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; so 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, “And 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 “pursue”—goodness and mercy shall “pursue” me. This suggests that divine care is unceasingly 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, 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 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 that the psalmist saw so beautifully portrayed in a shepherd’s care of his sheep.

“I Shall Not Want”

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 obey 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 ever failed to carry out that which he had promised. And what was true in the life of David is equally true in our experience today. The goodness of God in providing all the needs of his people during the Gospel Age is manifested more particularly along spiritual lines, but to those who live by faith and who are setting their affections on things above rather than on the things of the 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 it 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 could not say, “I shall not want,” but from the standpoint of the new creature he could 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 new creature, begotten by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, was being nourished and built up by the spiritual food so abundantly supplied to him by the Good Shepherd.

“Green Pastures”

Following his general affirmation of God’s goodness and mercy—“I shall not want”—David then begins to itemize, from the shepherd’s standpoint, the various ways in which the Lord’s care is manifested. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Here we are reminded of God’s abundant 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 in 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.” How wonderfully green and refreshing and satisfying are the pastures of present truth! Truly these green pastures satisfy our longings 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 in this “time of trouble,” is the confidence it gives us, the peace of heart and mind. 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, now present to set up his kingdom, has led us.

“Still Waters”

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

And how true this is of the waters of truth of which the Lord’s sheep are privileged to drink during this harvest period at the end of the age! Beginning with the return of our Lord, these waters were caused to flow in a deep and inexhaustible stream of refreshment—a stream that has been readily available for all who have had ears to hear and 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 their thirsting after righteousness they have been filled to overflowing, that their thirst has been quenched.

“He Restoreth My Soul”

In outlining the various ways in which he assures us that we shall not want, David draws illustrations from the life of the shepherd that remind us not only of God’s goodness but also of his mercy. This is why, in summing up his meditation, he says so appropriately and eloquently, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” God’s mercy is, of course, a manifestation of his goodness, but it is a goodness that operates under different circumstances. God supplies our needs 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 in sore need of his mercy.

It is this that the psalmist spoke of when he wrote of the Good Shepherd, “He restoreth my soul”—literally, “He saveth my life.” It required an exercise of God’s mercy, operating through the saving grace which is in Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd, in order 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 and from the remainder of the flock. In this unhappy position we are exposed to the various enemies of the sheep. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing, ready to devour us. And worst of all, our great adversary, the Devil, goeth about “as a roaring lion,” seeking whom he may devour. Because of these and other enemies, our lives are in danger, particularly if we do not keep close to the Good Shepherd. But he is merciful; yea, we are “pursued” by his mercy; and when we are in these positions of special danger, threatened by enemies too cunning and too powerful for us to resist, he comes to our rescue, and in his great mercy he restores our souls.

There are no enemies of the Lord’s sheep who are able to pluck them away from the protecting care of the Good Shepherd. Because of our imperfections we may inadvertently expose ourselves to danger, but even then divine mercy pursues us, and we are restored to safety. 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.

“Paths of Righteousness”

Divine goodness is further manifested in the fact that the Good Shepherd leads us in “the paths of righteousness”—or right paths. We need divine wisdom in order to walk in the right way, and this is promised to us if we ask in faith, nothing doubting. (James 1:5,6) But we must be willing to obtain divine wisdom through God’s appointed channel, which is his inspired Word. It is through the Word of God 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, although 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 manifested toward us in this connection by the fact that those who are led by the Good Shepherd to the end of the path of righteousness, the narrow way, and are faithful all the way to the end will have the privilege of living and reigning with Christ a thousand years. They suffer with him, but through faithfulness in suffering they will share his glory and be with him on his throne.

In a most wonderful manner, then, divine goodness is demonstrated in that 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. And truly we need that strength, 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.”

The Valley of Death

David cites an extreme condition of danger and hardship through which a shepherd sometimes finds it necessary to lead his sheep and declares 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, that 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 and, in fact, dying, 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. And how good the Lord is, that we should be permitted to hear that voice saying to us, “Follow me.” We respond and, while the way in which he leads is difficult and fraught with danger on every hand, leading in the end to sacrificial death, we know that by following it we will escape from the valley of the shadow of death to 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.

The Lord’s Table

Who can question the goodness and mercy of the Good Shepherd as evidenced by the table of rich spiritual food he prepares for us in the presence of our enemies? There is a special sweetness attached to this thought, 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 abundant provision for his sheep throughout the entire age, and truly he has cared for them in their every time of need. But now, more than ever before, he is feeding his sheep, having prepared a table of the choicest spiritual food—food that is designed to give them strength to overcome all the enemies that surround them in this “evil day.” How truly wonderful are his goodness and mercy when viewed from the standpoint of the special provision he has made for us at this time! Let us appreciate this specially prepared table, partake of the “meat in due season” which is spread out before us, and thereby be strengthened to follow the Good Shepherd in this time when so many are falling by the wayside.

The Holy Spirit

“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 he not only manifests his goodness by the outpouring of his Holy Spirit, but as we are filled with the Spirit and yield ourselves to its sweet influence, we partake of divine goodness and are transformed into the image of God.

And 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, and by it we are also begotten to a new life and become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It fills us with love and gives us power and the spirit of a sound mind. It bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. Our relationship to 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 manifested, enriching our own lives and blessing others. Truly the goodness of the Lord is demonstrated by his gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Overflowing Cup

In view of all these wonderful ways in which the psalmist has indicated that the goodness and mercy of the Lord are pursuing us, what could be the experience of life except that suggested by the statement that our cup runneth over? And this is true of each individual “sheep” who is following the Good Shepherd. Not only are the Shepherd’s goodness and mercy revealed in the wonderful provisions which have been made for all his sheep alike, but he takes a personal and individual interest in them, providing each one with a “cup” peculiarly adapted to his special needs. And that cup runs over, being a full provision for our every time of need. Truly each one of us can say, “I shall not want!”

One of the very marked tendencies of fallen human nature is the lack of constancy. It is a common failing of most of the race to start out zealously along some line of endeavor but soon weary of their 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. How often we make a feeble effort to bear witness to the truth, through tract distribution or otherwise, and after a week or two give it up and seek an easier way to serve the Lord. But God is not changeable. He is constant in the fulfillment of his promises.

We need not fear that the green pastures will continue for but a few days, nor that the still waters of truth will dry up and leave us thirsting in vain for the refreshment they give. There is no danger that the Good Shepherd might not be on hand 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 lead, 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 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.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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