New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Psa 136:1

Give thanks to Yahweh, for He is good; for His grace endures forever-
This Psalm is paired with Ps. 135. It could be that it is the song of praise called for at the conclusion of Ps. 135.

Psa 136:2

Give thanks to the God of gods; for His grace endures forever-
The other idols are not baldly stated to be non-existent. But Yahweh is so far superior to them that they have no effective existence. Just as in the New Testament demons don't exist but they are spoken of as having some existence, so here the non-existent idols are assumed to exist, for a moment and for the purpose of the argument. But Yahweh is their God and Lord (:3). What makes Yahweh so far above any idols is the quality of His grace, His undeserved favour, a concept quite unknown to any idol, ancient or modern.

Psa 136:3

Give thanks to the Lord of lords; for His grace endures forever-
See on :2. This title of Yahweh is applied to the Lord Jesus (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). This is no evidence that "Jesus is God"; the titles of Yahweh can be justly shared with His Son without making Yahweh and His Son one and the same person.    

Psa 136:4

to Him who alone does great wonders; for His grace endures forever-
As discussed on Ps. 71:19, the "great / wondrous things" performed by God were His forgiveness and salvation of a condemned sinner like David. This is described in Ps. 71:19 as God doing "great things", the phrase used of the great things worked in visible miracles in Egypt (Ps. 106:21) and at creation (Ps. 136:7). But the forgiveness of people like David is no less a great miracle. Such great things are done because of His mercy / grace (Ps. 136:4).

Psa 136:5

to Him who by understanding made the heavens; for His grace endures forever-
The same "understanding" and grace coded into the natural creation is manifest to us His sinful people. His grace is extended to us because He "understands"; just as we are more generous and forgiving to others when we understand their background issues. But Yahweh, whose sensitivity, awareness and understanding is seen throughout His creation, therefore exercises grace all the more.

Psa 136:6

to Him who spread out the earth above the waters; for His grace endures forever-
This was the same argument as used to the exiles in Is. 42:5; 44:24. But it was originally David's understanding of creation (Ps. 24:2). So again we see evidence that a Davidic Psalm was rewritten under inspiration and used by the exiles. Creation itself is the great example of God's grace, a connection often made by David (e.g. Ps. 119:64). To create us and our environment was and is the ultimate grace.

Psa 136:7

to Him who made the great lights; for His grace endures forever-
The stress is as in LXX "To him who alone made great lights". There were multiple theories and myths about the origins of the sun and moon, as there are today. The emphasis is that Yahweh "alone" created them. He was not in league with other gods. And to create sun and moon, like all creation (see on :6), was itself a sign of grace.

Psa 136:8

the sun to rule by day; for His grace endures forever-
Perhaps the idea is that the very existence of light and darkness, good and evil, is not only of God's creation but is itself a sign of grace. Perhaps that is something we will only perceive once in God's Kingdom and sharing His nature.

Psa 136:9

the moon and stars to rule by night; for His grace endures forever-
All the surrounding beliefs and theories were to the effect that the night and darkness were controlled by radical evil. The grace of it all is that this isn't the case; the night / darkness is ruled, under God's control, by what He has created.

Psa 136:10

to Him who struck down the Egyptian firstborn; for His grace endures forever-
The slaying of the firstborn is here presented as praiseworthy because it reflects God's grace. One take on the situation is that God foreknew that if He had not killed those Egyptians, they would have killed the Israelites. Another is that without that plague, the Egyptians wouldn't have allowed the Israelites to leave (:11).  

Psa 136:11

and brought out Israel from among them; for His grace endures forever-
The bringing out of Israel was of grace because they took with them the idols of Egypt, and carried the tabernacle of their gods as well as that of Yahweh. Yet Yahweh still brought them out, delivering and saving them by grace alone.

Psa 136:12

with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm; for His grace endures forever-
"Outstretched" is the word for "incline", used by David of how he himself inclined his heart to God's word (Ps. 119:51,112,157). But David prayed that God would incline his heart towards His word (Ps. 119:36) and away from sin (Ps. 141:4). This is how the Holy Spirit works to this day- we are confirmed in the psychological attitudes we ourselves choose to have. The word is used of God's mighty "stretched out" arm and "strong hand" in human affairs (Ps. 136:12 and often in Isaiah). This powerful hand of God is at work in human hearts, confirming us in the psychological way in which we ourselves wish to go. In this sense God turns or inclines the heart where He wishes (Prov. 21:1). Solomon in the Proverbs places all the emphasis upon a person themselves in their own strength inclining their heart toward his teaching (Prov. 2:2; 4:5,20; 5:1). He fails to appreciate what David his father did; that God's word is His word and not that of the human channel through which it comes. And he totally puts the emphasis upon human strength of will, self inclination towards God's word, rather than perceiving as David did that without God's psychological help in this, we shall ultimately fail. As Solomon himself did.

Psa 136:13

to Him who divided the Red Sea apart; for His grace endures forever-
"Into parts". Passing between parts was the metaphor of covenant relationship. The passing through the Red Sea looked ahead to baptism (1 Cor. 10:1,2), which likewise is the entry into covenant. 

Psa 136:14

and made Israel to pass through its midst; for His grace endures forever-
See on :13. Perhaps the grace in this was that they were "made to pass through", when they actually wished to return to Egypt. "To pass through / over" is the Hebrew word from whence the word "Hebrew" comes, 'passers over'. But God made them His people, He made them 'Hebrews', 'passers over'. Passing through the Red Sea is like baptism (1 Cor. 10:1,2). There is likewise a sense in which we are baptized by God, by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). He takes the initiative and 'makes us pass over'; by His grace.

Psa 136:15

but overthrew Pharaoh and His army in the Red Sea; for His grace endures forever-
The destruction of the Egyptians is cited here as an example of God's grace to Israel, and it is likewise used in Ps. 106:11. One take on the situation is that God foreknew that if He had not killed those Egyptians, they would have killed the Israelites.

Psa 136:16

to Him who led His people through the wilderness; for His grace endures forever-
The people were led by the pillar of cloud and fire, the Angel / Spirit (Num. 14:14). This looked ahead to how after baptism (cp. the Red Sea crossing) we are led of the Spirit (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18; Mt. 4:1). But the leading of the Spirit is grace; and the Spirit and grace are often connected in the New Testament. We are not left to find our own way to God's Kingdom after crossing the Red Sea. We are led, and that is by grace.

Psa 136:17

to Him who struck great kings; for His grace endures forever-
The Hezekiah reference would have been to the king of Assyria surrounding Jerusalem, who was called by the same phrase, a "great king" (Is. 36:4,13). Yahweh's historical victory over "great kings" by His grace towards His people was to inspire the later Jews with hope that His grace would likewise render powerless the "great king" of Assyria. Always Biblical history is harnessed to encourage present faith; for "His grace endures forever", this is the constant theme in all God's dealings with his people.

Psa 136:18

and killed mighty kings; for His grace endures forever-
"Mighty" in the sense of many of them. Josh. 12:24 lists 31 nations / kings destroyed by Joshua.

Psa 136:19

Sihon king of the Amorites; for His grace endures forever-
The record in Num. 21 says that Sihon chose to attack Israel when they ought to have just let the people pass through their land. Israel defeated them and took their territory, which happened to include Moab, which Sihon had recently conquered (Num. 21:21-30). So by one battle with Sihon, Israel ended up conquering a large area. All this was of God's grace rather than their prowess in battle, or faith.

Psa 136:20

Og king of Bashan; for His grace endures forever-
As with Sihon (see on :20), Og attacked Israel and God gave them a victory over Og. But this was by grace; although no details of the battle are recorded in Num. 21, we can assume that the victory involved some special grace from God. Or perhaps the grace of it all was in the fact that the territory of Sihon and Og was on the east of Jordan, and it had not been God's intention to give this to Israel at that time. But by grace He gave them more than originally intended. Such was His love.

Psa 136:21

and gave their land as an inheritance; for His grace endures forever-
It was by grace because they weren't obedient to the covenant, they didn't act as God's children and rejected Him for their idols; but still He gave them what was really the inheritance for His loving children.

Psa 136:22

even a heritage to Israel His servant; for His grace endures forever-
A people were "servants" of their gods. Israel had multiple gods whilst in the wilderness, and even carried the tabernacle of their god Remphan along with that of Yahweh. Yet by grace, God counted Israel as His servants; even though they were serving other gods.

Psa 136:23

who remembered us in our low estate; for His grace endures forever-
"Low estate" is the term often used for those humbled by God's condemnation, e.g. the proud who are brought low (2 Sam. 22:28; Job 40:11; Ps. 75:7; 147:6; Prov. 29:23 and very often in the prophets). And yet God by grace remembers and lifts up even those humbled by such condemnation. This is absolute grace; to save even those suffering condemnation for their sins.

Psa 136:24

and has delivered us from our adversaries; for His grace endures forever-
God "delivered" Israel into the hand of their "adversaries" (s.w. Neh. 9:27). But it was God who also delivered them from those adversaries, even [in the case of the exiles returning from Babylon] without their repentance. This again is "grace upon grace".

Psa 136:25

who gives food to every creature; for His grace endures forever-
This is an Old Testament anticipation of the Lord's teaching that if God feeds ravens, then how much more shall He provide for His beloved people. Indeed it would seem that the Lord may have drawn His teaching in Lk. 12:24 from this verse. Again we see how grace is encoded within the entire creation.

Psa 136:26

Oh give thanks to the God of heaven; for His grace endures forever-
"God of heaven" is a phrase associated with the books dating from the exile. The contrast is with the idols; and Yahweh's abiding grace is what places Him in an altogether different category to them.