First, let us note the simple outline of this Hymn.
· 136:1-3: the call to give thanks for God's eternal mercy.
· 136:4-9: thanks for God’s eternal mercy in creation.
· 136:10-22: thanks for God’s eternal mercy to Israel.
· 136:23-26: again, a call to give thanks to God for His eternal mercy.
What a wonderful Psalm. The message is clear: give thanks to God for His mercy endured forever, a phrase repeated 26 times in 26 verses. But the message of God’s faithfulness is even more profound if you consider the backdrop.
Mercy is the Hebrew checed. It is translated sometimes as lovingkindness, favour, goodness as well as mercy. At its root is the idea of zealous desire. God only does good; He has a deep desire to do good. Meditate on that for a moment.
Then there is olawm, forever. The root of this term is hidden; it’s as if the clock is hidden. There is simply no thought of time. So that’s a definition. But look at this word in the context of Israel and you will understand why this Psalm reflects on God’s zealous love in the particular historical events it mentions.
· Gen. 13:15: God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants the land he had come to and it would be theirs forever (olawm).
· Gen. 17:7,13,19: God promised Abraham that the covenant He made with him would be an everlasting (olawm) covenant.
· Gen. 17:8: Again, God promised to give the land to Abraham and his descendants forever (olawm).
· Gen. 21:33: For years Abraham did not own any of the land on which he lived, though God promised it to him. But after many years there came a time when he made peace with the inhabitants of the land in the South (Negev area) and they recognized Beersheba as belonging to Abraham. At that point Abraham a tree and there called on the LORD, giving Him the name El Olawm, the Everlasting God. Note: he did not build an altar; he did that many times. But he planted a tree, something in the land that would outlive him.
Psalm 136 recognizes God’s eternal mercy to Israel and to all flesh (v25)! Meditate on this today, especially if you have entered into the New Covenant. It also is a forever covenant. Give thanks to God, and trust in His zealous love.