Psalm 136: No Limits to the Love of God

(Recording of this message is here.)

The book of Psalms is more than just the hymnbook of Israel, it is more than a collection of random songs. It is the catechism of Israel, or as John Calvin called it, “An anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” (Futado 41) The Psalms teaches us how to pray and praise and lament.

And it teaches us what blessedness looks like as we pray and praise and lament. Remember the first work of Psalm 1, the introduction to the entire book? Happy.  Psalms is a guidebook to happy, blessed holiness, and like the five books of the Moses, the five books of Psalms explore God’s way of life.  Themes of creation, God’s promise of redemption, the covenants of God’s faithfulness, His law, and the reminder not to forget the works of God all ring in the music of the Psalms.

Psalm 136 echoes the primary theme of the entire book of Psalms: The LORD is the King who provides refuge and pursues people to know Him. And echo it does: 26 times–“The merciful lovingkindness of the Lord has no end.”

I have to tell you, when we sing a song at church and repeat a chorus 6 or 8 times, I get a little antsy. More words are always better in my book, but this psalm reminds us that repetition has a place in worship. Repetition helps us to think on what is true, to ruminate on that truth so that we remember and believe. Also, in the corporate reflection of our worship, such repetition brings the entire body to focus on the same words, expanding our joy together with each echo.

Here are a few metrics for Psalm 136:

  • Four times we are explicitly commanded to give thanks, and most of the rest of the 22 verses expect that this command is understood.
  • We find 4 names of God: LORD (v. 1), God of gods (v. 2), Lord of lords (v. 3), and God of heaven (v. 26)–the only time this name of God appears.
  • We are told 26 times that “the merciful lovingkindness of the LORD has no end.”
  • It takes 2 minutes and 46 seconds to read the Psalm out loud.

136 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

to him who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew[a] Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

17 to him who struck down great kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed mighty kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to Israel his servant,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

What does Psalm 136 say about God’s character?  Take a few minutes to read back over the passage and see what you find: He is praise-worth, loving, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and judge.

What does this passage say about God’s work?  Verses 4-25 list the works of God that the Psalmist is directing us to focus on. He does wonders (v. 4), made the heavens (v. 5), spread out the earth (v. 6), and made the great lights and the sun and the moon and stars (vs. 5-9). He smote Egypt, bought out Israel, flexed his strong hand, divided the Red Sea, made Israel to pass, shook off Pharaoh, led His people, and smote great kings (vs. 10-22). He remembers His promises, delivers His people, and feeds all flesh.

In short, God creates, He governs, and He redeems.

And He does it all with his merciful lovingkindness. His chesed. More than 245 times in the Old Testament, the lovingkindness, mercy, patient love and provision, goodness, favor, and compassion of God is called His chesed, a word that is so stuffed with meaning the translators compound words to describe it As in, ” How excellent is your lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.” Psalm 36.7.

In short, it seems that the Psalmist is exploring the parameters of God’s love and rule, and he finds that there are no limits to it.  There are no limits to the merciful lovingkindness of God. 

         No limits of time:  God existed before creation, is unbounded by the present, and will be the very center of eternity.

         No limits to His reach:  The Lord has pursued Jews, Gentiles, Kings, and the poor.

         No limits of geography:  He made the heavens and the earth. He controls the lands and seas.

         No limits on God’s activity:  He creates, He redeems, and He restores.

What does Psalm 136 say about us and what we are supposed to do?

  1.  Trust God’s lovingkindness in every situation. Our King is not restricted by energy, by power,  by time or by geography. If God is for us, who or what can be against us?
  2. Sing of His lovingkindness. We are called to both sing to the Lord and sing about the Lord with and to one-another. We will be singing of it forever, this is a good time to start!
  3. Share the lovingkindness of the Lord.  His mercy is story of His mission and we don’t get to keep it to ourselves.
  4. Proclaim the truth of His lovingkindness.  In a world where everything seems to be fraudulent, biased, and self-centered, let us, with the Psalmist, declare the character of our God in what we say, how we live, and how we care for others.

For His merciful lovingkindness is everlasting!

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