Psalms 103

PSALM CIII

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

him, 20-22.

NOTES ON PSALM CIII

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 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 2. Forget not all his benefits] Call them into

recollection; particularize the chief of them; and here record

them for an everlasting memorial.

Verse 3. Who forgiveth] The benefits are the following, 1.

Forgiveness of sin. 2. Restoration of health: "Who healeth all thy

diseases."

Verse 4. Who redeemeth] 3. Preservation from destruction.

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 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 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 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 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 8. The Lord is merciful] See Clarke on Ps 86:15.

Verse 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 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 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 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 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 14. For he knoweth our frame] 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 15. His days are as grass] See Clarke on Ps 90:5.

Verse 16. The wind passeth over it] Referring perhaps to some

blasting pestilential wind.

Verse 17. The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to

everlasting] 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 ( 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

ANALYSIS OF THE ONE HUNDRED AND THIRD PSALM

There are three parts in this Psalm:-

I. The exordium, in which the psalmist invites his own soul to

praise the Lord, Ps 103:1, 2.

II. The narration, being a declaration of God's benefits

conferred on him and others, and the causes of those benefits,

Ps 103:3-19.

III. The conclusion, in which he calls on all creatures to

assist him in praising the Lord, Ps 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," rachum, bearing a paternal affection

to his intelligent creatures, especially to those who fear him.

2. "Gracious," channun, the Giver of grace and favour; for

he who has a fatherly heart will give.

3. "Slow to anger," erech appayim, long in nostrils,

not hasty; not apt to be angry.

4. "Plenteous in mercy," 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.

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