Psalm 103 – Bless the Lord, O My Soul
This psalm is simply titled A Psalm of David. We don’t know the circumstances in which it was written, but since David was a man who knew the grace and deliverance of God many times, it could have been written at many different times of his life.
However, Charles Spurgeon thought, “We should attribute it to his later years when he had a higher sense of the preciousness of pardon, because a keener sense of sin, than in his younger days. His clear sense of the frailty of life indicates his weaker years, as also does the very fulness of his praiseful gratitude.” (Charles Spurgeon)
“It is perhaps the most perfect song of pure praise to be found in the Bible…. Through centuries it has been sung by glad hearts, and today is as fresh and full of beauty as ever.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
A. Reasons to bless and honor God.
1. (1-2) Blessing God for all His benefits.
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
a. Bless the Lord: David did not mean this in the sense that a greater person bestows a blessing on a lesser person. God is infinitely greater than man, and in this sense man could never give a blessing to God. David meant this in the sense that it blesses and honors God when His creatures praise Him and thank Him appropriately.
b. Bless the Lord, O my soul: David called upon his soul to bless Yahweh. It was as if David looked at his soul and understood that it was not praising God enough. He called upon his soul to do more.
i. David understood that true worship was something deeply inward, of the soul. It is not just about outward forms or expressions, but also about something real from the soul. “Soul music is the very soul of music.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Let others murmur, but do thou bless. Let others bless themselves and their idols, but do thou bless the Lord. Let others use only their tongues, but as for me I will cry, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul.’” (Spurgeon)
c. All that is within me, bless His holy name: David also understood that worship had to be more than superficial; it had to be offered as completely as possible. He wanted everything within to praise God. He set his heart in tune as well as setting his instruments in tune.
i. We often praise and thank God halfheatedly – or less! David called for everything within him (all that is within me) to give honor and praise to God.
ii. All that is within me: “What a rebuke to much of what passes for praise in our assemblies. We come to church, but we leave our minds at home. We hear of God’s grace, but our hearts have been hardened by a critical and carping spirit.” (Boice)
iii. “The singer addresses himself. He realizes that he has power over himself, that he is able to give or to withhold that which is due to God.” (Morgan)
iv. “The one value of these opening words is that they show us that worship is not involuntary, automatic. It calls for the coordination of all our powers…. The sanctuary is not a lounge, a place of relaxation. We should enter it with all the powers of personality arrested, arranged, dedicated. Then we may render a service of praise that is worthy and acceptable.” (Morgan)
v. Bless His holy name: “Only a holy man can delight in holy things. Holiness is the terror of unholy men; they love sin and count it liberty, but holiness is to them a slavery. If we be saints we shall bless God for his holiness.” (Spurgeon)
d. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: In the pattern of Hebrew poetry, David used repetition for emphasis. He then added an important idea – that this praise and honor to God should be given unto Him for rational reasons, not on the basis of mere emotion or excitement. True benefits are given by God unto His people, and we must not forget them. Instead, we should use the remembrance of those things as reasons to praise.
i. 2 Chronicles 32:25 describes a king who did forget God’s benefits, at least for a time: But Hezekiah did not repay according to the favor shown him, for his heart was lifted up; therefore wrath was looming over him and over Judah and Jerusalem.
ii. “Thanksgiving cannot be sincere and hearty, unless a man bear impressed upon his mind, at the time, a quick sense of ‘benefits’ received.” (Horne)
iii. “Praise is the response of awe for God, while reflecting on what the Lord has done for the people of God throughout the history of redemption, for creation at large, for the community, and for oneself.” (VanGemeren)
2. (3-5) Blessing God who redeems.
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
a. Who forgives all your iniquities: One of the great benefits mentioned in verse 3 is the forgiveness of all our sins. When the magnitude of our sin and the righteousness of God are understood, this forgiveness is a staggering reason for praising and honoring God.
i. This begins a series of great benefits God brings to His believing people. “He selects a few of the choicest pearls from the casket of divine love, threads them on the string of memory, and hangs them about the neck of gratitude.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Significantly, this is the benefit listed first. In David’s mind, the most important thing was to have sins forgiven, even more important than physical healing.
iii. “The profound consciousness of sin, which it was one aim of the Law to evoke, underlies the psalmist’s praise.” (Maclaren)
b. Who heals all your diseases: Another great benefit is God’s care for our bodies. He brings healing to us in this life through both natural and miraculous ways. He promises ultimate healing for all His people in the age to come.
i. Many commentators understand these diseases as spiritual in nature. Horne described this thinking: “What is pride, but lunacy? What is lust, but a leprosy? What is sloth, but a dead palsy? Perhaps there are spiritual maladies similar to all [bodily] ones.” While it is true that sin leads to spiritual illness, here David seems to refer to physical diseases.
ii. “Some suggest that David is speaking about spiritual illness, such as the burdens of sin. But that is not it. I think he really is speaking of diseases. He is saying that when we are healed, as we often are, it is God who has done it. He is the healer of the body as well as of the soul. Therefore, such health as we have been given is a sure gift from God. God should be praised for it.” (Boice)
c. Who redeems your life from destruction: Many know the powerful blessing of God’s rescue from sure destruction. Many calamities are spared the child of God, whether he knows it or not.
i. Who redeems: “Preservation from destruction, haggoel, properly, redemption of life by the kinsman; possibly looking forward, in the spirit of prophecy, to him who became partaker of our flesh and blood, that he might have the right to redeem our souls from death by dying in our stead.” (Clarke)
d. Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies: God’s greatness extends beyond sparing us from sin, disease, or trouble. Through God’s blessing, we are crowned with His great love and mercy.
e. Who satisfies your mouth with good things: The result of God’s work, both in what He saves us from and what He saves us unto, is to bring true satisfaction to our lives. This is different from mere pleasure or entertainment; God wants to bring true satisfaction to our lives from good things. This satisfaction becomes a source of strength and energy to His people (your youth is renewed like the eagle’s).
i. “It is God who gives us the ‘good things’ of this world, and who giveth us likewise an appetite and a taste to enjoy them.” (Horne)
ii. Who satisfies: “No man is ever filled to satisfaction but a believer, and only God himself can satisfy even him. Many a worldling is satiated, but not one is satisfied.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s: “The second line is not implying…that eagles have the power of self-renewal; only that God renews us to…the very picture of buoyant, tireless strength which Isaiah 40:30f. takes up.” (Kidner)
3. (6-7) Blessing God who is righteous.
The Lord executes righteousness
And justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the children of Israel.
a. The Lord executes righteousness and justice: In the previous section, David described the greatness of God in His work to the individual. Yet God also shows His greatness in bringing righteousness and justice to societies.
i. “Our own personal obligations must not absorb our song; we must also magnify the Lord for his goodness to others.” (Spurgeon)
b. He made known His ways: Another aspect of God’s greatness is His self-revelation. God could be content to hide Himself, but instead He wanted to make known His way and His acts.
4. (8-10) Blessing God who is gracious.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
a. The Lord is merciful and gracious: In the previous lines, David described the righteousness and justice of God. Those aspects of God’s character are true, but so also are His mercy and graciousness. His anger comes, but slowly and after much mercy has been shown.
i. “All the world tastes of his sparing mercy, those who hear the gospel partake of his inviting mercy, the saints live by his saving mercy, are preserved by his upholding mercy, are cheered by his consoling mercy, and will enter heaven through his infinite and everlasting mercy.” (Spurgeon)
b. Abounding in mercy: David’s statements remind us of God’s revelation of Himself to Moses in Exodus 34: The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6).
i. He will not always strive with us: “These very human terms point the contrast between God’s generosity and the heavy-handed wrath of man, who loves to keep his quarrels going (chide [strive] translates a term much used for disputes, especially at law) and to nurse his grievances.” (Kidner)
c. He has not dealt with us according to our sins: David knew the slow anger and abounding mercy of God personally. He knew that his sins (and the sins of his people) deserved much greater judgment or discipline than they had received.
i. “We ought to praise the Lord for what he has not done as well as for what he has wrought for us; even the negative side deserves our adoring gratitude.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Why is it that God hath not dealt with us after our sins? Is it not because he hath dealt with another after our sins? Another who took our sins upon him.” (Baker, cited in Spurgeon)
5. (11-12) The greatness of God’s gracious forgiveness.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
a. For as the heavens are high above the earth: This is a description of the abounding mercy of God mentioned in verse 8. The distance from the earth to the heavens measures the greatness of His mercy toward those who fear Him. By instinct, we often think of God’s mercy as less than it really is.
i. There were three concepts of heaven in the ancient Biblical world. The first heaven is the blue sky, the atmosphere with its sun. The second heaven is the night sky, the stars and constellations. The third heaven is the place where God dwells and is enthroned. It’s interesting to wonder which of the three concepts of heaven David had in mind with this wonderful statement.
b. As far as the east is from the west: This is a description of the great forgiveness of God mentioned in verse 10. We have no idea if David knew the shape of the earth, but the Holy Spirit who inspired David to write this did, and the nature of the earth and our way of describing directions makes this statement particularly inspiring.
i. As far as the east is from the west is much greater than saying as far as the north is from the south, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. If you travel north on a globe, you begin to travel south as soon as you go over the North Pole. But if you travel east, you will continue east forever. Given the true shape of the earth, east and west never meet – and this is how far God has removed our sins from us!
ii. “As the east and the west can never meet in one point, but be for ever at the same distance from each other, so our sins and their decreed punishment are removed to an eternal distance by his mercy.” (Clarke)
iii. “God loves us, and he will love us for ever. He loves us infinitely, and he could not love us more than that if we had never fallen.” (Spurgeon)
6. (13-14) Blessing God who shows great sympathy.
As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
a. The Lord pities those who fear Him: David continues to describe the abounding mercy and goodness of God. The way that a good father cares for and even pities his children in their frailty and weakness, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
i. We think of a loving father dealing with his tired children. He does not demand more of them than they can perform, but with care takes into account their weaknesses. He comforts them and measures his expectations according to his wisdom and compassion.
ii. Spurgeon considered the many ways God may pity His children:
· He pities our childish ignorance.
· He pities our childish weakness.
· He pities our childish foolishness.
· He pities our childish naughtiness.
· He pities our childish stumbles and falls.
· He pities the pain of His children.
· He pities the child when another has wronged him.
· He pities the fears of His children.
iii. “It is in the present tense, and carries the idea of continuity: at this very moment he is now pitying them that fear him. Though he knows your trials will work for your good, yet he pities you. Though he knows that there is sin in you, which, perhaps, may require this rough discipline ere you be sanctified, yet he pities you. Though he can hear the music of heaven, the songs and glees that will ultimately come of your present sighs and griefs, yet still he pities those groans and wails of yours.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “We may lose ourselves amid the amplitudes of the lofty, wide-stretching sky, but this emblem of paternal love goes straight to our hearts. A pitying God! What can be added to that?” (Maclaren)
v. The wise reaction to this is, fear the Lord! How much better to be on the side of His pity and compassion than to be on the side of His anger or righteous judgment!
b. For He knows our frame: The pity and compassion of God towards those who fear Him are rooted in His knowledge and understanding of our inherent weakness and impermanence, our transience.
i. “The word rendered ‘frame’ is literally, ‘formation’ or ‘fashioning,’ and comes from the same root as the verb employed in Genesis 2:7 to describe man’s creation. ‘The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.’ It is also used for the potter’s action in moulding earthen vessels. (Isaiah 29:16, etc.) So, in the next clause, ‘dust’ carries on the allusion to Genesis, and the general idea conveyed is that of frailty.” (Maclaren)
ii. “In all his conduct towards us he considers the frailty of our nature, the untowardness of our circumstances, the strength and subtlety of temptation, and the sure party (till the heart is renewed) that the tempter has within us.” (Clarke)
iii. This pity and remembrance were turned to empathy at the incarnation. God Himself added humanity to His deity and experienced our frame and our dust-like weakness. What before He knew by observation, He submitted to know by experience.
B. Contrasts that display the greatness of God.
1. (15-18) The contrast between man’s moment and God’s permanence.
As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
To such as keep His covenant,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
a. As for man, his days are like grass: David expanded the thought of man’s weak frame and dust-like nature. Humanity is so transient that his days are like grass and like a flower of the field that blooms one day and withers the next. When the flower is gone, virtually nothing remains – its place remembers it no more.
i. “A flower of the field; which is more exposed to winds and other violences than the flowers of the garden, which are secured by the art and care of the gardener.” (Poole)
ii. “The flower which faded in Adam, blooms anew in Christ, never to fade again.” (Horne)
b. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting: This is true of God’s mercy and of God Himself, the source of mercy. His hesed – covenant love, loyal kindness – endures from all ages to all ages. Those who fear Him receive the benefit of this everlasting mercy, as do their children’s children.
i. “God’s love does not alter with our alterings, or change with our changes. Does the mother’s love fluctuate with the moods of her sick babe?” (Meyer)
ii. “There never was a time when He did not love you. His mercy is from everlasting; nor a time when He will love you less – it is to everlasting.” (Meyer)
c. To such as keep His covenant: These promises of everlasting love and mercy are given with conditions. The promises are made to those who fear Him, to those who keep His covenant, and those who remember His commandments to do them.
2. (19) The contrast between Yahweh and all creation.
The Lord has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.
a. The Lord has established His throne in heaven: David celebrated God’s secure reign from heaven. God is enthroned in heaven, beyond the troubles and corruptions of earth. It is established, and will never be moved.
b. And His kingdom rules over all: An eternal contrast is made between the Ruler and the ruled. There is no aspect of the universe that is not under His reign.
i. “When Melancthon was extremely solicitous [worried] about the affairs of the church in his days, Luther would have him admonished in these terms, Monendus est Philippzzs ut desinat esse rector mundi, Let not Philip make himself any longer governor of the world.” (Clarkson, cited in Spurgeon)
3. (20-22) The contrast between God and His angels.
Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Who excel in strength, who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.
Bless the Lord, all His works,
In all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
a. Bless the Lord, you His angels: David began the psalm by telling his own soul to bless the Lord, but he knew the praise and honor to God should go beyond what he could give. It should extend all the way to the angels, and David boldly told them to also bless the Lord.
b. Who excel in strength, who do His word: The angels are strong and obedient, but even they should bless the Lord, giving Him praise and honor.
c. Bless the Lord, all you His hosts: The angels also make up God’s hosts: His heavenly army under His command who do His pleasure. As God’s soldiers, they should give Him the honor and praise due to Him.
d. Bless the Lord, all His works: David extended the call to honor and praise God further than the angels to all of God’s works, in all places of His dominion.
i. All His works: “His song is no solo, for all creation is singing – or will sing – with him; but his voice, like every other, has its own part to add, its own ‘benefits’ (2ff.) to celebrate, and its own access (cf. Ps. 5:3) to the attentive ear of God.” (Kidner)
ii. “Man is but little, yet, placing his hands upon the keys of the great organ of the universe, he wakes it to thunders of adoration! Redeemed man is the voice of nature, the priest in the temple of creation, the precentor in the worship of the universe.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The ‘my’ of personal experience merges into the ‘our’ of social fellowship, thus culminates in the ‘all’ of universal consciousness.” (Morgan)
e. Bless the Lord, O my soul: David ended the psalm as he began it, with a call to his own soul to bless God, giving Him the honor and praise due to Him. After the many reasons given in Psalm 103, David had more reasons to bless the Lord at the end of the psalm.
(c) 2019 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org