Rev. Marucs is pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
“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.”
How ought we respond to all of God’s benefits? Do we think often about them? Do we talk about them? If we are honest, we must admit that we don’t think enough about God’s benefits. Maybe we do now and again. But so often we just think of ourselves and the things of this world.
God has been so good to us. He has been good to each of us in particular, and He has been good to His people in general. He has showered us with grace. He has given us new life in Jesus Christ. He has given us the faithful preaching of the gospel. He has given us faith. He forgives our sins. He sanctifies us by His Holy Spirit. He preserves us in the midst of this world. What grace is ours in Christ Jesus! How will we respond to His goodness toward us?
Psalm 103 is the psalmist’s response to God for all of His goodness. David recognizes that he doesn’t bless God enough for all of His benefits. So he tells his soul what to do. He says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” He blesses the Lord by remembering all of His benefits. As he itemizes many of God’s benefits to him, he magnifies God’s mercy.
Bless the Lord!
It is striking that the psalmist would tell himself to “Bless the Lord!” Usually we think of God as the One who blesses. That is, in fact, how the word “bless” is often used in the Old Testament Scriptures: God blesses us. “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life” (Ps. 128:5). When God blesses us, He gives us abundant life. That abundant life is not found in things. Rather, the blessed life that God gives us is spiritual and heavenly.
We can understand that God blesses us; He is the overflowing fountain of all good. But how is it that we bless God? Can we give God something that He doesn’t already own? Can we make God richer by giving Him something? That cannot be. Nothing we can do will add to His glory or change Him in any way. The idea that we bless God does not mean that we make Him richer.
Rather, when we bless God we are acknowledging that He is the source of abundant life. That’s the idea expressed in so many of the Psalms. For example, “O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard: which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved” (Ps. 66:8-9). To bless God means to lift up our voices and praise Him for His benefits to us. It is to say that God is the One who gives us life and maintains our life.
Bless the Lord!
Notice who the psalmist designates as the One who is worthy of blessing. He says, “Bless the Lord,” that is to say, bless Jehovah. Jehovah is the great I AM. He is the self-sufficient God who never changes. And, because He never changes, He keeps His promises. He is our faithful covenant God. Even though He does not need us, yet He daily showers us with His blessings.
To bless Jehovah is humbly to proclaim that every good thing we have comes from Him. The Holy Spirit echoes this thought in James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Jehovah never changes! He is always good to us. That is Jehovah, our faithful covenant God!
Bless the Lord! O my soul!
That is what the psalmist tells his soul to do. He is talking to himself. We might have the idea that anybody who talks to himself must be crazy. But here, that is just what the psalmist does. Talking to oneself can be a very good thing.
Worldly psychologists might advocate talking to ourselves. But they want us to tell ourselves how good we are. They want us to repeat to ourselves messages like, “You can do it!” “You’ve got what it takes.” “You are a good person.” Essentially, they want us to praise ourselves and trust in ourselves. However, when the psalmist talks to himself, he does not tell himself how good he is. Instead, he tells himself to consider how good God is and how good God has been to him. Knowing that, he knows he may trust in God and His mercy.
What should we say when we talk to ourselves? Look at what the psalmist tells his soul: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”
The fact that the psalmist tells his soul to bless the Lord indicates that this is not something that comes naturally. The old man of sin does not want to bless Jehovah. Our old man is like Job’s wife. When all sorts of trials befell Job, she tells Job, “Curse God and die!” When God sends trials, we are tempted to do the same thing. We might say to ourselves, “If God really loved me, He wouldn’t send me such a difficult trial.” Or we say, “How could this trial ever be for my good.” In the midst of trials we have the hardest time blessing Jehovah. That’s why we need to speak, as the psalmist does, saying to our souls, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
On the other hand, when we are having an easy time in life, our old man still does not want to bless God. When we eat and are full, when we have goodly houses with three-stall garages, when we have fat bank accounts that will pay the bills until the day we die, then we are tempted to be proud. We are tempted to think that we have provided all those things for ourselves. We forget that God provides us with everything we need for our bodies and our souls. He gave us health and strength in order to be able to earn such a living. And he has entrusted all these things to us so that we might use them for the sake of His kingdom. When we have the so-called good life, then we are tempted to think that we really do not need God. We are tempted to forget all His benefits to us. Blessing God does not come naturally. That is why the psalmist reminds himself to do what he knows he ought to do.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Not half-heartedly. Not as though it did not really matter. Bless Him with all that is within you. Bless Him with your understanding, your affections, your mind, and your heart. Bless His holy name with everything you have. Bless Him for all His perfections and bless Him for the fact that He has revealed them to you.
How ought we to bless the Lord? Bless Him by remembering all His benefits. Again, the psalmist understands that he is prone to forgetfulness. He is prone to forget all the wonderful things that God did for him. So he tells himself, “Forget not all his benefits!”
Notice the nature of the benefits that the psalmist has in mind. He does not talk about physical things. He does not bless God for giving him a big house, a fast boat, a recreational vehicle, and a great vacation in the Bahamas. Everything for which he blesses God has to do with salvation.
He goes on to list some of the wonderful benefits that God gives to us. In the first place, he talks about the Lord “who forgiveth all thine iniquities.” We did not do anything to deserve forgiveness. Indeed, every act makes us more and more guilty before God. But He forgives us and takes our guilt away. He does this through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, where He made the full payment for all of our sins. Now, God sends His Holy Spirit to declare the verdict in our hearts: “You are forgiven.”
As a result of that forgiveness, we also receive healing. So we read that God is the One “who healeth all thy diseases.” That is not talking about healing physical diseases. God does heal physical diseases, but the most serious diseases a man could ever have are the spiritual diseases of the heart. God heals all our spiritual diseases. He heals us by taking away the guilt of sin and the corruptions inherent in our old nature. That is the work of Christ’s Spirit, who regenerates and sanctifies us.
“Bless the Lord” for forgiveness and healing!
Bless the Lord, too, for redeeming your life from destruction. Literally, He redeems us from a pit. Before we had forgiveness and healing, we were dead men. We were spiritually dead and headed for certain destruction. Jesus, our Savior, redeemed us. He bought us back with His precious blood, and now we no longer need to fear the pit of hell. Bless the Lord for delivering us!
It is amazing enough that we have been delivered from the guilt and corruption of sin. It is truly wonderful that we have been delivered from the pit of hell. But there is more! To that wonderful deliverance from misery God adds another astounding benefit: He “crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies.” He crowns us with covenant blessings! He showers us with His loving kindness and tender mercies. Both words express the deep affection God has toward us. According to that affection, He desires to deliver us from misery.
“Loving kindness” refers especially to God’s tender and steadfast covenant love towards His people. According to that love, He gives us covenant fellowship with Himself. Add that together with His “tender mercies.” Literally, tender mercies refer to a person’s inner organs. When someone has a heartfelt compassion towards another, it affects his insides. Those who experience a great loss can have what feels like a hole inside them. God has this kind of deep-seated compassion towards us. He is not just some kind of emotionless robot. He really pities us in our woes. He cares!
Having done all that for us, God continues to shower us with benefits. “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” He gives us all the spiritual nourishment we need. First He gives us a hungering and craving after those good things. Then He gives us the nourishment that we need. He gives us good things. The result is that we grow stronger; our “youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” That is not talking about our physical bodies; it is talking about a spiritual vigor that God gives to His people. The same idea is found in Isaiah 40:31: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” The eagle soars into the heavens and glides on the wind with little effort. It never seems to grow weary or faint. The eagle is a symbol of strength. God makes us like the eagle; He renews our spiritual love for Him as well as our strength to serve Him.
The psalmist continues for the rest of the Psalm praising God for His great mercy. It is significant that not once in the Psalm does the psalmist ask God for anything. It is good and proper to seek all things from God. But here the psalmist just praises God for one thing after another. He focuses on God’s greatness.
At the same time, the psalmist brings out the great contrast between us and God. Man is a frail creature. “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” But then, notice the very next verse: “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children.” Man is nothing, but God is everything. To Him be the glory and honor.
Do we think often about God’s benefits? Not often enough. But God is still merciful to us. In light of our forgetfulness, we ought to be like the psalmist. We ought to have a talk with ourselves. We should say to ourselves, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! Don’t forget all His benefits. Look at all that He has done for us. Don’t forget what Christ did for us. Don’t forget what He does in us. Bless Him, for He is worthy of praise. Amen.”