THE INFINITE MERCY OF THE LORD
THIS psalm is a hymn of praise. It may be taken, in all probability, as purely individual in origin, and not intended for liturgical use. In no other portion of the Old Testament is the goodness and graciousness of God so emphasised as here: here God is hymned, not as the mighty, dread Lord of nature, or as the victorious God of battle, or the glorious King of Israel, but as the loving Father who is all pity for His wayward children.
The psalmist cries out to his soul to praise Yahweh, and to forget not even one of His favours. Then he recounts some of the more striking favours which he has received from the Lord. He has been afflicted, apparently, with an illness that had brought him to the verge of the grave. That illness he looks on as the result of his sins. But God has pardoned his sins and has restored his bodily health. In soul and body renewed, and fully conscious of blessings he has received, he is constrained to burst forth into a song of praise to the God of compassion and love.
The God Who has rescued the psalmist from sorrow of body and soul is the ancient Saviour-God of Israel, the Helper of all who serve Him. Hence the psalmist, feeling that his own personal experience is bound up somehow with the history of his race, passes over the history of Israel in brief and swift review to show how the God of Israel has ever been long-suffering, loving, and merciful towards His people—and, in particular, towards the pious, “those that fear Him.” Since, then, both to individuals and to the race God has been uniformly so loving and fatherly, it must be the chief occupation of each and all to give unceasing thanks to the God and Father of Israel: no worshipper of Yahweh should for a moment forget that everything which he is and has is a gift of the Father’s love.
From this strain of thankful jubilation the psalmist passes on to reflect sadly on the weakness of human nature in which man’s sinfulness is rooted. But there is comfort even in the thought of man’s weakness, for God, our Maker, knows well what a frail structure is ours, and He is ever ready, therefore, to pardon those sins of His servants which plainly spring from their weakness. But towards those who proudly persist in their sins God is unbendingly stem. The thought of man’s frailty leads the psalmist to meditate for a moment on the shortness of human life, but here again he passes on quickly to the comforting thought of God’s ever-abiding love for His own. It matters little that life is so brief if God’s love is unending.
The psalmist now turns his eyes to heaven; there he beholds this loving God enthroned in His heavenly palace as King of the universe, waited on by angelic beings. Moved by the awesome splendour of his vision he cries out to earth and heaven to praise the mighty God who so graciously deals with the earth-born sons of men. His own soul he summons, too, to join in the chorus of earth and heaven, and thus returns to the point at which his poem began.
There is nothing in the text of the poem which excludes Davidic authorship. On subjective grounds, however, most modern non-Catholic critics ascribe this psalm to the Exilic period.