Have you ever wondered about the blessings of God and just how much they tend to pursue those who do right? Probably not, but that does seem to be message of Psalm 23:6. Psalm 23 as a whole of course, reads,
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
This is an interesting chapter to be sure, and I believe the meaning of one Hebrew word (with touches of meaning on other words as well) is instrumental to understanding the passage.
The word translated as "follow" here in this text is generally used for purposes that involve more energy and less passive than the meaning currently given by the word "follow." Thus, I would say that the definition of rādap in Psalm 23:6 is more along the lines of actively, persistently, and energetically pursuing an individual as if one was chasing or hunting an individual within a military situation.
It would seem that in general rādap means this more active pursuit with energy, rather than the more passive, “follow.” Thus, in order to justify a translation of the word which was that weaker form of the word, we would need to see clear textual and contextual reasons why that meaning was actually directed.
However, we see no such clues. Indeed, we see quite the opposite. The chapter’s emphasis upon trusting the Lord completely and wholly because of His providential care for His people is only strengthened by the thought that the Lord’s goodness and mercy will follow us persistently. This understanding is consistent with the way the Lord’s providence is displayed throughout the rest of the passage.
For example, in verse 2, it explains that “he maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” At first this doesn’t seem to highlight anything important, but if we remember the imagery of a shepherd that David is using here. The shepherd’s job was to find grass where the sheep could eat, and then direct them to another pasture where they could have their next meal.
This aspect of lying down in green pastures is an indication that the Lord provided a pasture that was so green that it would prepare them not just for this meal, but for the next. This providence then is not a weak just getting by care, but rather an exhaustive care for all issues in life. With that in mind, it makes little sense to assume that the use of rādap is weaker than the has been translated elsewhere in the Old Testament, when the Lord’s providential care is being emphasized as being way more than sufficient.
I believe it is important to emphasize the strength of the effort of the pursuit of God’s mercy and goodness in our lives. The military pursuit that this is often translated actually highlights the word rādap in the text. Within this text, that would mean that goodness and mercy pursue us with the same fervor and diligence as a man does who is seeking revenge or carrying out military orders.
As we continually will be in sin, we will continually need the Lord’s mercy and goodness to pursue us vigorously. Simply, pleasing the LORD would be nigh impossible if goodness and mercy only half-heartedly followed us.
More to the context of Psalm 23 as a whole, though, the Lord’s persistent pursuing of His people allows us to have no excuse for not fully trusting in His name. Not only does it provide an ample reason why we should trust Him in that the LORD is interested enough in lowly us, it also provides all that we need to be able to continue to grow in our relationship with Him.
Due to the covenantal nature of the word translated as mercy (hּׅesed), it is clear that one of the other reasons this chapter gives us to trust in the LORD is that he is able to keep His promises and allow His covenantal love to energetically pursue all His people. There is never a time when our sin begins to take us outside of God’s covenantal love. The Lord will always keep His promises, this is reified by the use of rādap to indicated that God’s covenantal love will energetically pursue in this case, David.
This understanding frames the entire chapter within the context of the Lord’s faithfulness in keeping His promises. This then highlights ample reasons why we should trust the LORD in all that we do. Allow Him to be our Shepherd and bless us as He has promised to do because ultimately we can’t fall outside of His promises. But just like any other element of God’s grace, we shouldn’t treat this as license to sin, but instead look for it as another reason why the LORD deserves our worship, service, and love.