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GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD

Psalm 136:1-136:26
Key Verse: 136:1

Happy Thanksgiving Sunday! On this Thanksgiving Sunday we want to study Psalm 136. Psalm 120-134 are songs of ascents, the songs the Israelites sang as they went up the temple in Jerusalem. And Psalm 135 and 136 were written to show the people what kind of attitudes they were to have as they went up to the temple: praising and giving thanks. Psalm 135 begins with the words, “Praise the LORD” and Psalm 136, “Give thanks to the LORD.” These two are the very attitudes we should have to God. Paul also told the Christians in Ephesus to sing to the Lord and give thanks to God (Eph 5:19, 20). Praising and giving thanks to God may be considered the same kind of expression toward God. Yet they are also different. We notice that “give thanks to the LORD is a command along with “Praise the LORD.” It is because giving thanks is not natural for sinful human beings. So it should be obeyed and learned in life. Thanksgiving is vital in relationships, between God and men, between a husband a wife, between parents and children, and in all other relationships. When there was no thankful heart in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they were ready to fall. Giving thanks can be one of the godly trainings we need (1 Tim 4:7). Let’s practice giving thanks to God, saying, “Thank God that I am here sitting beside you today.” We should learn to thank God and the people whom God put in our lives. Helen Keller said, “Use your eyes as if you will be blind tomorrow; hear the singing of birds and the sound of horses and the powerful melody of orchestra as if you will be deaf tomorrow.” We should learn to thank God for many things we take for granted. As we study this Psalm, may be able to probe into the heart of the Psalmist and obtain the spirit of thanksgiving. .

First, the LORD, the God of gods and the Lord of lords (1-3). We read in verse 1, “Give thanks to the LORD…” in verse 2, “Give thanks to the God of gods…” and in verse 3. “Give thanks to the Lord of lords…” Here LORD is “Jehovah” (“the existing One”; the proper name of the one true God). The LORD is the God of the Bible (the God revealed in the Bible). First of all, he is the Creator (1:1; 2:4). The LORD God made his appearance first in the Garden of Eden (Ge 2). Adam and Eve could hear his voice as he was walking in the garden (Ge 3:8). The LORD called Abraham, saying, “Leave your country…you will be a blessing” and began to intervene in his life (Ge 12:1). He is the God of Abraham. And he is also the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. In Exodus he said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). He is the Holy One of Israel (Ps 89:18; Isa 10:20; 30:15; 41:14; 55:5; Jer 50:29). In John’s gospel there are seven “I AM” declarations by Jesus. Jesus is the incarnation of the LORD (The LORD came in flesh, in a human form). The LORD is the God of love and salvation.

According to verses 1-3, the LORD is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. Moses said in Deuteronomy 10:17, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords…” The origin of this expression is found in the background of pantheism, and in this context it is better to understand that these indicate that he is the true God, incomparably true. For example, in Egypt people worshiped sun god (Jer 43:13). In Sumer, the ancient Babylonia, there was moon god. But the Bible says, “Do not be enticed into bowing down to them” (Deu 4:19). Rather it commands, “Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shinning stars” (Ps 148:3). The Greco-Roman people had more than 300 gods. Every time they conquered a nation, a god was added. All were man-made gods. But the LORD is the one true God, incomparable and matchless. At the time of Elijah people were wavering between Baal and LORD. Elijah challenged them, saying, “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Ki 18:21). However, the people were silent. Then he contended with Baal priests to show that the one who sends fire from heaven is God. When Baal priests called him all day long, nothing happened. But as soon as Elijah called the LORD, fire came down and burned the altar. At this the people cried, “The LORD-he is God! The LORD-he is God!” (1 Ki 18:39). Jesus said in his high priestly prayer, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). The final proof that the LORD is the God of gods, the only true God is the resurrection of Christ Jesus. He raised his Son Jesus from the dead.

He is the Lord of lords. Here “lords’ refer to all the authorities on earth, such as kings, rulers and sovereigns (monarchs). This means that the LORD God is far above such authorities. This expression is applied to the absolute Sovereign God and also the Christ who came to this world to complete the kingdom of God (Rev 19:16). In Psalm 97:5, the expression is “the Lord of all the earth.”

Jesus said in Mark 12:29, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” How precious the LORD is! He is the only true God, one true Lord. He is worthy of our love, which includes our thanks. Give thanks to him, because of his being before anything else.

Second, he is good. The LORD is so great and majestic. How can his attributes possibly be described? But if one thing can be written about him, it ia that “he is good.” What does this mean? Nowadays the word good is one of the most common words people speak (28 meanings). So the expression “he is good” does not seem to convey the great meaning. But let’s think of it for a while. Where does good come from? Good is originated from God. God is the source of good. Good or goodness stems from God. The LORD, the only true God is good. So we cannot talk about good apart from God. Without God there is no goodness. Jesus said, “No one is good—except God alone” (Mk 10:18; Lk 18:19).

God is good, while man is both good and evil. So all he does is good. His creation was good. Paul said in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” There is nothing but goodness in his way leading his people. When we look at the world, evil and bad things seem to be overflowing. But still God wants us to believe that there is goodness of God in all things and his goodness wins ultimately. We know the life of Joseph in Genesis. His life seems to be the continuation of evilness of men. But he said to his brothers who sold him as a slave to Egypt, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Ge 50:20). Especially, God used Joseph to change his sinful brothers to be raised as twelve patriarchs of faith for God’s redemptive history. The LORD who is good has one direction in leading each person and the world. It is for salvation and redemptive history. He leads us for our salvation and spiritual growth and for his redemptive history. When we know this, we can confess, “The LORD is good” amid many things we cannot understand, even in the turmoil of life. We do not know what will happen in our lives. But one thing we do know is he is good. This gives us the assurance of our lives and the assurance of the future world. Paul said in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” So he said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Thomas Edison (1847-1931) was so poor that he studied by selling news papers in trains. He would do his experiments on the train. Then one day when the train where he was experimenting was swayed, his experimental materials spilled out onto the floor and a fire started. Soon after a guard of the train came and put out the fire. However, the guard was so enraged that he threw Edison out of the train. Unfortunately his brain was hurt, and consequently he could not hear. Yet he did not despair but studied continually and became known as King of invention. Later in his reminiscence he said, “I thank God that I became a deaf at that time. Because I could not hear any sound, I could concentrate on my research.” One man of God was very much concerned about his son, who was often bullied in his high school. He knew that his son suffered much in his shy character. Then one day he suddenly heard of his son’s death. His shock and heart-breaking pain was more than one could say. But on the very Sunday after the event, he delivered his message in the worship service, confessing that the LORD is good. I did not know all the details that went through his mind, but what he did showed to me that he was truly a man of God. May we grow in this confession, “He is good” and learn to express our thanks to him in any circumstances.

Third, his love endures forever. Look at verse 1 again. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.” “He is good” and “His love endures forever”, these two seem to be the similar kind of expression and are connected. “He is good” means “His love endures forever.” Why is he good? For his love endures forever. Let’s think about his love that endures forever. We can say that the history of God is the history of God’s enduring love. It is so from the beginning of man’s fall. In Genesis chapter 3, when man sinned, God did not punish him right away. He began to show his enduring love, calling, “Where are you Adam?” and giving him the promise of a Saviour from the offspring of a woman, and clothing him with enduring garments of animal’s skin.

Look at verses 4-9. “to him who alone does great wonders…who by his understanding made the heavens…who spread out the earth upon the waters…who made the great lights…the sun to govern the day…the moon and stars to govern the night…” This was the short description of great wonders of God’s creation. And the refrain, “His love endures forever”, is repeated six times, once for every verse. When we think of the wonder of God’s creation, we might think that the right refrain should be, “Praise the LORD.” Why is God’s creation the expression of his enduring love? It is because even after man’s fall God did not destroy what he had created, but preserved it, despite the fact that man's sin caused the creation to be subjected to frustration. Even after the flood, God said, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Ge 8:22). Among his great wonders the creation of the heavens comes first: (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”). People on the earth should know that the visible world of the earth is not everything. No one knows and understands how the heavens are made and what the heavens are like. But by his understanding God made the heavens. He spread out the earth over the waters. Scientists tried to find whether there are other planets that have water, for even a small amount of water means the possibility of any form of life existence, but nothing definite was found. But God spread out the earth over the waters (71% of the earth’s surface is made up by oceans; 60% of our body consists with water). And he set a boundary they cannot cross (Ps 104:9). In short, God made a perfect environment for man’s living on the earth. We all know, at least partially or vaguely the roles of the sun and the moon and the stars. The sun provides heat and energy for the maintenance of life. Because of the perfect distance between the sun and the earth people on the earth do not get too cold or too hot. The tide of the rising and the ebbing of the sea are regulated by the moon, whose size and distance from the earth are also perfect. Especially the sun’s governing the day and the moon and the stars’ governing the night are mentioned. As you know, the sun and the moon and the stars are just luminous bodies with no self-will and governing power. In truth it is God’s governing through the sun and the moon and the stars. He created and he governs as long as the earth endures. His governing is the expression of his love that endures forever. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God’s creation and his governing show his universal love for mankind.

Look at verses 10-12: “to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt…and brought Israel out from among them…with a mighty hand and outstretched arm…” The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 430 years. No one could liberate them from the long, extensive slavery. But the LORD set them free and brought them out with power and love. At this work of God the Egyptians urged the Israelites to hurry and leave the country, and favorably disposed toward the people, giving them what they asked for (Ex 12:33,36). Certainly, his love endures forever for his chosen people.

Look at verses 13-15: “to him who divided the Red Sea asunder…and brought Israel through the midst of it…but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea.” Exodus was one thing and the crossing the Red Sea was another. When the LORD divided the Red Sea asunder, a wall of water on their right and on their left were made and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground (Ex 14:22,29). But when Pharaoh and his army chased them, God let the water-walls fall down and swept Pharaoh and his army, the most advanced army of that time, into the Red Sea. In order to protect his people, God did so. Truly, his love endures forever.

Look at verses 16-22: “to him who led his people through the desert…who struck down great kings…and killed mighty kings…Sihon king of the Amorites…and Og king of Bashan…and gave their land as an inheritance…an inheritance to his servant Israel…” God led them through the desert, not good land, to discipline them. God’s discipline was to humble them so that they might learn to depend on God for his provision and live on the word of God (Dt 8:2-5). Sihon king of the Amorites was strong enough to strike Moab and be famous and brave. But God struck him down when he did not allow the Israelites just to pass through their land peacefully but fought against Israel. His destruction was swift with no way to return. Og king of Bashan was a giant and all the cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars (Dt Dt 3:5). But the LORD struck him down also. Then he could not but exchange his iron bed (4mx1.8m) with dust bed. Then God gave the land as an inheritance to his servant Israel. The Israelites were weak with no fighting experience and no one could fight for them. But when God fought for them, they became mighty soldiers. God gave them victory and the inheritance in their conquered land so that they could live there, in the promise land, for God’s purpose. Surely, his love endures forever.

Look at verses 23-25. “to the One who remembered us in our low state…and freed us from our enemies…and who gives food to every creature…” Even when they were in Babylonian captivity, God remembered them and let them return to their home land after 70 years. There were always enemies around them. But the LORD freed them from their enemies without fail. His love endures without fail forever. Indeed the history of Israel was the history of God’s enduring love. Again, his giving food to every creature is the expression of his universal enduring love.

This Psalm ends with verse 26, “Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.” The God of heaven is another expression of LORD (Ge 24:3,7; 2 Ch 24:7; Ezra 1:2; Neh 1:5; Jonah 1:9). The LORD is more than the God of Israel. He is the God of heaven, the God of all people of all generations. He showed his enduring love for mankind through his Son Jesus Christ. God’s enduring love was best expressed when his Son Jesus was nailed to the cross and died shedding his precious blood for man’s sin. And his enduring love was proven true and forever when God raised him from the dead. He is our Father in heaven through his Son Jesus Christ. God’s enduring love includes his redeeming love, caring love, persevering love, guiding love and love that leads to victory and to the kingdom of heaven.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus told a story of prodigal son to show God’s enduring love. The son asked for his share of the property from his father and left the home. He wanted to live a free life. But soon he hit the rock bottom and made a resolution to go back to his father as he was, overcoming shame and guilt. The father has been waiting for him day and night, opening the door. Before the son was reaching home, the father noticed him and welcomed unconditionally and restored him fully to the prince position. This is God’s enduring love given to us in Christ Jesus. The 19th century evangelist John Wilbur Chapman (1859-1918) told a story of a man in his church. This man was searching for his son who had left home at the age of 13. The father searched for his son for 18 years without giving up. One day he happened to go to a railroad station in Pennsylvania. A man who looked like a homeless drug addict approached him and begged for twenty-five cents. It was his son! The father cried out, “Tom! I am your father!” Then the man looked at him and said, “Please spare a quarter.” The father hugged his son and said, “Twenty-five cents does not matter. I am your father. You are my son. Everything I have is yours. Even my life is yours. Come home and live with me!” Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” God really wants us to know the riches of his inheritance in his Son and our Lord Jesus Christ.

A philosopher and professor, Claypool, visited his friend. There he saw the friend’s sister who had no arms and legs, and was surprised. She was a deformed (malformed) child. But she was well developed in the art sense and had a deep knowledge in music and fine arts. Claypool asked the girl, “If I were you, I could not bear the life condition. What made you so bright? The girl answered, blinking her eyes, “I have too many things. I have ears to hear music and eyes to read masterpieces of literature. I have the love of my family and friends. But the most precious thing I have is Jesus Christ in my heart. Since I have so many treasures, why should I be sorrowful?” The professor Claypool was shocked at the answer.

Last week the Novel Prize in literature was given to a Canadian woman writer, Alice Munro, the 83-year-old, from Wingham, Ontario. She is the first Canadian woman who received the Novel prize and is the 13th woman recipient of Novel Prize in literature. Many people consider this achievement a national pride. However, receiving God’s love that endures forever cannot be compared to receiving Novel prize. Accepting God’s enduring love through his Son Jesus Christ changes our destiny here and now and in eternity.

I was in the lowest point in my life with no word of God in the third year of my university days. When I went to the field work for practice as a mechanical engineering student, lying down on a bench with the Bible as my pillow and looking at the sky I could only cry. But God in his enduring love led me to study the Bible, while no one was truly interested in me. When the word of God came into my heart, I could be made alive with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God showed me his enduring love for the last more than 30 years. Particularly I was one who did not like reading, writing, speaking, hearing and thinking. I disliked all of them. But in his enduring love he has been raising me as a servant of God’s word. We should know that God’s enduring love means his willingness to bear all our weaknesses and to show his power to mould us into the ones whom he intended us to be.

What a wonderful thing it is that the LORD is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the one true God! We are to give thanks to him for his being, and give thanks to him, for he is good and his love endures forever. May we grow as his thankful children, giving thanks to him in all circumstances.

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