Bless the Lord, O My Soul

Psalms: Thinking and Feeling with God, Part 4

Of David.

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, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

This is message four in a six part series on the Psalms called Thinking and Feeling with God. There is a sequence. The first message on Psalm 1 gave the overview: The Psalms are God’s word and they are poems, so we should immerse ourselves in them so that they become our instruction and our song. They should shape our thinking and our feeling—about everything.

The second message from Psalm 42 aimed to help us deal well with being downcast. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God!” (Psalms 42:5).

The third message from Psalm 51 aimed to help us deal well with being regretful and sorrowful for our sin. “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (Psalms 51:8).

For Father’s Day

And today’s message from Psalm 103 aims to help us deal well with God’s goodness and our gratitude. Today in America, and about fifty other countries of the world, we celebrate Father’s Day. So I want to dedicate this message especially to fathers and begin therefore in verse 13: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

Good Fathering Points to God

When this verse says, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him,” it does not mean that the Lord learns how to be God by watching human fathers. It does not mean that God wonders whether he should be compassionate and then notices that good fathers are compassionate and so decides to act that way too.

No, what it means when it says, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him,” is this: When you see a good father, you are seeing a picture of God. Or to put it another way, God designed human fatherhood to be a portrait of himself. God had a Son before he created Adam. He was God the Father before he was God the Creator. He knew what he wanted to portray before he created the portrayal.

Showing Our Children What God Is Like

Which means that on this Father’s Day, the clear implication for all of us fathers is that we were designed to display the fatherhood of God—especially (but not only) to our children. And that implies that we today learn to be fathers by watching God father his children. And it implies that children today learn what God’s fatherhood is like largely by watching us.

Fathers As Dust

So the chain of influence moves from God as the infinitely perfect Father of his imperfect children, who shows us what good fatherhood is like so that we can show our children and others what God’s fatherhood is like. That, brothers, is our calling. When David says, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him,” he means: God created fatherhood in his own image, and good fathering points to God.

When David says in verse 14 that fathers (and the rest of us) are like dust (“[God] knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust”), it causes David to reflect on the shortness of human life and the never-beginning, never-ending life of God, and how that relates to our children. Let’s read verses 15–18:

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord
is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.

So fathers need to realize that they won’t always be around. And their children won’t always be around. Verse 17 refers to the “children’s children.” And the question a father should ask is: How can my children benefit forever from the love of God? How can they become the beneficiaries of God’s righteousness rather than condemned by it?

Verses 17–18 give three answers to that question. Listen for them as I read it again: “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” The steadfast love of God and the righteousness of God will follow your children from generation to generation if three things happen: 1) if they fear him (v. 17); 2) if they keep his covenant (v. 18); and 3) if they do his commandments (v. 18).

Keeping God’s Covenant Today

Let’s focus for just a moment on that second requirement: “his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant.” What does keeping the covenant of God mean today? Things have changed since the Messiah has come. At the Last Supper, Jesus lifted up the cup representing his own blood and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

What he means is that there is now a new covenant between God and his people. It’s just as binding as the old one was. What the new covenant provides from God’s side is the blood of Christ to cover our sins and the power of the Spirit to enable us to walk in newness of life. What the new covenant requires from us is that we be united to Christ by the new birth and that we receive Christ as our Savior and Lord and the Treasure of our lives. In that way Christ’s blood and righteousness count for us.

So when verses 17 and 18 say that the love of God and the righteousness of God bless our children if they keep God’s covenant, what it implies for today is that our children must be brought to receive Christ as the supremely valuable Savior and Lord of their lives. The other two requirements David mentions are fearing God (v. 17) and doing his commandments (v. 18).

Fearing God

Verse 17: “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.” I think fearing God means that God is so powerful and so holy and so awesome to us that we would not dare to run away from him, but only run to him for all that he promises to be for us. So fearing God is not different from coming to the Messiah, Jesus. It’s the way we come. We come reverently. We come humbly. We come without presumption that God owes us anything. We come trembling—as we saw last time, we come broken and contrite.

Real Faith in the Redeemer

And the third requirement David mentions for our children to experience God’s righteousness as saving, not condemning, is in verse 18: “to those who remember to do his commandments.” What this means is that faith in the redeemer must be real. Real trust in Christ, real submission to his rule, real treasuring of his worth changes our lives. So the requirement of obedience in verse 18 is simply the requirement that our fear of God and our trust in Christ be real, effective, fruitful. It’s Christ, and his blood and righteousness, that forgives and justifies us. But our obedience, our righteousness, imperfect as it is, shows that God has saved us, that our faith is real. We are truly covenant keepers. We hold fast to our treasured substitute, Jesus Christ.

So fathers, know that we are like dust. We are like grass. We flourish like the flower of the field. The wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place knows it no more (vv. 15–16). After us comes our children and their children. And the question for us is: Will they fear God, keep his covenant, and do his commandments? If they do, the steadfast love of God and the righteousness of God will bless them forever.

Leading Our Children by Blessing the Lord

What then is the one thing that this psalm stresses more than anything else that we fathers should do to lead our children to this condition of blessedness? What should we all do? This is for everybody. But since fathers are mentioned in the psalm, and since today is Father’s Day, I ask the fathers. What is the one main thing that this psalm calls us to do for our children? For our wives? For our churches? For our city? For our own souls?

The answer is: Bless the Lord.

The psalm begins and ends with the psalmist preaching to his soul to bless the Lord—and preaching to the angels and the hosts of heaven and the works of God’s hands. The psalm is overwhelmingly focused on blessing the Lord.

Verses 1–2: “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.” Then he starts listing the benefits. And at the end, verses 20–22, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!”

Praising the Lord

What does it mean to bless the Lord? It means to speak well of his greatness and goodness. It is almost synonymous with praise. Psalms 34:1 puts them together like this: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” And notice the word mouth. “His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Blessing the Lord means speaking or singing about the goodness and greatness of the Lord.

What David is doing in the first and last verses of this psalm, when he says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” is saying that speaking about God’s goodness and greatness must come from the soul. Blessing God with the mouth without the soul would be hypocrisy. Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). David knows that danger, and he is preaching to himself that it not happen.

Come, soul, look at the greatness and goodness of God. Join my mouth, and let us bless the Lord with our whole being.

Fathers Blessing the Lord

Now here is the main point for fathers. I dare to say that there is perhaps nothing that you can do for your children to help them fear God and keep covenant with God and obey God that will be more effective than your own blessing the Lord continually in their presence.

O how rare is this important gift to our children—fathers who openly and from the soul bless the Lord. I plead with you fathers not to turn a deaf ear now. Not to be fatalistic now and say, “I’m not wired that way.” O may the Lord come and pour out a new power and a new fullness and a new freedom on you and your wives and all of us in this church. O that it would well up within us to bless the Lord.

Reasons for Blessing the Lord

We could take weeks unpacking all the reasons that David assembles for why his soul should bless the Lord. It may be the most gospel-rich psalm in the psalter. But I will only mention three categories of reasons and leave you to do the details.

1. God Is Sovereign.

First, let your children hear you bless the Lord for his sovereignty. Verse 19: “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” Let your children hear you say, “I bless you, Lord, that your kingdom rules over all.” All people. All governments. All weather systems. All animals. All molecules. All galaxies.

David knows that God exercises his sovereign rule through angels and heavenly beings, and so he calls them to join him in his blessing. Come, angels, bless the Lord as you do his word. Come, hosts of heaven, bless the Lord as you do his will. Come, all you works of his hands everywhere in his dominion, bless the Lord (vv. 20–22).

Let your children hear you bless the Lord for his great and good and sovereign power and authority over all things.

2. God Is Righteous.

Second, let your children hear you bless the Lord for his justice and righteousness. Verse 6: “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Let them hear you exult in the righteous advocacy of God for the oppressed. Say at the dinner table and in devotions in the morning or in the night: We bless you, O God, for your justice and your righteousness. We bless you that though the wrong seem oft so strong, you are the ruler yet. We bless you that justice will be done in this age or the next. Bless the Lord.

3. God Is Merciful.

Finally, let your children hear you bless the Lord for his mercy and his forgiveness. If this psalm celebrates anything clearly, it is the immeasurable mercy of God not to hold our sins against us. This is the gospel. We know that it is all owing to Christ. Sweeter words have hardly been penned than these.

Verse 3: “Bless the Lord who forgives all your iniquity.” Verses 10–12: Bless the Lord for “he does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

O fathers, let your children hear you bless the Lord for the gospel. Let them hear your soul exult in Christ. Let them hear your humble heart leap up with gratitude. Let them hear your affections for the Savior. Let them hear your love for Christ and his great love for you. Let them hear you say, “O how I bless your name that my sins are forgiven.” Then love your wife and children the way Jesus loved you.

Amen.

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