An Everest of Praise

By Neil Earle

The whole Book of Psalms has been called “an Everest of praise” but the great Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon (pictured, right) was particularly enamored with Psalm 103.

“As in the lofty Alps some peaks rise above the others,” preached Spurgeon, “so among the inspired Psalms there are heights of song which overtop the rest. This 103rd song has ever seemed to be the Monte Rosa of the divine chain of mountains of praise, glowing with a ruddier light than any of the rest.”

Adam Clarke wrote: “It is a Psalm of infinite sweetness and excellence. It contains the most affectionate sentiments of gratitude to God for his mercies and the most consoling motives to continue to trust in God and be obedient to him.”

This is rarified praise indeed. But then praise is the brief of the writer of Psalm 103. From beginning to end it is a song of the deepest and most penetrating reasons to be praising God and enraptured with his government of the universe.

“Bless the Lord O my soul” opens this rhapsody for Yahweh the God of Israel, and closes it. “All that is within me” says the singer, is to be stirred to praise the Lord.

Why? What reasons?

Count Your Blessings…Often

And the answer is not too long in coming. The inspired poet enumerates the benefits of serving God. Here they are from verses 3-5 in the English Standard Version (ESV).

First, he forgives all your iniquities.

Second, he redeems our life from the Pit – death, or accidents.

Third, he crowns us with steadfast love and mercy.

Fourth, he satisfies us and renews our life like an eagle’s.

That’s quite a mouthful. Can God do all that? Has he done all that?

Were we to listen to the testimony of millions of Christians we would have to conclude, yes.

Forgiving iniquities is one thing all Christians worthy of the name can attest to. They know that where once sin abounded in their lives, “grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20 AV). Healing all our diseases, well, that needs a little unpacking. Keep in mind that even in the Bible there is a continuum of case histories in Scripture from Peter’s shadow healing the sick, to Paul leaving a minister behind to recover from a sickness (2 Timothy 4:20). But Christians facing disease and affliction with faith in God follow the prescribed formula of James 5:14-15. Truth is, this passage ultimately points to a healing in the resurrection as the word “save” is the same word referring to spiritual salvation in the Greek language. And the reference to our sins being forgiven confirms that here James is starting with a grievously ill Christian and pointing him to the ultimate healing of all our afflictions at the Resurrection of the Just.

Nevertheless…Christians are encouraged to get anointed with oil from their elders in good faith that better things can happen even in this physical state.

“Redeeming our life?” How many stories are out there of people snatched from serious accidents or preserved from life-threatening obstacles? So many that skeptics would probably not believe them. In this case the evidence is too overwhelming. But here’s one involving actor Dean Jones (pictured, left) who has played in many Christian-themed movies.

He once had it all, wife, kids a career making 20-30,000 a week but was mad at God for all the injustices he saw in the world and at his own frustration. A motorcycle accident in the Baja left him with a brain concussion, pelvis shattered in 13 places and a close call with bleeding to death. After recovering in a Burbank hospital and working on a stage production in New Jersey he finally acknowledged the God who had saved him from the Pit.

This is only one of 58 testimonies Josh MacDowell documents in Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Dean Jones had success but no satisfaction and that is something else promised to the worshippers of Yahweh (verse 5). Satisfaction – and long life. The blessings keep adding up.

Psalm 103:6-18

After five verses of praiseworthy personal interaction with the Great God, the psalmist moves out to the world as a whole, raising what historians call “the moral government of the Universe.” Verses 6 to 18 begin with God’s working justice for all the oppressed. Every time I visit Memphis, Tennessee I am impressed that the very site that saw the death of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum (pictured, right). Dr. King rose to prominence when racial oppression needed to be ended in this country and, sure enough, much remarkable progress was made.

Verse 8 is a direct quote from Exodus 34:6-7 when God showed Israel he was still with them even after their sin of worshipping the golden calf. What other gods of the nations can say that? Zeus? Thor? The malevolent storm gods of Canaan? The Carthaginian Moloch who accepted infant sacrifice? The Egyptian gods of the dead with their grossly ugly wolf’s head and human bodies?

Come on now, only Yahweh, God of Israel is consistently described as gracious and long-suffering. He proved it to, too, putting up with a stubborn generation for 40 years. Not many human beings could do that. Even Moses failed here.

Golden Texts

Verse 9-14 are perhaps the divine centerpiece of this wonderful song of praise. It is one reason Spurgeon said that this Psalm could very well fit as the One Chosen Hymnbook for the whole Christian church.

Verse 9 reveals that Yahweh God does not punish us according to our iniquities. The Sin-Punishment dynamic has been broken because of the totalizing sacrifice of One who was to come. But what a golden moment for Old Testament teaching! “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquities” (RSV). How’s that for relief with a capital “R.” Imagine if God held grudges and stayed mad at us. The world would already y be a dead cinder rotating a useless sun.

Verse 11 talks about more good news about the character of this Great God – “sin removal.” He has separated us from our sins as far as the east is from the west because his mercy is higher than the heaven above. Think for a second. At 33,000 feet you can’t see much human activity on the earth below. Why then should we magnify our sins to think they are bigger than God’s mercy? We are of such small account when viewed from Aloha Centurai. Yes, our sins are important to us and others but in the long run they are not determinative. They are absorbed is God’s divine love, a God who views us through the lens of a loving heavenly Father.

These passages are quoted quite often to new baptism converts but they apply to all of us, for the longer we are serving God the more resistance we meet. We need these reminders from Psalm 103 to give us healthy perspective when our sins and troubles weigh us down.

God Alone Endures

Verse 15-16 are a philosophic meditation on the brevity of human life. How much this is hitting home to my generation today. Every year we see the farewells to famous stars at the Academy Awards – Andy Williams, Whitney Houston, they’ve passed on but God’s Kingdom and God’s moral order in the universe remains. That’s the intent of verse 19-22. What moral order? Well, ask Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin or Saddam Hussein next time you see them. The bad guys usually get their come-uppance in the end.

“His kingdom rules over all” (verse 19). Wise old Ben Franklin told the constitutional convention in 1787 that the longer he lived the more convinced he was that God rules in the affairs of men and “a sparrow may not fall to the ground without His notice.” God has always had a Kingdom because God has always ruled. But with Jesus and the early church the Kingdom came very very close—so much so that Jesus could say it was “at hand.” This meant that Jesus was engaged in doing good, healing the sick, raising the dead, preaching good news to the poor, opening the doors to eternal life (John 14:6). His church is still busy doing redemptive Kingdom Work today for that is one reason churches exist.

All of this and more is wrapped up in those wonderful 22 verses – the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, making a perfect A to Z of praise we would say. Over hearing another child of God praising and praying to God can sometimes stimulate our “prayer juices.” Remember his benefits, count your many blessings, and take troubles to the Lord in prayer. He has a light on for you and…he is up all night.