Question: "What does it mean to "bless the Lord, O my soul" in Psalm 103:1?"
Answer: Psalm 103 opens with this rousing exhortation: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (verse 1, ESV). The same command to “bless the Lord, O my soul!” is repeated in the next verse (Psalm 103:2, NKJV), at the end of the psalm (verse 22), and twice again in Psalm 104, verses 1 and 35. Psalm 103 begins with an individual blessing the Lord with his soul, and it ends with the angels and all of creation joining in (verses 20–22).
The phrase O my soul refers to the author’s total being—his inner self. The New Living Translation renders the meaning of soul here in Psalm 103:1 more transparently: “Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.” When we bless the Lord with our soul, we are praising Him with our whole hearts—with all that we are and everything we have within us.
In addition to “soul,” the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon gives several English meanings for the original Hebrew word (nephesh), including “heart,” “myself,” “self,” “the breathing substance,” “living being,” “inner being of a person,” “the man himself.”
To “bless” the Lord is to praise Him. The author of Psalm 103 reminds himself and the people of God always to remember to praise the Lord with wholehearted concentration for His love, goodness, compassion, forgiveness, and salvation: “Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” (Psalm 103:2–5, NLT).
We bless the Lord with our soul when we shake off apathy, absentmindedness, and any negativity that may have crept into our lives. As we use our minds to remember all that God has done for us, we stir up a passionate response of praise and worship that bubbles up from our innermost being.
When the people of Israel recognized that the Lord had not dealt with them according to their sins, they praised Him enthusiastically for His unfailing love: “He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:7–12, NLT). In the same way, when we wholeheartedly give voice to our thankfulness for God’s mercy and grace toward us as sinners, we bless the Lord with our soul.
Psalm 103 is profoundly evangelical and a favored anthem of sinners. Similar exhortations to bless the Lord with our whole being can be observed throughout Psalms: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5; see also Psalm 42:11; 43:5; 104:1). From the people of ancient Israel to the humblest of sinners today, we bless the Lord with our soul when we think of God’s graciousness toward us and His abounding, steadfast love: “The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust” (Psalm 103:13–14, NLT).
We bless the Lord with our soul when we don’t hold anything back in our praise and worship of Him: “My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 108:1–4).