Psalm 136 Devotion
By Pastor Lawrence
A Babylon Bee article once stated satirically that a local youth group in Alabama had been singing the same popular song for over eighteen years nonstop. The title of the song was ‘I Could Sing of Your Love Forever’ which is well known for its overly repetitious and tiring chorus that seemingly never ends. Well, if there is anything worth singing about repeatedly, surely it is God’s love. Psalm 136 is very unique in the book of Psalms for the continual refrain which forms the second half of each verse praising God “for his steadfast love endures forever.” It is actually repeated 26 times altogether. More than likely, the song was sung antiphonally by the temple priests on a regular basis to give glory to God.
This psalm is often referred to as the Great Hallel meaning “great praise,” for it is designed to arouse the heart of the worshipper to remember to praise God for his steadfast love in every situation. The Hebrew word that is translated here in the ESV as “steadfast love,” is a common word in the Old Testament. “Chesed” occurs more than 245 times to refer to God’s mercy, his loving kindness, his goodness and provision, his favor and his compassion. We often translate this Hebrew word as “covenant love,” for the Lord sets his steadfast love upon his people and keeps on loving them based upon his own faithfulness to the covenant that He has made with them.
Notice how the psalmist extols God’s steadfast love first in terms of who he is in vv.1-4, then his work of creation in vv.5-9, his redemption of his people out of Egypt and settling them in the Promised Land in vv.10-22, his help for the present generation of God’s people in vv.23-24, and finally his great provision and beneficence over all creation in vv.25-26.
First, we must understand that genuine steadfast love flows out of God’s very being. We are taught to give thanks to God not merely because he does good things but because he is good. In the same manner we don’t merely give thanks for his acts of love, but that He himself is lovely. Then, when we consider God’s work of creation, we are reminded of how God’s steadfast love is seen through all that he has provided on a daily basis for his creatures and how he continually orders the rising of the sun and maintains the seasons on earth. All of this is carried out according to God’s steadfast love.
Then in vv.10-22 the psalmist is looking back on the time of the Exodus and how God brought Israel out of Egypt according to his steadfast love, how he provided for them in the wilderness according to his steadfast love, how he conquered pagan kings who sought to kill them according to his steadfast love, and how he set them in a land of their own, the land of promise according to that same steadfast love. Truly, it is the love of God that ordered all these events and brought them to fruition.
In vv.23-24 the psalmist moves out of the realm of history into his own contemporary setting giving thanks to Go for his steadfast love in “remembering us in our low estate,” and “rescuing us from our foes.” Just as God showed his steadfast love to our fathers and forefathers, so he now is showing us his steadfast love as well. Originally these words were written to the exiles who had come out of Babylon, but they are meant to be applied by every succeeding generation as well that looks to the love of God by faith.
According to 2 Chronicles 5:13, it was this same refrain that was sung by God’s people when the Shekinah glory filled the temple of Solomon. And in 2 Chronicles 20:21-22 it was this same refrain that was sung by the priests when God gave Israel the victory in battle during the time of Jehoshaphat. Clearly, there isn’t an inappropriate time to sing this refrain or to praise God for his steadfast love, for it applies in every situation.
Below is a paraphrased version of the psalm written by the famed poet John Milton entitled, “Let us with a Gladsome Mind.”
1 Let us, with a gladsome mind, praise the LORD, for He is kind: for His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
2 Let us blaze His Name abroad, for of gods He is the God: for His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
3 He with all-commanding might filled the new-made world with light: for His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
4 All things living He doth feed; His full hand supplies their need: for His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
5 He His chosen race did bless in the wasteful wilderness: for His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
6 He hath with a pious eye looks upon our misery: for His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
7 Let us therefore warble forth His high majesty and worth: for His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.