Beckett: Bless the Lord, O My Soul

Psalm 103:1-10
Bless Yahweh, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless Yahweh, O my soul, and forget not all H is benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Yahweh works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the people of Israel.
Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.


What does it mean to “bless the Lord”? How can we bless the Lord? Isn’t the Lord the one who blesses us? There are two possible meanings for “bless.” The first is “the bestowal of vital strengths on an addressee—usually with divine cooperation,” which is the blessing Yahweh does for us; and the second is “liturgical-priestly thanksgiving—whether spontaneous or in a cultic-ritual praise of Yhwh” (Hossfeld, 34).

It is in this second sense, then, that we bless the Lord. In other words, for us to bless the Lord is to express our gratitude toward Him, which is typically done in a liturgical/ritual fashion, i.e. during the Divine Service. To bless the Lord, then, is none other than to thank Him and give Him praise. We do this in prayer when we thank Him for His gifts and when we sing hymns of praise to Him.

Why do we bless the Lord? Because of what the Lord has done and keeps doing. As David says in the psalm, He forgives all our iniquities, heals our diseases, redeems us from death, and crowns us with His steadfast love and mercy (vv. 3-4). Most especially, in verse 10, we bless Him because “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” This is to say: God gives us His grace, His favour, His mercy. What other response must we have than to bless Him by expressing our perpetual gratitude toward Him in songs of praise?

As the Torah says, “You shall bless Yahweh your God for the good land He has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10). In its context, God, speaking through Moses, is reminding the people of God’s provision for them so far and His promise they are to receive—the Promised Land. He tells them they will bless Him—they will thank Him—when they receive this promise of God when they receive the land He has given them. Indeed, they bless Him in various ways.

In the same way, we bless the Lord for the gift of Jesus Christ—the gift of salvation, justification by faith—He has given and promised us since the Fall of Man (Genesis 3:15). For unbelievers, new Christians, or “old” Christians who were never properly taught on why we sing songs to the Lord, the reason we sing is to bless the Lord—to express our thanks for the promise He has given us in Jesus Christ.

What better way to express our gratitude than through song? For God knows the powerful effect music has on His creatures—a beautiful gift He has given us. As Luther once said, “I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God.” And music—singing hymns—is arguably the greatest way in which we bless the Lord and give Him our thanks.

Bibliography

Hossfeld, Frank-Lothar, and Erich Zenger. Psalms 3: A Commentary on Psalms 101-150. Edited by Klaus Baltzer. Translated by Linda M. Maloney. Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.

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