This psalm is attributed to David. Its contents do not provide any indication about the time in his life to which this composition may relate.
The psalmist calls upon himself (his “soul”) to bless YHWH, speaking well of his God or praising him. “All that is within [him]” would mean his whole being, with not a single faculty being exempt. The expression “name of [God’s] holiness” or “his holy name” refers to YHWH himself, the holy God who bears the name.
Through repetition, the psalmist emphasized the directive to himself to bless YHWH, not forgetting all his benefits, repayments, or rewards. (For comments on the Septuagint reading of verse 2, see the Notes section.)
The psalmist enumerated these benefits. YHWH forgives “all guilt” or “iniquity” (“lawless deeds,” LXX), heals “all diseases,” redeems his servant’s life from death and thus prevents him from going into the “pit” prematurely or from experiencing “corruption” (LXX), and manifests abiding love and mercy (“mercy and “compassion,” LXX), bestowing these on the godly person like a precious crown.
There is uncertainty about the meaning of the benefit mentioned at the beginning of verse 5. The Hebrew word ‘adi is understood to mean “ornaments,” a significance that does not fit the context. The Septuagint reads “desire” (epithymía). Modern translators have either followed the Septuagint or departed from the Masoretic Text in other ways. “[God] satisfies you with good as long as you live.” (NRSV) “[God] satisfies your desires with good things.” (NIV) “He satisfies you with good things in the prime of your life.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “He contents you with good things all your life.” (NJB) “[He] fills your days with good things.” (NAB) “Each day that we live, he provides for our needs.” (CEV)
The renewal of youth like that of an eagle could refer to being infused with new strength. Eagles are long-lived birds and, after the molting process is completed, appear as having been renewed and invigorated.
For the oppressed or those who have been wronged or treated unjustly, YHWH acts with “righteousness” and “judgment” or “justice.” According to the Septuagint, he does merciful deeds and renders justice to all who have been wronged.
Centuries prior to the composition of Psalm 103, YHWH had made known his ways or his commands and will to Moses, and his acts to the “sons” or people of Israel. Through his dealings with them, the Most High had revealed himself as a loving, merciful, and just God who required his people to imitate his example. According to the Septuagint, God made known his “wishes” or “will” to the sons of Israel.
YHWH revealed himself to be “merciful and gracious” (“compassionate and merciful,” LXX), “slow to anger” or forbearing, and great in abiding love or compassionate care. He does not always lodge a complaint or find fault, indicating that only when warranted did he communicate his displeasure to Israel. According to the Septuagint, he is not wrathful “to the end” or to the limit, like one who continues to be displeased and expresses it to the full. YHWH does not indefinitely “keep” his anger, probably meaning that he does not persist in a state of anger or displeasure but is willing to forgive.
The psalmist acknowledged that YHWH, in his great mercy, had not dealt with Israel according to their sins or repaid the people according to their iniquities or lawlessness. He did not administer the severe punishment they deserved but mitigated it.
The “heavens” (the celestial dome or vault) are high above the earth. God’s abiding love, compassionate care, or “mercy” (LXX) is of such greatness toward those who have reverential regard for him that the psalmist referred to this compassionate concern as being lofty like the sky far above the land.
Mercifully, YHWH forgave his people their transgressions, putting them far away from them, as if removing their misdeeds from the distant east and transferring them to the distant west. Like a father who deals lovingly and compassionately with his sons, YHWH deals mercifully with those fearing him or manifesting reverential respect for him.
He knows their frame or makeup, the frail or weak condition in which humans find themselves as creatures of “dust” or of the elements of the earth. Compassionately, he takes their limitations into consideration.
For a time, a human or a mere mortal may flourish, but soon his life ends. His “days” (his brief life) are like the grass that dries up and like once beautiful blossoms that fade and wilt. When a searing wind passes over grass, it dries up, and a strong wind can strip leaves from trees and bushes. In its withered state, grass or any other vegetation appears as though the place where it once flourished no longer “knows” it or grants it any recognition.
Unlike frail mortals, God’s abiding love, compassionate care, or “mercy” (LXX) can always be depended upon. It is from everlasting to everlasting to those fearing him or to his reverential servants. There will never be a time when they would cease to be objects of his compassionate concern. For all time to come, their offspring (“sons of sons”) are assured of God’s righteous or just dealings with them, provided they live in harmony with his covenant and remember to carry out his precepts or commandments.
The psalmist identified YHWH as the Supreme Sovereign, with his throne established in the heavens and his kingdom ruling over all. He is rightly the one to be blessed or praised universally. Angels, mighty ones carrying out his word and heeding it, are invited to bless YHWH. All his hosts, his servants who do his will, are called upon to do so. All his “works” or the whole of creation in all places under his dominion should join in blessing or praising him. The psalmist concludes with the words, “Bless YHWH, O my soul,” adding his voice of praise and repeating the expression with which the composition began.
In verse 2, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus reads, “and do not forget all his praises.” Instead of “praises” (the plural of aínesis), Rahlfs’ printed text has the plural of antapódosis, meaning “repayment,” “recompense,” or “reward.”
Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.