(This devotion is day fourteen of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
The Psalmist opens (1-3) and closes (26) this song with the call to give thanks. In between, he moves from God’s glorious attributes and powerful acts seen in Creation (4-9), Redemption (10-22), and ongoing Provision (23-25). There is more than enough reason to thank God in each realm. Anchoring every verse is the refrain: “for his steadfast love endures forever.” This Psalm lays down an excellent foundation for thanksgiving rooted in who God is for His people.
God’s Steadfast Love
Before looking at the story of God’s mighty deeds, let’s consider this repeated line about God’s steadfast love. This line (“for his steadfast love endures forever”) isn’t filler material inserted to stretch out the song. It’s the thematic string tying the rest of the Psalm together so it can hang on the mantle of our heart. It’s not a “vain repetition” or mindless chanting, but it’s the repeated chorus reiterating the key truth in this communal hymn. God loves us. God likes us. His love is steadfast, enduring, and forever.
We struggle to believe this and are prone to forget it. We doubt God’s power and goodness or we ignore the love set upon us. It’s not that we don’t believe these things are true, but we sometimes think they’re true for other people or true in the Bible, but not for us. The stubbornness of our hearts and the persistence of lies about God lead the psalmist to beat the drum of God’s steadfast love enduring forever. Only by hearing it over and over do we gain confidence in it. The repetition provides time for it to move from our head to our hearts so we can feel it. We need this theme stamped our forgetful hearts.
God’s steadfast love (hesed) is His covenantal, personal, committed love given to His people. It’s not a generic or general love. It’s not a distant or cold love as if He’s stuck with us. God’s love is a special love; a lovely love. It has nothing to do with us deserving it, but it has everything to do with God’s mercy and grace in freely setting it upon us. He doesn’t give us what we earned (mercy) and He gives us all kinds of things we haven’t earned (grace). God brings us into His family and treats us with the warmth a perfect Father gives to beloved sons and daughters. He brings us into a covenantal, committed relationship with Himself and draws near in ways unique to those joined to Him.
Consider the words surrounding this love. They’re very similar so it feels as if the songwriter is either piling on or saying the same thing with slight nuances to emphasize a thought. This love is steadfast, enduring, and lasts forever. Chew on each of those words. God’s love, and God’s love alone, is the kind of love our hearts long for and were created to be at rest in.“Think more on God’s love towards you than your love towards Him.”
God’s love is steadfast. God’s love is committed, faithful, loyal, dedicated, true, firm, strong, and secure. God’s love isn’t up and down like our love, but it’s unmovable and unswerving. God’s love isn’t based on how He’s feeling this day, but it’s based on His faithfulness.
God’s love endures. God’s love is ongoing, unstoppable, persevering, long-suffering, persistent, relentless. It remains on us. It rides out all the storms that might threaten it. It’s a love that lasts through all seasons and all the ups and downs.
God’s love is forever. God’s love is permanent, eternal, everlasting, perpetual, and endless. God’s love will never run out or dry up. We will never use up or exhaust His love, and it will never get tired of us and seek out someone else in our place. God’s love has been, is, and will be set on us forever.
No wonder the Psalmist calls us to give thanks to God (136:1, 2, 3, 26). Thinking about His love and seeing the depths and dimensions of it, moves us to praise Him for it. If we’re unmoved, we simply haven’t considered it enough.
God of Creation & Redemption
While God’s steadfast, enduring, everlasting love reverberates throughout this song, the verses in between this refrain help us see how that love shows up. He does these things, “for” or “because” of His steadfast love. Or, you could reverse the lines and say that “because of His steadfast love,” He has done these things.
The shout “God’s steadfast love endures forever” echoes in our soul as we rehearse God’s actions in history.
“As the singers of Psalm 136 enunciated the words of the psalm, they brought the past powerfully into the present. God who created is creating. God who delivered is delivering. God who sustained is sustaining. Our own liturgical acts serve the same purpose. With each recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Peace of Christ, we bring the past redemptive acts of God powerfully into the present.”
The psalmist retells their story in the story of the world as a way to give thanks. As the song’s narrative moves from Creation to Redemption, the theme of God’s steadfast love shows up in God’s acts in history.
We find reasons to give thanks in both Creation and in Redemption. The beauty and wonder set before us, and the gifts scattered throughout our world, are a loving Maker’s kindness upon us. This could include the blessings seen in Creation or nature, good food and drink, love in family and friendships, skills and abilities we possess, provisions dropped in our lap, and many other things that both believers and unbelievers alike might experience. These aren’t “second-class” or JV blessings we should feel guilty about giving thanks for or enjoying. If you deeply love your family or you really find pecan pie delicious, and you’re amazed by the fact God created trees with edible treats that fall down for us to collect, then these gifts from Creation are a chance to thank God.
There are other blessings received only by virtue of being God’s people. We receive many redemptive gifts only because we’re in Christ. The power of God in saving His people and the provision of God in supplying for our needs both testify to God’s unceasing love. We shouldn’t neglect either God’s gifts in Creation or Redemption. We should better see who God is in both and see God at work through both.
As you give thanks this month, write down things you’re grateful to God for giving, doing, or being. Draw from the bottomless well of God’s love in Creation and Redemption. Find a song about God’s love and sing or read through it, meditating on God’s steadfast love.
You can also read through the list of reasons the psalmist thanks God in Psalm 136. Personalize and pray some of them back to God.
Give thanks to the Lord, for…
He is good (1)
His steadfast love endures forever (1; stated 26 times)
He is God of gods (2) and Lord of lords (3)
He alone does great wonders (4)
He made the heavens with his understanding—or skill (5)
He spread out the earth above the waters (6)
He made the great lights (7)
He made the sun to rule over the day (8)
He made the moon and stars to rule over the night (9)
He struck down the firstborn of Egypt (10)
He brought Israel out from among the Egyptians (11)
He delivered them with a strong and outstretched arm (12)
He divided the Red Sea in two (13)
He made Israel pass through it (14)
He overthrew Pharaoh and his armies (15)
He led his people through the wilderness (16)
He struck down great kings (17)
He killed mighty kings (18)
…such as, Sihon, king of the Amorites (19)
…such as, Og, king of Bashan (20)
He gave their land to Israel as an inheritance (21)
He gave Israel his servant this inheritance (22)
He remembers us in our low estate (23)
He rescues us from our foes (24)
He gives food to all flesh (25)
He is the God of heaven (26)
For more on God’s “steadfast love,” see: Ezra 3:11-12; Ps. 136; 100:5; 107:1, 8, 43; 63:3; 106:1; 118:1–4, 29; 138:2; 145:8-9; 147:11; 1 Chr. 16:34, 41; 2 Chr. 20:21.
 Mike Reeves tweet, @mike_reeves, 10/1/19.
 As we’ve seen in other passages and devotionals, there’s a close link between remembering and thanksgiving.
 Nancy deClaissé-Walford, R. A. Jacobson, and B. L. Tanner “The Songs of the Ascents: Psalms” in E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, & R. L. Hubbard Jr. (Eds.), The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 952.