God, in a Few Words (Psalm 103:8)
Topic: Psalms Passage: Psalm 103:1–103:22
God, in a Few Words
(One Lord: No One Like You)
March 5th, 2017
I. With Just a Few Words
What if you had to describe God to a friend, but could only use a few words to do that? Let's say you could use 10-15 words. What would you say? Which words would you choose? That would be challenging, right?
Well, keep pondering that idea and turn over to Psalm 103.
II. The Passage: "Abounding in Steadfast Love” (103:1-22)
Let's look together at the verse you heard at the beginning of our time together this morning. It's verse 8 of Psalm 103. Now, as you hear it again, think about whether or not this verse (clocking in at 14 words, I might add) would be a good answer to our initial challenge of describing God in just a few words. Verse 8...
The LORD (Yahweh) is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
I know if those words strike you this way, but they really should be the most beautiful words in all the OT. I think we will see why as we unpack this amazing verse. The first thing we notice right away are the four qualities or characteristic used to describe Yahweh, the God of Israel. He not only merciful, but He is also gracious. He is not only gracious, but he is slow to anger (or we might say patient). Moreover, He is not only patient, he is also abounding in steadfast love.
In fact, I think you can see how all of these words are interrelated. How God's merciful nature is see in His patience with sinners. We also might be able to say that the first three qualities listed actually spring up from and out of the abundance of God's steadfast love. Those two English words (“steadfast love”) describe a single Hebrew word, chesed.
It is one of the most important words in the OT, used almost 250 times. It is often translated as loving-kindness, but it also contains the idea of faithfulness or loyalty. As one scholar expressed it, “The theological importance of the word chesed is that it stands more than any other word for the attitude which both parties to a covenant ought to maintain towards each other.” (N. H. Snaith)
Thus the ESV translation we're using renders it as “steadfast love”.
And the author of this psalm, King David, knew quite a bit about God's chesed. He had experienced God's “steadfast (loyal) love” time and time again. God even promised that His chesed would never be taken from David or David's family (II Samuel 22:51).
But in order to really dig deeper into what God is showing us here, as we always try to do and always should do, let's pull in the context in order to see the fullness of these qualities. And in doing that, I think we will be in a better position to consider this verse in light of our initial challenge about describing God in just a few words. Look with me first at how verses 9-14 reveal...
1. The Expression of These Things (vs. 9-14)
In case words like “merciful” and “gracious” and “steadfast love” sound too abstract to you, verses 9-14 describe the supreme expression of these qualities. Just listen...
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.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;  as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Now, did you hear what is underlying these words? There is a fundamental sense of God's righteousness in these verses. And not God's righteousness in a vacuum. It is God's righteousness in the face of (v. 10) “our iniquities” and (v. 12) “our transgressions”. It is God's righteousness in the face of (v. 14) our 'dust-ish-ness', that is, our fragile and finite make-up.
But as we see here, God's righteous response in terms of justice is just part of the picture. On the foundation of God's righteousness, David beautifully paints a picture in these verses of God's righteous response in terms of steadfast love.
Think about this for a minute. The goal of God's “steadfast (loyal) love” to us is not first expressed in making you feel good or making your dreams come true. It is fundamentally expressed in you not being consumed in the righteous fire of God's just wrath. It is fundamentally expressed in the gift of forgiveness. Did you hear that in David's words in verses 9-14?
Now, please listen; that forgiveness is not an end in itself. God's forgiveness is not given to enable us to go our way. It is given to enable us to go to God. To draw near to Him; to delight in Him. To serve Him and enjoy him forever. That is the goal of God's loyal love. But if we move backward instead of forward, we are pointed to...
2. The Essentialness of These Things (vs. 6, 7)
Look with me at verses 6 and 7. David tells us...
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.  He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
David wants to remind his listener that God has worked mercifully and graciously, not simply in his life, but for all “the people of Israel”.
And yet, David does point to an individual in these verses. Did you see who that was? Moses! He tells us that God “made known his ways to Moses”. Now even though that phrase is true in general, I believe it s a clue pointing us back to one passage in particular. Listen to these verses from Exodus chapters 33 and 34...
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD’...  The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke... So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone.  The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.  The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (Exodus 33:18-19a; 34:1, 4-8)
Did you hear anything familiar in that passage? Yes! This is the very place in which we find this description of God as “merciful and grace, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love”. Did you see there how this description of God's character is tied to His glory, His goodness, and His name? That's incredibly significant.
And a confirmation of just how significant, how essential this phrase really is comes from the fact that this exact description is found a total of seven times throughout the OT: Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13, and of course, Exodus 34:6 is it's first appearance. And if we split the phrase in half, each of those two phrases also appear in many, many other verses.
So not only did God announce this description to Moses in connection with His glory, His goodness, and His name, but we go on to find that the OT makes this a central confession for God's people about the nature of the God they serve. “You serve who? Yahweh? What is this Yahweh like?” The LORD (Yahweh) is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
But if David's hearers wanted to know God's steadfast love personally, if we want to know it personally, then we need to consider what we find in verses 15-18. It's there we learn about...
3. The Experience of These Things (vs. 15-18)
After describing the forgiveness God gives in verses 9-14, David continues in verse 15...
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;  for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.  But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children,  to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
So the expression of God's abundant steadfast love is mercy, grace, and patient in response to our sin. But as we see here, even though we are finite and fragile, tiny and transitory, God's loyal love, His faithful kindness is without end. It is a solid rock. And yet, we also see here something that could be incredibly discouraging.
God's steadfast love is “everlasting on those who fear him” and his “righteousness...to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments”. Do you see that? There is a condition. If we are to experience this everlasting love of God, we need to fear God, we need to keep his covenant, and we need to do his commandments. Isn't that what it says?Even in verse 14 it told us that the LORD shows compassion to [who? to] those who fear him.
This of course can be incredibly discouraging because which of us could do these things to the extent and with the kind of heart that would truly honor God? We cannot. Yes, this is certainly David's call to repentance and a renewed effort. He is trying to spur them on to obedience. But even then, how could they or we really have consistent assurance of right standing before a righteous God; of genuine holiness before a holy God?
If only there was some way to perfectly enjoy the perfect mercy, grace, patient, and love of God through a perfect commitment to His path.
Ah, brothers and sister, friends, God has provided us with that very thing, hasn't He? Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes God's provision:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4)
It was Paul desire to be found in the Son, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (Philippians 3:9)
How was this possible? For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (II Corinthians 5:21)
Jesus Christ “knew no sin”. Jesus Christ was not “weakened by the flesh”. His death and resurrection make it possible for “the righteous requirement of the law [to] be fulfilled in us”. And we can stand in the Son of God's righteousness by “faith”. That's it.
By trusting that Jesus was our perfect substitute and sacrifice because He feared God, kept covenant with God, and obeyed God's commands perfectly, we can have perfect assurance about God mercy, grace, patient, and steadfast love.
This is why Romans 8 can begin with There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1), and end with, For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love [the steadfast, loyal love] of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (8:38-39)
And that kind trust doesn't mean we 'pass the buck' when it comes to fearing God and keeping His commands. Trusting in what Jesus did actually sets us free to pursue God with a new heart of gratefulness and love.
The character of God described in Psalm 103, and the forgiveness He offers in light of that character, all of it is perfectly fulfilled and manifested in Jesus Christ; He alone was “consumed in the righteous fire of God's just wrath” in our place. He alone saves.
III. Sit Yourself Down (vs. 1-5)
So what do we do? How should we respond to such wonderful things? How should this change you as you leave this place? Well, God has again provided for us in the context of Psalm 103. Look with me at the opening verses of this psalm. David writes...
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his 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.
This may sound strange, but in light of David's words, in light of God's words through David, when is the last time you sat yourself down and had a good talk with your soul? No, seriously. I don't think this is simply something David did because he was odd or eccentric, or because it was some kind of cultural practice over there, back then. If you are looking for a meaningful and practical application of all this, then spending quality time with your soul is one of the best responses you could have.
And what should you say to your soul? Well, let David be your guide.
You should say, “Soul, listen, no matter what, don't forget everything God has done for you, everything He's given you, everything He is to you.”
You should say, “Soul, remember the depths of God's forgiveness for the heights of your sin.”
You should say, “Soul, remember the healing work God has done and is doing in you.”
You should say, “Soul, don't ever forget the grace of God that brought you up from the deep, dank, dark, desperate, and deadly pit in which you were once imprisoned.”
You should say, “Soul, remember the love that crowns you and satisfies you, that is your because of the grace of God in Jesus.”
And as you do that, it should drive you to the very act which bookends this psalm in verses 1 and 22. Along with all creation, along with all things over which God has dominion (vs. 19-22), we should “bless Yahweh”; we should adore God; we should speak praises and glorify His name. In just a few words, every day, describe God to your soul. Remember how our merciful and gracious and patient and loving God has blessed you through Jesus; then bless Him in response, with your words and your life.