J. Alec Motyer
Reading: Psalm 103
OF all spiritual activities, the one which most honours God is that of blessing Him. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” More is involved in that than just thanksgiving. To bless the Lord is certainly to speak His praise with words, but it is also to take up an attitude toward Him. The word translated ‘bless’ is somehow related to a word denoted ‘to kneel’, so that the person who blesses the Lord is doing more than open his mouth, he is bowing his knees to God. Blessing God gives Him the honour due to Him because the lips are opened to praise Him and the knees are bent to worship and adore Him.
When Elijah went up Carmel to give God the praise for the great victory of the fire, the king could go off to feast but the prophet only wished to worship. We do not read of any words which he spoke, but we are told that he put his face between his knees. That is more than some of us are able to do, for one reason or another, but he did it. Those who are still young and supple should try it. They should sit down on their heels and put their head between their knees, and they will then appreciate just how low before God Elijah came. It was not just that he wished to say: ‘Thank You, Lord’, but he wanted in the deepest sense to bless the Lord. There is nothing that gives God the honour that is due to Him more than that we should bless the Lord. This is more than just thanksgiving; it also contains that all too rare activity, the adoring of God, the appreciation of His true greatness, the worshipping of Him not only for what He has done but for what He is.
When we read: “forgiveth … healeth … redeemeth … crowneth …” we should know that as all these verbs are participles, they point to something which is characteristic of His person, showing that these are not merely things which from time to time He does, but they are permanent features of His nature. He forgives because He is a Forgiver; He heals because He is a Healer; He redeems because He is the great Redeemer. Blessing the Lord dwells on the person of the Lord Himself in all the fullness of His character as it has been revealed to us. There is nothing in the spiritual life that more honours God and there is nothing that is more beneficial to man.
Look what is involved in this activity: it is ‘my soul’. This blessing is something which comes out from the very heart of the believer. It is not a superficial matter, something on the outside, but that which expresses the fullness of one’s whole being. “And all that is within me …” implies what we often call wholeheartedness. The believer brings all that is within him into contact with the holiness of God. This is surely the way of sanctification. There is nothing more beneficial to us, and yet there is nothing that we more rarely do. Why we seldom extend ourselves in real thanksgiving, let alone in this far greater exercise of blessing the Lord and adoring Him for what He is.
The Soul which Knows the Blessing of God is the Soul which Blesses God.
This heart worship of God Himself arises out of a personal experience of His blessing. If God blesses us, then we can bless Him in return, not in the sense of bestowing on Him something which He did not possess before, but of appreciating His great mercies. “… and forget not all his benefits.” If the benefits and blessings which God has given us have passed out of our memories and we no longer meditate on the goodness of God, we will have no cause to bless Him. Forgetfulness of the goodness of God deprives us of such opportunities. “For he that[42/43] lacketh these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sin” (2 Peter 1:9).
Let us remember again these blessings: forgiveness, healing, redeeming, crowning! I often think that we value God’s material blessings higher than these spiritual ones. You read, say, the story of George Muller and find that in answer to prayer God bestowed on him millions of pounds. You say: ‘How, wonderful! What a marvellous God He is! Fancy, millions of pounds!’ And it is as though you had suddenly awakened to the dimensions of God. What a great God He is! Fancy, millions of pounds! But to God it was nothing to give millions of pounds compared with what it was to give us His Son. It is the spiritual blessings which He gives us in Christ which are the real index of His greatness. Consequently when, in his exalted moment, David wishes to bless the Lord, he does so in the light of God’s spiritual mercies. In his case God had granted him marvellous material benefits. He had raised him from the pastures to the palace: He had delivered him from enemies on every side: He had made him a wealthy ruler; but there was one thing above all others which called for blessing, and that was the fact that all his sins had been forgiven.
God deals with sin in its totality. In this psalm David refers to three features of his sin:
1. Sins (verse 10)
This speaks of specific acts of wrong-doing. These are the actual things which he should not have done. When David admitted to sins he referred to precise acts of wrong which he had done and which could be definitely identified.
2. Iniquities (verse 10)
This is the root from which the sins come. Why did David sin? Because he was a sinner. This refers not to the outside features of his life which others could see, but the inward infection of his heart and nature. Men take note of sin from its fruits, but God has taken knowledge of it in its roots and has dealt with it there.
3. Transgressions (verse 12)
This word means rebellion; sin as destroying peace between man and God, making man an enemy of God and God the enemy of man. This was what David meant when he cried out: “Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). He had committed a sin, a precise act of wrong-doing. He recognised that he had done so because of his own sinful nature; but more than that, he realised that sin has another dimension, a dimension Godward. So he had to confess that what he had done had been an outrage against God. Sin is rebellion, and it constitutes man a rebel against the law and will of God.
But here David blesses the Lord because there had been a complete coverage of all this — “… all thine iniquities …”. The marvel of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ is that it deals with sin in its totality. I cannot surprise God by my sins. I surprise and shock myself at them, and you would be surprised and shocked if you knew it all. But I cannot surprise God. He knew them all, and at Calvary He laid them all on His Son. He also deals with sin in its consequences — “… healeth all thy diseases …”. I do not believe that by diseases David refers to his body, for it would not always be true to say that God heals physically. He can do so, and He will when it is for His greater glory, but He does not always give bodily healing. There are, however, diseases of the spirit, the awful effects of sin in the life, and these God marvellously cancels out. “Fools because of their iniquities … are afflicted”. And what does God do? “He sendeth his word and healeth them” (Psalm 107:17 and 20). What is more, God not only cancels the immediate effects of sin, but deals with it in its ultimate effects — “He redeemeth thy life from destruction, from the pit”. Sin’s end product is death, the destruction of the body and soul in hell which Jesus told us to fear. He redeems us from that.
The word for redeemer was gael. He was the one who stepped in and took over upon himself a situation of helpless and hopeless loss, transforming it into one of prosperity, power and plenty. The redeemer had the right to step in and save. With us sinners God, being the offended party, is the only one who has the right to do this. We cannot say that He has the duty to save, because that would imply that sinners could put pressure on almighty God; but we can accept that He alone has the right to redeem. God reverses the rewards of sin. What does sin bring to the sinner? Destruction, for the wages of sin is death. What does God do about this? He redeems our life from destruction and crowns us [43/44] with loving kindness and tender mercies. Not the pit but the crown: not destruction but the throne, reigning in life with Christ. We live in a diseased world. People go around thinking that they are all right, quite normal, when in fact they are sin-sick. What are the manifestations of juvenile delinquency and adult delinquency but sickness of the soul? How wonderful, then, for the Christian to know God’s remedy for sin, His renewing, preserving, regenerating power, cancelling the rewards of sin and bringing in the rewards of grace. How can we fail to be drawn out in adoration and love?
The Soul which Knows what it is to Fear God, is the Soul which Experiences the Fullness of Blessing.
This is another truth which is related to the previous one. Notice the change at verse 6. Previously David spoke of ‘thou’ and ‘thy’, addressing his own soul personally. Now he speaks of ‘all’ and ‘us’, having broadened his platform in an inclusive way so that the section ends: “His kingdom ruleth over all” (verse 19). Everything is under His control. The God whom we worship does not run helplessly up and down the touchline of human affairs, impotent to control them. “He is a great King above all gods.” We need to know, however, that within the setting of this rule over all, there are certain people with whom God deals particularly. These are His own — “… to such as keep his covenant …” (verse 18). Then within that group of His own there is a group of special people who know what it is to enjoy the full blessing of God. You will find them mentioned three times: “them that fear Him” (verses 11, 13 and 17). So first we have a world rule, then we have a special concern for the people whom He calls to be His own and then we have the blessing of God poured out upon those who fear Him. Notice the blessings that are given:
1. His great mercy (verse 11)
‘Great’ is hardly the right word. If we wanted to use a term to describe a soldier in his strength and courage we might use this word. ‘So mighty, so strong in His mercy.’ Those who fear Him are the people who come to know the strength of God. So it was that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were able to defy the most fearsome expression of man’s power because they had complete confidence that God’s power was superior. ‘How many men did we throw into the fire?’ Nebuchadnezzar asked, and when he was told that there were three he exclaimed: ‘But I see four! And the form of the fourth is like the son of God’. So strong was God’s power that the men were free, they were untouched by the intense heat and they walked with the Lord in the fire. And His mercy is just as great as His power, mercy being that undying love of His which ensures that He will never let His people go.
“Fear Him, ye saints; and you will then
Have nothing else to fear;
Make you His service your delight,
Your wants shall be His care.”
2. His Fatherly pity (verse 13)
There is the full value of parenthood in this pity of His, for it is motherly as well as fatherly. In the story of the two unfortunate women who appealed to Solomon we are told that the king said to them: ‘All right. If you can’t make up your minds whose the child is, I will give you half each’. The non-mother agreed with this solution but the real mother rejected it because, “her bowels yearned upon her child”. This is the same word as is translated ‘pity’ in our psalm. God yearns over His own. He has a mother’s yearning over the life and welfare of His Church. What an amazing picture this is of God in His fatherly-motherly concern! As to His fatherly heart, we remember how David yearned over his son, even as Absalom lay out in the woods under a heap of stones. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee …”. All David could say was: “Would God I had died for thee”, but our Father says better than that, for He commends His love to us that Christdiddie for the ungodly. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself …” (2 Corinthians 5:19). What precious outpoured Father’s love comes to those who fear Him!3.
3. His eternal faithfulness (verse 17)
God’s undying love is from everlasting to everlasting for those who fear Him. Those who fear Him enjoy the assurance which comes from the knowledge that they were in Christ before the world began, and will still be in Him though heaven and earth pass away. This, surely, is the fullness of God’s blessing, to know the unchanging love of God and to be upheld by the everlasting arms.
So the soul which knows what it is to fear God is the soul who enjoys the blessing of God in its fullness, but we need to look again at the psalm [44/45] to discover what is meant by fearing the Lord. “Them that fear him … to such as remember his commandments to do them” (verses 17 and 18). Simple as it may be, this reminds us that God’s commandments are meant to be obeyed. They are not intended for our interest or entertainment: they are to be done. The covenant love of God to His people is to be met by their covenant obedience to Him. When God spoke to Moses of His compassion and grace, and went on to declare: “Behold I make a covenant with you …”, He followed this with a charge: “Observe thou that which I command thee this day …” (Exodus 34:6-11). He gave His people a revelation and then demanded obedience. If we argue that this was the old covenant, we must admit that the new covenant is no less demanding than the old. The great difference between the two covenants is that under the new covenant obedience becomes possible. “God forbid” that we should be servants of sin, but “God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to you” (Romans 6:15 and 17).
They that fear His name will think on His commandments to do them. This psalm brings together two things which we would never have thought of bringing together, blessing the Lord and obeying the Lord. It implies that if you have never been drawn out to bless the Lord it may be because you are not obeying Him. A person who is obeying God up to the hilt is venturing everything upon Him and proving Him. Don’t you think that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego blessed the Lord when they came out of the fire? We have not ventured far enough with God to know the full reality of His blessedness, and so we fail to bless Him as we should.
The angels have wherewith to bless God because they hearken and obey (verse 20). His hosts can bless Him because they minister to His pleasure (verse 21). His works bless Him, for they are utterly under His dominion, obedient and subservient to His will (verse 22). But what about “my soul”? If my soul is not going out in this kind of adoration, then there is something lacking in the worship ascending to the throne. It is not enough for the angels, the hosts and His works to bless Him if that final contribution which completes the full glorious harmony is not forthcoming. “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” Since blessing and obedience are inseparable, let me make sure that I, too, am so devoted to God’s will that I can truly bless Him.