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Deeper Commentary


Psa 103:1

By David-
I have often suggested that the Psalms are often paired together. Ps. 103 appears to continue the faith expressed in Ps. 102; that whatever present appearances, God's purpose to ultimately restore David and his throne / kingdom was going to come true, finally. The exiles doubted it, but the faithful remnant were to rejoice that finally, it would come true- even if not in their lifetimes. Such confident joy presupposes a firm faith and understanding of the resurrection of the body at the final eternal restoration of Zion.

Praise Yahweh, my soul! All that is within me, praise His holy name!-
There is a repeated Biblical theme that the believer's relationship with the Father is essentially mutual. He has blessed us with all things (Eph. 1:3), and we all bless Him with all that is in us (Ps. 103:1,22; Eph. 1:3).

Psa 103:2

Praise Yahweh, my soul, and don’t forget all His benefits-
David often takes strength from God's previous deliverances to cope with whatever he was now facing (Ps. 61:3). This may sound natural, but in fact it isn't; because we are inclined to forget the great things He has done for us, as Israel did in the desert. We all have a tendency to see the glass half empty rather than half full. Hence the need to continually remind ourselves to not forget all His benefits; and they are particularly expressed in the form of His forgiveness and avowed intention to finally save us (:3,4). Hezekiah, to whom Ps. 102 (which seems paired with Ps. 103) partly applies, did forget Yahweh's benefits to him (s.w. 2 Chron. 32:25). But "benefits" is also the word used for "rewards", which rewards of judgment are promised to Babylon and all who abused the exiles (Ps. 137:8; Is. 35:4; 59:18; Jer. 51:6; Lam. 3:64). The downtrodden were to take comfort in judgment to come.

Psa 103:3

who forgives all your sins; who heals all your diseases-
The blessing which should never be forgotten (:2) is supremely our forgiveness. Hezekiah had been healed, but he forgot that great "benefit" (:2; s.w. 2 Chron. 32:25). In those times when we consider our cup half empty rather than half full, we will be helped to appreciate "all His benefits" if we recall our own forgiveness received. It is those who refuse to accept their own sinfulness who tend to question where God's promised blessings are.

Psa 103:4

who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with grace and tender mercies-
As noted on :2,3, the great blessing is of forgiveness and grace. God's "mercy and truth" (s.w. "grace... mercies") is seen in the fulfilment of His promises to David and Abraham. This day of crowning is not now; it is at the time when our life is redeemed from death / destruction. This hope of the future resurrection of the body is the great "benefit" of :2 which we must never forget, and which gives perspective to all current sufferings.

Psa 103:5

who satisfies your desire with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s-
The "desire" of all the truly spiritual is for redemption from death (:4) through resurrection to eternal life, and the receipt of forgiveness (:3). It is these desires of our soul which will definitely be met, if indeed they are our dominant desires. As God doesn’t faint or weary, so somehow those who identify their lives with His will also keep on keeping on- even now (Is. 40:31 cp. 29). This was clearly the promise to the exiles, if they realized the prophetic potential for them explained in Is. 40. David felt that his youth was renewed like the eagle's in his repeated experience of God's grace (Ps. 103:5), that his soul was restored (Ps. 23:5), and that a right spirit could be renewed by God within him (Ps. 51:10). This is the equivalent of the "newness of life" which is promised to us through acceptance of God's Spirit.

Psa 103:6

Yahweh executes righteous acts, and justice for all who are oppressed-
The exiles and David at times felt they were suffering injustice. But the comfort is that God has historically been just to the oppressed and executed judgment, especially at the Red Sea. This is where faith comes in. If we feel we are suffering intolerable injustice, this is no reason to doubt God; for He has operated extreme justice in the past, and shall do so ultimately.

David so often parallels righteousness and justice / truth (Ps. 9:8; 33:5; 37:6; 72:2; 94:15; 99:7; 103:6; 106:3). Indeed, this parallel is so common in God's word. What it means is that the righteousness of God is a just righteousness. It's not fake, 'I'll turn a blind eye'. It is true, real, valid, and has integrity underpinned in the very essential justice of God Himself. Justice and righteousness may appear abstract ideas, mere theology. But the result is that the person who believes God's righteousness is imputed to him or her... will feel this, they will know it to be true, they can by grace, in faith, quietly hold their head up before God. And David after Bathsheba is our example. He believed and felt this imputed righteousness. It's not so much a case of 'forgiving ourselves' after God has forgiven us, but rather of being swamped by this very real and legitimate sense that truly, we have been counted righteous. And Paul in Romans holds up David after Bathsheba as the personal example to "every one who is Godly" in their time of spiritual need. See on Ps. 41:12.

Psa 103:7

He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the children of Israel-
This could refer to the revelation of God's law to Israel. The commands which constituted the covenant were given to Moses personally (Neh. 1:7,8), insofar as he represented Israel. Thus there is a parallel drawn in Ps. 103:7: "He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel". "After the tenor of these words have I made a covenant with you [Moses] and with Israel" (Ex. 34:27). The revelation of God's law was therefore cited as an example of His love and grace; it is not to be seen as an onerous burden laid upon Israel.

But the reference could also be to God's revelation of Himself through His saving deeds towards Israel at the Red Sea, or to the declaration of His Name in Ex. 34 (see on :8). Just as is true today, and as is often mentioned in Ps. 119, God is willing to operate directly on the hearts of men in a way over and above His written word. David realized this, and asked to be taught and shown God's ways (Ps. 25:4; 143:8). Knowledge in its ultimate, spiritual sense is not attained simply by reading or hearing the text of the Bible; not that I am at all decrying that. But there is a higher, Divine hand at work in making us know Divine knowledge. Moses had prayed the same words in Ex. 33:13: "Show me [make me to know] Your way, that I may know [s.w. "show"] You [and] find grace in Your sight". The gift of knowledge, in the Hebraic sense of relationship, is related to God's grace. That knowledge which is in view is not the same as technical, theological knowledge. Moses' prayer was answered; the same words are used here in saying that God "made known His ways to Moses". 

Psa 103:8

Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in grace-
This is an appeal to the essential characteristics of Yahweh as declared to Moses in Ex. 34, and it is perhaps to this that :7 refers. On one hand, God does not become quickly angry (Ps. 103:8), and yet on the other hand He does get angry quickly in the sense that He immediately feels and responds to sin (Ps. 2:12); His anger ‘flares up in His face’. The implication is that we should respond ‘quickly’ to the Gospel; we should not have any element of indifference in our response to the call of God, and yet the foundations of a true spiritual life cannot be laid hastily.  

Psa 103:9

He will not always accuse; neither will He stay angry forever-
This may be answer to the complaint of the exiles that God through the prophets was always 'accusing' them through the prophetic words. But "accuse" is the word for 'striving', and it was Israel who had chosen to strive with God (s.w. Is. 45:9 and often). From God's side, His 'accusing' was more of a pleading with His people (s.w. Jer. 2:9,29), pleading for their loyalty and repentance (s.w. Hos. 2:2).

Psa 103:10

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor repaid us for our iniquities-
This was exactly the case with the exiles, who were punished far less than their sins deserved (Ezra 9:13). All complaint at unreasonable behaviour from God was therefore utterly inappropriate, and was rooted in a sense that Israel had done absolutely nothing wrong and that any consequence for sin was therefore unreasonable.

Psa 103:11

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His grace toward those who fear Him-
The same word used for how David's sins "overwhelmed me" (Ps. 65:3) is used of how overwhelming or "great" is God's grace (Ps. 103:11; 117:2). David felt overwhelmed firstly by his sin and then by God's grace. This explains his fragile emotional and nervous state, as often reflected in the Psalms. But his path is to be that of all God's true Israel, and his repentance and restoration was intended to be the path for the exiles.

Psa 103:12

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us-
This was appropriate to Hezekiah (Is. 38:17), but he like the exiles failed to have an abiding awareness of the magnitude of the wonder of forgiveness. The idea is that God deals with us separate to our sins; He removes those sins "from us", they are totally removed from us personally. This is another window onto what it means to be accounted righteous, to have righteousness imputed by grace through faith. God had removed His people far from Him (s.w. Is. 6:12; 26:15; Jer. 27:10) because they had removed their hearts far from Him (s.w. Is. 29:13; Jer. 2:5; Ez. 44:10). So now the psalmist is asking God to remove their sins far away, but to come near to them personally.

Psa 103:13

Like a father has compassion on His children, so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear Him-
That "compassion" is not simply in that a father forgives a repentant child. Fatherly compassion is more than that; it is compassion upon the position of the child regardless of repentance. Simply because he is the father of the child. This statement may be a tacit request by the psalmist for God to all the same restore His people from their exile simply on the basis of His grace and compassion, for most of them had not repented. The word for "compassion" is used of how God would have compassion on His people if they repented whilst in exile (Dt. 30:3). But the psalmist seems to plead for that compassion to be shown simply because they were His children.

Psa 103:14

For He knows how we are made, He remembers that we are dust-
This is effectively a plea with God to remember that "we are dust" and to show compassion on the basis of the weakness of our humanity (see on :13). But the basis for that compassion was to be Israel's repentance (Dt. 30:13 etc.). But here the psalmist seems to plead some kind of idea that our nature makes us inevitable sinners, and so God should show compassion on that basis. We aren't inevitable sinners, and whatever we posit about human nature, we say about the Lord Jesus who was perfect and spotless despite fully having that same nature as we do. So the plea appears rather lacking in integrity. And yet it is true; God does remember that we are dust, and He does have compassion for reasons other than that His people have repented (s.w. 2 Kings 13:23). His compassion is therefore on the basis of His mercy and grace, rather than a proportionate response to steel willed human repentance and self reformation (s.w. Ps. 116:5). His compassion is actually always there for His children, even when they are in exiled punishment from Him (s.w. Jer. 31:20; 33:26). Solomon failed to perceive this grace, instead focusing solely upon the aspect of God showing compassion to those who are repentant (s.w. Prov. 28:13).   

Psa 103:15

As for man, His days are like grass, as a flower of the field, so he flourishes-
This is the language used of the exiles in Is. 40:6-8. The idea is that the exiles were indeed like this, as are all men. But Isaiah explains that the prophetic word of restoration was to come true, even if the men of that generation faded into death. This is taught here in different words, assuring them that God's promised grace would not fail and His throne was indeed eternal and therefore would be reestablished on earth (:17,19).

Psa 103:16

For the wind passes over it, and it is gone. Its place remembers it no more-  
This again is David alluding to the feelings of Job (Job 7:10; 20:9), one of the few books of scripture he had access to. But despite this understanding of the mortality of man, David is confident that God's grace will be manifest eternally to His people (:17). This can only have any sense if he understood there to be a resurrection of the body, to eternal experience of God's grace.

Psa 103:17

But Yahweh’s grace is from everlasting to everlasting with those who fear Him, His righteousness to children’s children-
See on :16. We note the parallel of grace and righteousness. Paul in Romans 1-8 explores this; the gift of grace is not of cheap grace, a turning of a blind eye to sin. The gift is of righteousness, counting right the sinner, by God the judge of all. This is by grace, but it has to be believed. This gift of imputed righteousness "is of faith that it might be by grace" (Rom. 4:16).

Psa 103:18

to those who keep His covenant, to those who remember to obey His precepts-
The keeping of the covenant, in the context of what was explained on :17, effectively means to keep on believing in God's amazing, saving grace towards sinners. "Remember" doesn't here suggest that they are commended for not being forgetful. The Hebrew carries the idea of having the mind full. Our fully conscious desire to obey His ways is going to be an outcome of continuing to believe His covenant, which promises salvation by pure grace (:17) rather than obedience. So the obedience here in view is in response to the covenant of grace, which offers salvation by grace and not works. These works of obedience are therefore done in gratitude for a salvation already received by grace, rather than in order to achieve a worthiness for that salvation.

Psa 103:19

Yahweh has established His throne in the heavens, His kingdom rules over all-
The exiles were looking for the Kingdom to be reestablished, just as David was looking for his throne to be reestablished in Absalom's time, and as he looked to have his own throne at Saul's time. But the comfort was that that throne was already established in Heaven, even if it wasn't visible on earth. And this is our comfort too.

We are to pray for His Kingdom to come, so that His will may be done on earth (Mt. 6:10). The Kingdom and the doing of His will are therefore paralleled. His Kingdom reigns over all in Heaven, for there, all the Angels are obedient to Him (Ps. 103:19-21). By praying for the Kingdom to come on earth we are not only praying for the Lord’s second coming, but for the progress of the Gospel world-wide right now. Not only that more men and women will hear it and respond, but that those who have accepted it might work God’s will rather than their own to an ever greater extent. Whether or not we can physically spread the Gospel is in this sense irrelevant; our prayer should be, first and foremost if the pattern of the Lord’s prayer is to be taken exactly, for the triumph of the Gospel world-wide.

Psa 103:20

Praise Yahweh, you angels of His, who are mighty in strength, who fulfil His word, obeying the voice of His word-
I suggested on :1 that this Psalm is paired with Ps. 102; and indirectly, that too concludes at this point in the structure of the Psalm with reference to Angels. See on Ps. 102:26. The relevance of mentioning the power of the Angels is caught in the LXX: "mighty in strength, who perform his bidding, ready to hearken to the voice of his words". The word they were ready and eager to fulfil was the word of restoring Zion. They could bring this about; but Israel on earth had to be willing to return, both to their land and their God. And such vast potential was thereby wasted at the time.

Psa 103:21

Praise Yahweh, all you armies of His, you servants of His, who do His will-
Angels are given specific directives by God which they go and execute to the best of their ability and then report back to God- His "Angels... that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word" (Ps. 103:21). They were eager to do this in the context of performing God's will of saving and restoring Zion. We must note that the Angels as in supernatural beings are never divided into good ones and wicked ones. "All" the Angels are obedient to God's word. They are immortal (Lk. 20:35,36) and therefore don't sin (Rom. 6:23). However the Greek and Hebrew word translated "Angel" is also used of human beings, who of course can sin. 

Psa 103:22

Praise Yahweh, all you works of His, in all places of His dominion. Praise Yahweh, my soul!-
The psalmist wishes to see a unity between the heavenly armies, eager and willing to achieve the restoration (see on :20,21), and all God's works, and the individual repeating this prayer.