If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 136. As you turn there you’ll notice how many phrases and how many similarities there are between this psalm and the psalm that we studied last Lord's Day Evening, Psalm 135. There are a few items I want to draw to your attention, some of them that you will see in the psalm itself as we prepare to hear the reading of God's Word. In the Jewish tradition this psalm was known as “The Great Hallel.” Now you’ll recognize from that word, “hallel,” our English version of it, “hallelujah.” That means that in the Jewish tradition this was known as the great psalm of praise, or hallelujah, is to praise the Lord or to praise Jehovah, the one true God, the God of Israel.
The psalm's antiphonal. That's pretty obvious because of this phrase that is repeated twenty-six times. “For His steadfast love endures forever” or “For His lovingkindess endures forever.” Each verse feature an assertion such as, “Give thanks to the God of gods,” and then a response, “For His steadfast love endures forever.” And you can even picture, you can hear in your mind the two parts of the congregation or the two parts of the choir singing those back and forth to one another. But notice there's not only an assertion and a response; in every single verse there is something new and there's something repeated. The assertion is new in every verse. The refrain is repeated in every verse. So there is something new and there's something repeated.
The psalm, as you will notice, begins and ends — look at the first three verses and then look down to the last verse, verse 26 — it begins and ends with a call to give thanks. Now that word, and maybe not all of our modern translations use that phrase, “give thanks,” but that phrase, “give thanks,” actually the word means a little bit more than that. It means to give thanks, to acknowledge, to confess, to praise. We’ll talk about that in just a little bit. But the psalm begins and ends with this call for us to give thanks and to worship God.
But in the middle it catalogues God's praiseworthy deeds. In other words, it shows you something we've seen over and over in the psalms. God never asks you to worship Him, God never asks you to give Him praise without you understanding the reason why you ought to do that. And the reason why you ought to do that is always rooted in who He is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. Who He is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. And always those four things ground our praise. This is so important because in much modern material for praise, praise is exhorted and called for and there's no reason given for it. That never is how it works in the psalms. The psalms are anxious to tell us why we ought to worship God so that our praise is rooted in the substantial truth that we believe about God which He has revealed to us in His Word.
Now the deeds that are listed, the threefold deeds which provide the basis for and content of our worship of God, are, and you’ll notice these, look at verses 4 to 9 — God's creation; verses 10 to 22 — God's redemption; and verses 23 to 25 — God's providence. So in this psalm, God's creation, God's redemption, and God's providence are all given to us as the basis of our praise, the content of our praise, the reason for our praise. Now in Hebrew, this phrase which in the ESV is translated, “for His steadfast love endures forever,” giving you ten syllables, in Hebrew the repeated refrain only has six syllables so it's a little more rapid, it's a little more punchy, it's a little less like singing ”The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I mean, by the time you've said ten syllables twenty-six times you’re ready to be mercifully put out of your misery! But if it's six syllables, it's pretty punchy in the original. Gelineau, one of the translators of the psalms many years ago, rendered another psalm which uses these exact Hebrew words, “for His love has no end” — six syllables in English — “for His love has no end.” And that perhaps catches a little bit more of a feel of how the Hebrew would sound were we singing it back and forth to one another.
Well with that as background, let's go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to bless the reading of His Word.
Our heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You that we're with Your house, Your people, on Your day at the end of blessed rest and refreshment and gladness and worship, sitting under Your Word, feasting on Your mercy, learning of who You are and what You've done for us. We ask that You would work these truths into our hearts in such a way as to produce real worship, worship in spirit and in truth, worship from the heart, worship in sincerity, worship in the beauty of holiness. And we ask these things in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever;
to Him who alone does great wonders, for His steadfast love endures forever, to Him who by understanding made the heavens, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who spread out the earth above the waters, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who made the great lights, for His steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for His steadfast love endures forever; the moon and stars to rule over the night, for His steadfast love endures forever;
to Him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for His steadfast love endures forever; and brought Israel out from among them, for His steadfast love endures forever; with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who divided the Red Sea in two, for His steadfast love endures forever; and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for His steadfast love endures forever; but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who led His people through the wilderness, for His steadfast love endures forever;
to Him who struck down great kings, for His steadfast love endures forever; and killed mighty kings, for His steadfast love endures forever; Sihon, king of the Amorites, for His steadfast love endures forever; and Og, king of Bashan, for His steadfast love endures forever; and gave their land as a heritage, for His steadfast love endures forever; a heritage to Israel His servant, for His steadfast love endures forever.
It is He who remembered us in our low estate, for His steadfast love endures forever; and rescued us from our foes, for His steadfast love endures forever; He who gives food to all flesh, for His steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
IT IS VITAL TO OUR SPIRITUAL WELL-BEING TO PRAISE THE LORD
There are many things that could profitably occupy our attention as we look together tonight at this psalm but there are five in particular that I want to draw to your attention. And the first is this — and you really see it in the exhortations of verses 1, 2, 3, and 26 — “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good, His steadfast love endures forever; give thanks to the God of gods, give thanks to the Lord of lords, give thanks to the God of heaven.” Here it is. It is vital to our spiritual wellbeing to give thanks, to confess, to acknowledge, to praise the Lord. It's vital to our spiritual wellbeing. And it is vital that as we praise God, our praise of God is rooted in our confession and acknowledgement of Him. That is, that we don't just simply praise Him to praise Him but that we praise Him because of what we confess about Him and what we acknowledge about Him.
That is, it's the case of verse 1 — we give thanks to the Lord because He is the Lord, the God of Israel, because He is good, and because of His lovingkindness which lasts forever. In other words, in one quick verse the psalmist has actually supplied you with three theological reasons to give thanks to God — because He is Lord, because He is good, and because His lovingkindness never ends. In other words, our praise, our worship, is to be rooted in what we know and believe and confess about God. If I could say that several different ways, our doxology, our praise of God, is rooted in our theology, our knowledge of God. Our praise of God is rooted in the truth of God. Our worship of God is rooted in the doctrine of His Word. You know, there are all sorts of good reasons that we can give when unbelievers ask us the question, “Why are you a Christian?” But one of the very best and in fact one of the essential responses to that is, “Because it's true. I worship God because He is. I believe the Bible because it's true. My praise to the Lord, my worship of the Lord is rooted in my acknowledgement and my confession of the truth. Otherwise, it's kind of an exercise in emptiness.”
Isn't it interesting that as many protestant denominations across this great land abandon the truth of God's Word that their sanctuaries are emptying out? Quick, name the protestant denomination which had denied essential parts of the Apostles Creed and is growing in membership. That is correct, there is none! Why is that? Because people are smart. Why would you worship someone that you don't believe in? Why would you come to hear a word preached that isn't true? People are smart; they understand there's a connection. You don't worship a God you don't believe in. You don't come, getting up in the morning on the Lord's Day and coming back in at night on the Lord's Day Evening to hear a book that you don't believe is true and people have figured it out. They've connected the dots. And where the Word is not believed and where God is not believed, the pews are emptying out. Well the psalmist taught us this long ago — that our worship is rooted in our theology, that our praise is rooted in the truth, that our worship of God is rooted in the doctrine of His Word and that's why it's so important for us to confess and acknowledge Him and to express that in our worship.
There are a couple of other things that I want you to see in connection with this first point though. One is simply this — we cannot do anything more important in life to the glory of God or the salvation of people than to often speak and sing of the mercy of God. There's nothing more important that we can do in this life for the glory of God, for the salvation of people, than to often speak and sing of the mercy of God, especially when we are in the midst of tribulation. You don't think the Burnham family was a testimony to the Gospel in the way they endured the loss of Bill in faith this last week? There were many, many people that saw that testimony of their belief to God's praise, to God's glory. So when you are in a hard spot and you still worship the Lord and you still believe in His mercy and you still testify to His goodness, you don't think that message gets through? Oh, by God's grace the Spirit, very often, uses that testimony in the hearts and minds of men and women and boys and girls to draw them to the God who does not leave us when all the lights go out. There is nothing you’ll do more important than worshiping the Lord to bring glory to His name or to bear witness to the salvation that only He gives.
Secondly, I want you to think with regard to this first point that our spiritual wellbeing, it is vital to our spiritual wellbeing to give thanks and confess and acknowledge and praise the Lord. Think of this my friends, while life lasts, we will not be done praying, but while eternity lasts, we will not be done praising. So Dr. Wymond is getting you ready to do what you’re going to be doing forever. Think about that. There will be a day when our intercessions end. There will never be a day when our praises end. My job is to get you to the place where the praises never end. Dr. Wymond can take it from there.
Secondly, in this passage we learn that in true worship we acknowledge the Lord's goodness and His grace and His love and His commitment by a deep consideration of who He is and what He has done. Again, the psalm begins, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, His steadfast love endures forever.” So he acknowledges the goodness of God and the lovingkindness of God, the grace and mercy and the commitment of the Lord to us. How is that seen? Well as we've said in this psalm, especially in creation, redemption, and providence. That is, we are to praise God for His goodness and His lovingkindness especially as we consider His creation and redemption and providence.
Two or three things to say here. First about the Lord's lovingkindness, His mercy, His gracious and enduring commitment to His people, His covenant love for us. William Plummer says this, “If people despair of and doubt the lovingkindness of the Lord, they will not turn from their sin.” If people despair of or doubt the lovingkindness of the Lord, they will not turn from their sin. Isn't it interesting that it is precisely God's covenant love, His grace, His lovingkindness which He uses to turn people from their sin. Because there is mercy we turn to Him. And so it is so important for us always to hold up before sinners the lovingkindness of the Lord because sinners, as hard as they work to deny that they’re sinners, deep down inside know two things — they are sinners and they deserve to be condemned. What they have a hard time to belief is that God would give His own Son in their place and bear their condemnation so that they can come back into the friendship and fellowship of a living God. And it is a glory that we have to announcement in the Gospel that truth of His lovingkindness. And so it's not surprise, is it, that twenty-six times that truth is repeated in this psalm.
Second, notice here the emphasis on God's creation and providence. You see it in verses 4 to 9; you see it again in verses 23 to 25. If we stop believing in God's creation and providence, you know what we’ll also stop believing in? We’ll stop believing in His redemption. If we stop believing in His creation and providence, we’ll stop believing in His redemption. And it's not surprise, is it, that both of those things have been under assault in modern theology — a denial of God's creation; a denial of God's providence.
I've shared with you before that atheists have long been frustrated at the fact that children are by nature creationists. And atheists have actually spent a lot of money trying to figure out why. Why is it that little children believe that God created the world and why is it that they look at nature and they perceive the hand of God. And they've literally done serious academic study to try and determine why. And they've come up with this answer. The answer is that when little children look at the world they believe in agency. They look at the world and they think, “This couldn't have just got here. My food doesn't just get to my table at suppertime at night. My mother prepares it, she perhaps buys it from the grocery store or gets it from the garden or my father works for it so she can buy it from the grocery store.” They perceive agency and when they look at the world they perceive agency. There's an agent at work to make things the way that they are. Well low and behold, that is exactly what the psalmist is talking about us giving praise to God for in this passage. We look out at the world and we perceive God's agency, in fact not only God's agency, but His goodness and His lovingkindness in His creation of the heavens. And so my friends, we must believe in the miracle of creation and the miracle of redemption and in God's providence if we are going to praise Him as we ought.
CELEBRATING THE NEW EXODUS
Third, did you notice how the exodus itself is celebrated in this psalm? Look at verses 10 to 16 especially — the striking down of the firstborn in Egypt, the bringing of Israel across the Red Sea, the overthrown of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, the leading of God's people in the wilderness. In the old covenant, God's people annually memorialized the great work of the exodus, but as the new covenant people of God in this congregation, we quarterly every year memorialize Christ's great new covenant exodus accomplished on the cross. We did it this morning; the Table was spread. And what are we doing? We are remembering the great event of redemption. As they did in the Old Testament once a year at Passover, so we do four times a year in this congregation every year remembering the Great Exodus as Luke calls it in Luke chapter 9.
GOD’S FOES WILL ALWAYS FAIL AND PERISH
Fourth, look especially at verses 17 to 22 where we're told that God struck down the kings that opposed Israel. This is part of His redemption but it also points out this important truth that we need to remember when we worship God. The foes of God's people will always fail and perish; they always have, they always will. The foes of God's people will always fail and perish; they always have, they always will. You know, to believers who were persecuted in Nero's Rome, Paul once said, “If God is for you, who can be against you?” And of course he said that to you and me as well because he was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and that word is part of the profitable Word of God that is meant for every believer to build us up in truth and righteousness. But you know the opposite of that is also true. If it's true to believers that, “God is for you, who can be against you,” for those who are the foes of the people of God, for those who seek to oppress the people of God, for those who persecute the people of God, if God is against them, then who can be for them? The answer is, it doesn't matter who's for them if God is against them. The foes of God's people will always fail and perish; they always have and they always will. This is important for us to remember. This is especially important for us to remember as we enter perhaps a new season in the Western world. Are we entering for the first time in sixteen hundred years or more a pre-Constantinian era of Christianity? If we are, if God be for us, who can be against us?
THIS IS YOUR SONG
And fifth and finally in this psalm I want you to see this — the repeated refrain, “For His steadfast love endures forever,” accentuates God's covenant love as the ground of all our blessings and hopes. Yes, it does that. We've already mentioned that, but it does something else too. Saying that refrain over and over again is deliberately designed to bring home the relevance of every act of God to every believing singer of this psalm. You understand that? That the repetition of that phrase, “For His steadfast love endures forever,” is designed to convince you, the believing singer of this song, that everything God has done, is doing, or will do, He has done, is doing, and will do for you. He is making all things work together for good for you because you love Him and you’re called according to His purpose. He has created this world for you. He has sent His Son because of His love for you. His lovingkindness is for all His people. And the repetition of that phrase, “For His lovingkindness endures forever,” is designed to press home that every single one of these twenty-six things that are catalogued in Psalm 136 and a billion more, God, in His love, has done, is doing, and will do for you. You have no idea how much He loves you. What's the response? The only possible response is for us to give thanks unto the Lord for He is good. His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Our Lord and our God, work the truths of this song so deeply into our hearts that we can say, “This is our story, this is our song,” even that we might say as individual believers, “This is my story, this is my song.” And because it is, because of Your lovingkindness, grant that we would have hearts that praise our Savior all the day long, to confess You and to acknowledge You and to bless You and to give thanks to You and to praise You for who You are, for what You've done and what You are doing and what You will do in creation, in redemption, and in providence. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.