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God is praised for his benefits to his people, 1, 2;
he forgives their iniquities, and heals their diseases, 3;
redeems their lives, crowns them with loving-kindness, 4;
satisfies them with good things, renews their youth, 5;
he helps the oppressed, makes his ways known, is merciful and
gracious, and keeps not his anger for ever, 6-9;
his forbearance, and pardoning mercy, 10-12;
he is a tender and considerate Father, 13, 14;
the frail state of man, 15, 16;
God's everlasting mercy, and universal dominion, 17-19;
all his angels, his hosts, and his works, are invited to praise
The inscription in the Hebrew, and in all the Versions, gives this Psalm to David; and yet many of the ancients believed it to refer to the times of the captivity, or rather to its conclusion, in which the redeemed Jews give thanks to God for their restoration. It is a Psalm of inimitable sweetness and excellence; contains the most affectionate sentiments of gratitude to God for his mercies; and the most consoling motives to continue to trust in God, and be obedient to him.
Verse Psalms 103:1. Bless the Lord — He calls on his soul, and all its faculties and powers, to magnify God for his mercies. Under such a weight of obligation the lips can do little; the soul and all its powers must be engaged.
Verse Psalms 103:2. Forget not all his benefits — Call them into recollection; particularize the chief of them; and here record them for an everlasting memorial.
Verse Psalms 103:3. Who forgiveth — The benefits are the following,
1. Forgiveness of sin.
2. Restoration of health: "Who healeth all thy diseases."
Verse Psalms 103:4. Who redeemeth —
3. Preservation from destruction. הגואל haggoel, properly, redemption of life by the kinsman; possibly looking forward, in the spirit of prophecy, to him who became partaker of our flesh and blood, that he might have the right to redeem our souls from death by dying in our stead.
4. Changing and ennobling his state; weaving a crown for him out of loving-kindness and tender mercies.
Verse Psalms 103:5. Who satisfieth thy mouth —
5. For continual communications of spiritual and temporal good; so that the vigour of his mind was constantly supported and increased.
Thy youth is renewed like the eagle's. — There is such a vast variety of the eagle, or genus Falco, that it is not easy to determine which is meant here. The Hebrew נשר neser is a general name for such as were known in the land of Judea; which were probably such as belong to the genus Aquila, comprehending forty-one species and seven varieties.
There are as many legends of the eagle among the ancient writers, as there are of some saints in the calendar; and all equally true. Even among modern divines, Bible Dictionary men, and such like, the most ridiculous tales concerning this bird continue to be propagated; and no small portion of them have been crowded into comments on this very verse. One specimen my old Psalter affords, which, for its curiosity, I shall lay before the reader: -
Trans. Newed sal be als of aeren thi youthed.
Par. The arne when he is greved with grete elde, his neb waxis so gretely, that he may nogt open his mouth and take mete: bot then he smytes his neb to the stane, and has away the solgh, and than he gaes til mete, and be commes yong a gayne. Swa Criste duse a way fra us oure elde of syn and mortalite, that settes us to ete oure brede in hevene, and newes us in hym.
The plain English of all this is: -
"When the arne [eagle, from the Anglo-Saxon [A.S.], a word which Dr. Jamieson has not entered in his dictionary] is oppressed with old age, his bill grows so much that he cannot open his mouth in order to take meat. He then smites his bill against a stone, and breaks off the slough - the excrescence that prevented him from eating; and then he goes to his ordinary food, and becomes young again. So Christ takes away from us our old age of sin and death, and gives us to eat of that bread which comes down from heaven: and thus gives us a new life in himself."
I believe the meaning of the psalmist is much more simple: he refers to the moulting of birds, which, in most, takes place annually, in which they cast their old feathers and get a new plumage. To express this, he might as well have chosen any bird, as this is common to all the feathered race; but he chose the king of the birds, because of his bulk, his strength, and vivacity.
The long life of the eagle might have induced the psalmist to give it the preference. An eagle was nine years in the possession of Owen Holland, Esq., of Conway, in Wales, and had lived thirty-two years in the possession of the gentleman who made it a present to him: but of its previous age, for it came from Ireland, we are not informed. Keysler relates that an eagle died at Vienna, after a confinement of one hundred and four years!
The eagle can subsist a long time without food. That first mentioned above, through the neglect of a servant, was twenty-one days without food, and yet survived this long fast.
The meaning and moral of the psalmist are not difficult of comprehension. The Israelites, when redeemed from their captivity, should be so blessed by their God that they should re-acquire their political strength and vigour; and should be so quickened by the Divine Spirit, that old things should be passed away, and all things become new.
Verse Psalms 103:6. The Lord executeth — This shall be done because the Lord will avenge his elect who have cried unto him day and night for his deliverance: "He is slow to anger;" but he will punish. "He is plenteous in mercy," and he will save. The persevering sinner shall be destroyed; the humble penitent shall be saved.
Verse Psalms 103:7. He made known his ways unto Moses — From the earliest part of our history he has been our protector and defence. His wonderful acts in behalf of the children of Israel are so many proofs of his mercy, power, and goodness; and so many reasons why we should now trust in him.
Verse Psalms 103:8. The Lord is merciful — Psalms 86:15.
Verse Psalms 103:9. He will not always chide — He will not contend with us continually. He has often reproved, often punished us; but his mercy ever rejoiced over judgment.
Verse Psalms 103:10. He has not dealt unity us after our sins — He has never apportioned our punishment to our sins, nor has he regulated the exercise of his mercy by our merits.
Verse Psalms 103:11. For as the heaven is high above the earth — Great and provoking as our crimes may have been, yet his mercies have, in their magnitude and number, surpassed these, as far as the heavens are elevated beyond the earth.
Verse Psalms 103:12. As far as the east is from the west — As the east and the west can never meet in one point, but be for ever at the same distance from each other, so our sins and their decreed punishment are removed to an eternal distance by his mercy.
Verse Psalms 103:13. Like as a father pitieth his children — This is a very emphatic verse, and may be thus translated: "As the tender compassions of a father towards his children; so the tender compassions of Jehovah towards them that fear him." Nothing can place the tenderness and concern of God for his creatures in a stronger light than this. What yearnings of bowels does a father feel toward the disobedient child, who, sensible of his ingratitude and disobedience, falls at his parent's feet, covered with confusion and melted into tears, with, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am not worthy to be called thy son!" The same in kind, but infinitely more exquisite, does God feel when the penitent falls at his feet, and implores his mercy through Christ crucified.
Verse Psalms 103:14. For he knoweth our frame — יצרנו yitsrenu, "our formation;" the manner in which we are constructed, and the materials of which we are made. He knows we cannot contend with him, and if he uses his power against us, we must be crushed to destruction. In all his conduct towards us he considers the frailty of our nature, the untowardness of our circumstances, the strength and subtlety of temptation, and the sure party (till the heart is renewed) that the tempter has within us. Though all these things are against us, yet it must ever be said, whatever use we make of it, "the grace of God is sufficient for us." But alas! alas! who makes use of that sufficient grace? Here, then, is cause for condemnation. But, O amazing mercy! if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him; for he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are but dust. The man who can say, in the face of these Scriptures, Let us sin that grace may abound, is a brute and demon, who has neither lot nor part in this thing.
Verse Psalms 103:15. His days are as grass — Psalms 90:5.
Verse Psalms 103:16. The wind passeth over it — Referring perhaps to some blasting pestilential wind.
Verse Psalms 103:17. The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting — חסד chesed signifies more particularly the exuberant goodness of God. This is an attribute of his nature, and must be from everlasting to everlasting; and hence, his righteousness (צדקת tsidketh) - his merciful mode of justifying the ungodly, is extended from one generation to another.
Unto children's children. — It is still in force, and the doctrine of reconciliation through Christ shall continue to be preached till the conclusion of time.
Verse Psalms 103:18. To such as keep his covenant — The spirit of which was, I will be your GOD; WE will be thy PEOPLE. From the covenant came the commandments, and their obligation to remember and do them; and on such keepers of the covenant, and doers of the commandments, God promises to pour out his mercy through all generations.
Verse Psalms 103:19. The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens — There he is Sovereign, but his dominion extends equally over all the earth; for his kingdom - regal government, influence, and sway, ruleth over all.
Verse Psalms 103:20. Bless the Lord, ye his angels — Every person who has a sense of God's goodness to his soul feels his own powers inadequate to the praise which he ought to offer; and therefore naturally calls upon the holiest of men, and the supreme angels, to assist him in this work.
That excel in strength — Some take גברי כה gibborey coach, the mighty in strength, for another class of the hierarchy,-they that do his commandments, hearkening to his words; and consider them to be that order of beings who are particularly employed in operations among and for the children of men; probably such as are called powers in the New Testament.
Verse Psalms 103:21. All ye his hosts; ye ministers of his — We know almost nothing of the economy of the heavenly host; and, therefore, cannot tell what is the difference between angels, mighty powers, hosts, and ministers who do his pleasure. All owe their being and all its blessings to God; all depend upon his bounty; and without him they can do nothing; therefore, all should praise him.
Verse Psalms 103:22. Bless the Lord, all his works — Let every thing he has done be so considered as to show forth his praise.
Bless the Lord, O my soul. — Let me never forget my obligation to his mercy; for with tender mercies and loving-kindness has he crowned me. I will therefore be thankful unto him, and speak good of his name.
There are three parts in this Psalm: -
I. The exordium, in which the psalmist invites his own soul to praise the Lord, Psalms 103:1-2.
II. The narration, being a declaration of God's benefits conferred on him and others, and the causes of those benefits, Psalms 103:3-19.
III. The conclusion, in which he calls on all creatures to assist him in praising the Lord, Psalms 103:20-22.
I. The exordium, -
1. Bless God. Think on the benefit, and praise the Benefactor.
2. Let the soul join in this. Let it be done heartily; lip - labour is little worth.
3. "All that is within me." Every faculty, - understanding, will, memory, judgment, affections, desires, c.
4. "Bless Jehovah," who gave thee thy being, and all thy blessings.
5. "Forget not his benefits." Most forget their obligations both to God and man but ingratitude, which is the source of forgetfulness, is abominable.
6. "All his benefits." Thou hast already for gotten many; forget no more. The word gemuley, signifies, literally, retributions or recompenses, as the Vulgate has well expressed it. And of what kind are these recompenses? Invariably good for evil; nor hast thou ever offered him one accent of praise that he has not compensated with a blessing of infinite value.
II. The narration. A declaration of benefits. 1. To himself. 2. To the Church. These were, - 1. Spiritual; 2. Temporal benefits.
First spiritual benefit - justification: "He forgiveth all thine iniquities."
Second spiritual benefit - regeneration or sanctification: "Healeth all thy diseases."
Third spiritual benefit - redemption from the first and second death, in consequence of being thus justified and sanctified.
Fourth spiritual benefit - glorification anticipated: "Who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercy." The crown comes from the loving-kindness and tender mercy of God; not from any merit in man.
The temporal benefits are, -
1. Abundance of the necessaries of life: "Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things."
2. Health and long life: "Thy youth is renewed like the eagle's." See the note on this passage.
The benefits to the whole Church are, -
1. Defence and deliverance: "The Lord executes judgment."
2. Manifestation of his will: "He made known his ways," c.
All these spring from the four attributes mentioned below, -
1. "He is merciful," רחום rachum, bearing a paternal affection to his intelligent creatures, especially to those who fear him.
2. "Gracious," חנון channun, the Giver of grace and favour for he who has a fatherly heart will give.
3. "Slow to anger," ארך אפים erech appayim, long in nostrils, not hasty; not apt to be angry.
4. "Plenteous in mercy," רב חסד rab chesed, multiplying kindness. Gives abundantly from his own bounty, not according to our merit.
The effects of all these are, -
1. Because he is merciful: "He will not always chide."
2. Because he is gracious: "He deals not with us after our sin."
3. Because he is slow to anger: "He will not keep his anger forever."
4. Because he is plenteous in mercies: His mercies surpass our sins as much as heaven surpasses the earth.
5. Because he is like a father: He "pities his children;" considers their frame, and makes all the allowance that justice mingled with mercy can make.
6. And as he is righteous - true, and faithful in performing his covenant, his mercy is everlasting to those that fear him.
But let it be remembered who they are that have a right to expect such blessings: -
1. "Those who fear him."
2. "Those who keep his covenant."
3. "Those who remember his commandments, and do them."
That he is able to do all that he has promised, the psalmist marks his dominion: -
1. It is not circumscribed: "His throne is in heaven."
2. It takes in all places and all nations. For "his kingdom ruleth over all;" he is King of kings, and Lord of lords.
III. The conclusion. For these benefits he invites all creatures to praise the Lord.
1. The angels, whom he describes, - 1. From their excellence: "Ye that excel in strength." 2. From their obedience: "Ye that do his commandments." 3. From their readiness and cheerfulness in it: "Ye that hearken to the voice of his words," - who are ever ready, at the slightest intimation, to perform his will.
2. All the hosts or armies of God, - archangels, principalities, dominions, powers, thrones, c.
3. He invites all the creatures of God to praise him, whether animate or inanimate: "All creatures, in all places of his dominion." This extends throughout immensity. For this there is the strongest reason - he made all - rules over all - "is in all places" with all - preserves all - moves all.
4. To show that he who calls upon others will not be backward himself to praise God as he began, so he concludes, with "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" Thus he had the high praises of God continually in his mouth.
And thus finishes this most excellent and inimitable Psalm. The old Psalter concludes thus: "Blysses to Lorde al his werks in ilk stede of his Lordschip: blisse my saule to Lorde. When men well lyfes, al thair werks blysses God. Fra blyssyng we cum forth to blyssyngs, gawe agayne, and tharein dwell we."
The more we praise God, the more occasion we shall see to praise him, and the more spiritually minded we shall become. Praise proceeds from gratitude; gratitude from a sense of obligation; and both praise and gratitude will be in proportion to the weight of that obligation; and the weight will be in proportion to the sense we have of God's great goodness and our own unworthiness. As the reader's heart may be in a heavenly frame, I shall help him to express his feelings by the following inimitable verses, which express the substance of the preceding Psalm: -
From all that dwell below the skies
Let the Creator's praise arise!
Let the Redeemer's grace be sung
In every land, by every tongue!
Eternal are thy mercies, Lord!
Eternal truth attends thy word!
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore,
Till sun shall rise and set no more.
Praise GOD, from whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him, all creatures here below!
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host!
Praise FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST!
Amen and Amen.
These files are public domain.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 103". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20