This is a special Psalm, that I just feel like sliding into a comfortable chair and breathe, contentedly breathe. But there is so much more.
The Psalm is not only a familiar Psalm, but it opens our eyes to the totality of what God has done for His people. In Psalm 103:1–5, the author highlights the individual aspect of God’s love for his people. In 103:6–12 he focuses upon God’s concern with the community of believers together.
Psalm 103:1 The Psalmist acknowledges that being a person of faith in this God of Israel cannot praise half-heartedly. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!” The “soul” and “all that is within me” stresses that there is no medium ground with God. Either we are all in with God, or we are outside of His realm. The Psalmist claims pointedly that with heart and soul, the believer is committed in blessing/praising God for all He has done.
In v. 3, he notes that when we are in that relationship with God, the first aspect means that we do not forget God’s benefits. In the swirl of life, anxiety, pressures, threats to life, we can easily slip into forgetfulness, especially with regard to what God has done for us. Hence the exhortation “And forget not all His benefits.” As an individual believer we are each called to remember, not forgetting what God has done, but refreshing our memory with all that God has done.
The first item of rememberance is “Who forgives all your iniquities.” We live in a sinful world, we are often a tempted, and more than we’d like to admit, we sin. But God… reaches out to forgive us. We need to recall that such is our heritage as people of God. How often we need that reminder. Thank You, Lord.
More remembrances: “Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” I look back at the many times I have been injured and scars to prove it. Even greater is God’s protection in the midst of injuries, diseases that affect all of us. Several times over the past seven decades I am reminded of these “benefits” continually. The phrase “forget not all His benefits” is a call for us to bless God, praise His name, repeatedly, continually.
In 103:6–12 the author now directs our attention to our life together as the people of God, as one people. Some of the statements are looking back to the days of Moses when God delivered the people. “The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed…” Think of the great Exodus when God sent the plagues to provoke the Egyptians to allow Israel to escape. God not only delivered, He also sustained them with water and food in the wilderness for years.
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever” (vv. 8-9). The Israelites learned about God’s anger against sin. But they also began to learn that God does not retain His anger forever. Rather they learned of His mercy, grace, forgiveness—repeatedly. He futher illustrates this with “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (vv. 11–12). See also Jeremiah 31:34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Note that some of these actions of God are seen only in part in present our lives. The key is that forgiveness is foremost in God’s work. That sustains us until Jesus Christ returns and He brings the complete blessing of God’s salvation and deliverance. Today we see glimpses of that, but the day will come when the fullness of what God has accomplished for us will be proclaimed throughout creation. All of these promises are foreshadowed in Psalm 103. What a blessing that we can read, refresh, and remember all of this. May Psalm 103 be part of our memory work, and our proclamation of what God has done, is doing, and will do.