If someone had read the New Testament first and subsequently read Psalm 103 for the first time, it would be easy to overlook their misunderstanding if they concluded that the New Testament had been written first. In the psalm, the dominant themes of the New Testament gospel stand out boldly. To appreciate what Psalm 103 conveys, one almost has to be reminded that at the time it was written, Yahweh would not yet become incarnate for another thousand years!
The psalm builds expectation from its opening words: “Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (v. 1, NKJV). “All that is within me” says something good is coming. It repeats, “Bless the LORD, O my soul,” adding, “and forget not all his benefits” (v. 2, NKJV).
“Benefits” is a concept every generation can comprehend, our own not excluded. Some of us can relate to a work-related “benefit package.” Something of value is about to come our way. Israel would immediately recognize the covenant language here. Yahweh, their covenant God, is about to remind them of His covenantal love toward them, expressed in very concrete terms. The Psalmist then lists the benefits one after another without commentary. Don’t be in a hurry here. Let each “benefit” soak in as you read it.
1. He “forgives all your iniquities” (v. 3a, NKJV).
2. He “heals all your diseases” (v. 3b, NKJV). (Don’t get hung up for the moment on the sicknesses that do not get healed even with prayer. Nobody has that all figured out. When healing occurs, God is involved, sometimes miraculously, beyond human intervention.)
3. He “redeems your life from destruction” (v. 4a, NKJV).
4. He “crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (v. 4b, NKJV).
5. He “satisfies your mouth with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (v. 5, NKJV).
He sums up the list with one that applies to all of the above: “The LORD executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (v. 6, NKJV). Every one of the five benefits listed above responds to some specific situation that involves human oppression and cries out for divine righteousness and justice for redress. The blood of martyrs who did not receive that intervention temporally calls for patience on the part of those who follow in their steps. At the crafting of Psalm 103 they did not know that it would require His own “blood of the everlasting covenant” (Heb. 13:20, NKJV) to guarantee ultimate “righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Ps. 103:6, NKJV). D-Day has now been accomplished at the cross; the Day of the Second Coming is on the way.
Number three in the list above conveys the gospel as succinctly as any in Scripture: God “redeems your life from destruction” (NKJV; NIV: “redeems your life from the pit”).
In Romans 3:10–19, Paul cites the Old Testament to describe the unfathomable depths and inescapability of the pit—we cannot even seek God on our own, let alone shed our mortality without Him. The psalm responds, He “redeems your life from the pit,” and not only so, but He also “crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (v. 4, NKJV)—from the lowest depths to the highest heights. Paul’s echo, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom. 5:20, NKJV), was richer only because by his day, Jesus’ ratification of the covenant with His own “blood of the everlasting covenant” was history.
The Mosaic covenant, seen through the eyes of Psalm 103, is not only gospel but superlative gospel.