The Book of Psalms

Friday: His Love Endures Forever


Theme: “His Love Endures Forever”
In this week’s lessons, we learn to praise and thank the Lord for his goodness to us.
Scripture: Psalm 136:1-26
One striking feature of Psalm 136 is the way in which it works around to the place at which it started out. It began with a call to thank God; it ends the same way. And here, in verse 25, it even moves back to thoughts of a general benevolence of God to all people, not just Israel.
All people benefit from creation, which the psalm remembered in verses 4-9. Here we are reminded that God also “gives food to every creature,” not to Israel only. Jesus spoke about this general benevolence of God when he reminded his Jewish listeners that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). Paul echoed the same truths in Lystra, when he taught the Gentiles there that God “has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17). In each case the goodness of God is given as a reason why those who have benefited from it should repent of their sin and seek God. But people do not do this. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). 
What is most striking about this psalm is its chorus: “His love endures forever.” I said that I would come back to it later, and I have held a discussion of it until last, because it is the believer’s worshiping response given to each of the psalm’s statements about God. This sentence occurs twenty-six times in this psalm, as a response to each of its twenty-six verses, and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the psalms or anywhere else in the Bible. The closest thing is the fourfold repetition of the same sentence at the start and ending of Psalm 118. 
As a chorus, the words may seem a bit too repetitious in our English versions, but they do not come across this way in Hebrew. The right English effect was achieved by the great seventeenth-century English poet John Milton, who used Psalm 136 as the basis for his hymn “Let Us with a Gladsome Mind.” Milton wrote it while he was a student at Cambridge University when he was only fifteen years old:
Let us with a gladsome mind, praise the Lord for he is kind:
For his mercies aye endure, ever faithful, ever sure. 
Let us sound his name abroad, for of gods he is the God:
For his mercies aye endure, ever faithful, ever sure. 
He with all consuming might filled the new-made world with light:
For his mercies aye endure, ever faithful, ever sure. 
And so on for all the hymn’s twenty-four stanzas.1
The word that is used for “love” in this refrain is the powerful Hebrew term hesed, which means “covenant love” or the favor God shows to those with whom he has entered into a special relationship. Sometimes it is translated “steadfast (or enduring) love,” and the reason it is enduring is that God is a God of his word. He is forever good, and he does not break his covenant. 
Here is a final story. One night in February 358 A.D., the great church father Athanasius held an all-night service at his church in Alexandria, Egypt. Athanasius had been leading the fight for the eternal sonship and deity of Jesus Christ, knowing that the gospel and indeed even the survival of Christianity depended upon it. But he had many enemies—for political even more than theological reasons—and these had marshalled the power of the Roman government against him.
That night the church was suddenly surrounded by shouting soldiers with drawn swords. People were frightened. But with calm presence of mind Athanasius arose and announced the singing of Psalm 136. The vast congregation responded, joining in thundering forth twenty six times, “His love endures forever.” When the soldiers burst into the doors they were staggered by the singing. Athanasius kept his place until the congregation was dispersed. Then he too finally disappeared in the darkness and found refuge with his friends.2
Many citizens of Alexandria were killed that night. But the people of Athanasius’ congregation never forgot that although man is evil, God is good. He is superlatively good, and “his love endures forever.” 
1John Milton, The Complete Poems of John Milton in The Harvard Classics, ed. Charles W. Eliot (Norwalk, CT: Easton Press, 1993), pp. 16-18. Only a selection of these stanzas appear in most hymnals. 
2The story is told at length in Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1904), pp. 29, 30, and in Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 472. Original edition 1939. 
Study Questions: 

How has God shown his goodness to everyone? 
What does the Hebrew term for covenant love mean? What does this teach about your relationship to God? 

Prayer: Thank God that he is a God of his word. 
Key Point: Although man is evil, God is good. He is superlatively good, and “his love endures forever.”
For Further Study: To learn more about the love of God, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message from Romans 8, “Enduring Love.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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