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In this most encouraging psalm, we have a plain statement of what our condition is apart from the grace of God, coupled with a clear testimony of the giving of that grace regardless. One of the worst things a man can be is an ingrate, and in this psalm we are catechized in the glorious discipline of not forgetting 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: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies . . .” (Ps. 103:1-22).
Summary of the Text
The psalm begins with a blessing for God, and it is a blessing that comes from all his heart (v. 1). The blessing accompanies the grace of not forgetting His benefits (v. 2). He is the God who forgives iniquities, and who heals diseases (v. 3). He redeems us from destruction, and crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies (v. 4). He fills our mouths with good things—which would include these blessings of God—and renews our youth like the eagle’s (v. 5). The Lord is the one who delivers justice and judgment for all the oppressed (v. 6). He revealed His way of doing things to Moses, and to the children of Israel (v. 7). He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abundant with mercy (v. 8). His anger is real, but He will not always chide (v. 9). His treatment of us has not be commensurate with what we actually deserve (v. 10). His mercy toward us is as high as heaven is above the earth (v. 11). How far has He removed our transgressions from us? As far as east is from west (v. 12). The Lord pities those who fear Him in the same way that an earthly father pities his children (v. 13). He knows our frame; He knows that we are dust (v. 14). Men dry up the way that grass in the field dries up when a scorching wind passes over (vv. 15-16). But the mercy of the Lord is forever, extending to one generation after another, to those who keep covenant (vv. 17-18). But keeping covenant here is not sinless perfection because remember that it is mercythat is shown. God’s throne is in heaven; He rules over all (v. 19). The psalmist calls upon the angels to do the same thing he has been doing, which is to bless the Lord (v. 20). He then calls upon His hosts to do the same thing (v. 21). And then he calls upon every work of God in every place to join in the chorus, and to bless the Lord (v. 22).
An Odd Expression
We should know that by definition the only one capable of blessing anyone is God. God is the ultimate source of every blessing enjoyed by any creature. This is blessing in the strict sense.
But Scripture uses the term for blessing in a reverse sense, as we find it here in this psalm. Like a kid who is given a dollar by his father so that he can go to the dollar store to buy his father a birthday present, so we also return the blessings that God has given to us back to Him. This psalm is saturated with this wonderful exercise.
The psalmist blesses the Lord twice in the first verse, and does it with everything he’s got (v. 1). That is insufficient, so he blesses Him again in the second verse, refusing to forget God’s benefits to Him (v. 2). That is the key note of this psalm, and he returns to it at the conclusion of the psalm. He tells the angels to bless the Lord (v. 20), he tells the starry host to bless the Lord (v. 21), and he tells the entire creation to bless the Lord (v. 22), and he caps it all off by telling his soul, once again, to bless the Lord (v. 22). Psalm 103 is a glorious sandwich, and creatures blessing the Lord are the two pieces of bread on either side. The meat in the middle is made up of all the countless reasons we should bless the Lord. He really does fill our mouths with good things (v. 5).
Before and After
According to this psalm, what condition were we in before the Lord’s kindness was poured over us? To begin with, we were iniquitous (v. 3), and we were diseased (v. 3). We were destined for the pit, and were careening there (v. 4). Although He is slow to anger, we deserved that anger regardless (vv. 8-9). We were most undeserving (v. 10). Even in the midst of our rebellions, we were but dust (v. 14)—at the peak of our strength, we were nothing but an August dust devil, the kind that lasts for ten minutes.
And what has God done for such miserable creatures? He has transformed us into worshipers (vv. 1, 22). He loads us with benefits (v. 2). Those previously mentioned iniquities are forgiven (v. 3), and those previously mentioned diseases, liquid with decay, have been completely healed (v. 3). He pulled us back from the lip of the abyss (v. 4). Having hauled us wretches away from the bottomless pit, He takes us off to a coronation—and crowns us with hesedand with love (v. 4). He fills up our mouth with everything delicious, including this psalm (v. 5). He shows us the path to walk (v. 7). He turns His just and holy anger away(vv. 9-10). He not only takes our transgressions away, He takes them farther away from us than the east is from the west (v. 12). If you want to find your sins again, you are going to have to travel the entire circumference of the circle, looking for the corner He put them in. There isno corner. He knows our frame; He knows what it is like to be as lame and pitiful as we are (v. 13), and He acts upon that understanding by loading us up with His mercy, and pours it out in such a way as to bury our grandchildren in that mercy (v. 17).
The kindness of God is plain and obvious throughout all Scripture, but it all comes to a crescendo in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And to use the short hand form, weare crowned with hesedbecause Hewas crowned with thorns.
In order to make new men out of the wreckage of the old, God established a new humanity through a new and sinless Adam, and invites all men to come to Him on that basis. So if your desire is to have as your possession that “before and after” picture described earlier, then what do you do?
The answer is that you look to Christ. You look to Christ in the womb, Christ in His mother’s arms, Christ in the manger, Christ at school, Christ at work, Christ at the Jordan being baptized, Christ at Matthew’s banquet, Christ casting out demons, Christ touching lepers, Christ rebuking Pharisees, Christ handing the sop to Judas, Christ praying in the Garden, Christ being arrested, Christ restoring the ear of Malchus, Christ flogged, Christ with the thorns jammed on His head, Christ nailed to the wood, Christ speared, Christ anointed and wrapped, Christ buried, Christ risen, Christ embraced by an overjoyed Magdalene, Christ in the upper room, and Christ ascended into the heavens. Look there, and every blessing mentioned in this psalm is yours.