For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 103. I have two items.
1. Psalm 103 talks a lot about God's forgiveness and mercy. The Psalmist appears to have Exodus 33:12-34:7
in mind. In Exodus 33:12-23, Moses is pleading for God to go with
Israel on her journey to Canaan, when God is still upset with Israel on
account of the Golden Calf incident (see Exodus 32).
Moses asks for God to show him God's way in Exodus 33:13, and God's
glory in Exodus 33:18. God responds by declaring that God is merciful,
forgiving, and slow to anger, yet does not acquit the guilty.
Psalm 103:7, we see the idea that God showed his ways to Moses and his
deeds to Israel, which is similar to Moses' request that God show him
his way in Exodus 33:13. And Psalm 103:8-14 builds on God's declaration
to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 that God is slow to anger and forgiving.
first sight, Psalm 103 appears to slight the part of Exodus 34:7 that
says that God does not acquit the guilty. And yet, my impression is
that God's justice is still an important element of Psalm 103.
Psalm 103:6 says that God executes righteousness and judgment for the
oppressed (to draw from the KJV's phraseology), and that (to me) implies
that God punishes oppressors. Psalm 103:11 and 17 say that God's mercy
is for those who fear God, and v 13 affirms that God's pity is for
those who fear him. Psalm 103:18 says that God's righteousness is shown
to those who keep God's covenant and commandments. While Psalm 103:10
states that God has not rewarded us according to our sins and
iniquities, the passage does not necessarily say that God has not
punished those sins and iniquities at all, for it could mean that God
has given us less of a punishment than we deserve. And Psalm 103:9 says
that God will not be angry forever, which may imply that God has been
angry at sin in the past, or may even still be angry.
There is a
sense in which God takes sin seriously in Psalm 103, and so Israel needs
to be committed to God and to God's way to receive God's mercy. And
yet, Psalm 103 depicts God's mercy as quite liberal. God in Psalm 103
is slow to anger and abundant in mercy, and Psalm 103:14 affirms that
God remembers that we are dust. Some interpret this to mean that God
recognizes that we are flawed human beings and make mistakes, whereas
another view is that God is merciful because God realizes that we (as
dust) live short lives, and so God is hesitant to snuff people out when
they sin. Either way, one could argue that, in Psalm 103, God's
punishment of sin is not a first resort, but rather a last (or later)
resort. And yet, even in Psalm 103, God punishes sin.
Is God in
the Bible really slow to anger? In some cases, yes, for, in the Hebrew
Bible, God puts up with a lot of Israel's sins before God finally steps
in and sends a devastating punishment. And yet, God's punishment of
Israel for the Golden Calf incident (and also God's punishment of Korah,
Dathan, and Abiram) was rather quick. There may be times when
God feels that God can work with Israel, or at least plead with her.
And there may be times when sinners cannot be persuaded and so God needs
to step in quickly with more drastic action. (Or does God need
to do so? Couldn't God have put them into a deep sleep during their
rebellion, and sought to persuade them in their dreams that their way
was wrong while God's way was right?)
God forgave Israel
for the Golden Calf incident, and that was due in large part to Moses'
intercession on her behalf and Moses reminding God of God's promise to
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These things had nothing to do with Israel's
repentance. But my impression is that Israel's repentance was still a
part of the equation, for Israel was chastened and broken, and she was
quite generous when it came to the construction of the Tabernacle. Israelites
would sin again, but they were at least trying to be on the right path
soon after the Golden Calf incident, and that may have been one reason
that God forgave her.
2. Psalm 103 appears to manifest a
realized eschatology, if you will. God right now judges for the
oppressed. God right now heals diseases. God right now renews people's
strength such that they're like eagles. God right now is forgiving.
God right now has a kingdom that rules over all. In the
prophetic writings (and I include in this category the Book of Daniel),
God will do these sorts of things in the future, when God restores
Israel. In Psalm 103, that is presented as present.
is Psalm 103 describing what will happen in the future, while using the
language of the present? Perhaps. The thing is, Psalm 103 appears to
be telling people to praise God for things that God presently does. There
are times when the Psalmist does not feel this way----when the Psalmist
feels that evil is triumphing and God does not appear to be awake on
God's throne. But there are other times (like in Psalm 103) when the
Psalmist feels that God's kingdom is present and active----that God is
doing what God has said God will do: executing justice, healing,
forgiving sins, etc.