Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Hymn in Honour of God the All-Compassionate One
To the "Thou wilt have compassion upon Zion" of Psa 102:14 is appended Psalms 103, which has this as its substance throughout; but in other respects the two Psalms stand in contrast to one another. The inscription לדוד is also found thus by itself without any further addition even before Psalms of the First Book (Psa 26:1, Ps 35, Ps 37). It undoubtedly does not rest merely on conjecture, but upon tradition. For no internal grounds which might have given rise to the annotation לדוד can be traced. The form of the language does not favour it. This pensive song, so powerful in its tone, has an Aramaic colouring like Ps 116; Psa 124:1-8; Psa 129:1-8. In the heaping up of Aramaizing suffix-forms it has its equal only in the story of Elisha, Kg2 4:1-7, where, moreover, the Kerמ throughout substitutes the usual forms, whilst here, where these suffix-forms are intentional ornaments of the expression, the Chethמb rightly remains unaltered. The forms are 2nd sing. fem. ēchi for ēch, and 2nd sing. plur. ājchi for ajich. The i without the tone which is added here is just the one with which originally the pronunciation was אתּי instead of אתּ and לכי for לך. Out of the Psalter (here and Psa 116:7, Psa 116:19) these suffix-forms echi and ajchi occur only in Jer 11:15, and in the North-Palestinian history of the prophet in the Book of Kings. The groups or strophes into which the Psalm falls are Psa 103:1, Psa 103:6, Psa 103:11, Psa 103:15, Psa 103:19. If we count their lines we obtain the schema 10. 10. 8. 8. 10. The coptic version accordingly reckons 46 CTYXOC, i.e., στίχοι.
In the strophe Psa 103:1 the poet calls upon his soul to arise to praiseful gratitude for God's justifying, redeeming, and renewing grace. In such soliloquies it is the Ego that speaks, gathering itself up with the spirit, the stronger, more manly part of man (Psychology, S. 104f.; tr. p. 126), or even, because the soul as the spiritual medium of the spirit and of the body represents the whole person of man (Psychology, S. 203; tr. p. 240), the Ego rendering objective in the soul the whole of its own personality. So here in Psa 103:3 the soul, which is addressed, represents the whole man. The קובים which occurs here is a more choice expression for מעים (מעים): the heart, which is called קרב κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν, the reins, the liver, etc.; for according to the scriptural conception (Psychology, S. 266; tr. p. 313) these organs of the cavities of the breast and abdomen serve not merely for the bodily life, but also the psycho-spiritual life. The summoning בּרכי is repeated per anaphoram. There is nothing the soul of man is so prone to forget as to render thanks that are due, and more especially thanks that are due to God. It therefore needs to be expressly aroused in order that it may not leave the blessing with which God blesses it unacknowledged, and may not forget all His acts performed (גּמל = גּמר) on it (גּמוּל, ῥῆμα μέσον, e.g., in Psa 137:8), which are purely deeds of loving-kindness), which is the primal condition and the foundation of all the others, viz., sin-pardoning mercy. The verbs סלח and רפא with a dative of the object denote the bestowment of that which is expressed by the verbal notion. תּחלוּאים (taken from Deu 29:21, cf. Ch1 21:19, from חלא = חלה, root הל, solutum, laxum esse) are not merely bodily diseases, but all kinds of inward and outward sufferings. משּׁחת the lxx renders ἐκ φθορᾶς (from שׁחת, as in Job 17:14); but in this antithesis to life it is more natural to render the "pit" (from שׁוּח) as a name of Hades, as in Psa 16:10. Just as the soul owes its deliverance from guilt and distress and death to God, so also does it owe to God that with which it is endowed out of the riches of divine love. The verb עטּר, without any such addition as in Ps 5:13, is "to crown," cf. Psa 8:6. As is usually the case, it is construed with a double accusative; the crown is as it were woven out of loving-kindness and compassion. The Beth of בּטּוב in Psa 103:5 instead of the accusative (Psa 104:28) denotes the means of satisfaction, which is at the same time that which satisfies. עדיך the Targum renders: dies senectutis tuae, whereas in Psa 32:9 it is ornatus ejus; the Peshto renders: corpus tuum, and in Psa 32:9 inversely, juventus eorum. These significations, "old age" or "youth," are pure inventions. And since the words are addressed to the soul, עדי cannot also, like כבוד in other instances, be a name of the soul itself (Aben-Ezra, Mendelssohn, Philippsohn, Hengstenberg, and others). We, therefore, with Hitzig, fall back upon the sense of the word in Psa 32:9, where the lxx renders τάς σιαγόνας αὐτῶν, but here more freely, apparently starting from the primary notion of עדי = Arabic chadd, the cheek: τὸν ἐμπιπλῶντα ἐν ἀγαθοῖς τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν σου (whereas Saadia's victum tuum is based upon a comparison of the Arabic gdâ, to nourish). The poet tells the soul (i.e., his own person, himself) that God satisfies it with good, so that it as it were gets its cheeks full of it (cf. Psa 81:11). The comparison כּנּשׁר is, as in Mic 1:16 (cf. Isa 40:31), to be referred to the annual moulting of the eagle. Its renewing of its plumage is an emblem of the renovation of his youth by grace. The predicate to נעוּריכי (plural of extension in relation to time) stands first regularly in the sing. fem.
His range of vision being widened from himself, the poet now in Psa 103:6 describes God's gracious and fatherly conduct towards sinful and perishing men, and that as it shines forth from the history of Israel and is known and recognised in the light of revelation. What Psa 103:6 says is a common-place drawn from the history of Israel. משׁפּטים is an accusative governed by the עשׂה that is to be borrowed out of עשׂה (so Baer after the Masora). And because Psa 103:6 is the result of an historical retrospect and survey, יודיע in Psa 103:7 can affirm that which happened in the past (cf. Psa 96:6.); for the supposition of Hengstenberg and Hitzig, that Moses here represents Israel like Jacob, Isaac, and Joseph in other instances, is without example in the whole Israelitish literature. It becomes clear from Psa 103:8 in what sense the making of His ways known is meant. The poet has in his mind Moses' prayer: "make known to me now Thy way" (Exo 33:13), which Jahve fulfilled by passing by him as he stood in the cleft of the rock and making Himself visible to him as he looked after Him, amidst the proclamation of His attributes. The ways of Jahve are therefore in this passage not those in which men are to walk in accordance with His precepts (Psa 25:4), but those which He Himself follows in the course of His redemptive history (Psa 67:3). The confession drawn from Exo 34:6. is become a formula of the Israelitish faith (Psa 86:15; Psa 145:8; Joe 2:13; Neh 9:17, and frequently). In Psa 103:9. the fourth attribute (ורב־חסד) is made the object of further praise. He is not only long (ארך from ארך, like כּבד from כּבד) in anger, i.e., waiting a long time before He lets His anger loose, but when He contends, i.e., interposes judicially, this too is not carried to the full extent (Psa 78:38), He is not angry for ever (נטר, to keep, viz., anger, Amo 1:11; cf. the parallels, both as to matter and words, Jer 3:5; Isa 57:16). The procedure of His righteousness is regulated not according to our sins, but according to His purpose of mercy. The prefects in Psa 103:10 state that which God has constantly not done, and the futures in Psa 103:9 what He continually will not do.
The ingenious figures in Psa 103:11. (cf. Psa 36:6; Psa 57:11) illustrate the infinite power and complete unreservedness of mercy (loving-kindness). הרחיק has Gaja (as have also השׁחיתו and התעיבו, Psa 14:1; Psa 53:2, in exact texts), in order to render possible the distinct pronunciation of the guttural in the combination רח. Psa 103:13 sounds just as much like the spirit of the New Testament as Psa 103:11, Psa 103:12. The relationship to Jahve in which those stand who fear Him is a filial relationship based upon free reciprocity (Mal 3:11). His Fatherly compassion is (Psa 103:14) based upon the frailty and perishableness of man, which are known to God, much the same as God's promise after the Flood not to decree a like judgment again (Gen 8:21). According to this passage and Deu 31:21, יצרנוּ appears to be intended of the moral nature; but according to Psa 103:14, one is obliged to think rather of the natural form which man possesses from God the Creator (ויּיצר, Gen 2:7) than of the form of heart which he has by his own choice and, so far as its groundwork is concerned, by inheritance (Psa 51:7). In זכוּר, mindful, the passive, according to Bצttcher's correct apprehension of it, expresses a passive state after an action that is completed by the person himself, as in בּטוּה, ידוּע, and the like. In its form Psa 103:14 reminds one of the Book of Job Job 11:11; Job 28:23, and Psa 103:14 as to subject-matter recalls Job 7:7, and other passages (cf. Psa 78:39; Psa 89:48); but the following figurative representation of human frailty, with which the poet contrasts the eternal nature of the divine mercy as the sure stay of all God-fearing ones in the midst of the rise and decay of things here below, still more strongly recalls that book.
The figure of the grass recalls Psa 90:5., cf. Isa 40:6-8; Isa 51:12; that of the flower, Job 14:2. אנושׁ is man as a mortal being; his life's duration is likened to that of a blade of grass, and his beauty and glory to a flower of the field, whose fullest bloom is also the beginning of its fading. In Psa 103:16 בּו (the same as in Isa 40:7.) refers to man, who is compared to grass and flowers. כּי is ἐάν with a hypothetical perfect; and the wind that scorches up the plants, referred to man, is an emblem of every form of peril that threatens life: often enough it is really a breath of wind which snaps off a man's life. The bold designation of vanishing away without leaving any trace, "and his place knoweth him no more," is taken from Job 7:10, cf. ibid. Job 8:18; Job 20:9. In the midst of this plant-like, frail destiny, there is, however, one strong ground of comfort. There is an everlasting power, which raises all those who link themselves with it above the transitoriness involved in nature's laws, and makes them eternal like itself. This power is the mercy of God, which spans itself above (על) all those who fear Him like an eternal heaven. This is God's righteousness, which rewards faithful adherence to His covenant and conscientious fulfilment of His precepts in accordance with the order of redemption, and shows itself even to (ל) children's children, according to Exo 20:6; Exo 34:7; Deu 7:9 : on into a thousand generations, i.e., into infinity.
He is able to show Himself thus gracious to His own, for He is the supra-mundane, all-ruling King. With this thought the poet draws on to the close of his song of praise. The heavens in opposition to the earth, as in Psa 115:3; Ecc 5:12, is the unchangeable realm above the rise and fall of things here below. On Psa 103:19 cf. Ch1 29:12. בּכּל refers to everything created without exception, the universe of created things. In connection with the heavens of glory the poet cannot but call to mind the angels. His call to these to join in the praise of Jahve has its parallel only in Psa 29:1-11 and Psa 148:1-14. It arises from the consciousness of the church on earth that it stands in living like-minded fellowship with the angels of God, and that it possesses a dignity which rises above all created things, even the angels which are appointed to serve it (Psa 91:11). They are called גּבּרים as in Joe 3:11, and in fact גּבּרי כּח, as the strong to whom belongs strength unequalled. Their life endowed with heroic strength is spent entirely - an example for mortals - in an obedient execution of the word of God. לשׁמע is a definition not of the purpose, but of the manner: obediendo (as in Gen 2:3 perficiendo). Hearing the call of His word, they also forthwith put it into execution. the hosts (צבאיו), as משׁרתיו shows, are the celestial spirits gathered around the angels of a higher rank (cf. Luk 2:13), the innumerable λειτουργικὰ πνεῦματα (Psa 104:4, Dan 7:10; Heb 1:14), for there is a hierarchia caelestis. From the archangels the poet comes to the myriads of the heavenly hosts, and from these to all creatures, that they, wheresoever they may be throughout Jahve's wide domain, may join in the song of praise that is to be struck up; and from this point he comes back to his own soul, which he modestly includes among the creatures mentioned in the third passage. A threefold בּרכי נפשׁי now corresponds to the threefold בּרכוּ; and inasmuch as the poet thus comes back to his own soul, his Psalm also turns back into itself and assumes the form of a converging circle.