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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 103

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


A Psalm of David.

This is one of the sweetest psalms of praise in the whole book. In Psalms 103:1 the author calls upon himself to bless God: first, for rich personal experience of the divine mercy, (Psalms 103:2-5;) secondly, for his forgiving grace and righteous judgments to Israel, (Psalms 103:6-12;) thirdly, for his tender consideration of human infirmity, (Psalms 103:13-16;) fourthly, for his faithful covenant mercy to such as fear him everywhere, (Psalms 103:17-18;) fifthly, for his universal dominion, for which angels, men, and all his works, should praise him, (Psalms 103:19-22.) The last clause of the psalm repeats the sentiment of Psalms 103:1, thus rounding and completing this incomparable ode.

The name Jehovah occurs eleven times in this psalm, and it speaks from the depth of conscious realization of that name as the covenant God and merciful Ruler of Israel. The turning away of anger, the tender and loving compassion of God, the readiness to forgive, the facts of recent forgiveness and redemption from the grave, are considerations which awaken the liveliest gratitude, and give freshness and vigour to the style. In artistic structure and in evangelical doctrine it is unsurpassed, while it has all the ease and vigour and naturalness of a Davidic production. Its occasion might suit his recovery and pardon after the reproof of Nathan, (2 Samuel 12:0;) or his restoration after the numbering of the people, (2 Samuel 24:0;) but more probably the former. There is no historic or internal evidence requiring us to set aside the title, which ascribes the psalm to David, but strong internal evidence to the contrary. According to Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, etc., the few Aramaic forms which occur are insufficient to date it after the captivity, and were added for poetic beauty to give ornament to the expression.

Verse 1

1. Bless the Lord, O my soul To “bless the Lord” is to praise him by declaring his attributes and works, and offering thanksgiving. To “bless” an individual man is to invoke the favour of God upon him. See Numbers 6:22-27. “Soul,” here, cannot be taken as the intermediate, or psychical nature, between the mind and body, according to the Greek trichotomy, but the ego, the self, and is parallel to the all that is within me, or inward parts, in the next line; or, as we would say, my inmost soul the depth of my being. It is to be a soul-work, not formal or lip service. David rouses himself to the sum total of all his higher powers in ascribing praise to God. The word “bless” occurs six times in the psalm.

Verse 2

2. Forget not all his benefits A commandment of the law, Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 8:11-14; (compare, also, Deuteronomy 32:15,) and a first duty of the creature. “He that has been blessed, and refuses to bless, has sunk from the state of a man to that of a beast.” Hengstenberg.

All That is, any; the same word as in Psalms 147:20

Verse 3

3. Who forgiveth The chief blessing to a guilty soul. But this is not only an acknowledgment of the uniform readiness of God to forgive, (as Exodus 34:6-7,) but a special confession of what God had done for him: and the freshness of David’s joy, and confession of pardon, and his repeated recurrence to the same thing, (Psalms 103:8; Psalms 103:10; Psalms 103:12,) evidence some recent remarkable instance of this forgiving grace, which accords well with the date and authorship assigned in the introduction. Compare Psalms 23, 116. The same applies to the second clause of the verse. Compare Psalms 38:0

Verse 4

4. From destruction From death from the grave. The word is elsewhere translated pit, grave, corruption; but it denotes a state of death in which the body returns to corruption. Here, also, in the idea of redemption from the grave, the germ of the doctrine of the resurrection is discovered.

Verse 5

5. Thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s The allusion is to the fresh plumage of the eagle after moulting. The figure of Isaiah 40:31, is based on the eagle’s breadth and strength of wing. Instead of, “They shall mount up on wings as eagles,” the Septuagint erroneously has it, “They shall put forth new feathers like eagles.”

Verse 6

6. Righteousness and judgment See note on Psalms 72:1.

For all For God is no respecter of persons.

Verse 7

7. His ways God’s “ways,” or methods, in redemption. The allusion is to Exodus 33:13. It was not an objective revelation merely, but such a series of manifestations as well, as illustrated at once both the principles and the fact of his salvation.

Verse 8

8. Merciful and gracious A quotation from Exodus 34:6

Verse 9

9. Chide Contend, as an adversary at law.

His anger These words are not in the original, but “anger,” judicially construed, is implied. The exact doctrine of this verse is expanded Isaiah 57:16 and Micah 7:18-19.

Always… for ever Two Hebrew words signifying endless duration. The passage applies to the disciplinary and afflictive dispensations of God toward his children, as the context shows, (compare Exodus 34:6-7; Psalms 78:38,) not his judgments on the wicked, as in Psalms 73:18-20; Psalms 9:17

Verse 10

10. He hath not dealt with us after our sins Although the Lord had often chided the Israelites for their sins, and allowed his “anger,” at times, to break forth in just punishment, his judgments had never been as severe as the occasion merited, but mercy had ever tempered justice in all his dealings with them.

Nor rewarded us A repetition of the same thought, making a synonymous parallelism.

Verse 11

11. As the heaven is high above the earth The highest measure of comparison the mind can grasp. Comp. Psalms 36:5; Psalms 57:10.

Them that fear him So, also, Psalms 103:13; Psalms 103:17-18. This shows he is speaking of God’s fatherly chastisements of his people. He looks at their sin in the light of their earthly misery and temptation, (Psalms 103:14,) and mingles compassion with severity, “that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Hebrews 12:10

Verse 12

12. As far as the east is from the west The antithesis denotes the extreme boundaries of the world or universe. For the figure, see on Psalms 50:1. The phrase is proverbial for what is measurable, as in Psalms 103:11.

So far hath he removed our transgressions A testimony to the witness of absolute forgiveness and acceptance worthy of the New Testament.

Verse 14

14. Our frame Our formation, or workmanship, referring specially to the body, or perishable nature. The reference is to Genesis 2:7: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” See notes on Psalms 139:15-16

Verse 15

15. As for man As for the human race, “man” being used collectively of all men, as Deuteronomy 32:26; Job 7:17; Psalms 8:4-5.

Grass… flower Emblems of frailty and beauty. Job 14:2; Psalms 90:6

Verse 16

16. The wind passeth over it The allusion is to the east and southeast winds, which, coming from the hot desert of Arabia, pass over Palestine with vehemence, destroying life, withering grass and herbage, and exhausting the strength of men and animals. See Ezekiel 17:10; Ezekiel 19:12; Hosea 13:15.

It is gone Hebrew, It is not. Such is our transient, mortal life. But the language applies specially to wicked and worldly men who have their portion in this life and forget God. See Job 20:9; Psalms 37:10; Psalms 73:19-20.

The place thereof shall know it no more Taken almost literally from Job 7:8

Verse 17

17. But the mercy of the Lord The adversative sense of the conjunction marks the contrast between the perishable and frail in man, (vers. 15, 16,) and the everlasting “mercy” and faithfulness of God to “such as keep his covenant.” Psalms 103:17-18.

Everlasting to everlasting From eternity to eternity. By a law of interpretation the words are limited only by the nature of the subject.

Unto children’s children A quotation from Exodus 20:6; Exodus 34:7; Deuteronomy 7:9

Verse 19

19. The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens In contrast with “man,” who is “dust.” Psalms 103:14. From this majesty of God, his ability to perpetuate mercy through all generations to his faithful children is inferred, and the doxology of Psalms 103:20-22 is due. Comp. 1 Chronicles 29:11-12.

Over all Over the universe of created beings, as Psalms 103:22

Verse 20

20. Angels A designation of an order of beings, not an office, as messengers. Compare the call upon angels, Psalms 29:1-2; Psalms 148:2. The call is grounded in our fellowship with them. Hebrews 12:22-23. If the doctrine of archangels was thus early understood, as in later times, (see Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21; Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21; comp. Luke 1:19; Revelation 8:2; Revelation 12:7; Tob 12:15 ,) the following descriptions might well apply to them.

Excel in strength Hebrew, Mighty of strength. The word mighty, (English version, “excel,”) denotes the highest reach of finite “strength,” skill, and endurance, such as, when applied to man, distinguishes the hero-warrior.

That do his commandments That execute his word. They are the executive messengers of God.

Hearkening unto the voice Denoting both attentiveness to learn, and promptness to execute. “ As soon as they hear the voice of God they promptly obey.” Hammond. An example to us.

Verse 21

21. Hosts Not the heavenly bodies, (as in Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; Psalms 33:6,) but the collective whole of all orders of celestial beings, as 1 Kings 22:19 and Psalms 148:2. Compare Daniel 7:10.

Ye ministers Same as “hosts” in previous clause. Angels are called ministers, in Hebrews 1:14; Psalms 104:4; Daniel 7:10

Verse 22

22. All his works All animate and inanimate creatures, the universe, as Psalms 103:19. Bless the Lord, O my soul. The thrice “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” (see Psalms 103:1-2,) answers to the thrice “Bless ye the Lord;” and, as if to place his own obligation above that of all other beings, he fitly begins and ends the psalm alike, with the same personal call, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” The psalmist herein furnishes an instructive example to all believers who have sought and found forgiving and accepting grace.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 103". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-103.html. 1874-1909.
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