefore, he wrote, “Surely [unquestionably], goodness and mercy shall follow me.” This reminds us of Paul’s assurance of divine care as expressed in the statement, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”—Rom. 8:28

The certainty of the Good Shepherd’s care is further emphasized in the expression, ‘shall follow me’. The Hebrew text gives the thought of pursuit—‘goodness and mercy shall pursue me’. This suggests that divine care is aggressively manifested toward us—that the Lord anticipates our needs and is ready to provide them even before we ask. When we think of how energetic the various forces of evil are in their opposition to the Lord’s people, of how we are pursued by evil, it is indeed comforting to realize that we are also being pursued by God’s goodness and mercy. And knowing that greater is he who is for us than all that be against us (Rom. 8:31), we can with confidence entrust ourselves to the care of the Good Shepherd all the days of our lives.

Both the goodness and the mercy of the Lord manifest his love toward us; and while these two principles are closely related, their operation is along different lines. In the use of the two expressions, David’s mind is evidently reflecting upon the various ways the shepherd’s care for his sheep illustrate God’s goodness and mercy—the various ways which he had just enumerated in the preceding verses of the psalm. It is a summing up, as it were, of all those manifestations of divine grace which the psalmist saw so beautifully portrayed in a shepherd’s care of his sheep.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” wrote the psalmist. David knew that it was because of the goodness of the Lord that all his needs were sure to be supplied. He lived under the terms of the Law Covenant given to the children of Israel at Sinai, and through that covenant God obligated himself to supply all the needs of those who obeyed his law. David knew that the Lord was faithful to this arrangement. In another psalm he wrote, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”—Ps. 37:25

Yes, David could write, “I shall not want,” because in his own experience as a servant of God, and in his observation of the manner in which divine care had been manifested toward others, there was no indication that God had ever failed to carry out that which he promised. And what was true in the life of David is equally true in our experience today. Although the goodness of God in providing all the needs of his people during the Gospel Age is manifested more particularly along spiritual lines, yet to those who live by faith, setting their affections on things above rather than on things of earth, this goodness is very real, very satisfying.

With David, we too can say that because of God’s goodness we shall not want. We may not always have all the material good things of life that we deem necessary, but we will not want for any of the spiritual blessings which are so important to us as New Creatures in Christ Jesus. No one in the church has been more faithful in following the Good Shepherd than was the Apostle Paul, yet he wrote, “I have learned … both to abound and to suffer need.” (Phil. 4:11,12) This is a reference to material needs, and indicates that the apostle did not always have sufficient food and raiment, and perhaps like Jesus, did not always have a place to lay his head. From this standpoint Paul might not always have been able to say, “I shall not want,” but from the standpoint of the New Creature he could indeed affirm that all his needs were supplied.

To the apostle it was consistent with the terms of his consecration that the outward man should perish, and it made little difference to him whether it perished as a result of insufficient food, or for other reasons. The important thing to Paul was that the inward man, the new life begotten in him by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, was being renewed and nourished and built up by the spiritual food so abundantly supplied to him by the Good Shepherd.

Following his general affirmation of God’s goodness and mercy—“I shall not want”—David began to itemize the various ways in which the Lord’s care is manifested, from the shepherd’s standpoint. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Here we are reminded of God’s lavish provision of spiritual food. The pastures of truth are indeed green for all those who are faithful in following the Good Shepherd whithersoever he leads. This has been true of the entire church of the Gospel Age, and it is more than ever true now at the end of the age, when, in fulfillment of his promise, the returned Lord has girded himself and has served his people with “meat in due season.” (Matt. 24:45) How wonderfully satisfying and refreshing are the pastures of present truth! Truly our longings are satisfied by these green pastures as nothing else could do!

Surely it is a wonderful manifestation of God’s goodness to be blessed by a knowledge of present truth in these dark days of world distress and chaos. One of the great blessings of the truth, especially during this great time of trouble, is the confidence it gives us, the peace of heart and mind, knowing that Jesus is now present to set up his kingdom. Truly we can lie down in these green pastures, and rest contentedly as we partake of the nourishing spiritual food to which the Good Shepherd has led us.

As if the green pastures were not sufficient evidence of the Good Shepherd’s loving care, the psalmist adds, “He leadeth me beside the still waters [Margin, ‘waters of quietness’].” It is not enough that we should be led where there are waters of truth to drink, but they are still waters—waters that are not only refreshing but have been set out before us in a way that we can drink with ease, and unstintingly.

How true this is of the waters of truth from which the Lord’s sheep are privileged to drink during the harvest period at this end of the age! Beginning with the return of our Lord, these waters were cleared of the muddy traditions of the past and caused to flow in a deep and inexhaustible stream of refreshment. This stream has been readily available to all who have had ears to hear and can recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice calling them to follow him. Because of this wonderful provision, all who have had their spiritual thirst quenched by the waters of present truth can truly say with the psalmist, “I shall not want.” They know that in thirsting after righteousness they have been filled to overflowing, and their thirst has been quenched.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” God’s mercy is a manifestation of his goodness. He supplies our need of spiritual food and drink, but this is not the end of his goodness. There are times when in addition to these blessings we are sorely in need of his mercy.

The psalmist spoke of this when he wrote, “He restoreth my soul”—or literally, ‘He saves my life’. It requires an exercise of God’s mercy operating through the saving grace which is in Christ Jesus, for us to become his sheep in the first place. And then, all along the way we need his mercy. We fail at times to give proper heed to the Shepherd’s voice and find ourselves straying away from him, or from the remainder of the flock. In this unhappy position we are exposed to the various enemies of the sheep—wolves in sheep’s clothing are ready to devour us—and, worst of all, the Adversary goes about as a roaring lion seeking to devour us.

But God is merciful, yea, we are pursued by his mercy, and, when in these positions of special danger and threatened by enemies too cunning and too powerful for us to resist, he comes to our rescue. In his great mercy he restores our souls! No enemy of the Lord’s sheep is able to pluck them away from the protecting care of the Good Shepherd. It is only if we willfully walk away from the Shepherd, deliberately turning our backs upon him and upon his goodness and mercy, that he gives us up to our enemies and we fall helpless into their clutches.

Divine goodness is further manifested in the fact that the Good Shepherd leads his sheep in the paths of righteousness—or right paths. We need divine wisdom in order to walk the right way, and this is promised to us if we ask in faith, nothing doubting. (James 1:6,7) But we must be willing to obtain divine wisdom through God’s appointed channel, which is his inspired Word. It is through the Word that the Good Shepherd leads us; it is through the Word that we hear his voice calling us to follow him.

The path of righteousness is not an easy one in which to walk, yet there is joy in walking in that path despite the fact that the path itself is rugged and difficult. It is the narrow way of sacrifice. If we walk in this path of righteousness to its very end, we will find that it leads to death. But the goodness of God is still manifested toward us, in that those who faithfully follow the Good Shepherd to the end will have the privilege of living and reigning with Christ a thousand years.

In a most wonderful manner, then, divine goodness is truly demonstrated as the Good Shepherd leads us in the paths of righteousness. It would be impossible for us to walk in this way unless he did lead us. In leading us he not only shows us the way, but gives us strength to walk in it—strength for every time of need. His strength is so necessary, or else we would soon become weary in well-doing and would faint by the wayside. But his goodness does not permit this. It pursues us, and safeguards our every interest so that we can truly say, “I shall not want.”

David cited an extreme condition of danger and hardship through which a shepherd sometimes finds it necessary to lead his sheep. He declared that even under difficult conditions in the lives of the people of God, thus illustrated, they do not need to fear evil for the Good Shepherd is with them—his rod and staff comfort them. “Yea,” he writes, as if some might doubt such an outstanding example of divine goodness and mercy, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

When the Lord found us and before we actually became his sheep, we were wandering about in the valley of the shadow of Adamic death. All mankind is walking through that valley, and the only way out of it during this age is to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. How good the Lord is to permit us to hear that voice saying, “Follow me,” and we have responded affirmatively. We know that by following this dangerous pathway into death, we will actually escape from the valley of the shadow of death into glory, honor, and immortality in the first resurrection!

The Good Shepherd’s wise use of both the rod and the staff is a further manifestation of divine goodness and mercy, a further assurance that we shall not want. Through their use he guides and corrects his sheep, and thus manifests a love that otherwise could not be so fully appreciated by his followers. Paul wrote, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” (Heb. 12:6) How glad we are, then, to realize that the divine goodness and love is pursuing us even when it requires the use of the chastening rod.

Who can question the goodness and mercy of the Good Shepherd as evidenced by the table of rich spiritual food which he prepares for us in the presence of our enemies? There is a special sweetness attached to this thought, especially now that we are living in the days of the presence of the Good Shepherd. The green pastures and the still waters might be thought of as the Lord’s bountiful provision for his sheep throughout the entire age, and truly he has cared for them in their every time of need. But yet, more than ever before, he is now feeding his sheep at a table of the choicest spiritual food, designed to give them strength to overcome all their enemies in this evil day. Let us show our appreciation of this specially prepared table by partaking of the meat in due season which is spread out before us.

“Thou anointest my head with oil.” Here is another manifestation of God’s goodness. There is no greater evidence of God’s love than his gift of the Holy Spirit, as symbolized by the oil of anointing. Jesus spoke of this, explaining that just as earthly parents are pleased to give good gifts to their children, so the Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. Yes, God is good, and as we are filled with his Spirit, yielding ourselves to its sweet influence, we partake of his divine goodness and are transformed into the image of God!

Think of what the oil of the Holy Spirit means to the consecrated! It gives enlightenment, spiritual strength, and comfort. By it we are commissioned to be co-workers with God. By it, also, we are begotten to a new life to become New Creatures in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit fills us with love, giving us power and the spirit of a sound mind. It bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. Our relationship with God is sealed by the Holy Spirit. And by the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, its fruits of love, joy, and peace become manifest, enriching our lives and blessing others. Truly the goodness of the Lord is demonstrated by his gift of the Holy Spirit.

Not only is the Shepherd’s goodness and mercy revealed in the wonderful provisions which have been made similarly for all his sheep, but, as we have seen in last month’s article, he takes a personal and individual interest in them, providing each one with a cup peculiarly adapted to their special needs. Truly, each one of us can say, “I shall not want!”

One of the marked tendencies of fallen human nature is the lack of constancy. Millions of mankind start out zealously in their lives along some line of endeavor, but soon weary of the attempt and turn to something else. Even among the consecrated people of God this inclination to become weary in well-doing must be guarded against. Sometimes we make an effort to serve the Lord or to bear witness to the truth in some manner, but after a time we give it up as useless, or as too much effort. But God is not changeable. He is constant in the fulfillment of his promises.

We need not fear that the ‘green pastures’ condition promised the faithful Christian will only continue for a short time, nor that the still waters of truth will ‘dry up’ or leave us thirsting in vain for the refreshment which they give. There is no danger that the Good Shepherd might tire in his promise to restore our souls, when soul restoration is needed; nor that he will ever fail to lead us in the paths of righteousness. Evil will never befall us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, for the Good Shepherd will continue to protect his sheep; and his rod and staff will continue to be used until we reach the very end of the narrow way.

Nor will there ever be a lack of food on the table which the Lord prepares for us in the presence of our enemies. It will not be a case of having spiritual food today, and not having it tomorrow; nor will there be any stinting in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to guide and enrich our lives. Ever and continuously the cup which the Lord provides will overflow. There will never be a time when it is not full. It is this constancy of the Good Shepherd’s care, the never-failing aspect of his goodness and mercy, that David affirms when he says that they will pursue us all the days of our lives. We can be assured of divine goodness and mercy, not merely for today, or tomorrow, but for every day, and all the days, until we reach the very end of the way.

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