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Psalm 136

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Thanks for the Lord's Goodness to Israel
No MT Intro
Thanksgiving to God for His Enduring Mercy Thanksgiving for the Lord's Great Deeds on Behalf of His People A Hymn of Thanksgiving Litany of Thanksgiving
136:1-9 136:1-3 136:1-3 136:1-3 136:1-3
  136:4-9 136:4-9 136:4-9 136:4-6
        136:7-9
136:10-22 136:10-22 136:10-22 136:10-15 136:10-12
        136:13-15
      136:16-22 136:16-20
        136:21-24
136:23-26 136:23-25 136:23-25 136:23-25  
        136:25-26
  136:26 136:26 136:26  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. As "bless" (BDB 138, KB 159, Piel imperatives) opened and closed Psalm 135, "give thanks" (BDB 392, KB 389, Hiphil imperatives) opens and closes Psalm 136.

B. The liturgical repetitive pattern is obvious in the Psalm. The rabbis call it "the Great Hallel." The Priest would pronounce the first line of each verse and the worshipers the second in refrain.

C. The structure/theology is

1. YHWH Himself is characterized

2. YHWH's acts of deliverance are highlighted

3. Israel is called on to praise their national God, the only God

D. The Psalm is the parallel to Psalm 135.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 136:1-9
 1Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
 2Give thanks to the God of gods,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
 3Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
 4To Him who alone does great wonders,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
 5To Him who made the heavens with skill,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
 6To Him who spread out the earth above the waters,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
 7To Him who made the great lights,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
 8The sun to rule by day,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
 9The moon and stars to rule by night,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

136:1 "‘Give thanks" the verb (BDB 392, KB 389) basically means "to throw" or "cast." In the Hiphil it is used of

1. thanksgiving by singing liturgical phrases

2. confessing (cf. Lev. 5:5; Pro. 28:13)

The AB suggests that there was a physical gesture connected to the act of thanksgiving which is the reason this seemingly unconnected root was used.

▣ "for He is good" The first strophe (Ps. 136:1-9) describes YHWH's person and acts of creation.

1. He is good (cf. 1 Chr. 16:34; Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1,29; 136:1; Jer. 33:11)

2. He is over all gods (cf. Deut. 10:17, see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM)

3. He is the creator of this planet, Ps. 136:4-9 (cf. Genesis 1, see Special Topic: Wonderful Things for Ps. 136:4a)

 

▣ "For His lovingkindness is everlasting" This is a recurrent affirmation of YHWH's mercy and eternality (repeated in every verse).

For the term "lovingkindness" see Special Topic: Lovingkindness (hesed). For the term "everlasting" see Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

Notice the different ways the significant covenant term hesed (BDB 338) is translated.

1. NASB - "lovingkindness"

2. NKJV, LXX - "mercy"

3. NRSV, JPSOA - "steadfast love"

4. TEV, REB - "love"

5. NJB - "faithful love"

6. NAB - "God's love"

7. NET Bible - "loyal love"

I think the best way to describe this term is "YHWH's unconditional, loyal, covenant love." It is theologically analogous to the NT agapē.

136:4 "who alone" This is an affirmation of monotheism, Israel's uniqueness in the ANE (cf. Ps. 72:18; Isa. 44:24; see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM).

▣ "great wonders" The LXX omits the adjective. The UBS Text Project (p. 417) is divided over which one to accept, the MT or LXX. "Great" does appear with the term "wonders" in Deut. 6:22.

136:5

NASB"with skill"
NKJV, TEV"by wisdom"
NRSV"by understanding"
NJB, REB"in wisdom"
JPSOA"with wisdom"

The feminine noun (BDB 108) is used in Pro. 8:1 for God's first creation which He used to create all things. Some other passages where this is used are Job 26:12; Pro. 3:19; 24:3; Jer. 10:12.

The concept is parallel to "spoke" in Genesis 1. It refers to God's creative activities.

The NT asserts that Jesus was God's agent in creation (cf. John 1:3,10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). Notice how the first three verses of the Bible involve the Trinity (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY).

1. Elohim (God), Gen. 1:1

2. Ruah (Spirit), Gen. 1:2

3. God/Jesus said, Gen. 1:3,6,9,14

 

136:6 "spread out" This verb (BDB 955, KB 1291) is used of God shaping the "dome" of atmosphere over the earth (cf. Job 37:18; Isa. 42:5; 44:24, see SPECIAL TOPIC: HEAVEN).

The UBS Handbook says this verb refers to YHWH establishing dry land on the waters (cf. Ps. 24:2). This is surely possible.

136:7-9 The mentioning of God's creation of the lights in the sky was a Hebrew way of rejecting astral worship. This theological imagery is similar to the plagues of Egypt (cf. Exodus 8-11) rejecting the animal deities of Egypt. YHWH, and He alone, is God! There is no other (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM). Note "who alone" (BDB 94 II) in Ps. 136:4a.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 136:10-22
 10To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
 11And brought Israel out from their midst,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
 12With a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
 13To Him who divided the Red Sea asunder,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
 14And made Israel pass through the midst of it,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
 15But He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
 16To Him who led His people through the wilderness,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
 17To Him who smote great kings,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
 18And slew mighty kings,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
 19Sihon, king of the Amorites,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
 20And Og, king of Bashan,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
 21And gave their land as a heritage,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
 22Even a heritage to Israel His servant,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

136:10-22 As Ps. 136:1-9 describes the God of creation (i.e., Elohim, cf. Genesis 1); Ps. 136:10-22 describes the God of deliverance/OT salvation (i.e., YHWH, though not mentioned, but implied, see SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (OLD TESTAMENT TERM) [OT]).

1. the promised exodus from Egypt (cf. Gen. 15:12-15)

a. plagues

b. dividing the Red/Reed Sea (see Special Topic: Red Sea)

2. the promised conquest of Canaan (cf. Gen. 15:16-21)

 

136:12 "With a strong hand and outstretched arm" This anthropomorphic imagery (see Special Topic: God Described As Human) is common in the OT (cf. Exod. 13:3,9; 6:1; Deut. 3:24; 4:34; 5:15; 6:21; 7:19; 26:8; 1 Kgs. 8:42; Neh. 1:10; Ps. 44:3; 77:15; Jer. 32:21). See Special Topic: Hand.

136:13 The same words are used in Exod. 14:27 describing the Egyptian army's destruction at the Red/Reed Sea.

136:21-22 "heritage. . .heritage" This noun (BDB 635) is imagery drawn from Israel's unique place as YHWH's special choice (cf. note at Ps. 135:4).

1. He gave them Canaan to fulfill His promise to Abraham (cf. Gen. 15:12-21). This is stated again and again in Deuteronomy (cf. Deut. 4:21; 15:4; 19:10; 20:16; 21:28; 24:4; 25:19; 26:1).

2. He gave each tribe of Israel their own land allotment (cf. Joshua 13-19).

3. Israel was YHWH's special inheritance of all the nations (cf. Deut. 4:20; 7:6; 9:26,29; 32:9; 1 Kgs. 8:51; Ps. 28:9; 33:12; 78:62,71; 94:5,14; 106:40).

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 136:23-26
 23Who remembered us in our low estate,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
 24And has rescued us from our adversaries,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
 25Who gives food to all flesh,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
 26Give thanks to the God of heaven,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

136:23-26 This strophe functions as a summery of YHWH's great acts toward Israel as well as His acts as sustainer of all human life (cf. Psalm 104:27-30; 145:15; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17). This combines the connotation of the titles

1. Elohim - Creator, Provider, sustainer

2. YHWH - Savior, Deliverer, Covenant-making God

See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY.

136:23 "in our low estate" It is uncertain if this refers to

1. period of the Judges

2. slavery in Egypt

3. exile in Mesopotamia

 

136:26 "God of heaven" This was later a Zoroastrian title for God, so common in the post-exilic period. The Jews often took the descriptive phrases and titles of pagan gods and foreign rulers to describe YHWH.

Heaven is plural, as so many Hebrew words are to denote greatness. The rabbis often discussed how many levels of heaven are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. See Special Topic: The Heavens and the Third Heaven. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What does "YHWH is good" mean?

2. Why is "lovingkindness" such an important theological term?

3. Does Ps. 136:1-4 clearly express monotheism?

4. What event does Ps. 136:6 refer to?

5. Why are the sun, moon, and stars mentioned as creations of YHWH?

6. Where is the Red Sea?

7. Where in Genesis is the conquest prophesied?

8. To what characteristic of God does Ps. 136:25 refer?