Over many years of song writing there must have been thousands of lyrics that speak of one person’s love for another, and often they use extravagant phrases to describe their love, like, “never dying”, or as something that will last “forever”.
Bob Dylan, for example wrote, “I could hold you for a million years. To make you feel my love.”
Sadly, on the other hand, there are probably just as many sad songs that speak of broken hearts due to broken relationships when love has failed.
Harry Nillson, for example, sang, “Can’t go without her. There’s no song without her. It’s all wrong without her.”
We all know, that in reality, no matter how strongly love is confessed to be, the divorce statistics reveal that the inclination to infidelity and broken relationships is far too high.
But, all is not hopeless! Psalm 136 speaks of a place where love that is truly a forever-love can be found. Love where there is no possibility of infidelity, at least on the part of the Ultimate Lover. And to emphasize this point the psalmist repeats it 26 times! Just so we will never forget. A very unique Psalm of Remembrance (and thanksgiving).
The psalm commences with,
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” (NIV)
It is this last refrain, that is repeated in each of the 26 verses, that we will consider today. Other English versions put it this way:
“His tender love for us, Continues on forever!” (Passion Translation)
“His loving-kindness continues forever.” (Living Bible)
“His steadfast love is eternal.” (Jewish Study Bible)
The phrases above are an endeavour to explain a key Hebrew word/concept used often in the OT, and that is the word hesed. It is helpful to look at what this means to really appreciate this forever-love of our God for us, his people.
The Jewish Study Bible suggests that hesed “means a favour done out of loyalty [often undeserved]. God’s hesed to Israel is eternal…When used of God towards Israel, it may be related to the covenant, and it expresses God’s faithfulness, goodness and graciousness”. (see references # 7)
Kidner suggests that the word is used in the context of “covenant-fidelity”. He says that hesed is “that faithfulness to a covenant, to which marital devotion gives some analogy.” He speaks of this words connection to “a strong element of fidelity” or in other words, faithfulness. (see references # 29)
Longmann says that “a key phrase associated with the idea of covenant in the Bible is, ‘I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” He continues, “Covenant [speaks of] an intimate relationship with God…[and the psalmist] often directly addresses God…as one aware that God is with him…[and in speaking of him, he uses the words] ‘my God’ or ‘our God’.”
And so, back to the use of the word hesed, Longmann suggests that the word often translated as ‘love’ in English, “carries a more specific meaning than love. It is better translated covenant lovingkindness. Hesed refers to the love which results from God’s intimate covenant relationship with his people.” (see references # 1)
[For further information on the topic of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, see chapter 3 of Longman’s book]
But as we move from the OT to the NT, we discover that now, in Christ, a new covenant is revealed. Jesus at the ‘last supper’ said, “This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28). In Christ, hesed, the eternal loving-kindness of God, is revealed in a remarkable way in incarnation, death and resurrection. As John explains, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Now that is something worth remembering (not only when we share in communion, but daily), and to respond to by giving “thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” For “His tender love for us, continues on forever!”