Psalm 23 portrays the close relationship David enjoys with his God. It begins with the metaphor of a shepherd leading his lamb, highlighting the Lord’s personal care, guidance, and protection. In the closing verses, the imagery intensifies with even greater intimacy as David is welcomed into the Lord’s house as a permanent guest, continual resident, and friend: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:5–6, ESV).
David acknowledges that his standing with the Lord is not like a visitor who is entertained once and then must leave or as one who is invited to return only occasionally. No, David rejoices that he has been given a perpetual place setting at the Lord’s table.
Anointing a person’s head with oil was an ancient custom of courtesy, respect, and hospitality shown toward guests. In Psalm 23, David sees himself as an honored guest of the Lord, who invites him to dinner, favorably anoints him, and pours out such lavish abundance that David’s cup is filled to overflowing.
Goodness and mercy are depicted as attendants in the Lord’s household who accompany David for the rest of his life. The word for “goodness” in the original language means “that which is pleasing or valuable or useful.” The term for “mercy” is sometimes translated as “loyal love,” “steadfast love,” or “unfailing love.” The same word is used of God’s love as it relates to the faithfulness of His covenant. The verb translated as “follow” here means “to accompany, or to go with.” It should not be understood as “pursue or run after.”
When David said, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” he was giving human-like qualities to abstract blessings of the Lord. A paraphrase might be, “Because You, Lord, are good, pleasing, and valuable, and because You love me so faithfully, I am certain You will be with me all my life.”
David’s good and merciful Shepherd is the same God who passed in front of Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6, ESV). He is the same God to whom Israel sang, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34). Even in the presence of his enemies, David was sure of God’s goodness and faithful love (Psalm 23:5).
As believers, we can trust that the Lord’s overflowing blessings will remain with us no matter what circumstances we face (Psalm 27:13; 31:19; 69:16). If we dwell in the house of the Lord continually, we are under His constant protection: “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 27:4–5; see Psalm 52:8; 61:4; 63:2–4).
God is the perfect Shepherd and Host. As our Shepherd, the Lord provides personal care, guidance, companionship, protection, and security. And as our eternal Host, God welcomes us to feast at His rich table of abundant and overflowing blessings. We will abide in His house forever. His presence, protection, and unfailing love will surround us for all eternity. And we can say with David, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life!”