Psalm 103:1-8

Psalm 103:1-8
Ordinary C39


Of David.I

BlessII the Lord,III O my soul,IV
    and allV that is withinVI me,

Notes on superscript - verse 1a

I “David” = David. From the same as dod (beloved, love, uncle); the root may mean to boil, which is used figuratively to describe love. So, this implies someone you love such as a friend, a lover, or a close family member like an uncle. David’s name likely means something like “beloved one.”
II “bless” = barak. This is to kneel, to bless. It is blessing God as part of worship and adoration or blessing humans to help them. It can be used as a euphemism to say curse God.
III “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.
IV “soul” = nephesh. Related to naphash (to refresh or be refreshed). This is soul, self, person, emotion. It is a breathing creature. Can also refer to appetites and desires.
V “all” = kol. From kalal (to complete). This is all or every.
VI “within” = qereb. Perhaps from qarab (to come near or approach). This is among, in the midst, before, the center It is the inward part, whether literal or figurative. It can also be used for the heart, the site of thoughts and feelings. This word is also used as a technical term for the entrails of the animals who are sacrificed.

    bless his holyVII name.VIII
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and do not forgetIX all his benefitsX

Notes on verses 1b-2

VII “holy” = qodesh. This is set apart and so sacred. God is different from us and so God is holy/set apart. Things we dedicate to God’s service are set apart for God and so they, too, are holy, etc.
VIII “name” = shem. May be from sum (to put, place, set). This is name, fame, renown. A name was thought to indicate something essential about a person – something about their individuality. So, this word can also mean honor, authority, or character.
IX “forget” = shakach. This is to forget because of not remembering something or not paying attention to it. It can also mean to mislay.
X “benefits” = gemul. 19x in OT. From gamal (how one deals with someone whether positively or negatively – so to reward, requite; to wean or the work that goes into something ripening). This is benefit, deed, recompense. It is some treatment that is deserved or earned, whether positive or negative. It can be reward or requital.

who forgivesXI all your iniquity,XII
    who healsXIII all your diseases,XIV

Notes on verse 3

XI “forgives” = salach. This is to pardon or spare.
XII “iniquity” = avon. Perhaps related to avah (to bend, twist, be amiss). This is sin, mischief, guilt, fault, punishment for iniquity, or moral evil.
XIII “heals” = rapha. Properly, this is to repair by stitching – figuratively this means to heal or cure. It can also mean to make whole.
XIV “diseases” = tachalu. 5x in OT. From chala (to be sick). This is a sickness or pain. It can also refer to a beginning.

who redeemsXV your lifeXVI from the Pit,XVII

Notes on verse 4a

XV “redeems” = gaal. This is to redeem someone or something according to kinship laws. So, it could be acting on a relative’s behalf to buy back their property, to marry one’s brother’s widow, etc. This could be more briefly translated as to redeem, acts as kinsman, or purchase. As a noun, it could be deliverer or avenger.
XVI “life” = chay. From chayah (to live or keep alive literally or figuratively). This is alive, living, lifetime. It can also be used to describe someone’s age. It can refer to animals, plants, water, or a company or congregation of people. It is life in a very broad sense.
XVII “Pit” = shachath. From shuach (to bow or sink down in a literal or figurative sense, humble). This is ditch, trap, grave, or hole. Figuratively, it could be destruction or corruption.

    who crownsXVIII you with steadfast loveXIX and mercy,XX

Notes on verse 4b

XVIII “crowns” = atar. 7x in OT. To surround or encircle to defend, protect, or attack. It is crown in a literal or figurative sense.
XIX “steadfast love” = chesed. From chasad (being good, kind, merciful; may mean bowing one’s neck as is done in the presence of an equal for courtesy’s sake; so, if one in a superior position is treating you like an equal, that is what is captured here). This is favor, goodness, kindness, loving kindness, pity, reproach, or a good deed. When done by God to humanity, this is mercy/loving kindness. When done by humanity to God, it is piety.
XX “mercy” = racham. From the same as rechem (womb); from racham (to love, have compassion, have mercy); from racham (compassion, tender love, womb, compassion; the womb as that which cherishes the fetus). This is compassion, mercy, or tender love.

5 who satisfiesXXI you with goodXXII as long as you liveXXIII
    so that your youthXXIV is renewedXXV like the eagle’s.XXVI

Notes on verse 5

XXI “satisfies” = saba. To be satisfied or full in a literal or figurative sense. Also, to have plenty of.
XXII “good” = tob. From tob (to be pleasing, to be good). This is good, beautiful, pleasant, agreeable, bountiful, at ease. This word is used for goodness as a concept, a good thing, a good person. This can refer to prosperity and welfare as well as joy, kindness, sweetness, and graciousness. So, this is ethically good, but also enjoyably good.
XXIII “live” = adi. 13x in OT. From adah (adorning oneself with ornaments, decorate). This is decoration, beauty, jewels, ornaments, an outfit, something excellent.
XXIV “youth” = naur. From naar (child or a servant; a child in their active years so they could be aged anywhere from infancy to adolescence); perhaps from naar (to shake, toss up and down, tumble around). This is youth or childhood.
XXV “renewed” = chadash. 10x in OT. This is to renew or restore, to repair or rebuild.
XXVI “eagle’s” = nesher. This is an eagle or vulture – some kind of large bird of prey. Its root may mean lacerate.

6 The Lord worksXXVII vindicationXXVIII
    and justiceXXIX for all who are oppressed.XXX

Notes on verse 6

XXVII “works” = asah. This is to make, do, act, appoint, become in many senses.
XXVIII “vindication” = tsedaqah. From the same as tsedeq (rightness, righteousness, vindication. It is everything that is just or ethical. That which is right in a natural, moral, or legal sense. It also includes just weights (i.e. true weights). Figuratively, this is justice, righteousness, equity – even prosperity). This is righteousness, justice, righteous acts, and moral virtue.
XXIX “justice” = mishpat. From shaphat (to judge, defend, pronounce judgment, condemn, govern). This is a verdict or formal sentence whether from humans or from God. It includes the act of judging as well as the place that judging takes place, the suit itself, and the penalty. Abstractly, this is justice, which includes the rights of the participants.
XXX “oppressed” = ashaq. This is to wrong, deceive, violate, or use oppression.

He made knownXXXI his waysXXXII to Moses,XXXIII

Notes on verse 7a

XXXI “made known” = yada. This is to know, acknowledge, advise, answer, be aware, be acquainted with. Properly, this is to figure something out by seeing. It includes ideas of observation, recognition, and care about something. It can be used causatively for instruction, designation, and punishment.
XXXII “ways” = derek. From darak (to tread, march, to walk. Can also mean affixing a string to a box since one needs to step on it to bend it in the process; so also an archer). This is a road as a thing that is walked on. Can be used figuratively for the path that one’s life takes or how one chooses to live one’s life.
XXXIII “Moses” = Mosheh. From mashah (to pull out in a literal or figurative sense, to draw out) OR from Egyptian mes or mesu (child, son i.e. child of…). This is Moses – the one drawn out from the water, which is to say, rescued. If derived from the Egyptian, his name would share a root with Rameses and Thutmose.

    his actsXXXIV to the peopleXXXV of Israel.XXXVI

Notes on verse 7b

XXXIV “acts” = alilah. From alal (to affect, do, practice, mock, overdo, glean, abuse, pain). This is a deed or action – something that causes an effect. It could be a wanton or shameful deed or an opportunity.
XXXV “people” = ben. From banah (to build or obtain children). This is son, age, child. It is son in a literal or figurative sense.
XXXVI “Israel” = Yisrael. From sarah (to persist, exert oneself, contend, persevere, wrestle, prevail) + el (God or god). This is Israel, meaning God strives or one who strives with God; new name for Jacob and for his offspring. This refers to the people and to the land.

8 The Lord is mercifulXXXVII and gracious,XXXVIII
    slowXXXIX to angerXL and aboundingXLI in steadfast love.

Notes on verse 8

XXXVII “merciful” = rachum. Related to “mercy” in v4. 13x in OT. From the same as rechem (see note XX above). This is compassionate or merciful.
XXXVIII “gracious” = channun. 13x in OT. From chanan (beseech, show favor, be gracious; properly, to bend in kindness to someone with less status). This is gracious, compassionate, merciful, having pity on.
XXXIX “slow” = arek. 15x in OT. From arak (to be long in a literal or figurative sense, to continue, defer, draw out, endure, delay). This is long, patience, or slow.
XL “anger” = aph. From anaph (to be angry; properly, breathing hard as a signifier of being enraged). This properly refers to the nose or nostril and by extension the face. It can specifically refer to anger or wrath as one breathes hard and nostrils flare in times of great anger.
XLI “abounding” = rab. From rabab (increasing in any aspect whether quantity, authority, size, quality, greatness, etc.). This is abundance, many, elder, exceedingly, great. It refers to abundance of amount, rank, or status.

Image credit: “The Hug” by Gustav Klimt, between 1905 and 1909.

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