The words of Psalm 23 are very familiar to all of us. Yet, unless we read that psalm through the eyes of a sheep, we will miss its magnificent message. Remember how it concludes? "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (KJV).
Think of goodness and mercy as God's sheepdogs. They stay with us, close by our side, "all the days of our lives." And what helpful companions they are!
The ancient Hebrews had one word they used most often for mercy: chesed, pronounced "kesed." It is frequently translated "kindness" and "lovingkindness." While grazing through the Old Testament this past week, I found no less than five different "miseries" to which mercy brings needed relief.
When we're suffering the pain of unfair and unjust consequences (Genesis 39:21-23). Joseph, when dumped into a dungeon because of a false accusation, was given chesed—divine relief. It relieved him of the misery of bitterness, the companion of unfair treatment.
When we're enduring the grief of a death (Ruth 1:8-9). Shortly after the premature deaths of her sons, Naomi asks the Lord to grant her grieving daughters-in-law chesed. God not only gives "dying grace." He also provides "grieving mercy," which relieves us of the misery of anger in the backwash of our accepting the loss of a loved one.
When we're struggling with the limitations of a handicap (2 Samuel 9). David extended chesed to Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan, and provided him a place at the king's table for the rest of his days. Mercy relieves the misery of self-pity that often accompanies a handicap.
When we are hurting physically (Job 10:12). The Lord gave chesed to Job, which strengthened him to go on during his days of intense pain. Divine relief removes the misery of hopelessness that would otherwise overwhelm us in times of great affliction.
When we are under a cloud of guilt after we have committed a transgression. Psalms 32 and 51 both speak of David's gratitude for chesed after the Bathsheba affair. His sin was not only forgiven, his guilt was taken away. In His mercy and lovingkindness, God relieves the misery of guilt...the lingering sting of wrongdoing.
No unfair consequence is too extreme for mercy. No grief too deep. No handicap too debilitating. No pain too excruciating. No sin too shameful.
Sheep are often in need, so mercy, our faithful companion, stays near.
"There's a wideness in God's mercy, like the wideness of the sea." (Frederick W. Faber)
Excerpted from Day by Day with Charles Swindoll, Copyright © 2000 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. (Thomas Nelson Publishers). All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.