Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…
Like “good,” “love” is another word in English that can have a huge range in connotations. I can love ice cream, and my children. I can love a traffic-free commute, and my husband. One use speaks of a preference or appreciation, the other reveals a deep affection and commitment. I think we need more words for love!
The word that the NIV translates as “love” in Psalm 23:6 is an incredibly rich concept. In Hebrew, it is hesed. Other translations say “goodness and mercy” in verse 6. In other places in the Old Testament hesed is translated as steadfast love, everlasting love, loving kindness, faithfulness, or loyal love, depending on the translation.
Old Testament scholar John Goldingay prefers translating it as commitment because hesed is a covenant related word. “Commitment implies pledging oneself to someone when one has no prior obligation to do so, or keeping such a pledge of commitment no matter what happens.” Even when the other party fails and is unfaithful, God’s steadfast love is sure. For that reason, the human response to God’s hesed should be unfaltering devotion and allegiance to the Lord, “against the odds, if necessary.”
The best kinds of human relationships exhibit this kind of hesed. We should love our children unconditionally, no matter what. We should be steadfast in our friendships. In our marriage vows, many of us pledged our commitment to our spouse “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live.” We made a vow to our spouse that should be unbreakable.
Thus, hesed is not based on momentary feelings, but determined faithfulness. Even when we don’t like what our spouses, children, or friends do in the moment, we should stay committed to them in the long run. That’s the commitment God makes to us! Because humans are sinful and their relationships can become horribly dysfunctional, there are exceptions. But the example set by God is one of forever, everlasting, never-giving-up, committed love. And aren’t we grateful for it?
No sheep from his flock can wander so far that the Good Shepherd won’t pursue them and bring them home. Psalm 23:6 assures us that God’s hesed is as vigorous as his goodness and always follows us. This is not a passive, “I hope this works out somehow” kind of love. The love our God has for us is as relentless as it is powerful. It’s what compelled Jesus to go to the cross to die so he could secure our place in the house of the Lord forever.
What does God’s steadfast love mean to you? How can you show your commitment to God in return?
Go before the Lord and sit in silence for a minute or two. If you’re mind starts to wander, say “Here I am Lord.” Now praise God that his goodness and love follow you all the days of your life. Think about the ways he shows you his steadfast love and thank him for them. Ask him to strengthen your commitment to him.