Dwight L. Moody, a noted evangelist of the nineteenth century, was once approached by a woman who needed counseling. Two men, she claimed, were following her. Whenever she stepped onto the city trolley, they stepped onto it behind her. When she stepped off, they stepped off. With a nervous twitch in her neck, she insisted that she had even been followed to his office by these very two men.
Moody could easily detect that this precious woman was suffering from a mental delusion. There was no one following her. But to put her at ease, he told her: “Those two men following you are David’s men. Their names are Goodness and Mercy.” He turned in the Bible to Psalm 23:6 and showed her, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life.” She was relieved and exclaimed: “That is wonderful. I have always wondered what their names are.” The woman left that day with peace of mind, comforted to know that it was goodness and mercy that were following her.
As believers in Jesus Christ, you and I need to be also trusting that the goodness and mercy of God are following our every step. We need to be similarly confident and comforted, believing that every day of our lives, these two friends of David are with us for every step of life’s journey.
There will never be a day in which the goodness and mercy of the Lord will not be immediately nearby.
In Psalm 23, we learn that there exists a close and inseparable relationship between the Good Shepherd and His sheep. An unbreakable bond unites them as one. Verse 6 reinforces this truth and makes it abundantly clear. David begins this verse by underscoring the certainty of this indissoluble union. This reality is seen in the first word, “surely.” There should be no doubt that what is stated here is to be believed with an unwavering assurance. No matter how dark the valley, regardless of how deep the canyon, surely this goodness and mercy belong to the sheep. The near presence of the Shepherd with His loving care is an indisputable truth. His concern must never be doubted, nor His care questioned. With the certainty of God’s irrevocable covenant love, His abundant goodness is firmly committed to His flock.
When David testifies that “goodness” will follow him, he uses a Hebrew word that, as an adjective, means “beautiful” or “pleasant.” It represents the attractive way with which God shows His love for His sheep. God is perfectly good in His character and flawlessly good in all His actions. Therefore, He can do only good to His beloved flock. This is demonstrated in His attentive care for their many needs.
David also states that “mercy” follows him. This is the unconditional love of the Good Shepherd toward those whom the Father has chosen and entrusted to Him. He loves them with His sovereign love that can never be extinguished. Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful to us.
The Hebrew verb translated “follow” pictures these two virtues—goodness and mercy—as actively pursuing David. It can be said that these twin components of divine love are like two sheepdogs that help the shepherd corral his flock. They shadow the flock in order to steer them in the right direction. When the sheep go astray, these sheepdogs bring them back. When we slow down, they spur us on. So it is with goodness and mercy that pull up the rear. They are constantly driving us closer to the Good Shepherd.
This pursuit may recall the days of David’s flight from Absalom. David is testifying that whatever threats have chased him, there is always a greater pursuer afoot—goodness and mercy. Though he has been hounded by those who seek to harm him, he remains confident that this divine love will stalk his every step. He is convinced that divine love will be with him to the end.
Here is the steadfastness of the Shepherd in keeping after His sheep. Even when David found himself in life-threatening situations, God’s goodness was close behind. Whatever the trial, His loving-kindness was constantly trailing him.
When David claims that these dual blessings follow “me,” he is emphasizing how personal they are to him. The point is that this divine care is not directed toward an anonymous group of nameless sheep in a nonspecific, general way. To the contrary, David knows that God’s focus is riveted upon him as an individual sheep called by name.
This steadfast love will pursue David “all the days of [his] life.” There will not be a single day in which this faithful favor will not be close behind him. These two parts of God’s love will be nipping at his heels all day, every day, for the rest of his life. There will never be a day in which the goodness and mercy of the Lord will not be immediately nearby. We can never escape the loyal love of this good Shepherd.
Dr. Steven J. Lawson is president and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow, and author of numerous books, including Foundations of Grace and The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.