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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Psalms 103

In Psalm 102, the believing remnant saw the suffering of Christ with the people of Israel. In Psalm 103 they see that Christ also suffered for or on behalf of the people. The Lord opens the understanding of the remnant making them realize that the Christ had to suffer and thus enter His glory (Lk 24:46). In Psalm 103 they see that Christ’s suffering is the suffering of the Servant of the LORD as a guilt offering (Isa 53:10) and as the sin offerings of the day of atonement (Lev 16:5-28).

It is not possible to contemplate the meaning of Christ’s suffering in an objective, detached way. We see, therefore, that once the remnant begins to understand the meaning of the suffering, they begin to sing a song of praise. Psalm 103 begins with two exhortations and ends with four exhortations to praise the LORD.

Who can remain silent when he has been made partaker of so great a salvation?

Verses 1-5

Bless the LORD, O My Soul

This is a psalm “of David” (Psa 103:1). He calls on himself to praise the LORD. His “soul” means his feelings. He also wants “all that is within” him, his whole inner being, his will, his thoughts and deliberations, to praise God’s holy Name. His Name includes all His attributes and actions.

We cannot be half married; neither can we love the LORD our God with part of our heart, part of our soul, and part of our strength (Deu 6:5). So cannot David, so cannot the remnant, and so cannot we, in Psalm 103 praise God with only a part of what is in him, in them, in us.

The Lord Jesus has given us everything, He has given Himself. It is our spiritual service of worship to present our body to God as a living and holy sacrifice (Rom 12:1) and to praise Him with all that is within us. He is worthy to be magnified and He is worthy to be served with all our being. He is worthy to receive praise from all that is within us.

All of God’s actions flow from Who He is and bear His inscription. Who He is and what He does calls for praise by David’s whole person. Psa 103:1 is blessing, or praising, the LORD for Who He is, Psa 103:2 for what He does. The latter continues until Psa 103:18. Then in Psa 103:19 Who He is comes as the occasion for praising and giving thanks to Him in Psa 103:20-22.

His Name is holy because everything He is and does bears the mark of holiness. It is all completely free from any stain of sin or even the thought of it. God is light and there is no darkness in Him (1Jn 1:5). This is evident in all that He does.

One more time David says that his soul will bless, or praise, the LORD (Psa 103:2). He also said that in Psa 103:1, but now he says it with reference to all God’s benefits. Of these he must not and will not forget one. It concerns both the material and the spiritual benefits. It is necessary for us to remind ourselves of this, for we are quite forgetful. Forgetfulness with regard to all the benefits that God has bestowed on us is inexcusable and shows ingratitude.

The greatest and first-mentioned benefit, however, is the pardon or forgiveness of “all” our “iniquities” (Psa 103:3; cf. Isa 53:4-5). The pardon of God concerns every iniquity, without exception. Its confession is presupposed here (1Jn 1:9). If one iniquity were not pardoned, Christ’s work and God’s pardon would forever fall short. Fortunately, it is not like that. The pardon is total because the work of Christ is perfect.

The word for “pardon” here is not the ordinary word for forgiveness, but a word that implies Divine forgiveness of serious transgressions (cf. Psa 25:11). This is the basis of pardon that we find in picture in the day of atonement. It is on this basis that the angel Gabriel can speak to Daniel about atoning iniquity and bringing in eternal righteousness (Dan 9:24).

The LORD is also the Healer (Exo 15:26). In conjunction with the pardon of iniquity, He also heals “all your diseases”. The total healing of all diseases, both of the body and the soul, will take place in the realm of peace, for then His people will serve Him (Exo 23:25). In the Lord Jesus’ healing of the paralytic we see this portrayed (Mt 9:2-7). He first forgives the paralytic his sins and then heals him physically. So it will also be in the future with the remnant (cf. Rev 22:2).

In the age in which we now live, there can be no claim to total healing. That the believer is healed by the wounds of the Lord Jesus (1Pet 2:24), refers to the health of the spiritual life that had been affected and destroyed by sin. The wounds referred to here are not the wounds through the scourging given to Him by Pilate’s soldiers, but the wounds of God’s judgment on sin. Wounds caused by men cannot possibly have a healing effect on people.

The Lord Jesus suffered God’s judgment on the cross for sin. The sins of those who believe are removed thereby. It is a fallacy to assume that thereby the consequences of sin, such as sickness, were also removed. Taking on Himself the infirmities and carrying away the diseases does not refer to the cross, but to His life on earth (Mt 8:16-17). It does not say that the Lord Jesus bore the diseases on the cross and therefore a believer would no longer need to be ill. Just as the Lord can sympathize with infirmities, He can sympathize with them in the case of diseases, which He cannot do with sins.

The next benefit to praise God for is that He “redeems your life from the pit” (Psa 103:4). By this the psalmist is saying that he has been redeemed from death. This is consistent with the horizon of the believer in the Old Testament. Next, he says that he is crowned “with lovingkindness and compassion”. He experiences the covenant faithfulness or lovingkindness of the LORD during his life. The same is true of compassion, which is the compassion with the believer’s affliction in this life.

It is about the reversal of the believer’s fate: instead of the threat of death, he is now crowned – others translate ‘surrounded’ – with lovingkindness and compassion. He is therefore invulnerable to the threat of destruction. This is possible only because the suffering and death of Christ brought about reconciliation. It is the fulfillment of the word: “Death is consumed to victory” (1Cor 15:54; Isa 25:8a).

In a general sense, the believer knows that destruction has no hold on him. He can die, but death has no power over him. The Lord Jesus by His resurrection has conquered death for everyone who believes in Him (Jn 11:25-26).

God satisfies the “years” – or “soul”, as it can also be translated – of His own “with good things” (Psa 103:5). It means that He lavishes the believer with blessings, with good things. As a result, we can say that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, that praise will be the result. This also relates to life on this side of the grave.

This is not about food, but about giving thanks, speaking and singing good words about all the benefits that God has rendered. The mouth will be full of thanksgiving. This will never end, for in the regeneration, that is in the realm of peace, eternal youth will be enjoyed with renewed vigor (cf. Psa 110:3).

The eagle, which Isaiah also speaks of (Isa 40:31), confirms the picture of renewal of power. An eagle is a mighty bird that dominates the skies. It can live up to thirty years in the wild and up to sixty years in captivity. Until its sixth year, this powerful bird receives a new plumage each year, so its age is recognizable by its plumage.

Verses 6-12

Judgments and Lovingkindness

David in Psa 103:1-5 has given thanks to the LORD for all the benefits He has done to his soul. Nor is it just any benefit, but a great benefit, namely, that a reversal has taken place in his condition. First he was on the way to destruction, sick because of God’s discipline over his iniquity. The great beneficence of the LORD is that He has delivered him from all this and has showered him with such great blessings that it is impossible for him to remain silent about this great salvation.

He now proceeds to sing of the “righteous deeds” of the LORD (Psa 103:6). These righteous deeds involve His “judgments for all who are oppressed”. They are manifested when He provides justice to the oppressed by redeeming them, while this also includes punishing the oppressors. We still live in a world today that is full of unjust acts and injustice. This does not come from the LORD, but from man living without Him.

When the LORD reigns, when He sits on His throne (Mt 25:31), there will be an end to all injustice. He will put an end to it by doing “righteous deeds”, which are the righteous judgments by which He will punish and remove injustice. “For all who are oppressed”, who have suffered injustice for the sake of His Name, He will do justice. He will lead them into the peace and blessing of the realm of peace.

God has plans for the future. This includes two things: firstly, deliverance from the hand of the enemy and secondly, pardon of iniquities. He has “made known … to Moses” the plans for the future of His people and the ways in which He will realize them (Psa 103:7). Moses went to Him to show him the tabernacle (Exo 25:40; Heb 8:5). In it He reveals His plan, and that is that He wants to dwell in the midst of a redeemed people. “To the sons of Israel” He has made known “His acts”. He did so by delivering them out of the bondage of Egypt and bringing them into the promised land.

The people had to be delivered from an outward enemy, but also from their iniquities. Only then could the LORD dwell in their midst. Likewise it will be in the future. There is deliverance from the hand of the wicked, both those of the nations and those of their own people, but above all there is deliverance from their iniquities.

All the ways and deeds of the LORD show that He is “compassionate and gracious” and “slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psa 103:8). This is the glory of God that He demonstrated to Moses when Moses marveled at how the LORD could spare the people after the sin with the golden calf (Exo 34:6-7). Each time His people have turned away from Him and begun to serve idols, He has shown His mercy and grace by sparing them. How often His patience has been tested. That He did not exterminate them is because He is “abounding in lovingkindness”.

God “will not always strive” (Psa 103:9; Isa 57:16). With the people of Israel, the LORD could come and dwell in their midst by virtue of the day of atonement (Lev 16:1-34). What happened on that day, the sacrifices that were offered, points to the Lord’s work on the cross, as explained in Hebrews 9-10 (Heb 9:1-28; Heb 10:1-22). This applies to all who have confessed their sins.

The moment the high priest, who appeared before God on behalf of the people, returned by the power of the blood, the people knew for certain that for that one year their sins had been taken away. Thus Christ, our High Priest, was raised from the dead for our justification (Rom 4:25).

The believer may know that His sins were borne by the Lord Jesus on the cross (1Pet 2:24). God called Him to account and gave Him the righteous judgment for those sins. As a result, they were blotted out and put away. The full heat of His anger on those sins has gone over His Son. Therefore, He does not keep His anger on the repentant sinner forever, but forgives him and blesses him.

In a contact with someone who adheres to the false teaching of the universal atonement, these verses were quoted by him as proof that God saves everyone. ‘For’, he claimed, ‘God is compassionate and gracious, patient and rich in mercy, and He does not keep His anger forever’. This way of interpreting the Bible is a great deception with fatal consequences.

We are saved from such ‘own interpretation’ when we understand that the actions of God in this psalm are illustrated in the feast of the day of atonement in Leviticus 16. On that day, something is done to two goats. The first goat is slaughtered. This speaks of satisfaction to God’s honor being restored. This is what the Lord Jesus did. On that basis, reconciliation can be offered to all people.

The second goat is sent into the wilderness after the high priest confessed the sins of Israel while laying his hands on the head of this goat. This, too, the Lord Jesus did by taking the sins upon Himself of every person who, repenting of his sins, confessed them to God. This speaks of substitution, that is, forgiveness of sins only actually takes place for each person who with repentance confesses his sins to God. Only those who believe receive forgiveness of sins, for only of them are the sins actually reconciled by the sacrifice of Christ. With those sins He was burdened and on them He received God’s judgment.

We must remember that here David is speaking as the mouth of the faithful remnant of Israel in the future. He praises God for the forgiveness of his sins. He is aware that his iniquities have been forgiven. He knows that his life has been redeemed from the grave. He experiences because of the forgiveness, that God is not angry forever. He is freed from Gods wrath, which afflicts everyone who is unrepentant. Every person who believes that Christ has borne the wrath of God for him, will praise God for it forever!

Psalm 103 speaks of a man who has repented and done penance and is aware of forgiveness. What David says in it, no unconverted man says and will say in eternity no man who has not repented on earth. On earth repentance must happen and on earth sins must be forgiven and not in the hereafter (Mt 9:6).

Those who have confessed their sins and received forgiveness are deeply aware that it is only grace that God did not deal with them according to their sins and did not reward according to their iniquities (Psa 103:10; cf. Exo 34:7). David speaks here in the plural, “us” and “our”. He is here expressing the feelings of the faithful remnant who have entered into the blessing of the realm of peace. They are not there by virtue of any merit of their own.

What the believing remnant says applies to an even greater degree to the New Testament believer. He will also partake of all the blessings of the realm of peace (Heb 11:40). Above and beyond this he is blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. These were given to him by pure grace from God “Who is rich in mercy” and “because of His great love” (Eph 1:3; Eph 2:1-10). Shall we not give Him eternal praise for this and begin with it now on earth?

Who can measure the distance between the earth and heaven (Psa 103:11)? It is a distance immeasurable to humans. No one has ever been able to discover the ‘ceiling’ of heaven. As immeasurably “high as the heavens are above the earth, that great is His lovingkindness [that is chesed, covenant faithfulness] toward those who fear Him”.

All who “fear Him” – this phrase occurs three times in the psalm (Psa 103:11; 15; 17) – are the object of the power of His lovingkindness. (This is, by the way, another proof of the lie of the universal atonement.) God has worked in them the fear, that is the awe, of Him. It is all His work.

The remnant here praises the power of His lovingkindness. Now that Christ has laid the foundation of the covenant through the blood of the new covenant, the power of God’s lovingkindness or covenant faithfulness is so infinitely great that the Lord Jesus can declare: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18).

In the unbounded power of His lovingkindness God has fulfilled all His promises to a failing people. He has mercifully taken care of them in a mighty way, while they completely forfeited the right to all of God’s promises. His power has become visible in His Son, the Mediator of the new covenant, Who has fulfilled all the conditions of God’s covenant. What is impossible for man to do, namely, to save himself, God is able to do (Lk 18:25-27).

For the transgressions done by the people, He, in the power of His lovingkindness, also provided (Psa 103:12). Transgressions require retribution. That retribution He has asked for and received from His Son. Christ confessed the transgressions of those who believe in Him toward God as His own and suffered the judgment of God for them (2Cor 5:21). This means that God no longer sees sin in those who have confessed them, because Christ died for them. He received the wages for it (Rom 6:23a).

The remnant is aware that their sins have been carried away. They indicate the distance between them and their transgressions by pointing to the distance between “the east” and “the west”. This does not mean a geographical distance, but a distance between the west, where the offeror stands, and the east to which the goat laden with the people’s sins has been sent away through the East Gate of Jerusalem toward the wilderness in the east. The goat is let loose in a secluded wilderness never to return. That the forgiven transgressions will never come back to haunt them is confirmed in other ways by other verses in Scripture (Isa 38:17b; Jer 50:20; Mic 7:19; Heb 8:12).

Verses 13-19

Compassion and Righteousness

David compares the LORD to “a father” who “has compassion on [his] children” (Psa 103:13). There is this difference, however, that an earthly father bears his young children, whereas with God’s people and with us the situation is that God bears all His own, young and old, throughout their lives (Isa 46:3-4).

The LORD, Yahweh, the God of the covenant with His people, takes care in the same way as a father “on those who fear Him”. We see here the tender care of God for His vulnerable people, which are those who are in awe of Him and live in reverence for Him. He has brought them into that relationship with Him.

David did not personally know God as Father, nor will the believing remnant know Him that way. Several times God is called the Father of His people. This has the meaning of ‘origin’ and does not represent the relationship of the individual Israelite to Him (Deu 32:6; Isa 63:16; Isa 64:7; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1). It is the privilege of the New Testament believer to know God personally as Father and to call Him “Abba, Father” by the Spirit of sonship (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6).

The remnant is aware of their weakness. And that is the very reason for God’s compassion: “For He Himself knows our frame”, i.e. ‘what we are made of’ (Psa 103:14). God “is mindful that we are [but] dust”, He will never forget that, because He made us “of dust from the ground” (Gen 2:7; Gen 3:19). If we continue to remember that we will recognize our dependence on Him.

In Psa 103:15-16 David elaborates on the weakness and perishableness of man. Man is but a ‘mortal man’ with a brief existence on earth (Psa 103:15). He depicts its brevity and rapidly withering splendor as follows: “His days are like grass, like a flower of the field, so he flourishes” (cf. Isa 40:7; 1Pet 1:24; Psa 90:5-6). His life is so fragile that a breath of wind blows him away (Psa 103:16). This is the hot, scorching wilderness wind from the east of Israel, which within hours has scorched everything. Then “it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer”. He disappeared from sight for good without leaving a trace of his previous presence.

Opposite to this is “the lovingkindness of the LORD” (Psa 103:17). It is not volatile, temporary, transient, “but … from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him”. It is a feature of Him Who is the Eternal. His lovingkindness never comes to an end. Earlier it was said of His mercy that in its space it is immeasurable, incomprehensible (Psa 103:11). Now it is said that His lovingkindness never ends, is endless, extends to all eternity. We understand that this is only possible because His covenant faithfulness, His lovingkindness, is based on the blood of the new covenant, the precious blood of Christ.

And on whom does it extend? “On those who fear Him.” This characterizes the believer in all times and the believing remnant in particular in the end time. It is the evidence of new life. They are entering the realm of peace. Those who fear God, those who live in reverence and awe of Him, are the eternal object of His lovingkindness.

The second line of Psa 103:17 is not about the LORD’s lovingkindness, but about “His righteousness”. Lovingkindness and righteousness are never in conflict. Lovingkindness is based on righteousness. The “children’s children” are the succeeding generations. They will first have to acknowledge God’s righteousness in judgment on who they are. Then they will partake of the lovingkindness of God and abide in it (cf. Isa 59:21).

The next generations will “keep” God’s “covenant and remember His precepts to do them” (Psa 103:18). They will do so and thereby show that they have bowed before Him confessing their sins. They have been given a new nature by which they will obey Him. By nature, man cannot and will not do that (Rom 8:6-8). He can only do it if he has a new heart (cf. Eze 36:25-27).

Psa 103:19 begins with “the LORD” giving emphasis to His Person. That Person is so glorious that it gives rise to the fourfold praise that follows. This is no longer because of what He did (Psa 103:2-18), but now, as in Psa 103:1, because of Who He is.

The section of Psa 103:19-22 begins and ends with His reign. That the kind God is also the reigning God is underscored by the comment that He has “established His throne in the heavens” (Psa 103:19). This is the case now, in this age, and will also be the case in the realm of peace. An established throne is a fixed, unshakable throne. He does not change in His reign. During the realm of peace, His throne will also be on earth. At that time, “His sovereignty rules over all” in heaven and on earth.

Verses 20-22

Praise the LORD

When the time comes for the LORD’s kingdom to rule over all, a call follows to all and everything to bless or praise the LORD. The first to be called to bless Him are “His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word!” (Psa 103:20). They are close to Him. They are “mighty in strength”, performing in obedience the word that He speaks, without any objection. They are sent out to serve those who inherit salvation (Heb 1:14).

After the call to the angels who are executors of His word, the circle of those who are called to bless or praise the LORD is extended to all “His hosts” (Psa 103:21). His hosts are all the heavenly hosts. In addition to performers of His word, there are also angels who have special care for the maintenance of God’s holiness, such as cherubim. There is also mention of seraphs. All angels are mighty in strength. What tremendous strength an army of angels must possess. But they are all under the supreme command of the LORD and they only “serve Him, doing His will”.

Finally, all His “works, in all places of His dominion” are called to bless or to praise Him (Psa 103:22). Here the circle of those who praise God is extended to the entire universe. After all, there is no area in the universe that is not under His dominion.

We find these praises in Revelation 5: first the angels (Rev 5:12), then all the creatures (Rev 5:13) and finally the worship without words of the elders, which are the believers (Rev 5:14). In Psalm 103 we find twice the angels (Psa 103:20-21), then all the creatures (Psa 103:22a) and finally the psalmist (Psa 103:22b).

The last line of Psa 103:22 makes it personal again. All and sundry will bless Him, but will I? For the psalmist, it is not a question. He concludes what he started this psalm with in Psa 103:1: the call to his soul to bless, or praise, the LORD. The LORD is eternally worthy of it.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 103". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.