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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 103

Verse 1



The superscription identifies this as a Psalm of David; and, "Nothing in it forbids the supposition that he was the author. However, nothing in the psalm or anywhere else enables us to determine the precise occasion on which it was written."[1]

This is a perfect psalm, suitable to all times and situations. Christians more frequently turn to this psalm than to any other. Its terminology has entered into the speech of all generations. This writer remembers from the prayers of his grandfather the employment of Psalms 103:10 verbatim as it appears in the King James Bible, and also an exclamation that, "The time and place that know us now, shall soon know us no more for ever," founded upon Psalms 103:16.

Some of the critical writers would assign this psalm to the times of the exile, or afterward, depending upon the occurrence of certain Aramaisms; but as Leupold observed, "Aramaisms are never a sure index of date."[2] As Paul T. Butler, a distinguished Christian Church scholar of Joplin, Missouri, wrote in 1968, "Aramaisms cannot be made a criterion for determining date, because they are found in both early and late Old Testament books. Also, the recently-discovered Ras Shamra texts reveal Aramaic elements (Aramaisms) dating back to 1500 to 1400 B.C."[3] This, of course, knocks the keystone out of the arch of critical devices for late-dating Old Testament writings.

Another unwarranted assumption that labels many psalms "liturgical" is also very untrustworthy. "Of course, it cannot be denied that liturgical use of many psalms could have been made, but it is equally correct that they are beautifully adapted to personal use."[4]

The organization of this psalm appears to be: (1) a self-exhortation to praise God (Psalms 103:1-5); (2) Israel exhorted to bless God (Psalms 103:6-13); (3) God's consideration for man's frailty (Psalms 103:14-18); and (4) all in God's kingdom to bless Him (Psalms 103:19-22).

Psalms 103:1-5


"Bless Jehovah, O my soul;

And all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless Jehovah, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Who forgives all thine iniquities;

Who healeth all thy diseases;

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction;

Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

Who satisfieth thy desire with good things,

So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle."

Who is it who cannot make the spirit of this worship his own? Every mortal life has received countless benefits at the hand of the Lord, has been healed of many diseases, has received forgiveness of sins, has experienced the redemption of his life from destruction threatened by many dangers seen and unseen, and has enjoyed countless satisfactions from the good things which the Lord has provided.

"So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle" (Psalms 103:5). There was an ancient fable of the eagle renewing its youth in old age, similar to the fable of the Phoenix; but as Briggs noted, "It is doubtful whether there is any allusion here to the fable; but at all events it is the fulness of the life and vigor of the eagle that is thought of."[5]

Verse 6


"Jehovah executeth righteous acts,

And judgment for all that are oppressed.

He made known his ways unto Moses,

His doings unto the children of Israel.

Jehovah is merciful and gracious,

Slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness.

He will not always chide,

Neither will he keep his anger forever.

He hath not dealt with us after our sins,

Nor rewarded us after our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

So great is his lovingkindness toward them that fear him.

As far as the east is from the west,

So hath he removed our transgressions from us.

Like as a father pitieth his children,

So Jehovah pitieth them that fear him."

That the children of Israel are the ones particularly addressed in these lines is evident from the mention of Moses and the specific mention of them in Psalms 103:7.

"For all that are oppressed" (Psalms 103:6). The meaning of this may not be restricted to a minority of unfortunates, because the whole nation of Israel is meant. "The whole nation was once in bondage; and the thought here is retrospective to the days of Moses."[6]

"Slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness" (Psalms 103:8). Here are given two of the "Thirteen Attributes of God" as revealed in Exodus 34:6-7; Joel 2:13. Jonah named five of these in his prayer (Jonah 4:2).

"Thou hast not dealt with us after our sins, etc." (Psalms 103:10). "Just take a look at what the holy and righteous God did to the fallen angels, the antediluvian world, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the lost generation of Israel in the wilderness, and marvel at how leniently God has dealt with you; and this will surely deepen your gratitude and appreciation for the Divine mercy toward you."[7]

"As the heavens are high above the earth" (Psalms 103:11). Bold as this simile is, it is nevertheless inadequate, because God's kindness to them that love him is infinite.

"As far as the east is from the west" (Psalms 103:12). How far is this? Again, we have a suggestion of infinity, because, there is no such thing as getting to the end either of the east or the west. The genius of this simile is that the same thing is not true of the north and the south. When God forgives the sins of his children, he even forgets them (Jeremiah 32:31-35).

"Like as a father pitieth his children" (Psalms 103:13). God's pity of his human children is fully merited. The frailty and infirmities of life, its astounding brevity, the pressing necessities of work for survival, the prevalence of temptations, the weakness, uncertainties, doubts, fears and anxieties that continually encroach upon the thoughts of God's children, as well as the inherent danger in the implacable hatred of the righteous by the Evil One, are far more than enough to deserve pity, even from God.

Verse 14


"For he knoweth our frame;

He remembereth that we are dust.

As for man, his days are as grass;

As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone;

And the place thereof shall know it no more.

But the lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him,

And his righteousness unto children's children;

To such as keep his covenant,

And to those that remember his precepts to do them."

The first part of this paragraph gives some of the reasons for God's pity mentioned in the preceding verses. especially man's weakness and the brevity of his existence.

"From everlasting to everlasting ... unto children's children" (Psalms 103:17). As a special encouragement to his children, particularly those who keep the covenant and remember the precepts of God to do them, God reminds us here that his mercies and lovingkindness are eternal, benefitting, not merely those who love him, but also extending the benefits to their children.

"To such as keep his covenant and remember his precepts to do them" (Psalms 103:18). There is a reciprocal element in the great blessings and mercies of God, which are never bestowed upon the wicked and the righteous alike, except in the matter of such general blessings as the sunshine and the rain provided for both. The special lovingkindness and mercy of God in evidence here are promised to the obedient.

Verse 19


"Jehovah hath established his throne in the heavens;

And his kingdom ruleth over all.

Bless Jehovah, ye his angels,

That are mighty in strength, that fulfill his word,

Hearkening unto the voice of his word.

Bless Jehovah, all ye his hosts,

Ye ministers of his that do his pleasure.

Bless Jehovah, all ye his works,

In all places of his dominion: Bless Jehovah, O my soul."

This portion of the psalm is an exhortation for the universal adoration and worship of God. None are excepted. The mighty angels of heaven, all the "hosts" of whatever nature, over whom God reigns - let them all bless Jehovah and praise his holy name.

"His kingdom ruleth over all" (Psalms 103:19). The conception that God the creator of all things merely wound things up, set them on their way and then abandoned them is totally in error. Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon was humiliated by God Himself and compelled to eat grass for seven years in order to teach that vainglorious ruler that, "The Most High rules in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:25).

"Bless Jehovah, ye his angels" (Psalms 103:20). The angels of heaven are represented as worshipping God; and in Hebrews 1:6 this verse is quoted and applied to Jesus Christ, indicating the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

"All ye his hosts ... ye ministers of his" (Psalms 103:21). The psalmist is here still speaking of angels, as Briggs observed. "In the expression `hosts,' the angels are conceived as an organized army; and as `ministers' they are conceived of as faithful ministerial servants doing the Father's will."[8] This view is confirmed in Hebrews: "Are they not all ministering servants (spirits) sent forth to do service for them that shall be the heirs of salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).

It is impossible to think of an occasion of either public or private worship when this psalm would be inappropriate. It is one of the most priceless jewels of the whole Psalter.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 103". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.