Old Testament Psalms Psalm 23 Goodness gracious

Goodness gracious

The Psalmist has painted the news scene of the believer being served by the gracious host. We previously studied the passage and saw what type of Host the Lord is. But now the psalmist shifts the picture from the host to the menu. What does the Lord serve his guests? What are the benefits of the believers who sit at the Lord’s table? Like many lines of this Psalm, I think we have a poetic understanding of this Psalm. We hear the next line, goodness, and mercy, and we gloss over them. But in these two words, we find out more about this host and his blessings that he gives to those at his table. Over the next two weeks, we will spend time trying to understand these two blessings from Scripture. We will do this for a couple of reasons; the first is that they are both common words in our vocabulary, and when we use them frequently, we can think we know what they mean but our definition is tainted. Secondly; they have hijacked words in our vocabulary. Often words change over time and through their use of them they can lose their grandeur and power. But thirdly, these are the words of David, who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote of goodness and mercy. Not power and majesty, not grace and justice. So we will spend some time seeking to understand these words and why David used them.

A Sure Goodness

Before we begin to understand goodness, we need to look at the word that proceeds it. There are many things that a believer on their pilgrim journey will not understand. However, that does not mean we do not have any certainty or assurance. Paul says in Romans 8:28, “For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” Or even the chapter before, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me…” (Rom 7:18). Or John writes in 1 John 3:5, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him, there is no sin.” David the Psalmist has moments in his life where he does not know what tomorrow will bring (2 Sam 15:26).

Nevertheless, in this Psalm, he makes a bold assertion of what he does know, “Surely.” The believer who walks through this barren land can have a promise of certainty. I am always cautious of making a bold claim that is some form of guarantee. Many preachers sold more like a used car salesman with false warranters and promises. However, some promises are given to us in the Bible that we can say without a doubt. We need to understand we have biblical promises we do not get to define the terms of that promises or redefine words. We must have a biblical definition for these promises. For example, Paul promises that those who live a godly life will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12). We do not get to then explain that people not liking us for our brash rude arrogant attitude. This is not living in a godly manner but also the biblical definition of persecution is “for Jesus’ name sake,” mainly a person is persecuted for their faith in Jesus. David writes in the twenty-third Psalm the promise of two blessings that the believer will have, as the Lord is their shepherd; goodness and mercy. This week we will look at the assurance of goodness and next week the assurance of mercy.

The Fount of Goodness

The first assurance the Psalmist points out in Psalm 23 is that believers will have goodness follow them. The promise we have is that those who call the Lord their shepherd will have goodness following them. If any time we have a warning of misusing a biblical definition in the wrong way, it is the word good. Isaiah warns;

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20–21).

We have the warning that there are some that not only misuse or distort the definition but it is the opposite, good is evil and evil is good, light is dark, and bitter is sweet. So when we read Psalm 23 we read of goodness we think we have an understanding but we need to be cautious we have the Biblical understanding. Then we start asking the question “why is my life like this?”, “Where is my goodness?” Now, we could spend our time understanding what the word good does not mean but let us spend our understanding of how good is defined in the Bible.

God is good

To understand a biblical definition of goodness we must trace the stream back to the original fountainhead, God. Goodness is not merely a category or feeling. Goodness comes from God, as we will see because God is good. We cannot divide God into parts and say here is the holiness part of God, or this is the goodness part of God. In God, there are no parts. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question “what is God?” “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (WSC 4). In his being you find wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. All of these are inseparable, he is the most wise in his justice, etc. This is who God is. God does not only do good things, he is good, therefore all that he does is good. David writes in Psalm 25:8 (and other places), “Good and upright is the Lord.” God is Good, Thomas Manton explains, “He is originally good, good of Himself, which nothing else is; for all creatures are good only by participation and communication from God. He is essentially good; not only good, but goodness itself; the creature’s good is a superadded quality, in God, it is His essence. He is infinitely good; the creature’s good is but a drop, but in God, there is an infinite ocean or gathering together of good. He is eternally and immutably good, for He cannot be less good than He is; as there can be no addition made to Him, so no subtraction from Him.”[1]

When a young man comes up to Jesus and asks him a question about what must he do to inherit eternal life Jesus focuses on the adjective that this young man called him, “good teacher…” He explains, “No one is good except God alone.” Now we do not have time to unpack this interaction, but Jesus makes a great philosophical and theological statement here, that God is good, and him alone. This is his essence, who he is. God is good, Stephen Charnock has a great book called the Existence and Attributes of God. In this book, he has a chapter that explains the Goodness of God. “God is good as he is God, and therefore good by himself, and from himself, not by participation from another. He made everything good, but none made him good.”[2]

Now many people fail to understand this truth. They exchange the truth about God (God is good) for lies (God is evil). Some of the greatest dangers we have are when we assume that God is like us, evil or bad. Many questions seek to hit at this very doctrine of God, his goodness. Now there is a distinction between asking “why did this happen to me?” compared to “why did God do this evil thing to me?” See one questions the situation or circumstance while the other places God in the dock (stand). Charnock defines God’s Goodness as “the bounty of God.”[3] JI Parker uses a similar definition, “God’s cosmic generosity.”[4] His goodness is who he is. When Moses asks for God to show him his glory, God responds by saying, “I will make my goodness pass before you” (Ex 33:19). Charnock explains that his goodness is the “train of all his lovey perfections.”[5] Berkhof states that the goodness of God comes from an “inexhaustible foundation.”[6] As God’s goodness passes before Moses the Lord says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7).

God is goodness and goodness is God. When we often hear “goodness shall follow me.” We think of ‘good things,’ but we fail to see that it is the giver of the gift that makes something good or bad. The one who is Good in himself. Thus, praise should flow through our lips as we praise God for his goodness. In God there is perfect goodness, you cannot make God ‘more good’. Excuse this horrible English, but God is the ‘gooderest.’

God gives Goodness

God is good, but he also gives his goodness. Charnock explains that “The goodness of God is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures.”[7] It is not only that God is good, or bountiful, but that he also gives, shows, and deals this goodness to his creatures. All of them. That is why after creation God said, “It is very good” (Gen 1:31). Because of God’s goodness, everything he does, and gives is good. James says, every good and perfect gift comes from God (Jam 1:17). Jesus explains that man is evil, but can give good gifts, but God, our father in heaven gives good things for those who ask him (Matt 7:11). Charnock unpacks the idea that goodness is found in his generosity, without being able to pay anything back. God gives good things, without losing his goodness. No one can repay him for the goodness shown to his creatures. God, is the fountainhead of all goodness, and all goodness springs from him. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 104:28, “When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things” (Psalm 104:28). And in another place, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). All creation has received God’s goodness. We see God’s giving of goodness in the works of creation and providence. As Packer put it, “God’s cosmic generosity.” From his goodness stems good things to all. But particularly to believers. That those who make the bold statement, The Lord is my shepherd, and my great host shall have an abundance of goodness that follows them all the days of their life. They can make that statement with great assurance.

God’s gift of goodness is enough to pay for our abundance of ‘badness.’ Jesus said, “No one is good, except God alone.” Paul, quoting Psalm 14 and Isaiah 53, says no one does good (Rom 3:12). Terry Johnson summarizes Charnock’s teaching of how the fall was a failure to understand God’s goodness. Johnson summarizes Genesis 3 as; 1) Doubting God’s goodness (did God say?); 2) Denying God’s goodness (You will not surely die); 3) Defying God’s goodness (eating the forbidden fruit).[8] Paul later explains that we see God’s goodness in the Gospel, good news. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8). The gospel shows how bad we are, and how good God is. We can see God’s goodness in his creation, providence, and redemption. Charnock again shows that the goodness of God does not end at creation, or even providence but continues to redemption. “Divine goodness would not stand by a spectator, without being reliever of that misery man had plunged himself into; but by astonishing methods it would recover him to happiness, who had wrested himself out of his hands, to fling himself into the most deplorable calamity; and it was the greater since it surmounted those natural inclinations and those strong provocations which he had to shower down the power of his wrath.”[9] How much more does the Believer have to praise God for his goodness, because it is not only something shown through his eyes and senses but saved him from the bad sin within? The apostle John speaks of this good gift given from God, “Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:8–9). Again, Charnock sums it up beautifully, “See in all this (the gospel) what cost Goodness was at for man’s redemption. In creation his power made the sun shine upon us, and in redemption, his bowels sent a Son to die for us.”[10]

A Pursuing Goodness

David writes in the twenty-third Psalm that goodness follows me all the days of my life. Maybe a blunter way to translate this word would be that goodness purses me all the days of my life. It often speaks of an army chasing down an enemy. Again, this we often read as ‘good things will follow us. And by good things, we think of items in health, wealth, and happiness. However, when we understand that God is good and gives good things, then our definition changes. Something is not good because of itself but where it comes from. A cut from a doctor is different from an enemy. Many people seek ‘good things in this life but it ends in ruin. It is bad for them. The world focuses on ‘good things but the believer says only things that come from God are good. Just as the author of Hebrews points out, discipline comes from God the Father, but it is painful and not pleasant, but it is good (Heb 12:10-11). The world says sin is good, but sin leads to death. Goodness followed David when he was in the darkest valley. Goodness was around him when he was surrounded by enemies. The non-believer questions the goodness of God, but the believer trusts in the goodness of God in the bad seasons of their life. We understand then the pursuit of goodness. We see the goodness of God in the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul shows us the goodness of God in the end, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Then Paul explains the great golden chain of salvation ending in glorification. Or as Joseph told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20). The one who is the sheep of the shepherd, or the guest of the host will know of this goodness. They will love this goodness. They will give thanks to God for this goodness shown to them.



[1] Joel R. Beeke, Jehovah Shepherding His Sheep: Sermons on the Twenty-Third Psalm (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1997), 351.

[2] Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 285.

[3] Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 283.

[4] Packer, J. I. Knowing God. (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2011), 111.

[5] Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 284.

[6] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 70.

[7] Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 283–284.

[8] Terry Johnson, The Identity and Attributes of God (Edinburgh; Banner of Truth, 2019), 259-264.

[9] Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 317.

[10] Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 320.

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