Psalm 103: 1-4, 8, 10, 12-13
This week’s responsorial psalm is from Psalm 103, a praise of divine goodness. The psalmist begins by praising God for personal benefits, then moves on to God’s mercy toward all the people.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
Although the word “bless” is often used as a prayer for God’s presence or a grace for the future, in this case, it’s a call to praise or thank God for blessings already received. The call to “bless the LORD” is normally addressed to someone other than the psalmist; here, it is a self-address.
The Hebrew word translated “soul” (nepesh) comes from the word for breath. It yields over twenty meanings, chief among which are life-breath (or soul), life, and living person. The reference here is probably to that center within the person from which all one’s life forces flow. This is not merely a spiritual or immaterial reality; it encompasses every aspect of the person. This understanding is corroborated by the phrase “all my being,” which immediately follows.
and all my being, bless his holy name.
In the biblical world, a person’s name was an expression of that person’s unique identity. In many ways, names held more significance for people than they do today. It was believed that one could exercise power over another simply by somehow controlling the name of that person. There were times during Israel’s history when, in their attempt to show great reverence for God, the people paid homage to God’s name rather than directly to God (Deuteronomy 12:11, 21; 14:23f; 16:2, 6, 11). Even when they did this they were careful to avoid using the divine name itself.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
The psalmist wants to bless God for all the good things he has received from him, without forgetting a single one.
He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.
The psalmist begins to enumerate the reasons for his call to praise God. God’s deeds all flow from his lovingkindness (hesed) and compassion (răhamîm).
Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
This echos God’s self-revelation to Moses at Mount Horeb (Exodus 34:6-7).
Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
God acts out of his own infinite mercy, not requiring the harsh punishment the sins of the people would warrant.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.
The extent of God’s covenant commitment is further sketched in the figure of speech “east to west.” Human eyes can only envision a fraction of the stretch that lies between the horizons. What is perceived is only infinitesimal; the reality is beyond comprehension.
Using these images, the psalmist is claiming the same limitlessness for God’s lovingkindness. Our of covenant love, God puts our transgression so far from us that the distance cannot even be imagined.
This is ample reason to praise and bless the LORD!