GETTING THE MESSAGE/Psalm 103
Our feelings are poor judges of facts. We know this from experience in our own lives and in viewing the world of men. This is true in spiritual things as well. There have been many confident of heaven that didn’t make it and others that had almost lost hope about their own state nevertheless were welcomed. It is good to consider our life and souls.
Psalm 103 gives us answers from the Lord about life and our souls. We find here the promise of forgiveness, redemption, and blessedness. It is the life of a Christian, fellowship with God we see here; life that exults in the Lord. Let me encourage you to become very familiar with this psalm.
The essence of life is found in the first verse of the psalm: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” The soul is the immortal nature God gave us; to bless the Lord with our soul is to declare his goodness, and that he is worthy to receive glory and honor. It means to remember his benefits (verse 2).
Ingratitude toward God prevails in the soul of the sinner. But the psalm describes (and speaks to) a converted soul, the soul that has new life; and gratitude for salvation. The psalm has the work of Christ in view, and the Father’s gift of his Son for sinners.
Verses 2-4 encourage the soul with new life to bless the Lord for the benefits of redemption: “Bless the Lord… who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.”
Redemption in the Old Testament often referred to a kinsman who paid the debt of a relative to rescue them from slavery. This imagery has the Lord Jesus in view who takes away the sin of a soul, and frees him from slavery to sin and death. The “pit” is a place without God and without hope. Jesus suffered the wrath and abandonment from God on the cross, so we would not suffer the same.
The soul that looks to Christ for salvation will be a soul that blesses the Lord. Still, his remaining sin hinders him from blessing the Lord as he should. Our inner experience of the Lord has made us to greatly differ from the world, but we know what it is to exalt ourselves and our will in a way that dishonors the Lord who bought us.
Nevertheless, the Lord gives you great encouragement in this struggle. Even though he disciplines those he loves, he does so as the perfect father he is. He doesn’t “keep his anger forever … nor repay us according to our iniquities (verses 9-10).” He holds no grudges against his children for sin; he uses the misery of sin as a tool to point us to what is best; fellowship with him.
Knowing that his people can become discouraged over their sin and the troubles in the world, the Lord points us (repeatedly) to the atoning work of Christ, and the love he has toward his redeemed: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (verses 11-12).” Paul refers Christians to this as the love of Christ in Ephesians 3.
There is a qualification of this promise: something that identifies God’s children. They are those who “fear” the Lord. Every blossom doesn’t produce fruit. There are many who honor the Lord with their lips, but their hearts are far from him.
The “fear” of the Lord indicates sincerity. Fear points to whatever you are most impressed with (or glory in), that which stirs your passions the most. For the sinner, it cannot be God. He fears losing in that trade. For the redeemed sinner, it is the Lord and the Lord’s will. The Lord is the one thing necessary. He can say “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” and be content.
To fear the Lord also means reverence; to become aware of the holy nature of God. This awareness helps us see sin in its true colors, and the love of the Father in giving his Son for us. To know God this way is to love him, and to desire to bless him with your soul. If you doubt your soul’s status with God; call upon him, the psalm presents him as one with arms wide open, because that is how he is.