Summary: A lone singer stirs up his soul to praise, and ends by summoning the whole of Creation to join his joyful song.
AN ORATORIO OF STEADFAST LOVE
The book of Psalms begins with the consideration of the truly blessed man (Psalm 1:1), and ends with a crescendo of praise in which all that breathes is exhorted to praise the LORD (Psalm 150:6). En route there are highs and lows, victories and failures, but the whole is a contemplation of the corporate and individual life of devotion to the LORD. Psalm 103 is a microcosm of the entire book, beginning with a lone voice giving out the line (Psalm 103:1) - not so much to the congregation as to himself - and building up to a call to the whole of creation to bless the LORD with him (Psalm 103:22).
Sometimes we are sluggish about praising God, so we have to stir ourselves up, searching within ourselves whether there might be anything hindering us from the right worship of the LORD. Having awoken our “soul” to the task, we must delve deeper still - into our innermost being - to rally “all that is within me” to join the project. The LORD is holy, and each of us must exhort our own soul to bless His name (Psalm 103:1).
When we bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we add nothing to Him: it is only our response to the blessing in which we have received our all from Him (Ephesians 1:3). By way of incentive the Psalmist reminds himself of God’s bounteous and undeserved benefits (Psalm 103:2). The negative “forget not” is an echo of Deuteronomy 6:12 and Deuteronomy 8:11.
As the Psalmist ‘counts his blessings’ he names:
1. forgiveness and healing (Psalm 103:3) -
These two belong together (Mark 2:9-11). Not that every illness can be simply accounted for by blaming the sufferer’s own sins (John 9:1-3): but there was no sickness in the world prior to Adam’s first sin. The same Jesus who died for our sins, also heals our diseases (Isaiah 53:5).
There is nothing unrighteous about our forgiveness, because Jesus our substitute took our sin upon Himself and paid the penalty due to us. Forensically, we are declared righteous, and the LORD does not reward us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:9-10). The measure of our forgiveness is as infinite as the distance from the east to the west (Psalm 103:12).
2. redemption, steadfast love and mercy (Psalm 103:4) -
Israel was redeemed out of captivity in Egypt. David (the Psalmist) was redeemed from the pit of destruction (2 Samuel 12:13). Christians are aware that their redemption is provided by our kinsman-redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24).
Psalm 103 celebrates the steadfast love of the LORD, His covenant mercy and faithfulness. Psalm 103:8 echoes Moses’ encounter with the LORD (Exodus 34:6). God’s mercy is as immense as the height of the heavens above the earth (Psalm 103:11).
3. satisfaction and renewal (Psalm 103:5) -
The LORD satisfies us with all the good things of this life, and the blessing of spiritual food out of the Word of God. He renews our vigour for the service of God (Isaiah 40:30-31). The LORD nurtures us, and cherishes us, and pities us “as a loving father” (Psalm 103:13).
Having established the benefits which helped fuel his own praise of God, the Psalmist looked beyond himself to the wider faith community. Another key word in this Psalm is “righteousness” - and the LORD showed His righteousness by executing justice for the oppressed when He brought the children of Israel out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership (Psalm 103:6-7). So the lone singer summons the whole congregation to join his song of praise.