Psalm 136 – Praising The Lord For His Endless Love

It is my privilege this morning to end our summer series through the Psalms. As this series ends for now it seems fitting to end on one of the greatest psalms. A psalm referred to in Jewish liturgy as Hallel HaGadol, the Great Hallel, the Great Praise, Psalm 136.

Psalm 136 is both familiar and unique. It is familiar as a psalm of praise and thanksgiving, The psalm thanks the Lord for His unfailing love, His Chesed, throughout all human history. The psalm is also unique, with the second line of every verse being a repeated refrain. It was likely repeated by those hearing the psalm read or sung.

This is also a relevant psalm for the times we live in. It is a sad fact that many people feel their lives have no overarching purpose or meaning. Nihilism, absurdism, and other human philosophies try to argue that our lives are nothing but random chance. They tell us that the universe and our lives have no real meaning other than what we give them. It is a poisonous way of thinking that leads to deep depression and hopelessness. In fact, you only need to examine the lives of these philosophies founders to see the tragedy it brings.

What I love about Psalm 136 is how it paints a picture of life not as meaningless and random but instead as meaningful and intelligently designed. On great display is Adonai’s unmerited love for us shown through His actions throughout history. We see the unchanging beat of the Lord’s heart in creation, our people’s redemption, and today as well. Psalm 136 leads us to great praise for what the Lord has done, is doing, and will do for us.

This morning as I go through the psalm, I would like you to join me on this refrain as we praise and give thanks to the Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures forever.
and brought Israel out from among them
His love endures forever.
with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;
His love endures forever.

to him who divided the Red Sea asunder
His love endures forever.
and brought Israel through the midst of it,
His love endures forever.
but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
His love endures forever.

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.

to him who struck down great kings,
His love endures forever.
and killed mighty kings—
His love endures forever.
Sihon king of the Amorites
His love endures forever.
and Og king of Bashan—
His love endures forever.
and gave their land as an inheritance,
His love endures forever.
an inheritance to his servant Israel.
His love endures forever.

He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

Our psalm begins with a three-fold repetition to give thanks.

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.

This repetition poetically shows that the Lord is worthy of more praise than anyone else. So, the type of thanks being described here is not how we say thank you after someone hands us something or when we teach our children to say please and thank you. It is a declaration of praise, giving thanks with the totality of who we are. The type of thanks beyond even someone saving our lives. We give such praise because of the character of our Creator. Adonai is Good, capital G, every day. He is the definition of Good, the standard we compare everything else to. Often, we like to believe we are good, but we constantly fail and give up on doing the right thing. Or we try to define what is Good not based on the Lord but on our own broken understanding. It is a sliding scale where we argue we are “good enough” with the ending “for ourselves” being left off. We live in a society that enjoys praising itself. Psalm 136 calls us to give thanks to the one most deserving of praise and thanks because of His goodness.

The second part of the first verse introduces us to the refrain for this entire Psalm. In the NIV it is “His love endures forever”, but I think the ESV captures more accurately the sense of the Hebrew, “For His steadfast love endures forever”. I went with the NIV because it is more familiar and since I was going to have you recite the refrain 26 times, I thought I would be kind and go with the easier reading!

The word for steadfast or everlasting love in our English Bibles is the word, Chasdo whose root is Chesed. The Lord’s Chesed is His endless kindness and gracious love that He pours out to us. Daily we are not destroyed for our sins and because of the Lord’s great love He made covenants with our ancestors. For our Jewish people we had the Mosaic Covenant. But that covenant has been broken and today we all experience Adonai’s Chesed through a new and better covenant. This is the covenant made through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God, Messiah Yeshua.

In this opening we see Adonai described as the God of Gods and the Lord of Lords. A Hebrew use of the superlative to describe Him as above all other so-called gods and lords. Consider everything humanity has created, from the Pyramids to skyscrapers, to nuclear weapons that could destroy the entire Earth repeatedly. For all our progress and so-called power, we are less than a single ant before our endlessly vast Creator. The Lord is eternally above all things and eternally His love endures. In the face of such awesome truth the appropriate response is to lift our hands and give thanks.

So, our psalm begins with the eternal timeline that is the existence of Adonai. He is Lord of Lords and full of everlasting love. As our psalm continues, we see how the eternal nature of our Creator intersects with His creation.

4 to him who alone does great wonders,

His love endures forever.

5 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.

The psalmist takes us back to the beginning of history, creation. In these verses we see the familiar themes and language of Genesis. Everything around us, great and small, was created by the Lord. His acts of creation is declared part of His Chesed. Why did the Lord choose to create us? We cannot answer that question completely because we are not Him, but we know it was an expression of His endless love. Repeatedly, we see the stars and planets above mentioned in these verses. Let’s take a moment to pause and consider them.

Below is a picture of our Sun, pillars of creation, bubble nebula, and the night sky in Michigan.

Space is truly amazing, and we see the amazing work of our intelligent designer in every night sky. If the Lord put so much beauty and design into the heavens, how much more has He for us all made in His image? I think we should pause more and take in the beauty of the heavens. To contemplate how the Lord gave us the stars and moon to light the dark and the sun to bring warmth and light. In creation, the eternal story of the Lord intersects the beginning of our history. A history that starts with the love of God shown in His wonderous creative power. His creation is an act of His love, and we see the steady beat of the Lord’s heart woven through this universe.

Our psalm moves forward much like the Torah does from the wide view of creation to a much narrower view of our Jewish people’s history.

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.

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness;

His love endures forever.

Our psalm moves forward, and we have recounted how with a might hand and an outstretched arm the Lord redeemed us from Egypt. With unfailing love, He saved us from slavery and lead us through the wilderness to the Promised Land of Israel. Though we were unfaithful to the Lord, He was completely faithful to His promises. Our love fails, but the Lord’s never does.

It is interesting that the plagues of Egypt are connected to the Lord’s lovingkindness. How can this be? The Lord has love for all creation, as we read at the end of this psalm, but the Lord’s love is not mindless. Those who choose to defy the Lord of Lords, like Pharaoh, will experience His judgement. As the Lord declares in Exodus 33:19, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” His unfailing love endures forever but we must approach the King of Kings on His terms to receive it.

Just like creation, our deliverance from Egypt was accomplished through the Lord’s power. We cannot claim any of the credit. We are completely dependent on Him for our creation and for our redemption out of Egypt. We see the constant refrain that all these things are done because of the Lord’s enduring love for us.

We are also reminded that while our people were able to cross the Red Sea onto dry ground, the armies of Egypt were consumed when they tried the same. They arrogantly believed they would be preserved even though they were going against the Lord’s will. As we read through the story of the Exodus it probably seems absurd that they would try such a thing. But human pride and confidence will lead us to do some crazy stuff. How often have we done what is wrong and made reckless choices assuming we would come out okay? The Lord’s love is not something to take for granted, we cannot demand He saves us on our terms.

Our psalm continues and declares that the Lord’s love is also shown in how He conquered the land of Israel for our people. Mighty king after king fell to the power of Adonai. They tried to stand against His will and eventually each of them was broken. So, the Lord safeguarding and granting us the Promised Land is also an expression of His unfailing love.

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.

Again, we see the destruction of the Lord’s enemies connected with His love. It serves as a sobering reminder to us all that we should be walking in His ways. We also see Israel described as an inheritance. An inheritance is not something you earn. It is something given out of love to those who you have a relationship with. Our ancestors entered a covenantal relationship with the Lord that promised us an inheritance, the Land of Israel. The Lord faithfully gave us this Land because of His unfailing love. It is only the Lord who can remove us from His land, which He did for a time. But it is also the Lord who has restored us, all things are in His hands.

Now up until this point, we have described the past. Psalm 136 has recounted the Lord’s unfailing love in creation and in our people’s history. But what about today? What about right now? What is the Lord like to us?

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.

Today, in our weakness God’s strength and love is shown. Today, He still preserves our people. Today, our Jewish people may be spiritually far from the Lord, but we experience His unfailing love with Israel’s return as a nation. Whether we are suffering or not, the Lord’s unfailing love endures.

The Lord also frees us from our enemies. The enemies in Psalm 136 are not specified, and I think that is intentional. In every generation there are those who challenge the Lord and everyone who belongs to Him. We live in an age where most of our leaders at best pay lip service to the Lord of Lords or at worst create an environment that increases suffering, sin, and death. While we are blessed to live in a country that still allows freedom of worship, many of our brothers and sisters are not as fortunate. In Afghanistan, many Believers are going underground as the Taliban attempt to find and kill them. I encourage us all to pray and support the different efforts that are being organized worldwide to support them. While this situation is tragic it should not be surprising, because we know that Satan right now has a level of rule over our darkened world.

The Lord is still living and active today, just like He has been throughout history. He provides food and rain for every creature. We are blessed to live in a world that can provide for our needs with proper stewardship. He also still frees us from our enemies, not just people but forces like sin and death. As we read in God’s Word where the spirit of the Lord is there is real freedom. Not a freedom to live life our own selfish way, but the freedom to truly experience the vastness of God’s unfailing love.

When we consider the timeless love of the Lord. When we contemplate His creation, redemption, and freedom given to us today there is only one proper response. It is a call that takes us back to the beginning of our psalm.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.

His love endures forever.

To be able to give thanks to the Lord with all our hearts and minds is a sign of His working in our lives. When you read Psalm 136 you might wonder why the Lord had “His love endures forever” repeat every verse? Is 5 times not enough? Or maybe just after every section? I think one reason for the repetition is how easily we forgot God’s truth. We quickly forget what the Lord has done for us and become stuck in our daily routines and problems. We become busy counting our issues and not our blessings. We lose sight of the grand picture of God’s love and become entranced by the world around us.

Psalm 136 commands us to give thanks through the highs and lows of life to the Lord who is always here. In our past, our present, and our future, His unfailing love endures forever. If that isn’t worth giving thanks for, I don’t know what is.

Or to put it another way, I love how Charles Spurgeon summarizes God’s love working throughout our history. “The God of the past has blotted out your sin, the God of the present makes all things work for your good, the God of the future will never leave you nor forsake you.” Spurgeon captures a beautiful truth that should fill us with praise and thanks for our wonderful Messiah, who has accomplished redemption for us all.

As our time today draws to a close, I would like us all to internalize the heart of Psalm 136. Namely, that the Lord is full of unfailing love for those who would seek Him. He has chosen to weave Himself through history and is able to save us today like He has those of old. Today, we experience the Lord’s freedom from Satan, sin, and death through the New Covenant in Messiah Yeshua. We are invited to be lead through the wilderness of this life to the Promised Land of a New Jerusalem. A city whose builder and ruler is the Lord.

Messiah Yeshua invites each of us to experience His Chesed and have our lives transformed so we can give the Lord praise whatever our circumstances. As we read in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Today, if you have not yet experienced the Lord’s unfailing love through Messiah Yeshua I encourage you to seek Him out for your life. He is willing to give you real rest for your soul. For those of us who have experienced the Lord’s love through the Messiah, the last verse of this psalm is our call. A call to give thanks to the Lord who so loved the world He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have life everlasting.

It is my prayer this morning that the Lord would grant us all the true freedom that is found only in Messiah Yeshua. May each of us never grow tired of praising and doing the will of our awesome Creator. May we with one voice give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His love endures forever.