God’s Word for You
Psalm 103:1-5 Bless the LORD
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, December 23, 2019
Psalms 103 and 104 are a pair, connected by the phrase, “Bless the LORD, O my soul.” They also place our worship of God in an order which surprises some, but which makes perfect sense to a believer: Psalm 103 praises God for his forgiveness; Psalm 104 praises God for creation. Without God’s forgiveness, we would not praise him for creation; we would praise him for nothing at all. We would shake in terror of his justice and our inevitable judgment and condemnation.
Dr. Brug (Psalms Vol. II p. 212) lays out the chiastic arrangement of this Psalm in a simple manner:
Opening: Bless the LORD, O my soul v. 1-5
Recollections of Moses based on Exodus 34 v. 6-8
The greatness of God’s mercy v. 9-16
Recollections of Moses based on Exodus 20 v. 17,18
Closing: Bless the LORD, O my soul v. 19-22
Here David is contemplating Moses and the powerful acts of God for the salvation of his people. If God could rescue his people from slavery in Egypt, pursuit by hundreds of chariots, from starvation in the desert, and from their own stubborn sinfulness, he can certainly rescue us from whatever troubles come our way today.
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
all that is within me, bless his holy name.
It may seem strange to some Christians to hear a believer blessing the Lord, but just as God blesses us (with his many gifts and benefits), we bless him by thanking him. As Luther said, “We thank and praise, serve and obey him” (Small Catechism, First Article “What does this mean?”).
David uses synonymous parallelism here which means that he finds a way to say the same thing twice. By doing so, he identifies for us the contents and workings of the soul. “My soul” is the same as “all that is within me.” We know from other passages such as Ecclesiastes 12:7 that the physical body and the soul are able to separate at death, therefore the soul does not consist of bones and sinews, organs and blood. But other elements that are an important part of who we are must therefore reside in the soul as well as in the body. The memory, the ability to think and reason, to ponder and worship, to understand and believe—are these things only a part of the soul, or are they a part of the flesh as well? This is a mystery that we cannot make a conclusion about with true certainty, but we can say this: The things that make us who we are (love, memory, wit, will, etc.) will still be with us when we are in heaven and our bodies and souls reunite before the final judgment. We will be rid of sin and temptation, and we will be as we were meant to be.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your guilt,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with mercy and compassion,
5 who satisfies your old age with goodness
so that your youth is renewed like the youth of the eagle.
David preaches a delightful little sermon here about the things God has done for us. He begins with forgiveness. The forgiveness of our sins is the greatest benefit we have, even over life itself, since life would be dark, agonizing, and unbearable without the mercy of God. Possessing forgiveness as we do makes it possible for children to say goodbye to aging and dying parents with confidence and comfort: We shall be together again in glory. Those are not empty words; they are the ultimate expression of faith.
God heals diseases. Is David talking about disease in general, or something that happened in his own life, in his own family (2 Samuel 12:15-19)? Perhaps. But sickness itself is a result of there being sin in the world. A man can become sick and even die from his abuse of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or immoral sex. But illness can come because of the sins of other people, as well. How many miners and construction workers have died because of unsafe conditions or chemical compounds that are toxic? And sometimes God tests us and permits us to fall ill, as he did with Job.
God delivers us from death. This is the meaning of “[He] redeems your life from the pit.” The pit (Hebrew shahat) is not a synonym for hell, but simply for the grave (see especially Job 33:18 and Psalm 30:3). It might reflect the ancient practice among Israelites for burying their dead in a family tomb. A buried person was laid on a slab, usually in a cave, where there was a depression or hole behind. Before a new burial could take place, the most recently buried ancestor (now bones in wrappings) was pushed, with reverence we assume, off of the slab into the shahat or pit, and then the new individual would be laid out on the slab.
God’s mercy and compassion come to us from God’s heart and have nothing at all to do with our own merits or deeds. When anyone, pastor, priest or person on the street, tries to tell you that you must do such-and-such to merit God’s forgiveness, you should accuse them of blasphemy and slam the door in their face. We merit nothing at all from God, even if we beg and plead for mercy and even if we lay out a thousand good works like a friend laying out gifts from a trip overseas. Those who claim that we earn God’s grace turn even baptism into a good deed, and they turn the Lord’s Supper into an obligation. Piffle! Claptrap! Absurd! Let them stop their wuthering and listen to the clear, distinct sound of the Lord’s voice. God’s grace is not earned by anyone. It is given as a gift to the crushed and the despairing.
In verse 5, we have a word that is uncertain. I have taken ‘ad to mean “old age,” but it can also mean “ornament” or “desire” which is often the translation. “Old age” seems to contrast nicely with “youth” later in the verse and clarify the meaning of the verse overall: God revitalizes the old with youth and vigor. This is one of several times that the Scriptures show us that in the resurrection, we will be renewed and given youthful strength once again.
This is part of the promise of eternal life. It is ours through Jesus, who came into the world to rescue us, to save us, to deliver us, and to rejuvenate us. He has done all of these things, and we will continue to praise him until he comes again in glory to bring us to our everlasting home.
Pastor Timothy Smith