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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 103


This psalm has been compared to a stream which, as it flows, gradually acquires strength and volume till its waves of praise swell like those of the sea. The poet begins by invoking his own soul to show its gratitude for the Divine favour, and, by a highly artistic touch, makes the psalm, after rising to sublime heights, end with the same appeal to personal experience. But national mercies till much the larger space in his thought, and he speaks throughout as much in the person of the community as his own. Beyond one probable Aramaism in Psalms 103:3, and a possible dependence in one passage on the Book of Job (comp. Psalms 103:16 with Job 17:10), there is nothing to indicate the time of the psalm’s composition. The rhythm is varied, and the form irregular.

Verse 2

(2) Benefits.—Literally, actions, whether good or bad (Judges 9:16; Proverbs 12:14). But what a significance in the restricted meaning “benefits.” God’s acts are all benefits.

Verse 3

(3) Forgiveth.—The first “benefit” to one who aims at the higher life is the knowledge of the Divine readiness to forgive and renew, and this, as Augustine remarks, implies a quick moral sense: “God’s benefits will not be before our eyes unless our sins are also before our eyes.”

Diseases.—Here chiefly in a moral sense, as the parallelism “iniquity” shows, even if the next verse, taken literally, implies an allusion to physical suffering as well.

Verse 4

(4) Destruction.—Rather, pit, or grave, as in Psalms 16:10.

Crowneth.—A metaphor drawn from the common custom of wearing wreaths and garlands on festive occasions (Sir. 32:2). Comp. Psalms 8:5.

Verse 5

(5) Mouth.—On the Hebrew word thus rendered, see Psalms 32:9. The word there adopted (“trappings,” or “ornaments”) would Commend itself here, from the evident allusion in the next clause to the moulting of the bird, and its appearance in new plumage, if the expression “to satisfy ornament with good” were in any way intelligible. The LXX. and Vulg. have “desire; the Syriac “body;” but the Chaldee, “age,” which is supported (Gesenius) by the derivation, gives the best sense:—

Who satisfleth thine age with good, so that
Thy youth renews itself like the eagle.

The eagle’s.—Heb., nesher; properly, the griffon, or great vulture. See Exodus 19:4; and Note to Obadiah 1:4.

The rendering of the Prayer Book, “like the eagle’s,” follows the LXX. The idea that the eagle renewed its youth formed the basis of a Rabbinical story, and no doubt appears also in the myth of the Phœnix. But the psalmist merely refers to the fresh and vigorous appearance of the bird with its new plumage.

Verse 6

(6) Oppressed.—From individual the poet passes to national mercies, and goes back to the memorable manifestations of Divine favour vouchsafed to Moses.

Verse 7

(7) Moses.—A direct reference to Exodus 33:13.

Verse 8

(8) Merciful and Gracious.—The original confession (Exodus 34:6) had become a formula of the national faith. In addition to the marginal references, see Joel 2:13, Psalms 145:8.

Verses 9-10

(9, 10) This reflection naturally follows after the last quotation from Exodus.

Verse 11

(11) So great is his mercy toward.—Literally, Strong is his mercy upon (or, over). (Comp. Psalms 117:2.) The comparison in the first clause, and the use of this expression in Genesis 49:26 and 2 Samuel 11:23, suggests as the right rendering here

For as the heaven is higher than the earth,
So far (above what was expected) for them fearing him prevails his mercy.

(For the same comparison, see Isaiah 55:7-9; and comp. Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19.)

Verse 13

(13) Father.—This anticipation of Christ’s revelation of the paternal heart of God, is found also in the prophets.

Verse 14

(14) Frame.—Rather, fashioning; referring to Genesis 2:7, or possibly to the image so common in the prophecy of the potter’s vessel.

Verse 16

(16) The windi.e., the hot, scorching blast, as in Isaiah 40:7. Even in our humid climate, it may be said of a flower—

“If one sharp wind sweep o’er the field,
It withers in an hour.”

But the pestilential winds of the East are described as bringing a heat like that of an oven, which immediately blasts every green thing.

Know it no more.—Comp. Job 7:10. Man vanishes away without leaving a trace behind. The pathos of the verse has been well caught in the well-known lines of Gray:—

“One morn I missed him on the accustomed hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree:
Another came, nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he.”

Verse 19

(19) Prepared.—Rather, established.

Verse 20

(20) Just as in the highest revelation made by Jesus Christ the angels in heaven rejoice over the repentant sinner, so in the psalmist’s view the mercy of Jehovah to his faithful people is cause for high acclaim among the hosts around the throne.

Verse 21

(21) Hosts.—There are apparently in the psalmist’s thought three grades of beings in the hierarchy of praise:—


High angels around the throne.


Angelic powers, such as winds, lightnings, &c, specially commissioned to do God’s behests, as in Psalms 104:4.


Creation generally. (Comp. Psalms 148:0)

Verse 22

(22) All his works.—Not only the heavens and their hosts, but

“Earth with her thousand voices praises God.”

Nor can the psalmist himself remain silent, but must repeat the self-dedication with winch he began his song.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 103". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.