“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits–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, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5).
The everlasting source of God’s blessings, forgiveness, and healing is God’s hesed, his faithful love. God’s love is not mere feelings nor acts of kindness. God’s love is manifested in his grace toward his people. It is because of his grace that God forgives the iniquities of his people, heals their diseases, delivers them from death, and renews their strength. For God’s people to truly enjoy God’s blessings it is necessary for them to have a heart which is susceptible TO loving God.
The true reward of the believer in this life, as well as in the life to come, is not riches and glory, but the faithful love and the mercy of God because God’s love is the true source of blessings.
Another reason the psalmist composed his song of praise was because he had experienced God as the God who rewards. He said: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits–who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.”
The word “crown” in Hebrew expresses the bestowal of dignity as well as favor. A king was crowned on the day of his enthronement. On that day he received the honor bestowed on all those who reigned over God’s people as God’s representative. The psalmist also had received a special honor and a special favor from Yahweh. Yahweh had forgiven and healed him. Yahweh had delivered him from death.
Now, the psalmist, like a king on his enthronement day, was rejoicing because he had received the approval of God. His dignity was restored and he was rewarded for his faithfulness and faith in God. However, the reward of the psalmist was not a crown of silver or gold. His reward was not physical or material. His reward was God himself. He knew that the greatest reward in life was a closer relationship with God. God crowned him with steadfast love. The psalmist’s reward was to enjoy God’s love and mercy.
The word “steadfast love” in Hebrew is hesed, a word that could be translated as faithfulness, loyalty, faithful love, and commitment. It is one of the most beautiful words in the Hebrew language, a word that expresses personal relationship. Hesed is what God is and what God gives. Israel experienced God’s hesed because he established a personal relationship with each individual Israelite. That relationship between God and the nation, between God and every Israelite, between God and the psalmist was established through the covenant that God gave to Israel on Mount Sinai.
In the Book of Hosea, the prophet compares the relationship between God and his people to the relationship between husband and wife. In a sense, God had a personal relationship with every Israelite because they were his people.
The psalmist knew that in life, people might become sick. He also knew that some day he would come close to death again. He knew that in life all things and everyone might fail him. However, he also knew that because of the special relationship he had with God, that he could always count on God’s faithfulness, on God’s commitment, and on God’s love, the love that would never depart from him.
God’s hesed, the faithful love of God, was what gave meaning to the psalmist’s life, to his existence as an individual, to his relationship with God. Thus, as a person who lived in relationship with God, his reward was to enjoy the abundance of God’s mercy. The word for “mercy” in Hebrew is the word rahamim. The basic meaning of the word is to love deeply. Thus, the word refers to the deep love a person has for another. The Hebrew word for “womb” is derived from the word raham. The word rahamim can also express the deep love a mother has for the fruit of her womb.
The word rahamim is used in the Hebrew Bible to express the strong ties God has for those whom he calls his children. So when the psalmist experienced the grace of God and deliverance from his illness, he knew that as a result of surviving his ordeal, that he would enjoy a different and a closer relationship with God.
This is the reason the psalmist said: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13). His statement deserves to be repeated for emphasis: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear Him.” The words of the psalmist reflect the sentiment of an individual who enjoyed a personal and intimate relationship with his God.
The Hebrew word for “fear” in this context and in many other contexts of the Hebrew Bible carries the idea of reverence and worship. People who fear the Lord are those who worship him, those who have reverence for God.
God delights in the lives of those people who worship him. After the psalmist experienced the grace of God in his life, he came to the temple with those who had reverence for God to express his gratitude to the God who had forgiven and healed him. And there in the temple, together with the community of faith, he said: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits.”
True worship occurs when people remember what God has done in their lives. From the perspective of the psalmist, God looks upon his people with love and compassion in the same way a father looks with love and compassion upon his own children. It was because the psalmist had experienced the love of God in a special way in his life that he knew that better than silver and gold, the special relationship he enjoyed with God would be his greatest reward. God’s faithful love and God’s abundant mercy were the psalmist’s rewards for trusting and believing that God was able to redeem him.
As we approach and read this psalm, we must ask an important question: “What lessons can we learn from the experience of the psalmist?” I think that all of us must join the psalmist and say: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits.”
Why should we bless God? Because like the psalmist of old, you and I bless God because we believe in a God who has forgiven our sins. We bless God because we believe in a God who has healed our diseases. We bless God because we believe in a God who has redeemed our soul from the grave. We bless the Lord because we believe in a God who rewards us with his faithful commitment and his tender love.
What else can we give to God but our thanksgiving, our praises and our worship? As we experience the goodness of God, we have to say with the psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all that God has done for us.”
If we go to worship God and we do not remember the many blessings God has given to us, we have failed to worship God. Worship is a personal encounter with a God who cares, with a God who loves, with a God who is concerned for each one of us. May each one of us today be challenged by the words of this psalm.
Let this be our prayer today: “How grateful we are, O Lord, for your faithfulness, for your tender love, for your care for each one of us. We open our hearts and our minds to bless you and to praise your holy name because like the psalmist, we have experienced your love. We have experienced your goodness. We know that you are a God who has redeemed us. We know you are God who rewards us. So, Lord, accept our lives and accept our gratitude.”
Studies on Psalm 103
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary