God’s Mercy for the New Year.

A Look Back: God Is Loyal to His People.

Psalm 136 is found in the 5th section of psalms in the book of Psalms. These psalms of praise show us that it is good for God's people to publically adore Him.

"His lovingkindness is everlasting" is repeated in Psalm 136 twenty-six times. Each verse was sung antiphonally -- meaning that the song leader and chorus of people alternated singing each line and refrain. Repetition in Scripture is the Holy Spirit's encouragement to think much about what is repeated. In Peter's last letter before his death, the apostle repeated 7 times that it is good to remember God's faithfulness to His people (2 Peter 1:12-15). Paul gives similar reminders in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.

God's Covenant Love

The attribute of God repeated in this chapter is the Hebrew word chesed, translated as lovingkindness. The parallel Greek word used in the New Testament is translated "mercy." We understand mercy as something being withheld that we deserve – namely, condemnation for sin (James 2:10). There is only one way to be restored to God. When we turn from sin and place our faith in Christ, He removes the condemnation that we deserve. Grace is God's giving to us something we don't deserve. Jesus Christ expresses both God's mercy and grace.

"Lovingkindness" expands our definition of mercy. In the Old Testament, lovingkindness includes the notion of mercy and more. Miles Coverdale noted that this word is used almost exclusively to describe God's heart for His people, His undying affection which is as everlasting as His love for His Son.

Jewish historians compared man's love to wildflowers; in contrast, God's love is always certain. It is immutable because God is unchanging. Once He has chosen to love, He cannot change His decision. To be loved by God includes being forgiven by God. Love replaces condemnation. Old Testament saints knew that this personal experience of God's love first required repentance from sin.

The Nature of God's Loyal Love

Psalm 136 begins and ends with a call to give thanks. People who are learning of and enjoying God's loyal love on a regular basis will be thankful. Those who only appreciate God's political and corporate wonders without knowing His individual love are not thankful.

The nature of God's loyal love is described in verses 1-3 by attributes and titles for God. Goodness is the first attribute the psalmist notes. Wayne Grudem commented that “The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.” By faith, we trust this is true; when difficult things enter our lives, it can be hard to believe it.

"God is not in a constant state of trying to juggle His attributes. All His glorious attributes are essential to Himself. They are not something He does or aspires to; rather, they are simply who He is. ...God is not divided into parts; yet we see different attributes emphasized at different times. We must remember that God’s whole being includes all of His attributes: He is entirely loving, entirely merciful, entirely just, and so forth. Every attribute of God that we find in Scripture is true of all of God’s being, and we therefore can say that every attribute of God also qualifies every other attribute." – Wayne Grudem

Jesus is good. Romans 8:28-29 defines good as becoming more like our Savior. In salvation, we own Christ's righteousness and goodness. In good and bad circumstances, we pursue Christ-likeness. God is good, and He has given us His intrinsic goodness in His Son.

In Psalm 136:2-3, God is titled "Lord of lords" and "God of gods." Both titles express His sovereignty. Sovereignty simply means that God is in complete control. No matter what is going on, He is not unaware, and He is not helpless.

“The sovereignty of God may be defined as the exercise of His supremacy. Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him.” – A.W. Pink

We should not fear God's sovereignty but take comfort in it, because God makes no mistakes. He never allows us to be tempted beyond our ability (1 Corinthians 10:13). He promised to never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8). We should be able to trust His promises as we remain faithful (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Expressions of God's Loyal Love

Psalm 136:4 describes the God of great wonders. The body of this psalm rehearses these wonders in Israel's history. Remembering what God has done for us in the past is spiritually healthy. We must do so and often if we are to remain faithful in the future. The evidence of God's love found in Psalm 136:5-25 falls under these categories:

  • In Creation (verses 5-9)
  • In Salvation (verses 10-15)
  • In Protection (verses 16-20)
  • In Provision (verses 21-25)

God showed His love to the Israelites by choosing them and saving them from the oppression of Egypt. There was nothing to recommend them to God but His own choice. In the same way, God chooses to love believers in this age not because we are special. We don't know the reason, but we are to be thankful for His lovingkindness.

Verse 26 concludes the psalm with another title of God: "the God of heaven." This title reminds the hearers that there is only one true God. Thankfulness keeps us focused amidst many temptations and distractions. Today, believers give thanks for God's only Son who is the ultimate expression of His lovingkindness.

Application Points

  • Make it a daily habit in your private life to remember God's faithfulness to His people. Praise Him individually so you will be prepared for a public habit of corporate remembrance and praise.
  • Do you believe you are a Christian because of the community of which you are part, or have you personally experienced God's loyal love? (See Romans 10:13.)
  • Study Psalm 136 in preparation for the new year of 2018. Use the outline above and consult some different commentaries if you are able.
  • Has God shown His lovingkindness to you through creation, salvation, protection, and provision? Thankfulness to the God of heaven keeps us focused amidst many temptations and distractions. Give thanks to Him for His only Son who is the ultimate expression of His lovingkindness.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Matthew 6:25-34 – God's provision.
  • Psalm 19:1-6 – God's love in Creation.
  • Jonah 1:9, Nehemiah 1:5 – God of heaven.
A Hymn to Encourage: "Depth of Mercy"

Depth of mercy! can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear,
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

Whence to me this waste of love?
Ask my advocate above!
See the cause in Jesus’ face,
Now before the throne of grace.

I my master have denied,
I afresh have crucified,
And profaned His hallowed name,
Put Him to an open shame.

Jesus speaks, and pleads His blood!
He disarms the wrath of God;
Now my Father’s mercies move,
He receives me with His love.

I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face,
Would not hearken to His calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is Love, His grace so free;
Depth of mercy, there for me.