Today: [Psalm 136] The Goodness of God Shakes the Nations. The psalm we study today was read every day by the Levites for centuries. It is still read today each and every day in certain Eastern Orthodox traditions. It emphasizes the mercy of God and the sovereignty of God over the nations. We can look at the destruction of Pharaoh and other kings in the Old Testament narrative as a manifestation of God’s wrath but in fact these judgments were an act of His mercy toward His people. Likewise today we see governments shifting and shaking in ways that seem difficult to measure the consequence of – but the fact is that God’s mercy shakes the nations that disparage and mistreat by their policies the people of God who are His peculiar treasure.
[Psa 136:1-26 KJV] 1 O give thanks unto the LORD; for [he is] good: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 2 O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 5 To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 6 To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 8 The sun to rule by day: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy [endureth] for ever.
This psalm was composed by David and given to the Levites to sing each and every day. Solomon followed his father’s example and this song was sung at the dedication of the temple. When Jehoshaphat obeyed the prophets in 2 Chron. 20:20 this psalm is the psalm that was sung that day as well. The focus is singularly upon the mercy of God and the faithfulness of God toward His people. This psalm is sometimes referred to as “The Great Hallel”. In some Jewish traditions it is read several times over the feast of Passover. In Eastern Orthodoxy the Slavic church reads this psalm every day. The scope of the psalm covers the entire history of salvation in the Old Testament period. It is believed that this psalm would have been read as well by Jesus and the disciples at the Passover celebration that constituted the last supper.
The psalm begins with “O Give Thanks to the Lord…” This is repeated in the beginning of the first 3 verses of the chapter. It is an employment of poetic expression for the purpose of emphasizing the one great and central fact that God in his most basic and fundamental nature is a good God and the source of all goodness. The Hebrew word for good implies that God “makes well; is a source of good cheer; one who benefits others; who brings pleasantness, delight and joy. This is what we can expect in all our dealings with God. Our first impression of God – if it is to be a correct one does not first look at Him with dread or terror but as a good God who is good in Himself and good to those who love Him and in fact to all His creations.
10 To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 11 And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 12 With a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 13 To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 14 And made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 15 But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 16 To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy [endureth] for ever.
The writer repeats the litany of Israel’s history and at each and every point emphasized God’s mercy. God has wrought wonders in the Old Testament and from the writers viewpoint each and every act of God is an act not first of judgment but of mercy. Mercy is what causes God to act and to intervene in the lives of men and the affairs of nations. To see God as something other than a source of mercy, goodness, clemency and patience is to misunderstand and to misrepresent who He is.
Secular traditions repudiate the idea of a merciful god. For God to be merciful the philosophers insist He would then have to be actually aware and interested in what was taking place upon the earth among men. Greek philosophy at times makes the case for the existence of God as the “prime mover” or “unmoved mover” bringing about creation and change in the universe. However in the same moment Aristotle and Plato insisted that God (whoever He might be) is utterly transcendent and completely uninterested in the affairs of men.
Why is this important to make note of? Because St. Augustine, considered the architect of modern Christianity saw Greek philosophy and not Hebrew theology as the foundation of Christian culture. His thinking influenced and extended beyond the church of the middle ages and into secular culture which rejects the idea of god altogether and sees no higher intellect in the universe other than man himself or perhaps inhabitants of other planets that we have yet to encounter. To this the writer of the psalm we study today is repetitively in opposition against stating again and again that not only is God involved and aware of what is taking place in your life – his posture toward you each and every moment is one of enduring mercy.
17 To him which smote great kings: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 18 And slew famous kings: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 19 Sihon king of the Amorites: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 20 And Og the king of Bashan: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 21 And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 22 [Even] an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 23 Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy [endureth] for ever: 24 And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 25 Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy [endureth] for ever. 26 O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy [endureth] for ever.
Verses 10-22 emphasis the power of God and the sovereignty of God over kings and rulers. Throughout Israel’s history when kings and rulers came out against them God would chasten and subdue them and give their honor to the people of God as a spoil. Today we do not serve under kings and rulers (other than those such as the UK which have a mere figurehead of monarchy held as a symbol of greatness). We rather in the western world and many other countries live as citizens under one or the other form of representative democracy. In other words we the people assert some influence of choice over who are rulers are. Does the fact then that we choose in the voting booth our choice of ruler mean that God does not rule over all. Dan. 2:21 states that God sets up kings and removes kings. Does this only apply to kings, or does God likewise ultimately determine who rules even in those countries governed by representative choice?
Proverbs 16:33 declares that man casts the lot into his lap but God decides the outcome. The fate of nations in the Old Testament narrative was decided based on the favorable or unfavorable treatment of God’s people – the nation of Israel. In the New Testament this not only applies to natural Israel but also to the church of the living God. In western society today the church is under fire. Our values are disparaged and held suspect. Our sense of morality is not only considered outmoded but is progressively being outlawed in the courts in favor of laws and statutes designed to protect scripturally illicit behaviors and punish men and women of faith with forfeiture of their livelihoods if they do not comply. When Hitler first moved against the Jews in Germany it was done through the court system aimed at affecting their place in the public square and the business sector. We are seeing the faint but undeniable beginnings of this in every developed country in the west. As a result and at the same time governments including the US and UK are being thrown into chaos with frequent and often regime change and social upheaval. God is setting kings up and removing kings based upon their treatment of His people.
In all of this the underlying purpose is not destruction or punishment but God bringing about His mercy that endures forever. We need not look at upheaval and political shift in the UK as the enemy at work, or at the monumental revolution taking place in American politics as Satan getting the upper hand. God will not allow these evermore oppressive governments to remain stable as long as they disdain, dismiss and outright lobby against and persecute people of faith through their policies. The nations tremble not because God is a harsh God but because He is a merciful God acting in defense of His people Israel and His people the church.
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