Psalm 136

This is the Great Hallel psalm, famously used during Passover and quite popular with the people. Typically sung immediately following the previous psalm, it is painfully obvious how this was used as a responsive song. The worship leader would sing the first line, with the crowd repeating the refrain on each verse.

Several translation notes demand our attention. Most people are aware that hallel (“praise”) is included in hallelujah with the “jah” an abbreviated form of Yahweh (Jehovah). His name is typically rendered as “THE LORD” in all caps in many English translations. That refrain actually doesn’t include the word “endures,” though some contend it is implied. What we have here is more literally: “for eternal is His kindness!” Note the Hebrew word order. The whole point is that the worship leader’s declarations are all discrete proofs of His mercy. He has does these things because of His mercy, a mercy that outlives us as a characteristic of His Person.

So it is that the first three versus celebrate that Person by three different titles: Jehovah, Elohim and Adonai — the One above all others. The fourth verse notes that He alone does great wonders.

Then we launch into a celebration of Him as Creator. A primary characteristic is “wisdom” arising from the Hebrew root for discernment, as distinguishing things. It’s the quintessential statement of God as the One who defines good and evil. He made the skies, immeasurable in their vastness. We are offered the image of He who hammered out the land as plating over the subterranean waters. He spun off into the sky the lights upon which we all depend for guidance in when it is day or night, and the seasons.

Next is a few high points on history of God’s mighty power against the enemies of Israel. He beat down Egypt, and rescued His people from slavery. The psalmist recounts that deliverance as God doing this mighty work with His own bare hands. He sliced the sea in half, then led His people through the dry gap, yet brushed off Pharaoh’s fearsome army when they tried to follow. He walked at the head of their column through the wilderness, slapping down every king that tried to hinder them. Those kings did not rise again: Sihon of the Amorites, Og of Bashan, and others. Then Jehovah plundered the whole kingdoms, land and all, giving it to His own people.

When things really go against us, we can be sure He will deliver in due time. We have this odd Hebraic image of God snapping something off in order to deliver it, elevating it by making it something He wanted to use for His glory. That’s how He rescues us from our enemies. And everyone and everything that eats at all can thank Him alone for providing.

Again, the psalmist calls us to give thanks to God (El) in Heaven, for eternal is His kindness.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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