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A Father’s Compassion. Psalm 103:1-22.
June 17, 2018

Of all the qualities that fathers are generally known for, love and compassion is often not high on the list. There are social norms, popular depictions and personal history on how we have been fathered that makes those qualities rare. As much as we might strive to achieve them, we can find it difficult, for we often don’t know where to begin. What if we begin in the character of God the Father? Many might find that odd, for these may not be qualities that we readily associate with God. But looking a bit closer at His person we see His love and compassion, and this can give us not only an understanding, but a perfect model for emulation. When you see a good father, you are seeing a picture of God. Or to put it another way, God designed human fatherhood to be a portrait of himself. God had a Son before he created Adam. He was God the Father before he was God the Creator. He knew what he wanted to portray before he created the portrayal. Which means that on this Father’s Day, the clear implication for all of us fathers is that we were designed to display the fatherhood of God—especially (but not only) to our children. And that implies that we today learn to be fathers by watching God father his children. And it implies that children today learn what God’s fatherhood is like largely by watching us. (Piper, J. (2014). Sermons from John Piper (2000–2014). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.)

Psalm 103 emphasizes the love and compassion of Israel’s covenant-keeping God. It begins and ends on the note of praise, with a double call in verses 1–2, and a fourfold call in verses 20–22. The core of the psalm is a recital of personal benefits received (vv. 3–5) and of the Lord’s compassion to his people Israel (vv. 6–19). With clarity almost comparable to the New Testament, this psalm proclaims the greatness of God’s love for his people and his gracious removal of their sins—though the method of such removal remains unrevealed.

Think of what difference it could make if the qualities of love and compassion could be incorporated in our notions of fatherhood? How might people approach God in their requests? How might they continue to trust Him in the midst of difficulties? How might our family’s come to the father of the house for understanding and support? Understanding and embodying love and compassion as fathers can not only transform our families but transform people’s relationship with God Himself.


Psalm 103 shows the compassion of God the Father calling forth the emulation of earthly father’s everywhere. We see this in the: 1) Personal (Psalm. 103:1-5), 2) National (Psalm. 103:6-18) and 3) Universal (Psalm. 103:19-22) praise for the compassion of God the Father.


God the Father should be praised for His:

1)   Personal Compassion (Psalm 103:1-5)

Psalm 103:1-5 1 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, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (ESV)


The psalmist puts his whole being into a powerful chorus of praise to his God. The word ‘bless/praise’ (Barak, Pi.), is a word used in the Old Testament to express thanks and gratitude. The “nameof the Lord calls to remembrance all his perfections and acts of deliverance (“all his benefits,” v. 2; …. The Lord had revealed his name Yahweh to Israel (Exod 6:6–8; cf. 3:18) so that they might witness his benefits in the redemption from Egypt, in the giving of the land, and in the fulfillment of his promises. The psalmist recites many of the Lord’s blessings to the covenant community (vv. 3–22). To bless/ Praise is the response of awe for God, while reflecting on what the Lord has done for the people of God throughout the history of redemption, for creation at large, for the community, and for oneself. (VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 651). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)

  • How can we as father’s have a short hand assessment if he is achieving godly objectives in his children? Ask the question if they are ashamed or pleased to bear the family name. If we have stood for honor, duty, service with both love and compassion then our reputation will me more than just business, money or fun. The former endures while the later is often lost.


In verse 3, the psalmist recites first the various blessings he personally has received from the Lord. He does so using five participles (‘forgives’, ‘heals’, ‘redeems’, ‘crowns’, ‘satisfies’) that point to the ongoing nature of God’s actions. These graces flow out of the covenant promises (Exod 34:6–7), according to which the Lord sustains the relationship by being forgiving, loving, and full of compassion but also just. (VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 652). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)

  • As a father shows compassion he becomes has a preserving and strengthening agent for his family. Without the proactive grace that he extends, hurts are only covered up and damaging forces are untreated and are in danger of growing to a point of family collapse.


That God forgives all “your’ iniquity the word translated ‘forgives’ (solêach) is never used of people forgiving one another, but it is used exclusively of God in the Old Testament, for it describes his gracious action in pardoning sinners. Here its parallel is ‘heal’ (rofêh) in this context it refers to healing from illnesses that almost brought the psalmist down to the grave. This is not a promise (to heal every physical disease), but rather a testimony which should be understood in the light of Deut. 32:39 (of trust and confidence of God’s care for His own).( MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 833). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.)


Please turn to Psalm 147 (p. 525)


The healing described in Psalm 103 can be used in the figurative sense of healing spiritual diseases (Ps. 147:3; Isa. 53:5). In Psalm 147, the “brokenhearted” and “humble” are members of God’s own people who look to him in faith (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1125). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.)


Psalm 147:1-6 Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. 2The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. 5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. 6 The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground. (ESV)

  • For those who morn over their sin, God heals them in forgiveness. The guilt of sin and the weight and complications that it brings to all aspects of life, including the family, is crying out for repentance and forgiveness. As much as we may have wronged each other in the family unit, ultimately our sin is against God Himself. When a father is seen as morning over and repenting over his sin, this promotes healing for all members of a family. If we excuse our sin away, we teach kids by example to avoid the consequences of their actions, and continue a life of unrepentance.


In Psalm 103:4, God redeems (gôêl) from death, and restores the faithful to a royal position. That He “crowns you with steadfast love (ḥeseḏ) and mercy” is to surrounds us with love and compassion’. So invigorated is the psalmist in verse 5, that he feels as though he has the fresh strength of an eagle (cf. the same figure in Isa. 40:31). The “eagleserves as a symbol of vigor and freedom associated with the benefits of restoration to divine favor and covenantal status (VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 652). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)


God’s faithfulness, or “steadfast love and mercy” is describing covenant life where one experiences God who ‘forgives’, ‘heals’, ‘redeems’, ‘crowns’, and ‘satisfies’. The cluster of terms highlights the graciousness of God.

  • As father’s, God not only expects us to be men of our word, but renew the strength of our family. A father’s compassion can encourage, direct, sustain and strengthen. More than a mere worker or disciplinarian, there are times when we must strengthen others in our family with both words and actions that show we genuinely care about them in a total way.


There was one a father who watched through the kitchen window as his small son attempted to lift a large stone out of his sandbox. The boy was frustrated as he wrestled with the heavy object because he just couldn’t get enough leverage to lift it over the side. Finally the boy gave up and sat down dejectedly on the edge of the sandbox with his head in his hands. The father went outside and asked, “What’s wrong, Son? Can’t you lift that rock out?”No, sir,” the boy said,I can’t do it.” “Have you used all the strength that’s available to you?” the father asked.Yes, sir,” the boy replied. “No, you haven’t,” the father said. “You haven’t asked me to help you.” ( (2003). More Perfect Illustrations: For Every Topic and Occasion (p. 306). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.)

The true strength of a father is not his own, it’s knowing the true source of power, our heavenly Father.


God the Father should be praised for His:

2)      National Compassion (Psalm 103:6-19)

Psalm 103:6-19 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. 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. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass;  he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,  18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.  19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.  (ESV)


This section of the psalm opens and closes with declarations concerning God’s reign and its character. Turning away from his own situation and his own individual experiences, the psalmist speaks of the way in which the Lord supports the oppressed. The word used here for ‘oppressed’ (ʿashûqîm) often has the connotation of ‘extortion’. Towards the most needy in societythe widow, the orphan, the poor, the sojournerGod commits himself as their defender. He performs righteous and saving deeds, which are often at the same time judgments upon the godless.

  • A Father needs to instruct and exemplify for his children, justice. When we desire our own peace at the expense of justice we personify selfishness, and a disregard for others. But when we seek to justly resolve family disputes and translate that to seeking justice in the society that we live in, then a father exemplifies his Heavenly Father. Fighting for the rights of the unborn for example, is not a “woman’s issue” but a societal justice issue.


verse 7, most likely is a reference to the revelation of God’s personal qualities, character, and manner of operating which he showed to Moses. Particularly after the incident with the golden calf, God, in response to Moses’ request to be taught his ways (Exod. 33:13), granted him a fresh revelation of his glory (Exod. 34:6–7). Those ways involved maintaining his covenant love but also not letting the wicked go unpunished. The following verses spell out the content of that revelation.

  • Because God is righteous, he disciplines His children and punishes the wicked. Godly fathers are called to emulate this quality in disciplining those under their charge. Attention to broader issues of justice would be the national manifestation of this quality. When we show concern for the justice of others and the punishment of the wicked, we exhibit godly qualities that encourage people to have concern beyond their immediate sphere.


Please turn to Exodus 34 (p.74)


Verse 8 is almost an exact quotation from Exodus 34:6. It summarises the character of the covenant God of Israel—deeply merciful, not quick to anger, abundant in steadfast love.

Exodus 34:5-9. 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. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” (ESV)

  • This confession describes the Lord’s gracious character in preserving Israel as a whole for the sake of God’s overall purpose and in sparing those individuals who look to him in true faith (e.g., see note on Ps. 32:1–5). Moses will argue these very words back to the Lord when he intercedes for the people after their rebellion following the spies’ report on Canaan (see Num. 14:18–19). The description emphasizes the merciful and gracious character of the Lord (see Ex. 33:19), whose steadfast love and forgiveness extends to thousands (probably of generations, cf. Deut. 7:9; and note on Ex. 20:5–6) in contrast to the few generations upon whom he visits iniquity.( Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 200). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.)
  • A godly father will intercede on behalf of his children, that they may see the folly of their rebellion and turn to the Lord in repentance and faith.


We see in verse 9 that “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. “ To chide/accuse’ (rîv) is a technical term that means to bring a charge against an erring covenant servant. Though the Lord may be justly angry because of sin, he does not keep on criticizing (“chide/accuse’,” v. 9; cf. Isa 57:16) or maintain his anger for long (cf. Isa 3:13; Jer 2:9; Mic 6:2). Great as his wrath may be, his mercy is greater (v. 8; cf. Isa 54:7–8; James 5:11). God’s covenant and rule over Israel are characterized by grace and divine fidelity. Even when the Great King expresses his righteous anger at Israel’s sin, he upholds the covenant by his grace. He does not respond to human infidelity in kind (v. 10). (VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 653). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)

  • As fathers what are we known for? Is it a sudden temper that holds a grudge or is there an overriding compassion, ready to extend grace? Although there are times for righteous indignation, it must be controlled and grace extended as God our Father would.


In spite of the sins of his people, in verse 10 we see how God stretches out his hands to them in mercy. In his grace he gives them what they do not deserveunmerited favour! The gospel proclaims that God, who is rich in mercy, makes us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions (Eph. 2:4). God acts the same in both Testaments.

  • There are times when a father of compassion will extend grace to a child as God extends it to us. This does not mean continually removing the consequences of disobedience but being a peacemaker to end hostility and bitterness. The rebellious will not always see the error of their ways and graciousness can soften the heart to heal.


Two illustrations are given in verses 11 and 12 to demonstrate the greatness of God’s mercy. The immeasurable distances between the heavens and earth and as far as the east is from the west, are used to draw attention to the measureless nature of God’s love for his people. His forgiving grace is infinite towards ‘those who fear him’, a term descriptive of true believers (Ps. 34:7). That He will “remove our transgressions from us’ may have in mind the procedure on the Day of Atonement, when a goat, symbolically bearing the people’s sin, was led away into the wilderness (Lev. 16:20–22). In the New Testament it becomes clear that forgiveness comes through the shed blood of Christ on the cross.  As Julia H. Johnston said:Marvellous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt”. (Julia H. Johnston 1849–1919)


As we can see in verse 13, God’s love is not indiscriminate. As an earthly fathers shows compassion to ‘his children’, the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him, that is on those who honor Him. At the time of the Exodus the people of Israel were adopted as God’s children, becoming a holy nation. The New Testament takes over this language of the church (1 Pet. 2:9–10). In the fullness of time Jesus came to lay down his life for his sheep (John 10:11, 14–15), purchasing his church with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Although in this life, there is common grace on all peoples, God the Father has a special familial love for those “who fear him” (vv. 11, 13; cf. 34:7, 9; 85:9; 102:15; Rom 8:28). He will forgive them, have compassion for them, and treat them as his children (vv. 12–14; cf. Exod 4:22; Isa 1:2; 63:4; 64:8; Hos 11:1; Mal 1:6; 2:10; 3:17; Rom 9:4).( VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 654). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)

  • Lest we think people are naturally born in special familial love, earthly fathers, like God the father, can show their regard for those who are brought into their family. It is quite like our heavenly father, when we seek out those to whom we can regard as sons and daughters, who may not be biologically ours.


The frailty of human beings is also a cause for God’s compassion, as verse 14 says, for he knows our frame/how we are formed, that we are but creatures, made from the dust. The verb used here for “knows” is also often used for ‘create’ (yâtsar) of God’s creative activity, especially in the book of Isaiah (22:11; 27:11; 29:16; 37:26), while Isaiah also uses it of God’s action in forming Israel into a nation (43:1, 7, 21; 44:2, 21, 24).

  • God knows us as individuals. Earthly fathers cannot farm out parenting. A Mother, Sunday school teacher or coach is not ultimately responsible for the care of those under our charge. In order to best instruct, correct and all around care for our children, we have to know their habits, frustrations, ambitions and fears.


As we see in verse 15, not only is are we created creatures, but also frail, and our time on earth is temporary. These ideas are emphasised by the use of a word for ‘man’ (ʾenôsh) that quite often connotes man’s transience and frailty. The imagery here is used elsewhere in the Old Testament of the fleeting nature of a person’s life (Pss. 90:5–6; 92:7; Isa. 51:12), while at other times ‘flower of the field’ is a similar comparison (Job 14:2; Isa. 40:6–7). The wind blows the grass away, and where it was remains unrecognised.

  • The great tragedy of parenting is to delay care to a future time. We wait for a vacation, a particular phase in our working life, or after a similar task. Often when this is implemented, we miss key times of development and nurture which cannot be retrieved. As our time on this earth is temporary, so is the immediate care of those to whom God has entrusted us.


Although we are like grass, which perishes, the eternal God’s covenant love and righteousness in verse 17, last forever. God’s ‘steadfast love’ (chésed) is permanently towards his children, and even if the mountains move, yet his ‘steadfast love’’ and his ‘covenanted peace’ (berît shelômî) remain (Isa. 54:10). To those who fear him, his character is displayed in the same way generation after generation. The nature of ‘those who fear him’ in verse 18 is defined by obedience to their covenant obligations. Those who are a part of the family of God ‘keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments/obey his precepts’. Outward allegiance to the covenant was quite insufficient. What was needed was obedience from the heart (Rom. 2:25–29). ‘Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts’ (1 Cor. 7:19). The sign of belonging to the truth is love with action (1 John 3:18–19). Real trust in Christ, real submission to his rule, real treasuring of his worth changes our lives. So the requirement of obedience in verse 18 is simply the requirement that our fear of God and our trust in Christ be real, effective, fruitful. It’s Christ, and his blood and righteousness, that forgives and justifies us. But our obedience, our righteousness, imperfect as it is, shows that God has saved us, that our faith is real. We are truly covenant keepers. We hold fast to our treasured substitute, Jesus Christ. (Piper, J. (2014). Sermons from John Piper (2000–2014). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.)

  • Love and heart felt obedience have an interesting relationship. As Father’s we must always be clear that the love for our children will not change, but like God, if we truly love them, we call for obedience. Obedience to the commands of God bring blessing and joy. Therefore, if we truly love our children, calling for obedience is the path to their joy.



Finally, for National Compassion in verse 19, from his heavenly throne the Lord exercises his rule over all his creation, a truth already expressed in Psalms 9:4, 7; 11:4; 47:8; and 93:2,and is enunciated again in Psalm 123:1. He has a kingdom that is everlasting, and his authority and power extend to all generations (Ps. 145:13). What was said of his activity in verse 6 is dependent on the nature of his kingly rule.


Illustration: While kayaking in southern England off the Isle of Wight, Mark Ashton-Smith, a lecturer at Cambridge University, capsized in treacherous waters. Clinging to his craft and reaching for his cell phone, Ashton-Smith, thirty-three, called his dad. It didn’t matter that his father, Alan Pimm-Smith, was training British troops in Dubai 3,500 miles away. Without delay, the father relayed his son’s Mayday to the Coast Guard nearest to his son. Within twelve minutes, a helicopter retrieved the grateful Ashton-Smith. Like this kayaker, when we are in peril, our first impulse should be to call our Fatherthe one we trust to help us. (“Capsized Man Phones for Help 3,500 Miles Away,” Reuters News Agency (September 11, 2001)


Finally, God the Father should be praised for His:

3)      Universal Compassion (Psalm 103:20-22)

Psalm 103:20-22 20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! 21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! 22            Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul! (ESV)


Psalm 103 comes to a close with a fourfold call to praise, ending with a repetition of the opening words of the psalm. Angelic multitudes are called on to extol the Lord. The angels are his messengers, often sent to perform some specific task committed to them. They are his ‘mighty ones’ (Rev. 10:1–3), obedient to his requests, faithful in fulfilling his commands. God is so great that nothing but the praise of all creation will do. (Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (p. 836). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)

  • Just as Pastors are called the heralds, angelos, or messengers to the 7 Churches of Revelation, the father is entrusted with being God’s mouthpiece. Not that his word is law, but in delivering the law and gospel of God. As much as we might be active in doing, let us both speak and live God’s world to our families. It is the greatest provision and the greatest tool he have been given to change our families, our nation and our world.


In  verse 21, all of God’s hosts and ministers who do his will are called to bless the LORD. In the Old Testament, the word ‘hosts’ are used of the heavenly bodies, as well as of the armies of Israel. In this context it is best to think of it as being a description of the heavenly bodies. Whereas the angels do God’s bidding (v. 20), the sun, moon, and stars simply fulfil his will in bringing to completion whatever he pleases.

  • God has an ordained role for fathers.Due to death or other non-controllable circumstances, others of the community of faith can compensate for the lack of a father in the household, but ultimately in the order that God has established, there is nothing that can replace a father.


Please turn to Deuteronomy 11 (p.155)


Finally, the call to praise in verse 22, is broadened further to include all of creation (Pss. 96:11; 148:1–12). Everything within his realm is to acknowledge the Lord and give him praise. The whole creation is to be a choir, joining in exaltation of its maker. The psalmist reverts to a personal focus with the closing call, as he takes us again to where he began in verse 1, and thus ties the whole psalm together with the repetition of his opening words.


Deuteronomy 11, repeats the same theme of Deuteronomy 6 in family worship, tying all of the cosmic call down to the family:

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 18 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth (ESV)

  • In the instruction of our children, although formal instruction is helpful, there should not be a distinction of instruction and non-instruction time. Everything we do should be in godly instruction. Likewise, there should not be a distinction between so called "Biblical" instruction and everyday activity. All activity, all instruction should come and communicate a Biblical worldview. This is the role of the father. It comes from the heavenly father and godly earthly fathers show their greatest compassion to the children under their care in instilling this most holy biblical mandate.


(Format note: Some base commentary from Harman, A. (2011). Psalms: A Mentor Commentary (Vol. 1–2, pp. 735–741). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.)


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