Read the Passage: Psalm 103
Man’s Worship (103:1–5)
While the exact occasion of David’s writing of Psalm 103 is unknown, it seems likely that it was penned later in his life, when David had a sweeter sense of God’s forgiveness, on account of a greater awareness of his own sin. In the first five verses of this psalm David encourages mankind—including himself—to praise God, as he gives five reasons why the Lord is to be praised. Ps. 103:1–2 is a helpful reminder that we tend to forget God’s benefits, we become myopic in our own mindset, and we neglect to praise God for who He is and for His works among us. Indeed, two times in the first two verses David exhorts himself, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” (Ps. 103:1). That of which David reminded himself is to “forget not all God’s benefits” (Ps. 103:2). While he will discuss several of God’s benefits in the following verses, David’s reminder here is helpful to God’s people.
In Ps. 103:3–5 David lists five benefits from or about God for which believers ought to be grateful. These are: (1) forgiveness of sins, (2) recovery from illnesses, (3) deliverance from death, (4) continual kindnesses and mercies, and (5) material provision, including food. Interestingly, David writes that the result of these benefits is that the believer’s “youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 103:5). This is not a guarantee of a long life, nor a promise that Christians will not age; rather, it is a general principle stating that those who love God and who keep His commandments tend to flourish more than those who are mired in sin (cf. Isa. 40:29–31). Note the reference to diseases being healed is not a promise of an immediate cure of all physical ailments, rather it is a promise of a glorified resurrection body that will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (cf. 1 Cor. 15:42–44).
God’s Character (103:6–14)
In Ps. 103:6–14 David describes additional aspects of both God’s character and His actions for which believers can praise Him. In Ps. 103:6–10 David specifically cites God’s righteousness, justice, revelation, mercy, grace, and long-suffering. While these aspects of God’s character are a blessing to mankind, in Ps. 103:9 David warns us that we dare not mistake God’s long-suffering for His approval, for “He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.” While this is a sobering admonition for sinners, it also communicates an additional reason for which Christians can praise God—that is, His holiness (cf. Rom. 9:22–24). While each of the divine attributes that David discusses in this passage inspires worship, perhaps the most praiseworthy idea is, “God has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10).
In Ps. 103:11–14 David further describes God’s character and the extent of His works in our lives. Positively, David writes, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:11). The idea here is that God’s mercy toward His children is infinite, and it is new every morning (cf. Lam. 3:22–23). Negatively, David notes, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). Since the east and west never meet, the teaching here is that God has completely forgiven the sins of those who trust in Him. Ps. 103:13–14 is a very tender picture of God, as David likens Him to a Father who has pity on His children. God’s care for believers relates to the idea that “He knows our frame; [and] He remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14). Indeed, when we are weak, then God is strong.
Creation’s Praise (103:15–22)
David expands upon the idea of the frailty of man in Ps. 103:15–16, as he likens man’s existence to that of grass or flowers. Yet, despite man’s contingent existence, frail nature, and brief lifespan, the Lord’s mercy toward him is everlasting and God actually gives His righteousness intergenerationally to those who keep His commandments (cf. Ps. 103:17–18). In Ps. 103:19 David gives yet another reason why mankind is to praise God—that is, “God’s kingdom rules over all.” Finally, having called mankind to bless God, and having explored the rationale for such praise in Ps. 103:1–19, in Ps. 103:20–22 David calls all of creation to glorify God. In these final verses David specifically mentions God’s angels, as he calls the host of heaven to worship. In this passage David notes three aspects about the nature of angels: they excel in strength, they do God’s work, and they keep God’s Word.
- Do you find it difficult to praise God in all things? Do you find that you forget God’s works in your life and in the world?
- Have you ever forgotten and then remembered a work of God in your own life? Why do we tend to forget spiritual things?
- In your own life, have you experienced the benefits that David describes here? Have you found that your own youth has been renewed in Christ?
- Do you regularly praise God for His attributes and character? Which of the divine attributes that David lists in this psalm have you witnessed most regularly?
- How does Jesus’ incarnation relate to the idea that God understands the essential constitution of mankind (cf. Heb. 2:14, 18; 4:16)?