“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” begins one of the most famous passages in scripture. For many, Psalm 23 is their favorite part of the Bible. The whole thing is absolutely beautiful, but today I just want to focus on a phrase at the end.
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. (Ps. 23:6, KJV)
The Hebrew word translated “mercy” here is often translated “loving kindness” in more modern versions of the Bible. And this isn’t the only place where God’s loving, kind mercies are linked with His inherent goodness.
O Give Thanks For Who God Is
The link between goodness and kindness is mentioned again and again in songs of praise. Ten times in the Bible we’re told to praise and thank Yahweh “for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever” (1 Chr. 16:34; 2 Chr. 5:13; 7:3; Ezr. 3:11; Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1; Jer. 33:11).
Goodness and loving kindness are an essential part of God’s nature and character. Yahweh (to use His proper name) “is good. His loving kindness endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 105:5, WEB). This isn’t something that’s ever going to change. We can count on Yahweh — both the Father and the Son — being good, lovingly kind, and faithful forever and ever. And when we walk with them, we’ll get to experience Their goodness and kindness directly.
In Hebrew, the two words used here are tob (H2896 goodness) and chesed (H2617 loving kindness). When passages from the Old Testament containing these words are quoted in the New, loving kindness is translated using the Greek word for mercy (G1656 elos), as when Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 12:7. The word for goodness is translated using two different Greek words, which we’ll look at next.
Goodness, Kindness, Mercy, and Faith
I got started on this study by looking at the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22. I wanted to see if the word translated into English as either gentleness or kindness (G5544 chrestotes) was equivalent to the Hebrew word for loving kindness (chesed), which I’d recently heard a sermon on.
Instead, I discovered a linguistic link between kindness and goodness. In quoting the Old Testament in Romans 3:12 and 1 Pet. 3:10, the Hebrew word for good (tob) is translated to Greek in one place as chrestotes and in another as agathos (G18, good). Agathos also shows up in the fruits of the spirit, usually translated as “goodness.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23, WEB)
I find these linguistic connections fascinating, but we probably don’t need a study of Hebrew and Greek tell us that God’s goodness, kindness, and mercy are inseparable.
It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassion doesn’t fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. … Yahweh is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. (Lam. 3:22-23, 25, WEB)
Pursuing His Flock
Back in Psalm 23, when it says that goodness and loving kindness will follow me, the Hebrew word translated “follow” is radaph (H7291). It can also mean pursue or run after. It’s not a passive word, but one that tells us of God’s eagerness to be good and kind toward us.
For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive; abundant in loving kindness to all those who call on you. (Ps. 86:5, WEB)
It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). He’s highly invested in the people He shepherds and in bringing all those who are lost into His flock.
What do you think? If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains, and seek that which has gone astray? If he finds it, most certainly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matt. 18:12-14, WEB)
Our God is faithful to all His promises, including the promises that He will treat us with kindness, goodness, and mercy. We can put our trust in Him, confident that goodness and loving kindness with surely follow us and that He will make it possible for us to dwell with Him forever.
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