The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. ⁹He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. ¹⁰He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
I am often tempted to reduce reality to my personal circumstances. Psalm 103 is a song of praise that enlarges my view of God’s unwavering, redemptive purposes.
When David wrote this song, he could look back at how the Lord had revealed Himself to the patriarchs and during the Exodus. He could not, however, know when Messiah would come. Still, we witness David’s heart of worship, confident in the unchanging character of God, that would later be made manifest in Christ.
Merciful, gracious, steadfast love
Verse 8 echoes God’s description of Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
In case the divine qualities of mercy and grace do not fully convey, we read that God is “slow to anger.” This phrase is repeated numerous times in the Old Testament and becomes an admonition from James, who says, “my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
Not only does God restrain His anger, He is also “abounding in steadfast love.” He never, ever runs out of a love that never, ever waivers. When I think about God’s holy, set apart, transcendent nature in light of my struggle against sin, it is the best news that God is not only patiently withholding anger, but He is eager to lavish me with His love!
David continues with another reason for his soul to bless the Lord. He knew from experience that God does chide His children (see Psalm 31:1-2, 4). But any rebuke or reproach from the Lord toward His children doesn’t last forever.
Have you ever felt such a weight of discipline from the Lord? Perhaps it was owing to your foolishness or sin. Maybe it was a time of suffering sent to produce endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4).
Recently I experienced a health crisis that made daily life hard. But the Lord, in His goodness, revealed things to me that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. He showed me how to depend on Him for strength. He taught me how to rest and wait. He led me to repent of the idols of comfort and control. He gave me a greater passion to study His Word and the power to resist Satan’s schemes.
Though I still don’t fully understand all of God’s purposes in it, I am sure that our merciful and gracious Father disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:10) and that His purposeful “chiding” will not exceed this lifetime.
An inclination to forgive
There are so many benefits from Yahweh in the psalmist’s list. Even the worst of circumstances are exponentially less than we deserve. Charles Spurgeon said of verse 10, “We ought to praise the Lord for what he has not done as well as for what he has wrought for us; even the negative side deserves our adoring gratitude” (The Treasury of David, emphasis added). God does not deal with us according to our sins!
The Lord, who is great in power and righteous in all His ways, restrains His anger to show us mercy, not destining us for wrath, but for salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Not only does God restrain His wrath against sin, but the entirety of His wrath was satisfied when He poured it out on Jesus at the cross.
This psalm continues to exalt the Lord and call believers into greater worship as He patiently and intentionally fulfills His purposes and promises in our lives. May it cause us to rejoice and persevere. Even the deepest suffering and trials are but light afflictions next to the abundance of His mercy and grace.
What is some evidence of God’s abounding, steadfast love in your life?
Can you recall a time of discipline that lasted only for a time? In what ways can you see God’s purpose in it?
How can you practice “adoring gratitude” for the “negative side” of what God does send your way, in light of what you actually deserve that He withholds?
Sherri Moran is Executive Assistant at Truth78. She joined the team after many years of teaching her children and other students in a homeschool setting, as well as serving on staff at her church. Memorizing Scripture throughout her life has been a great benefit, and she loves the way the Holy Spirit brings those verses to mind to fight the good fight of faith. Sherri and her husband Ryan live in central Indiana and have one son and three daughters.