Throughout Psalm 103, David pointed to the character of his creator. David first points out that God “benefits” His people—meaning that He cares for our well-being (v. 2). Next, David declares God to be a righteous judge (v. 6). God is then lauded as compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger (v. 8). He’s also wholly other than we are—in other words, He is Holy (v. 11). David says that God is mindful of us (v. 14), and last but not least, He’s sovereign over all (v. 19).
Every one of these truths should be a reason enough to bless the Lord. But there’s one character trait that David repeatedly honors in this Psalm. Verses 4, 8, 11, and 17 each speak of the loving-kindness of God.
Why #1 – The Character of God
The Hebrew word used in these verses is hesed. It’s a term that can refer to kindness or mercy, to faithfulness and loyalty, but most often, it’s translated as “steadfast love.” (ESV, NIV) Each of these meanings is applicable in this one Psalm, but I want you to keep the idea of steadfast love in your mind for just a bit.
Hesed is used to describe an essential characteristic of God. When He appears to Moses, God describes Himself as abounding in hesed and keeping hesed for thousands (Exod 34:6–7). His hesed is associated with His covenant love for Israel. God describes Himself as showing steadfast love to those who love and obey Him (Exod 20:6; Deut 5:10)—this description is echoed throughout the OT (Neh 1:5; Dan 9:4; Jer 32:18). Solomon praises God’s hesed (1 Kings 3:5) and asserts that there’s no God that is hesed like God, fulfilling all His promises to David (1 Kings 8:23–24). Understanding this, is it any wonder why David commanded his own soul to bless the Lord?
Moses appeals to God’s hesed to pardon the people’s sins (Num 14:18–19). When the Israelites confess their sins in Nehemiah, they note that God didn’t forsake His rebellious people in the wilderness, and all because He abounds in hesed (Neh 9:17). Also, Ezra shows that God didn’t forsake the exiles. Instead, He extended His hesed to them (Ezra 9:9). The prophets repeatedly encourage the people to return to God, citing His hesed along with His grace (Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).
This brings up an interesting point about the difference between grace and loving-kindness. In Joel 2:13, the writer is not just waxing poetic and throwing out synonyms to pad God’s resume. Each word has a distinct meaning, and we need to understand all of them. In doing so, we can see more accurately who God is.
The word for grace in Joel is hannun, which, according to the Lexham Analytical Lexicon, means “disposed to bestow favors of blessing.”
Why would the creators of a lexicon present this as the definition for grace? Why not ‘unmerited favor’—a description we’re used to? The answer is that words mean what they mean based on usage and context. When grace (noun) is given, it is unmerited favor. But when one (such as God) is gracious (adjective), the word is describing their character. Grace here is describing God as disposed to bestowing unmerited favor.
The Bible repeatedly describes God as One who is disposed to or inclined to, even eager to bestow favors of blessing. We have to remember this church—the God of the Old and New Testament is a God of grace! He was and is and always will be eager to bless His creation. So Joel helps us to bless the Lord even more by declaring God’s loving-kindness and His grace.The Bible repeatedly describes God as One who is disposed to or inclined to, even eager to bestow favors of blessing. Click To Tweet
Modeling God’s Character
Hesed is also a characteristic God desires in His people—especially over sacrifice (Hos 6:6). Zechariah instructs the people to show hesed to one another (Zech 7:9). Micah explains that God requires justice, hesed, and humility (Mic 6:8). The psalmist indicates that God takes pleasure in those who trust in His hesed (Psalm 147:11). Proverbs encourages hesed, along with wisdom (Prov 3:1–4). A person with hesed benefits from it (Prov 11:17) and those who pursue hesed will find life, righteousness, and honor (Prov 21:21). The ideal woman of Proverbs 31 speaks with wisdom and teaches with hesed (Prov 31:26). Steadfast love!
Lastly, Hesed carries a sense of covenant obligation. David asks Jonathan to show hesed to him because they made a covenant together (1 Sam 20:8); David later shows hesed to Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (2 Sam 9:7).
In this Psalm, we see each aspect of hesed on display. Starting at verses 11, David says,
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on [his] children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are [but] dust.”
These verses together communicate a true Gospel. Because of God’s character—His hesed—God removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. This steadfast love is compared to how a father has compassion for his children. God compares Himself to us? Yes. And the reason for this is because God knows our frame. He knows our weaknesses and our limited understanding. He is aware of our frame. We are dust, and God is mindful of this truth. This alone should cause us to bless the Lord!God knows our weaknesses and our limited understanding. He is aware of our frame. Click To Tweet
David goes on and says:
“15 As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer. 17 But the lovingkindness 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 His precepts to do them. 19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty (Kingdom) rules over all.”
I said it last week, and I’ll say it again; very few individuals in this life have an enduring legacy. Most, if not all of us, will be forgotten just a few generations after we’ve passed away. David said it best when he said, “its place acknowledges it no longer.” But do you want to hear the good news in all of this? Here it is… BUT God. The world will forget, but God doesn’t. Our foundations will falter but God’s will not.
The loving-kindness of God not only shows us grace—He’s also faithful to remember us. This faithfulness extends to our children and even our children’s children. The most incredible legacy you and I will ever have is that God remembers those who fear Him.