“As Far as the East is from the West” - A study of the motif “divine forgiveness” in Psalm 103
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In this thesis, I will study Psalm 103, using the motif “divine forgiveness” as a focal point. I will take an in-the-text approach, focusing on what the psalm conveys in its present literary form. My reading is conducted as a motif study, borrowing from Freedman’s definition of “motif” as a recurrent theme or verbal pattern, which may also consist of a family or associational cluster of concepts. I will divide Ps 103 into three stanzas, each with a distinct perspective: individual, communal, and universal. I will examine how the divine forgiveness motif is presented in each of these stanzas, and discuss how other concepts are included in the associational cluster of the motif, in order to answer my thesis question: How is divine forgiveness portrayed in Psalm 103? I will conclude that Ps 103 portrays forgiveness as flowing from the Lord’s character, especially from his compassion and steadfast love, but also from his knowledge of human frailty. God’s character is outlined in the grace formula (Ps 103:8), borrowed from Ex 34:6–7. I will argue that the psalmist reinterprets this text, pointing us away from God’s avenging justice. He concentrates instead on the seeming limitlessness of the Lord’s mercy toward those who fear him. While the psalm presents a comprehensive view of God’s forgiveness, the purpose of the psalm is not to describe of forgiveness. The main thrust of the psalm is instead to praise the Lord who forgives.