What would you rather? To be followed or pursued? The answer will clearly depend on what is behind you and what it will do when it catches you.
Psalm 23:6 says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The Hebrew word רָדַף (radaph), which is translated as follow here, is a word that is much less benign than the English idea of follow. The word is used to describe a victorious army that pursues, with murderous intent, the escaping soldiers of the defeated army. It is surprising to find this violent word in the context of Psalm 23, a psalm which is normally comforting to us.
In English the two words, follow and pursue, have different intentions. One follows without necessarily intending to catch up to the followed, whereas the point of pursuing is to catch the pursued. Hebrew does not have a specific word for the English concept follow. Instead when the writers wanted to say a person was following another, they most often used the two words walk after (הָלַךְ אַחַר halak achar).
In Psalm 23, the psalmist does not use the words walk after (הָלַךְ אַחַר), but the word pursue (רָדַף). He wants to convey the idea that goodness and mercy are not just walking after him, as the English follow infers, but they are pursuing him with murderous intent.
This is both a wonderful and terrifying image. To be pursued with such intent is terrifying, but to be pursued with this intensity by goodness and mercy is to be promised something wonderful. The psalmist uses this word רָדַף (radaph) metaphorically to express his awe and wonder at the relentless determination of his shepherd to provide him with goodness and mercy. So what would you rather? To be followed by goodness and mercy or to be pursued by them?
If you found this word study interesting and would like to be able to read the Hebrew Old Testament for yourself, St Francis College, Milton is offering the subject Hebrew 1 in the first semester of 2019. For more information, please contact Dr Marie-Louise Craig via MCraig@ministryeducation.org.au