Sometimes reading a different translation of a familiar passage or psalm opens up vistas of new understanding. I’ve been using Alec Motyer’s Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation. I’ve been struck with his translation of Psalm 23. The English translations of this beloved Psalm don’t seem to vary much, but Motyer’s grasp of the Hebrew text has more than once inspired me. Below is his translation of verses 4 through 6:
4. Even when I am walking in the valley of deadly shadows
I do not fear evil,
because you are ever with me:
your rod and your staff reassure me.
5. You lay a table before me, in front of my adversaries.
You have refreshed my head with oil; my cup is more than full!
6. But indeed good and committed love
will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will return to Yahweh’s house for ever.[i]
Motyer, in his insightful endnotes, makes this observation about verse four, “However black the next stretch of the journey through the valley may seem, verse 4 changes from the ‘he’ of shepherd-leadership (v. 3) to the ‘you’ of side-by-side companionship: My shepherd is beside me.”[ii]
What a picture of Jesus’ care for us during our days of trial and suffering. He is not disinterested with third person viewpoint, but up close and personal, right next to us in our circumstances. King David experienced this and so can we, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Motyer envisions Psalm 23 written about David’s flight from Jerusalem and Absalom’s pursuit (2 Sam. 17). This makes verse 6 even more poignant. “But indeed good and committed love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will return to Yahweh’s house for ever.” (emphasis mine). Though Absalom pursues David, Yahweh’s pursuit is even greater. “Whenever danger pursues there is always a greater pursuit afoot – Yahweh’s goodness and committed love.”[iii]
“Pursue” is a stronger and more accurate word than the traditional “follow.” Follow is more passive. God’s chesed (Hebrew – lovingkindness, steadfast love, covenantal love) pursues me, never lets me go (radaph – pursue, chase, persecute).
This is the true story of the gospel. God the Father doesn’t passively follow us, hoping we will somehow turn around and acknowledge Him. No, He leaves the 99 and pursues us “all the days of my life.”
[i] Alec Motyer, Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation, (Ross-shire, Scotland, Christian Focus Pub. 2016), 60
[ii] Ibid., 61
[iii] Ibid., 60