Psalm 23:6 Commentary | Pursuit of Faithfulness, Divine Presence

Psalm 23:6 Meaning

Psalm 23:6 Text & Translation

אַ֤ךְ׀ ט֤וֹב וָחֶ֣סֶד יִ֭רְדְּפוּנִי כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֑י וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְּבֵית־יְ֝הוָ֗ה לְאֹ֣רֶךְ יָמִֽים׃1

Surely, goodness and loyal love will pursue me all the days of my life | and I will return to the house of the LORD for the length of my days (Ps 23:6, AT)

Pursuit of Faithfulness

Loyal love is the Hebrew word חֶסֶד (ḥesed), which is often translated “lovingkindness”2 or “steadfast love”.3 It refers to when a stronger party freely delivers a weaker party4 (cf. study on David’s ḥesed to Saul’s grandson/Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9).

“Follow” may be too weak of a translation;5 the word here means to pursue (רָדַף | rādap). The LORD’s goodness and loyal love “aggressively pursues”6 the psalmist.

Interestingly, in the psalms, typically it is enemies who pursue psalmists in order to do them harm.7 For example:

My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue [rādap] me. (Ps 31:15, NIV; cf. Ps 7:5, 35:3, 71:11, 109:16;8 Ps 7:1, 18:37; 69:26 cf. positive pursuit in Ps 34:14, 38:20)9

1 Contend, LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. 2 Take up shield and armor; arise and come to my aid. 3 Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue [rādap] me. Say to me, “I am your salvation.” (Ps 35:1-3, NIV).

LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue [rādap] me, or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me. (Ps 7:1, NIV)

The psalmist implies that The LORD’s goodness and loyal love will chase after us continually.10

For the Rest of My Days

Though “forever” is a common translation, the text literally says “to length of days” (length: אֹרֶך |ʾōrek),11 which metaphorically just means “a very long time”.12

Some say this phrase may refer to “everlasting afterlife” (cf. Ps 91:16, Is 53:10;13 Ps 93:5; Lam 5:20; Is 53:10)14 and that the psalmist has confidence he will be with God in the next life.15

This phrase can be interpreted this way in other Old Testament passages. In the Isaiah’s great prophecy of the Suffering Servant, who was fulfilled by Jesus Christ, it says:

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. (Is 53:9-11, NIV)

In this prophecy, it appears that the Servant dies (assigned a grave in Is 53:9) and is made a sacrificial sin offering (Is 53:10). Nonetheless the LORD will prolong his days (the same phrase as length of days; Is 53:10) and he will see the light of life (Is 53:11). Maybe this implies not only a resurrection but eternal life.

Perhaps more convincingly, Psalm 93:5 says:

Your statutes, LORD, stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days. (Ps 93:5, NIV)

Endless days  is a translation of the same phrase in Psalm 23:6. And surely, in a certain sense, it can be argued that the LORD’s holiness adorn His house forever.

That being said, that the psalmist here is envisioning eternal life may be unlikely.16

The Old Testament view of the afterlife is not as clear as it is in the New Testament (cf. Dan 12:1-3).17 However, to have confidence that we Christians will dwell with the LORD forever is not wrong (cf. Rom 8:35f).18

Romans 8:35-39 reminds us:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Not death nor anything else will separate us from God.

Dwell/Return to the LORD’s House

Nonetheless, the house the LORD that the psalmist is singing about, as was previously suggested in our commentary on Ps 23:5, is most likely the Temple.19

The verb may be return ( שׁוּב | šûb),20 which would make sense following the pursuit of the LORD’s goodness and loyal love,21 or dwell (יָשַׁב | yāšab cf. LXX).22 In the Hebrew, the two words look similar depending on their conjugation.23

We see similar language and themes in other Psalms. For example:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell [yāšab] in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. (Ps 27:14, NIV).24

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. (Ps 100:3-4, NIV).25 (likely referring to the gates and courts of the Temple).

That being said, the Temple is where “God made his presence known among his people”,26 but no people literally lived or dwelt there.

Also, return recalls the Ps 23:3 where the psalmist sings that the LORD “refreshes my soul” (lit. returns my soul).

Either way, the final destination is in the presence of the LORD.27

As mentioned earlier in our commentary on Ps 23:1, The LORD begins and ends the psalm (Ps 23:1, 6).28 — bracketing the song with His Name.

For the length of his days, the psalmist wants to be in the presence of the LORD29continuously,30 “time and [time] again”.31

For God’s presence is the ultimate present. 

Conclusion

The psalmist sings confidently that the LORD’s goodness and loyal love will pursue him continually. The psalmist longs to return to the house of the LORD (i.e., the Temple) time and time again. For God’s presence is the ultimate present.

For more commentary, please see the Psalm 23 Bible Study page. The full bibliography can be found here, and the slideshow for this study can be viewed and downloaded here.

Sources

  1. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Ps 23:6.
  2. TWOT, 305; BDB, 339; Craigie, 208
  3. TWOT, 305; Kidner, 130
  4. Waltke, 443
  5. contra UBS, 235
  6. Davis, 507 cf. Broyles, 124; Goldingay, 353
  7. Jacobson, 244; Goldingay, 353; Kraus, 308
  8. Jacobson, 244
  9. Goldingay, 353
  10. Goldingay, 353; Waltke, 443
  11. cf. Motyer, 501; Matthews et. al. IVP; Futato, 102; Kidner, 130
  12. UBS, 236
  13. TWOT, 72
  14. Waltke, 444
  15. Davis, 507
  16. Futato, 102
  17. Longman, 137
  18. Kidner, 130; Longman, 137
  19. UBS, 236; Walton, 341; Longman, 137
  20. cf. MT; Broyles, 125
  21. Waltke, 444
  22. Matthews et. al. IVP; Jacobson, 244
  23. cf. UBS, 235-236; Motyer, 501; Futato, 101
  24. Matthews IVP; Futato, 102
  25. Broyles, 123; Jacobson, 240
  26. Longman, 137
  27. Jacobson, 244; Goldingay, 353
  28. Futato, 102
  29. UBS, 236; Longman, 137
  30. Walton, 341
  31. Matthews et. al IVP
About @DannyScottonJr 198 Articles
Imperfect Servant ✝📖⛪ | Husband | Princeton U. Alum | M. Div. Student | Assistant (to the) Pastor | Sound Doctrine & Apologetics @catchforchrist