In the 103rd Psalm David exhorts his soul to "bless the Lord." In our modern secular age we might wonder "why?" If, as is widely assumed these days, everything has a natural cause, then one might suppose that there is nothing for which to thank God. Presumably He had nothing to do with it.
David, however, saw things differently. He recognized several important facts of life.
First of all, he recognized the sovereignty of God. "The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all" (v. 19; NKJV). The world did not bring itself into existence, and it does not continue to exist on its own. Above it all is God, eternal and omnipotent, Creator of heaven and earth.
Secondly, David recognized the transitory nature of human life. "As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more" (vv. 15,16). Some of us live into our 80's, a few into their 90's, and then we are gone. To us a lifetime may seem like a long time, but in the cosmic scheme of things it is nothing. Most of us probably cannot remember who are great-great-grandparents were, let alone our more remote ancestors. We are alive today and forgotten tomorrow.
Thirdly, David was conscious of the fact that at one particular point in history God revealed Himself to mankind: "He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel" (v.7). Mount Sinai was a dramatic turning point in human history, when monotheism dawned upon the human consciousness. God revealed directly to Moses what could not otherwise be known. The Torah became the foundation of Western Civilization.
That being said, what do we know about God? First of all, that He is a God of justice: "The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed" (v. 6). We experience a kind of rough-hewn justice here and now: economies collapse and tyrannies are overthrown. Perfect justice, however, will come later, at the Last Judgment, when all will be made right.
But what we also know about God is that He is compassionate, and much of the psalm is taken up with this theme. When we sin, God anger does not last forever (v. 9). He has not punished us fully as we deserve (v. 10). He forgives sin (v. 12) and takes pity on our weakness (v. 14). The psalmist can even compare the love of God to that of a human father for his helpless children (v. 13).
It is in light of all of this that David was able to say "Bless the Lord, O my soul; all that is within me, bless His holy name!" (v. 1). He was mindful of the fact that God had forgiven his sins, preserved his life, and blessed him with many good things (vv. 3-5).
It is important to note one critical factor, however. God does not shower His blessings upon all mankind indiscriminately, but rather His mercy is "on those who fear Him . . . to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them" (vv. 17,18). To "fear" in this context means to hold Him in reverent awe and to fear to disobey Him. In David's context the "covenant" was the covenant that God had made with Israel, which involved keeping God's commandments and abstaining from the wicked practices of the surrounding nations. In order to know God and receive His blessing, we must seek Him in humble submission to His will. Otherwise we can expect nothing from Him but His frown.
On Thanksgiving Day let us "forget not all His benefits" (v. 2)!