Psalm 103
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

This psalm has been compared to a stream which, as it flows, gradually acquires strength and volume till its waves of praise swell like those of the sea. The poet begins by invoking his own soul to show its gratitude for the Divine favour, and, by a highly artistic touch, makes the psalm, after rising to sublime heights, end with the same appeal to personal experience. But national mercies till much the larger space in his thought, and he speaks throughout as much in the person of the community as his own. Beyond one probable Aramaism in Psalm 103:3, and a possible dependence in one passage on the Book of Job (comp. Psalm 103:16 with Job 17:10), there is nothing to indicate the time of the psalm’s composition. The rhythm is varied, and the form irregular.

A Psalm of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
(2) Benefits.—Literally, actions, whether good or bad (Judges 9:16; Proverbs 12:14). But what a significance in the restricted meaning “benefits.” God’s acts are all benefits.

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
(3) Forgiveth.—The first “benefit” to one who aims at the higher life is the knowledge of the Divine readiness to forgive and renew, and this, as Augustine remarks, implies a quick moral sense: “God’s benefits will not be before our eyes unless our sins are also before our eyes.”

Diseases.—Here chiefly in a moral sense, as the parallelism “iniquity” shows, even if the next verse, taken literally, implies an allusion to physical suffering as well.

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
(4) Destruction.—Rather, pit, or grave, as in Psalm 16:10.

Crowneth.—A metaphor drawn from the common custom of wearing wreaths and garlands on festive occasions (Ecclesiasticus 32:2). Comp. Psalm 8:5.

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.
(5) Mouth.—On the Hebrew word thus rendered, see Psalm 32:9. The word there adopted (“trappings,” or “ornaments”) would Commend itself here, from the evident allusion in the next clause to the moulting of the bird, and its appearance in new plumage, if the expression “to satisfy ornament with good” were in any way intelligible. The LXX. and Vulg. have “desire; the Syriac “body;” but the Chaldee, “age,” which is supported (Gesenius) by the derivation, gives the best sense:—

Who satisfleth thine age with good, so that

Thy youth renews itself like the eagle.

The eagle’s.—Heb., nesher; properly, the griffon, or great vulture. See Exodus 19:4; and Note to Obadiah 1:4.

The rendering of the Prayer Book, “like the eagle’s,” follows the LXX. The idea that the eagle renewed its youth formed the basis of a Rabbinical story, and no doubt appears also in the myth of the Phœnix. But the psalmist merely refers to the fresh and vigorous appearance of the bird with its new plumage.

The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
(6) Oppressed.—From individual the poet passes to national mercies, and goes back to the memorable manifestations of Divine favour vouchsafed to Moses.

He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
(7) Moses.—A direct reference to Exodus 33:13.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
(8) Merciful and Gracious.—The original confession (Exodus 34:6) had become a formula of the national faith. In addition to the marginal references, see Joel 2:13, Psalm 145:8.

He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
(9, 10) This reflection naturally follows after the last quotation from Exodus.

For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
(11) So great is his mercy toward.—Literally, Strong is his mercy upon (or, over). (Comp. Psalm 117:2.) The comparison in the first clause, and the use of this expression in Genesis 49:26 and 2Samuel 11:23, suggests as the right rendering here

For as the heaven is higher than the earth,

So far (above what was expected) for them fearing him prevails his mercy.

(For the same comparison, see Isaiah 55:7-9; and comp. Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19.)

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
(13) Father.—This anticipation of Christ’s revelation of the paternal heart of God, is found also in the prophets.

For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
(14) Frame.—Rather, fashioning; referring to Genesis 2:7, or possibly to the image so common in the prophecy of the potter’s vessel.

For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
(16) The windi.e., the hot, scorching blast, as in Isaiah 40:7. Even in our humid climate, it may be said of a flower—

“If one sharp wind sweep o’er the field,

It withers in an hour.”

But the pestilential winds of the East are described as bringing a heat like that of an oven, which immediately blasts every green thing.

Know it no more.—Comp. Job 7:10. Man vanishes away without leaving a trace behind. The pathos of the verse has been well caught in the well-known lines of Gray:—

“One morn I missed him on the accustomed hill,

Along the heath, and near his favourite tree:

Another came, nor yet beside the rill,

Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he.”

The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.
(19) Prepared.—Rather, established.

Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
(20) Just as in the highest revelation made by Jesus Christ the angels in heaven rejoice over the repentant sinner, so in the psalmist’s view the mercy of Jehovah to his faithful people is cause for high acclaim among the hosts around the throne.

Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
(21) Hosts.—There are apparently in the psalmist’s thought three grades of beings in the hierarchy of praise:—

1.High angels around the throne.

2. Angelic powers, such as winds, lightnings, &c, specially commissioned to do God’s behests, as in Psalm 104:4.

3.Creation generally. (Comp. Psalms 148)

Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.
(22) All his works.—Not only the heavens and their hosts, but

“Earth with her thousand voices praises God.”

Nor can the psalmist himself remain silent, but must repeat the self-dedication with winch he began his song.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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