“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
It cannot be determined definitely when David, Israel’s shepherd king, musician, and poet, composed this twenty-third psalm. Did he, as some believe, compose it late in his life, when he was fleeing from before the face of his rebellious son, Absalom? We simply do not know. And this means that we need not know this. But this we do know: we cannot separate verse 6 of this psalm from what precedes it. And we must bear in mind that this psalm speaks of many and great dangers. This is always true of the position of the child and church of God in the midst of the world. We read here of a valley of the shadow of death and of evil which we will not fear. This psalm speaks of enemies in whose midst a table has been prepared for me. Is this not the language throughout the Word of God? A servant is not greater than his master. Jesus says, they have hated Me; they will also hate you. The antithesis must characterize us in the midst of the world! If this apply not to us, we can never say what we read here in verse 6.
And, what is the beauty of Psalm 23? This: the perfect safety of the child of God in the midst of all kinds of trouble and enemies, and this only because of the unchangeable and wholly unconditional faithfulness of our covenant God! The Lord is my Shepherd; He isthat, always—nothing can possibly change that. Therefore I shall not want—I shall never be in want, never lack anything. He restoreth my soul, He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake;He is with me; His rod and staff comfort me; Thoupreparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; His goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This psalm lifts the child of God above all troubles and afflictions, and enables him to set his face, in all confidence, upon the House of his God.
Dwelling in God’s House.
Indeed, also as far as David is concerned, even as in the old dispensation, this house of God must have referred to God’s heavenly fellowship. The people of the Lord surely knew that that building upon Mount Moriah was a symbol of God’s people as they dwell with the Lord as underneath one roof, through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Lord. Do we not read that God’s goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and does this not surely refer to where we will dwell after or at the end of our earthly sojourn? Besides, we also read of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, or, literally, “length of days,” which surely refers to an unending length of days; and this, of course, must refer to the life, the everlasting life of the hereafter.
In this expression, “the House of the Lord,” Scripture calls our attention to the essence, the heart of heaven. Heaven is not a resort (as the Moslems describe it, a beautiful place, with beautiful women, etc.), where we shall eat and drink of the best and never be plagued by the fear of sickness and death, or where marriages, finalized here, will continue in the hereafter, as the Mormons teach—the heart of heaven must not be viewed from the aspect of man and as an indefinite lengthening of this earthly life but then as delivered from all its unpleasantries. Heaven, we understand, is not the hope of the natural man, is not the object of his earthly longing; man, however he may dread hell, would surely find heaven to be more intolerable and unbearable still. Heaven, what is it? It is the House of the Lord! And the House of the Lord is the expression of His perfected covenant fellowship and communion. Heaven centers in Jehovah, the covenant God of our salvation. There we shall dwell with Him.
Dwelling in God’s House—how blessed, how wonderful this is! Can anyone conceive of anything more wonderful than this?
This is true only by grace, the grace of God. This house will never be attractive to the natural man. Never will he be able to say what we read in Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple,” or what we read in Psalm 84:1-2: “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, 0 Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” Indeed, there is nothing in that House that appeals to you and me as we are by nature and of ourselves; it is the very opposite of all my carnal desires. That House appeals to me only when I have learned by the grace of God to know and hate myself; only when I have become weary of sin, and when the love of God and of His service has become uppermost in my heart and mind; only when I have become a pilgrim and a stranger in the midst of the world, in the midst of a dry and thirsty land; only when the life of sin and darkness has become a burden to me so that the longing for this House of God will prompt me to set my eyes upon the City of God that has foundations.
How wonderful, then, is this House of the Lord!
It is wonderful, first of all, because it is God’s House. Indeed, the Lord is everywhere, as we also read it inPsalm 139. But in God’s House He reveals Himself in all the glory and perfection of His being, and everything is adapted to His life and perfection. There the Lord will reveal Himself to us in the face of Jesus Christ, and it will be revealed eternally that all fellowship and communion with God is only through and because of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Secondly, this House is wonderful because there, our service and worship to Him will be perfect and complete, even forever. There we shall be perfect, completely delivered from all sin and evil and death, even as we read in Revelation 21:4. There we shall be perfectly adapted to the heavenly service of the Lord. There we shall serve Him together with all the saints of God throughout all the ages, and that in heavenly immortality. There the longing of our souls shall be satisfied, never again to be interrupted, into endless length of days. Indeed, one thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and then forevermore.
How impossible this glory appears!
First, we are in a valley of the shadow of death. This, we must bear in mind, does not merely refer to death itself. This valley, however, refers to our entire life which is a valley of the shadow of death, inasmuch as immediately at birth death casts its shadow upon us, and this shadow becomes even deeper as we proceed to death and the grave. Secondly, in this valley of the shadow of death are enemies, deadly enemies, enemies that hate this House of God and anybody who is enroute to that House, enemies more powerful than we, with whom we cannot possibly cope. These enemies are all around us, and they are much more numerous and stronger than we. This enemy is well equipped, directed by the prince of the powers of the air, having access to all the resources of this world. And, this enemy also lurks within us, our own evil nature. We are the people of the Lord only in principle. We have only a seed of life eternal; all the rest of us is carnal and evil. A vivid picture of the child of God as he laments who and what he is is held before us in Romans 7. And we are all familiar with the apostle’s description of the Christian soldier in the midst of his enemies in the sixth chapter of the same apostle’s epistle to the Ephesians and where he speaks of putting on the whole armour of God.
Goodness and mercy.
Goodness is that operation of God’s love whereby He bestows upon me that which is good, beneficial for me. I have been created, in Adam, as God’s image bearer, have been created as adapted to the service of the Lord; the only thing that can satisfy me is His fellowship and communion. Nothing else can possibly satisfy. All the gold and all the silver of this world, without the grace of God, can only serve to leave my soul empty and destitute. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, how empty and destitute was that rich man although he had access to all that which the world could offer him. And how rich was Lazarus, although he was a miserable beggar whose consolation appeared to be that dogs licked his sores! Indeed, the grace of God does not consist in the things of this world. What determines our blessedness is not how much we may have and enjoy of the goods of this present time. What determines our blessedness is whether we are rich and blessed in the Lord. His grace and favor are so much more than life to me. Indeed, blessed is that man who is rich in God. And the psalmist also speaks of mercy. Mercy presupposes misery. Mercy is an aspect of God’s goodness. The goodness of the Lord here signifies that which is good for me. And mercy is that aspect of His goodness whereby the Lord is desirous to save the objects of His love as they are in misery, the misery of sin and affliction, and as they struggle in the midst of the world.
God’s goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. How wonderful this is! The psalmist surely wishes to emphasize that this goodness and mercy of the Lord will be in constant attendance upon me, will always be following me so that no evil can possibly befall me. Negatively, this means that God’s goodness and mercy never follow the wicked in all the days of his life. The grace and love of God never attend his way. Nothing works together for his good. In all the ages of eternity he will never be able to point to a single moment of his life and say that then and there the Lord loved me, sought my good and blessed me. Indeed, the curse of Jehovah followed him in all his ways. He may have had and enjoyed, as did that rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, all the things of this world in abundance, but one thing he lacked: the mercy and favor of the Lord. However, God’s goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. O, it is true that we often depart from the path of God’s precepts. And when we depart from the path of God’s precepts we cannot and do not experience the love and mercy of our God. This blessedness will be ours, this blessed assurance we will experience only when we, by the grace of God, repent of our sin and return unto the Lord, through Jesus, Christ, our Lord. However, nothing can alter the fact that God’s goodness and mercy will never depart from us or forsake us. It is only because of this goodness and mercy that the elect sinner turns from his evil way and unto the Lord. Constantly the living God will perfect His work, watch over him. He has once begun His work, causes all things to work together for our good. Nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. And of this we can be sure because the Lord is our Shepherd. And the Lord here is Jehovah, the I AM THAT I AM, the Rock, the unchangeable God of His covenant. Jehovah is my life and my salvation. Whom, therefore, shall I fear? Jehovah is the strength of my life. Of nothing need I be afraid. I am surely more than conqueror.