AN EXPOSITION OF PSALM 136:1-3
1 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
While many of the Psalms are identified with an author, this one is not. Nor is a title given to the Psalm, which is easily rectified for this Psalm tells of the everlasting mercy of the Lord. Twenty-six times the phrase is repeated, “for His mercy endureth forever.”
Repetition is needed because the heart of fallen man is stubborn. We as humans easily forget all the blessings of God, and all of His benefits. The slightest tragedy, or the mildest moment of adversity comes, and the goodness, the love, and the mercy of God is questioned. So repetition is needed.
Repetition is needed in order to encourage the heart in the hour of worship. We know this Psalm was sung during worship in Solomon’s Temple on the day of its dedication. “And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” (2 Chron. 7:3)
This song was also sung by the military when the armies of Jehoshaphat wanted to win a victory over the forces of Moab and Ammon in the wilderness of Tekoa. On the day of battle, when Jehoshaphat “had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.” (2 Chron. 20:21)
The reason why Israel was to sing unto the Lord in the hour of worship and on the day of battle, is because the Lord is good. What would you say if someone were to ask you. “What is your definition of being good?”
Fortunately, we are not left to provide a human definition of goodness because not everyone would agree. In our society today, Liberals have a different idea of goodness from Conservatives. The Socialist has a different idea of goodness than Freedom Fighters. Communist believe that centralized planning is good, while others believe that Capitalism and free enterprise is good.
The Jewish prophet Micah defined goodness with these words. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)
To be good is to do justly. We need to be truthful and fair with every person, and seek to bring justice for those who are mistreated, or taken advantage of by ruthless individuals.
To be good is to love mercy. Alexander Pope wrote, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
To be good is to walk humble with God. To walk humbly with God means to seek to do His will. To walk humbly with God means not to draw unwarranted attention to oneself. In Letter Fourteen in the Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, a good man who is being recruited by the Devil and his apprentice to their side is growing humble. The Devil remarks that “this is very bad.” The devil says to his associate, “Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact?”
Let use worship the Lord who is good in that He is truthful, willing to love and forgive sinners, and humble enough to dwell among men.
2 O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.
As thanksgiving is to be given to God because He is good, so thanks is to be given unto God who is the God of gods, or Lord of lords. This is not to suggest that other gods and lords exist. They do not in reality, though they do exist in the imaginations of men. There are numerous illusionary gods being worshipped today in many countries and on many continents.
In the Old Testament era, the Psalmist would have been familiar with some of the false gods associated with foreign nations surrounding Israel. Consider just a few of the false gods during the Old Testament era, in alphabetical order.
Amun was the chief god of Thebes, in southern Egypt. He became identified as the Sun god, Amun-Ra.
Asherah was a Canaanite fertility goddess who was the consort of El, the chief Canaanite god. She was the mother of seventy gods, of whom Baal was the most famous. Wooden poles were often set up in her honour and placed near other pagan objects of worship. Sexual orgies would take place around these poles. Gideon destroyed an Asherah pole. Elijah summoned 400 prophets of Asherah to Mount Carmel in a religious battle. Then Elijah killed them.
Ashtoreth was a goddess of war and fertility who was the consort of Baal. She was associated with the evening star and was worshipped as Ishtar in Babylon. To the Greeks she was Aphrodite, and to the Romans, Venus.
Baal was a Canaanite and Phoenician god of fertility and rain.
Baal, meaning “lord”, was pictured standing on a bull, a popular symbol of fertility and strength.
Baal-Zebub was a popular deity of the Philistines. The Greek form of the Hebrew name “Baal-Zebub”, meaning “lord of the flies”.
Bel was the chief deity of Babylon. Bel was another name for the sun god, Marduk. Nebo, the god of learning and writing was the son of Marduk.
Chemosh, the chief god of Moab.
Dagon, who took the form of a fish, was worshipped in Babylonia and Philistia.
Molech was the chief deity of Ammon. The practice of sacrificing children to the outstretched arms of Molech was common in Phoenicia and the region. One of the wives of Solomon was from Ammon, and so turned his heart from the Lord that Solomon too offered child sacrifices. “Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. 8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.” (1 Kings 11:7-8) The good king, Josiah, destroyed the area where the altars for child sacrifice were located.
Tammuz was a Babylonian god of vegetation spoken of in Ezekiel 8:14. Women were found worshipping him. “Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.”
Why were the women weeping?
“According to the pagan religion, Tammuz was betrayed by his lover, Ishtar, and as a result dies each autumn. The wilting of the vegetation at that time of year is seen as a sign of his death.
This caused great mourning in the ancient world, and was why the women in Jerusalem wept.” (Holman Bible Dictionary)
I tell you, the worship of false gods was a snare to God’s people, for the worship of these gods included improper sexual activities.
The false gods turned the hearts of people from the true God of gods, until the pious were exhorted to give thanks unto the God of gods; for His mercy endureth for ever.
Time and again the Lord would call His people to turn from the wicked ways and worship Him. And He would show them mercy by forgiving them of their sins.
3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.
The reference to the Lord being the Lord of lords is a reference to His sovereignty over all the potentates on earth. With incredible arrogance, throughout history, there are men, and women, who exalt themselves to the point they demand to be worshipped as a divine personage. Those who are sane in the modern age can identify these narcissistic individuals as fostering a Cult of Personality, reflected in the dictator of North Korea, King Jong Un. This evil man, with his finger on nuclear bombs, demands to be worshipped as a god.
He is able to get away with this nonsense because his grandfather, Kim Il Sung became President of North Korea on September 9, 1948 after decades of Japanese occupation in Kora. A totalitarian state based on Marist-Leninist ideas was established. A harsh dictatorship was established, and supernatural power was assigned to him. All religions and opposing ideologies were banned, especially Christianity.
Eventually, North Korea’s original philosophy of Marxism-Leninism was abandoned in favor of Juche which is translated as, “self-reliance.” When Kim Il Sung died (1912-1994), Kim Jong Il, succeeded him and ruled until his death on December 17, 2011. He was 70 years old.
Enter, Kim Jong Un. Born on January 8, 1984, the dictator is 33 years of age. He rules a country of 25 million people who live in an area that could fit inside the state of Mississippi. The GDP per capita is $1,800. Worse of all, Kim Jong Il, believes he is an important Lord.
And the Psalmist says to the Church, “Do not worry about individuals such as Kim Jong Un. Worship, and give thanks unto the Lord of lords, for His mercy endureth forever.”