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Surely

Psalm 23
David A. Davis
May 8, 2022
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The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever (Psalm 23, KJV).

The shepherd. The green pastures. The still waters. What grabs your ear when you hear Psalm 23? Every time you say it, you read it, Psalm 23, what image do you linger on with your mind’s eye? Paths of righteousness. The valley of the shadow of death. Thy rod. Thy staff. What part of the promise of Psalm 23 is most helpful to you? What part of the comfort most meaningful? What part of Psalm 23 rests in your heart? A table prepared? Head dripping with oil? Cup runneth over? Goodness and mercy all the days of my life? Dwelling in the house of the Lord forever?

Psalm 23 forever etched into the collective memory of the people of God. Etched not in stone but in the heart. A singular psalm but with so many pieces, images, metaphors, words to grab unto. Etched. Engraved. Written deep within. Yet, still, a living word. For our experience, our found meaning of Psalm 23 so depends on when we hear it, where we hear it, and the goings on in our life, when and where we hear it. Psalm 23, like other well-worn but never worn-out pieces of scripture, not just living word. But a word that has a life of it’s own.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever (Psalm 23, KJV).

Surely. Surely. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Surely. Surely God’s goodness and mercy (God’s and surely not mine) God’s goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of life. God’s mercy and goodness all the days. God’s mercy and goodness shall dog me, pursue me, follow me. God who leadeth beside still waters will surely follow we with God’s goodness and mercy. Ahead and behind. Go before and come after. God’s goodness and mercy all the days. God’s goodness and mercy all around. God’s goodness and mercy always. Surely.

Not a common word to be drawn to in Psalm 23. Easy to pass over and skip altogether. Most translations keep it there. Surely. A few contemporary versions drop it all together. One translation has it as “yes”. “Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life”. A Hebrew dictionary provides several definitions of the Hebrew adverb: surely, indeed, only, however. Of course, and as the dictionary flat out states, the choice of meaning is determined by the context. How it is used in the sentence. Surely, goodness and mercy.

It’s sort of sounds like a bible word. Surely. Actually, it is more of an Old Testament word. Of course the word occurs in the New Testament. But it’s there a lot more in the Old Testament. “Surely the Lord’s salvation is at hand for those who fear the Lord, that the Lord’s glory may dwell in our land.” Psalm 85. “Surely God is my salvation: I will trust, and will not be afraid.” Isaiah 12. Isaiah 53. “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions.” Surely.

Interestingly, there is an abundance of “surely” in the Book of Job. Mostly in the conversation Job has with his three friends. Job in his suffering trying to understand why. “Surely God has worn me out.” Yes, God has worn me out. The friend convinced Job is to blame. “If you are pure and upright, surely then God will rouse for you and restore to you your rightful place.” If you are pure and upright, indeed God will rouse for you. The friend trying to convince Job and likely himself, that God is still faithful. “Surely God is mighty and does not despise any one; God is mighty in strength and understanding.” It has a twinge not simply of emphasis, indeed God is mighty. Yes, God is mighty. But a bit of reassurance and reminder. “Surely, God is still mighty and does not despise any one, right?” Surely, God! It has both an exclamation point and a question mark. “Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life!? Promising, steadfast, faithful God?”

Surely. Yes, how it is used in the sentence, the context of the sentence points to its meaning. But the context of your life impacts the meaning as well. The meaning of a word so easy to skip over in Psalm 23. You know the multiple contexts of Psalm 23 in our lives as well as I do. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” It’s not just when we are gathered over at the cemetery. It’s not just when it is your family’s term to sit in the front row at a memorial service. No, it is when it is memorized in a church school class. When it is a daily scripture for Vacation Bible School. When it shapes a family retreat weekend. When it is said around the family dinner table. When it is part of a child’s bedtime prayers. When it is recited with babe in arms who is just falling asleep. When memories come back of being taught Psalm 23 by a mother or a grandmother. When a loved one has trouble remembering anything but doesn’t miss a word of Psalm 23 when you say it together. When a congregation sings “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” and “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” and “The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want.” You know the multiple contexts of your life with Psalm 23 and you know the multiple seasons of your life as well. Surely, Psalm 23 is a psalm for all seasons.

It strikes me that when we recite Psalm 23 we almost always do it together. In congregation. In class. In family. If you’ve never done it, you ought to do it all alone. Just you and God. You pick the time and the place. Recite it. Say it out loud. It works pretty much any time, any place. And when you do, let “surely” hang in the air for just a bit. Ponder your “surely”. One day it will be an exclamation of praise and gratitude, emphasis, and affirmation. “Surely….goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Surely, Great God Almighty! Another day it will come with awe and wonder like breathing in a fresh the grace of God, shaking your head, and saying, “my, my, my”. “Surely….goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Surely, My sweet Lord! And some days, plenty of days and a whole lot more nights, it may be just the reminder, the reassurance, and honest prayer that you need. “Surely….goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Surely, God!?

And when you can’t find the time and place, or you don’t have all of Psalm 23 on the tip of your tongue, or the pace of life is overwhelming, or the emotion of the moment is too much or the stress of the day, or the butterflies in your gut, or you just don’t want to be embarrassed saying it all out loud, just try this. It’s not much but it means a whole lot more than you think. Just say it under your breath and when you need it most.

Surely. Surely. Surely.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever (Psalm 23, KJV).


Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible. Public Domain.