Giving Thanks.

When reading Psalm 136, we can quickly tune out the constant refrain of “His love endures forever.” But God never wastes His breath. He repeats things for a reason. He knows that we need constant reminders of his steadfast lovingkindness.

We will approach this Psalm with 4 questions in mind.

What Should We Do?

Psalm 136:1-3 repeat a command: “Give thanks.” This is different than praising one’s inherent value or worth; thanksgiving expresses an appreciative dependence. It comes from recognizing and believing that what we have did not originate in us.

New Testament verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and Ephesians 5:20 expand and define the Psalm’s command. Christians are to give thanks always for all things.

Who Should We Thank?

In the Bible, thanks is directed almost exclusively to God. This psalm refers to God by 4 different names (in verses 1-3 and 26). Thanks is more than a feeling or sentiment; it has to be directed somewhere. It’s important to give thanks where it is due, to recognize the correct object of our thanks. It would be offensive to thank the wrong giver.

Yet this is exactly what humanity is prone to do. According to Romans 1:20-23, sinful humanity refuses to give credit to God for Creation. Similarly, ancient Israel attributed their deliverance from Egypt to a manmade golden calf (Exodus 32).

How can we avoid the same mistake? We must abolish the attitude that we deserve the credit for anything. Everything good in us and in our lives is from the hand of God.

What Should We Give Thanks For?

This psalm gives 2 categories of God’s acts to thank Him for. The first is His brilliant creative acts which testify of His love (verses 4-9). The second is His guidance and protection (verses 10-25). The psalmist rehearses what God had done for others in Israel’s history and what He had done for the current generation.

Why Should We Give Thanks?

The Hebrew refrain that the NASB (1995) translated “For His lovingkindness is everlasting” is repeated many other times in the Old Testament. Nearly every English translation uses a different wording for this phrase. The word for “lovingkindness,” “mercy,” or “faithfulness” expresses God’s love for all time which is rooted in His covenant with His people. No human covenants are everlasting, but God’s is, regardless of circumstances. He is ultimately loyal.

Why would this phrase be repeated 26 times in one chapter and so many times throughout the Bible? How many times do we need to hear something until we believe it?

God’s lovingkindness is seen most vividly in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). God wants our worldview to be saturated with the truth of His loyal love. This will naturally lead us into thanksgiving.

The reality behind the many events described in this psalm is the reason to give thanks: “His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Habakkuk rejoices for the same reason even in desolate circumstances (3:17-18).

Hardship reveals what is in our hearts. What has this year brought out of you? 2020 has proved to be a year of purification for believers to see ourselves more clearly and to change as a result.

Application Points

  • Do you give thanks to God in all circumstances?
  • It is a grave mistake to fail to give thanks to God. How can we avoid this? We must abolish the attitude that we deserve the credit for anything. Everything good in us and in our lives is from the hand of God.
  • What has the hardship of this year revealed in your heart? Let God use difficulty to help you see yourself more clearly and change as a result.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Psalm 135 is an interesting companion to Psalm 136 that rehearses many of the same themes.

  • Numbers 21:21-35 – what God did in Israel’s history