“…for His steadfast love endures forever” Psalm 136
I’m embarrassed to admit that I would sometimes get “irritated” by the repetition of this phrase in Psalm 136. When my praying-the-psalms schedule came around to Psalm 136 and “for His steadfast love endures forever” hammered me twenty-six times I would inwardly moan, “Alright already, I get it. I get it!”
But apparently I don’t “get it.”
As I’ve meditated on Psalm 136 this past week, I’ve made a few observations about the psalm and myself:
The structure of Psalm 136 might be outlined as follows:
- God Is…period. (vv. 1-3) There is a God, and He is supremely sovereign and supremely good.
- God Is Creator (vv. 4-9) God’s supreme sovereignty is evidenced by His creation of all things.
- God Is Redeemer (vv. 10-22) God’s supreme goodness is expressed by His redemption and restoration of sinful people.
- God Is OUR Creator and Redeemer (vv. 23-25) God’s sovereignty and goodness are not merely historical but also present realities. He continues to provide for His creation and He continues to redeem and restore His people even now.
- Therefore, Give Thanks to the God Who IS and Who Is Good (vs. 26) The proper response to the sovereign “God of heaven” whose goodness is expressed in “His steadfast love [that] endures forever” is thanksgiving.
We and several families we know practice a family ritual in which we begin many of our meals by lighting three candles on our kitchen table. When we light the first candle all of us say, “God made the world.” As we light the second candle we say, “God saved the world.” And then, lighting the middle or tallest candle, we say, “Through Jesus Christ.” This little liturgy is our way of reminding ourselves that Jesus exists, that Jesus is our sovereign Creator, and that Jesus is our loving Savior who has and is redeeming and restoring His people and His creation. I had never connected this ritual to Psalm 136 until this past week.
Psalm 136 was a reminder for God’s people of the Great Story from which they came and in which they now lived. The psalmist’s retelling of the Story’s major scenes (creation, the exodus from Egypt, the wilderness wanderings, and the possession of the Promised Land) is punctuated with the repetition of the motive behind the Story God is writing: “for His steadfast love endures forever.” The phrase “steadfast love” is a code word, so to speak, that the Hebrews would recognize as a reference to God’s loving faithfulness to the covenant He made with their father Abraham, the promise to be their God and bless them as His representative people so that they may bless the nations in His name and with His presence (Genesis 12:1-3). I can imagine that these words were a great comfort during those seasons when the faithful love of God was not as evident to them as it had been in the past. It’s as if God was saying, “No matter what the Story looks like at this moment, remember that I am in charge and I am in the process of redeeming you and all that I have made. Remember, every line of this story is written from, through, and to love.“
And this is what I don’t “get” most of the time: my life is part of a Grand Story that is permeated with the sovereign love of God. Sure, I “get it” in my head, but it doesn’t get in my heart often enough. And that lack of faith is apparent in my lack of gratitude. The whole psalm is an argument for why we as God’s people should “give thanks to the Lord.” So, Psalm 136 and its repetitive “for His steadfast love endures forever” has become a lifeline for me these days. And I have even more assurance of His steadfast love than psalmist did because I have received the witness of God’s greatest act of sovereign love in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Despite what I see around me I can be sure that King Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father, building His church, subduing His enemies under His feet, and preparing a place for me in His Father’s house where His goodness and mercy will follow me forever. For that, I am deeply grateful. Thanks be to God!
“Our redemption He has wrought –
For His love endures forever –
By our Jesus’ suff’ring bought –
For His love endures forever!
Down went our spirits’ foes, crushed by the Savior’s blows;
See! He before us goes –
For His love endures forever!”