Psalm 136
Expositor's Bible Commentary
O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Psalm 136:1-26THIS psalm is evidently intended for liturgic use. It contains reminiscences of many parts, of Scripture, and is especially based on the previous psalm, which it follows closely in Psalm 136:10-18, and quotes directly in Psalm 136:19-22. Delitzsch points out that if these quoted verses are omitted, the psalm falls into triplets. It would then also contain twenty-two verses, corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The general trend of thought is like that of Psalm 135:1-21; but the addition in each verse of the refrain gives a noble swing and force to this exulting song.

The first triplet is a general invocation to praise, coloured by the phraseology of Deuteronomy. Psalm 136:2 a and Psalm 136:3 a quote Deuteronomy 10:17. The second and third triplets (Psalm 136:4-9) celebrate Jehovah’s creative power. "Doeth great wonders" (Psalm 136:4) is from Psalm 72:18. The thought of the Divine Wisdom as the creative agent occurs in Psalm 104:24, and attains noble expression in Proverbs 3:1-35. In Psalm 136:6 the word rendered spread is from the same root as that rendered "firmament" in Genesis. The office of the heavenly bodies to rule day and night is taken from Genesis 1:1-31. But the psalm looks at the story of Creation from an original point of view, when it rolls out in chorus, after each stage of that work, that its motive lay in the eternal lovingkindness of Jehovah. Creation is an act of Divine love. That is the deepest truth concerning all things visible. They are the witnesses, as they are the result, of lovingkindness which endures forever.

Psalm 136:10-22 pass from world wide manifestations of that creative lovingkindness to those specially affecting Israel. If Psalm 136:19-22 are left out of notice, there are three triplets in which the Exodus, desert life, and conquest of Caanan are the themes, -the first (Psalm 136:10-12) recounting the departure; the second (Psalm 136:13-15) the passage of the Red Sea; the third (Psalm 136:16-18) the guidance during the forty years and the victories over enemies. The whole is largely taken from the preceding psalm, and has also numerous allusions to other parts of Scripture. Psalm 136:12 a-is found in Deuteronomy 4:34, etc. The word for dividing the Red Sea is peculiar. It means to hew in pieces or in two, and is used for cutting in halves the child in Solomon’s judgment; {1 Kings 3:25} while the word "parts" is a noun from the same root, and is found in Genesis 15:17, to describe the two portions into which Abraham clave the carcasses. Thus, as with a sword, Jehovah hewed the sea in two, and His people passed between the parts, as between the halves of the covenant sacrifice. In Psalm 136:15 the word describing Pharaoh’s destruction is taken from Exodus 14:27, and vividly describes it as a "shaking out," as one would vermin or filth from a robe.

In the last triplet (Psalm 136:23-25) the singer comes to the Israel of the present. It, too, had experienced Jehovah’s remembrance in its time of need, and felt the merciful grasp of His hand plucking it, with loving violence, from the claws of the lion. The word for "low estate" and that for "tore us from the grasp" are only found besides in late writings-the former in Ecclesiastes 10:6, and the latter in Lamentations 5:8.

But the song will not close with reference only to Israel’s blessings. He gives bread to all flesh. "The lovingkindness which flashes forth even in destructive acts, and is manifested especially in bringing Israel back from exile, stretches as wide in its beneficence as it did in its first creative acts, and sustains all flesh which it has made. Therefore the final call to praise, which rounds off the psalm by echoing its beginning, does not name Him by the Name which implied Israel’s special relation, but by that by which other peoples could and did address Him, "the God of heaven," from whom all good comes down on all the earth.

The Expositor's Bible

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