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, 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 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul! Psalm 103
BLESS THE LORD! This is the call to praise our King that echoes throughout the entire universe. “The Music of the Spheres”, as the ancients called it, found its lyric in these words. “Bless the LORD!” cries every raven, along with its young, whom the LORD has filled with food; “Bless the LORD!” roars the lion, its young filled with the prey brought home to the den. “Bless the LORD!” says the cool breeze that whispers to the thirsty trees that the rain will soon come; and the trees respond, their leaves blowing freely and happily in the wind, “Bless the LORD!” The heavens declare His glory; the sky above proclaims His handiwork. “Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” And what is the speech that the day pours out, that the night echoes continually but “Bless the LORD!” We have a distinct perception problem when we view the world itself as an unhappy place. The universe and all the created order is not unhappy, but expectant, awaiting the day when all the sons of God will be revealed, when all will be made new at His coming! The universe which God created, He sustains down to the last molecule; and the only proper reply to His loving Providence is “Bless the LORD!” When you go out into the woods, or sit atop some mountain beholding the beauty of His creation, does not that beauty entice you to join in its song of praise to the LORD? When the skies are blue and sunny, when the fields are white with snow, when the rain brings life to the dry ground, shall we not rejoice along with the rest of the created order, and bless the LORD? All of creation blesses the LORD for its preservation; shall we remain silent? Indeed, if we do not praise Him, the very stones will cry out His praise!
But of all God’s creatures, man is most indebted to His goodness. Upon we rational beings is placed the greatest impetus to bless the LORD! In fact, it is our duty to rejoice in Him. For to whom in all of creation has God given so much? When the Word became flesh, He did not take on the flesh of beasts or birds; Christ did not become a rock or a river; no, the eternally begotten Son of God took on the flesh of human beings, and lived as one of us! Christ Jesus, “who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Of all beings in the universe, we are most loved by our God, and yet, it would seem, that often, in the grand chorus of the cosmos the only voice missing in the praise of the LORD is ours. David realized this, and Psalm 103 calls us to realize and rectify this atrocity.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! When we come to call others to worship, the first person we need to call is ourselves. Listen to the way David preaches to his own soul! How often do we do this? Our culture teaches us to be tight-reined in our physical exercise programs. Some of us wake up in the morning and the first thing we do is start exercising. We need to fit into those slacks for a friend’s wedding, so we begin watching how much we eat, sometimes down to the last calorie. My grandmother was a wonderful woman, but she was so careful about keeping the house clean that often she would walk through the house with a rag in her hand wiping down furniture she had already wiped down a few minutes earlier. We are constantly preaching some kind of message to our hearts – get fit, get thin, keep clean, do well on a test, etc. We have become the strictest of athletes in the matters of the world, but so often we neglect to preach the message to our forgetful being – “Bless the LORD!” David is an exemplar here, and we should follow his example. We need to wake up from our culture-laden, and culture-formed stupors and cry out to our deafened hearts: BLESS THE LORD!!! We are always being formed by something, and we need to pay more attention to what is forming us. We have to become more intentional about being formed into worshipers of God, and the first step is forming the habit of worship.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits… Again, David points to one of our biggest hindrances in the Christian life: forgetting God and His goodness toward us. Forgetting God is the downfall of so many throughout Scripture. In Hosea, the LORD speaks through His prophet concerning the idolatry of Israel, “And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the LORD.” Whenever we forget God, to worship Him and adore/bless Him, we necessarily become idolaters. The truth of the matter is, we were made for worship and we will worship something (or someone), and if we’re not worshiping God, we’re probably worshiping something else as though it were a god, devoting our time, money, lives to a creature rather than the Creator. The surest protection against idolatry is to daily remind your soul to bless the LORD; and, though God is infinitely worthy of praise in Himself, He condescends to give us reason after reason to worship Him – for we are the beneficiaries of His great love!
He is the great God 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 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. David knew the darkness of sin. One need only peruse Psalm 51 to know the truth of this. After he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, the honorable Uriah, killed on the battlefield, David was confronted by Nathan, God’s prophet. Realizing his sinfulness, David penned these words: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” But, here, in Psalm 103, he writes again, that God forgives all our iniquity. Why does he trust that this is so? He looks to God’s Word and covenant! The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Who is the God who forgives all our iniquities? Who is the good Physician Who heals our every wound, and one day will heal us perfectly? He is the same God Who revealed Himself to Moses at Mt. Sinai. He is the same God that delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. He is the God Who is willing to move heaven and earth, and to trample false gods beneath His feet for the good of His people. He is the LORD, the LORD, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” This is how God had revealed Himself to the people – not as a hateful judge waiting to smite someone, but as a forgiving God Who loves and wishes to restore His people. This is the God of Scripture, the God Who is patient with His people, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heaven are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. It is quite possible, and indeed likely, that some within the sound of my voice believe that they have done something so terrible, committed a sin so heinous, that God cannot forgive them. To you, the Scriptures say, “God forgives all our iniquities”; that is, not just some, but all; no matter what you have done, if you come to Christ in repentance, confessing your sins, and trusting that He has paid for them on the cross, no matter what they were, you are forgiven! Fulgentius, a Church Father, writes, “What, I ask, do we think cannot be forgiven us when the Lord forgives all our iniquities? Or what do we think cannot be healed in us, when the Lord heals all our diseases? Or how is there anything still lacking to the healed and justified person whose desire is satisfied with good things? Or how is he not believed to gain the benefit of complete forgiveness to whom a crown is given together with love and mercy? Therefore, let no one despairing of the physician remain in his infirmity; let no one, downplaying the mercy of God, waste away in iniquities. The apostle calls out that ‘Christ died for the ungodly.'” God does not deal with us according to our sins, but according to His great love for us in Christ; this love is beyond anything we could comprehend. Notice that David writes that God’s steadfast love toward those who fear him is “as high as the heavens are above the earth”; Isaiah would write the same concerning God’s ways and thoughts being above our ways and thoughts. What we should draw from this truth canonically is that God’s love is so far beyond our understanding that the only appropriate reaction to His love is to accept it, stand in awe, and bless the LORD! If we will come to Him in true repentance, no matter what we’ve done, He will forgive and restore. But, because we are so apt to think that God might be like us, forgiving only in name, while still harboring an “I’m going to get you in the end for what you’ve done” attitude, David tells us that not only is the sin forgiven, but it is completely removed from us; it can no longer be held against us in the heavenly courts! But where has the sin gone, if it has been removed from us? How far is the east from the west? A better question – how far is God from man? But God Himself bridged that distance in the Incarnation. Our sins have been removed from us, and Jesus has taken them upon Himself. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the LORD has laid upon him the iniquity of us all.”
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. To those who “fear” God. What does this mean? The Reformer Martin Luther distinguished between two kinds of fear: servile and filial. The first kind, servile fear, is the kind of fear that a prisoner has for his jailer, or a man condemned to die has for his executioner. It’s the kind of dread and anxiety someone has toward another who is perceived as a present threat. The second kind, filial fear, is the fear that a child has for his father. It is the fear of a child who has such tremendous respect and love for his father or mother that his desire is to please him. The fear of God is this second kind of fear, because He is the Father Who shows compassion to His children. Through Christ, we have been made the children of God; because the Holy Spirit has united us to Christ, we now cry “Abba! Father!” We enjoy the same Father-Son relationship that Christ has with the Father because we are united to Him. And God the Father is compassionate to His frail children, For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. In fact, His very act of becoming our Father, in electing us to adoption and justification in Christ, is an act of His grace. Fulgentius writes, “For not as a father has compassion on his children unless becoming our father through grace, he deigned to make us his children.”
David meditates on this theme of our frailty for a moment. As for man, he writes, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. What are we but passing, temporal beings? We are born into this world, tiny, slimy, and crying for help. We live until some accident or disease or old age which makes infirm takes us to the grave where we return to the dust from which we were created. A flower in a garden may give its beauty for a while, but it will not last. How much less the grass and flowers of the field, which are not tended so closely! The harsh winds blow, the flower withers and dies and disappears to be remembered no more. Such we are if we’re honest. It makes us ask, “What is man that You are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him?” Compared to the universe, we are not even a perceivable dot. It should become a daily practice of ours to think about our smallness and our mortality. We’re not that important in the long run of things. We’re insignificant in a lot of ways even in the short run! But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. Where do we find our significance? Is it in the fleeting pleasures of the world? Do we seek significance in being praised by other withering flowers? Does my art make me significant? my work? my family? my wealth? No. All of these are as fleeting as I am. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from eternity past and will continue forever. How long has God loved me? Forever. How long will God love me? Forever. My eternal significance is being found in Him. His love gives me value forever, and I need seek it nowhere else. If the world hates me, my God loves me. Even if my closest relations and dearest friends forsake me, my God loves me. “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” And His covenant is not to me alone, but to all generations that will seek Him! His love is for you and for your children and grandchildren if they will enter His covenant through the blood of Christ. Thus, it is my joy to obey Him, for He loves me so, and I love Him because He first loved me!
The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. How then, must we conclude? We have every reason to bless the LORD. And He is king over all the universe, and thus, while we ourselves bless the LORD we should encourage everything that exists to do that same… even the ever-praising angels in heaven! Let us spur one another on with the truth of God’s loving benefits to us, and may the Church and the world never be found silent of God’s praises! But, we must conclude as we began, just as David does in Psalm 103. For, it does no good to encourage others to bless the LORD when our own souls bear no praise in them for His goodness toward us. Let us pray, then, that in His mercy, God would give us thankful hearts that seek to bend the knee before Him, and let us never forget the joyous duty of delighting in our God. Let us make a habit of continually preaching to our souls the great benefits God has shown to us, especially in His grace manifested in our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us meditate on His goodness more than the fleeting things of this world. Let us join in the praise song of the universe as we encourage our own selves, Bless the LORD, O my soul!
SOLI DEO GLORIA. Amen.
 Job 38:39-41
 Psalm 19:1-4a
 Romans 8:19
 Luke 19:40
 Philippians 2:6-7
 Hosea 2:13
 Psalm 51:3-5
 Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:31; Numbers 14:18
 2 Peter 3:9
 Fulgentius of Ruspe, Letter 7.4; Romans 5:6
 Isaiah 55:8-9
 Isaiah 53:6
 R.C. Sproul, “What Does It Mean to Fear God?”, 2016, found http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-does-it-mean-fear-god/
 Romans 8:15
 Fulgentius, Letter to Monimus, 1.21.3
 Psalm 8:4
 Psalm 27:10 NIV