Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
And then Psalm 103 proceeds to list some of those benefits.
Any who claim the Old Testament God is a god who only judges and condemns need to read again the grace and mercy of this psalm. Our psalmist – writing to and for his people in exile – makes the point that the God who liberated Israel from slavery in Egypt is the very same God who will be faithful to Israel in Babylon.
As this broken, exiled people face the future without their land, their Temple, their kings, the poet reminds them of a time long before they came into the land, built their Temple or established their monarchy; the time of Moses when God alone was Home and Temple and King.
This beautiful formulaic description of the character and nature of YHWH also hearkens back to the stories from the Exodus. God’s self-revelation to Moses communicated this understanding of God’s essence: mercy/compassion, grace, patience and steadfast/eternal love.
God does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high 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 he removes our transgressions from us.
“Justice” might suggest a tit for tat repayment for wrongs. “An eye for an eye…” was a kind of justice incorporated into ancient Hebrew law. But Psalm 103 proclaims the Creator is entitled to practice mercy and offer compassion instead of always meting out consequences.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For Creator knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust … our days are like grass.
Mortals are dust. Mortals are grass. Mortals are time bound and their lives are fleeting.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
and his righteousness to our children’s children…
God’s eternal and steadfast love transcends a mortal life span and stretches on endlessly throughout the generations and beyond.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Our psalmist praises both the intimacy of compassion and love – the immanence of the Lord – and also and the timeless transcendence of the Eternal One. God is Both/And: near and lifted up, close by and seated in the heavens.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding,
obedient to his spoken word.
Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will.
Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.