Psalm 103

Psalm 103 is an exuberant shout of praise to the LORD!  The psalmist begins with individual thanksgiving and then moves to the blessings of God’s covenant people as a whole.  At the center of it all is God’s steadfast love, not based on any merit of ours, but his own great compassion.  Follow along in the lyrics as we discuss the verses in more detail.

VERSES 1-5

Bless the LORD! Psalm 103 opens with an explosion of praise. Our sluggish hearts are immediately called to gratefulness that springs from heart, soul, mind, and strength. 1 We must challenge our tendency to forget God’s constant goodness. He’s not holding back! From forgiveness and healing to everlasting satisfaction, 2 we are given a radiant, lavish picture of what it looks like to be reconciled with God.

  1. Matthew 22:37-38 (ESV): And [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

  1. 2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV): So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Powerful Participles
In verse 2, David commands himself not to forget all the ways in which the LORD has benefited him. His immediate response beginning in verse 3 is a series of seven verbs, six of which are participles (verbs used as nouns) that tie together a list of these benefits. The cumulative effect is an unstopping sentence of praise climaxing in the name of God. “Who forgives…who heals…who redeems…who crowns…who satisfies…he renews…who works righteousness – the LORD!” God never changes. May this seven-fold praise continue to resound on our lips as we worship our glorious God!

VERSES 6-10

The psalm now broadens in perspective. The individual blessings listed above are received in the context of God’s covenant community. God’s promised deliverance of Israel from Egypt exemplifies his righteousness and faithfulness. Psalm 103:8 echoes God’s summary of his character to Moses in Exodus 34:6, 3 reaffirming the everlasting nature of God’s covenant. Verses 9 and 10 expound on God’s merciful nature, confirming that our sins don’t shut the gate of his goodness. 4

  1. Exodus 34:6 (ESV): The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

  1. Isaiah 54:7-8 (ESV): “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

VERSES 11-14

A series of comparisons continues to highlight God’s infinite mercy to believers. These verses are not speaking of justification, God’s mercy in which he restores us from death to life while we were still strangers and enemies. 1 Rather, each of these illustrations depicts God’s continual fatherly mercy to sustain this new life and confirm it by daily pardoning our sins – and this not based on our merit, but our weakness. 2

  1. Romans 5:8 (ESV): But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

  1. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV): But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

VERSES 15-18

Our hope in God’s goodness is not confined within the limits of time. We were created from dust and apart from God’s grace have no hope but to return to dust. But the Lord is an eternal fountain of life to the redeemed. 1 And this blessing is not given only to the individual, but to the covenant community throughout the generations 2 – with the recognition that such privilege is only confirmed to those who remember and obey God’s word. Just as verse 2 urged us to remember God’s goodness, verse 18 challenges us to remember His word and obey it.

  1. Isaiah 51:11-12 (ESV): And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. “I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass,”

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

  1. Deuteronomy 7:9 (ESV): Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Verses 19-22

After recounting God’s infinite blessings, Psalm 103 concludes by extolling his infinite glory.  God’s power and majesty can’t be measured by anything on earth – his sovereign rule extends above and beyond all human governments.  All of creation, even the angels, are called upon to bless the LORD.  The entire psalm has built up to this outpouring of praise, in which we joyfully take our small part: “Bless the LORD, O my soul!”


Note: Many of the thoughts in this post were shaped by John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalms. We encourage you to continue exploring the psalms by reading his work!

Emily Moore