(A psalm of David, an envelope psalm―it ends in exactly the same way as it begins―the subject matter enclosed or enveloped between the opening and closing words; “BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL.”)
Title: THE SONG OF A SOUL SET FREE.
Theme: A great psalm of praise for the tender mercies of God.
- Numbers in brackets [a], correspond to “Special Notes” following each verse.
- KJV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.
Some think it was written by David (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), after his recovery from an unspecified illness, since in it he speaks of his disease being healed, and his youth renewed―which is the reason given by the Syriac interpreter for suggesting it was written in his old age. The same interpreter makes the theme of the psalm "concerning coldness which prevailed upon him in old age.''
Another interpreter said that it was written when his heart was stirred by a sense of the love of God, and by spiritual blessings of grace flowing from Him; and in it the psalmist celebrates and sings of the benefits of New Testament times; and it is a psalm that is appropriate for every believer to sing.
First the Psalmist sings of personal mercies which he had received (Psalms 103:1-5); then he magnifies the attributes of Jehovah as displayed in His dealings with His people (Psalms 103:6-19); and he closes by calling upon all the creatures in the universe to adore the Lord and join with him in blessing Jehovah, the ever gracious God.
1 BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL: AND ALL THAT IS WITHIN ME, BLESS HIS HOLY NAME.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
The word “bless,” when applied to God, means to praise Him, and it always implies a strong affection for Him as well as a sense of gratitude. When the word is used in reference to people it implies a “wish” that they may be blessed or happy, accompanied often with a prayer that they may be blessed indeed. That is the aim of the “blessing” addressed to a congregation of worshippers. Compare Numbers 6:23-27[a].
The word “soul” in this place is equivalent to mind or heart: my mental and moral powers; capable of understanding and appreciating His favors. The soul of man was “made” to praise and bless God; to enjoy His friendship; to delight in His favor; to contemplate His perfections. It can never be employed in a more appropriate or a more significant act than when engaged in His praise.
And all that is within me.
All my powers and wisdom; all that can be utilized in His praise: the heart, the will, the affections, the emotions. The idea is, that GOD IS WORTHY of all the praise and adoration which the entire man can render. No one of his faculties or powers should be exempt from the duty and the privilege of praise.
Bless his holy name.
The name of God frequently signifies His nature and attributes. Now, holiness is the glory of His name; the purity of God is that which beautifies all His perfections, and renders them worthy to be praised. When infinite might, and unerring wisdom, and eternal dominion, are mixed with unchangeable love, and indestructible truth and goodness, which exalts itself above all His works; when that happens it becomes a holy name. When the divine perfections are rendered truly friendly and suitable objects of our hope and confidence and loudest songs; you see how elegantly the Psalmist upon this occasion mentions the purity of God: "Bless His holy name."
And besides this, there is indeed nothing that more exalts the glory of divine grace and of redeeming love towards a soul, than the consideration of God's holiness; for if your Maker were not purer than man is; if His hatred of sin, and love of righteousness, were not greater than that of the noblest angel; His pardoning of sin, and patience towards transgressors would not be such a wonderful quality. Here is a question for you! Is His name infinitely holy so that "the heavens are not clean in his sight?" Does He abhor even the smallest iniquity, and hate it with a perfect hatred? Surely, then, his grace and love must be incomparably greater than ours.
“Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them:
The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.’
So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.”
2 BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL, AND FORGET NOT[a] ALL HIS BENEFITS[b]:
Bless the LORD, O my soul.
Now he is real serious, and again calls upon himself (his soul) to arise. Had he been very sleepy the first time? Or was he now even more aware of the importance, the underlying necessity of adoration? Certainly, he uses no vain repetitions, for the Holy Spirit guides his pen; and He shows us that we have need, again and again, to refocus ourselves when we are about to worship God, for it would be shameful for us to offer Him anything less than the very best our souls can render: we should be alert and focused upon the words of our God and Savior.
And forget not[a] all his benefits[b].
Not even one of the divine proceedings and communications should be forgotten, they are all really beneficial to us, all are worthy of Him, and all are worthy subjects for praise. Memory is very treacherous when it comes to the best things. By a strange perversity, caused by the fall, it treasures up the rubbish of the past and permits priceless treasures to lie neglected. And memory is tenacious when it comes to grievances, while it holds benefits all too loosely. It needs incentive to do its duty, though that duty ought to be its delight. Observe that he calls on all that is within him to remember all the Lord's benefits, for our task and our energies should be duly revealed. God's all cannot be praised with less than our all.
Dear reader, don’t we have cause enough at this time to bless Him who blesses us? The Lord has saved us with a great salvation, don’t you think we ought to thank Him and declare His perfections? The name of ingrate is one of the most shameful that a man can wear; surely we cannot be content to run the risk of such a shameful brand. Instead, let us wake-up, and bless Jehovah with intense enthusiasm.
[a]Forget not. ― This touches the secret spring of so much ingratitude ― forgetfulness, the lack of recollection.
[b]Benefits. ― The word rendered "benefits" means properly an act, work, doing, whether good or evil, Psalms 137:8 ; and then, desert, or what a man deserves for his act; recompense. It is rendered deserving in Judges 9:16; benefit, as here, and in 2 Chronicles 32:25; desert, Psalms 28:4; reward, Psalms 94:2, Isaiah 3:11, Obadiah 1:15; recompense, Proverbs 12:14, Isaiah 35:4, 59:18, 66:6, Jeremiah 51:6, Lamentations 3:64; Joel 3:4, Joel 3:7. The proper reference here is to the Divine dealings, to what God had done, as a reason for blessing his name. His dealings with the psalmist had been worthy of praise and gratitude. He specifies what those dealings were in the following verses.
3 WHO FORGIVETH ALL THINE INIQUITIES; WHO HEALETH ALL THY DISEASES;
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.
David runs through his catalog of blessings, and he affirms them as themes and arguments for praise. He selects a few of the choicest pearls from his recollections of divine love that he personally experienced, and for which he expresses awesome gratitude. Pardoned sin is, in our experience, one of the choicest benefits of grace, one of the earliest gifts of mercy; in fact, it is the basis for enjoying everything that follows it. Until sin is forgiven, healing, redemption and satisfaction are blessings that must be delayed. Forgiveness is first and foremost in the order of our spiritual experience, and in some respects the most treasured. The pardon (forgiveness) granted is immediate; it is continual, for He constantly forgives us; it is divine, for God is the one that gives it; it is all-encompassing, for it removes all our sins; it takes in omissions as well as commissions, for both of these are transgressions; and forgiveness is without doubt always effective, for it is as real as the healing, and the rest of the mercies with which it is placed.
Who healeth all thy diseases.
When the cause is gone, namely, iniquity, the effect ceases. Sicknesses of body and soul came into the world through the sin of one man, and as sin is eradicated, diseases of the body, mind, and spirit will vanish, till "the inhabitant shall no more say, I am sick." The character of our heavenly Father is many-sided, for, having forgiven as a judge; He then cures as a physician. He is all things to us, all that our needs call for Him to be.
"In him is only good,
In me is only ill,
My ill but draws his goodness forth,
And me he loveth still."
God gives effectiveness to medicine for the body, and His grace sanctifies the soul. Spiritually we are under his daily care, and He heals each malady as it arises. No disease of our soul baffles His skill; He goes on healing all, and he will do so till the last trace of pollution has gone from our nature. The two “alls” of this verse―”all thine iniquities” and “all thy diseases”―are further reasons for all that is within us praising the Lord.
The Psalmist was personally enjoying the two blessings of this verse; he sang of his Lord, who was forgiving and healing him daily. He must have known that it was happening, or he could not have sung about it. He had no doubt about it, he felt in his soul that it was so, and, therefore, he mandated his pardoned and restored soul to bless the Lord with all its might.
All thine iniqities.
Observe, it is not "some" or "many” of thine iniquities. This would never do. If so much as the very smallest iniquity, in thought, word, or act, were left unforgiven, we would be just as bad off, just as far from God, just as unfit for heaven, just as exposed to hell, as though the whole weight of our sins remained upon us. Let the reader think about this. It does not say, "Who forgiveth thine iniquities previous to conversion." There is no such notion as this in Scripture. When God forgives, he forgives like himself. The source, the channel, the power, and the standard of forgiveness are all divine. When God cancels a man's sins, he does so according to the measure in which Christ bore those sins. Now, Christ not only bore some or many of the believer's sins, he bore them "all," and, therefore, God forgives "all." God's forgiveness stretches to the length of Christ's atonement; and Christ's atonement stretches to the length of every one of the believer's sins, past, present, and future. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:9).
All thy diseases.
Our understanding is so bad that we cannot understand how bad we really are; our wills have become the servants of sin; our consciences, through errors in our own understanding, sometimes accuse us when we are innocent, sometimes acquit us when we are guilty. Our souls must seem ugly in the sight of God, for they have grief growing there where joy should, and joy where grief should? We love what we should hate and hate what we should love; we fear when there is nothing to fear.
4 WHO REDEEMETH THY LIFE FROM DESTRUCTION; WHO CROWNETH THEE WITH LOVINGKINDNESS AND TENDER MERCIES;
Who redeemeth[a] thy life from destruction.
By purchase (Jesus’ sacrifice) and by power the Lord redeems us from the spiritual death into which we had fallen, and from the eternal death which would have been its consequence. Had not the death penalty imposed on sinful man been removed, our forgiveness and healing would have been missing from salvation. It is true, they are only fragments, and have little value, but the removal of the guilt and power of sin cancels the death sentence which had been pronounced against us. Glory and praise to our great Substitute, who delivered us from eternal confinement in the pit, by giving Himself for our ransom. Redemption will always be one of the sweetest words in the English language.
Who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies.
Our Lord doesn’t do anything halfway; he will withhold wrath until he has gone to the limit with his people. Cleansing, healing, redemption, are not enough, he must make them kings and crown them, and the crown must be far more precious than if it were made of corruptible things, such as silver and gold; it is studded with gems of grace and lined with the velvet of lovingkindness; it is decked with the jewels of mercy, but made soft for the head to wear by a lining of tenderness. Who is like unto thee, O Lord! God Himself crowns His family, for their best things comes directly from Him; they do not earn the crown―for it proceeds from mercy not from merit. Our sin deprived us of all our honors, and would have delivered us to hell; but He who removed the sentence of death by redeeming us from destruction, restores to us more than all our former honors by crowning us all over again. If God crowns us, shouldn’t we crown him? I yearn for the day I can cast my crown at His feet, and humbly worship Him in spirit and in truth.
[a]Who redeemeth from the pit, Gehenna, hell, the grave, Hades and above all from “death.”
5 WHO SATISFIETH THY MOUTH WITH GOOD THINGS; SO THAT THY YOUTH IS RENEWED LIKE THE EAGLE'S.
In this verse the psalmist describes three things:
- A singular condition ― satisfaction.
- A singular provision ― good things.
- A singular result ― youth renewed.
Who satisfieth thy mouth[a] with good things,
Or rather, "Who fills thy soul with good things?" No man is ever filled to the utmost and entirely satisfied, but a believer; and only God Himself can satisfy Him. Many worldly men are chock-full, but not one is satisfied. God satisfies the very soul of man, his noblest part, his ornament and glory; and the outcome is that He satisfies his mouth, regardless of how hungry he is and how great his craving might be. Soul-satisfaction loudly cries out for soul-praise, and when the mouth is filled with “good things” it is bound to speak well of the One who filled it. Our good Lord bestows really “good things” on us, not worthless toys and idle pleasures; and He is always giving these, so that He is constantly satisfying our soul with good: don’t you think we should still be praising him? If we never cease to bless Him until He stops blessing us, our employment will last forever.
So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.
Renewal of strength, amounting to a grant of a new lease of life, was granted to the Psalmist; he was so restored to his former self that he grew young again, and looked as vigorous as an eagle, who can gaze upon the sun, and whose wings can carry him above the storm. Our version could refer to the annual molting of the eagle, after which it looks fresh and young; but the original does not appear to allude to any such fact of natural history, but simply to describe the diseased one as so healed and strengthened, that he became as full of energy as the bird which is strongest of the feathered species, most fearless, most majestic, and highest soaring. The Lord works marvelous changes in us, and we learn by such experiences to bless His holy name.
Notice what the Lord satisfies with? "Good things." Not rich things, not many things, not everything I ask for, but "good things." All my needs are fully supplied, and everything is "good." “God is love,” and goodness is God expressed. All His blessings assume His own nature. They are holy blessings, holy mercies. Everything that satisfies must have the nature of God in it. Nothing else will ever "satisfy." The heart was made by God, and only God can satisfy it.
The idea presented here is that the endless chain of grace is complete. Sins forgiven, its power subdued, and its penalty averted, then we are honored, supplied, and our very nature renovated, till we are like new-born children in the household of God. O Lord, we must bless thee and praise thy holy name with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our strength.
[a]Satisfieth thy mouth. Kimchi believes the phrase expresses David's recovery from sickness; therefore, he supposes that here David describes the blessing of health, by his mouth being filled with good things. God can so satisfy the soul, that each crack and crevice shall be filled with spiritual joy.
6 THE LORD EXECUTETH RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUDGMENT FOR ALL THAT ARE OPPRESSED.
Our own personal obligations must not absorb all our time and all our thoughts; we must also magnify the Lord for His goodness to us and to others. He does not leave the poor and needy to perish at the hands of their enemies, but steps-in on their behalf, for He is the defender of the poor and the executioner of the cruel. When His people were in Egypt He heard their groaning and brought them out, and in the process He overthrew Pharaoh in the Red Sea. Man's injustice to man shall receive retribution at the hand of God. Mercy to His saints demands vengeance on their persecutors, and He will repay it. The blood of martyrs shall not be shed in vain; no groans of a Christian in prison shall be set aside without investigating the truthfulness of the charges made against them. All wrongs shall be righted, all the oppressed shall be avenged. Justice in the courts of man may be shelved for a time, but it can always be found with the tribunal of God. Every right-minded person will bless God for this. But if He were not concerned about His people's good, if He preferred to ignore the administration of justice, if He allowed arrogant oppressors to escape, then, we would have greater reason for trembling than rejoicing. That is not how it is, however, for our God is a God of justice, and His actions are always right and proper; he will mete out His righteous justice to the proud and make the tyrants bite the dust―"the Lord is known by the judgments He executes."
7 HE MADE KNOWN HIS WAYS UNTO MOSES, HIS ACTS UNTO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.
He made known his ways unto Moses.
Moses was made to see the manner in which the Lord deals with men; he saw this at each of the three periods of his life, in the court, in retirement, and at the head of the tribes of Israel. To him the Lord gave especially clear manifestations of His dispensations and manner of ruling among mankind, granting him to see more of God than had ever before been seen by mortal man, while He conversed with him upon the mount.
He made his ways known to Moses when Moses went up to Mount Sinai and tarried there with God for forty days, we may think that God in that time, revealed many secrets to him; and particularly "made known His ways;" (Exodus 33:19) not only His ways in which He would have us to walk, but His ways in which He walks, and the course He takes in the government of worldly affairs; why he allows the wicked to prosper, and why He allows the godly to be oppressed. He made His "ways" known to Moses; to the children of Israel, only "His acts." He reminded them of the wonderful favors He had done for them in the wilderness. But they saw only the events and not the reasons for them, as Moses did.
Observe how prominent the personality of God is in all this gracious teaching― “He made known." He did not leave Moses to discover truth for himself, but became his instructor. What would we ever know if He did not make it known? God alone can reveal Himself. If Moses needed the Lord to make him know, how much more do we who are so much inferior to the great law-giver, need to know?
His acts unto the children of Israel.
They saw less than Moses, for they beheld the deeds of God without understanding His method, yet this was very much, and might have been more if they had not been so wicked. It is a great act of sovereign grace and condescending love when the Lord reveals Himself to any people, and they ought to appreciate the great favor shown to them. We, as believers in Jesus, know the Lord's ways of covenant grace, and we have by experience been made to see his acts of mercy towards us; how vigorously and cheerfully we ought to praise our divine teacher, the Holy Spirit, who has made these things known to us, for had it not been for him we would have continued to live in darkness unto this day, "Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us and not unto the world?"
8 THE LORD IS MERCIFUL AND GRACIOUS, SLOW TO ANGER, AND PLENTEOUS IN MERCY.
The Lord is merciful and gracious.
All those He deals with are sinners; some are saved and the rest are lost. At one time they were all lost, guilty and needed mercy at His hands, but He is not slow to have compassion for their lost condition, or reluctant to lift them out of it by his grace. Mercy pardons sin, grace bestows favor: the Lord abounds in both. This is that method of His which he revealed to Moses ( Exodus 34:6 ), and He will stay that way as long as the age of grace shall last, as long as men shall exist.
Slow to anger.
He can be angry, and can deal out righteous indignation upon the guilty, but it is strange work for Him to do. He is long-suffering (patient) and takes loving pauses along the way to give time for repentance and opportunity for accepting His mercy. And He deals this way with the greatest sinners, but with his own children He is even more patient: towards them His anger is short-lived and never lasts into eternity, and when it comes out in fatherly chastisements he does not afflict them willingly, and soon pities them because of their sorrows. From this we should learn to be “slow to anger”; if the Lord is longsuffering under our great provocations how much more ought we to endure the blunders of our brethren!
And plenteous in mercy.
He has a lot of it, is overflowing with it; is quick to show it; and this is how he must be or we would soon be consumed. He is God, and not man or our sins would soon drown His love; yet above the mountains of our sins the floods of His mercy rise.
All the world tastes of his sparing mercy, those who hear the gospel partake of his inviting mercy; the saints live by his saving mercy, are preserved by his upholding mercy, are cheered by his consoling mercy, and will enter heaven through his infinite and everlasting mercy. Let abounding grace be our hourly song in the house of our pilgrimage. Let those who feel that they live upon it glorify the plenteous fountain from which it so spontaneously flows.
9 HE WILL NOT ALWAYS CHIDE[a]: NEITHER WILL HE KEEP HIS ANGER FOR EVER.
He will not always chide[a].
He will chide them sometimes, for He cannot bear the thought that His people would harbor sin in their hearts, but He will not chasten them forever. Certainly it is as unpleasant to God to chide us, as it is to us to be chidden; and He likes anger so little, that he rids His hands of it as fast as He can; for chiding is an obstruction to mercy, and anger an impediment to compassion; nothing is so distasteful to God as something that gets in the way of His mercy, therefore we may be sure that He will not personally block the way with chiding, nor restrain His compassion by keeping His anger. As soon as they turn to Him and forsake their evil ways He will end the quarrel. He might find plenty of reasons to chastise us, for there is always something within us which is contrary to His holy mind, but He abstains from doing so for fear that that would shatter our spirits and weaken our fragile faith. It will be a good idea for any one of us who may, at this time, be out of fellowship with the Lord, to ask Him to reveal the reason for His displeasure, and repent and ask to be forgiven; for He wants to show us mercy, and will soon cease His wrath. When his children turn from their sins He soon turns from His chiding.
Neither will he keep his anger for ever.
He carries no grudges. The Lord does not want His people to harbor resentment, and by His own actions he sets them a grand example. When the Lord has chastened His child He puts away His anger: he is not punishing them as a judge, for then His wrath would continue to burn, but he is acting as a father would, and, therefore, after a few blows He ends the matter, and presses His beloved one to His bosom as if nothing had happened. But if the offence lies too deep in the offender's nature to be overcome, He continues to correct him, but he never stops loving, and He does not permit His anger with His people to go into the next world, but welcomes His child into His glory.
[a]Chide―express disapproval; rebuke.
10 HE HATH NOT DEALT WITH US AFTER OUR SINS; NOR REWARDED US ACCORDING TO OUR INIQUITIES.
Writing of his nation, Israel, the psalmist states, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities”; had He done so, Israel would have been taken off the earth, and long ago we would have been delivered to the lowest place in hell. We ought to praise the Lord for what He has not done as well as for what He has done for us; even the negative side deserves our adoring gratitude. Up to this moment, even in our very worst circumstances, we have never suffered as we deserved to suffer; our lot in life has not been determined by what we merited, but on the far different measure of undeserved kindness.
Why is it that God has not dealt with us according to our sins? Could it be that He dealt with someone else according to our sins? Another who took our sins upon Him; of whom it is said, that "God chastened Him in His fierce wrath"? And why did He chasten Him, if it was not for our sins? O gracious God, You are too just to take revenge twice for the same faults; and therefore, having turned Your fierce wrath upon him, You will not turn it upon us too. But having rewarded him according to our iniquities, You will now reward us according to his merits. Shall we not bless the Lord? Every power we posses might have been torn with anguish, but instead we are all happy, and many of us are blessed with inward joy (joy unspeakable); so then, may all that is within us, bless His holy name.
11 FOR AS THE HEAVEN IS HIGH ABOVE THE EARTH, SO GREAT IS HIS MERCY TOWARD THEM THAT FEAR HIM.
The mercy of the Lord towards His chosen ones knows no bounds; it is no more to be measured than the height of heaven. The original language is, "Like the height of the heavens,” which implies other points of comparison besides height and suggests awe-inspiring grandeur, and glory. As the lofty heavens form a canopy for the earth, water it with dew and rain, illuminate it with the sun, moon, and stars, and look down upon it with unceasing watchfulness, even so the Lord's mercy from above covers all His chosen ones, enriches them, embraces them, and serves forever as their dwelling place. The idea of our version is a very noble one, for who shall tell how exceeding great is the height of heaven? Who can reach the closest of the fixed stars, and who can measure the utmost bounds of the starry universe? Yet so great is His mercy! Oh, what a great little word it is! All His mercy is for "them that fear him;" there must be a humble, hearty reverence of His authority, or we cannot taste of His grace. Godly fear is one of the first products of the divine life in us, it is the beginning of wisdom, yet it fully ensures to its possessor all the benefits of divine mercy, and is, indeed, here and elsewhere, employed to set forth the whole of true religion. Many a true child of God is full of reverent fear, and yet at the same time stands trembling as he ponders his acceptance by God. His trembling is groundless, but it is infinitely to be preferred to that dishonorable presumption, which incites men to boast of their adoption and subsequent security, when all the while they are in the gall of bitterness. Those who are presuming upon the infinite extent of divine mercy should be led to consider that although it is wide as the horizon and high as the stars, yet it is only meant for them that fear the Lord, and as for obstinate rebels, they shall have justice without mercy measured out to them.
12 AS FAR AS THE EAST IS FROM THE WEST, SO FAR HATH HE REMOVED OUR TRANSGRESSIONS FROM US.
He has removed our transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west. O what a glorious verse this is, no word even upon the inspired page can excel it! Sin is removed from us by a miracle of love! What a load to move, and yet it is removed so far away from us that the distance is incalculable. Fly as far as the plane of your imagination can take you, and if you travel eastward through space, you are further from the west at every revolution of your plane’s propeller. If sin is removed so far, then we may be sure that the scent, the trace, the very memory of it must be entirely gone. If this is the distance of its removal, there can be no shade of fear of it ever being brought back again; even Satan himself could not achieve such a task. Our sins are gone, because Jesus has borne them away, as far as the place of sunrise is removed from the west, where the sun sinks when his day's journey is done, so far were our sins carried by our scapegoat twenty centuries ago, and now if they were looked for, they shall not be found, they shall not be, saith the Lord. Come, my soul, awaken thyself thoroughly and glorify the Lord for this richest of blessings. Hallelujah. The Lord alone could remove sin at all, and he has done it in a godlike fashion, making a final sweep of all our transgressions.
13 LIKE AS A FATHER PITIETH HIS CHILDREN, SO THE LORD PITIETH THEM THAT FEAR HIM.
Like as a father.
Notice what kind of mercy the prophet attributes to God in this verse. He does not say, ‘as man pities man,’ ‘as the rich pities the poor man,’ ‘as the strong pities the feeble,’ or ‘as the free man pities the slave,’ but rather, he makes mention of that pity which a father shows to his son, which is the greatest of all. To those who truly reverence His holy name, the Lord is a father and acts as such.
pitieth his children.
The father “pitieth His children” that are weak in knowledge, and instructs them; pities them when they are disobedient, and bears with them; pities them when they are sick, and comforts them; when they are fallen, He helps them up again; when they have offended, and upon their submission, forgives them; when they are wronged, and consoles them. Thus "the Lord pitieth them that fear him." In the very best of men the Lord sees much to pity, and when they are at their best they still need His compassion. This should check every propensity to pride, though at the same time it should yield us the richest comfort.
So the Lord pitieth,
So He is the "Father of all mercies," and the Father of all the fatherhoods in heaven and earth. Though it is commonly said, "It is better to be envied, than pitied;" yet here the saying is―”It is a far happier thing to be pitied by God, than to be envied by men.” Fathers feel for their children, especially when they are in pain, they would like to suffer in their stead, their sighs and groans cut them to the quick: thus sensitive towards us is our heavenly Father
Them that fear him refers either to ‘The fear of God that is respect for God which leads you to subordinate your will to His; makes you intent on pleasing Him; repentant in view of past willfulness; transported by His love; hopeful of His glory: Or it may be understood of those who have not yet "received the spirit of adoption," but are yet "trembling at his word," those he "pities." We do not adore a god of stone, but the living God, who is tenderness itself. His pity never fails to flow, and we never cease to need it.
14 FOR HE KNOWETH OUR FRAME; HE REMEMBERETH THAT WE ARE DUST.
For he knoweth our frame[a].
He knows how we are made, for He made us. He is well aware of our construction and physique, our health and temperament, our present infirmity and most overwhelming temptation, for he searches our inmost nature.
He remembereth that we are dust.
That is, he remembers that we are made of dust, are dust still, and ready to return to dust. We too often forget that we are dust, and excessively subject our minds and bodies to extreme mental and bodily exertion. On the other hand, we show too little concern for the infirmities of others, and impose upon them burdens too grievous to bear; but our heavenly Father never overloads us, and never fails to give us strength equal to the task, because He always takes our frailty into account when He is assigning to us our lot. Blessed be His holy name for this gentleness towards his frail creatures
[a] He knoweth our frame―"Our formation;" the manner in which we are constructed, and the materials of which we are made.
15 AS FOR MAN, HIS DAYS ARE AS GRASS: AS A FLOWER OF THE FIELD, SO HE FLOURISHETH.
As for man, his days are as grass.
He lives on the grass, and lives like the grass. Let me explain. Corn is just sophisticated grass, and man, who feeds on it, partakes of its nature. The grass lives, grows, flowers, falls beneath the scythe, dries up, and is removed from the field: read this sentence over again, and you will find it could well be the history of man. If he lives out his days, he is cut down at last, but it is far more likely that he will wither before he arrives at maturity, or be plucked away all of a sudden, long before he has fulfilled his time.
As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
The psalmist says of man, “As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.” It is not a flower of the garden, but of the "field." This latter is more subject to decay than the former, because it lies more open to the scorching sun, the chilling air and violent winds, voracious insects and the browsing mouth of animals, and is more liable to be trampled upon; all these ways may cause it to decay.
Man grows best according to nature, as the field-flower does, and like the unprotected beautifier of the pasture, he runs a thousand risks of coming to a speedy end. This is the way it must be with all that wears flesh, even its greatest attributes and natural virtues, for "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," and therefore it is like grass which withers if just a breath of wind assaults it. The comparison becomes sadly true when we consider, that like the grass which soon passes away, likewise will those we gaze upon, and all their visible beauty.
Happy are they who, born from above, for they have within them an incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth forever.
16 FOR THE WIND PASSETH OVER IT, AND IT IS GONE; AND THE PLACE THEREOF SHALL KNOW IT NO MORE.
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone.
It is often reported that a hot wind in the eastern deserts quickly destroys every green thing. This is not at all surprising, for the winds there sometimes "bring with them a degree and kind of heat, which one would imagine came out of an oven, and which, when it blows hard, will affect metal within the houses, such as the locks on doors, nearly as much as if they had been exposed to the rays of the sun." The blasting effect which seems to be what is meant here, of certain powerful winds upon the animal frame, is by no means exaggerated by the comparison to the sudden fading of a flower. A traveler describes hundreds of persons in a caravan as overcome on the spot by the fire and dust, of which the deadly wind that sometimes prevails in the eastern deserts seems to be composed. He describes this wind "as making a great hissing noise," and says that "it appears red and fiery, and kills those whom it strikes by kind of smothering them, especially when it happens in the day time."
And the place thereof shall know it no more.
The flower blooms no more. It may have a successor, but as for itself its leaves are scattered, and its perfume will never again sweeten the evening air. Man also dies and is gone, gone from his old haunts, his dear home, his loving family and his employment, never to return. As far as this world is concerned, he is as though he never existed; the sun rises, the moon reflects sunlight, summers and winters come and go, the rivers flow, and everything continues in their usual way as though they aren’t missed at all, so little effect does he have on the affairs of nature. Perhaps a friend will note that he is gone, and say, “I miss him.”
17 BUT THE MERCY OF THE LORD IS FROM EVERLASTING TO EVERLASTING UPON THEM THAT FEAR HIM, AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS UNTO CHILDREN'S CHILDREN;
But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him.
How huge the contrast between the fading flower and the everlasting God! How wonderful that His mercy links our frailty with His eternity, and make us everlasting too! From eternity past the Lord viewed His people as objects of mercy, and as such He chose them to become partakers of His grace. The doctrine of eternal election is most delightful to those who have light to see it and love to accept it. It is a theme for deepest thought and highest joy. The "to everlasting" is equally precious. Jehovah changes not; He has mercy without end as well as without beginning. Never will those who fear Him find that either their sins or their needs have exhausted the great depth of His grace. The main question is, "Do we fear him?" If we are lifting up to heaven the eye of reverential fear, the gaze of paternal love is never removed from us, and it never will be, world without end.
No human kindness is perpetually the same; but by experience we know that those who are kind today may be changed into tyrants tomorrow. We have examples of this in the life of Nero, and many other rulers. Therefore, in case we should suspect the goodness of God to bear any similar character, it is said with inconceivable consolation, that it shall never cease, but is prepared for ever for all those who fear and serve God.
And his righteousness unto children's children.
Mercy to those with whom the Lord makes a covenant is guaranteed by His righteousness; it is because He is just that He never rescinds a promise, or fails to fulfill it. Our believing sons and their seed will find the word of the Lord the same forever: to them He will display His grace and bless them even as He has blessed us. Let us sing, then, for posterity. The past commands our praise and the future invites it. For our descendants let us sing as well as pray. If Abraham rejoiced concerning his seed, so also may the godly, for "instead of the fathers there shall be the children," and as the last psalm told us in its concluding verse, "the children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee."
[a] From everlasting to everlasting. From everlasting, by predestination; to everlasting, by glorification: the one without beginning, the other without end.
18 TO SUCH AS KEEP HIS COVENANT, AND TO THOSE THAT REMEMBER HIS COMMANDMENTS TO DO THEM.
Children of the righteous are not, however, promised the Lord's mercy without conditions, and this verse completes the statement of the last by adding: To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them. The parents must be obedient and the children too. Here we are told to abide by the covenant, and those who place their confidence in anything other than the finished work of Jesus are not among those who obey this instruction. Those with whom the covenant is actually made stand firmly behind it, and having begun in the Spirit, they do not seek to be made perfect in the flesh. The truly godly are careful to keep the Lord's commands―they "remember"; they abide by them, and are certain "to do them." Moreover, they do not pick and choose, but remember "His commandments" as such, without exalting one above another as their own pleasure or convenience may dictate. May our offspring be a thoughtful, careful, observant race, eager to know the will of the Lord, and prompt to follow it faithfully, and then will His mercy enrich and honor them from generation to generation.
This verse also suggests praise, for who would wish the Lord to smile on those who will not abide by and share His ways with others? From the manner in which some men haphazardly preach the covenant, one might infer that God would bless a certain set of men regardless of how they might live, and however they might neglect His laws. But the word does not teach that. The covenant is not legal, but it is holy. It is all of grace from first to last, and it does not panderer to sin; on the contrary, one of its greatest promises is, "I will put my laws in their hearts and in their minds will I write them." Its general aim is the sanctifying of a people unto God that are zealous for good works and all of their gifts and actions work in that direction. Faith keeps the covenant by looking to Jesus alone, while at the same time, by earnest obedience, it remembers the Lord's commandments and does them.
19 THE LORD HATH PREPARED HIS THRONE IN THE HEAVENS; AND HIS KINGDOM RULETH OVER ALL.
The LORD has prepared (established) his throne in the heavens.
The psalmist has shaped a view of the boundless power, and glorious sovereignty of Jehovah. His throne is fixed (established, settled, immovable) "He does not sit on a precarious throne.
“His throne in the heavens,” denotes:
- The glory of his dominion. The heavens are the most stately and beautiful pieces of the creation; there His majesty is the most visible, his glory most splendid―“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalms 19:1). In heaven His power and authority is acknowledge more by the angels: His supremacy is undisputed there by the angels that watch over him, as it is on earth by the rebels that arm themselves against him.
- The supremacy of his empire. The heavens are the loftiest part of the creation, and the only suitable palace for him.
- Peculiarity of this dominion. He rules from the heavens. His authority is not delegated to any creature, he rules the blessed spirits by himself; but He rules men that are on His footstool by others of the same kind, men of their own nature.
- The vastness of His empire. The earth is just a spot in the heavens. What is South Carolina to a map of the whole earth, but a spot you may cover with your finger; how much less is the whole earth when compared to the universe. You cannot conceive of the many millions of little particles (people) that are on the earth; and if they are all put together they will appear to be one little point compared to that place where the throne of God is located. How vast must His Empire be! He rules there over the angels, which excel in strength, those hosts of His which do His pleasure, in comparison to whom all the men in the world, and the power of the greatest presidents and kings, is no more than the strength of an ant or fly. And since His throne is in the heavens, it will follow that all things under heaven are part of His dominion. The inferior things of earth cannot keep from being subject to Him; and that includes His influence on all things below, because the heavens are the cause of all the motion in the world. See Hosea 2:21-22 .
- The easiness of managing this government. Since His throne is in Heaven on high, He can observe everything that happens below. "The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand" (Psalms 14:2). He does not look down from heaven like a prisoner confined there would, but He looks down majestically, and by way of authority.
- Duration of it. The heavens are incorruptible; His throne is placed there in an incorruptible state. The throne of God outlives the termination of the world.
- The readiness of his Kingdom. Due preparation is the natural way to the establishment of a thing; hasty resolves break and rot away.
And his kingdom ruleth over all.
He stretches His scepter over the entire universe. He now reigns universally, but then, He always has done so, and He always will. To us the world may seem ripped apart by lawlessness and terrorism, but He brings order out of confusion. Great and small, intelligent and material, willing and unwilling, fierce or gentle; all are under His influence. His is the only universal monarchy; He is the blessed and only Potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords. A clear view of His active and supreme providence is one of the most delightful of spiritual gifts; those who have it cannot do anything other than bless the Lord with all his soul.
His Lordship is universal.
First, over all time; other lords die, but He is eternal. Concerning His government, there is no distress, no disorder, and no anxiety, no hurrying to and fro, no surprises to be met or unexpected catastrophes to be warded off; all is prepared and fixed, and He Himself has prepared and fixed it. He is no delegated sovereign for whom a throne is set up by another; He is an absolute ruler, and His authority arises from Himself and is sustained by His own innate power. This matchless sovereignty is the guarantee of our security, the pillar upon which our confidence may safely lean.
Secondly, over all places―heaven, earth, hell: “The LORD does whatever pleases Him throughout all heaven and earth, and on the seas and in their depths” (Psalms 135:6). Kings and presidents are limited, and cannot do many things they desire: they cannot command the sun to stand still, or the wind to blow in a certain direction, and no king reigns in the depths of the sea. It is Christ alone that has the keys of heaven and hell.
Thirdly, over all creatures; commanding the fire against the nature of it, to descend, 2 Kings 1:12; creating and ruling the stars, Amos 5:8; overruling the lions, Daniel 6:22; sending the meteors, Psalms 148:8; lapping up the sea, Job 38:8; dividing, diverting, filling it. In fire and water, those two raging elements that have no mercy, he shows mercy by delivering us from both. He calls the fowls, and they come; the beasts, and they hear: the trees and they spring to obey Him. There is then no time, not the hour of death; no place, not the humblest abode; no creature, not even the devil, that can resist Him. The Lord can deliver us from them all. Therefore at all times, in all places, and against all creatures, let us trust in Him for deliverance.
20 BLESS THE LORD, YE HIS ANGELS, THAT EXCEL IN STRENGTH, THAT DO HIS COMMANDMENTS, HEARKENING UNTO THE VOICE OF HIS WORD.
Bess the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength.
The psalmist, finding more and more for which to praise his Lord, calls upon "the firstborn sons of light" (angels) to speak the praises of the Lord, as they certainly should, because it was said that they are the best ones to tell of the awesome things He has done. Dwelling nearer to that blessed throne than we do, they see the Glory which we would adore. They have been given an exceedingly great intellect, and voice, and strength which they delight to use in sacred services for him. Let them now turn all their strength into that solemn song which we would send up to the third heaven. To him who gave angelic strength let all angelic strength be given. They are his angels, and therefore they are not unwilling to sing out His praises.
“His angels . . . that do his commandments, etc.”
They fly to the sound of His words, they look upon God as the great General, and if He gives them the word, they will utilize their strength, and willingly go about doing the work He gives them. They are very attentive to His commands; if He says, Go smite Herod for his pride, Balaam for his covetousness, David for his treachery, Sennacherib for his blasphemy, and Sodom for its uncleanness, they go immediately.
That do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
We are directed to adhere to these commandments, and sadly we fail; let those unfallen spirits (angels), whose delight it is to never have transgressed “his commandments,” give to the Lord the glory of their holiness. They listen for even more commands, obeying as much by reverent listening as by energetic action, and by this they teach us how the heavenly Ones will should always be done; but even for this helpful instruction let them derive no praise, but render all praise and honor to Him who has made and kept them in force. O that we could hear them chant the high praises of God, as did the shepherds on that greatest birth night of all.
Our happy heart looks forward to the hour when we shall hear them "harping and singing in loud and solemn praise," and all to the glory of God.
“Hearkening unto the voice of His word.” Angels are vigilant creatures, and wait for opportunities, and when they come they will not lose them. They neither slumber nor sleep, but listen constantly for what the Lord will say. What blessed opportunities there will be for action; so, in Ezekiel 1:11, they are described with their wings stretched upward, manifesting their watchfulness and readiness for service. When Christ was born, a multitude of them appeared and celebrated his birth (Luke 2:13): when Christ was taken by Judas and his cohorts, Peter drew his sword in his Master's defense; but what did Christ say? "Put up thy sword, it is not a time now to fight, but to suffer: thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? It is not a time now to pray for help, I must die, and the Scripture must be fulfilled; but if I would, my Father would bid the angels to aid me, and they presently would come, whole legions of them, yea, all the angels in heaven." Let us learn about angels and watch for opportunities, and take them in.
21 BLESS YE THE LORD, ALL YE HIS HOSTS; YE MINISTERS OF HIS, THAT DO HIS PLEASURE.
Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts;
The psalmist says to every race of creatures, “Bless ye the Lord,” for you are all His troops, and He is the General of all your armies. The fowl of the air and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passes through the corridors of the sea, should all unite in praising their Creator, to the very best of their ability.
Ye ministers of his that do his pleasure;
“Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts . . . that do his pleasure.” The sun, moon, stars, and planets do "his pleasure" (Psalms 19:1[a]) unconsciously; the "angels" consciously and with instinctive love, "hearken unto the voice of his word" (Psalm 19:1, ESV). Both together constitute the Lord's hosts.
In whatever way ye serve Him, bless Him as ye serve. The Psalmist desires for every servant in the Lord's palace to unite with him, and all of a sudden and at the same time sing out the praises of the Lord.
We have attached a new meaning to the word "ministers" in these concluding days, for we have narrowed it down to those who preach the word and teach sound doctrine. Yet no true minister would wish to change it, for we are above all men obligated to be the Lord's servants, and we would desire to bless the glorious Lord, more than all other ministering intelligences or forces,
[a] “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
22 BLESS THE LORD, ALL HIS WORKS IN ALL PLACES OF HIS DOMINION: BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL.
Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion.
Here is a trinity of blessing for the thrice blessed God, and each one of the three blessings is amplification upon that which went before. This is the most comprehensive of all, for what can be a wider call than to “all . . . in all places?” See here how finite man can awaken infinite praise! Redeemed man is the voice of nature, the priest in the temple of creation, the instructor in the worship of the universe.
This last requirement is all-embracing; all His works in all places of His wide dominions―all that He has made, whether intelligent or not intelligent; "in all places"―above, beneath, around: in heaven, earth, or hell: let them all fall into this universal chorus of praise and blessing, extolling Jehovah, the One supremely great and supremely good!
We are struck by this sudden transition from "all God's works, in all places of his dominion," to himself, a solitary individual. Of course he had already included himself; himself had been summoned when he summoned all God's works in all places of His dominion; but it seems as if a sudden fear had seized the Psalmist, the fear of the possibility of omitting himself; or, if not a fear, yet a consciousness that his very activity in summoning others to praise, might make him forget that he was bound to praise God himself, or sluggish in performing that duty, or ready to take for granted that he could not himself be neglecting what he was so strenuously pushing on all orders of being. Solomon has said, "They made me keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept." Unfortunately! It is quite easy to enlist others in praise, and to be neglectful of one's own offering of praise. How important is it, then, that along with the psalmist we call on all God's works in all places of his dominions to bless the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
He closes as he closes he began, "Bless the LORD, O my soul." That is to say, "Let thy vocation be that of the seraphim, O my soul, and enter into the life of heaven!" Why should I praise Him? Can my praise be of any advantage to Him? No; nor that of all the heavenly hosts. It is infinite condescension in Him to hearken unto the praises of His most exalted creatures.
The psalmist cannot be content to call on others without doing his own part; nor will he be content to be set aside because others sing more loudly and perfectly. O infinitely blessed Lord, favor us with this highest blessing of being for ever and ever wholly engrossed in blessing Thee. Let me bless the Lord, says the psalmist, because no function of man can be richer in blessings to my soul than this; but the heart cannot delight in God, without becoming like God. Let me do it, because it is the particular privilege of man on this earth to bless the Lord. In order for him to find any who would join him in this, he has to ascend to the heavens. Let me do it, because the earth is fully furnished with the materials of praise. The sands, the seas, the flowers, the insects; animals, birds, fields, mountains, rivers, trees, clouds, sun, moon, stars―they all wait for me to translate their attributes and characteristics into praise.