Do me a favor and please read Psalm 136.
If you’re unsure about the focus of this psalm then, and I’m not sure how, you’ve clearly missed what is stated 26 times: His love endures forever.
So, as typical we want to know a few things namely WHO is the author and WHAT are they writing about. First off, we don’t know who the author is. But what appears to be taking place is this is a psalm that would have been used in a liturgical setting (church-type setting). So maybe the choir is chanting back and forth with the congregation or maybe the temple priests are singing this in conjunction with those coming to worship. What they are writing about? That one’s easy: the worship of God for his enduring love. A song of enduring love over all leaders (he acknowledges a few), over all creation (5-9), through the Exodus (10-16), and all those conquest-type situations the people of Israel went through (17-22).
What’s beautiful about this psalm is that while it’s not explicitly stated, and while we typically think of “good” things that came about from these events (the exodus brought God’s people out of slavery and oppression, and praising God for those conquest wins) there is a fact that many times we overlook the harsh realities of those too.
In the exodus the people complained. A LOT. And it was not an easy departure for them. For hundreds of years the people had a home and now they did not. For hundreds of years, while yes they were slaves and treated horribly by the Egyptians, they knew what each day looked like. And now they didn’t. So they grumbled…and grumbled…and were put through a lot. And so yes we praise God for his enduring love and pulling the people out of a terrible situation. Yes we praise God for his covenantal love and binding word that he will ALWAYS be their God no matter what they do to that relationship. But that time was really hard for the people of God. Not so hard that it overcame the good – but a struggle still-the-same.
On the other side, with conquest and fighting, the reality of war and battles is that nobody wins. People die on each side. Injuries happen on the battlefield that leave scars that last for weeks, months, years, and even your whole life. And I’m not just speaking of physical scars. What about emotional ones? We’re learning more and more about PTSD and other mental and emotional battles – and while they may be new to us that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist back then. The reality is that wars hurt everyone. And so yes we are thankful that the “good side” won. Yes we are thankful that when the “good side” wins that the killing stops. Yes we are thankful that God goes before the people and gives them the win but people still died. Families were still ripped apart. Fathers and young boys were taken from their families which then meant huge strains were put on those left behind. And what about the atrocious things done to women and girls? Again: nobody wins in war.
And YET…we still are to praise God for his enduring love. Because while we need to acknowledge the “negative” side to war and the Exodus none of that compares to the goodness that came about. Especially in the case for the people of God who needed God to fight their battles, remove the whip, give them peace and a home, and for God to simply be their God and love them as he does. And the truth as well is that the people of Israel needed God. They couldn’t leave the slave masters on their own, they couldn’t win the battles that were before them on their own, and they couldn’t exist without the God of creation doing all of it for them. So with much of scripture we have to understand context and put ourselves in the people’s shoes. They were extremely thankful that God’s enduring love saved them time and time again. Did other people suffer? Yes – but that’s something I personally struggle with while they did not. It’s my issue to wrestle with – not God’s.
So how can you and I speak of God’s enduring love through this psalm? Well, think about your own past. We can definitely agree on praising God for creation – so that’s a great start. What about times of trials? What about times of darkness? Did you get out of it? Then praise him. Are you still in it? Then you can still praise him because we don’t believe, as we see in the Exodus “praise”, we just don’t believe that God abandons and we have no reason to start believing that he now will start. Time may feel like it’s dragging as we are in this dark space but dark spaces don’t mean that we’re left alone. It simply means we’re in a dark space with God next to us. What about your battles and things you need conquered? Do we believe that God leaves us to fight those on our own? Do we believe God sits up in heaven waiting to see who wins so he can side with them? No. When God says “Never will I abandon nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, Deut 31:6) that means exactly what he declares. That from creation to the cross, from the grave to the sky, from the pits of despair to the heavenly realms of praising-glory: God is there.
So praise God for his love endures forever. A love that isn’t based on anything but him, his covenant, AND his love. And for that alone we should praise him. For that alone speaks of our whole lives.