Theme: Why Should a Person Praise God?
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
Why should a person praise God? It is because of “all his benefits.” David lists what he means by God’s benefits in verses 3-5.
1. Forgiveness of sins (v. 3). The first thing David is thankful for is the forgiveness of his sins. Rightly so! For this is the greatest of all gifts that we can receive from God, and the first we need to have. It is true that we need to remember to thank God for our homes and jobs and wealth and all our material possessions, the very things the Israelites were reminded to thank God for in Deuteronomy 8:10-18. But what if we were to acquire all these things and lose our souls? The forgiveness of our sins is the greatest benefit any of us can ever receive from God, and we can receive it only because God gave his Son over to death on the cross to procure it for us.
Some of the statements that occur in the first part of the psalm appear later, too, and one of the ideas that does is this matter of the forgiveness of sins. Verse 3 says, “He forgives all my sins.” That has to do with the number of sins that are forgiven; it is all of them. But then in verse 12 the psalmist elaborates on that by bringing in the scope of the deliverance. To what extent has God forgiven his sins? He answers, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Since east and west are directions and not points on the compass, there is an infinite or, as we might say, unmeasurable distance between them. This may be what David is thinking.
Or it may be, as Roy Clements suggests, that what he is trying to point out is that, “however many miles you think lie between west and east, you cannot look two ways at once.” You have to turn your back on one in order to look in the direction of the other. “When God forgives us, he puts our sin and us on two different horizons. So when he looks at our sin, he is no longer looking at us, and when he looks at us, he is no longer looking at our sin. To use the vocabulary of Paul, he has justified us.”1
2. Healing (v. 3). The second thing the writer is thankful for is healing, indeed healing of “all” his diseases. This verse has played an important but unwarranted role in some systems of theology that stress what is called “healing in the atonement,” meaning that if we have been saved from sin by Christ, we have been healed or have a right to be healed of any physical affliction, too. This is bad theology, because it is simply not true that those who have been forgiven for sin are spared or have a right to be spared all diseases. Believers do get sick, and many passages teach that God has his purposes in the sicknesses.
What does the sentence mean then? Some suggest that David is speaking about spiritual illness, such as the burdens of sin. But that is not it. I think he really is speaking of diseases. What he is saying is that when he is healed, as he often has been, it is God who has done it. He is the healer of the body as well as of the soul. Therefore, such health as David has been given is a sure gift from God. God should be praised for it.
1Roy Clements, Songs of Experience: Midnight and Dawn through the Eyes of the Psalmists (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1993), p. 143.
What is the greatest of all gifts? Have you received it? Recount the details of your own conversion, and offer praise to the Lord for his saving grace toward you.
Explain what the image of the distance between east and west teaches us about forgiveness.
Name the second thing for which David is thankful. How has this been misinterpreted by some?
Application: How will you seek to encourage someone who is struggling with a physical affliction and may be having trouble trying to understand what the Lord is doing?