Theme: Thanks and Praise
In this week’s lessons, we learn to praise and thank the Lord for his goodness to us.
Scripture: Psalm 136:1-26
A disaster such as the one that has overtaken the evangelical church in regard to its worship is not going to be cured overnight. But we ought to make a beginning, and one way to begin is by studying what the psalms have to teach about worship. After all, the psalms were the chief worship vehicle of both the Old Testament and New Testament church for most of its history. In fact, it is only recently that the psalms have been eclipsed by the popular hymns, songs and choruses we are accustomed to sing today.
So this is what we will be doing for the most part from this point to the end of the Psalter. We will be studying how to praise God. For these are almost all praise psalms, the greatest to be found anywhere in Scripture.
We began our study of these psalms (Psalms 135-150) with a look at Psalm 135, a psalm marked at both its beginning and ending with a call to “Praise the LORD.” In Hebrew, these are the words hallelu jah, which in English we have contracted into the single word “hallelujah.” The words occur often in these psalms, especially at the end where they both begin and end Psalms 146-150, just as they begin and end Psalm 135. Because of this summons these psalms have been called the Hallel (or Praise) Psalms.
In Jewish tradition the psalm we are to study now, Psalm 136, has been called the Great Hallel (or “Great Psalm of Praise”). It does not use the words hallelu jah, but it is called the Great Hallel for the way it rehearses God’s goodness in regard to his people and encourages them to praise him for his merciful and steadfast love.
In Psalm 136 the words that take the place of hallelu jah (“Praise the LORD”) are hodu le yahweh, which the New International Version translates as “Give thanks to the LORD.”1 They occur three times at the beginning, at the start of each of the first three verses, and once at the end at the start of verse 26. This demand is important—it indicates what the psalm is about—but the words are more important even than this, for they are probably to be understood as the proper beginning for most of the psalm’s twenty-six verses. Each verse contains a reason why God’s people should thank God. It is not hard to imagine the psalm actually being written that way, which it might have been were it not that each of the verses ends with the repeating phrase “his love endures forever” instead, completing the pattern of two lines per verse.
We need to look at that refrain too before we end. But first, we need to think about the words “give thanks.” Because they replace the summons to “praise the LORD” (in Psalms 135, 146-150 and others) they are a reminder to us that thanksgiving should be an important and regular part of worship. If God is good, as he is, and if we praise him for being as he is, which is what worship is all about, clearly we must thank him, too. If we do not, we are not actually worshiping God, whatever else we may be doing.
So do we? Are we thankful? In our worship of God are we consistently and joyfully thanking God for his many great and kind acts toward us?
And there is something else, too. Derek Kidner points out in his study of the psalm that “giving thanks” does not express the full meaning of this critical imperative. Basically it means “to confess” or “to acknowledge.” But since it also contains the thought of thanksgiving, it is probably best rendered “thankfully confess” or “acknowledge gratefully.”2 What this means is that our worship of God should also be a form of Christian confession. Or to put it another way, when we come to church the confession of our faith should be a regular part of our worship. We are going to find that this psalm is very much like our common confession of faith, beginning “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…”
1″O give thanks unto the LORD” (KJV).
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 457.
What has Psalm 135 traditionally been called? What name has been given to Psalms 135 through 150, and why?
Why is the repetition of the words “Give thanks to the LORD” important?
Reflection: How thankful are you for the blessings God has given you? How can you render to him the thanks and praise that he deserves?
Key Point: If God is good, as he is, and if we praise him for being as he is, which is what worship is all about, clearly we must thank him, too. If we do not, we are not actually worshiping God.
For Further Study: The Psalms is filled with references to God’s attributes, and therefore is an important biblical source of praise. To help guide you in your personal and family worship, consider using James Boice’s three-volume set of sermons on all 150 psalms. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering it at 25% off the regular price.