Psalm 136

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, November 25, 2019 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

As we enter this week where we celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s quite appropriate that our psalm to dig into is one that focuses on being thankful to God. When I put together the list of psalms to write on this year, I didn’t intentionally put this psalm on this date with that in mind, so it still amazes me how God works in little things like this!

Psalm 136 is the last of the Hallel psalms (read more about those here) which focus on praise, from the Hebrew verb meaning praise, hallel. From a literary perspective, this psalm is clearly in the form of a hymn. It has a beautiful symmetry to it as well. It starts with an introduction, then moves to a creation hymn, then has two sections of a redemption hymn, then back to a creation hymn, then a conclusion. It focuses on how God continued to be involved in the lives of Israel, and how thankful they are because of that.

One of the great things about this psalm is the repetition throughout. After each phrase, it repeats, “His love endures forever” in the NIV. How’s that for emphasis! The phrasing of this repeated line is different in other English versions, however, In the NASB, it’s “For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” In the ESV, it’s “For his steadfast love endures forever.” In the NLT, it’s “His faithful love endures forever.” While these all have generally the same meaning, why is there such a difference in wording?

The reason, of course, is that this psalm (like all of them) was originally written in Hebrew, not English. The Hebrew phrase is literally, “ki leolam chasdo.” The ki is a preposition usually meaning for. The le on the next word is a preposition mean to or for, and olam is a noun meaning a long time, future, or eternity. These two words together gives the idea of “to the future” or “eternity.” The last noun is from the root chesed, which we don’t have a good English word for, but it conveys the idea of unconditional love, mercy, kindness, and goodness all wrapped up into one. The o on the end simply is a pronominal suffix meaning “his.” So all that to say, there’s some ambiguity when translating. All of our English translations are correct, even though they differ.

The psalm opens with an introduction of thankfulness in verses 1-3. In this introduction, we see that God is good, He is the God of gods, and He is the Lord of lords. While we as humans may think that there are other gods, or may place things in the position of God in our lives, He is truly the only one. He is the only one we should truly be thankful to!

In verses 4-9, we see the first hymn of creation. God is the only one who has done “great wonders” (verse 4). It then gives us a recap of the first 4 days of the creation narrative in Genesis 1, how God made the heavens, the earth, and the great lights. All the while discussing what God made, it keeps repeating that phrase - His love endures forever. He created everything out of love for us, His created people.

Verses 10-22 move on to the first redemption hymn. It starts out in verses 10-15 recounting some of the events of the Exodus, where God rescued and redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt. It then moves on in verses 16-20 to discuss God leading Israel through the wilderness and striking down the kings of foreign peoples who stood in their way of the Promised Land. In verses 21-22, we see how that conquered land became Israel’s inheritance, their gift from God for being His people.

The psalm goes on to have another short redemption hymn in verses 23-24. Whenever Israel strayed from God, God remembered them and continued to redeem them. The Lord’s continually remembered Israel as a result of the covenant that He made with Abraham back in Genesis 15. God didn’t break His promise to them, even when they were continually disobedient to Him.

Verse 25 is another short creation hymn, sharing that God provides for His people. The psalm concludes with thanksgiving in verse 26 by saying, “Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.”

While those of us reading this psalm today did not experience the mighty works of God in the Exodus and are likely not biologically a part of the nation of Israel, this psalm helps us remember what God has done in our lives as well. What has God rescued you from in your life, like how He rescued Israel from slavery? Or, what are you praying for God to rescue you from? We need to remember that Israel was enslaved for many years before their rescue came, so God will not always rescue us in what we think is good timing.

This psalm also helps us remember that God is the one who created the whole world, including humans. He created us out of love, so we could live to worship, thank, and praise Him in all things. He gave us this world to live in and enjoy.

Most importantly, this psalm helps remind us that God’s love, His steadfast and faithful love, endures forever. His lovingkindness is everlasting. His love will never fail! Even when our lives may seem difficult (and maybe difficult is an understatement), remember that the writer of this psalm repeated that phrase about God’s love in every single verse. That’s how important it is to remember. Can you imagine telling a story, but every other sentence is reminding your listener of God’s love? That’s exactly what this psalmist did because everything that he wrote about God points to His love because God is love.

If you remember nothing else from this blog post, remember this one important thing all the days of your life: God’s love endures forever. We should always be thankful for that above all else.

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