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An exhortation to give thanks to God for various mercies
granted to all men, 1-9;
particularly to the Israelites in Egypt, 10-12;
at the Red Sea, 13-15;
in the wilderness, 16-20;
and in the promised land, 21, 22;
for the redemption of the captives from Babylon, 23, 24;
and for his providential mercies to all, 25, 26.
This Psalm is little else than a repetition of the preceding, with the burden, כי לעולם חסדו ki leolam chasdo, "because his mercy endureth for ever," at the end of every verse. See below. It seems to have been a responsive song: the first part of the verse sung by the Levites, the burden by the people. It has no title in the Hebrew, nor in any of the Versions. It was doubtless written after the captivity. The author is unknown.
Verse Psalms 136:1. O give thanks unto the Lord: for he is good — This sentiment often occurs: the goodness of the Divine nature, both as a ground of confidence and of thanksgiving.
For his mercy endureth for ever — These words, which are the burden of every verse, כי לעולם חסדו ki leolam chasdo, might be translated: "For his tender mercy is to the coming age:" meaning, probably, if the Psalm be prophetic, that peculiar display of his compassion, the redemption of the world by the Lord Jesus. These very words were prescribed by David as an acknowledgment, to be used continually in the Divine worship, see 1 Chronicles 16:41: also by Solomon, 2 Chronicles 7:3; 2 Chronicles 7:6, and observed by Jehoshaphat, 2 Chronicles 20:21; all acknowledging that, however rich in mercy God was to them, the most extensive displays of his goodness were reserved for the age to come; see 1 Peter 1:10-12: "Of which salvation the prophets have inquired, and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, - unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us, they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that preached the Gospel unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven," &c.
Verse Psalms 136:2. The God of gods — לאדני האדנים ladonai haadonim. As adonai signifies director, c., it may apply here, not to idols, for God is not their god but to the priests and spiritual rulers; as Lord of lords may apply to kings and magistrates, &c. He is God and ruler over all the rulers of the earth, whether in things sacred or civil.
Verse Psalms 136:4. Who alone doeth great wonders — MIRACLES. No power but that which is almighty can work miracles, נפלאות niphlaoth, the inversion, or suspension, or destruction of the laws of nature.
Verse Psalms 136:5. By wisdom made the heavens — In the contrivance of the celestial bodies, in their relations, connexions, influences on each other, revolutions, &c., the wisdom of God particularly appears.
Verse Psalms 136:6. Stretched out the earth above the waters — Or, upon the waters. This seems to refer to a central abyss of waters, the existence of which has not been yet disproved.
Verse Psalms 136:7. Great lights — See the notes on the parallel passages in Genesis, &c. Genesis 1:14-18
Verse Psalms 136:10. Smote Egypt in their first-born — This was one of the heaviest of strokes: a great part of the rising generation was cut off; few but old persons and children left remaining.
Verse Psalms 136:13. Divided the Red Sea into parts — Some of the Jews have imagined that God made twelve paths through the Red Sea, that each tribe might have a distinct passage. Many of the fathers were of the same opinion; but is this very likely?
Verse Psalms 136:16. Which led his people through the wilderness — It was an astonishing miracle of God to support so many hundreds of thousands of people in a wilderness totally deprived of all necessaries for the life of man, and that for the space of forty years.
Verse Psalms 136:23. Who remembered us in our low estate — He has done much for our forefathers; and he has done much for us, in delivering us, when we had no helper, from our long captivity in Babylon.
Verse Psalms 136:25. Giveth food to all flesh — By whose universal providence every intellectual and animal being is supported and preserved. The appointing every living thing food, and that sort of food which is suited to its nature, (and the nature and habits of animals are endlessly diversified,) is an overwhelming proof of the wondrous providence, wisdom, and goodness of God.
The Vulgate, Arabic, and Anglo-Saxon, add a twenty-seventh verse, by repeating here Psalms 136:3 very unnecessarily.
This Psalm has the same argument with the preceding. It is divided into three parts: -
I. A general exhortation to praise God for his goodness and majesty, Psalms 136:1-3.
II. A declaration of that goodness and majesty in their effects, Psalms 136:4-10.
III. A conclusion fit for the exordium, Psalms 136:26.
1. Of his creation, Psalms 136:4-10.
2. Of his providence in preserving the Church, and punishing her enemies, Psalms 136:10-25.
3. That his providence extends to all his creatures, Psalms 136:25.
I. In the three first verses the prophet invites us to praise God for his mercy and goodness. And in these three verses expositors find the Trinity: -
1. Jehovah. God the Father, who is the Fountain of being.
2. God the Son. Who is God of gods, and over all.
3. The Holy Ghost. Who is Lord of lords.
The psalmist's reasons for calling upon us thus to praise him are, "for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever."
The prophet now begins to praise God for his wonderful works, and which he alone was able to do.
1. "Who hath done wonderful things." Such as the work of creation.
2. "For his mercy endureth for ever." In sustaining and preserving all things.
"To him give thanks" for the wisdom manifested in the heavens; for, contemplate them as we may, they appear full of beauty, order, and splendour.
Praise him for the formation of the earth, as the mansion of man.
Give thanks "to him that stretched out," c. Naturally this could not be, because the earth is heavier than water: but God hath made furrows for the waters to flow into, that man and beast might live on the earth.
"For his mercy endureth for ever." In this there was a threefold mercy: -
1. In reference to the earth. To make it something of nothing.
2. As respects the water. To prepare for it a settled place.
3. In regard to man. To whom he gave the earth uncovered from water, and yet plentifully supplied with rivers and fruits.
The third instance is the two great luminaries and the stars, in the three following verses. These do astonishingly adorn the heaven, and profit the earth. The sun and moon illuminate the earth, and comfort us. Perhaps the prophet instances these because they are alike blessings bestowed upon and shared by all the world.
II. From the wonderful works of the creation the prophet descends to those of his providence, in the preservation of the Church and instances it in the redemption of his people Israel from the land of Egypt, c., dwelling at large upon it, Psalms 136:10-22.
In these verses the prophet records how God performed to Israel all the offices of a good Captain, Guide, Leader, and even Father for he fed them with bread from heaven, gave them water out of the rock, caused that their clothes wore not out, cured their sick, defended them from their enemies, c.
All this God did for them before they entered Canaan. And then the prophet reminds them how they rebelled against God, and he humbled them by bringing the Philistines and the Babylonian kings against them, who conquered and subjected them: but when they cried to him, he turned their captivity for "he remembered us when we were in our low estate," c. "and hath redeemed us from our enemies," c.
Lastly, that his goodness is not only extended over his people, but his creatures to all flesh, which word signifies every thing that hath life.
III. He concludes as he began, "O give thanks unto the God of heaven," c. The prophet calls him the God of heaven, because he alone made the heavens, and has his throne there, having the whole world under him and by his wisdom and providence he preserves, moderates, and governs all things.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 136". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27