When we read Psalm 136, it is hard not to notice that every single verse ends with the same words: "for His mercy endures forever." This was a psalm sung responsively by 2 choirs or a leader and a choir. One would sing the first half of each verse, and the other would respond, "for His mercy endures forever."
Psalm 136 is a song of thanksgiving. The phrase "give thanks" is used 4 times - thrice at the beginning and once at the end – and the object of thanksgiving is the mercy (better rendered as "lovingkindness") of God. God is love (1 Joh 4:26), and all that He does is motivated by love.
The Lovingkindness of God in His Character (v. 1-3)
"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!" begins the psalm. God does everything good simply because He is good. It is in His character to do good, and so He does it!
He is the God of gods - the Creator and Divine Majesty who alone is to be worshipped and adored. All other gods are false gods. He is Lord of lords - the ultimate Ruler of all rulers who is in control of everything that happens around us. Worship begins with a recognition of Who God is. We must know Who it is we are worshipping.
The Lovingkindness of God in His Creation (v. 4-9)
Before God created man, He created the environment that would sustain mankind. He created the earth for man to live, and in which He would write mankind's history and reveal Himself through it. God took great care in the creation of the world. He made the heavens "with skill". It was no random Big Bang, but meticulously thought out and skillfully crafted. In His creation He revealed His beauty, wisdom and power. He alone "does great wonders", and lovingly He does them for our benefit.
The Lovingkindness of God in His Deliverance (v. 10-15)
The deliverance of Israel from Egypt is a landmark display of His love for those that are His and His power to save. Throughout Israel's history, they are always reminded of how God smote the land of Egypt and saved them from their oppressors with a mighty hand.
Egypt symbolizes slavery, and for the Christian it symbolizes the time we were slaves to sin - the time before we trusted Christ. As the Israelites were always encouraged to look to the mighty works God did for them in the past, may we also remember to look back at how God saved us from sin, death and hell and made us His children. God could have let us bear the consequences of our sin. But He chose to save us because He is merciful and kind.
The Lovingkindness of God in His Blessings (v. 16-22)
After leaving Egypt, Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years before entering the Promised Land. Despite their constant complaining, God took care of them and continually provided for them in the wilderness. He did not destroy them in their rebellion, but instead fulfilled His promise to their ancestors to give them the land of Canaan - a land flowing with milk and honey.
God gave Israel the land of the Canaanites not because they were deserving of it. He made it clear that they deserved none of it. Yet He chose to use Israel to punish the sins of the nations. He dispossessed powerful kings and gave their land to them. God did it purely out of His goodness and mercy.
There are many blessings we enjoy today. Like Israel, we do not deserve the goodness of God, yet we enjoy the benefits of it. Pause a little while to recall how God has blessed you. As we count our blessings like the psalmist did, we will begin to see how kind God has been to us.
The Lovingkindness of God in our Lives Today (v. 23-26)
Having listed God’s blessings of the past, the psalmist ends by summarizing the mercies of God and recognising His majesty again.
God had compassion on Israel during their lowest times, and though they forgot Him, He never forgot them. God continued to rescue them from those who tried to destroy them. Though many times it seemed like they would have been annihilated, God never allowed Israel to be wiped out. The existence of Israel as a nation today is proof of God's faithfulness.
God's mercy is also seen in His provision of food to all flesh. He gives sunshine and rain to both good and evil people (Mat 5:45). We are beneficiaries of His kindness, and must be thankful to Him for His faithfulness to us when we are both faithful and faithless towards Him.
God’s lovingkindness endures forever. It is not changed by time or tide. It is part of His character, and He does not change. It is humbling to realise the goodness of God in spite of man's unworthiness. As the psalmist has shown, it is important for us to look back at the goodness of God in our lives in times past. God is a God who is active and real in history and in the lives of His children. The understanding of who God is and what He has done in the past enables us to give thanks and remain confident when we meet any situation in the future.