Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The hope of the preceding Psalm (Psalm 103:13) has been realised. Sorrow has been turned into joy. God has forgiven the sins of His people and taken them back into His favour. Praise and thanksgiving take the place of complaint and supplication.
The Psalm bears the name of David in the title, but it is impossible to suppose that it was written by him. The Aramaic colouring of the language, the allusions to Job, Jeremiah, and the later chapters of Isaiah, and the general style and matter of the Psalm, combine to make it certain that it belongs to a far later date. If Psalms 102 may be assigned to the close of the Exile, Psalms 103 may with equal probability be placed in the early years of the Return. It was written while the sense of the nation’s forgiveness, of which that deliverance was the proof, was still fresh and vivid.
 In Psalm 103:3-5 peculiar forms of the pronominal suffix of 2nd pers. sing. fem. çkî, and plur. aykî are used. They are found again in Psalm 116:7; Psalm 116:19; Psalm 135:9; Psalm 137:6; and elsewhere only in 2 Kings 4:2 ff., Jeremiah 11:15(?); Song of Solomon 2:13(?). They resemble the Aramaic form, and appear to have been in use in the dialect of North Israel, and to have been employed occasionally after the Exile under the influence of Aramaic (cp. the Aramaic form of suffix for 3rd pers. masc. in Psalm 116:12) in poetry as rhythmically euphonious forms. See Gesen.-Kautzsch Gram. § 91, 1, R. 2; 2 R. 2.
It is evident that Psalm 103:10 ff. speak of Jehovah’s mercies to the nation, and some commentators think that the speaker in Psalm 103:1-5 also is the personified nation. But the change from the singular in Psalm 103:1-5 to the plural in Psalm 103:6 ff. is left unexplained by this theory. Here, as in Psalms 102, it is more natural to suppose that the Psalmist, when he uses the first person singular, is really speaking for himself, and using words which any other pious Israelite might appropriate for the expression of his own personal feelings.
But just as in Psalms 102 national sorrows and sufferings have so deeply entered into the Psalmist’s heart that he speaks of them as his own, so here he so completely identifies himself with the destinies of the nation that its joys are his own, and he gives thanks for national deliverance and national mercies as though they had been vouchsafed to him individually.
The Psalm falls into five approximately equal stanzas, the first and last forming the introduction and conclusion, and the other three the main body of the Psalm.
i. The Psalmist summons his soul and all his faculties to praise Jehovah for pardon, redemption, and bountiful provision for every need (Psalm 103:1-5).
ii. Jehovah’s revelation of Himself to Moses has been verified afresh in His recent treatment of Israel (Psalm 103:6-10). His pardoning mercy knows no limits; His fatherly love shews the most tender consideration (Psalm 103:11-14). Man may be frail and transitory, but those who fear Jehovah can rest in the assurance of His eternal faithfulness to their posterity (Psalm 103:15-18).
iii. The thought of the universality of Jehovah’s kingdom naturally introduces the call to all creation to join in an universal chorus of praises (Psalm 103:19-22).
The Psalm is one of singular beauty. Its tenderness, its trustfulness, its hopefulness, anticipate the spirit of the N.T. It does not contain one jarring note, and it furnishes fit language of thanksgiving for the greater blessings of a more marvellous redemption than that of Israel from Babylon.
A Psalm of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.1. My soul is the Psalmist’s self or personality: all that is within me are the various organs of the body, which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of thought will and emotion. The Psalmist summons all the faculties and powers of his being to unite in the praise of Jehovah.
his holy name] Cp. Psalm 33:21; Psalm 105:3; Psalm 106:47; Psalm 145:21. Jehovah’s holiness, which must needs be vindicated in the punishment of Israel’s sin, was again demonstrated in the deliverance which proved His faithfulness to His covenant. Cp. Ezekiel 39:7; Ezekiel 39:25.
1–5. The Psalmist exhorts himself to praise God for His manifold mercies.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:2. forget not] “Beware lest thou forget” is the often repeated warning of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 8:11; &c.). “Si oblivisceris tacebis” is St Augustine’s comment.
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;3. The Psalmist may have had in mind Exodus 15:26, “I am Jehovah that healeth thee”; and Deuteronomy 29:22, where the somewhat rare word for ‘diseases’ is used of the judgements with which the land is to be punished for Israel’s sins. The word need not be limited to bodily sickness, but may include all suffering. The removal of the punishment of sin is the proof of its forgiveness. Cp. Psalm 85:1-3; Psalm 147:3.
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;4. from destruction] So the LXX, ἐκ φθορᾶς. But shachath more probably means the pit, i.e. the grave. See note on Psalm 16:10. The restoration from Babylon was a renewal of the nation’s life, in which each member of it had a personal share.
crowneth] Cp. Psalm 8:5; and for a similar metaphor, Proverbs 3:3.
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.5. thy mouth] So the A.V. for the same word in Psalm 32:9, and the R.V. has retained the rendering here, though it rests on no sure basis. The Ancient Versions are at fault. The LXX gives thy desire; the Targ. the days of thine old age; the Syr. thy body; Aq. and Jer. thy adornment. The latter is the regular meaning of the word; and it has been suggested that, like glory in Psalm 16:9, it may mean soul. But this is improbable, as the soul itself is addressed; and it seems better to suppose that the verb has an unusual construction (but cp. Psalm 145:16), and to render:
Who adorneth thee to the full with goodliness;
(So that) thy youth is renewed like an eagle.
In Israel’s resurrection from the grave of exile each Israelite is as it were endowed with a fresh accession of youthful vigour. Cp. Isaiah 40:31, where, as here, the point of comparison is the strength of the eagle, which might well seem to enjoy perpetual youth. There is no need to suppose an allusion to the fable that the eagle periodically renewed its strength by soaring sunwards and then plunging into the sea. Coverdale’s paraphrase in the P.B.V., “making thee young and lusty as an eagle,” gives the sense rightly.
The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.6. Jehovah executeth righteous acts,
And judgements for all that are oppressed.
Cp. Psalm 146:7; Jdg 5:11. This general truth has been verified afresh in the deliverance from Babylon.
6–10. Jehovah’s gracious dealings with men illustrated from the experience of Israel.
He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.7, 8. Psalm 103:7 a is a reminiscence of Moses’ prayer, “make known to me, I pray, thy ways” (Exodus 33:13), and Psalm 103:8 is quoted from the revelation of Jehovah’s character which was the answer to that prayer (Exodus 34:6). It is often referred to, e.g. Psalm 86:15; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Nehemiah 9:17; &c. God’s ‘ways’ and ‘doings’ here mean His methods of dealing with men, and this quotation gives a summary of them.
Render Psalm 103:8,
Jehovah is full of compassion and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness.
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.9. Cp. Isaiah 57:16; Jeremiah 3:12.
chide] Or, contend. He is slow to anger, yet the time comes when He must as it were bring a suit against His people, and convict them of their sin (Isaiah 3:13; Micah 6:2; Jeremiah 2:9), and shew His indignation by punishing them for it; but even then His anger does not last for ever.
He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.10. God has punished Israel less than their iniquities deserved. Cp. Ezra 9:13.
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.11. Cp. Psalm 36:5; Psalm 57:10; Isaiah 55:9.
so great is] so mighty hath been. The change of a letter would give the sense, so high hath been; but it is unnecessary. Cp. Psalm 117:2. The perfect tense in Psalm 103:10-12 refers to Israel’s recent experience.
them that fear him] True Israelites are those who can claim the promise. Note the triple repetition of the words, which recur in Psalm 103:13; Psalm 103:17.
11–14. The greatness and tenderness of Jehovah’s forgiving love.
As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.12. For similar language to denote the completeness of the removal of sin by pardoning grace cp. Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19.
Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.13. Cp. Psalm 27:10; Isaiah 49:15; Luke 15:20.
pitieth] Hath compassion on. The A.V. misses the connexion with “full of compassion” in Psalm 103:8.
For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.14. Here as often the frailty of man is pleaded as a motive for mercy. Cp. Psalm 78:39; Psalm 89:47.
our frame] Lit. our formation; what we are made of. The verse is an allusion to Genesis 2:7, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.”
As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.15. As for man] Mortal man: the Heb. ’enôsh denotes man in his weakness and frailty (Psalm 90:3). For the figure of the grass cp. Psalm 90:5-6; Isaiah 51:12; for that of the flower, Job 14:2; for both, Isaiah 40:6 ff.
15–18. Man passes away, but God’s mercy endures for ever.
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.16. The verse may refer to the withering of the flower (A.V.), but it is more poetical to understand it metaphorically of the disappearance of the man.
For a wind passeth over him, and he is not,
And his place shall know him no more.
“The east wind, blowing over the desert in summer, is dry and parching, and withers up all vegetation.” Tristram, Nat. Hist. p. 34. Cp. Hosea 13:15. The second line is from Job 7:10; cp. Job 8:18, Job 20:9.
But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children;17. Men may pass away, but Jehovah’s lovingkindness and righteousness, i.e. His covenant faithfulness, endure. The eternity of God is the rock upon which faith can repose in view of the mutability of man. Cp. Psalm 90:1; Psalm 102:12; Psalm 102:27; Isaiah 40:8. Those who fear Him can securely commit their posterity to His care. Cp. Psalm 102:28. Both the assurance, and the condition introduced by Psalm 103:18, rest upon Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9.
To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.18. his commandments] R.V. his precepts.
The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.19. Jehovah hath established his throne in heaven, the sphere of all that is sublime, unchanging, eternal (Psalm 11:4; Psalm 93:2).
his kingdom &c.] Cp. 1 Chronicles 29:11-12. Cp. the watchword of other Psalms of the Return, “Jehovah hath proclaimed himself King” (Psalm 93:1; Psalm 96:10; Psalm 97:1; Psalm 99:1).
19–22. The thought of Jehovah’s supreme and universal sovereignty introduces a concluding call to the whole universe to unite in His praises.
Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.20. Bless Jehovah, ye angels of his;
Ye mighty in strength, that do his word,
Hearkening unto the voice of his word.
Heavenly beings are most capable of praising the heavenly King. For the address to the angels cp. Psalm 29:1; Psalm 148:2. They are called mighty in strength as God’s warriors; cp. Joel 3:11. The “blessed obedience” of the angels is an example for man.
Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.21. By Jehovah’s hosts and ministers may be meant the innumerable multitudes of celestial beings of lower rank, subordinated to the celestial hierarchy spoken of in Psalm 103:20 (Daniel 7:10; Hebrews 1:14); or perhaps “the host of heaven,” the stars, which are closely connected with angels in the O.T. (Job 38:7), and all the powers of Nature, which subserve Jehovah’s purposes (Psalm 104:4; Psalm 148:2-3).
Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.22. Bless Jehovah, all ye his works,
In all places of his dominion:
Bless Jehovah, O my soul.
The ‘Song of the Three Children’ is a noble expansion of this theme. In the last line the Psalmist returns to the point from which he started. In creation’s universal hymn of praise he would fain bear his part, however humble.