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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Psalms Chapter 136


psa 136:0

This psalm also has no title to indicate the author, or to explain the occasion on which it was composed. It is a psalm of very special construction, and stands alone in the form of its poetry. The peculiarity consists in repeating at the close of each verse the language "for his mercy endureth forever." This is a kind of refrains, and may have been designed, in public worship, to be a response by a choir, or by the people. That it may have been intended to be so used cannot be disproved, nor can anyone show that such a response in public worship is, itself, improper or wrong. It is not certain, however, that it was meant to be so used; and it should not, therefore, be appealed to as proving that such responses are proper in public worship, whatever may be true on that point. It may have been merely a specimen of the poetic art among the Hebrews - one of the forms in which Hebrew poetry expressed itself. The subjects referred to as laying the foundation for the response in each verse - "for his mercy endureth forever," are such as have been often introduced in the previous psalms, and will require but little additional illustration. The general idea is, that all these acts of the divine interposition - all that God has done, even though it seemed to be a display of power or of justice, of severity or of wrath - was, in fact, an illustration of the "mercy" of God, and laid a foundation for praise. That is, All this was connected with the good of his people, with favors to mankind, with the accomplishment of great and benevolent purposes, and, therefore, was expressive of mercy - a proof that the "mercy of God endures forever."

Psalms 136:1

psa 136:1

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good - This whole verse is the same as Psa 106:1, except that that is introduced by a Hallelujah. See the notes at that verse.

For his mercy endureth for ever - See also Psa 106:1, note; Psa 107:1, note. Literally, "For unto eternity his mercy." That is, It is ever the same; it never changes; it is never exhausted; it is found in all his dealings - in all his acts toward his creatures, and ever will be.

Psalms 136:2

psa 136:2

O give thanks unto the God of gods - See Deu 10:17. The supreme God; the God superior to all that is called God, or that is adored by the nations of the earth; above all to whom the name God is ever applied.

For his mercy... - The ground of praise here is, that it is a characteristic of the supreme God that he is a merciful Being; that there is blended in his character eternal mercy with infinite power. Mere power might fill us with dread; power mingled with mercy, and able to carry out the purposes of mercy, must lay the foundation for praise.

Psalms 136:3

psa 136:3

O give thanks to the Lord of lords - The Lord or Ruler of all in authority - all kings, princes, rulers. He is supreme over all. This is an attribute of Divinity; yet this is ascribed to the Lord Jesus, thus proving that he is divine. See the notes at Rev 19:16.

For his mercy ... - The ground of praise here, as in the previous verse, is, that this God - the Supreme Ruler over all the potentates and magistrates of earth - is a merciful Being. He is kind and benignant toward those rulers, and through them to mankind.

Psalms 136:4

psa 136:4

To him who alone doeth great wonders - Miracles; marvelous things; things which spring from his direct and absolute power; things lying beyond the range of natural laws. See the notes at Psa 72:18.

For his mercy ... - For all these mighty wonders are performed in carrying out purposes of mercy. So the wonders which were done in Egypt were for the deliverance of an oppressed people; so the miracles performed by the Saviour and his apostles were to remove disease and pain, and to establish a religion of mercy; so the divine interpositions among the nations are to assert the principles of righteousness, to secure the reign of order and love, and to promote the welfare of mankind.

Psalms 136:5

psa 136:5

To him that by wisdom made the heavens - Made them in so wise a manner; where so much wisdom was manifested. See Pro 3:19; Pro 8:24-31.

For his mercy ... - The making of the heavens was a manifestation of mercy and goodness as furnishing an abode for unfallen and holy beings; as a dwelling-place for redeemed sinners when they shall be removed there from the earth; and as, by their order, their beauty, their harmony, and their happy influences, tending to promote the happiness of man on earth.

Psalms 136:6

psa 136:6

To him that stretched out the earth above the waters - Gen 1:1, Gen 1:9; see the notes at Psa 24:2.

For his mercy ... - As an illustration of his benignity and kindness in preparing an abode for man, and for other creatures in the world. Whatever there is of life or happiness, on the continents and islands, has resulted from that act of God when "he made the dry land appear."

Psalms 136:7

psa 136:7

To him that made great lights - Gen 1:14. The sun and the moon are here particularly referred to.

For his mercy ... - As manifested in all that has followed from the creation and diffusion of light - (all the beauty in the universe as seen; all the life, beauty, and vigor in the vegetable and animal world; all that there is of life and happiness in the universe - for there could be neither if darkness reigned everywhere); light, the emblem of happiness; the source of joy; the producer, in a great measure, of the beauties of the universe, and the revealer of those beauties everywhere. How can a man think of light and not praise its Author?

Psalms 136:8

psa 136:8

The sun to rule by day - Gen 1:16. Margin, as in Hebrew, for the ruling of the day. That is, to control, as it were, the day; to determine its length - its beginning - its ending - to make it what it is.

For his mercy ... - By all the blessings of day as distinguished from night and darkness - by all that the sun in his daily course does to diffuse life, joy, peace, comfort, happiness on the earth - by all that are warmed by its beams, cheered by its light, guided in labor, guarded from dangers - do we derive an argument for the mercy of God; by all this there is laid a foundation for his praise.

Psalms 136:9

psa 136:9

The moon and stars to rule by night - Gen 1:16.

For his mercy ... - As a proof also of his benignity and mercy. By all the beauty of the moon and stars in their course through the heavens - by all that there is in the harmony and order of their movements - by all that there is to make night less hideous and fearful - by all that there is to reveal a countless number of worlds whose existence could not have been discovered but for the night - by all that there is to guide the mariner on the ocean, enabling him to determine his position and to mark his course when on the deep - and therefore by all the blessings of navigation and commerce, binding the different parts of the world together, by all that there is in the "North-star," fixed and true in guiding those who flee from bondage - by all these and kindred things without number, do we see the benignity, the goodness, the mercy of God, in forming the moon and stars "to rule by night."

Psalms 136:10

psa 136:10

To him that smote Egypt in their first-born - Exo 12:29. That is, he struck them down, or destroyed them, by his own direct power.

For his mercy ... - It was in mercy to his people. It was the means of their deliverance from bondage, for the Egyptians would not otherwise have suffered them to depart. By all the results of their deliverance both to themselves and to mankind, the act was seen to be an act of mercy to the world. It was better for mankind that the Hebrews should be delivered even at this sacrifice than it would have been that they should not be brought into the promised land.

Psalms 136:11

psa 136:11

And brought Israel out from among them - From the land of Egypt. By all the wonders manifested in their deliverance, and in conducting them out of the land so that they should escape from their pursuers.

For his mercy ... - His mercy in this respect was to be measured by all that there was of power in conducting them forth in safety, and by the results of it.

Psalms 136:12

psa 136:12

With a strong hand - A powerful hand; as by a hand that could grasp and subdue all that opposed.

And with a stretched-out arm - As if the arm were stretched out to strike with the utmost force, or to exert its utmost power. See Exo 6:6; Deu 4:34; Deu 5:15; Deu 7:19; Deu 26:8; Jer 32:21.

For his mercy ... - The exertion of his power in delivering his people was the expression of a mercy, the consequences of which are to endure forever, for the results of that deliverance will never cease in the history of the world; will never cease in heaven.

Psalms 136:13

psa 136:13

To him which divided the Red sea into parts - More literally, "Parted it into parts;" made parts of that which before was unbroken and a whole. It was actually divided into two parts, so that the Hebrews passed between them: Exo 14:21-22.

For his mercy ... - This, too, was an exercise of mercy, or a manifestation of benevolence toward them and toward the world, to be measured by all the good which would result from it in itself, and by all the power which was put forth to effect it.

Psalms 136:14

psa 136:14

And made Israel to pass through the midst of it - Exo 14:29.

For his mercy ... - The mercy manifested in keeping the waves from returning on them and overwhelming them.

Psalms 136:15

psa 136:15

But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea - Margin, as in Hebrew, shaked off. The word is applicable to a tree shaking off its foliage. Isa 33:9. The same word is used in Exo 14:27 : "And the Lord overthrew (Margin, shook off) the Egyptians in the midst of the sea," He shook them off as if he would no longer protect them. He left them to perish.

For his mercy ... - Their destruction was done in mercy to his people and to the world, for it was the means of deliverance to Israel. The death of a wicked man is a benefit to the world, and the act of removing him may be really an act of the highest benevolence to mankind. No wrong is done to such people, for they deserve to die; and the only service which can be rendered to the world through them is by their removal from the earth.

Psalms 136:16

psa 136:16

To him which led his people through the wilderness - For all the manifestations of his care during a period of forty years.

For his mercy ... - That is, his mercy was to be measured by all the protection extended over them; by all the provision made for their needs; by all that God did to defend them; by all his interposition when attacked by their enemies; by safely bringing them to the land to which he had promised to conduct them.

Psalms 136:17

psa 136:17

To him which smote great kings - On this passage see the notes at Psa 135:10-12. There is little difference in the two places, except that here the statement is divided by the refrain, "For his mercy endureth forever." The idea in the whole passage, in view of the divine interposition in slaying the mighty kings, and in giving their land for a possession to the Hebrew people, is, that it was a proof of mercy and benevolence. It is benevolence to mankind and to the church of God - it is in the interests of humanity, of domestic peace, and of the charities of life, to remove wicked people from the world. This mercy may be manifested further, not merely in removing the wicked, but in transferring their possessions to those who will make a better use of them. Thus the possessions of these mighty kings, Sihon and Og, were transferred to the people of God, and lands which had been devoted to the service of blood, ambition, crime, pollution, and idolatry, became devoted to the service of religion and righteousness. In like manner, through the removal of a wicked man from the world by death, God may cause his wealth, accumulated by avarice and dishonesty, to be transferred to the hands of children who will make a good use of it - children converted as if in anticipation of this, and with a view to this. Among the highest expressions of mercy to the world may be, therefore, the removal of wicked princes in war - or the removal of wicked people, in other ranks of life, by death in any form.

Psalms 136:23

psa 136:23

Who remembered us in our low estate - When we were few in number; when we were a feeble people; when we were a people unable to contend with such mighty foes.

For his mercy ... - By all that he did for us when thus feeble; by all his power put forth to defend us from our enemies, he has showed his mercy and kindness to us and to the world.

Psalms 136:24

psa 136:24

And hath redeemed us from our enemies - Has rescued or delivered us from all our foes; has given to us freedom and peace.

For his mercy ... - By all that he has done in order to redeem us; and by all the prosperity, happiness, and peace which have followed as the result of that, he has showed his mercy. So it is in the greater work of the redemption of the soul. By all the love manifested in the gift of a Saviour - by all the sufferings and toils of his life - by his "agony and bloody sweat" in the garden of Gethsemane - by his "cross and passion," by all the blessings of salvation here, all our peace, all our purity, all our consolations, all our hopes, and by all the glories of heaven hereafter - the mercy of God in our redemption is to be estimated and measured. Who can take the full account of it?

Psalms 136:25

psa 136:25

Who giveth food to all flesh - To all living things: all in the air, on the earth, in the waters. See the notes at Psa 104:27-28; compare Psa 115:16.

For his mercy ... - All this is a proof of his benignity and kindness. To see this, it would be necessary to have a view of what is done every day in the providence of God to meet the needs of the countless multitudes thus dependent on him. Let it be remembered, also, that the needs of each insect, fowl, animal; fish, is to be provided for as an individual - and who can take in a full view of the care, the wisdom, the benevolence of what is done every day by the Father of all in providing for their needs? Let it be remembered, also, that this has been continned without ceasing from the foundation of the world, and will be demanded until its close, and then let us try to imagine what is necessary to be done to provide for the needs of all the dwellers in distant worlds - and who, in this view, can form any proper estimate of the wisdom and the goodness of God?

Psalms 136:26

psa 136:26

O give thanks unto the God of heaven - The God who reigns in heaven; whose home is heaven.

For his mercy ... - In view of all this - of all that he does in heaven and on earth - let praise be ascribed to him. To know the measure of the praise due to him; to see how great is his "mercy," it would be necessary to know all that he does in heaven and on earth. That will not be known here. It will constitute the theme of contemplation and praise forever and ever. Enough, however, is known here to show the propriety of repeating again, again, and again, as in this psalm, the language, "For his mercy endureth forever;" "For his mercy endureth forever;" "For his mercy endureth forever."

Next: Psalms Chapter 137