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Psalm 23: The Final Verse

Mar 23, 2018

אַ֤ךְ ׀ ט֤וֹב וָחֶ֣סֶד יִ֭רְדְּפוּנִי כׇּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֑י וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְּבֵית־יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה לְאֹ֣רֶךְ יָמִֽים׃

Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of Hashem for many long years.

AKH TOV va-KHE-sed yir-d'-FU-nee kol y'-MAY kha-YAI v'-shav-TEE b'-vayt a-do-NAI l-O-rekh ya-MEEM

Psalms 23:6

If we look at the final verse of Psalm 23 separated from its context we see a beautiful statement of peace and satisfaction with one’s life. Only good and kindness. Wow! No suffering at all. No encounters with evil. Truly a blessed life. How rare and blessed must a person be to live a life in which there is only good and kindness? I, for one, can not really imagine that such a person exists.

But if we broaden our perspective on this verse and look at the verses of the Psalm that leads up to this final verse, we see something very different.

Even as I walk in the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil…

Your rod and your staff…

You set a table before me against my enemies

Our psalmist has walked in the valley of the shadow of death. He has felt the stinging rebuke of the Lord’s rod. And apparently, he has enemies with whom he must contend.

It seems that his life has had much more than only good and kindness. So what did he mean when he wrote our verse?

I believe that we can understand the full meaning of this verse – and the entire Psalm 23 – by comparing it to a sequence of verses elsewhere in Psalms.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besieges me; my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell 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.

For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in his dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:1-5)

Like Psalm 23, Psalm 27 has David declaring that he has no fear despite the enemies who seek to harm him. Notice that in these verses from Psalm 27 the Psalmist’s desire to dwell in the house of the Lord is sandwiched between verses that describe how God keeps him safe and that he does not fear.

By looking that these two psalms side by side we see that David’s use of the idea of dwelling in the house of the Lord is consistent in both of these Psalms. David sees the house of the Lord as the place in which he has been sheltered from fear and harm. In this place he is no longer concerned about enemies and attackers. In the house of the Lord he feels secure and free to bask in the glory of God’s presence.

Only good and kindness pursue me all the days of my life;

The Hebrew verb root for pursue that is used here – RDF – usually refers to an attacker pursuing a victim. It is true that there are other instances where it refers to a positive pursuit; for example, in the well known verse, Justice, justice shall you pursue (Deuteronomy 20:16). Nevertheless, the connotation of a threatening attacker pursuing his victim is certainly the more common usage in Scripture.

Based on this nuance of the word pursue, as well as the broader context of the verses that preceded our verse, I would like to suggest a deeper understanding of the closing line of Psalm 23.

Only good and kindness pursue me all the days of my life;

In my comments to verse 1 I made reference to Jacob, the first person to refer to the Lord as a shepherd, who used this description of God at the end of his life. Jacob suffered greatly throughout his life. He was repeatedly threatened by enemies who sought to harm him. And at the end of his life, in recognition of the truth – that God protected him and guided him throughout all of his troubles – he refers to God as the One who shepherded him from birth to the end. (Genesis 48:15)

Perhaps this is the meaning of our verse. Only good and kindness pursue me all the days of my life… In other words, now that I realize that the Lord was with me all along, I realize that even the trials and difficulties that I encountered were for my own good. There was actually no evil at all. Only good and kindness pursue me. My pursuers – the attackers and threats – were just another expression of the Lord shepherding me and guiding me to Him.

It is easy to feel close to the Lord when we receive overt and obvious blessings. What David teaches us in Psalm 23 – and in Psalm 27 – is that to truly dwell in the house of the Lord; to truly live in His presence, we must understand and know that He is with us all the time. We are always in the presence of the Lord if we are willing to recognize that both the blessings and the difficulties that we experience are gifts from Him. With this deeper perspective on His presence in our lives we can truly merit to live in His presence – in His house – for all of our days.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Associate Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation in Jerusalem He is the author of Cup of Salvation: A Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise and co-Founder of Blessing Bethlehem, a program that assists the struggling Christian community of Bethlehem

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Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 23

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