His Mercy Endures Forever
Topic: Topical Passage: Psalm 136
This morning we are going to take a break from Judges, because this week is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday like Easter or Christmas, but it fits well into our faith, because the Bible consistently holds up thanksgiving as a necessary discipline of the Christian life.
Therefore, I hope you will use this holiday to focus on thankfulness. Don’t let Thursday just be a day to eat lots of food, catch up with family, and watch football. Take time to thank God for his character and works, and take time to thank the people who have impacted your life. Tell your spouse, your parents, your kids, your boss, your employees, and someone at church why you are thankful for them and how you see Jesus in them.
Today, I want to get us thinking in that direction by turning our attention to Psalm 136. The Jews called this psalm the “Great Hallel” (i.e., Hallelujah), so it is a praise or thanksgiving psalm. It was probably written to lead the congregation in worship during Passover. Specifically, it calls Israel to remember God’s great character and gracious works, and to give thanks for who he is and all he has done.
And it accomplishes its purpose in a unique and memorable way. Notice that every verse has 2 lines. The first line rehearses an attribute or work of God, and the second line repeats the refrain, “For his mercy endures forever.” Therefore, when Israel gathered at the temple for Passover, a worship leader would loudly read the first line of each verse, and the congregation would respond with the refrain.
I’d like to read it the same way this morning. I’m going to read the first line of each verse, and I’d like you to respond to each attribute or work of God by affirming “For His mercy endures forever.” And don’t say it like some 6th grade boy who is too cool for school and just mutters his line. Say it with conviction to the Lord, to say it like you want to drive it into the souls of everyone around you. It’s on the screen so that we are reading from the same version (read). I’d like to organize our study around 3 reasons to give thanks. First…
I. Give thanks for God’s character (vv. 1–3). These verses highlight 3 attributes of God. First, v. 1 says “give thanks” because…
God is good (v. 1). When we talk about someone being a good person, we typically mean that he or she is morally pure or righteous, but biblical goodness is typically focused on kindness and benevolence. This is clearly what the psalmist means here. “The Lord is good!” in the sense that he is full of grace and compassion.
That’s so different from us isn’t it? Selfishness pollutes everything we do. We never have completely pure motives. But not God. All of his thoughts and motives toward us are pure goodness. And yes God is also just, but he is bent toward generosity and grace.
And so today we must give thanks for the goodness of God, because God is good even when life is hard. Maybe 2018 has been a painful, miserable year, and you don’t see any evidence of God’s goodness. But the Bible is clear that God is always good, and he only gives good things even when we don’t always understand his ways. So don’t stop believing in the goodness of God. Stay anchored to this promise through every storm, and trust that God’s purpose is always good.
And if you look at life through this lens of faith, I’m sure that you will see the goodness of God at work in your life because the blessings of his goodness are everywhere in the physical blessings we enjoy and in the forgiveness and grace we enjoy for Christian living. Praise the Lord that he is good. Then a second attribute that we should give thanks for is that…
God is sovereign (vv. 2–3). God’s goodness would only be worth so much if he had limited power to exercise it. But the psalmist rejoices that God is always able to accomplish his good purpose. Verses 2 and 3 say, “Oh give thanks to the God of gods” and “Oh give thanks to the Lord of lords.”
The psalmist rejoices that God has no rivals. There are no gods and no lords, whether divine or human, that can stand against God. Rather, God is the unrivaled Lord of creation, and no one who can resist his will.
Aren’t you thankful that your life is in the hands of a sovereign God? Maybe as you look back at the past year you can clearly see the mighty hand of God at work in your life, and you are just amazed at what God did in saving this person, or in meeting that need, or in healing this disease. Praise the Lord!
Or maybe 2018 was the year of attack, and it seemed like everything went against you. But how comforting it is to know that none of those challenges actually resisted the sovereign purpose of God, and neither will any of the challenges in the coming year be able to resist God’s will. He is in complete control of all things accomplishing his good purpose. “Oh give thanks” that we serve a sovereign God. A 3rd attribute that is highlighted in every verse of this psalm is that…
God is steadfastly kind. This psalm tells us 26 times that God’s “mercy endures forever.” What a great refrain to repeat again and again. But as wonderful as it is, it doesn’t fully capture the depth of what the psalmist is saying. This is because no English word can fully capture the rich meaning of the Hebrew word hesed, which the NKJV translates as mercy.
The OT frequently uses this term to describe Israel’s relationship with God. It combines several rich truths about God’s care for his people. First it describes God’s covenant faithfulness. No matter how Israel failed—and we’ve seen in Judges that they failed a lot—he was committed to them. So hesed describes God’s faithfulness and loyalty. But it also speaks to God’s favor that comes out of this commitment. Because God is faithful to his covenant even when we are not, he consistently demonstrates grace, mercy, and kindness after kindness. Therefore, the psalmist is saying much more than God is merciful. He is really saying that God’s steadfast and loyal love causes his mercy to endure forever.
And my how we should be thankful for the steadfast love and mercy of God, because without them the goodness and sovereignty of God don’t mean a lot. After all, who really cares if there is some sovereign, good God out doing his own thing? But the fact that he is also hesed, means that all of his goodness and sovereignty apply to me. And they will always be there because God is committed to me as his child.
Therefore, this refrain should have incredible significance to us as we endure the ups and downs of life. We need to pound it into our heads and down into our hearts. The psalmist repeats it 26 times, so that when life is hard, and we feel like we aren’t getting a fair shake, we will remember, “His mercy endures forever.” And the same goes for the times when life is going incredibly well. We have to remember that the blessings I enjoy are not ultimately what I deserve or have earned. I’m just a sinner, who deserves wrath, but God is gracious, and everything I enjoy is the fruit of his grace.
In sum, this psalm begins its call to thankfulness by turning our attention to the character of God, because God’s character is foundational to how we look at life. If you are going to be truly thankful, you must see that we live all of life in the sphere of God’s goodness, sovereignty, and steadfast love. Praise the Lord! And as you reflect on your life, make sure that you do so with this perspective, and let it drive you see his grace all around you and to praise the Lord. And so give thanks for the character of God. Second…
II. Give thanks for God’s common grace (vv. 4–9, 25).
In vv. 4–9 the psalmist rejoices at how God has made himself known through his creation. And this is common grace, because God gives these blessings to all creation, not just his covenant people. And the psalmist highlights 4 truths about God’s nature that are evident in the grace of creation. First…
God is powerful. Verse 4 says that when you look out at all the incredible features of God’s creation—from the vastness of space to the intricacies of the human body—it demonstrates that we serve an awesome God who does “great wonders.”
And vv. 6–9 go on to picture God as forming the universe with an ease that reminds me of a child putting together a train set. The sun and the stars are massive, yet God “made great lights” and hung them in their place. He also set the dry land in its place with his powerful hand. We serve a powerful God, and we get to see a glimpse of his glory in the vastness of creation. Creation also manifests the fact that…
God is wise. Verse 5 says that creation declares that God “by wisdom made the heavens.” That is so true isn’t it? I really enjoy occasionally turning on one of those TV shows that documents the wonders of nature. For example, you watch the life cycle of a penguin living in the harsh conditions of Antarctica, and it’s just amazing how they are perfectly suited to live and to thrive in those conditions. Or you learn about how all these little pieces of the food chain fit perfectly together to create the eco system of the South Pacific Ocean, and its incredible how it all fits together.
All of this points back to the incredible wisdom of God. It ought to remind us that if God can perfectly fit together the eco system of an ocean, he can also fit together the details of our lives to accomplish his perfect will. Praise the Lord that we serve a wise God! 3rd, creation demonstrates that…
God is orderly. The primary point in vv. 7–9 regarding the creation of the sun and moon is that they rule the day and the night. Therefore, God made his creation to function on a strict schedule that is absolutely dependable.
And this orderliness is essential to human flourishing and to all the good things we enjoy. Scientists have demonstrated that even the slightest change to the foundational orderliness of our world would cause complete disaster.
Sometimes we enjoy people who are spontaneous, but I am so grateful that God is not spontaneous and that he has created an orderly universe that allows us to thrive. 4th, creation demonstrates that…
God is kind. When I first began studying this psalm, I wondered why a psalm that celebrates God’s steadfast love for his chosen people who include a section on God’s common grace in creation? How does creation demonstrate that God’s “mercy endures forever”? Verse 25 seemed especially odd. What does the fact that God feeds “all flesh” not just his chosen people have to do with his mercy?
The answer is that God’s covenant love extends to all of creation, not just to the redeemed. Not all people will be saved, but he extends common grace to all people and even to the animals and plants. As Jesus said in Matthew 6, God cares for the sparrow, he clothes the grass, and gives beauty to the lily. God’s goodness is everywhere And this reality, as well as the other attributes of God in vv. 4–9 should drive us to make 2 applications concerning our own relationship to God. First…
If God extends mercy to all flesh, he will surely extend mercy to me. This was Jesus’ point in Matthew 6. If God is faithful to the lilies and the grass, then he will surely be faithful to the elect. So when I see God’s care for his creation, it should drive me to know that he will surely continue his steadfast love and grace for me.
That’s something that we can give thanks for every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I love how the song “Mercies Anew” celebrates the faithfulness of God’s mercy. The chorus says, “And Your mercies they will never end; for ten thousand years they remain. And when this world’s beauty has passed away, Your mercies will be unchanged.”
Christian, you can bank on the mercy of God on your best days but also on your worst days, because when you have “fallen and strayed” there will be “mercies anew.” You can bank of the fact that “When the storms swirl and rage” and circumstances are overwhelming difficult, there will be “mercies anew.” No matter what happens, God’s mercy endures forever. The second application is that…
I must acknowledge God’s grace in the basic blessings of life. So often we take for granted the common graces that we enjoy. When was the last time you thanked God that the sun came up today or that gravity kept your feet on the ground? We just assume so much, and we often live with a terrible sense of entitlement. But vv. 4–9 are a powerful reminder that common graces are still graces. Therefore, we need to see the hand of God in the warmth of a fire, the flavors of our food, and in our basic health. And we need to thank God for each of these blessings and for the fact that his covenant love extends to every corner of his creation. Praise the Lord for his common grace. And then the 3rd major reason we ought to give thanks is…
III. Give thanks for God’s particular grace (vv. 10–24).
Verses 10–24 shift the focus to the unique grace that God bestowed on Israel as his chosen people. Therefore, most of the reasons for thanksgiving in this section are specific to Israel; however, the psalmist gives us a pattern by which we can find many significant blessings for which to give thanks. First, he gives thanks that…
God redeemed his people (vv. 10–22). This section rehearses several highlights of how God bought Israel out of slavery, led them through the wilderness, and gave them the Promised Land. God struck the Egyptians, led Israel out, parted the Red Sea, and on he goes, and each work is a reminder that “His mercy endures forever.”
And to truly appreciate this section, we have to see the theological significance of the exodus and conquest to Israel. In particular, before the exodus, Israel was little more than a group of slaves living under the wicked oppression of Egypt. But then God acted to redeem them from slavery. He made a nation out of them at Mt. Sinai, and he provided them with a system of worship by which they could come near to God. And then he gave them a land through the conquest.
And the OT goes back to these events over and over because they were the foundation of their identity as God’s people. This was Israel’s redemption, and again, each step was a mighty display of God’s steadfast love.
And if you are a Christian, this section calls on you to remember your own redemption. Remember that like Israel, you were once enslaved to the chains of sin and darkness. There was nothing lovely or attractive about you. And in your own strength, you had no hope of escaping that slavery. But then God reached down with his mighty hand of grace. He gave life and faith and righteousness and liberty. And he brought you into relationship with himself, and he gave you the power to live a transformed life in the fellowship of his grace.
Praise the Lord! Therefore, Christian, even if all seems wrong in your life and you’re not sure if the sun will rise tomorrow, you still have an infinite number of reasons to be thankful because of the redemption that you have received. You’re a child of God, you stand in the righteousness of Jesus, you are a new creature, and someday you are going to heaven. Give thanks, because “His mercy endures forever.”
And if you have never received the gift of salvation, I pray that you will see that you are still in darkness. You may seem like a good person to everyone around you, but the Bible says you are a slave to sin, you stand under the judgment of God, and there is nothing you can do to deliver yourself. But Jesus became one of us so that he could conquer sin and death on the cross. He died and rose again so that he could buy us back from sin’s slavery and give us new life in Christ.
And you can receive the benefits of Christ’s redemption today if you will acknowledge your rebellion against God, turn from your sin, and believe on Christ alone for your salvation. If you do that, you can know the mercy of God like you have never known it before. Please come to Christ today and be saved. Praise the Lord for the gift of redemption. And then vv. 23–24 celebrate the fact that…
God remains faithful through our weakness and sin (vv. 23–24). These verses look back on a time when Israel rebelled against God, and God humbled them for their rebellion. And depending on when this psalm was written, the psalmist could be thinking of the days of the judges, the Babylonian exile, or even the hardships Israel endured in the days of Nehemiah and Malachi.
Israel had lots of low moments, because they sinned time and time again, but God’s “mercy endures forever.” Therefore, when Israel cried out to God, he rescued them each time. And Christian, you may have never done some of the awful things that Israel did, but whether you have a very shameful past or a relatively clean one, we have all strayed from God’s will many, many times. You’ve sang to God on Sunday, and then gone home on Monday and rebelled against his will and fallen short of what God demands.
And if you are serious about pursuing holiness, you’ve had days where you are just torn apart by your sin and failure. You’ve wondered how could God ever love a wretched sinner like me? But what a blessing it is to know on our very worst days that God is a covenant keeping God. He is loyal and faithful, gracious and merciful. And “His mercy endures forever.” It will always endure. God will continue to forgive, he will continue to give grace to endure, and he will bring you to glory where he will make you whole. Praise the Lord for his steadfast love.
In sum, this psalm provides an important pattern, not only for our thanksgiving but really for our approach to all of life. Life is hard, and the struggle for holiness is really hard. And we often get discouraged and afraid. When that happens, rehearse the works of God both in Scripture and in your life. Remember, “Jesus died for me and rose again, Jesus saved me, Jesus carried me through this trial, and Jesus directed me in this instance.” Remember his works and give thanks that God is good and he will always be good. And then rehearse the character of God. Keep telling yourself over and over until it moves from your head to your heart, “His mercy endures forever.” “His mercy endures forever.”