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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Psalms 103

Verses 1-22

Psalms 103:0

A Psalm of David

          Bless the Lord, O my soul:
And all that is within me, bless his holy name.

2     Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And forget not all his benefits:

3     Who forgiveth all thine iniquities;

Who healeth all thy diseases;

4     Who redeemeth thy life from destruction:

Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

5     Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things;

So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6     The Lord executeth righteousness

And judgment for all that are oppressed.

7     He made known his ways unto Moses,

His acts unto the children of Israel.

8     The Lord is merciful and gracious,

Slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

9     He will not always chide:

Neither will he keep his anger forever.

10     He hath not dealt with us after our sins;

Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11     For as the heaven is high above the earth,

So great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12     As far as the east is from the west,

So far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

13     Like as a father pitieth his children,

So the Lord pitieth them that fear him.

14     For he knoweth our frame;

He remembereth that we are dust.

15     As for man, his days are as grass:

As a flower of the field so he flourisheth.

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

And the place thereof shall know it no more.

17     But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him,

And his righteousness unto children’s children;

18     To such as keep his covenant,

And to those that remember his commandments to do them.

19     The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens;

And his kingdom ruleth over all.

20     Bless the Lord, ye his angels,

That excel in strength, that do his commandments,
Hearkening unto the voice of his word.

21     Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts;

Ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure

22     Bless the Lord, all his works,

In all places of his dominion:
Bless the Lord, O my soul.


Contents and Composition.—A stream of grateful praise, whose gentle and regular waves rise gradually higher and higher, here flows forth from a mind which is moved to its inmost depths by the blessings, especially those of a spiritual nature, which God has abundantly and from the earliest ages bestowed both upon the Psalmist personally, and upon the whole Church. The poet begins by calling upon his own soul to declare its gratitude for the manifestations of God’s favor, which he has himself personally experienced (Psalms 103:1-5), and the words which are uttered at the beginning of the Psalm reappear in the last line, and thus enclose the whole. Between these, the Psalmist celebrates God’s gracious and helpful dealings in their actual manifestations in Israel (Psalms 103:6-10), in their heavenly exaltation and paternal character, and their relation to sinful and mortal men (Psalms 103:11-14), and in their trustworthiness for all who hold fast to His covenant and to His ordinances (Psalms 103:15-18). Then the whole world is called upon to praise this heavenly King who rules over all (Psalms 103:19-22).

The supposition that either a final strophe beginning with Psalms 103:20 (Köster), or the last line (Hupfeld) forms a liturgical epiphony, is without foundation. So also is the assumption that the whole Psalm was designed for the public service (Ewald, Olshausen). Still more unfounded is the notion that the whole people in exile are the speakers. The reference to David’s restoration to the Divine favor after his adultery with Bathsheba (Rosenmüller) is too special. There are, moreover, serious grounds for hesitation with regard to the Davidic origin, afforded especially in Aramaic forms, among which the suffixes echi and aychi are the most striking, occurring, as they do, only besides in Psalms 116:7; Psalms 116:19; Psalms 137:6; Jeremiah 11:15, and 2 Kings 4:1-7. We may regard the passage cited in Psalms 103:8 from Exodus 34:6 as the Text (Hupfeld). [Hengstenberg, holding the originality of the superscriptions, defends the opinion of a composition by David, finding resemblances to the preceding Psalm, which he assigns to the same author. Delitzsch and others, observing the same resemblances, and drawing a like inference, refer it, as they do Psalms 102:0, to a writer near the close of the captivity. Perowne thinks that nothing certain can be determined as to the date or the author. Alexander favors the hypothesis maintained by Hengstenberg, that this is the Psalm of mercy and judgment promised in Psalms 101:0—J.F.M.]

Psalms 103:1-4. Bless.—The thanksgiving, as a response to the blessing with which God blesses, is denoted by the same word as the blessing itself. On the soul as representing the whole man see Delitzsch’s Biblische Psychologie, pp. 104, 203. On the organs [E. V.: that is within me] of the cavities of the chest and abdomen, as employed in the service of the mind and soul, see p. 266. The benefits (Psalms 103:2) of God are denoted by a word which means, literally, actions for which one has deserved well. Instead of: grave (Psalms 103:4), in allusion to the under-world (Psalms 16:10), the LXX. have rendered: destruction, by deriving the form not from שׁוּחַ but from שַׁחַת, Job 17:14. [The former rendering is now universally adopted.—J. F. M.]

Psalms 103:5. The satisfying of the languishing heart or soul is also mentioned in Psalms 107:9; Isaiah 58:11; and the whole context leaves the impression rather of inward satisfaction than of outward nourishing. But we should not translate directly: desire (Sept.) For עְַדִי is known to occur elsewhere only in the signification: array or ornament; and this could very well be employed to denote the soul, as “my honor,” “my darling,” and the like expressions, are (Aben Ezra, Mendelssohn, Hengst.) The context, however, must decide as to the special reference of an expression so general and capable of such manifold applications. In Psalms 32:9 the same word denotes the trappings of the mule, which are at the same time the means of restraining it, and we therefore render there: harness. Here we are scarcely justified in understanding the body (Syr.) or the cheek (Kimchi, Del., Hitzig) or the mouth (Luther), and still less old age (Chald.) or youth (J. D. Mich., Gesenius). Nor is it probable that there is any allusion to the rejuvenating influence mentioned in the next line, as though the poet, by way of anticipation, were referring to the adornment of the body which had renewed its youth (Köster, Maurer), or had meant by the word “attire” the whole outfit and equipment which surrounds men like a garment, and is in Job 2:4 denoted by the word skin, in contrast to the soul. [Hupfeld: “All the apparatus of external means by which life is sustained, and with which it is invested.”—J. F. M.] The previous mention of the soul itself does not interfere with our explanation, for the whole person was employed just a little before as representing it, [So Hengstenberg also, who renders: ornament, but explains the word as meaning the soul. Alexander renders: soul, directly .—J. F. M.]

Psalms 103:7-9. Psalms 103:7 alludes to Exodus 33:13. The ways are therefore not those to be trodden by men, but those followed by God in His march through the history of the world. Isaiah 57:16; Jeremiah 3:5 are parallel to Psalms 103:9. [“He will not always judge” is the more literal and correct rendering. For the next clause comp. Jeremiah 3:5; Jeremiah 3:12.—J. F. M.]

Psalms 103:14-22. The frame does not denote here the moral nature of man (Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21; Deuteronomy 31:21) the inherited disposition of his heart (Psalms 51:7), but the frame of dust (Genesis 2:7) like a potter’s vessel (Job 10:8 f.; Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9 f.) The second member of Psalms 103:16 is taken literally from Job 7:10. The figure of the flower in general, is based upon Job 14:2; that of the grass on Psalms 90:5; Isaiah 40:6 f.; Isaiah 51:12; the blessing bestowed upon children’s children (Psalms 103:17) is from Exodus 20:6; Exodus 34:7; Deuteronomy 7:9. Angels (Psalms 103:20) are called upon to praise God also in Psalms 29:1; Psalms 148:1. They are here called heroes [of strength, E. V.: that excel in strength.—J. F. M.] as leaders of the armies of God (Joel 4:9, 11; Isaiah 13:3; Isaiah 40:26). The hosts likewise mentioned here appear to be angels of subordinate rank (Del., Hitzig), and not stars (Hengst., Hupfeld). [The latter opinion has originated in the unwillingness to view this verse as containing anything like a repetition of the preceding. The explanation given above would obviate this difficulty. But there is no need of assuming a subordinate rank to be intended. It would be better to understand this verse as being more comprehensive in its application. The preceding one called upon a special class of the most exalted angels to praise their Maker. This one summons all His hosts that minister to Him. We are led to this, besides, by the gradually widening scope of the passage. For the last verse calls upon all God’s works to bless Him. Thus it seems that the word “all” is intended in each verse to include what goes before, while embracing also a wider class. The application of the term “ministers” to the stars would seem to be lacking in the simplicity and directness which characterize the language of the Psalm throughout.—J. F. M.]


1. If the ingratitude and forgetfulness of the human heart were not great by nature, there would be no need of a special and repeated exhortation to the thankful acknowledgment of God’s benefits. For these benefits are numerous and everywhere apparent, are bestowed upon individuals and the whole country, satisfy physical and spiritual needs, and comprise temporal and eternal good. Yet it is indispensable that we trace all this to the invisible Giver of all good, while we have reason, not merely to call upon others to praise God, but also to remind ourselves, that we have not previously given to God something which is requited to us, but rather, that all our thanks are only an acknowledgment of the blessing which we had previously received from Him, and thus do merely trace back this blessing to its source in God.
2. But the ever-flowing fountain of all these benefits and blessings is the love of God. And this love is manifested not merely as guardian love, beneficent kindness, sympathizing mercy, and helpful compassion, but is chiefly displayed as grace. In such exhibitions of His grace does God forgive the sins of men, deliver them from death, renew their natures, heal their infirmities, beautify their lives; and this without any merit or desert of their own. For it is a paternal mode of dealing which God manifests and exercises towards His people.

3. And since He, who thus acts towards us as a Father, is also the holy God and the Heavenly King, His dealings are righteous. His love is neither a weak indulgence of all, nor a capricious preference of some. Its immeasurableness and infinitude are not the absence of moderation or self restraint, but correspond to its more than earthly nature, and express the all-comprehensiveness and all-sufficiency of its influence, proceeding from the inexhaustible and invincible fulness of power which dwells in the Divine nature, but do not interfere with the conditions under which this eternally efficacious grace is displayed in the history of the world, and is received and experienced by individuals according to their constant need.
4. All this is most clearly recognizable in the dealings of God with His people. But they, on their side, have reason most strictly to fulfil these conditions. For God’s will and ways have been made known to them by Himself, and the covenant established by Him reminds them constantly, on the one hand, of their obligation to fulfil its duties, in order that His will may be performed on earth by those who fear Him, as it is by the angels in heaven, and, on the other, of the unchangeable willingness of the Highest to show compassion to man, who withers like the grass, and to make those who are His people well-pleasing in His sight.
5. The Church, accordingly, as it is the place of God’s worship, is also the soil for the training up of men as His servants and children. But the sphere of God’s dominion is far wider than His kingdom in Israel: it embraces heaven and earth. And therefore should the praise of this incomparable King resound through all departments of creation, and an accompaniment to the hallelujah of the Church follow in all places of His dominion.


The more bountifully God’s benefits are showered down upon men in their brief lives of constant need, the more easily is one after another forgotten; but all the more base is such forgetfulness.—God in His goodness comes forth to meet our wants, and anticipate our requests; are we as speedy with our thanks and as ready in our praise?—That men should praise God with willing readiness, there are necessary, (1) a soul mindful of His blessings, (2) a heart susceptible of love towards Him, (3) a conscience sensitive to His righteous demand.—God rules in His kingdom with fatherly goodness, and yet with kingly righteousness; therefore it becomes us to fear as well as love Him, to serve as well as trust Him.—If God deals with us as a Father, do we act towards Him as children?—The whole world is full of the goodness of the Lord; but how far is the whole world still from knowing and praising Him? What has our Church done to remedy this deficiency? And what is her duty with regard to it?—If we lay claim to the rights of the covenant, we must fulfil its obligations; and this we cannot do without the help of our God as it is pledged in the covenant.—Man has here below no abiding-place, not even in the memory of the world; but God forgets no one. Ohthat we might remember Him!—The Church of God on earth; (1) as the object of His paternal care, (2) as the place where His heavenly glory is manifested, (3) as the organ of His royal government.

Augustine: When thou art forgiven, thy sins begin to set and God’s grace rises.—Seek thy good, oh soul! All creatures have a certain good which supplies and completes their nature. Behold the highest good; it is thine!—Starke: Not a single sin of an impenitent sinner remains unforgiven, and just as little should a single sin remain in its dominion and evil influence (Romans 6:12).—The crown of a believer in this life, as well as in the heavenly, is God’s mercy and compassion, for they are the sure sources of his blessedness.—Justification must go handin hand with sanctification and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.—The goodness of God is mighty, not only to strengthen our spiritual life, but our temporal also, in so far as it tends to His glory and our welfare.—He who would have the unfailing eagle-like vigor of a mind directed heavenwards, let him ever satisfy his hungry soul with grace alone, and strength will never be wanting to him.—The most potent remedy for a troubled soul is the contemplation of the compassion and goodness of God.—God lets the sinner know and feel His anger, in order to prepare him for the view of His mercy.—True parents should not, it is true, tolerate the faults and sins of their children, by being silent with regard to them or overlooking them, as Eli did; but they must recognize, on the other hand, that they are not so much their judges as their parents, and, as it were, their physicians.—The more transitory man is, the more abiding is God’s mercy; the Christian must oppose this ground of consolation to all trials, yea, even to death itself.—The holy angels are not only our guardians, but also our instructors and leaders in the praise of God,—No place is an improper one to praise God, provided only our heart is sincere before Him.—We should be as ready (and still more ready) to execute the will of God, as an obedient servant is ready to execute his master’s, even at a nod from him; nor should we do this by compulsion, but from love (1 John 5:3).—God knows our distress and ruin better than we ourselves, and regards all men with compassionate sympathy, but looks upon His children especially with the most tender pity.

Berlenburger Bible: The soul which has been stricken and slain, but made alive again, feeling the joy of its new freedom and the enjoyments of its redemption, flows forth without restraint in praise and thanksgiving, in testimony of its gratitude.—Rieger: To feel sin and death, and thereafter to have received the atonement and the Spirit which makes alive, and so to praise God, and to join in faith and patience with all the saints of God,—this is the subject of the 103 Psalm.—Roos: David, when he encouraged his soul to praise God, was conscious of his sins and infirmities; these only were his own. The Lord forgave the one and healed the other, and heascribes all good to Him.—Tholuck: The psalmist, while praising God’s immeasurable mercy to those who fear Him and keep His covenant, guards against that carnal conception of the Divine love, which forgets that repentance and faith are the conditions, under which God announces Himself as our Father.—Guenther: If God had not been patient with our stammering and halting, we would never have learnt to speak the language of truth, nor walk the way of life; and if He had dealt with the nations according to their disobedience, where would their names have been?—Diedrich: The nearer we come to God, the more are we ravished with enlarged discoveries of His forgiveness.—Schaubach: Without forgiveness of sins, even the highest earthly good is only a whitened sepulchre, behind which destruction lurks.—Taube: Man, in his body, soul, and spirit, is, as it were, a mouth opened wide with cravings; that is his greatest weakness and yet his chief adorning; nothing less than God, the native fountain of youth, can satisfy Him.

[Matt. Henry: He considers the frailty of our bodies and the folly of our souls, how little we can do, and expects accordingly from us; how little we can bear, and lays accordingly upon us; in all which appears the tenderness of His compassion.—Hengstenberg: Old age, in other cases always the forerunner of death, is here continually the forerunner of youth: the greater the failure of strength, so much the nearer is the complete renewal of strength.—J. F. M.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 103". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.