PSALM 136 OVERVIEW.
We know not by whom this Psalm was written, but we do know that it was sung in Solomon's temple ( 2 Chronicles 7:3 2 Chronicles 7:6 ), and by the armies of Jehoshaphat when they sang themselves into victory in the wilderness of Tekoa. From the striking form of it we should infer that it was a popular hymn among the Lord's ancient people. Most hymns with a solid, simple chorus become favourites with congregations, and this is sure to have been one of the best beloved. It contains nothing but praise. It is tuned to rapture, and can only be fully enjoyed by a devoutly grateful heart.
It commences with a threefold praise to the Triune Lord ( Psalms 136:1-3 ), then it gives us six notes of praise to the Creator ( Psalms 136:4-9 ), six more upon deliverance from Egypt ( Psalms 134:10-15 ), and seven upon the journey through the wilderness and the entrance into Canaan. Then we have two happy verses of personal gratitude for present mercy ( Psalms 134:23-24 ), one ( Psalms 134:25 ) to tell of the Lord's universal providence, and a closing verse to excite to never ending praise.
Verse 1. O give thanks unto the LORD. The exhortation is intensely earnest: the Psalmist pleads with the Lord's people with an "O", three times repeated. Thanks are the least that we can offer, and these we ought freely to give. The inspired writer calls us to praise Jehovah for all his goodness to us, and all the greatness of his power in blessing his chosen. We thank our parents, let us praise our heavenly Father; we are grateful to our benefactors, let us give thanks unto the Giver of all good.
For he is good. Essentially he is goodness itself, practically all that he does is good, relatively he is good to his creatures. Let us thank him that we have seen, proved, and tasted that he is good. He is good beyond all others: indeed, he alone is good in the highest sense; he is the source of good, the good of all good, the sustainer of good, the perfecter of good, and the rewarder of good. For this he deserves the constant gratitude of his people.
For his mercy endureth for ever. We shall have this repeated in every verse of this song, but not once too often. It is the sweetest stanza that a man can sing. What joy that there is mercy, mercy with Jehovah, enduring mercy, mercy enduring for ever. We are ever needing it, trying it, praying for it, receiving it: therefore let us for ever sing of it.
"When all else is changing within and around,
In God and his mercy no change can be found."
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. This Psalm was very probably composed by David, and given to the Levites to sing every day: 1 Chronicles 16:41 . Solomon his son followed his example, and made use of it in singing at the dedication of the Temple ( 2 Chronicles 7:3-6 ); as Jehoshaphat seems to have done when he went out to war against his enemies ( 2 Chronicles 20:21 ). --John Gill.
Whole Psalm. The grand peculiarity of form in this Psalm ... is the regular recurrence, at the close of every verse, of a burden or refrain ... It has been a favourite idea with interpreters that such repetitions necessarily imply alternate or responsive choirs. But the other indications of this usage in the Psalter are extremely doubtful, and every exegetical condition may be satisfied by simply supposing that the singers, in some cases, answered their own questions, and that in others, as in that before us, the people united in the burden or chorus, as they were wont to do in the Amen. --Joseph Addison Alexander.
Whole Psalm. The Psalm is called by the Greek church Polyeleos, from its continual mention of the mercy of God. --Neale and Littledale.
Whole Psalm. In the liturgical language this Psalm is called par excellence the great Hallel, for according to its broadest compass the great Hallel comprehends Psalms 120:1-136:26 , whilst the Hallel which is absolutely so called extends from Psalms 113:1-118:29 . --Franz Delitzsch.
Whole Psalm. Praise ye (wdwh) Jehovah; not as in Psalms 135:1 , "Hallelujah", but varying the words, "Be ye Judahs to the Lord!"
Praise him for what he is ( Psalms 136:1-3 ). Praise him for what he is able to do ( Psalms 136:4 ). Praise him for what he has done in creation ( Psalms 136:5-9 ). Praise him for what he did in redeeming Israel from bondage ( Psalms 136:10-15 ). Praise him for what he did in his providence toward them ( Psalms 136:16-22 ). Praise him for his grace in times of calamity ( Psalms 136:23-24 ). Praise him for his grace to the world at large ( Psalms 136:25 ). Praise him at the remembrance that this God is the God of heaven ( Psalms 136:26 ). --Andrew A. Bonar.
Whole Psalm. When, in the time of the Emperor Constantius, S. Athanasius was assaulted by night in his church at Alexandria by Syrianus and his troops, and many were wounded and murdered, the Bishop of Alexandria sat still in his chair, and ordered the deacon to begin this Psalm, and the people answered in prompt alternation, For his mercy endureth for ever. --Christopher Wordsworth.
Verse 1. O give thanks unto the LORD. When we have praised God for reasons offered unto us in one Psalm, we must begin again, and praise him for other reasons; and even when we have done this, we have not overtaken our task, the duty lieth still at our door, to be discharged afresh, as this Psalm doth show. --David Dickson.
Verse 1. For he is good. Observe what we must give thanks for not as the Pharisee that made all his thanksgivings terminate in his own goodness -- "God, I thank thee" that I am so and so -- but directing them all to God's glory: "for he is good." --Matthew Heary.
Verse 1. His mercy endureth forever. This appears four times in Psalms 118:1-4 . This sentence is the wonder of Moses, the sum of revelation, and the hope of man. --James G. Murphy.
Verse 1. His mercy. Many sweet things are in the word of God, but the name of mercy is the sweetest word in all the Scriptures, which made David harp upon it twenty-six times in this Psalm: "For his mercy endureth for ever:" It was such a cheerful note in his ears when he struck upon mercy, that, like a bird that is taught to pipe, when he had sung it, he sang it again, and when he had sung it again, he recorded it again, and made it the burden of his song: "For his mercy endureth for ever." Like a nightingale which, when she is in a pleasant vein, quavers and capers, and trebles upon it, so did David upon his mercy: "For his mercy endureth for ever." --Henry Smith.
Verse 1. Mercy. By "mercy" we understand the Lord's disposition to compassionate and relieve those whom sin has rendered miserable and base; his readiness to forgive and to be reconciled to the most provoking of transgressors, and to bestow all blessings upon them; together with all the provision which he has made for the honour of his name, in the redemption of sinners by Jesus Christ. --Thomas Scott.
Verse 1. His mercy endureth for ever. It is everlasting. Everlastingness, or eternity, is a perfect possession, all at once, of an endless life (saith Boethius). Everlasting mercy, then, is perfect mercy, which shuts out all the imperfections of time, beginning, end, succession, and such is God's mercy. First, his essential mercy is eternity itself; for it is himself, and God hath not, but is, things. He is beginning, end, being; and that which is of himself and even himself is eternity itself. Secondly, his relative mercy (which respects us, and makes impression on us), is everlasting, too, in a sense; for the creatures, ever since they had being in him, or existence in their natural causes, ever did and ever will need mercy, either preserving or conserving. Preventing or continuing mercy in the first sense is negatively endless, that is, incapable of end, because unboundable for being: in the second sense, it is privatively endless, it shall never actually take end, though in itself it may be, and in some ways is, bounded; the first is included in the latter, but the latter is chiefly here intended; and therefore the point arises to be this, -- God's mercy (chiefly to his church) is an endless mercy; it knows no end, receives no interruption. Reasons hereof from the word are these (for as touching testimony this Psalm shall be our security), first, from God's nature, "he is good". Mercy pleaseth him. It is no trouble for him to exercise mercy. It is his delight: we are never weary of receiving, therefore he cannot be of giving; for it is a more blessed thing to give than to receive; so God takes more content in the one than we in the other. -- Robert Harris, 1578-1658.
Verse 1. His mercy endureth for ever. God's goodness is a fountain; it is never dry. As grace is from the world's beginning ( Psalms 25:6 ), so it is to the world's end, seculo in seculum, from one generation to another. Salvation is no termer; grace ties not itself to times. Noah as well as Abel, Moses as well as Jacob, Jeremy as well as David, Paul as well as Simeon hath part in this salvation. God's gracious purpose the Flood drowned not, the smoke of Sinai smothered not, the Captivity ended not, the ends of the world (Saint Paul calls them so) determined not. For Christ, by whom it is, was slain from the beginning, -- Saint John saith so. He was before Abraham, he himself saith so. And Clemens Alexandrinus (tom. 5. page 233) doth Marcion wrong, though otherwise an heretic, in blaming him for holding that Christ saved those also that believed in him before his incarnation. The blood of the beasts under the law was a type of his. And the scars of his wounds appear yet still, and will for ever, till he cometh to judgment. The Apostle shall end this: he is heri, and hodi, and semper idem: Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. --Richard Clerke, 1634.
Verse 1-3. The three first verses of this Psalm contain the three several names of the Deity, which are commonly rendered Jehovah, God, and Lord, respectively; the first having reference to his essence as self existent, and being his proper name; the second designating him under the character of a judge or of an all powerful being, if Aleim be derived from Al; and the third, Adoni, representing him as exercising rule. -- Daniel Cresswell.
Verse 1-3. O give thanks.
What! give God thanks for everything,
Whatever may befall --
Whatever the dark clouds may bring?
Yes, give God thanks for all;
For safe he leads thee, hand in hand,
To thy blessed Fatherland.
What! thank him for the lonely way
He to me hath given --
For the path which, day by day
Seems farther off from heaven?
Yes, thank him, for he holds thy hand
And leads thee to thy Fatherland.
Close, close he shields thee from all harm;
And if the road be steep,
Thou know'st his everlasting arm
In safety doth thee keep,
Although thou canst not understand
The windings to thy Fatherland.
What blessing, thinkest thou, will he,
Who knows the good and ill,
Keep back, if it is good for thee,
While climbing up the hill?
Then trust him, and keep fast his hand,
He leads thee to thy Fatherland. --B.S., in "The Christian Treasury", 1865.
Verse 1-9. Like the preceding Psalm, this Psalm allies itself to the Book of Deuteronomy. The first clauses of Psalms 136:2-3 (God of gods and Lord of Lords) are taken from Deuteronomy 10:17 ; Psalms 136:12 , first clause (with a strong hand and stretched out arm) from Deuteronomy 4:34 , and De 5:15. Psalms 136:16 , first clause, is like Deuteronomy 8:15 (cf. Jeremiah 2:6 ). --Franz Delitzsch.
Verse 1-26. All repetitions are not vain, nor is all length in prayer to be accounted babbling. For repetitions may be used,
- When they express fervency and zeal: and so we read, Christ prayed over the same prayer thrice ( Matthew 26:44 ); "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." And another evangelist showeth that he did this out of special fervency of spirit ( Luke 22:44 ); "Being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly."
- This repetition is not to be disapproved when there is a special emphasis, and spiritual elegancy in it, as in Psalms 136:1-26 you have it twenty-six times repeated, For his mercy endureth for ever, because there was a special reason in it, the Psalmist's purpose there being to show the unweariedness, and the unexhausted riches of God's free grace; that notwithstanding all the former experiences they had had, God is where he was at first. We waste by giving, our drop is soon spent; but God is not wasted by bestowing, but hath the same mercy to do good to his creatures, as before. Though he had done all those wonders for them, yet his mercy was as ready to do good to them still. All along God saved and blessed his people, "For his mercy endureth for ever." -- Thomas Manton.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- Consider his name -- "Jehovah."
- Carry out your joyful duty: "O give thanks."
- Contemplate the two reasons given -- goodness and enduring mercy.
- Many subjects for praise.
- For mercy. This is the sinner's principal need.
- For mercy in God. This is the sinner's attribute, and is as essential to God as justice.
- For mercy enduring for ever. If they who have sinned need mercy for ever, they must exist for ever; and their guilt must be for ever. --G. R.
Verse 1. The Lord is good. God is originally good -- good of himself. He is infinitely good. He is perfectly good, because infinitely good. He is immutably good. -- Charnock.
- The triplet of names: "Jehovah", "the God of gods", "the Lord of lords."
- The threefold adjuration, "O give thanks."
- The irrepressible attribute and argument "for his mercy", etc. -- W.B.H.
Verse 1-26. For his mercy endureth for ever. See "Spurgeon's Sermons", No. 787: "A Song, a Solace, a Sermon, and a Summons."