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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
Psalms 136




O Give Thanks unto the Lord, for He Is Good

The cry Psalms 135:3, Praise ye Jāh , for good is Jahve , is here followed by a Hodu , the last of the collection, with “for His goodness endureth for ever” repeated twenty-six times as a versus intercalaris . In the liturgical language this Psalm is called par excellence the great Hallel, for according to its broadest compass the great Hallel comprehends Ps 120-136,

(Note: There are three opinions in the Talmud and Midrash concerning the compass of the “Great Hallel,” viz., (1) Ps 136, (2) Ps. 135:4-136:26, (3) Ps 120-136.)

whilst the Hallel which is absolutely so called extends from Psalms 113:1-9 to Ps 118. Down to Psalms 136:18 the song and counter-song organize themselves into hexastichic groups or strophes, which, however, from Psalms 136:19 (and therefore from the point where the dependence on Ps 135, already begun with Psalms 136:17, becomes a borrowing, onwards) pass over into octastichs. In Heidenheim's Psalter the Psalm appears (after Norzi) in two columns (like Deut. 32), which it is true has neither tradition (vid., Ps 18) nor MSS precedent in its favour, but really corresponds to its structure.

Verses 1-9

Like the preceding Psalm, this Psalm allies itself to the Book of Deuteronomy. Psalms 136:2 and Psalms 136:3 ( God of gods and Lord of lords ) are taken from Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalms 136:12 ( with a strong hand and stretched-out arm ) from Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 5:15, and frequently (cf. Jeremiah 32:21); Psalms 136:16 like Deuteronomy 8:15 (cf. Jeremiah 2:6). With reference to the Deuteronomic colouring of Psalms 136:19-22, vid., on Psalms 135:10-12; also the expression “Israel His servant” recalls Deuteronomy 32:36 (cf. Psalms 135:14; Psalms 90:13), and still more Isaiah 40:1, where the comprehension of Israel under the unity of this notion has its own proper place. In other respects, too, the Psalm is an echo of earlier model passages. Who alone doeth great wonders sounds like Psalms 72:18 (Psalms 86:10); and the adjective “great” that is added to “wonders” shows that the poet found the formula already in existence. In connection with Psalms 136:5 he has Proverbs 3:19 or Jeremiah 10:12 in his mind; תּבוּנה , like חכמה , is the demiurgic wisdom. Psalms 136:6 calls to mind Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24; the expression is “above the waters,” as in Psalms 34:2 “upon the seas,” because the water is partly visible and partly invisible מתּחת לארץ (Exodus 20:4). The plural אורים , luces , instead of מארות , lumina (cf. Ezekiel 32:8, מאורי אור ), is without precedent. It is a controverted point whether אורת in Isaiah 26:19 signifies lights (cf. אורה , Psalms 139:12) or herbs (2 Kings 4:39). The plural ממשׁלות is also rare (occurring only besides in Psalms 114:2): it here denotes the dominion of the moon on the one hand, and (going beyond Genesis 1:16) of the stars on the other. בּלּילה , like בּיּום , is the second member of the stat. construct .

Verses 10-26

Up to this point it is God the absolute in general, the Creator of all things, to the celebration of whose praise they are summoned; and from this point onwards the God of the history of salvation. In Psalms 136:13 גּזר (instead of בּקע , Psalms 78:13; Exodus 14:21; Nehemiah 9:11) of the dividing of the Red Sea is peculiar; גּזרים (Genesis 15:17, side by side with בּתרים ) are the pieces or parts of a thing that is cut up into pieces. נער is a favourite word taken from Exodus 14:27. With reference to the name of the Egyptian ruler Pharaoh (Herodotus also, ii. 111, calls the Pharaoh of the Exodus the son of Sesostris-Rameses Miumun, not Μενόφθας , as he is properly called, but absolutely Φερῶν ), vid., on Psalms 73:22. After the God to whom the praise is to be ascribed has been introduced with ל by always fresh attributes, the ל before the names of Sihon and of Og is perplexing. The words are taken over, as are the six lines of Psalms 136:17-22 in the main, from Psalms 135:10-12, with only a slight alteration in the expression. In Psalms 136:23 the continued influence of the construction הודוּ ל is at an end. The connection by means of שׁ (cf. Psalms 135:8, Psalms 135:10) therefore has reference to the preceding “for His goodness endureth for ever.” The language here has the stamp of the latest period. It is true זכר with Lamed of the object is used even in the earliest Hebrew, but שׁפל is only authenticated by Ecclesiastes 10:6, and פּרק , to break loose = to rescue (the customary Aramaic word for redemption), by Lamentations 5:8, just as in the closing verse, which recurs to the beginning, “God of heaven” is a name for God belonging to the latest literature, Nehemiah 1:4; Nehemiah 2:4. In Psalms 136:23 the praise changes suddenly to that which has been experienced very recently. The attribute in Psalms 136:25 (cf. Psalms 147:9; Psalms 145:15) leads one to look back to a time in which famine befell them together with slavery.


Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 136:4". 1854-1889.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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