Theme: What Is God Like?
This week’s lessons show us that it is essential to remember God’s blessings, and how we are to praise God for all that he is and for all he has done for us.
Scripture: Psalm 103:1-22
As we read yesterday, we should praise God because of “all his benefits.” David lists what he means by God’s benefits in verses 3-5. Yesterday we looked at God’s gifts of the forgiveness of sins and healing. Today we continue with two more of God’s benefits.
3. Redemption from the pit (v. 4). The interpretation I have given of verse 3 is reinforced by verse 4. For when David says that God has redeemed his life from the pit, he is saying that God has brought him back from the very brink of death. The “pit” is Sheol, where the dead go when they die. He does not mean that God has rescued him from Sheol by taking him to heaven, for he is not in heaven yet. He means that God has redeemed him by sparing him from death, presumably by healing his diseases.
4. Satisfaction with good things (v. 5). And it is not a matter of a mere rescue either, as if his life was spared but so far as anything else was concerned his life was miserable. No. God has satisfied him with good things “so that his youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Hasn’t that been your experience? Can’t you praise God for an abundance of good things that he has graciously brought into your life?
Verses 1-5 of Psalm 103 are so personal that most writers view them as the first stanza of the psalm, noting that from this point on (vv. 6-18) the writer seems to be talking about God’s grace to other people, particularly to Israel. Yet what David is actually doing is talking about God himself, reminding himself and us of what God is like. To put it another way, he is answering the next question I want to ask of this psalm, namely, what is God like that we should praise him?
Here a number of assertions come in: 1) God works “righteousness and justice” for the oppressed (v. 6); 2) God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (v. 8); 3) he does “not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever” (v. 9); 4) “he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (v. 10); and indeed, 5) his love is “from everlasting to everlasting…with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (v. 17). Basically these statements are variations of a single truth about God, which is that he is gracious or merciful.
What David has in mind is the revelation God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai when Moses asked God if he could see his face. God told Moses that he could not see his face, because no person can see the face of God and live. However, he would place Moses in a place on the mountain, cover him with his hand and then pass by, which is what he did. The text reads, “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed by in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’” (Exod. 34:5-7).
This is the incident David is referring to in verse 7, when he says, “He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel,” and in verse 8, where he actually cites Exodus 34:6, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
That verse is cited many times in the Old Testament, so much that it almost becomes a creedal statement answering the question: “What is God?” It is referred to in Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8: Joel 2:13; and Jonah 4:2. Our equivalent of this text is from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, where one question asks, “What is God?” and the answer is given: “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” To the same question the Jewish believer might have responded, “God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.” It is because of this characteristic that God forgives our sins and satisfies us with all good things.
There is one more thing to be said about God’s mercy. It is like that of a father for his children, for God is the Father of those who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him” (v. 13). We remember that it was Jesus who taught us to call God Father (Matt. 6:9).
Study Questions:

If David is not yet in heaven, how can he be redeemed from the pit?
List five assertions about God that illustrate his graciousness and mercy.
What does David mean when he says God has made known his ways to Moses?
Why did Moses not look directly at God?
Read the various Old Testament passages Dr. Boice cites. What do these add to your understanding of who God is?

Reflection: How has God been like a father to you? What does it mean to be able to approach God in prayer as your heavenly Father?

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