Thanksgiving is one of the least corrupted national holidays because most people still recognize it as a day of giving thanks to God. Even for those who don’t believe in God, or aren’t particularly religious one way or the other, nearly everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving feels compelled to be thankful. For food, for family, for fun. For provision, for sustaining grace, for any number of blessings. But there are legitimate reasons why it can be emotionally difficult to give thanks, particularly scheduled thanks on the same day everyone else is giving thanks too. From the pressures of getting the meal just right, to questions of whether Uncle Albert or Aunt Eileen will drop a verbal bomb at the table, or the looming thought that Christmas shopping season is about to start, people from all walks of life are succumbing to the Thanksgiving Blues. Are you suffering from the blues? Are you afraid of an emotional crash coming Friday? Are you looking for help in how to have a Thanksgiving filled with real thanks giving? God has given Psalm 103 to help you.
Psalm 103 is a masterful meditation on giving thanks to God. David, the author, is distraught for some unknown reason. But instead of lamenting his problem to God, he decides to count his many blessings, naming them one by one. So he sings this song to himself, talking to his heart, instructing his soul to bless the LORD for all the mercies he sees, remembers, and knows.
There are several ways to approach this psalm. One way is to recognize its chiastic outline (see below). It begins the same way it ends, giving us a hint that it might be a “psalm sandwich” with the “meat of the psalm” in the middle. Notice in verses 2-5 how David reminds himself of God’s personal mercies. “Soul, bless the LORD for his mercies to me!” From personal mercies, he thanks God for his mercies to the community (you could say family blessings). At the center of the psalm sandwich, which is the central focus of the psalm, David thanks God for his great and compassionate mercies (vv. 11-14) and his steadfast, covenantal blessings (vv. 15-18). Thus the main blessing from God that David highlights is the LORD’s covenantal faithfulness in loving us, his children, by forgiving our sins. In the other side of the psalm sandwich (which corresponds to the first side), David thanks God for his mercies to the community in heaven (the angels and heavenly ministers who serve God), and he thanks God for universal mercies (mercies to all).
Another way to approach Psalm 103 is to recognize its movement from earth to heaven, and finally moving to encompass all of creation. David begins by recounting God’s personal mercies. Moving from himself, he thanks God for blessings to his people, especially God’s faithfulness in caring for them as his little children, tenderly removing their sins. David then moves from earth to heaven, instructing the heavenly host to bless the LORD. Finally, David addresses all of creation, all things in heaven and earth, everything under the LORD’s dominion, to bless God. Looking at the psalm this way, the flow of blessing crescendos where the whole universe (all God’s work) is blessing God, offering thanksgiving to its Lord and sustainer.
A third way to read Psalm 103 is to picture Jesus singing it. Jesus was a psalm-singer, taking the words of the psalms on his own lips and singing them as God’s Son, the Anointed One, the Christ. As Jesus hung on the cross for hours on end, perhaps he sang this psalm. What insights do we gain from reading Psalm 103 from the Son of David’s perspective?
- Vv1-5. Jesus sings to himself (as he is feeling forsaken) to praise the Father and look to the blessings promised to him personally.
- Vv6-10. Jesus sings to his people (and identifies himself with us) and reminds us that the Father’s wrath will soon be satisfied.
- Vv11-14. Jesus sings to his people to remind us that since our sins are thoroughly forgiven, the Father loves us in our frailty.
- Vv15-18. Jesus sings to his people to remind us that even though we are frail and weak, the Father’s continuing mercy is certain for his faithful covenant children.
- Vv19-22b. Jesus turns his song heavenward to call God’s angels and handiwork to praise God, for they were created to delight in giving praise.
- V22c. In his suffering, Jesus sings to himself to find solace and comfort in these things, and to therefore praise the LORD.
All the psalms are meant for our instruction in how to bless the LORD. Learn from Psalm 103 how David and Jesus teach you how to preach the gospel of God’s blessings to yourself. Counsel your own soul to bless the LORD for his many blessings to you, your family and community, and especially to you in his compassion and forgiveness. Learn to encourage others in thanksgiving, encouraging all God’s creatures (even the angels in heaven) to bless the LORD. The Doxology hymn happens to mirror the shape and flow of Psalm 103. Let’s sing it together, giving thanks to God by praising him.
Psalm 103: Chiastic Outline
I. Bless the LORD, O My Soul (v. 1)
a. Bless Him for Mercies to Me (vv. 2-5)
i. Bless Him for Community Mercies on Earth (vv. 6-10)
1. Bless Him for Great and Compassionate Mercies (vv. 11-14)
2. Bless Him for Steadfast and Covenantal Mercies (vv. 15-18)
ii. Bless Him for Community Mercies in Heaven (vv. 19-21)
b. Bless Him for Mercies to All (v. 22a-b)
II. Bless the LORD, O My Soul (v. 22c)
Download this sermon outline here.