Give thanks to the LORD for he is good; for his steadfast loves endures forever. Psalm 136:1 (ESV)
“Nobody should ever read Shakespeare’s plays,” I used to say to my high school English students. Then I’d watch the disbelief spread across their faces. After a long pause I’d add, “To fully appreciate his genius, his plays must be experienced—professional actors performing on a platform stage* with minimal props and maximum passion. That’s Shakespeare. Anything less is like watching fireworks on a 12” black and white TV.”
I feel the same way about Psalm 136. It loses a tremendous amount of its power when it’s confined to a piece of paper. In Old Testament times it was part of corporate worship, recited at Passover and other festivals. The worship leader proclaimed each verse’s affirmation of God’s goodness. Then the crowd’s response—“for his steadfast love endures forever”—resonated across the temple’s courtyard.
Verses 1-3 declare that God is good because of who He is. The psalm cites three different names for God in these verses: LORD (Yahweh), God (Elohim), and Lord (Adonai). Together these names refer to God’s covenant relationship with Israel, His role as creator of the universe, and as the owner/master of Israel.
Verse 4 begins a section that highlights God’s goodness manifested in creation. Its beauty, order, and efficiency continually display His beneficence to every human being. Then verses 10-22 declare God’s goodness to Israel—deliverance from Egypt’s bondage, guidance through the wilderness, and provision in the Promised Land.
The final verses praise “the One” who continues to recognize His people’s neediness and gives “food to every creature” (verse 25). And then with a deafening roar the crowd would’ve shouted out the finale: “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever” (v. 26, ESV).
Maybe this Thanksgiving as you gather with your loved ones, you could suggest a reading of Psalm 136. Or perhaps your family could use the psalmist’s pattern to create its own hymn of thanksgiving. Your presentation may not be as spectacular as live theater or Fourth of July fireworks, but your audience won’t be disappointed. God always appreciates a dazzling display of praise.
The Israelites sang a hymn of thanksgiving in Exodus 15 after the Egyptians had been destroyed. What similarities do you see between their song and Psalm 136?
2 Chronicles 5:2-14 records one event at which Psalm 136 was sung. What was the occasion? What was God’s response to the worshippers’ praise?
Read Ephesians 5:15-20. Why does Paul tell the Ephesians to “speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”? How does singing praises to God help you?
August Ludvig Storm wrote a beautiful hymn of thanksgiving titled “Thanks to God for My Redeemer.” To read his lyrics, go to http://nethymnal.org/htm/t/h/thankstg.htm. His hymn also provides an excellent pattern of praise to follow if you would like to create a personal hymn of praise.
Denise K. Loock
*a platform stage (also known as a thrust stage or open stage) is one that extends into the audience on three sides. It has the benefit of greater intimacy between performers and the audience, while still providing a backstage area. The Globe Theater, where many of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, had a platform stage.