When you are young, you feel invincible. I have always thought this was a good thing, this feeling of being strong and brave and able to conquer any obstacle, because it gives to the young the courage to attempt great things. It is a pity that youth is wasted on the young. By the time we gain the wisdom that comes from experience, we have lost that innocent and carefree spirit. Sometimes we gain that wisdom from our children.
In times of great crisis we discover what we really believe. We can smile through our tears because we know that our God is good. We have to find out who God is so that we will be strong when the winds of sorrow blow against us. Good theology does that for us.
Psalm 136 is sometimes called a “Hallelujah Psalm” because it contains no petitions, no complaints, and no problems. Instead it contains a list of moments where God worked in history, each answered by the refrain “His love endures forever.” No doubt the worship leader would read the first line of each verse, and the congregation would respond, “His love endures forever."
1. The Call to Praise v. 1 - 3
These verses offer us 3 reasons to praise God: 1. He is good! 2. He is the God of gods! 3. He is the Lord of lords! There are “gods” aplenty and “lords” all around us, but there is only one true God who rules the universe. To that great God belongs our best and deepest and highest praise.
Consider the meaning of these things: 1. He is truly the Supreme Being of the Universe. 2. He is good in what he does.
It is impossible to overestimate the value of these truths: 1. If he were not supreme, we would not worship him. 2. If he were not good, we would not trust him.
But because he is both good and the ultimate Lord, we not only trust him, we also bow before him in praise and worship!
Note the answering chorus in each verse: “His love endures forever.” These simple words remind us that all things display God’s love at work on behalf of His children.
The Hebrew word translated “love” refers to loyal love, faithful love, or you might call it “covenant love.” It’s love that lasts because it is based on an unbreakable commitment. It’s the love of a husband for his wife or the love of mother for her children. God’s love is eternal because his covenant is eternal. God cannot not love his people!
But the meaning goes beyond that. God’s love endures. It outlasts all the problems of life. It transcends the troubles we face every day. It goes on when our life comes to an end. What gives us the confidence to face death with our heads held high? How can we cross the Jordan to reach the other side? We can because “His love endures forever.” That’s it! That’s our hope! We die, but “His love endures forever.” We fail, but “His love endures forever.” We stumble and fall, but “His love endures forever.”
2. The Cause for Praise
The remainder of Psalm 136 contains a survey of God’s faithfulness beginning with creation and ending with Israel’s entry into the Promised Land.
A. Creation v. 5 – 9
Note that the universe and everything in it is made “by his understanding.” This rules out purposeless evolution or blind fate. The universe came into being because God willed it to be. “I believe in the Big Bang Theory. God said it, and Bang! It happened.” Hebrews 11: 3“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” The entire universe came into being by a plan that comes from the hand and mind of Almighty God. Nothing was made by chance. Nothing “evolved” into being by a random mutation. God’s “understanding” stands behind the universe as we see it.
Since the universe as it is rests on God’s “understanding,” no one can understand the universe properly without knowing God. If you leave God out, you’ve missed the fundamental truth about the universe! In order to understand human origins and the true history of the universe, we must begin with God’s understanding as he has revealed it to us in his word. Start there and you start on firm ground. Start anywhere else and you sink into the quicksand of humanistic unbelief.
We all wrestle with these 3 great questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? The first is the most fundamental. Until you answer it, you cannot answer the last 2 properly. If we didn’t come from anywhere and aren’t going anywhere, then all we have left is the 60, 70 or 80 years we spend on planet earth. Why not just eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we will die? Why get involved in anything outside ourselves if this life is all there is? But if we were made in God’s image, if he loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us, then nothing matters more than knowing God deeply, personally, and intimately.
B. The Exodus v. 10 - 15
These verses recall the amazing series of miracles whereby God freed his people from Egyptian bondage: “to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt . . . and brought Israel out from among them . . . with a mighty hand and outstretched arm . . . to him who divided the Red Sea asunder . . . and brought Israel through the midst of it . . .but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea . . .”
God has no trouble defeating his enemies. He has no trouble parting the Red Sea. He only asks that his people acknowledge that he did it – and not them! We should praise the Lord not only that we are delivered but that our enemies are scattered and utterly defeated because . . . His love endures forever!
C. The Wilderness v. 16
The psalmist sums up 40 years of wandering in 1 verse. So many things happened during those 40 years: manna and quail, water from the rock, Balaam and his talking donkey, Moses on Mt. Sinai, the golden calf, Kadesh Barnea, the 12 spies, bitter water, bleached bones in the desert, complaining and the continual challenges to Moses’ leadership. Through it all, God led his people to the Promised Land.
God led his people “through” the desert, not around it. To get to the Promised Land, they had to go through the desert. So it will be for all of us. God leads his children to heaven, but they have no easy road as they make their journey. There are many detours, many switchbacks, many delays and more than a few seeming dead ends, but God works in and through it all to see that they finally arrive because . . . His love endures forever!
D. The Conquest v. 16 - 22
You can find the story of Sihon and Og in Numbers 21. When Israel desired free passage through the land of the Amorites, Sihon the king refused the Israelites and then attacked them. He was soundly defeated and Israel ended up occupying all the cities of the Amorites. As they marched up the road, Og king of Bashan marched out with his whole army to do battle. He too was totally defeated. “So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land” (Numbers 21: 35)
What an encouragement these verses are because they remind of us God’s faithfulness in spite of our repeated failures. It would have been easy for the Jews to think, “Our sin has made God forget us. We have no hope, no future. We’ve blown everything.” But despite their sin and foolish unbelief, God never gave up on his people. Let every child of God take great hope. Your past does not determine your future. You may have failed again and again and again, but there is still mercy for those who trust in the Lord. Who knows but that tomorrow you may yet see God win a great victory in your life because . . . His love endures forever!
E. Throughout History v. 23 - 25
3 great truths about God: 1. He remembered us. 2. He freed us. 3. He feeds us. He remembered us by sending Jesus to save us. He freed us from our sins. He feeds us every single day. What God did for ancient Israel, he does for his people everywhere, all the time, in every situation because . . . His love endures forever!
3. The Conclusion of Praise v. 26
Ends with a general call to praise God at all times. Let’s wrap up our study of this psalm with 3 important conclusions.
1. History is not about us. History is about God.
This may seem elementary, but it is in fact a profound truth. You are the not the centre of history. God is! What happens to you matters, but the real point of life is to glorify God in all things. To see his hand at work. To believe him in the darkest moments. To give him thanks for every victory. To lean upon his Word. To grow more like him day by day. To live so that others find it easy to believe in him.
That’s why the psalmist connects the concrete facts of history with a triumphant cry of praise. If we miss this, or if we downplay this, or if we think that God is somehow “optional” to our lives, then we have missed the very purpose of our existence.
In this long recital of Israel’s history, the psalmist covers centuries of time in just a few sentences. God’s plan was not always easily seen at every point along the way. When the Jews were groaning in Egypt under Pharaoh’s whip, we could understand why they might have felt abandoned by the Almighty. Still later they complained against the Lord after they had been delivered and said how much they missed Egypt.
How short-sighted we are! How quick to forget God’s goodness to us! We pray for deliverance and then complain when it comes. We were born wishing for something better. This psalm reminds us in every single verse that God’s ways and our ways are not the same. Generally we will only see God’s plan in retrospect. As we look back, we say, “Oh, I see it now.” But when we are in the furnace, we see nothing but the flames.
We need Psalm 136 to remind ourselves, because we are so prone to forget it, that God works across the centuries to establish his purposes on the earth. Just because we don’t see it on Thursday at 6:37am doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means we don’t see it. 2. Our faith rests on facts.
We have nothing to fear from the critics of the Christian faith because our faith is founded on the great realities of the Bible – a literal creation by the hand of God, the existence of Israel, the miracles of the Old Testament, the prophecies of the Messiah and towering above everything else, the miraculous birth, the sinless life, the sacrificial death and the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ and his triumphant ascension into heaven. These things were not done in a corner.
3. Remember the big picture: His love endures forever.
When you feel yourself tempted to despair, ponder this: His love endures forever. When you want to give up, write this thought down and stick it on your dashboard: His love endures forever. Tell your husband: His loves endures forever. Tell your wife: His loves endures forever. Tell your children: His love endures forever. When the devil himself starts whispering in your ear about what a loser you are, you tell him to hit the road because His love endures forever. When you have had all you can take, when the world seems to collapse around you, stand up, lift your head, and shout to the skies: His love endures forever! No matter where you’re going this week, His love endures forever. No matter what your problems, His love endures forever. No matter how you feel about it, His love endures forever.
We have just entered a new year with all its promise and all its uncertainty. We bring with us the accumulated weight of our fears and worries, the remembrance of our failures in the past along with our dreams and hopes for the future.
What will the New Year hold for us? Some people have even claimed to know the date of Christ’s return, nailing it down to a particular day. I don’t know whether the stock market is going up or down this year, I have no clear idea who will win the Currie Cup, and I can’t say for certain whether or not Jesus will come in the next 12 months (or the next 12 years, for that matter).
I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. But I am certain of this much, and on this I will take my stand: His love endures forever. Because God is God, that will be just as true in 6 months as it is today. Because God cannot change, his love for us will never change. Keep that in mind as you face the uncertainties before you. Perhaps things will go well for you in 2012. I hope they do. Perhaps you will experience amazing answers to prayer. May that be your portion. But if you experience hard times in the year ahead, if you struggle to make ends meet, if you feel you have lost your way, if your friends seem to turn against you, if the sky tumbles in around you, come back to Psalm 136 and read it out loud.
Remind yourself that we serve a God who acts in history. Remember that his ways are not our ways. Ponder his mighty power in the past. Consider how he has led you thus far. Think of the many promises he has made. Fix your mind on the Lord Jesus, and no matter what else happens this year, stake your claim right here and rejoice evermore because . . . His love endures forever!