Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

—Psalm 103:1-2

Increasing knowledge of God’s ways and works, especially His wise and tender treatment of His redeemed children, fills me with ever-mounting degrees of admiration and praise. It is becoming every day easier to understand experientially the hosannas and hallelujahs which make up such a large portion of the sacred Scriptures. They are the normal response of the heart to the manifold goodness of God, and it would, in fact, be hard to understand their omission if they were not found there.

While I have no doubt that the grace which has followed me since my boyhood will continue with me while I live on earth and for an eternity after, I have enjoyed already enough of God’s benefits to supply me with matter for constant praise for at least a thousand years to come. If God were to close my account tomorrow and refuse any longer to honor me with His favors, the circumstances of His grace to me so far would require that I should still thank Him unceasingly with tears of honest gratitude. TET071-072

Lord, don’t ever let me take for granted the many blessings You send my way. Give me a thankful heart today and be pleased with my offering of praise. Amen. [1]

1–2 Praise of God begins with the self. As the psalmist exhorts himself to praise the Lord with his “soul” (nepeš, GK 5883; vv. 1–2) and “inmost being,” he has nothing else in mind than a full commitment to the act of giving thanks. There is no thought of a separation between “soul” and “inmost being” (lit., “my inner parts”) or between “soul” and “body,” because in Hebraic thought the worshiper praises the Lord with his or her entire being.

The praise of God is focused on “his holy name.” The “name” of the Lord calls to remembrance all of his perfections and acts of deliverance (“all his benefits,” v. 2; see Reflections, p. 271, The Perfections of Yahweh; p. 603, The Mighty Acts of Yahweh). The Lord had revealed to Israel his name, “Yahweh” (Ex 6:6–8; cf. 3:18), so that they might witness his benefits in the redemption from Egypt, the giving of the land, and the fulfillment of his promises. The psalmist recites many of the Lord’s blessings to the covenantal community (vv. 3–22). Praise is the response of awe for God while reflecting on what the Lord has done for the people of God throughout the history of redemption, for creation at large, for the community, and for oneself.

Praise also has an eschatological dimension, as the psalmist reflects on the ultimate righteousness that the Lord will establish (vv. 6, 15–19; cf. 2 Pe 3:13). In and through the divine acts in history the Lord reveals his holiness on earth (v. 1). Far from separating himself from the evil in this world, God’s acts of redemption are significant steps in reclaiming the world by and for “his holy name” and in fulfilling the ultimate plan of dwelling in the midst of his holy people (cf. Eze 48:35; Rev 22:3). The opposite of “praise” is “forgetfulness.” To “forget” (v. 2) the “benefits” (gemûl; cf. v. 10) of the Lord is to disregard his covenantal lordship (cf. Dt 4:9, 23; 6:12; 8:11; 32:18).[2]

103:1 One of the reasons we love the Psalms so much is that they verbalize so beautifully what we often feel but cannot find words to express. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of the 103rd. In its majestic cadences of thanksgiving, we read sentiments that mirror our own deepest emotions of gratitude. Here we call on our soul to bless the Lord—and by our soul we mean not just the non-material part of our nature but the entire person. Spirit, soul, and body are cued in to bless the holy name of Jehovah.

103:2 The call to worship rings out a second time, with the significant added reminder that we should forget not all His benefits. It is a needed reminder because all too often we do forget. We forget to thank Him for soundness of body, soundness of mind, sight, hearing, speech, appetite, and a host of other mercies. We take them too much for granted.[3]

How Should a Person Praise God?

I want to address a number of questions to this psalm, arranging them in such a way that the successive verses of the psalm give the answers. First, How should a person praise God? The answer of this psalm is in verses 1–2. It is with “all my inmost being” or with all my soul.

Praise the Lord, O my soul;

all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits.

In these verses David is rousing himself to remember God’s benefits, and he does not want to do it superficially. He wants to do it with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his strength (cf. Deut. 6:5). This is the place to begin noticing the “alls” in this psalm: “all my inmost being” (v. 1) and for “all his benefits” (v. 2), which include forgiveness for “all your sins” and the healing of “all your diseases” (v. 3). Later David will call on “all [God’s] heavenly hosts” and “all his works” to join him in his praise (vv. 21–22).

What a rebuke to much of what passes for praise in our assemblies. We come to church, but we leave our minds at home. We hear of God’s grace, but our hearts have been hardened by a critical and carping spirit. Jonathan Edwards believed that there is no true worship that does not touch the “affections.” We often are strangely unaffected, honoring God “with our lips” while our hearts are “far from him” (cf. Matt. 15:8; Isa. 29:13).[4]

103:1 Bless the Lord. Cf. 103:2, 22; 104:1, 35

103:2 forget none of His benefits. These earthly gifts from God included: 1) forgiveness of sin (v. 3), 2) recovery from sickness (v. 3), 3) deliverance from death (v. 4), 4) abundant lovingkindness and mercy (v. 4), and 5) food to sustain life (v. 5).[5]

103:1–2 Bless the Lord, O My Soul, and Do Not Forget His Benefits. Each member of the worshiping congregation urges himself to bless the Lord, i.e., to speak well of him for his abundant generosity. Thus forget not all his benefits is a crucial step in blessing the Lord, and the body of the psalm lists these benefits in order to bring each singer to an admiring gratitude.[6]

103:1 Bless Yahweh The psalmist repeats this command six times (vv. 1, 2, 20, 21, 22). The Hebrew word used here, barakh (which may be literally rendered as “to bless”), describes bestowing someone with special power or declaring Yahweh to be the source of special power. In that regard, it means praising Yahweh for who He is. Compare 106:48 and note.

bless his holy name This refers primarily to the essential character and nature of Yahweh. See 94:14 and note.[7]

103:1–2. David told himself (O my soul) to praise the Lord with all his being, that is, to put his whole heart in his praise of God’s holy name (cf. 33:21). This was certainly warranted in view of the Lord’s many benefits.[8]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 756). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 703). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (pp. 832–833). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 103:1–2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[6] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1067). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 103:1). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[8] Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 867). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


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