We are looking at the assurances that David tells us about in the twenty-third Psalm. Last week we saw the assurance of pursuing goodness. This week we will look at the assurance of pursuing mercy. John Stevenson explains these two words in Psalm 23 that are inseparable, “Goodness that shall supply him when he is in want—and Mercy that shall forgive him when he sins:—Goodness following to provide, and Mercy following to pardon. Not goodness alone, nor mercy alone, but goodness and mercy in inseparable companionship!”[1] That the menu items given to us by the gracious host are provision and pardon. Today we will see the great comfort and blessing which is found in such a small word, mercy.


We begin today to seek to explain and understand something hard to explain and impossible to truly understand. In the Epistle to the Romans Paul speaks of God’s mercy, he explains that those who did not know God’s mercy were shown God’s mercy to have God’s mercy (Rom 11:28-32). He then gives a glorious doxology of a reaction to God’s mercy, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). This small word is just that hard to explain and impossible to truly understand. We will begin seeking to explain this word. Most English Bibles translate this word, “mercy.” This is not a wrong translation; however, you might say that it is an incomplete translation because it does not fully capture the essence of the word. Out of all the words in the Bible, I do believe this is one of the most difficult. It is hard because it is more than one word. Daniel Bock explains, “ḥesed (NIV “kindness”) cannot be translated with one English word. It is a covenant term, wrapping up in itself all the positive attributes of God: love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty. In short, it refers to acts of devotion and lovingkindness that go beyond the requirements of duty.”[2] I have heard one preacher explain ‘Hesed’ as God’s stubborn love toward his people. We often think of stubbornness as a negative attribute. However, there can be a sense of never letting go because of a commitment made before as a tremendous virtue; the husband or wife who cares for their spouse no matter the cost. Sally Llyod Jones an author of children’s books explains this ‘hesed’ love of God as his, “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”

We can see how one word is hard to find, even two with the ESV commonly translating it as “steadfast love.” No one word encapsulates this Hebrew covenantal word. David knows of this Covenant faithfulness of God. David writes about this in Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22 where he speaks to the Lord the song after he had delivered him from the hands of his enemies, and Saul. David finished this song on the note of ‘hesed’. “Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.” (2 Samuel 22:51). In Psalm 23 he speaks of ‘hesed’ following him all the days of his life. And towards the end of his life, he ends his song to the Lord saying he does show ‘hesed’ to David and his children forever. Now we have sought to explain the small word, now let us begin to search out what is unsearchable.


Now, when we say it is unsearchable, we speak not of an impossible task because it is too small to be found. Nor something mystical that does not exist. But rather that it is too big to explore every portion. The ocean covers 71% of the earth’s surface, yet from as low as 5% to a maximum of 20% of the ocean has been explored, charted, and mapped by humans. The remainder is unexplored, uncharted, and unknown to us. However, this does not mean we know nothing about the ocean we can know 5% or 20%. We can place a number or percentage on the geographical boundaries of the ocean. However, we cannot do the same with the one who made the ocean. So when we speak of God being unsearchable, we do not speak of the impossible task of finding God in the ocean (per se). We speak that the ocean is before us, and we will never see all of it. Because even a child exploring a rock pool or a person with a snorkel will be amazed at what they find. So too with God. That even we can try and understand God’s mercy, even if we come back with the understanding that it is great.

Father of Mercies

As we saw last week, you must first start at the origins to understand what it is. Last week we saw that God is good and goodness comes from God. This is true of mercy. God is merciful and mercy comes from God. Paul says that God the Father is the Father of mercies (2 Cor 1:3). Paul writes to Titus saying, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). When Moses asks to see God’s glory to pass before him he is told that his goodness will pass before him. When he passes by Moses the Lord speaks and 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 merciful and gracious. We often think of these terms as synonymous. Berkhof explains the difference, “If the grace of God contemplates man as guilty before God, and therefore in need of forgiveness, the mercy of God contemplates him as one who is bearing the consequences of sin, who is in a pitiable condition, and who therefore needs divine help.” [3] They are two sides of the same coin. Mercy is God showing us compassion in our state of misery. Grace is the unmerited gift we receive from his mercy. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve (i.e. divine favor). Mercy is not getting what you do deserve (i.e. divine wrath). Moses records in Deuteronomy 4:31, “For the Lord, your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” His mercy comes from him towards us. Although we deserve to be left, destroyed, he turns back to his promise, not our own deeds. We see why Hesed is translated as mercy because this is how God uses this word in Deuteronomy 4; undeserved covenant faithfulness. We understand a broad concept of this mercy but let us dive deeper into the vast ocean to see four truths about his mercy.

Never earned

If mercy stems from God and who he is then it depends not on us. Paul makes this point very clear for us in Romans 9:15-16, “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” That is mercy, we are loved because we are unlovely. We are great sinners, shown great mercy. David understands this point very well as he begins Psalm 51, the great confession of his great sin against God when he murdered Uriah and took his wife, Bathsheba to be his wife. He begins this Psalm, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love (hesed); according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). He comes before the great and powerful God, and he knows it is mercy that he needs. As Paul puts it, not human will or exertion, but on God.


God has this mercy and his mercy is never-ending. The author of Lamentations famously wrote, “The steadfast love (hesed) of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23). Not only God is the Father of mercies he is the Father of never-ending mercies. As the modern hymn written by Keith and Kristen Getty, “His Mercy is more,” says, “What love could remember no wrongs we have done, Omniscient, all knowing, He counts not their sum, thrown into a sea without bottom or shore, our sins they are many, His mercy is more.” Do you think of yourself as a great sinner, then we need to know his checkbook does not have an order more form. His balance never goes into the red. His mercy has no limits, they never end. The overflowing cup is a picture of God’s never-ending mercies. Spurgeon said, “God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of his light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God.”[4] Not only are they never-ending, but they are new every morning. Every morning, as the sun rises over the horizon the date on the calendar, is a new date, and so too is the warmth of God’s mercy that shines upon you. They are not old mercies recycled. There is no automated letter. Because they are never-ending, they are always new. For the sheep following the good shepherd or the guest sitting at the great host’s table, the assurance comes that a new morning means new mercies.

Always winning

Not only are his mercies, never earned, never-ending, and always new but they are always triumphant. James writes, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Mercy always wins. Two options await people when Christ returns, mercy, and judgment. If you have been shown mercy you will not face judgment but if you do not have mercy, then judgment is the only other option. Tozer shows us the Cross and its relationship to mercy, “We get the odd notion that God is showing mercy because Jesus died. No—Jesus died because God is showing mercy. It was the mercy of God that gave us Calvary, not Calvary that gave us mercy.” The cross is the sign of God’s mercy toward us. The sheep of the good shepherd, the guest of the great host knows that mercy wins.

Always Abounding

Not only is God’s mercy never earned, ending and always new, winning but it is always great. Peter begins his epistle like Paul in 2 Corinthians, explaining, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3–4). Paul explains in Ephesians God’s abounding riches of this mercy, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:4–5). We find a great and glorious inheritance only because of God’s great and glorious mercy shown to us.

David writes in the twenty-third Psalm, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” These great assurances of the believer that these pursuing goodness and mercy shall follow the believer all the days that they walk this earth. So, what are we to do with these great assurances? Moses when confronted with these ideas is driven to his knees in worship of the God of goodness and mercy (Ex 34:8). Worship is the correct response when you realize what we deserve and what we receive. Secondly, we should see God as the Father of mercies, and we should go to him. David when confronted with his sin and his shame came before God because he knew he had mercy that was never ending (Ps 51:1). The Author of Hebrews explains, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16). Let us draw near to him. Thirdly, be a living sacrifice, Paul after his doxology as he contemplates the mercy of God says, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1). Fourthly, be merciful, Jesus says in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Once we understand this mercy shown to us how can we not show forth this mercy to others, even our enemies?


[1] John Stevenson, The Lord Our Shepherd: An Exposition of the Twenty-Third Psalm (New York; Pittsburg: Robert Carter, 1846), 200.

[2] Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 633–634.

[3] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 72.

[4] Elliot Ritzema and Elizabeth Vince, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Modern Church, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

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