Where the world comes to study the Bible

Psalm 103


Praise for the Lord's Mercies
 MT Intro
A Psalm of David
Praise for the Lord's Mercies Thanksgiving for Recovery from Sickness The Love of God God Is Love
103:1-5 103:1-5 103:1-5 103:1-5 103:1-2
103:6-14 103:6-10 103:6-14 103:6-14 103:6-7
  103:11-14     103:11-12
103:15-18 103:15-18 103:15-18 103:15-18 103:15-16
103:19-22 103:19 103:19-22 103:19-22 103:19-20
  103:20-22     103:21-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.



A. This is one of the highwater marks of praise in the Psalter. It is a companion to Psalm 104. Psalm 103 focuses on God as merciful Redeemer (YHWH, Ps. 103:1,6,8,13,17,19,20,21,22 [twice]), while Psalm 104 focuses on God's creative power (Elohim, Ps. 104:1,33).

B. This Psalm seems to move from (1) personal experience (2) to corporate worship (3) to cosmic worship.

C. Brief Outline

1. Praise to God for His love to individuals, Ps. 103:1-5

2. Praise to God for His love to Israel, Ps. 103:6-14

3. Praise to God for His infinite love to finite man, Ps. 103:15-18

4. Let everything praise the Lord, Ps. 103:19-22



 1Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
 2Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 And forget none of His benefits;
 3Who pardons all your iniquities,
 Who heals all your diseases;
 4Who redeems your life from the pit,
 Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
 5Who satisfies your years with good things,
 So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

103:1-2,20-22 "Bless the Lord" When one compares the first and last verses of this Psalm and Ps. 104:1,35, it is obvious that they form a unity (six Piel imperatives).

▣ "Bless" This term (BDB 138, KB 159) is one of two roots used of blessings.

1. אשר (BDB 80) is used 45 times in the OT and corresponds to the "bless" of Matt. 5:3-10 (i.e., the Beatitudes). It denotes a state of blessedness (cf. Ps. 1:1; 2:12; 32:1,2; 33:12; 34:8; 40:4; etc.).

2. ברך (BDB 138) is used here (cf. Ps. 103:1,2,20,21,21; 104:1,35) and over 325 times in the OT. It was used of

a. YHWH blessing initial creation - Gen. 1:22, 28

b. YHWH blessing the Patriarchs - Gen. 12:1; 18:18; 22:17-18; 26:4; 28:14

c. the cursing and blessing of covenant obedience - Deuteronomy 27-28 (also note Leviticus 26)

The basic root has two (possibly related) connotations.

a. to kneel

b. to bless


103:1 "soul" Nephesh (BDB 659, KB 711-713) is the Hebrew term for "life force." It is used for both mankind (Gen. 2:7) and the animals (cf. Gen. 1:24; 2:19). Here, it is parallel with the next phrase, "all that is within me," which emphasizes the author's attempt to praise God with his whole being. See note online at Ps. 3:2.

▣ "O my soul" This is a literary form where the author speaks to himself (cf. Ps. 42:5,11; 43:5; 104:1,35; 116:7). It is a way of referring to one's own thinking process.

▣ "His holy name" The rest of this Psalm, particularly Ps. 103:8-14, describes the character of God. This Psalm helps us to get a true picture of the heart and mind of the eternal, creator, redeemer God. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD.

103:2 "And forget none of His benefits" In the OT, for God to forget is very important because it speaks of His pardon. But for a person to forget speaks of his ingratitude or rebellion. A good parallel passage for God's tender mercy toward fallen man is seen in Deut. 4:9,23,31; 6:12; 8:11,14,19; 9:7; 25:19. Just to sit and reflect on who God is and what He has done for us brings joy to the heart of a true believer.

103:3 "Who pardons all your iniquities" The term (BDB 699, KB 757) for "pardons" is used in Hebrew only for God's forgiveness. Psalm 103:11-13 includes three metaphors that describe God's forgiveness in graphic terms.

Notice the series of participles that describe why YHWH should be blessed (i.e., He gives benefits).

1. He pardons all your iniquities - BDB 699, KB 757, Qal

2. He heals all your diseases - BDB 950, KB 1272, Qal

3. He redeems your life from the pit - BDB 145, KB 169, Qal

4. He crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion - BDB 742, KB 815, Piel

5. He satisfies your years with good things - BDB 959, KB 1302, Hiphil

This series of five participles covers life on earth and a future life in heaven.

▣ "Who heals all your diseases" The Hebrew noun, "diseases" (BDB 316), and verb (BDB 317 I) are used in Deut. 29:21 in the sense of cursing because of Israel's disobedience to the covenant. Because of this usage, and several OT passages that speak of healing of sin (cf. Ps. 41:4; Isa. 1:6; 6:10; 53:5), it is doubtful that the emphasis of this verse is on physical healing, although it surely includes that (cf. Exod. 15:26; Deut. 32:29; Ps. 147:3). The Jews recognized that sin and disease were related (cf. James 5:13-18). Here, it is parallel to "pardons all your iniquities."


103:4 "Who redeems your life" The term "redeems" (BDB 145, KB 169, Qal active participle) is the same as "the kinsman redeemer" or go'el (BDB 145, Qal active participle, cf. Job 19:25 and also the same root in Ruth 4). Here, God is described in intimate family terms, as He is in Ps. 103:13.

▣ "from the pit" This could be used in the sense of physical destruction, but because of its parallel in relationship to the term Sheol in Ps. 16:10, it seems to relate to the author's hope in the afterlife (see SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead?). Some authors even connect Ps. 103:4b and 5 to this context.

▣ "Who crowns you with lovingkindness" The verb (BDB 742, KB 815) can mean

1. crown - LXX and most English translations

2. surround - JPSOA, NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 384

Both make sense in this context.

▣ "compassion" The term (BDB 933) is often used of YHWH (cf. Exod. 33:19; Deut. 13:17; 30:3; 2 Kgs. 13:23; Isa. 14:1; 30:18; 49:10,13; 54:8,10; 55:7; 60:10). It was used in Ps. 102:14 to describe the exiles' feelings about the destroyed temple (cf. Lam. 3:22).

▣ "Who satisfies your years with good things" This is a very difficult verse to translate because of the uncertainty of the Hebrew term, "years." Literally, it means "ornaments" (BDB 725). The King James translation, "mouth," is obviously incorrect. The ASV translation, along with the Septuagint, and the Vulgate, have "desire," which seems to be a derived meaning from the original term, while most modern translations use a textual emendation to bring forth the concept of life or prime of life (cf. NEB, RSV, TEB and JPSOA). The AB (Michael Dahood, p. 26) sees it as referring to eternity (i.e., life with God in heaven). The UBS Text Project gives "ornaments" a "B" rating (some doubt).

▣ "so that your youth is renewed like the eagle" The concept of "eagle" has caused some commentators to take this verse in two different ways.

1. actually refers to the vigorous strength of eagles (cf. Isa. 40:31)

2. the mythical allusion to the phoenix, a bird which comes back to life after death (cf. RSV translation; possibly Job 29:18)

3. eagles molting so as to get new feathers (NET Bible)

The term translated "eagle" (BDB 676) can refer to an eagle or a vulture. In this context of YHWH's mercy and grace, "eagle" is the better choice (note Exod. 19:4; Deut. 32:11; Isa. 40:31).

The verb "renewed" (BDB 293, KB 293) is rare (cf. 1 Sam. 11:14; 2 Chr. 15:8; 24:4,12; Job 10:17; Isa. 61:4; Lam. 5:21). It is used only three times in the Psalter.

1. Ps. 51:10 - renew a steadfast spirit within me (Piel imperfect)

2. Ps. 103:5 - renewed like an eagle (Hithpael imperfect)

3. Ps. 104:30 - You renew the face of the ground (Piel imperfect)


 6The Lord performs righteous deeds
 And judgments for all who are oppressed.
 7He made known His ways to Moses,
 His acts to the sons of Israel.
 8The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
 Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
 9He will not always strive with us,
 Nor will He keep His anger forever.
 10He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
 Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
 11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
 So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
 12As far as the east is from the west,
 So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
 13Just as a father has compassion on his children,
 So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
 14For He Himself knows our frame;
 He is mindful that we are but dust.

103:6,7 "The Lord performs righteous deeds" The term "righteous deeds" is used two ways in the OT.

1. to describe God's holiness

2. to describe God's acts of salvation

It seems that in these two verses we have a description of the events of the exodus and of the wilderness wanderings. Therefore, this is a threefold thanksgiving for God's act of grace in

1. deliverance from Egypt

2. in revealing Himself to Moses

3. patience with the people during the wandering in the wilderness


▣ "And judgments for all who are oppressed" There are two ways to interpret texts such as this one.

1. God cares for the weak, poor, and powerless (i.e., Exod. 22:22-24; Deut. 10:17-19; Ps. 68:5).

2. Since the OT saw prosperity as a sign of God's favor, often the logical conclusion was He had rejected the others because of their sins (i.e., Job, Psalm 73), but it is possible to see God's repeatedly stated love for them as a literary way of showing/affirming His love and care for all!


103:7 "He made His ways known to Moses" YHWH revealed Himself to Moses, cf. Exodus 19-20; 33:13; Ps. 99:7. The OT is inspired, eternal revelation (cf. Matt. 5:17-19), but it must be remembered that Jesus is the ultimate revelation (cf. Matt. 5:21-48). He is the only proper interpreter of Scripture. He is lord of Scripture! Mosaic revelation still functions in sanctification but not in justification.




▣ "His ways" This is one of several terms used to describe YHWH's revelation. See Special Topic: Terms for God's Revelation.

103:8 "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness" This is the first phrase in a series to describe the nature of God. It seems to be an allusion to Exod. 34:6,7. These attributes of God are affirmed again and again in Scripture (cf. Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). See Special Topic: Characteristics of Israel's God.

103:9 "He will not always strive with us" When one reads this in English it seems to imply that God will not always have patience with fallen humanity, but it is a Hebrew idiom for exactly the opposite! He will always have patience with His special creation (cf. Gen. 6:3; Isa. 57:16).

The term "strive" (BDB 936, KB 1224, Qal imperfect) is a term that refers to legal charges (cf. Jer. 3:5,12). God's heart is always willing to turn back to us when we turn to Him (cf. James 4:8)!

103:10 "He has not dealt with us according to our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" Faithful followers are not punished in relation to their sin nor rewarded on the basis of their efforts. This verse obviously continues the thought of Ps. 103:9, and Israel knew the truth of it well.

103:11 "For as high as the heavens are above the earth" This is the first of three metaphors to describe the boundless grace of God. For "heavens" see SPECIAL TOPIC: HEAVEN and SPECIAL TOPIC: Heaven and the Third Heaven. Note the parallel in Isa. 55:9.

▣ "those who fear Him" The verb (BDB 431, KB 432, Qal active participle) denotes "respect," "awe." This phrase is a recurrent title for faithful followers (cf. Ps. 15:4; 25:12,14; 103:13; 118:4). See Special Topic: Fear (OT),

103:12 "As far as the east is from the west" The Hebrew etymological roots of "east" and "west" refer to the rising and setting sun. As the height of the heavens cannot compare with God's grace, so, the expanse of the earth from horizon to horizon cannot compare with God's grace. When one compares this with Isa. 38:17; 44:22; and Micah 7:19, the full metaphorical impact of the grace of God is overwhelming!

▣ "So far has He removed our transgressions from us" The term "remove" (BDB 934, KB 1221) signifies "no relationship with," which illustrates the complete removal of the penalty and guilt of sin by a gracious God.

This is OT justification by grace! When God forgives (because of who He is), He forgets (cf. Isa. 1:18; 38:17; 43:25; 44:22; Micah 7:19)! Our past is forgiven and forgotten. Now we must live godly lives into the future. Many believers can intellectually affirm the forgiveness of God, but they have never embraced the forgetfulness of God!

Notice that in Ps. 103:12-13 there are two words that begin with ר, and these appear twice. This is an obvious sound play (as is the threefold ג sound in Ps. 103:10 and 11).

103:13 "Just as a father has compassion on his children" Here again is another family metaphor to describe God's love (cf. Exod. 4:22; Deut. 1:31; 8:5; Ps. 27:10; Pro. 3:12; Isa. 49:15; 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1; Mal. 1:6). This is the possible origin of Jesus' term to describe God as Father (see SPECIAL TOPIC: FATHER and Special Topic: The fatherhood of God).

This verse was used in Judaism on the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16). It was quoted when one of the two scapegoats was pushed over the cliff (i.e., bore sin away from the camp).

▣ "So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him" It must be remembered that, although God's initiating grace is key in biblical faith, He demands a response be made by humankind in an initial and ongoing way (cf. Ps. 103:17,18 for a threefold emphasis on this conditional aspect of mankind's part).

The verb "fear" (BDB 431, KB 432, Qal active participle) denotes those who revere God by faith and faithfulness. See full note on the positive and negative aspects of "fear" at Ps. 15:2-5. See Special Topic: Fear (OT).

103:14 "He Himself knows our frame" This is the Hebrew term yetzer (BDB 428), which means "intent." God knows our thoughts and yet still loves us (cf. Gen. 6:5; 8:21). It is interesting that generally the rabbis did not believe in original sin (Genesis 3), but held to the theory of the two yetzers (i.e., good intent and evil intent). They said that every person has a black dog and white dog inside them and the one fed the most becomes the bigger and stronger. This is an emphasis on human responsibility, which is certainly a half truth (see SPECIAL TOPIC: ELECTION/PREDESTINATION AND THE NEED FOR A THEOLOGICAL BALANCE).

The NRSV and JPSOA see the verb in Ps. 103:4a as referring to the creation of Adam (Gen. 2:7; 3:19) or to all humans (Ps. 139:15). The TEV and NJB assume it refers to what humans are made of (i.e., clay, dust).

▣ "He is mindful that we are but dust" This metaphor implies initial creation (cf. Gen. 2:7; 3:19; Job 34:15 Ps. 104:29; Eccl. 3:20; 12:7). It speaks of humanity's frailty (cf. Job 10:9; Ps. 78:39), which introduces the next section, Ps. 103:15-18.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 103:15-18
 15As for man, his days are like grass;
 As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
 16When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
 And its place acknowledges it no longer.
 17But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
 And His righteousness to children's children,
 18To those who keep His covenant
 And remember His precepts to do them.

103:15,16 "As for man, his days are like grass" This strophe (Ps. 103:15-18) is an emphasis on the eternality of God and the insignificant finitude of mankind. This same metaphor is used several times in the OT (cf. Job 14:1,2; Ps. 90:5,6; Isa. 40:6-8), and in the NT (cf. 1 Pet. 1:24-25).

103:17-18 These verses contain a threefold series which describes mankind's need to respond to God's initiating love (i.e., human freewill).

1. Ps. 103:17, those who fear Him

2. Ps. 103:18, those who keep His covenant

3. Ps. 103:18, those who remember His precepts to do them


103:17 "the lovingkindness of the Lord" This refers to His covenant faithfulness. See SPECIAL TOPIC: LOVINGKINDNESS (HESED).

▣ "from everlasting to everlasting" This is the doubling of 'olam (BDB 761, cf. Ps. 90:2). See Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

▣ "And His righteousness to children's children" We learn from parts of the Pentateuch that God visits the iniquity of the father on the children to the third and fourth generation (cf. Exod. 20:5; Deut. 5:9). However, for those who love Him He visits His blessings to the thousandth generation (cf. Deut. 5:10; 7:9)! Faith and faithfulness in YHWH moves through families (cf. Deut. 4:9; 6:7,20-25; 11:19; 32:46), as do sin and rebellion.

103:18 "to do them" Obedience is crucial to the covenant. The sovereign God initiates it and sets limits but demands that His people obey (see Special Topic: Keep; cf. Deut. 4:2,6,9,40; 5:10,12,29,32; 6:2,3,17,25; 7:8,9,11,12). This concept of hearing God's word and then obeying it is the Hebrew word Shema (BDB 1033, cf. Deut. 4:1; 5:1; 6:3,4; 9:1; 20:3; 27:10; 33:7). Jesus made this same point in Luke 6:46!

▣ "covenant" See Special Topic: Covenant.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 103:19-22
 19The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,
 And His sovereignty rules over all.
 20Bless the Lord, you His angels,
 Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
 Obeying the voice of His word!
 21Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
 You who serve Him, doing His will.
 22Bless the Lord, all you works of His,
 In all places of His dominion;
 Bless the Lord, O my soul!

103:19 "His sovereignty rules over all" The term "all" is a reference to the praise due God by the cosmos. He made it; it praises Him, both animate and inanimate.

103:20 "Bless the Lord, you His angels" This describes the personal, conscious servants of God. There has been some discussion about the term, "His hosts" (BDB 838) in Ps. 103:21, which some see as other groups of angels. The term does usually mean "army." However, because of the inanimate praise of Ps. 103:22, others have seen "His host" as referring to the starry heavens (cf. Deut. 4:19; Ps. 19:1-6).

Notice that as faithful followers must obey YHWH, so too, the angels must obey (cf. Heb. 1:6-14).

103:22 All nature, animals, humans, and angels praise God (cf. Phil. 2:9-11). Blessing and praise are due the Creator (Psalm 104) and Redeemer (Psalm 103) of all! I can hardly wait to be a part of this great choir (cf. Rev. 5:9-14)!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What is the central truth of this Psalm?

2. How is this Psalm related to Psalm 104?

3. Is healing a specific promise in the atonement of Christ? (cf. Isa. 53:5)

4. Is the covenant conditional or unconditional? Explain.