Psalm 103

Bless the Lord My Soul

How have you been blessed by God? How have you blessed God for his goodness?

A prayer life can easily slip into a laundry list of needs. Even blessings can be concealed forms of petition. But, what if we turned the tables on our petitions. Instead of asking for God's blessing, what if we blessed God for his goodness. Blessings turn into a form of thanks and praise.

"Bless the Lord my soul." These words phrase the beginning and end of this psalm of blessing. Unlike Christian blessings which ask God to shower his people with gifts, Jewish blessing exalt God in heaven for his power, his providence, and his covenant concern (steadfast love and care). Jewish blessings praise God for gifts received in the past (covenants to Abraham, Moses, and David) and in the future (guaranteed by his faithfulness).

By David.

1 Praise YHWH, my soul!
All that is within me, praise his holy name!
2 Praise YHWH, my soul,
and don't forget all his benefits;
3 who forgives all your sins;
who heals all your diseases;
4 who redeems your life from destruction;
who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies;
5 who satisfies your desire with good things,
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

World English Bible

Psalm 103 began on a personal note as the leader who proclaimed the song addressed his own situation. The leader (high priest?) spoke to his soul in the second person ("you"). In this sense, he represented the nation. As God forgave his sin, saved him, and gave him all good things, God would do for the nation.

6 YHWH executes righteous acts,
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the children of Israel.
8 YHWH is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness.
9 He will not always accuse;
neither will he stay angry forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
nor repaid us for our iniquities.

The psalm then shifted to the first person plural ("we"). In 103:6-10, the author traced the spirit of the covenant. God's mercy overcame his justice. He cared for the poor and the needy. He revealed himself to an unworthy people through Moses and the Law. His covenant love and faithfulness were always present.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his loving kindness toward those who fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like a father has compassion on his children,
so YHWH has compassion on those who fear him.
14 For he knows how we are made.
He remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass.
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone.
Its place remembers it no more.
17 But YHWH's loving kindness is from everlasting to everlasting with those who fear him,
his righteousness to children's children;
18 to those who keep his covenant,
to those who remember to obey his precepts.

In 103:11-18, the author continued the theme of God's love. His concern was universal in scope; he forgave sins not only on a personal scale but in a cosmic dimension. While the lives of his people might be transitory, his love lived on and secured a future for one's children. (Of course, Christians interpret these verses in terms of an afterlife and the coming of the Kingdom.)

19 YHWH has established his throne in the heavens.
His kingdom rules over all.
20 Praise YHWH, you angels of his,
who are mighty in strength, who fulfill his word,
obeying the voice of his word.
21 Praise YHWH, all you armies of his,
you servants of his, who do his pleasure.
22 Praise YHWH, all you works of his,
in all places of his dominion.
Praise  YHWH, my soul!

The psalm ended where it began with a song of praise, but, in this case, with the blessings of the angels, the heavenly host, and all in God's creation.

"Bless the Lord my soul." The term soul can mean "innermost being" or "life." In the later sense, one's life could be seen as a blessing to God. Indeed, the purpose of our lives is to bless the Lord. For the psalmist, blessing the Lord was the purpose of all creation. We are to join in the continuous blessing.

Reflect on your prayer life this week. How have you blessed God for his goodness and love? How can that sense of blessing be seen in daily living?