Elizabeth Adamson was a woman who attended John Knox’s preaching ‘because he more fully opened the fountain of God’s mercies than others did.’ After great agonies of soul, she came to Christ through hearing this psalm. She asked for the psalm again before her death, saying, ‘It was in receiving it that my troubled soul first tasted God’s mercy, which is now sweeter to me that if all the kingdoms of the earth were given me to possess.’
Kidner says: ‘Admiring gratitude shines through every line of this hymn to the God of all grace, for which the next psalm, 104, seems to have been written as a companion (to judge from its matching opening and close). Together the two psalms praise God as Saviour and Creator, Father and Sustainer, “merciful and mighty”. In the galaxy of the Psalter these are twin stars of the first magnitude.’
Ps 103:1 Of David. Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul – here in these verses is an example of the psalmist ‘rousing himself to shake of apathy or gloom’ (Kidner), cf Psa 42:5; 77:6ff; 108:1.
William Jay notes four attributes in David’s gratitude; it is (a) personal – ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul’; (b) fervent – ‘all my inmost being, praise his holy name’; (c) rational – ‘forget not all his benefits’; (d) specific – ‘who forgives… heals…redeems’ etc.
This verse has been precious to many. In October, 1871, Stanley found David Livingstone at Ukiji, almost a living skeleton through starvation. Stanley was able to secure men and provisions for the missionary-explorer, and Livingstone noted this verse in his diary for August 9, 1872.
‘The whole life of the Christian should be a psalm, of which the contents should be summed up in this sentence, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”‘ (The Best of Spurgeon, 245)
All my inmost being – let me not praise God with my lips only, but with my heart; and let it not be half-hearted, but whole-hearted. We need to stir ourselves up to praise God aright. It ought to be the most natural thing in the world. Yet long experience shows that many are the temptations and pre-occupations that would prevent or interrupt this work of praise. We need to form definite habits and we need to make special efforts.
Ps 103:2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-
Forget not all his benefits – cf 13:6, ‘He has been good to me’. It has been remarked that ‘memory is very treacherous about the best things; by a strange perversity, engendered by the Fall, it treasures up the refuse of the past and permits priceless treasures to lie neglected, it is tenacious of grievances and holds benefits all too loosely. It needs spurring to its duty, though that duty ought to be its delight.’ (Spurgeon) Think of all God’s benefits, and ask yourself if you have responded with gratitude or forgetfulness. See how these benefits are rehearsed in the remainder of the psalm.
Ps 103:3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
Who forgives…and heals – There is a close relationship between sin and disease. If there had been no transgression, there would have been no suffering. So it is natural that the cure of both is mentioned in the same breath here. The principal thought is that when forgiveness and healing take place, it is God who accomplishes both.
Remember that we recover from the vast majority of our diseases – by natural or medical, ordinary and extraordinary means – and in every case we should be thankful to God for the healing that takes place.
But it is patently obvious that not all disease is healed – yet. Everyone suffers pain, weakness, frailty, and ultimately death.
In the meantime, we are taught not only to be thankful for the healing that does take place, but – what is much harder – to welcome the pain which God permits us to suffer. For that is so often how our relationship with him is deepened. For we even read concerning Christ, Heb 5:8, that ‘although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.’ 2 Cor 12:9, ‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”‘
But the final cure is at hand; there will come day when there will be no more pain, or sorrow, or suffering. Rom 8:23, we ‘groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.’
Christ came as the Healer of both our souls and our bodies. By removing sin, the cause, he will finally remove sickness and suffering, the effect, Isa 33:24. He gave an indication of this in combining his forgiveness of the paralytic with his cure of his body, Mk 2:5 ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”‘ Mk 2:11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
See also Isa 53:4, (‘Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,’) with a significant alteration in Mt 8:17, (“he took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.”)
Ps 103:4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
Who redeems your life from the pit – this could just refer to rescue from premature death. David had been delivered from the lion, the bear, Goliath, the Philistines, and from the rebellion of his own son. However, it is probable that we should take it to be a reference to resurrection to eternal life, as in 16:9-11, ‘Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy one see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.’
Ps 103:5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Who satisfies your desires with good things – not everything that we ask for, but everything that we need. Rom 8:32 ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’
Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s – the apostrophe is misleading; some ancient commentators believed that eagles have the power of self-renewal, but the thought here is just that God renews us with the tireless strength of an eagle, cf Isa 40:30-31.
It is good to realise that opportunities lie ahead of us just as they did in the sunny days of youth. Cf 92:14; Prov 4:18.
Psa 103:6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
Psa 103:7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:
Psa 103:8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
Psa 103:9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
Psa 103:10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
Psa 103:11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
Ps 103:12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
‘Isaiah speaks of God as casting all the prophet’s sins behind his back, (Isa 38:17) and as ‘blotting out’ the people’s transgressions (Isa 43:25; cf. Ps 51:1,9). In Jer 31:34 the Lord says, ‘I will remember their sin no more,’ and Micah speaks of him as casting sins ‘into the depths of the sea’. (Mic 7:19) Such vivid language emphasizes the completeness of God’s forgiveness. When he forgives, men’s sins are dealt with thoroughly. God sees them no more.’ (NBD)
In A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World, Ron Lee Davis retells the true story of a priest in the Philippines, a much-loved man of God who carried the burden of a secret sin he had committed many years before. He had repented but still had no peace, no sense of God’s forgiveness.
In his parish was a woman who deeply loved God and who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ and he with her. The priest, however, was skeptical. To test her he said, “The next time you speak with Christ, I want you to ask him what sin your priest committed while he was in seminary.” The woman agreed.
A few days later the priest asked, “Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?”
“Yes, he did,” she replied.
“And did you ask him what sin I committed in seminary?”
“Well, what did he say?”
“He said, ‘I don’t remember.'”
What God forgives, he forgets.
Ps 103:13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
‘A king sits with his council deliberating on high affairs of state involving the destiny of nations, when suddenly he hears the sorrowful cry of his little child who has fallen down or been frightened by a bee. He rises and runs to his relief, assuages his sorrows and relieves his fears. Is there anything unkingly here? Isn’t this very natural? Does it not even elevate the monarch in your esteem? Why then do we think it dishonorable to the King of kings, our heavenly Father, to consider the small matters of his children? It is infinitely condescending, but is it not also superlatively natural that being a Father he should act as such?’ (Spurgeon)
‘When King Henry II was provoked to take up arms against his ungrateful and rebellious son, he besieged him in one of the French towns. The son, being near to death, desired to see his father and confess his wrongdoing, but the stern old sire refused to look the rebel in the face. The young man being sorely troubled in his conscience said to those about him, “I am dying, take me from my bed, and let me lie in sackcloth and ashes, in token of my sorrow for my ingratitude to my father.”
Thus he died, and when the tidings came to the old man outside the walls that his boy had died in ashes, repentant for his rebellion, he threw himself upon the earth like another David, and said, “Would God I had died for him.” The thought of his boy’s broken heart touched the heart of the father.
If you, being evil, are overcome by your children’s tears, how much more shall your father who is in heaven find in your bemoanings and confessions an argument for the display of his pardoning love through Christ Jesus our Lord? This is the eloquence God delights in, the broken heart and the contrite spirit.’ (Spurgeon)
Psa 103:14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
Psa 103:15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;
Psa 103:16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
Ps 103:17 But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children-
‘Take heed of abusing the mercy of God. Suck not poison out of the sweet flower of God’s mercy. Think not that because God is merciful, you may go on in sin; this is to make mercy your enemy. None might touch the ark but the priests, who by their office were more holy; so none may touch the ark of God’s mercy but such as are resolved to be holy. To sin because mercy abounds is the devil’s logic. He that sins because of mercy, is like one that wounds his head because he has a plaster. He that sins because of God’s mercy, shall have judgement without mercy. Mercy abused turns to fury. ‘If he bless himself, saying, I shall have peace though I walk after the imaginations of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst, the Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the Lord, and his jealousy, shall smoke against that man.’ Deut 29:19,20. Nothing is sweeter than mercy, when it is improved; nothing fiercer, when it is abused; as nothing is colder than lead when taken out of the mine, and nothing more scalding when it is heated. Nothing is blunter than iron, yet nothing is sharper when it is whetted. ‘The mercy of the Lord is upon them that fear him.’ Ps 103:17. Mercy is not for them that sin and fear not, but for them that fear and sin not. God’s mercy is a holy mercy; where it pardons it heals.’ (Watson)
Psa 103:18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
Psa 103:19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
Psa 103:20 Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.
Psa 103:21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.
Ps 103:22 Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
Praise the Lord, O my soul – ‘Notice that the psalm begins, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” and it ends in the same way, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” as if to show us that praise is the Alpha and Omega of a Christian life. Praise is the life of life. Oh, that our infancy would bless the Lord, and our childhood and our youth bless the Lord, and our manhood and our old age bless the Lord!’ (The Best of Spurgeon, 245f)