What Does Psalm 23:6 Mean?

What Does Psalm 23:6 Mean?

Psalm 23 is one of the most well known and frequently quoted psalms in the Bible, but sometimes, when something has become very familiar, we can become kind of blind to it, so let’s take a few moments to consider just  one verse from this wonderful psalm.

Who wrote Psalm 23:6?

The Book of Psalms is an anthology of Hebrew religious hymns, lyrics intended for a musical accompaniment, written by a variety of authors between the 9th and 5th centuries BC.

About half the psalms in the Book of Psalms are attributed to King David and this is one of them. As a boy, David had worked as a shepherd and so it is natural for him to talk about his relationship with God and the relationship of God with his people, as that of a shepherd tending his flock. 


Statue of King David


What is the meaning of Psalm 23:6?


 Psalm 23:6 New International Version


‘Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’  


That word ‘surely’ used to puzzle me a little. I took it in the modern sense of ‘Surely you’re not going to wear that tie to the Prom?’ As we use it now ‘surely’ has a built-in question, but back when the King James Bible was written the meaning was ‘certainly,’ ‘ without risk of failure’; it was a word used to express a strong belief in the statement. David is certain that because of his faith, ‘goodness and love’ will be his constant companions while he is alive. David has passed through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ and he looks toward the journey’s end, an eternity in heaven, where he will live in God’s house. The psalms of David are filled with a desire to be close to God.

‘One thing I have desired of the Lord, that I will seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life…’

Psalm 27:4  KJV

David’s son, Solomon, would later build a temple so that God could dwell amongst his people.

‘And let them make me a sanctuary;

That I may dwell among them.’  Exodus 25:8  KJV

That image of living in someone’s house is a wonderfully accessible way to understand a Christian’s relationship with God: it’s an image of intimacy and security. To live in God’s house, what more could we desire?


'Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life' Psalm 23:6


Psalm 23:6 King James Version

‘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.’

We can see that the NIV follows KJV almost word for word. NIV inserts the word ‘your’ so that we understand that ‘goodness’ comes directly from God, but then it changes the word ‘mercy’ to ‘love’. Why? Are we uncomfortable with the word ‘mercy’? Is it somehow tangled up in our minds with notions of a violent aggressor? ‘Mercy’ as it is used in the King James Bible means the unconditional love of God.  

Psalm 23:6 New American Standard Bible

‘Certainly goodness and faithfulness will follow me all the days of my life, 

And my dwelling will be in the house of the Lord forever.’

The NASB eliminates any confusion around the word ‘surely’ by substituting ‘ certainly’ which I think is a helpful modernisation, but I’m not so sure about the substitution of ‘faithfulness’ for ‘mercy’. They are not synonyms and therefore this seems to me unhelpful. What do you think? I also can’t see that ‘and my dwelling’ is of more help to the modern reader than ‘I will dwell’. 


Field with green grass and daisies


Psalm 23:6 The Message

‘Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.

I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.’

The Message is all about accessibility, I get that, it’s a noble intention and at its best it’s a lively and engaging contemporary text, but sometimes, like here for example, the original meaning gets lost. Is ‘goodness’ the same as ‘beauty’ ? Maybe. Is ‘forever’ the same as ‘the rest of my life’? I don’t think so. David is talking about living in ‘the house of the Lord’ for eternity, that’s a big difference. What do you think?

Psalm 23:6 in context

This is the concluding verse of this great psalm which begins with the statement ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ and ends with the word ‘forever’. 

This short psalm has moved from life, through death, to eternity.


'and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ Psalm 23:6


Reflections on Psalm 23:6

There is a blissful confidence about this most beautiful of verses which never fails to lift the heart.


Read next: What is the meaning of Psalm 23? Now we've taken a look at this verse, why not look at the whole Psalm? This bible verse can be found in the Book of Psalms and generally well known for his first sentence: "The Lord is my Shepherd..."


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