1 Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;
18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
19 The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.
20 Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
21 Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
22 Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.
The contemplation of the mercy of God drives us to worship Him and bless His holy name.
When we are overcome with a sense of the goodness of God, this is the psalm to sing. It is an effusive psalm that expresses unrestrained, heartfelt gratitude and praise in successive waves of joy. Our hearts are filled to the very brim with warm gratitude for God’s never-failing mercies. By the end of the psalm, we are calling the angels together with the whole universe to praise Yahweh, the Lord.
Verses 1–5. Since the word “blessing” or barak in the Hebrew, is used repeatedly in this psalm, it would be good to define it. To bless is to wish the very best for somebody or to declare that the person blessed is already occupying the blessed state. Things could not possibly go better for God. There is no way that He could improve His condition or His nature. What can man give to Him that He doesn’t already have? (Rom. 11:35) That being the case, the best we can do is to declare God’s state of blessedness. We exalt in God’s perfections and use the most positive word we can find to indicate our approval and delight in God.
A blessing is also something that arises from the inner being of the soul—it is a strongly positive feeling towards another. Thus, the psalmist directs his soul to sound forth notes of rapturous praise to this all-blessed God. He nurtures feelings of praise to God from within his own soul. He calls every part of his inner being to the task when he says, “Let all that is within me bless His holy name!” There are various ways to distinguish the immaterial part of the man, but at the very least it includes his mind, his emotions, and his will.
What encourages the mind to initiate this praise is a remembrance of all the mercies, gifts, and benefits He bestowed upon us. As we catalog all that God has done for us, this realization presses us to reciprocate with our own blessings for Him. It is impossible to offer any thanksgiving or praise to God without constant meditation upon His good graces to us.
Verses 3 through 5 enumerate these blessings as God’s merciful forgiveness, His healing, His redemption, and His lovingkindness and tender mercies. As believers, we know that God will heal all of our diseases and afflictions in His own time. This healing will not necessarily happen overnight, and we may have to wait until the final resurrection for our healing. In our lifetimes, we contract a hundred illnesses and injuries, yet somehow, by God’s gracious provision, we regain strength again and again. It may not seem realistic that an 85 year-old man’s youth will be “renewed like the eagle’s,” but this is our confident hope.
Verses 6–9. Now we move to the big-picture reasons why God is worthy to be praised. He is good to you and me, but He is also the God of perfect righteousness and judgment. In a world where there is no sovereign, righteous God ruling over all things, evil prevails and competing gods and tyrants battle it out forever and ever. But this is not our world or our worldview. Our God will execute perfect justice and make everything right, even to the point of vindicating every poor, unwanted child aborted in China and every persecuted saint who died in a feces tank in some dirty prison camp in North Korea.
“He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.” What we know about God comes from the history of the children of Israel recorded in the Old Testament, where we have records of His mighty works. When Israel witnessed these things at the Red Sea or in the Promised Land, they learned something of the nature and character of God. Other nations did not enjoy God’s special attention from 2200 B.C. until A.D. 30. They were not privileged to witness God’s supernatural works, and they did not have access to His special revelation.
All the blessings we enjoy come from a good God. His character is described in verses 8 and 9: He is “merciful and gracious.” This gives us more reasons to bless God! He has been slow to anger with us. He does not always chastise us. Children are easily discouraged when their parents constantly correct them but seldom encourage them. This is not the way of our God. He maintains the perfect balance between correction and affection.
Verses 10–13. Returning the focus to the personal benefits we have received from the God of all lovingkindness and tender mercies, the psalmist takes a moment to speak of the forgiveness of sins. Without a doubt, this is the supreme blessing! It will take us an eternity to comprehend what God did for us when He forgave our sins in Jesus Christ. This complete absolution is beautifully described as a separation “as far as the heavens are from the earth, and as far as the east is from the west.” God will not hold our sins against us.
Then, in one of the few passages in the Old Testament relating us to God as our Father, the psalmist describes God’s feelings towards us. When a little four-year-old daughter contracts some horrible, painful disease and cries out to her father, it tears his heart. He would do anything to relieve the pain and ameliorate the effects of the disease. Would the God of all mercy, pity, and grace relate any differently to His children? Our relationship with the Father is only deepened by New Testament revelation, where there are one hundred times more references to God as our Father and us as His adopted children. Our father-son relationship with the Father is based in the Father’s relationship with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
All of this is predicated on a healthy fear of God. Many people do not see any need for forgiveness because they do not fear God or His judgment. They avoid thinking about His holiness and try to ignore His commandments as much as they can. They will never be forgiven. If they are too proud to beg for His forgiveness, they will never receive His mercy. The Lord pities those who fear Him.
Verses 14–16. The remainder of the psalm revisits the contrast made in Psalm 102 between the frailty of men and the eternality of God. For a moment men may forget their mortality as they strut around showing off their strength, power, and wealth. But constant reminders of their mortality flash into their minds as they drive past graveyards, attend funerals, contract diseases, and meet up with failure and disaster at every turn. Any work done without the Spirit of Christ, whether in economies, churches, or governments, will be consumed. It has no eternal value. It is good for us to admit our grass-like nature, and we can be comforted that God also knows we are grass!
Verses 17–22. We may be as grass, here today and gone tomorrow, but the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear Him. What encouragement we draw from this reminder of God’s everlasting kindness to us! This grass will never wilt and die because God won’t let it wilt and die. The reason He won’t let it wilt and die is that He has made a covenant with this grass.
A marriage covenant includes certain expectations of a husband and wife, such as faithfulness to one another, and God’s covenant is no different. What is it then to keep God’s covenant? Basically, it is to walk with God in a close relationship, or as Christ put it, to “abide in the vine.” Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 10:10). He practically quotes the Old Testament description of the covenant—in verse 18 of this Psalm—verbatim. Remaining in covenant with God must involve “remembering His commandments to do them.” One must be careful not to take this to mean sinless perfection or a merit-based salvation. Rather, those who are regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit will love the commandments of God and keep them. The word “keep” is used in our vernacular for “keeping a pet.” When a child keeps a dog as a pet for several years, he comes to love the animal. He would know if it wandered off and was missing from the home for a day or two. The little boy might even place signs around the neighborhood alerting others to the missing pet. In a similar sense, the godly man keeps ten pets—the ten commandments of God. The covenant breaker is one who is taught the commandments of God as a child but soon lets the commandments wander away. After eight to ten years out of the home, we find him living in drunkenness, fornication, and debauchery. The commandments are as foreign to him as they were to the cannibals in New Guinea.
“Whatever happened to the 7th commandment?” we ask him. He responds with a blank stare, then he laughs and says, “Oh, those old commandments?” It is plain that this man has not kept the commandments at all. He has forgotten about them. They are not even a consideration within his world. On the other hand, the godly man lives by these commandments. He takes them seriously. He is called to account for his obedience to these commandments and willingly confesses his sins when he falls short of them.
The psalm hits a majestic crescendo in the final verses, offering even more reasons to bless the Lord. God is the Ruler over the whole world. He carries ultimate authority over all, even though many will not recognize His rule. Having established God’s position over the universe, the psalmist turns to the higher creation, higher than the earth and all of the rulers of the earth, and commands the angels to bless the Lord! Then he calls for all of the universe—the galaxies, the solar systems, the planets, the authorities on earth, the premier of China, all of the billions of people on earth, and all of the animal creation—to bless the Lord. Fittingly, he ends the psalm with the same call he used at the beginning, a personal directive to “bless the Lord, O my soul.”
1. God promises a generational blessing to our children’s children, but only if we remember His commandments to do them. This repeats the addendum to the second commandment. “For I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exod. 20:5–6). What more could fathers and mothers want out of life than God’s blessing on a thousand generations after them? But it all begins when fathers and mothers remember the commandments and do them. Let us commit to keeping the commandments before us. If we post them on our walls, let us also walk in them by faith.
2. Before we keep His commandments, we must embrace the promises of God’s forgiveness and salvation. To separate these things produces a false conception of salvation that would be fatal. Only those who have been forgiven much will love much and keep His commandments (Luke 7:47–48). This psalm presents God as a merciful and forgiving God. If we accept this, then we may move on to verse 18 and keep His commandments.
3. There is warm gratefulness tucked into every word of this psalm. Does your heart become warm as you read these words? May God help us to internalize these words, that every cell in our body would render thanksgiving to God for His goodness to us!
If everything that this psalm says about God is true, then He is worthy of our whole-hearted praise. Nothing less will do. We must call our minds, emotions, and wills to the task of this whole-hearted worship. Should a sermon on a Sunday morning delve into difficult biblical doctrines and go on for an hour or two, we should engage our minds with all that is in us. Our emotions should be connected to the singing of psalms and hymns as well. Some attend to the worship of God as if they were sitting in a seminary class. They do not engage their emotions. There are no tears of conviction or joy. There are never any hands raised in prayer and praise (1 Tim. 2:8). Seldom, if ever, do they shout over the victory of the resurrection of Christ! Emotions are almost entirely disengaged. Where there is no heart engaged, it will be unacceptable worship.
But what shall we say of the will? Endless lectures and emotionally-stimulated ceremonies are not enough for God. As he reminded King Saul, “To obey is better than to sacrifice.” The real test of true, effective worship is what comes afterwards. If the will embraces the message, commits to more obedience and warmer service to God, and then actually follows through on repentance and obedience, then we have worshiped with everything that is in us!
1. What are all the blessings God showers upon us, according to this psalm? Why should we bless God?
2. What does God expect of His people (reference verses 11, 13, 17, and 18)?
3. What does it mean to “keep the commandments of God”?
4. How does God compare to earthly fathers?
5. Give several examples of Praise Psalms.
1. How do you know that you fear God?
2. How does this psalm comfort you?
3. Do we worship God with all that is in us? In what areas might we improve our worship?