Thanksgiving To Jehovah, For His Lovingkindness

a brief study of Psalm 136, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 27 Jan 2012

 

Psalm 136 is known as the “Great Hallel” to the Jews. It is quite similar to Psalm 135 in terms of content. However, it has a very unique structure, for it has a refrain that repeats itself over and over again throughout the whole psalm. In fact, every line in this psalm ends with this refrain. The refrain is: “for his mercy endureth for ever.”

The word translated ‘mercy’ is the Hebrew ds,j, (chesed), is translated elsewhere as “kindness,” “lovingkindness,” “goodness,”  and in most modern translations simply as “love.” Some scholars believe that the nearest equivalent in the English for this word would be “covenant loving kindness,” for it is often used in the Scriptures to speak of God’s love and kindness towards his covenant people. This is how it is used in this psalm.

This lovingkindness towards us is so profound and immeasurable that we cannot be reminded of it too often. If we sing this whole psalm in one go, we will be singing it 26 times, once for every line of thought. In this way we are reminded that nothing that the LORD does is done apart from His covenant loving kindness towards us.

So this psalm may be entitled: “Thanksgiving to Jehovah for His Lovingkindness towards Us.”

It is a psalm given by Christ our King for us to sing in union with Him and with one another to praise the Father for His lovingkindness toward us.[1]

But with this introduction, let’s look at this psalm. It has broadly three parts. Verses 1-3 is a call to give thanks unto the LORD. Verses 4-25 contains various reasons why we should give thanks unto the LORD. Verse 26 concludes with another reminder to thank the LORD.


1. Call to Give Thanks unto the LORD

1 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. 2 O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. 3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Four times in this psalm,—thrice at the beginning, and once at the end,—we are earnestly implored to give thanks unto the LORD: “O give thanks unto the LORD!

Why should we give thanks to Him? We should for He is good (v. 1); and we should for He is the God of gods and Lord of lords (v. 2-3). But especially, we should give thanks to Him for His merciful lovingkindness endures forever. It is unconditional, does not fluctuate with circumstances, and is everlasting.

God is the alone living and true God. He is great and powerful. He is sovereign over all things and has absolute power. All rational creatures should praise Him, but we who are His covenant people must especially render thanksgiving to Him, for His mercy, His love, His kindness toward us endures forever and is demonstrated over and over again in the exercise of His power in this world.

This is the thought fleshed out in the main body of this psalm.


2. Reasons to Give Thanks Unto the LORD

From verse 4-25, the words “O give thanks” is not repeated but is implied, for every line is a call to give thanks to the Lord for His mercy endures forever. In every line we are given an example of what is summarised in verse 4, namely that He “alone doeth great wonders,” and He does them for the sake of the people He loves.

What has He done that gives us reason for thanksgiving?

Well, He began by creating the heavens and the earth (v. 5-6). He made the galaxies, the stars, the sun and the moon (v. 7-9). Who is He who created all these? It is He who loves His people! Indeed, it is not difficult to show from Scripture that He created all things for the sake of His people, for the apostle Paul reminds us that God created all things by Jesus Christ to the intent that the manifold wisdom of God might be displayed to all (Eph 3:9-10).

Indeed, not only did He create all things, He also directed providence and intervened in the history of the world for the sake of His people. His people were enslaved in Egypt. He brought them out through mighty signs and wonders (v. 10-15). He smote the firstborn of Egypt (v. 10). He humbled Pharaoh and led the people out (v. 11-12). He parted the Red Sea and made Israel pass through it on dry land, but brought the water crashing down on Pharaoh and his army (v. 13-15).

He did not stop there. He led the people through the wilderness (v. 16). He fought for His people when great armies and kings stood in their way (v. 17-18). In particular, He enabled His people to defeat Sihon, king of the Amorites (v. 19) and Og the king of Bashan (v. 20); and He gave the land of Canaan to Israel for an heritage (v. 21-22).

All these are what the LORD did for His people in history. But He has not stopped doing good for His people. Indeed, we must sing of what He has done for us in our own generation too. Thus, in verse 23, we are given to sing—

23 Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever: 24 And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever.

We are in a low estate, dead in trespasses and sin. We were held captive by Satan, the enemy of our soul. We were trapped in sin and self-destruction. But thanks be to God, He remembered us. He loved us as the father loves the prodigal son. He sent His only begotten Son to live, suffer and die for us. When He rose from the dead, He sent His Spirit to quicken us and to bring us back to the Father. The Father embraced us with His warmth and love. He “who giveth food to all flesh” (v. 25) sees to it that not only are our needs in this life provided for, but our spiritual and eternal needs are met.

Who is He that is doing all these? He is the LORD whose merciful lovingkindness toward His people endures forever!

Therefore, let us be reminded to give thanks unto the LORD as we are urged to do so in the conclusion of this psalm.


3. Reminder to Give Thanks unto the LORD

 26 O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.

As the children of the God of heaven, thanksgiving and praise must be our chief occupation. We have the privilege of pouring out our petitions to our heavenly Father, but let us remember that we must always do so with thanksgiving.

The apostle Paul says:
  • Phil 4:6—“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
  • Col 4:2—“Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”
May the LORD grant us that as we contemplate on His lovingkindness, our hearts may overflow with gratitude and our lips sing forth joyfully in His praise and thanksgiving.


Conclusion

This is Psalm 136. Oh may the LORD grant us that we may not only sing these words with gratitude, but we may be encouraged by the same words to live with a grateful confidence before the face of our heavenly Father.

If we learn to be grateful to the LORD, then our life can be full of contentment and joy rather than murmuring and frustrations. Let us seek to cultivate a grateful spirit by contemplating on how the LORD has blessed us, is blessing us, and will bless us as we sing in this psalm. Amen. W



[1] Take note that singing in union with Christ does not necessarily mean singing every word and syllable with him. You can be singing in parts and you can be singing in union with Christ. This psalms suggests that this is the case. For almost every modern commentator including, I believe, O Palmer Robertson and some old commentators such as Horne, Morison, Lowth and Tholuck hold that this psalm was originally designed for antiphonal singings, namely that singers could have been divided into two with one part singing the refrain as the other part sing the statements.

We can’t be dogmatic about this and certainly it cannot be wrong for the whole congregation to sing every word together. But I think we must not dogmatically rule out singing in parts or antiphonal singing by a mechanical view of singing in union with Christ that requires the psalm always to be sung in a one-dimensional way.