"Just as a father has compassion his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.”
“Dust.” That is what the word of God calls us. Not very flattering, mind you – but, oh, so true. “We are but dust.”
That’s true of us, of course, physically. We are made out of the same sorts of material from which the rest of creation is composed – all of which amounts, basically, to dust. And someday, when our souls have departed and the breath of life has gone out of our bodies, this will become quite obvious. Because of the corruption that sin has brought into the world, our physical make-up – so amazingly complex and fascinating right now – will one day break right back down into the common matter from which it was originally composed. “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3.19).
But the fact that “we are but dust” shows itself, even now, does it not? God “knows our frame.” He knows, as the NASB margin note puts it, “what we are made of” – namely, “dust”! He knows that, even in this life, we are weak, and fragile, and infirm. That’s clearly true, as we have been saying, in the physical realm. Sometimes our bodies give out physically. They grow tired. They grow old. The hurt. They falter. Because “we are but dust.”
And sometimes the faltering of our bodies affects our minds, and wills, and feelings as well. We are whole creatures – made of body and soul together; body and thoughts, feelings, emotions, and will … all wrapped up into one whole person. And because those not-so-physical aspects of our humanity are connected to a tangible body that is “but dust” … we are often weak and faltering in these intangible areas, too. Add to that the fact that our souls (and not just our bodies) have been corrupted by mankind’s fall into sin … and we can see very well how weak and brittle we really are. “We are but dust.” Some of us, perhaps, can feel that quite palpably, even right now.
But here’s the thing about Psalm 103.13-14. The point of these verses is not simply to remind us that “we are but dust,” but to show us that God has compassion on us for precisely that reason! ‘The LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For [or because] He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (emphasis mine)! Isn’t that word “for” a good word? It signals that your dustiness is one the very things that motivates God’s compassion! He has compassion on you “for” – or precisely because – He knows that you are dust!
God understands what you’re made of. He knows how weak you really are – far better than you know it yourself! And we might think that such knowledge would turn Him off; that He would be disgusted with all our foibles and weaknesses. But, says the psalmist, His knowledge “that we are but dust” actually moves Him to compassion! Because He looks down and sees that you are “but dust,” His heart is moved with fatherly concern for you – like an earthly father has a soft spot for the weaknesses and difficulties of his children.
Just watch a Christian father or mother some time, whose child has a disability of one sort or other. See how tender and protective they are! See how they go to great lengths to get that child whatever help can be found – precisely because their child is fragile! And will not your heavenly Father all the more defend, and care for, and be patient with His feeble children?
“We are but dust.” It’s not the most flattering thing that could be said of us. But we do well to remember that it is true – not least because it is our very weakness that arouses our Father to be strong for us!