All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #9
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.
Psalm 103:13-18 (ESV)
We take a larger chunk of Psalm 103 today, not only to pick up the pace a little, but because these verses fit together so nicely. It would make little sense to split them up and cover them in separate posts, so I’ll try to cover them all here.
The section starts by thinking about God’s compassion. David uses the comparison of a father to his children, to illustrate God’s compassion for those who fear Him. This, in an ideal world, is the perfect comparison. God is our Father, and indeed loves us as dear children.
I understand however that for those who never had a father figure in their lives, or those who had one who did not treat them well, this comparison may not bring the impact it ought to. That’s not an easy thing to deal with. But let me assure you, any and every thing you missed out on with your earthly father, is more than made up by your Heavenly One.
God’s compassion (His love) is without end, and we will consider this more in a moment.
But who does He direct this compassion towards?
Those who fear Him.
The word “fear” here is yare’, and it means “reverent fear”. It is not about being frightened of God, and being scared to approach Him. Instead, it is about having a reverence for God. Reverence goes further than mere respect, and is that sense of presence of the Almighty that makes us bow the knee to Him.
God knows and recognises that we are “dust”. This means that we are physical, limited beings who dwell on the Earth for a little while. All of us will face death, and our bodies will return to the ground from which they came.
This is not a thought to pass over quickly. The psalmist compares the human life to grass or flowers, which fade after only a short time. Don’t misunderstand, this is not limiting us to a short life, but rather pointing out that life on this Earth is indeed short in comparison to eternity.
The older I get (and I’m not old by any stretch!), the more I realise that life truly is short. As the years move by, they seem to speed up in a way they never did when I was a child.
We must make the most of every single day, and live life to the full.
David does not say all of this just to get us down! His point is emphasised in verse 17. Human life is indeed short – in comparison to God’s everlasting love! Again, we find the phrase “steadfast love” – the idea that God’s love does not move or change with the wind, but is fixed, set and eternal.
There’s another little phrase here that I don’t want to skip over – “his righteousness to children’s children.” God’s love does not just extend to us who believe in Him, but also to the generations that follow. It is my belief that not only do I receive the blessings of God, but that they come to my children and theirs also.
How might your actions affect not only you, but your children’s children also?
So far, so good. We’ve read about God’s great compassion and His unending, everlasting love – but again, who does it apply to? Verse 18 brings in a strong condition.
- Those who keep His covenant, and
- Those who do His commands.
If your heart has sunk a little after reading these conditions, then please stick with me a while longer!
Perhaps you are not entirely sure if you have kept His covenant? Perhaps you are more sure that you have NOT done all of His commands? So does this exclude you from the compassion and love David has been praising God for?
Not at all!
David wrote these words while living under the Old Covenant (I think we touched on this in an earlier blog post). This Old Covenant required God’s people to keep His law and obey His commands in order to qualify. This led to very strict legalism (see the Pharisees in Jesus’ day) and even worse, those who saw themselves as “religiously righteous” looking down on those they considered “sinners”.
What many in Israel failed to realise was that they could not keep the Law. The Law was and is perfect, setting out God’s standards for humanity. The problem was not with the Law, but with us. We are not perfect, and so cannot keep God’s perfect Law. And so… we need a Saviour!
Jesus came and lived a perfect human life, fulfilling the entire Law in every respect. Despite never being tainted by sin, He was executed like a sinner deserves, and took on the punishment that you and I deserve. Death could not hold Him however, and He was raised to new life!
That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and it is the New Covenant, the covenant that you and I now live under.
We no longer need to fulfil the covenant, instead we put our trust in the One who did!
Does that mean we can do whatever we like, and break God’s laws whenever we feel like it? Certainly not! Sin is still sin, and even though dealt with, still has consequences. If you steal or murder, then you will likely face criminal charges. You could be forgiven, but still in prison!
Equally we have an enemy (the devil) who is looking for someone whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Sin very much opens the door for the enemy to work in our lives.
Grace is not a licence to commit sin, but a safety net to catch you when you fall.
Even for the born again Christian, it would be impossible to never sin again or to obey every command of God. While we are new creatures in Christ, we are also subject to the whims of the flesh, the ways of the world and the temptation of the devil.
We qualify for all the benefits the psalmist sets out here not because we deserve it, but because Christ made it possible through His obedience. You need to put your trust and faith in Him.
For more details about the Gospel, read my Resurrection Sunday blog post here, or else listen to the accompanying sermon (mp3) here.