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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Psalms 136

Verses 1-26

Psalms 136:1-26

THIS psalm is evidently intended for liturgic use. It contains reminiscences of many parts, of Scripture, and is especially based on the previous psalm, which it follows closely in Psalms 136:10-18, and quotes directly in Psalms 136:19-22. Delitzsch points out that if these quoted verses are omitted, the psalm falls into triplets. It would then also contain twenty-two verses, corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The general trend of thought is like that of Psalms 135:1-21; but the addition in each verse of the refrain gives a noble swing and force to this exulting song.

The first triplet is a general invocation to praise, coloured by the phraseology of Deuteronomy. Psalms 136:2 a and Psalms 136:3 a quote Deuteronomy 10:17. The second and third triplets (Psalms 136:4-9) celebrate Jehovah’s creative power. "Doeth great wonders" (Psalms 136:4) is from Psalms 72:18. The thought of the Divine Wisdom as the creative agent occurs in Psalms 104:24, and attains noble expression in Proverbs 3:1-35. In Psalms 136:6 the word rendered spread is from the same root as that rendered "firmament" in Genesis. The office of the heavenly bodies to rule day and night is taken from Genesis 1:1-31. But the psalm looks at the story of Creation from an original point of view, when it rolls out in chorus, after each stage of that work, that its motive lay in the eternal lovingkindness of Jehovah. Creation is an act of Divine love. That is the deepest truth concerning all things visible. They are the witnesses, as they are the result, of lovingkindness which endures forever.

Psalms 136:10-22 pass from world wide manifestations of that creative lovingkindness to those specially affecting Israel. If Psalms 136:19-22 are left out of notice, there are three triplets in which the Exodus, desert life, and conquest of Caanan are the themes, -the first (Psalms 136:10-12) recounting the departure; the second (Psalms 136:13-15) the passage of the Red Sea; the third (Psalms 136:16-18) the guidance during the forty years and the victories over enemies. The whole is largely taken from the preceding psalm, and has also numerous allusions to other parts of Scripture. Psalms 136:12 a-is found in Deuteronomy 4:34, etc. The word for dividing the Red Sea is peculiar. It means to hew in pieces or in two, and is used for cutting in halves the child in Solomon’s judgment; {1 Kings 3:25} while the word "parts" is a noun from the same root, and is found in Genesis 15:17, to describe the two portions into which Abraham clave the carcasses. Thus, as with a sword, Jehovah hewed the sea in two, and His people passed between the parts, as between the halves of the covenant sacrifice. In Psalms 136:15 the word describing Pharaoh’s destruction is taken from Exodus 14:27, and vividly describes it as a "shaking out," as one would vermin or filth from a robe.

In the last triplet (Psalms 136:23-25) the singer comes to the Israel of the present. It, too, had experienced Jehovah’s remembrance in its time of need, and felt the merciful grasp of His hand plucking it, with loving violence, from the claws of the lion. The word for "low estate" and that for "tore us from the grasp" are only found besides in late writings-the former in Ecclesiastes 10:6, and the latter in Lamentations 5:8.

But the song will not close with reference only to Israel’s blessings. He gives bread to all flesh. "The lovingkindness which flashes forth even in destructive acts, and is manifested especially in bringing Israel back from exile, stretches as wide in its beneficence as it did in its first creative acts, and sustains all flesh which it has made. Therefore the final call to praise, which rounds off the psalm by echoing its beginning, does not name Him by the Name which implied Israel’s special relation, but by that by which other peoples could and did address Him, "the God of heaven," from whom all good comes down on all the earth.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 136". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".