I heard the sad story recently of a man who was just about to go on a 3 month journey around the world. Before he left he was challenged by a good friend to find three things every day to give thanks to God for. On return his friend asked him how he had gone finding things to give thanks for and was saddened by the reply she received. Her friend said that he had given up after three days because he couldn’t think of anything else to give thanks for!
Not so the psalmist! Remembering the wonder of God and all that he had done and then responding in thankfulness is what Psalm 136 is all about. In Jewish liturgy it is known as the Great Hallel or the ‘Great Psalm of Praise’.
First, the psalmist remembers who God is – his character:
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. 2 Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. 3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever. 4 to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.
Our God is not only ‘good’ but he is superior over all other ‘gods’, whether imagined and created by man, or all other spiritual beings, including angels and demons. And, His love endures forever!
He then turns to some of these “great wonders” as he acknowledges that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) – his creation:
…who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever. 6 who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever. 7 who made the great lights— His love endures forever. 8 the sun to govern the day, His love endures forever. 9 the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.
There are many things we don’t understand, and in particular there are many gaps in our understanding of the universe we live in, but the psalmist suggests that when God created all these things it was “by his understanding” or wisdom. Longman comments, “The creation is ordered [just ask any scientist], not random. The assertion belies the thought that the universe is the result of pure chance.” (see references # 30) And, His love endures forever!
Then, like so many of the Remembrance Psalms, the psalmist speaks of the history of God’s intervention in the life of Israel – his redemption.
10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt His love endures forever. 11 and brought Israel out from among them His love endures forever. 12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever.
13 to him who divided the Red Sea asunder His love endures forever. 14 and brought Israel through the midst of it, His love endures forever. 15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever
In other words, the exodus! A remarkable display of God’s glory and power in delivering his people from slavery and oppression from the hand of Pharaoh in answer to their prayers. And, by the way, His love endures forever!
In our day, of course, we can write our own psalm remembering and giving thanks for the redemption that is in Christ, the One in whom, as Paul said, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)
And from redemption to his presence with them leading them to the land promised so many years before to Abraham – his guidance.
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness; His love endures forever.
A very quick summary of what was a pretty up and down experience over 40 years, but his key point being that God remained faithful during this time. As it says in Exodus 13:21, “The Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” And, of course, His love endures forever!
On arrival at the promised land there was work to be done and next the psalmist recalls God’s activities in giving them the land – his conquering.
17 to him who struck down great kings, His love endures forever. 18 and killed mighty kings— His love endures forever. 19 Sihon king of the Amorites His love endures forever. 20 and Og king of Bashan— His love endures forever. 21 and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures forever. 22 an inheritance to his servant Israel. His love endures forever.
“The psalmist continues the flow of redemptive history by now thanking God for the gift of the land through conquest and settlement.” (see references # 30) And, don’t forget, His love endures forever!
And so the psalmist brings this psalm to an end with “general statements describing God’s actions for his people” – his provision.
23 He remembered us in our low estate His love endures forever. 24 and freed us from our enemies. His love endures forever. 25 He gives food to every creature. His love endures forever.
26 Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.
Here we are reminded that God also “remembers” us. In this case he “remembered” the dire situation the Israelites were in and acted. “Remembrance means more than mental recall, and implies his actions to alleviate their suffering.” (see references # 30). And, His love endures forever.
Our God has not changed, he is still good and all powerful and, in reality, there are even more than three things daily we could remember and give thanks to him for! A colleague of mine was challenged to give thanks (on Facebook) for one thing every day for a year – and he did it! What about you? Could you do that? And if you did, what difference would it make to your life and relationships?
And, by the way, let me say it just one more time, His love (for you) endures forever!