Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 136



The recurrence in this psalm of the ancient liturgic refrain (see Notes, Psalms 106:1; Psalms 118:1), not after every verse, but after every clause, marks clearly the peculiarity of its choral use, and shows that it was composed expressly for the Temple service. It is invariably allowed to be one of the latest hymns in the collection. It has generally been known among the Jews as the Great Hallel, a designation, however, at other times given to the series Psalms 120-136 (according to others Psalms 135:4-21).

Verse 2-3

(2, 3) God of gods . . . Lord of Lords.—From Deuteronomy 10:17.

Verse 4

(4) Psalms 72:18.

Verse 5

(5) By wisdom.—From Psalms 104:24, Proverbs 3:19, or Jeremiah 10:12.

Verse 6

(6) While this section in many points recalls the account of creation in Genesis, it employs terms from other parts of Scripture.

Stretched out.—A word and idea peculiar to Isaiah and this psalm (Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24); properly to beat out with the feet, then to overlay with a plate of metal (Isaiah 40:12). The earth is regarded as a flat plate that has been beaten out and spread on the face of the waters, whereas in Genesis it is pictured as emerging out of the waters.

Verse 7

(7) Lights.—An unusual word, meaning light itself, and not luminaries. But possibly the poet wished in one phrase to combine Genesis 1:3; Genesis 1:14-15.

Verse 10

(10) For his mercy.—Here the refrain, after the mention of the destruction of the Egyptian first-born, and subsequently after that of war and slaughter, sounds harsh to Christian ears. But the word mercy (khesed) in the Hebrew motto implies distinctly covenant grace, that special favour of Jehovah in which the heathen did not share, and which was often most signally shown in their destruction.

Verse 19

(19) Sihon.—Literally, to Sihon. Evidently the composer, after beginning so many verses with the preposition, placed it here inadvertently, whence it was copied in Psalms 135:11.

Verse 24

(24) Redeemed.—Better, as in original, snatched us from. (Comp. Psalms 7:2, used of a lion suddenly seizing his prey.)

Verse 25

(25) All flesh.—Here apparently the word mercy takes a wider image and applies to all men. But only apparently so. Israel could think of Jehovah providing for the bodily wants of all as He was the creator of all, but the covenant grace was for them alone.

Verse 26

(26) God of heaven.—See Nehemiah 1:4; Nehemiah 2:4. This title, though implied in Psalms 11:4 and similar passages, was not used before the exile. Away from Zion and the visible token of the Divine presence, the hearts of the faithful began more and more to dream of their God as

“One that His mansion hath on high

Above the reach of mortal eye.”

At the end the Vulgate repeats Psalms 136:3. (See Prayer Book.)

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 136". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.