Consider for a moment what life would be like for us if we were bereft of our hope. A life outside of a relationship with a forgiving God is described in this way: “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?” (Ecc. 2:22 NIV). If the Lord had not called us to be His sons and daughters we would be adrift amongst a morass of violence and evil. An honest evaluation of the world shows that moral decline is rampant. Those who make a stand for decency and God-like ways are denounced as bigots and fools. However, through the mercy of our heavenly Father, we can look beyond the present day excesses to a kingdom of righteousness administered by the son of God, our savior the Lord Jesus Christ.
In spite of this wonderful hope, there are times when we feel completely surrounded and vulnerable, hemmed in by alien forces. It is then that we need to take to heart the incident recorded in the book of Kings. The king of Syria had sent a large force to capture Elisha, who had repeatedly foiled the king’s plans through the power of the holy spirit. An ambush was in place and Elisha and his servant were, from a human perspective, trapped. Seeing no way out, the servant cried: “Alas, my master! How shall we do?” Elisha’s answer was: “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (II Kgs. 6:15-16), which was then clearly demonstrated by the sight of a heavenly arsenal of fiery chariots and horses. Similar comfort can be drawn from the words of the Psalm: “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them” (Ps. 34:7).
Deriving strength from the Psalms
Throughout the early months of the year, the daily reading plan presents the opportunity to read the whole book of Psalms. When this is faithfully followed, the inescapable conclusion must be drawn that the Lord God is in control. There is no one else whom humankind can trust and turn to for deliverance: “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower” (Ps. 18:2).
Perhaps no better summary of the care and deliverance provided by the Almighty can be found than the sentiments expressed in Psalm 103. The strong Messianic tones contained in its message make it an appropriate exercise to reflect upon prior to partaking of the memorial emblems.
Writing centuries before the birth of Christ, the Psalmist exhorts believers throughout the ages: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (v. 1). One might ask how can a man or woman bless the omnipotent God? After all, the writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that a superior being blesses an inferior: “And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better” (Heb. 7:7). The answer is in the Hebrew word barak translated as ‘bless’: in the context of the Psalm it means to kneel; and, by implication, to bless God as an act of adoration and praise. This demonstration of worship must come from the soul or, in other words, from the very depth and totality of the being in response to the goodness and kindness shown to us by our heavenly Father.
The greatest of benefits
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). Any speculation as to the identification of these benefits is removed in the following verse: “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.” Notice the order here: first there is forgiveness of sins, then comes healing. Our human condition cannot be healed without forgiveness of sins; forgiveness requires the shedding of blood. This is graphically taught by the ritual of animal sacrifices that foreshadow the great work of redemption accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul, speaking of him, states: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).
How beautifully the Psalm expresses these truths: “Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psa. 103:4). Again the mind goes to the apostle Paul who, confident of the tender mercies and forgiveness of God, may have had this scripture in mind: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (II Tim. 4:8). Certainly, there can be no greater expression of God’s mercy and kindness than in the giving of His only son to provide the way of life for sinners.
Release of the oppressed
With such exalted passages of reassurances to draw upon, it is hard to fathom just why we allow ourselves to become spiritually low and weary at times. Thankfully, the Lord knows that we are but dust, and, as such, our Father takes pity on us (Ps. 103:13-14). He caused to be written: “The Lord executeth righteousness and judgement for all that are oppressed” (v. 6).
Those who are oppressed with the difficulties and problems of life and are weighed down by the knowledge of their sins can take courage in the expectation of renewal: “Thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (v. 5). The marginal reference takes us to the well-known passage: “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: 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” (Is. 40:31).
This is truly a lovely picture of the future kingdom and yet Psalm 103 shows that there is a way of drawing strength in the here and now. The beginning of verse 5 states: “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things so that thy youth is renewed…” For us, the good things taken by mouth are the emblematic bread and wine. By obeying the command of the Master to remember him in the partaking of this food and drink, we declare his death that sealed the covenant made so long ago to Abraham. Could there be anything more satisfying and edifying than this?
Provision of spiritual food
Continuing with Psalm 103, there is mention of Moses who led a severely oppressed people out of the chains of darkness in Egypt into freedom: “He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel” (v. 7). Psalm 146:7 also touches upon the oppression and release of His people and the provision of food: “Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The Lord looseth the prisoners.” Underlying both accounts is the metaphorical description of the deliverance from the oppression of sin, and in the latter, the sustenance provided by the bread that came down from heaven.
Next in Psalm 103, we have the wonderful characteristics that were revealed to Moses in the mount: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (v. 8). The extent of God’s mercy is so great the Psalmist has to look to the heavens and the furthest eastern and western points on the horizon in an attempt to describe the magnitude of His merciful kindness (vv. 11-12).
Those who have reached what is euphemistically called the ‘senior years’ are frequently heard to say: “where has the time gone”? Verses 15-16 graphically explain the phenomenon: “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.”
Thanks be to God, we do have hope in his mercy and purpose and trust in the validity of the statement: “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him…” Let us truly be amongst those who earnestly strive to “keep his covenant,” “remember his commandments” and attempt to put them into practice (vv. 17-18).
As the Psalm draws to a close, the Psalmist expresses confidence that the Lord has everything prepared for the day when He will send His Son back to earth as ruler of His glorious kingdom. In the meantime, even the heavenly host is exhorted to: “Bless the Lord”(v. 20).
Now it is time to remember our Lord and Savior in the way appointed. In all of his actions he blessed God. His whole mind was directed to do one thing: fulfill the will of his heavenly Father, which great mission the Lord Jesus accomplished. This is why we are here this morning and can say along with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” wanting to spontaneously fall upon our knees in praise and adoration.
James Wilkinson, Sarasota, Florida