When the Chronicler retells the story of the monarchy, we are told that David appointed Levites to minister before the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chr 16). He also appointed Asaph and others to sing praises to God. Part of that song says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is Good; his love endures forever” (v. 34). In Psalm 136, we find this same statement in verse 1, while the latter part (his love endures forever) is an unending refrain throughout the psalm expressing thanks to God for his loyal love. Let’s consider the psalm within the context of the psalm’s refrain.
The refrain begins with His (God’s). Verses 1-3 open with the praise of God and verse 26 concludes the psalm with praise to God. Verse 1 tells us we are to give praise to YHWH (God’s name by which he has promised himself to his covenant people) for he is good. Three superlatives in the remaining praise of God explain the goodness of the covenant God. He is God of Gods (and so over all other spiritual beings. He is Lord of Lords, that is, he is over any other who might raise themselves up as a ruler. And he is the God of heaven (the one who is above all of creation.
Second, we learn of his loyal love. The Hebrew word repeated throughout the psalm is hesed, a word that is difficult to translate into English. It is variously translated love, lovingkindness, mercy, steadfastness, steadfast love, and loyal love. Verse 4 tells us the loving God does great wonders, but the psalmist is not thanking God for these “wonders” or things he does. Rather, he is thanking God that we know him through the wonders of the universe. When we see his ordering of the cosmos, his rescuing of those in need, his faithfulness to his promises . . . it is then that we understand who he is, for we see his steadfast loyal love in action.
Third, his love, we are told, endures. Beginning with verse 5 until the conclusion in verse 26, the psalmist repeats the great foundational stories of Israel. These are the “wonders” through which we know God. First, all the world knows God through his creation, as the Genesis 1 account is the focus of the psalm. Second, the people Israel know God through his providential hand in their history, he summarizes the Exodus, the wilderness, the conquest, and the gift of the land as inheritance. Hesed is God’s power acting for good in creation, but especially in Israel’s story. God’s goodness is seen as he brings order out of the chaos that seeks to destroy creation and his people. It is also his redemption from the forces that bind the people in suffering and hopelessness. The story of the hesed of God is of love that is everlasting, love that endures and overcomes for the sake of the promise.
Finally, we are told that this love of God endures forever. Verse 23 shifts from “them” to “us” in the narrative. From the ancient past to now, that history is becoming our own history. God’s steadfast love in the past is our promise for today and for the future. We also benefit from his loyal love, his hesed. We are told that God remembered us in our low estate (or depressed condition). Verse 23 along with verse 24‘s emphasis of freedom from enemies is no doubt a reflection of the postexilic community. God freed his people from Babylon and did not forget them in that low estate. As so we can speak our thanks to God for what he does for us today. Hope in the hesed or loyal love of God is what gets us through dark times. It was this faith in the hesed of God that led Jeremiah to prophesy hope in the midst of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem (Jer 33:10-12). In part, he said, the voices of the bride and bridegroom will be heard alongside those bringing thank offerings to the temple, saying, “Give thanks to the LORD Almights, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever.”
In verse 25, after establishing the loyal love of God in all the wonders and mighty acts of God, the psalmist again shifts his gaze. He tells us that God gives bread to all flesh. We are to thank God for the big things but we are also to thank him for the smallest of things. Every meal. Every breath. All things are evidence of God’s loyal love. Notice that verse 25 mentions bread and heaven is mentioned in verse 26. Jesus would have prayed the psalms repeatedly as a devout Jews. It would certainly see that Jesus had this psalm in mind when he taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven . . . give us this day our daily bread” (Matt 6:9, 11). In all things, in all ways, we should give thanks to God, for his love endures forever.
Subscribe to receive email notification of new posts.