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Psalm 103:1-5

A Psalm of David. 162162     The author of this beautiful and affecting psalm was David; but the time and occasion of its composition are uncertain. Some are of opinion that it is a song of gratitude for David’s recovery from some dangerous sickness. Others think it was written upon his receiving assurance that his great sin in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah was forgiven. “I am not prepared to say,” observes Walford, “that this judgment is certainly correct; but as it is a subject of no great moment, am willing to acquiesce in it. If it be correct, then we have two of the most instructive examples of enlightened and fervent piety, which are contained in the Holy Scriptures, occasioned by one failure in the conduct of a good man, who was habitually remarkable for his steadfast obedience to the laws of God. The one of these examples is in Psalm 51, in which the sacred writer records his deep and humble penitence: and the other, which is now before us, displays the feelings of sacred joy and thankfulness, in terms that are most delightful and consolatory. So admirably adapted are these two psalms to the varied sentiments and emotions of Christian feeling, that I can scarcely suppose any real believer of the gospel is to be found who has not, on multiplied occasions, made them the objects of his attentive meditation, so as to have, if not the express words, yet the sense of them, engraven on his heart and memory, in characters never to be effaced but by death.”

1. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! and all my inward parts, bless his holy name. 2. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! and forget not any of his benefits: 3. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; 4. Who redeemeth thy life from the grave; who crowneth 163163     “Ou, envirrone.” — Fr. marg. “Or, surroundeth.” thee with mercy and compassions; 5. Who satisfieth [or filleth] thy mouth with good: thy youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s. 164164     Walford’s rendering of this verse is as follows: —
   “Who satisfieth thy advancing age with good;
Thy youth is renewed as the eagle’s.”

   In defense of reading “thy advancing age” instead of “thy mouth” as it is in our English translation, and as Calvin has it, he observes, “The version here adopted is that of the Chaldee, and is supported by the parallelism in the following clause.”

 

1. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! The prophet, by stirring up himself to gratitude, gives by his own example a lesson to every man of the duty incumbent upon him. And doubtless our slothfulness in this matter has need of continual incitement. If even the prophet, who was inflamed with a more intense and fervent zeal than other men, was not free from this malady, of which his earnestness in stimulating himself is a plain confession, how much more necessary is it for us, who have abundant experience of our own torpor, to apply the same means for our quickening? The Holy Spirit, by his mouth, indirectly upbraids us on account of our not being more diligent in praising God, and at the same time points out the remedy, that every man may descend into himself and correct his own sluggishness. Not content with calling upon his soul (by which he unquestionably means the seat of the understanding and affections) to bless God, the prophet expressly adds his inward parts, addressing as it were his own mind and heart, and all the faculties of both. When he thus speaks to himself, it is as if, removed from the presence of men, he examined himself before God. The repetition renders his language still more emphatic, as if he thereby intended to reprove his own slothfulness.

2. And forget not any of his benefits Here, he instructs us that God is not deficient on his part in furnishing us with abundant matter for praising him. It is our own ingratitude which hinders us from engaging in this exercise. In the first place, he teaches us that the reason why God deals with such liberality towards us is, that we may be led to celebrate his praise; but at the same time he condemns our inconstancy, which hurries us away to any other object rather than to God. How is it that we are so listless and drowsy in the performance of this the chief exercise of true religion, if it is not because our shameful and wicked forgetfulness buries in our hearts the innumerable benefits of God, which are openly manifest to heaven and earth? Did we only retain the remembrance of them, the prophet assures us that we would be sufficiently inclined to perform our duty, since the sole prohibition which he lays upon us is, not to forget them.

3. Who forgiveth all thy iniquities He now enumerates the different kinds of the divine benefits, in considering which he has told us that we are too forgetful and slothful. It is not without cause that he begins with God’s pardoning mercy, for reconciliation with him is the fountain from which all other blessings flow. God’s goodness extends even to the ungodly; but they are, notwithstanding, so far from having the enjoyment of it, that they do not even taste it. The first then of all the blessings of which we have the true and substantial enjoyment, is that which consists in God’s freely pardoning and blotting out our sins, and receiving us into his favor. Yea, rather the forgiveness of sins, since it is accompanied with our restoration to the favor of God, also sanctifies whatever good things he bestows upon us, that they may contribute to our welfare. The second clause is; either a repetition of the same sentiment, or else it opens up a wider view of it; for the consequence of free forgiveness is, that God governs us by his Spirit, mortifies the lusts of our flesh, cleanses us from our corruptions, and restores us to the healthy condition of a godly and an upright life. These who understand the words, who healeth all thy diseases, as referring to the diseases of the body, and as implying that God, when he has forgiven our sins, also delivers us from bodily maladies, seem to put upon them a meaning too restricted. I have no doubt that the medicine spoken of has a respect to the blotting out of guilt; and, secondly, to the curing us of the corruptions inherent in our nature, which is effected by the Spirit of regeneration; and if any one will add as a third particular included, that God being once pacified towards us, also remits the punishment which we deserve, I will not object. Let us learn from this passage that, until the heavenly Physician succor us, we nourish within us, not only many diseases, but even many deaths.

4 Who redeemeth thy life from the grave The Psalmist expresses more plainly what our condition is previous to God’s curing our maladies — that we are dead and adjudged to the grave. The consideration that the mercy of God delivers us from death and destruction ought, therefore, to lead us to prize it the more highly. If the resurrection of the soul from the grave is the first step of spiritual life, what room for self-gloriation is left to man? The prophet next teaches us that the incomparable grace of God shines forth in the very commencement of our salvation, as well as in its whole progress; and the more to enhance the commendation of this grace, he adds the word compassions in the plural number. He asserts that we are surrounded with them; as if he had said, Before, behind, on all sides, above and beneath, the grace of God presents itself to us in immeasurable abundance; so that there is no place devoid of it. The same truth he afterwards amplifies in these words, thy mouth is satisfied, by which metaphor he alludes to the free indulgence of the palate, to which we surrender ourselves when we have a well-furnished table; for those who have scanty fare dare scarcely eat till they are half satisfied. 165165     “A grand’ peine osent-ils manger a demi leur saoul.” — Fr. Not that he approves of gluttony in greedily devouring God’s benefits, as men give loose reins to intemperance whenever they have great abundance; but he borrowed this phraseology from the common custom of men, to teach us that whatever good things our hearts can wish flow to us from God’s bounty, even to perfect satisfaction. Those who take the Hebrew word עדי, adi, for ornament, 166166     “Abu Walid mentions two interpretations: 1. That of our English translators; 2. That which takes עדיך in the sense of ornament, ‘who multiplieth thy adorning with good,’ i e., ‘who abundantly adorneth thee with good.’ Aben Ezra approves the notion of ornament, but applies it to the soul, the ornament of the body, i e., ‘who satisfieth thy soul with good.’” — Hammond The Septuagint reads, ἔπιθυμίαν σου, “thy desire,” or “sensitive appetite,” the satisfying of which is the providing for the body all the good things it stands in need of, and thus it is equivalent to “satisfying,” or “filling the mouth,” the organ for conveying nourishment to the body. Kimchi understands the phrase as expressing David’s recovery from sickness. In sickness the soul abhorreth bread, and even dainty meat, Job 33:20. The physician, too, limits the diet of the patient, and prescribes things which are nauseous to the palate. This commentator, therefore, supposes that David here describes the blessing of health, by his mouth being filled with good things mar the passage by a mere conceit of their own; and I am surprised how so groundless an imagination should have come into their minds, unless it may be accounted for from the circumstance that it is usual for men of a prying or inquisitive turn of mind, when they would show their ingenuity, to bring forward mere puerilities. The Psalmist next adds, that God was constantly infusing into him new vigor, so that his strength continued unimpaired, even as the Prophet Isaiah, (Isaiah 65:20) in discoursing on the restoration of the Church, says that a man of a hundred years old shall be like a child. By this mode of expression, he intimates that God, along with a very abundant supply of all good things, communicates to him also inward rigor, that he may enjoy them; and thus his strength was as it were continually renewed. From the comparison of the eagle, the Jews have taken occasion to invent, for the purpose of explanation, a fabulous story. Although they know not even the first elements of any science, yet so presumptuous are they, that whatever may be the matter treated of, they never hesitate to attempt to explain it, and whenever they meet with any thing which they do not understand, there is no figment so foolish that they do not bring forward, as if it were an oracle of God. Thus, for expounding the present passage, they give out that eagles, every tenth year, ascend to the elemental fire, that their feathers may be burnt, 167167     “Afin que leurs plumes soyent bruslees.” — Fr. and that then they plunge themselves into the sea, and immediately new feathers grow upon them. But we may easily gather the simple meaning of the Prophet from the nature of the eagle, as described by philosophers, and which is well-known from observation. That bird continues fresh and vigorous, even to extreme old age, unenfeebled by years, and exempt from disease, until it finally dies of hunger. That it is long-lived is certain; but at last, its beak or bill grows so great that it cannot any longer take food, and, consequently, is forced to suck blood, or to nourish itself by drinking. Hence the ancient proverb in reference to old men who are addicted to drinking, The eagle’s old age; for necessity then constrains eagles to drink much. But as drink alone is insufficient to maintain life, they die rather through hunger, than fail by the natural decay of strength. 168168     What Calvin here asserts of the eagle has as little foundation in truth as the Jewish fiction which he justly discards. Augustine’s explanation of the renewal of the youth of the eagle is equally fabulous. He affirms that in its old age its beak grows out so long, and becomes so incurvated, as to hinder it from taking food, thus endangering its life, but that it removes the excrescence, by striking its beak against a stone, so that it is enabled to take its ordinary food, and becomes young again. “There are,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “as many legends of the eagle among the ancient writers as there are in the Kalendar of some saints, and all equally true. Even among modern divines, Bible-Dictionary men, and such like, the most ridiculous tales concerning this bird continue to be propagated; and no small portion of them have been crowded into comments on this very verse.” Of these “legends of the eagle,” the accounts given of it by the Jewish commentators, by Calvin himself, and by Augustine, are a specimen; for they are altogether unsupported from its natural history. The Psalmist, in speaking of the renewing of its youth, we conceive refers simply to the changing of its feathers. Like all other birds, the eagle has its annual moulting season, in which it casts its old feathers, and is furnished with a new stock. When its plumage is thus renewed, its appearance becomes more youthful and beautiful, while, at the same time, its rigour and liveliness are improved. In like manner, by the communications of Divine grace, the spiritual beauty, strength, and activity of the people of God are increased. Although any other bird would have served the Psalmist’s purpose, yet he may have preferred the eagle, not only because it is the king of birds, superior to others of the feathered tribe in size, strength, and vivacity, but because it retains its vigor to a protracted old age, and preserves its youthful appearance to the last by the frequent change of its plumage. The Prophet Isaiah uses the same allusion, to illustrate the perseverance of the saints in holiness,
   “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles.”
Isaiah 40:31

   The eagle seems to have borrowed its Hebrew name נשר, nesher, from the shedding of its plumage. Its root is the Chaldee verb נשר, nashar, decidit, defluxit, he fell, he shed “The name agrees with שור, to look at,” says Bythner, “because the eagle can look at the sun with a straight and steady gaze; also with ישר, to be straight, because it flies in a straight course.”
Now we perceive, without the help of any invented story, the genuine meaning of the Prophet to be, that as eagles always retain their rigor, and even in their old age are still youthful, so the godly are sustained by a secret influence derived from God, by which they continue in the possession of unimpaired strength. They are not always, it is true, full of bodily vigor while in this world, but rather painfully drag on their lives in continual weakness; still what is here said applies to them in a certain sense. This unquestionably is common to all in general, that they have been brought out of the grave, and have experienced God to be bountiful to them in innumerable ways. Were each of them duly to reflect how much he is indebted to God, he would say with good reason that his mouth is filled with good things; just as David, in Psalm 40:5, and 139:18, confesses that he was unable to reckon up the Divine benefits, because “they are more in number than the sands of the sea.” Did not our own perverseness blind our understandings, we would see that, even in famine, we are furnished with food in such a manner, as that God shows us the manifold riches of his goodness. With regard to the renovation of our strength, the meaning is, that since, when our outward man decays, we are renewed to a better life, we have no reason to be troubled at the giving way of our strength, especially when he sustains us by his Spirit under the weakness and languishing of our mortal frames.


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