A Song for the Redeemed to Praise the Lord

a brief study of Psalm 103, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 23 April 2010

Psalm 103 is a very familiar psalm especially in churches that sing the psalms exclusively. In such churches, especially in Scotland, this psalm is sung at almost every communion service! And it is the psalm almost inevitably recommended for use at the Lord’s Supper whenever an order of worship is proposed.

This is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving unto the LORD for His fatherly compassion, mercy, forgiveness and undeserved blessings. It is a psalm that can only be sung meaningfully by forgiven sinners united to Christ, who have tasted of the Father’s love, and whose heart is filled with the Spirit and overflowing with gratitude. 

We may entitle it: “A Song for the Redeemed to Bless the LORD.” It has three main parts which we may entitle as follows:

1.   Bless the LORD,—O my soul,—for His Benefits (v. 1-7);

2.   Bless the LORD,—All ye His Children,—for His Compassion (v. 6-18);

3.   Bless the LORD,—All ye His Works,—for His Dominion (v. 19-22).

Notice how the three parts move from the individual, to the church, to the world. We must bless the Lord as individuals. We must bless the Lord as a church. We must call upon all Creation to bless the Lord.


1. Bless the LORD,—O My Soul, —for His Benefits (v. 1-5)

1  Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: 3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; 4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; 5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

What can we add by way of explanation to clarify the beautiful words? These are words supplied by our Redeemer to give expression to the gratitude that fills each of our hearts for His benefits.

The Lord has done great things for me. Let all that is within me, bless His holy name.[1] He has forgiven my sin. He has healed me of my diseases both bodily and spiritual (v. 4). He has redeemed me from a meaningless life that will end in destruction (v. 4a). He has enabled me to enjoy His covenantal love and his tender mercies (v. 4b). He has blessed me with all good things for the refreshment and enjoyment of my body and soul.

Because of the Lord’s blessings, I shall not want. In the strength of the Lord, I can mount up with wings and sour as young eagle through all the challenges of life (cf. Isa 40:31).

What shall I do in the face of such great benefits but to bless the LORD? Bless the Lord, O my soul! Let all that is within me, bless His holy name!

But let me not just bless the Lord alone! Let me bless Him also in unison with the saints who have also experienced his blessings.


2. Bless the LORD,—All Ye His Children, —for His Compassion (v. 8-18)

The Lord is benevolent, righteous and fair towards all His creatures, but He has a special love towards His people. To them He made known His ways and His salvation through his appointed servants such as Moses (cf. v. 7).

Through Moses, the Lord taught the way of holiness.

Through Moses the Lord explained the way of salvation through the Redeemer who would die for His people. This is the purpose of the animal sacrifices.

But more than through Moses, the LORD has,—through the work of the Spirit in our heart,—given us an apprehension of the covenant lovingkindness and compassion of the LORD towards His people. And the Spirit of Christ has given us the words to express the gratitude that flows from our heart for this assurance of His love:

8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. 10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us

Again, what can we add by way of explanation that will explicate what is already expressed so clearly. We deserve God’s wrath and curse. But the LORD has shown us mercy and grace instead. He does not deal with us as our sin deserves. Instead, he forgives us, and removed our transgressions from us.

Looking back in retrospect, as New Testament believers, we can see how our sin were nailed to the cross of Calvary. Christ our Lord took the punishment due to us so that we would never be punished ever again. He suffered hell that we might enjoy heaven.

For Christ’s sake, God has shown great mercy that reaches unto the heavens to them that fear Him.

For Christ’s sake, God has removed the guilt of our transgressions and cast it as far away from us as the East is from the West.

For Christ’s sake, God deals with us not as sinners but as beloved children covered in the righteousness of His Son.

And so the Lord deals with us with fatherly pity and compassion:

13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. 14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. 16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.  17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; 18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.

The pity and compassion of the LORD is not experienced by everyone in the world, but only by those who fear Him and keep His commandments (v. 11, 13, 17, 18). But such as fear Him and keep His commandments, will find the LORD to be a Father full of understanding, pity and compassion. And that, despite the fact that we are insignificant creatures of dust, whereas He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being and perfections.

Oh how this assurance of the Lord’s pity, and the love of the Holy Spirit shed abroad in our heart ought to stir all that is within us to join together with one another to praise our Abba Father. And praise be to the Lord: We have such beautiful words that we can use to praise Him in union with our Saviour.

But not only are we to praise the LORD, gratitude compels us to call upon all of creation to praise Him.


3. Bless the LORD,—All Ye His Works, —for His Dominion (v. 19-22)

19 The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all. 20 Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.  21 Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. 22 Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.

Though our LORD stoop down to show us His love and pity to us creatures of dust, we must not forget that He is the Creator and Governor over the entire universe.

His throne is in heaven. His kingdom rules over all. His dominion is over all things seen and unseen, physical and spiritual.

Let us, therefore, as vessels of His mercy and love, join in with our elder brother Christ, to call upon all Creation including the holy angels to praise His Holy name. No, no, the angels of the LORD need not man to call them to bless the LORD. Before man was even created, they as the morning stars and the sons of God sang and shouted for joy when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:7).

But the angels were appointed to be “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Heb 1:14). And all things in this world were created by Jesus Christ “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known [through] the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:9-10). That is: all things in this physical universe exist for the sake of the church to serve as the stage of the drama of redemption.

Therefore, it is our great privilege to call upon all creation animate and inanimate, including the holy angels to join us praise the Father. Let us make this call, beloved brethren and children, as we remind ourselves individually and corporately to bless the LORD.


Conclusion

Psalm 103 is another very beautiful psalm that is very difficult to expound in a short study because it is so rich and yet so clearly expressed. Indeed, it would do more for us to read it, meditate on it and sing it regularly than to hear it expounded even by the most eloquent and angelic tongue.

May the Lord help us to fill our hearts with the thoughts expressed in it. May he cause our heart to overflow with praise in our lips so that we may spontaneously say in our heart always: “Bless the LORD, O my soul.” Amen. Ω



[1]   Bless the Lord, O my soul - The word “bless,” as applied to God, means to praise, implying always a strong affection for him as well as a sense of gratitude. As used with reference to people, the word implies a “wish” that they may be blessed or happy, accompanied often with a prayer that they may be so” (Barne’s Notes).