PSALM 138 TALK:   PRAISING THE LOVE OF GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART  

PSALM 138 TALK:   PRAISING THE LOVE OF GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART

 (The first of a collection of eight Psalms attributed to King David in the fifth and final book of Psalms that feature praise for the God he believed delivered him from sin and his enemies because he is a great God of love and righteousness. The first of these eight Psalms, Psalm 138 feature praising God for his love and sets the tone for the next seven Psalms to come).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

INTRODUCTION

 “Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all”

 Is the last two lines of the famous hymn by Isaac Watts called “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and these two lines have kept ringing in my head ever since I read recently Psalm 138 in preparation for this Psalm talk.

I believe Psalm 138 features God’s love and I have called it, “Praising the love of God with all your heart”. The Psalm starts with the writer’s desire to praise the Lord with his soul, life and all for what he calls in verse 2, God’s unfailing love and faithfulness and closes with a clear statement of God’s love with the words,

“Your love, Lord, endures forever”.

 Psalm 138 is the first Psalm of an eight Psalm series, 138 – 145 that are the final Psalms of David in the book of Psalms. We know this because the Hebrew Headings for these eight Psalms attribute the authorship of them to David.

Why did it take nearly 500 years for eight more Psalms of David to appear in the final book of Psalms?

The first thing I would say about this is that we have already seen former collections of Psalms not in the book of Psalms before incorporated into this final book of Psalms like the “Songs of Ascent Psalms” (120 – 134) and the “Hallelujah Songs” (111 – 118). So, it seems the editors of the fifth book of Psalms looked around for any final examples of songs and prayers the Hebrew people had sung over many years to formally recognize them as Psalms to go in their fifth and final book of Psalms.

I believe particularly because of the content of many of the fifth book of Psalms being post exile inspired and because the dead sea scrolls did not have the fourth and fifth books of Psalms as we know them that this fifth book and fourth book of Psalms came together after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon.

Albert Barnes answers my question with these words,

“They appear to be of the nature of a supplement to the Book of Psalms, composed of Psalms unknown to the original collector and arranger of the book, and subsequently discovered and ascertained to be the works of David. It is not to be regarded as strange that there should be psalms of this nature David at different periods which might have been preserved in different branches of his family, and which might not have been generally known to exist”.

 It seems that the “Songs of Ascent” Psalms (120 – 134) existed separately as a group of Psalms sung by Pilgrim Travellers to Jerusalem for one of the three worship festivals their and were decided by the editors of the fifth book to be brought into the official book of Psalms in the fifth and final collection.

So maybe these eight Psalms of David newly discovered after the return from exile in Babylon were also decided to be placed at the end of the book of Psalms just as the start of the book of Psalms contains the larger collection of David’s Psalms.

Psalm 138 has David’s fingerprints all over it with many phrases and ideas from his other Psalms mirrored throughout this Psalm. Here are five clear examples of this, Psalm 9: 1 mirrors verse 1, Psalm 5: 7 verse 2, Psalm 113: 5 – 9 verse 6, Psalm 23: 4 verse 7 and Psalm 57: 3 verse 8.

If David did not write this Psalm its writer used many of David’s previous Psalms as his inspiration and style.

So, the first of David’s final collection of Psalms, Psalm 138 features his deep desire to praise the Love of God after it seems he experienced first- hand another example of that love of God for him manifest in his life as we read in verse 7,

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand, you save me”.

 What experience of deliverance David is referring to here we cannot tell as God helped or saved David in many ways on many occasions by his powerful hand of love stooping down from heaven to help and save him as he indicates by what he says in verse 6.

“Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar”.

So, with the theme of “Praising the Love of God with all your heart” and the words of Isaac Watts hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in mind my outline for this Psalm talk is:

  1. (1 – 3)   GOD’S LOVE DEMANDS MY SOUL, MY LIFE, MY ALL IN PRAISE
  1. (vs. 1) My soul, my life, my all will praise God
  2. (vs. 2) Praise God’s love
  3. (vs. 3) Why David knew again God loved him

      2   (4 – 5)    KINGS WILL PRAISE GOD FOR HIS LOVING ACTIONS

  1. (vs. 4) The praise of kings
  2. (vs. 5) The song of praise for God’s ways of love

      3   (6 – 7)   GOD’S LOVE SAVES US

  1. (vs. 6) God stooped down with love
  2. (vs. 7) God’s love saves and protects us

      4   (vs. 8)   GOD’S LOVE IS OURS FOREVER

 So, with these headings let’s now look at this wonderful Psalm of David:

  1. (1 – 3)   GOD’S LOVE DEMANDS MY SOUL, MY LIFE, MY ALL IN PRAISE
  1. (vs. 1) My soul, my life, my all will praise God

 David commences his Psalm 138 with the words of deep commitment to praise the Lord, “Yahweh” the eternal God of God’s and Lord of Lords, he writes,

“I will praise you, Lord with all my heart; before the ‘god’s I will sing praise”.

 This first verse has two aspects to it that need some explanation before we can fully comprehend what it is actually saying and those two aspects are:

  1. What does David mean by “with all my heart”?
  2. What does David mean by “before the ‘gods’?

Let me explain what I believe these two main aspects of this first verse mean:

  1. What does David mean by “with all my heart”?

Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology” sums up well and explains well the meaning of the term “heart” in the bible with these words,

“Heart” (Hebrew lebab/leb [b’bel], Gk. kardia [kardiva]) occurs over one thousand times in the Bible, making it the most common anthropological term in the Scripture. It denotes a person’s centre for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities; sometimes it is used figuratively for any inaccessible thing”.

 One of the most famous use of this term heart is in Deuteronomy 6: 5 and could well be what David had in mind when he used this term in the first verse of this Psalm,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”.

 I mentioned in my introduction that we can find a lot of other known David Psalms that mirror the wording of this Psalm and the use of “heart” is used by David in Psalm 9: 1,

“I will give thanks to you, Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds”.

 So, David like the wording of Isaac Watts hymn wants to praise, thanks and proclaim (tell) the wonderful works of God which are his acts of love as we don’t deserve his love so David praises God  with his whole heart or soul or life or all, As Isaac Watts put it,

“Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all”

 Paul tells the Corinthians that the love of God expressed in the death and resurrection of Christ compels him or drives his praise and service for God in 2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 15,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”.

 This kind of praise from our hearts or our soul, our life or our all is spoken about by the writer to the Hebrews who calls it a sacrifice of praise in Hebrews 13: 15 – 16,

“ThroughJesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased”.

 To give our all or to praise God from our hearts for his wonderful loving deeds we need to offer that praise to God as a sacrifice, something we give freely and fully to God for thanks for what he has done for us and Paul says in Romans 12: 1 when we do this we are truly worshipping him,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”. 

  1. What does David mean by “before the ‘gods’?

The more difficult concept to interpret is David’s words,

“Before the “god’s” I will sing”

 What is David speaking about here?

We know he could not be saying that there is more than one God as the bible and particularly the first five books of the bible which David had and knew tells us that there is only one God, like Deuteronomy 4: 35,

 “Youwere shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other”.

 All other supposed God’s are false God’s as David makes it clear in other Psalms like Psalm 40: 4,

“Blessed is the onewho trusts in the Lord,who does not look to the proud,to those who turn aside to false gods”

 I came across three explanations for what David is referring to in his expression, “before the ‘god’s’”.

 The first is that ‘god’s’ are ‘angelic beings’ as we see certainly in David’s Psalm 29 verse 1,

“Ascribe to the Lord you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength”.

 Or As another Psalm writer Asaph speaks of in Psalm 82: 1,

“God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the ‘god’s’”

 The second explanation of ‘before the ‘god’s’” is well presented by Allan Harman when he writes,

“god’s is a Hebrew term applied to human rulers (Exodus 21: 6 / 22: 8 – 9).

 This is an attractive answer for it connects with David’s words in verse 4 of this Psalm that says,

“May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed”.

 The problem with these two possible answers is firstly how can David sing God’s praises before Angels in heaven before he has died and gone to heaven and if ‘god’s” is referring to earthly rulers like kings why does he call them ‘god’s’ in verse 1 and then ‘kings’ in verse 4.

There is a third explanation for David’s term ‘god’s’ which is expressed well by Albert Barnes when he writes,

“The idols, all idols, in preference to them all. This does not mean that he would do this in the presence of other god’; but that Yahweh should be acknowledged to be God in preference to any or all of them”.

 So, before the god’s is before any god alternative we must recognise “Yahweh” as the God that we should praise with all our hearts and sing of him as our great God of love as we will see from the rest of this Psalm.

Sing just as Jude 24 – 25 does,

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen”.

 2    (vs. 2)  Praise God’s love

David’s opening verse of this Psalm simply states he will praise God from his heart, his life, his all even before any other God alternative but in the opening first part of verse 2 David gives us the place and content of his praise, he writes,

“I will bow down toward your holy temple and I will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness”.

 Some modern commentators seize on the mention of the Temple here as a way of putting down the concept that David wrote this Psalm. They argue that the Temple did not become a reality unto after David’s death as it was built by his son Solomon.

Allan Harman puts down this criticism by pointing out that,

“The Hebrew term Temple here is applied to the Tent that was God’s house before the Temple was built”

 Allan gives four references to back this up, 1 Samuel 1: 9, 3: 3 and Psalm 27: 4 – 5.

Note in the Psalm 27 reference David, referring to the Tent of God also called The Sanctuary seeks to dwell in it all the days of his life. This, I believe is not a literal desire but is David recognising the sanctuary and later Temple representing God’s presence on earth and so his real desire is to live in the presence of God and in Psalm 138 verse 2 his desire is to bow in the presence of God and praise and worship him.

So, what is the content of David’s praise for God?

Here in verse 2 of Psalm 138 it is expressed in two ways:

  1. God’s name or character
  2. God’s unfailing love and faithfulness

Let me flesh these two great things out a bit.

  1. God’s name or character

All through the Old Testament the name of God and the names of God are spoken about as something people like David could both trust in and glorify or praise.

Tony Evans says this about the concept in the Old Testament of “The name or names of God” in his book, “The power of God’s names”,

“In Scripture, God reveals Himself to us through His names. So, to fully grasp the significance and power of God’s names, we first need to understand the importance of names in ancient cultures. In Old Testament times, a name was more than simply nomenclature. Rather, it revealed important information about the individual or thing itself”.

 God’s name and names tell us so much about what God is like and David in Psalm 8 says in verse 1 that even creation itself reveals the name or something of the character of God,

“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens”.

 Tony Evans speaks of how the name of God is also a very important concept in the New Testament and says this about this in his book “The power of God’s names”,

“When Jesus said, “I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known” (  John 17:26), He was referencing more than just sounds put together in a word. In Jesus, God came to earth in the flesh and unveiled His heart, mind, will, character, and being through the revelation of His name”.

 Paul speaks of the powerful name or character of Jesus in Philippines 2: 9 – 11 this way,

“Therefore, God exalted him to the highest placeand gave him the name that is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.

 So, part of David’s content of his praise of God with all his heart or his life, his all is the name of God his revealed character.

  1. God’s unfailing love and faithfulness

As Mark Evans pointed out,

“In Jesus, God came to earth in the flesh and unveiled His heart, mind, will, character, and being through the revelation of His name”.

 This heart of God David calls in verse 2, God’s,

“Unfailing love and faithfulness”

 Jesus demonstrated this love so well that John was able to say in John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

David knew this love of God through so many experiences of his life when against all odds God saved him from his enemies like King Saul, the many neighbouring hostile nations and even his eldest Son Absalom when he rebelled against his father and sought to kill him. This Psalm, 138 was probably written soon after one of these demonstrations of God’s saving love.

David praises this saving love of God in Psalm 57 verse 2 and 3 this way,

“I cry to God Most high, to God, who vindicates me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me – God sends forth his love and faithfulness”.

 This term God’s love and faithfulness in the Old Testament usually refers to God’s covenant of love that David knew and which was the basis of God’s special relationship with his people, Israel as we read of in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 9,

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments”.

 Jesus, in the New Testament is called the mediator of a new covenant, a fulfilment and wonderful expansion of God’s covenant of love that offers Jews and Gentiles the opportunity to be part of his special nation or family as we read in Hebrews 9: 15,

“For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

 In the next part of verse 2 David goes on to say,

“For you have exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame”.

 I found these words puzzling unto I read H.C. Leupold’s paraphrase of these words,

“Thou hast given us a new revelation of Thy glory”.

 The fame of God then is probably his general revelation of himself in nature as Psalm 19: 1 speaks of,

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

 However, God’s solemn decree which Leopold speaks of as, “a new revelation of Thy glory” is the word of God that makes clear that he is a God of love and faithfulness. John at the start of his Gospel speaks of the word of God creating everything (John 1: 1 – 5) and then says that this word or God’s special decree or revelation of himself is The Lord Jesus himself in John 1: 14,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

Spurgeon makes this concluding statement about this last part of verse 2 with these words,

“Let us adore the Lord who has spoken to us by his word, and by his Son; and in the presence of unbelievers let us both praise his holy name and extol his holy word”.

 God’s word through Christ coming speaks even more about God’s amazing love as Isaac Watts does in the last verse of his famous hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,

“Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all”. 

  1. (vs. 3) Why David knew again God loved him

 The third verse of the first section of this Psalm speaks of how David possibly came to his fresh revelation of God’s love and faithfulness which was like a new and better revelation of God and his word and it seems it came from a very real answer to a desperate pray to God because David writes in verse 3,

“When I called you answered me: you greatly emboldened me”.

 On many occasions David seemed like he was trapped and humanly speaking he had no hope but on each occasion, he looked to God and God answered his prayer and saved him and David himself always acknowledged that he did not deserve God’s answer of help but it came because his God, the God of the bible is a God of unfailing love and faithfulness which he called mercy and which the New Testament calls “grace”.

In Psalm 30 we believe David prayed one of these desperate prayers when after counting all his fighting men in Israel which God had told David he must not do David and his nation faced a terrible plague that God used to punish David for his sin.

Then David in this desperate situation prayed to God as the plague was about to take down his people in Jerusalem and on the hill in Jerusalem that became the hill called Zion David saw a vision of the Angel of the Lord and he and the elders of Jerusalem prayed a desperate prayer dressed in sackcloth, a physical Old Testament symbol of repentance and faith and on Mount Zion God stopped the angel of death from killing the people in Jerusalem (see 1 Chronicles 21: 1 – 17).

David records something of that prayer that day in Psalm 30: 8 – 10,

“To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:“What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit?Will the dust praise you?Will it proclaim your faithfulness?10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.”

 David saw yet again that day the love or mercy of God as he had seen on many previous occasions and would see again and again on future occasions and this as he says in verse 3 of Psalm 138,

“emboldened him”

 Which some commentators say could be translated “encouraged” or even “strengthened” him and in the last two verses of Psalm 30 we hear emboldening or encouraging words of David in verses 11 and 12,

“You turned my wailing into dancing;you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent Lord my God, I will praise you forever”.

 This is David praising the love of God with all his heart and we too can be confident God listens to our prayers and answers them as Jesus promises to do in Matthew 7: 7 – 8,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened”.

 How often do we miss out on being emboldened or encouraged because we do not take our problems and concerns to God in prayer and this reminds me of the first verse of the old hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus”,

“What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear.

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer!” 

      2   (4 – 5)    KINGS WILL PRAISE GOD FOR HIS LOVING ACTIONS

  1. (vs. 4) The praise of kings

As I said earlier some see what David is speaking about in verse 4 relates to his difficult to interpret phrase in verse one,

“Before the gods I will sing your praise”

 So, if “the god’s” in verse 1 are the Kings and rulers in this world who have the greatest power on this earth then David is saying the God of the bible is the God of heaven and earth and is far more powerful and greater than any earthly supreme power you could think of or even imagine.

So, what David now says in verse 4 makes real sense for if the God in heaven is the supreme ruler of the entire universe than,

“May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed”.

 Maybe David has another verse in mind from the early chapters of Deuteronomy as we read in Deuteronomy 4: 8,

“And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”

 The laws in the Old Testament represented the revealed word of God and so if this is so than the revealed word of God is his decrees and when even earthly kings and rulers hear these words from God they should praise that great and loving revealed God of heaven and earth.

The sad reality in David’s day is that the kings and rulers of his time did not praise the revealed God of love and power as David expresses so clearly in Psalm 2: 1 – 3,

“Why do the nations conspireand the peoples plot in vain?The kings of the earth rise up

and the rulers band togetheragainst the Lord and against his anointed, saying,“Let us break their chainsand throw off their shackles”.

 Psalm 2 contains also a prophecy of a change that will come when a greater son of David would come and bring the Nations and of course the kings of the earth under God’s control. We read of this in Psalm 2: 7 – 11,

“ I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;be warned, you rulers of the earth.11 Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling”.

 The final verse of Psalm 2 comes with a warning for kings and rulers of the earth that if they fail to acknowledge the divine rule of the universe with praise and worship of this greater son of David they will face the terrible judgment of God that is coming with him as well, vs. 12,

“Kiss his son, or he will be angryand your way will lead to your destruction,for his wrath can flare up in a moment.Blessed are all who take refuge in him”.

 (See my Psalm talk for Psalm 2 to understand better the poetic images in this Psalm)

Of course, the greater son of David is in fact The Lord Jesus Christ and Jesus identifies with the prophecies like Psalm 2: 7 – 11 and Psalm 110: 1 of him being the greater son of David, The Messiah in Matthew 22: 41 – 46,

 “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”“The son of David,” they replied.43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right handuntil I put your enemies under your feet.”

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions”.

 Matthew commences his Gospel with a detailed genealogy showing how Jesus is not only a descendant of Abraham but a descendant of David and therefore a greater son of David and of course the Son of God through his father in heaven.

Through the greater and clearer message of God’s love for the world through the death and resurrection of this greater son of David this word or message or as we call it Gospel has gone out into all the world and many kings and rulers have come to fulfil desire that,

“May all kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed”.

 Even though some kings and rulers have acknowledged Jesus as their greater king throughout history many others stood against Christ and his followers and persecuted them. An example of a king or ruler who turned to Christ, David’s greater son and praised and served him is the great Roman emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity in 312AD and helped change the Christian’s fate in the Roman empire to outsiders often persecuted to the accepted faith of the entire Roman Empire.

However, as I said many kings and rulers in both ancient and modern history opposed Christ and his followers but in the end the book of Revelation tells us this will all change at the end of history when Christ returns to judge the world and take his faithful followers to heaven as we read in Revelation 17: 14,

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” 

  1. (vs. 5) The song of praise for God’s ways of love

David goes on to speak a little more about how these kings of the earth will praise the God of heaven and earth in verse 5,

“May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great”.

 In verse 1 David speaks of him singing the praises of the Lord of heaven and earth possibly before earthly kings and maybe even heavenly exalted ones, angels and demons but now he says these kings or rulers will join him in not only praise but songs of praise as well.

Of course, the ways of the Lord are like the name of the Lord which is the character and actions of the Lord which we have seen is made clear by his love and faithfulness.

So, this song or singing of the ways of the Lord will be about the love of God and in a New Testament context this is the great song of the love of God expressed in the sending of his only son to die on the cross to forgive our many sins.

Paul sings the praises of this kind of love and spells out so clearly why we must always praise the love of God with all our hearts in Ephesians 1: 1 – 8,

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love hepredestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding”.

 The third verse of Isaac Watt’s famous hymn “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” speaks of the great love of God expressed in the death of his only Son Jesus Christ for us,

“See from his head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down!

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet.

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

 Watt’s picks up in the last line of his third verse of his hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” the earthly crown of Jesus, the crown of thorns or the crown of suffering but when Jesus returns he will be seen as the great king of kings and Lord of Lords wearing many crowns and as John’s vision of him presents in Revelation 19: 11 – 16, he will be great, powerful and glorious,

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice, he judges and wages war

12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head, are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords”. 

      3   (6 – 7)   GOD’S LOVE SAVES US

  1. (vs. 6) God stooped down with love

So, David has just predicted that even the greats of this world, Kings, will acknowledge what the God of the universe has done and will sing his praises. Now this great and almighty God will choose to stoop down from his high and lofty heaven to save what David calls, the lowly.

Verse 6 says,

“Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty he sees them from afar”.

 There are two important issues that must be explained first before the full impact of this verse can be realised and those two issues are”

  1. What does David mean by God looking down from heaven?
  2. Who is David referring to when he speaks of the lowly?

I will attempt now to answer these two questions that are the two issues that must be explained to appreciate the full impact of this verse.

  1. What does David mean by God looking down from heaven?

Leupold explains the meaning of God looking down from heaven on the lowly this way,

“It will be an ancient rule that is emphasized throughout sacred Scripture, the rule that the exalted Lord stoops with special interest to the lowly and has regard for them”.

 I have heard atheists argue that the Christian religion or faith is ridiculous as it presents the so- called creator of the universe reducing himself willingly to become a human being to sacrifice himself on a cross to forgive the sins we have committed against him.

I believe this is either a ridiculous idea as an atheist like Richard Dawkins firmly believes or it is the greatest expression of love we could ever know.

In Psalm 113 verses 4 – 8 what Leupold has just called “the ancient rule of sacred scripture is presented so beautifully,

“The Lord is exalted over all the nations,his glory above the heavens.Who is like

the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?He raises the poor from the dustand lifts the needy from the ash heap;he seats them with princes,with the princes of his people”.

 The New Testament presents how God literally stooped down to save us and it presents this as coming from the core of the God of the universe’s nature or character, namely his love in a key verse like John 3: 16,

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

 Later the same writer, The Apostle John speaks of this expression of God’s love in a letter to churches he looked after later in his life and ministry on earth and he says this in 1 John 4: 9 – 10,

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins”.

 So, atheist’s might mock the Christian Gospel as a ridiculous idea but as Christians we marvel at it as a great act of love and we praise this God of love with all our heart.

  1. Who is David referring to when he speaks of the lowly?

If this Psalm was written by David who was the great king of Israel than who then is he referring to as the lowly as he could not mean a person’s social standing. So, what does he mean by the lowly?

I found two key bible references which I think explain who are the lowly according to the bible.

The first is from the Old Testament and is Isaiah 66: 2,

“Has not my hand made all these things,and so they came into being?”declares the Lord.

“These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit,and who tremble at my word”.

 Then from the New Testament Luke 1: 51 – 52

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the

humble.53 He has filled the hungry with good thingsbut has sent the rich away empty”.

Spurgeon explains it well that these people God sees as lowly are people who recognize they are lowly in the sight of the Almighty God of the universe, he writes,

“Because they think little of themselves he thinks much of them. They reverence him, and he respects them. They are low in their own esteem, and he makes them high in his esteem”.

 They are as David was, people of true faith who humble themselves before God and James says in James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”.

 So, verse 6 of Psalm 138 is saying that out of love the great God and Lord of the universe stoops down to those who truly trust in him, who humble themselves before God and God looks kindly or lovingly towards them.

2     (vs. 7)  God’s love saves and protects us

 David has just said that the God of the universe who is exalted in highest heaven looks kindly on those who are lowly who we have seen are those who trust in him and humble themselves before him. Now David says what this looking kindly actually turns out to be and in verse 7 he states this clearly,

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your right hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand, you save me”.

 As I said in my introduction this Psalm this Psalm has David’s fingerprints all over it as so much of it mirrors other phrases or concepts David used in other Psalms and the first part of this verse mirrors the fourth verse of David’s famous twenty third Psalm that says,

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

 In the twenty third Psalm David is speaking of God’s love stooping down to save and protect him in ancient shepherding terms. David had been a shepherd in his younger days and he knew that his weak and defenceless sheep needed his protection and even at times salvation from dark and difficult places and enemies like lions and bears.

In Psalm 138 he speaks more openly of God’s salvation and protection in the expression,

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life”

 This means that God’s stooping down to the lowly with kindness is in practical terms his saving and protecting interventions for those he loves, namely the lowly or those who truly trust in him and humble themselves before him.

In the New Testament Paul is confident to tell the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 3: 3,

“3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one”.

 David then says that it is like God’s powerful right hand, as the right hand is consistently in scriptures the strong and dominant hand, is stretching out to give him personal protection.

Not only did this right hand of God protected David but according to the last phrase of verse 7, God’s right hand saved him,

“With your right hand, you save me”.

 What David is literally referring to here is unknown but we can refer to many times in David’s life that he was saved by God’s intervention in his life in various ways. Spiritually David was saved from the consequences of his sins of adultery and murder in his sinful affair with the married women Bathsheba. After David confesses his great sins and throws himself at the mercy or undeserved love of God. David confesses to God with words like we read in Psalm 51: 1 – 2,

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

God heard the penitent cry of his lowly servant and forgave David so the mighty outstretched right hand of God is not only powerful but is a loving hand.

In the New Testament Jesus comes from the right hand of God to be our saviour and Lord and after he died on the cross and rose from the dead he ascended back into heaven to sit again at the right hand of God.

Paul picks up the importance of Christ seated at God’s right hand in Colossians 3: 1 – 3 and tells us how this should influence our daily lives,

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”.

 So, we have been saved by the loving and powerful right hand of God through Christ who came from the right hand of God and who now sits on a throne at the right hand of God so that we can go to him in prayer at any time for protection and salvation as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 4: 14 – 16,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”.

 This is yet another reason why we should praise the love of God with all our hearts and Isaac Watts speaks of being lowly and humble servants of God who trust in the death of Christ for our sins alone to save us in his second verse of his famous hymn “When I survey the Wondrous Cross”,

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ my God!

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to His blood”. 

      4   (vs. 8)   GOD’S LOVE IS OURS FOREVER

 David’s renewed confidence in the love and faithfulness of God continues to show itself in the last verse of this Psalm as he writes,

“The Lord will vindicate me: your love, Lord endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”.

 Albert Barnes believes the word “vindicate” is speaking of God’s perfecting or completing of David’s salvation and he writes,

“He will complete what he has begun. He will not begin to interpose in my behalf, and then abandon me. He will not promise to save me, and then fail to fulfil his promise. He will not encourage me, and then cast me off”.

 Albert Barnes like a number of commentators then refer to the words of Paul 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”.

 Some Christians shy away from the doctrine or teaching in the New Testament of the assurance of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ because maybe they know sadly fellow Christians who seemed to have fallen away from the faith.

My experience of the Christian faith is that if the bible did not teach the assurance of our faith I would have long ago fallen away from the Lord as in my late teenage years it looked like I had fallen away from God and his good work in me that had started in my early teenage years and looked like it was not going on to completion.

However, God continued to work in my life both internally with a heavily convicted conscience and externally with a dear older sister in the Lord never giving me up and encouraging me to come back to the Lord and his church.

When I did come back I needed intensive Christian counselling and encouragement and I remember with great affection the words of Jesus in John 10: 27 – 29,

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”.

 Our assurance like David’s assurance is not based in what we have done or not done but it is based as David declares in verse 8 in God’s never- ending amazing love,

“Your love, Lord endures forever”

Someone told me when I was coming back to the Lord after three years of turning my back on him that, “If God no longer feels close to you guess who moved”. God’s love never gives up on us as his love unlike ours is both reliable and eternal.

Finally, David makes what seems at first a surprising word of prayer. It is surprising because he has just stated clearly that God’ love will never give up on him and that is why he believes that the Lord will vindicate or bring his salvation to completion and then he prays,

“Do not abandon the work of your hands”

 This conundrum is answered well by the great C.H. Spurgeon he says this,

“Our confidence does not cause us to live without prayer, but encourages us to pray all the more”.

 We need to seek God’s help daily to grow and keep moving towards what Paul calls in some English translations of Philippians 3: 14, “The upward call of God” or as the NIV translation puts it,

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.

 In a couple of verses before this Paul speaks of how he and I believe all Christians must look to God for help and assistance to press on in the Christian life,

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”.

 So, we too should pray daily the kind of prayer David prayed at the end of Psalm 138,

“Do not abandon the work of your hands”

 Like Paul we can have confidence in the enduring and amazing love of God to always answer this prayer and any of our prayers.

The last verses I will quote in this Psalm talk is 1 John 15 – 17, which sum up God and his wondrous love for us and which also tells us how we can come to know this love and why God’s love gives us confidence in him to complete the work of his hands in us,

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus”.

 The last verse I will quote of Isaac Watts famous hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is the first verse,

“When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride”.

 Our response to this should be the same as David, praise the love of God with all our heart.

I finish with my original poem and prayer as usual. This poem can be sung to the tune of, “There is a Ship” my favourite tune to sing Isaac Watts famous hymn “When I survey the Wondrous Cross”.

 PRAISE THE LOVE OF GOD

(PSALM 138 and the tune “There is a ship”

 

I’ll praise you Lord with all my heart

I’ll praise you Lord the only God above.

I’ll bow my head and praise your name

Because I know your unfailing love.

 

You gave your word that declares your love

A word that’s great for it exalts your name

You answered my prayer when I was down

So, in your love I will remain.

 

May all earths kings praise you Lord

When they have heard what you have done

For they will sing how great you are

When they realise your kingdoms come.

 

Though the Lord is great he looks down on us

Though he is high he helps all who trust

Although I sometimes walk a troubled way

The Lord helps me walk his way each day.

 

 

The Lord’s right hand protects me now

His love saves me every day and hour

So, I do ask the God above

To continue to work in me his love.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 

Thank you, father, in heaven for your great love for us revealed in the wondrous cross of your one and only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. May your love be the source of not only our salvation but our praise and thanks to you. May we from all our soul, life and our all ever praise you for your love shown in the way we serve you and each other day by day until we one day we will go to be with you in heaven for all eternity. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

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PSALM 137 TALK:   LOOKING BACK TO ZION / LOOKING FORWARD TO HEAVEN

PSALM 137 TALK:   LOOKING BACK TO ZION / LOOKING FORWARD TO HEAVEN

 (A Psalm that is an ancient Hebrew song written during or just after the Jews went into a 70-year captivity in Babylon that speaks of the great sorrow and sadness felt by the captive Jews as they look back to their ruined capitol city and their forced separation from God’s special presence in Zion. The song features the captive Jews un- willingness to sing about Zion and to not forget about it and the city of Jerusalem. It also cntains the desire for God to judge the merciless and wicked nations of Edom and Babylon for their cruel attack on God and his special people – Israel).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

INTRODUCTION

Just after I completed my three- year Bible College training I decided to read carefully the next most read book of all time to the bible, John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim Progress”. Bunyan lived between 1628 – 1688 and he was a Reformed Baptist lay preacher who suffered 12 years imprisonment because he refused to conform to the King of England’s law to use only the Book of common prayer in worship services. I decided to read this book because I felt as a Christian minister – actually Youth Worker I could not feel equipped unto I had read the book that has been called,

“The greatest allegory ever written” (gotQuestion.org)

 After I read the original version of this book I read a modern English version and the book had a wonderful effect on me and particularly on my understanding of the Christian life.

The central character of the book is a man named “Christian” who at the start of the book carries a great burden on his back which rolls off his back when he comes to the cross. He then is given gifts to aid him on his long and often difficult journey to what Bunyan calls “The Celestial City”.

On his long journey, he encounters opposition from a variety of sources like, Mr Worldly Wise, Obstinate, Atheist, Money – Love, Mistrust, Formalist, Sloth, Discretion etc. All of these opponents represent the kind of problems and difficulties and even enemies we all face as Christians as we journey towards heaven.

However as got Question. Org says,

“Christian experiences times of mortal danger, refreshment and blessing”.

 Psalm 137 is a Psalm that presents God’s people experiencing very difficult times caused by their many great sins bringing upon them God’s judgment in the form of a cruel and devastating overrunning and destruction of their homeland and particularly their precious city of Jerusalem and the loss of the Temple that sat there on the special hill called Zion. To make things even worse most of the people were forcefully taken into exile in far off Babylon for 70 years.

This Psalm seems to have beeen sung originally in Babylon as the writer and his fellow Jews sat on the shores of one of the great rivers of Babylon. There they had laid down their musical instruments and as they did they were asked by their cruel captives to play and sing one of the now famous songs of Zion.

The Psalm writer says they could not sing of the place they had been taken away from and then he vows to not forget Jerusalem.

He especially vows to not forget the special place of God’s presence on earth called Zion. We will learn that the goal of the Babylonians in taking people into exile was for the captive people to forget their national identity and assimilate into Babylonian mind set and way of living and worshipping.

The writer finishes with a prayer that God would judge his enemies as particularly the Prophets like Isaiah (Isaiah 13) foretells particularly verse 13 of Isaiah 13 that speaks of what I will call “Destruction of off- spring” that would mean the end of any succeeding Babylonian generations. I will discuss much further the New Testament implications of what many see as a tricky verse namely verse 9 and its desire for infants to be dashed against rocks.

How does Psalm 137 relate to us a Christians?

I will argue and pinpoint the “Pilgrim Progress” type application of this Psalm in that the New Testament does not present the Christian life as a “Rose Garden” or a life that means God will wrap us up in some kind of Spiritual cotton wool. On the contrary, I will follow and apply Paul’s view of suffering or difficulty in the Christian life that he states clearly in Romans 5: 1 – 5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.

 Christian in Pilgrims Progress encountered problems, difficulties and many enemies as he journeyed to the Celestial City – Heaven but with God’s help and by never taking his eye off the ultimate journeys destination he triumphed and eventually crossed over the great river – death to be welcomed with great wonderful fanfare into his eternal home.

In Psalm 137 the Jews looked back to Jerusalem and particularly Zion and vowed not to forget that special place of God’s presence. As Christian’s we look back to the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ who made it possible through his death on the cross for our sins to look forward to the ultimate place of God’s special presence the New Jerusalem, the heavenly Zion our eternal home with God forever.

With this in mind my outline for this Psalm talk is:

  1. (1 – 3)   LOOKING BACK WITH TEARS TO ZION
  1. (vs. 1) By the rivers of Babylon we wept
  2. (2 – 3) We could not sing of Zion

      2    (4 – 6)   LOOKING BACK TO ZION NOT FORGETTING GOD

  1. (vs. 4) How can we sing in a foreign land
  2. (5 – 5) Curse me if I forget God

      3    (7 – 9)    LOOKING FORWARD TO GOD’S JUDGMENT DAY

  1. (vs. 7) Looking forward to Edom’s day of Judgment
  2. (8 – 9) Looking forward to Babylon’s day of Judgment
  1. (1 – 3) LOOKING BACK WITH TEARS TO ZION
  1. (vs. 1) By the rivers of Babylon we wept

 When I started my study of this Psalm I remembered that one of my favourite singer song writers of the 1970’s Don Mclean wrote a short song based on the first verse of this Psalm and that song has not got out of my head for the last week or so, the first verses of Psalm 137 says,

“By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion”.

 Don Mclean’s lyric reads like this:

“By the waters, the waters, the waters of Babylon

We lay down and wept, and wept, and wept, for thee Zion”.

 These simple striking words accompanied by Don Mclean’s haunting melody fills me with something of the kind of feeling of dread and sadness that those ancient Jews must have felt when they were cruelly and forcibly removed from their beloved homeland which they saw destroyed by their enemy The Babylonians and then they were made to settle in far off foreign land called Babylon.

As they sat down, probably for prayer and worship next to one of the many waterways of either the Tigris or Euphrates rivers they wept as they remembered where they had come from their treasured homeland and particularly the place their God dwelt in a special way on the Temple hill called Zion.

They gathered by the river because as Jews that was a place that at least some of their religious ceremonies could be conducted as H.C. Leopold points out,

“The presence of water facilitated the ceremonial ablutions which were also a mark of the Hebrew religion”

 It seems Paul could not find a Synagogue in Philippi so we read in Acts 16: 13 how Paul found some Jews gathered together for prayer,

“On the Sabbath, we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there”.

 The Jews who gathered by the river in Babylon did not do much prayer according to verse 1 of Psalm 137 as they were so overcome with grief they mainly wept as they remembered Zion.

According to the New Testament do Christians some- times have to suffer so much they are caused to cry?

My answer to this brings us to the shortest verse in the bible John 11: 35,

“Jesus wept”

 Why did Jesus weep or cry?

Jesus was emotionally effected by the outpouring of grief and loss by the family and friends of his good friend Lazarus even though he knew he would raise him from the dead he still wept in the company of the mourners outside the grave of Lazarus.

Jesus is also recorded as weeping or crying as he approached Jerusalem for the final time in his life in Luke 19: 41,

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it”

 Why did he weep when he saw Jerusalem?

Well verses 42 – 44 answer that,

  42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

 If Jesus wept then it is sure we his followers will have times when our Christian life will lead us into a time of weeping and emotional pain.

I witnessed the death of my dear father nearly twelve years ago and for two days I simply was in a state of shock but as I travelled as a passenger in a car a piece of music playing at that time made me think of my Father and caused me to burst into uncontrollable weeping and when the car was stopped I was physically sick on the side of the road.

Even Christians will face grief when they lose a love one in this life and Jesus weeping outside of the grave of Lazarus tells us this is something that is both normal and even necessary.

So, the Christian life can and does lead us into problems and difficulties that might even cause us to weep or cry but as Christians Jesus does promise to be with us and with his help we can experience what David speaks of in Psalm 30: 11,

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy”.

 Jesus knows that we are like Christian in Pilgrims progress carrying many burdens but through his death on the cross he can offer these wonderful words of promise and help in Matthew 11: 28 – 30,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 The Jews in Babylon as they sat by one of the great rivers of Babylon wept as they looked back and remembered the special place of God’s presence on earth, Zion. We can look forward to a day that is coming for all who have faith in The Lord Jesus Christ when we will be fully in God’s presence in the heavenly Zion that Revelation 21: 3 – 4 speaks of this way,

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. 

They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

  1. (2 – 3) We could not sing of Zion

 It seems from the text of Psalm 137 that the ancient Hebrews who gathered probably for prayer and worship by one of the great waterways in Babylon were Levite musicians.

This is because in verses 2 and 3 the writer speaks of their musical instruments and singing which in the ancient Hebrew Temple worship services was led by Levitical musicians. As we see David set up in 1 Chronicles 15: 16,

 “David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their fellow Levites as musicians to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals”.

 Note how this verse says that these musical instruments which includes harps were to make a joyful sound but in Babylon as captives far away from the now destroyed Temple in Jerusalem these Levitical musicians could not play joyful music and verses 2 and 3 tells us what they did and why they could not play and sing the music they lived to play and sing,

“There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion”.

 Joy was far from their hearts as we saw in verse 1, they were weeping or crying as they remembered Zion so far away and now in a terrible state of ruin. So, they hung their harps on Poplar trees that many commentators point out is similar to what we call weeping willow trees that grow close to water ways throughout many parts of the world even today.

Verse 3 tells us that some of their Babylonian overlords teased and goaded these Levite musicians and singers to sing one of their now famous joyful songs of Zion. This request would have added to the pain they felt and even in the face of what would have been intimidating circumstances they simply could not sing joyful songs of Zion.

I decided to try and write more verses to Don Mclean’s Babylon and my verses for these two verses is,

“Sing us a song of Zion our enemies called upon

How could we sing a song in a foreign land far from Zion?

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion”.

 Spurgeon pin- points the cruel nature of the request of their captors and indeed tormentors with these words,

“In this demand, there was an insult to their God as well as a mockery of themselves, and this made it the more intensely cruel. Nothing could have been more malicious, nothing more productive of grief”.

 Like Christian in Pilgrims Progress we also face ridicule and mockery from our enemies who despise our faith in God and in my country Australia the main difficulty we face as faithful Christians is in the form of social and emotional pressure. Many times, have I been made the object of peoples jokes as they see my faith in God as an odd and sometimes dangerous viewpoint that has long been disproved as myth and legend.

I take heart from two bible verses from the writings of Paul and the first is Paul’s advice to Timothy about persecution in 2 Timothy 3: 12,

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.

Then Pauls way of dealing with the persecution he faced in his day in 2 Corinthians 12: 10,

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

 When we face our tormentors, we need to trust as Paul did in Christ and he will help us not only to face the pain these people might cause us but even use their ridicule as an opportunity to show them that our God is real and is with us.

I like Paul’s advice to the Philippians in Philippians 2: 14 – 18 on how we should act in the presence of unbelievers,

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me”. 

      2    (4 – 6)   LOOKING BACK TO ZION NOT FORGETTING GOD

  1. (vs. 4) How can we sing in a foreign land

 The ancient Hebrews in Babylon had little to rejoice in but at least they could remember Zion or look back to Zion the place they knew their God had made himself known to them and ultimately to the world.

However, in their God ordained place of discipline, exile in Babylon, they could not sing joyful songs of the Lord as expressed by the question they asked in verse 4,

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

 When we are in the midst of some kind of painful trial it is hard for us to rejoice in the Lord or give him thanks as Paul calls us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18,

“Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.

 This was made clear to me recently when I was recovering from a major operation on one of my kidneys. As I came out of surgery I was very sick and in a lot of pain and I remember thinking about how I could possibly be thanking God in such a state. However, I hung in on trusting the Lord in my difficult days of recovery and within a few days my health improved and apart from one week of an uncomfortable set back after my operation I believe God brought me through my physical trial.

This recent experience made me realise what Paul was saying at the end of the verse I quoted earlier, 2 Corinthians 12: 10,

“For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

 By being made so low in my physical state I had to look to God and he helped me in my weakness to become strong again.

Maybe the answer to the question posed by those ancient Hebrews of,

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

Lies in what they were doing in this Psalm by looking to God in the midst of their trial as David did in Psalm 30: 11 – 12 and in that finding the ability to sing in their hearts as God turned their wailing to dancing and their sackcloth to clothes of joy,

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praise and not be silent. Lord my God I will praise you forever”. 

  1. (5 – 5) Curse me if I forget God

 For now, there is no sign of joy in the heart of the writer of Psalm 137 but there is a steely resolve to not forget Jerusalem and of course the Lord. So, the faith of these downcast weeping Levite singers and musicians is still fixed on the God of the bible despite their terrible life situation.

Leopold calls verses 5 and 6 a,

“self-imprecation”

 An imprecation is a prayer for God’s judgement to come on one’s enemies as the last three verses are in this Psalm but a “self-imprecation” is a prayer for God’s judgment to come on the person praying if their terrible situation in Babylon causes them to turn away from the Lord and the place of his special presence on earth Zion in Jerusalem,

“If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy”.

 The curse the writer calls down on himself if he turns away from the Lord and his special place of his presence on earth Zion in Jerusalem is to do with the special gifts of music he had been given by God, namely his ability to play the harp and the ability to sing.

I can relate to the loosing of the ability to play an instrument as I have played the Ukulele for 49 years now and recently I was diagnosed with the first stages of Osteoarthritisin my hands and for a time this year I could not play the instrument I love to play without lots of pain. I have been trying to do some exercises and taking some pain medications which have helped me to be able to play again. However, the loosing of the ability to play for while caused me great stress and anxiety.

I have learnt to turn my anxiety into prayer as Paul teaches us in Philippians 4: 6 but the experience of going through this has helped me see what losing the ability to play an instrument after being able to do it could be like.

This gifted Levite harp player is saying that if he turns away from his commitment to the Lord and his Holy City of Jerusalem then God should take his wonderful gift of music away from him.

In verse 6 he extends this curse on himself to his ability to sing and Leupold rightly calls what he asks for,

“Paralysis of the vocal chords”

 I too have the gift of singing and to lose that as well I would find devastating. So, this Levite singer is determined not to fall to why the Babylonians took people into exile namely the reorientation of their captives to their way of thinking, living and worshipping.

A paper by a man named Obvious Vengeyi called “An Analysis of Babylonian / Empire Strategies from an African perspective” says this,

“All empires: ancient and modern (represented by Babylonian) were keen on disturbing the human factor qualities of the conquered peoples. They did so and continue to do so by imposing and promoting their cultures, languages, diets, world views and philosophies on conquered people. Using the theory of social death as propounded by Orlando Patterson (1982)”.

However, the determination shown by the writer of Psalm 137 as seen in verses 5 and 6 and most of his fellow Jewish captured countrymen did not allow for the Jewish faith and culture to die out or be assimilated into Babylonian culture and religious belief. In- fact the Jewish faith blossomed and got stronger during the 70 years of Babylonian captivity as seen by the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that record the successful return of the Jews to their God given homeland and the re-building of Jerusalem and the Temple there.

This is a lesson to us as Christians as well as we need to keep hold of our faith in The Lord Jesus Christ even in the face of adversity and strife. I have seen close friends of mine fall away from the faith when difficult times came their way.

Also, I equally know other close friends whose faith has been strengthened in the face of difficulty and strife as they looked to God and proved his never- failing help and support in their times of trial and difficulty.

We must realise like this ancient Levite realised that our highest place of joy is the Lord and his promise of heaven or as Christian in Pilgrim Progress put it our promised Celestial City. As a possible contemporary of this Levite, Nehemiah said in Nehemiah 8: 10,

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Peter advises his readers now suffering persecution from the anti-Christian Roman authorities in 1 Peter 4: 12 – 13,

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed”.

 And Pauls says something similar to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4: 16 – 18.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”.

 My extra verse to Don Mclean’s Babylon that covers these verses reads this way,

“If I forget you Jerusalem may I not be able to sing a song

May my tongue be stuck to the roof of my mouth so I cannot sing a song

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion.”

      3    (7 – 9)    LOOKING FORWARD TO GOD’S JUDGMENT DAY 

  1. (vs. 7) Looking forward to Edom’s day of Judgment

We come then to what many see as the tricky part of Psalm 137 the last three verses which are what is called an imprecatory prayer a prayer for God’s judgement to come on one’s enemies.

I have spoken about these kinds of prayers many times in my Psalm talks because it is in the book of Psalms that these types of prayers are prominent. The first time I came across an example of this type of prayer was in Psalm 5: 10 a Psalm of David and I have quoted myself below to explain my New Testament understanding of this type of prayer,

“There are many examples of imprecation in the Psalms and these Psalms are often called Imprecatory Psalms.

This raises the issue in my mind of whether we should pray that God will deal with his enemies the same way today. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for them, Luke 6 : 27 – 29,

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic”.

 However, we also know from the teaching of Christ and the rest of the New Testament that God has appointed a day that all men will be judged, Acts 17: 31,

 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

This means that when we read David praying for God to deal with his enemies like he does here in Psalm 5 verse 10, who are also God’s enemies we should think of this in the context of the final judgment to come. Martin Luther pointed out that when we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come”, we are praying for God’s Day of Judgment to come as well”.

So, we have in verses 7 – 9 another example of an imprecatory prayer a prayer for God’s judgement to come on one’s enemies.

The first prayer for God’s judgment to come on an enemy is for God’s judgment to come on the Edomite’s,

“Remember, Lord what the Edomite’s did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down, they cried, ‘tear it down to its foundations”.

 It is clear from a number of Old Testament references that Edom was somehow involved in the destruction of Jerusalem along with the Babylonians. We see this in a reference like Amos 1: 11,

“This is what the Lord says:“For three sins of Edom,even for four, I will not relent.
Because he pursued his brother with a sword and slaughtered the women of the land,
because his anger raged continuallyand his fury flamed unchecked”.

 Obadiah 8 – 16 speaks of God’s judgment coming on Edom for their involvement in the destruction of Jerusalem just as verse 7 of this verse does as well,

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, those of understanding in the mountains of Esau?Your warriors, Teman, will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter.10 Because of the

violence against your brother Jacob,you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.11 On the day you stood aloofwhile strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.
12 You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune,nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction,nor boast so muchin the day of their trouble.
13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster,nor gloat over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster,nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.14 You should not wait at the crossroad to cut down their fugitives,nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.15 “The day of the Lord is near for all nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you;your deeds will return upon your own head.
16 Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually;they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been”.

 There are other mentions of the judgment of God coming upon Edom in the Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel 25: 12ff, 35: 2 and Isaiah 34: 5ff. Wikipedia says this about Edom’s involvement in the fall and destruction of Jerusalem,

“In the time of Nebuchadnezzar II the Edomite’s helped plunder Jerusalem and slaughter the Judeans.For this reason, the prophets denounced Edom violently”.

 Albert Barnes connects the remembering of Jerusalem and Zion with the evil deeds of the Edomite’s with these words,

“They would remember her (Jerusalem) former splendour; they would remember her desolations; they would go further – they would not forget those who had brought these calamities upon her; those who had done most for her overthrow. As among the most prominent, they would remember particularly the ancient; enemies of their nation – the Edomite’s – who had been among the most active in its destruction, and who had united with the Babylonians in the work of ruin. They would remember all this; and they prayed God that he also would remember the desolation itself, and all the actors in that work of desolation”.

 My extra verse to Don Mclean’s Babylon goes like this,

“Jerusalem is my place of joy unto my enemies seized upon

Remember Lord those Edomite’s and others who attacked Zion

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion”.

 What does verse 7 then have to say to us as Christians or followers of Christ our Lord?

I will quote directly now from Stephen J Coles excellent exposition of this Psalm as my answer to this important question, he writes,

“His prayer was not, “Give me an opportunity to get even with those scoundrels!” Rather it was, “Lord, you avenge the evil done to your people.” That is a significant difference. We see this difference in practice when we compare David’s imprecatory psalms with his personal actions. He often prayed that God would take action against his enemies. His passion for justice often caused him to be outraged when he heard of injustice and evil (2 Sam. 3:26-39; 4:1-12; 12:1-5). But when he had a chance to kill his personal enemies, such as Saul, he refused to do it.

 The imprecatory psalms are not rooted in a spirit of personal vengeance, but rather in a passionate desire for God to vindicate His people by judging the wicked.

 It is the same kind of righteous anger that would cause us to pray that a murderer or child molester be brought to justice”.

 I will add that Jesus gives us an even higher and more powerful way of praying for and dealing with our enemies and I will quote again Jesus words in Luke 6: 27 – 29 to illustrate this,

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.”

 The idea in the New Testament is that we are all enemies of God as unforgiven sinners before we come to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith and so we are wonderful recipients of his love called grace in the New Testament which is the unmerited love of God.

This grace of God then should be our main drive in life even influencing how we treat our enemies and it will be the grace of God that will change this world for the better even for those who oppose us and the God we now trust in.

  1. (8 – 9) Looking forward to Babylon’s day of Judgment

We come finally to the Psalmists words of imprecatory prayer for who he calls in verse 3, captors and tormentors the Babylonians. These last two verses and particularly the last verse is a very controversial part of this Psalm.

These two verses read this way,

“Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”.

In understanding these two verses we must understand three key factors:

  1. This prayer for God to judge the Jews Babylonian enemies comes from God’s Prophetic word about their judgment to come.
  2. 2. The Babylonians were ruthless, Godless and very cruel conquerors.
  3. The prayer is a request for God to repay the Babylonians for what they did to them.

Let me comment on each of these three key factors relating them to these two verses.

  1. This prayer for God to judge the Jews Babylonian enemies comes from God’s

Prophetic word about their judgment to come.

Isaiah speaks of God’s judgment on Babylon in both chapter 13 and 21 of his prophecy and a good verse that illustrates God’s judgment of Babylon in Isaiah 13: 9,

“See, the day of the Lord is coming – a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it”.

 Isaiah like a number of prophets even picks up the terrible prophecy of the destruction of infants in Isaiah 13: 16,

“Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated”.

 This killing of infants and violation of captured women was very common practice in the ancient world and was of course practiced ruthlessly by the Assyrians and Babylonians who both faced the judgment of God for their terrible sins against humanity.

  1. The Babylonians were ruthless, Godless and very cruel conquerors.

As I have just proposed the Babylonians like the Assyrians before them practiced a barbaric and cruel form of conquest and good description of the cruel conquest tactics of Assyrian and later Babylonians is in 2 Kings 8: 12,

“Why is my lord weeping?” asked Hazael.

 “Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,” he answered. “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.”

 The title of “Daughter Babylon” in verse 8 Leupold says is,

“A collective personification of all her (Babylon’s) inhabitants”

 This means all of Babylon, men, women and children were implicit in their nations sins and cruelty and therefore under God’s Judgment as Isaiah predicts for Babylon in Isaiah 13: 11,

“I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins, I will put an end to the arrogance of the Haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless”.

  1. The prayer is a request for God to repay the Babylonians for what they did to them.

I wont to highlight finally the key words of this imprecatory prayer or prayer for God’s judgment to come on God’s enemies in verse 8,

“Happy is the one who repays you (Babylon) according to what you have done to us”.

 Albert Barnes fleshes out both the meaning here and how God’s retribution was paid out on Babylon with these words,

“The idea is, who shall repay thee for thy treatment of us; or, as we should say in common language, “Who shall pay thee back?” That is, he will be esteemed a fortunate man who is made the instrument of inflicting deserved punishment on a city so guilty and so cruel. He will acquire fame and honour by doing it; his name will be made known abroad and perpetuated among people. In fact, the name of Cyrus, who conquered Babylon, is among the names of the most celebrated of conquerors; and the manner in which he took Babylon and overthrew the government and kingdom, has given him a most eminent place among successful princes and conquerors”.

To put it simply Babylon got what it deserved and even the terrible plight of the cruel and ruthless killing of their infants was only a pay- back for what they did to not only Israel but many other nations they over – ran as well.

How then do we as Christians interpret verse 9 of this Psalm and its statement about the horrible death of children?

I have come up with again three possible answers to this important question:

  1. God will judge sin and sinners
  2. Jesus loves children and wants them to come to him
  3. God’s love or grace leads us to love our enemies

Let me explain each of these three possible answers to the Christian interpretation of verse 9 of this Psalm.

  1. God will judge sin and sinners

All through the bible great warnings appear of a day of Judgment to come where God will not only judge sin but do away with it as well forever. Paul makes this clear in Athens when speaking to the top thinkers and philosophers of his day, Acts 17: 31,

“For he (God) has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead”.

 Jeremiah like many Old Testament prophets and New Testament prophecies speak of our sins or deeds being punished as he says in Jeremiah 21: 14,

“I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the Lord”.

 This is what the phrase in Psalm 137 verse 8 means when it says,

“according to what you have done to us”

 However, I want you to note that we are both not to judge or carry out in any way God’s judgment as some extreme Muslim followers do as Jesus says in Matthew 7: 1 – 5,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”.

 This is also seen in Psalm 137 as the writer of that Psalm is not advocating he or other Israelites carry out God’s judgment but is speaking, I think of the ones God was going to ordain or use as his agents of judgment and of course in the case of the ancient Babylonians who conquered and destroyed Jerusalem this act of judgment was carried out by the Persians under the leadership of Cyrus.

  1. Jesus loves children and wants them to come to him

The last verse of Psalm 137 does raise in some modern people’s minds the question of does God judge innocent children?

When I have been asked this question in years past I have spoken about two key facts that the New Testament particularly gives us.

The first is that the God of the bible is the divine judge of everyone and is both a just and loving God.

I cannot speak on his behalf to say what he will do with very young children on the day of judgment but I can say that they like everyone will be in the hands of a just and loving God.

The second New Testament fact about God’s actual attitude to children is Jesus expressed attitude and even commands concerning children. We find this in a passage like Matthew 19: 13 – 15,

“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there”.

 Jesus love for children is also expressed in Mark 9: 42 – 49 as something he feels strong about even in this life,

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44]  45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46] (47) And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell”.

So, when asked about the fate of children in the day of judgment I point to the clear stated attitude of The Lord Jesus to little children and say again they like all of us will face a just and loving God on that great day of judgment.

The ultimate answer to anyone facing judgment is the message of the Gospel which we should preach and teach people of all ages that is expressed so well in that famous verse John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

  1. God’s love or grace leads us to love our enemies

My final word on these last two verses of Psalm 137 is to state again that imprecatory prayer a prayer for God’s judgement to come on one’s enemies are not encouraged in the New Testament owing to Jesus words in the Gospels like Luke 6: 27 – 29,

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back”.

 This advice of Jesus is because we are to treat our enemies as God treats us as we without the grace or undeserved love of God deserve his judgment for our sins. In another place in the Gospels, Matthew 5: 43 – 48, Jesus speaks of loving our enemies particularly those who persecute us and speaks of doing this as children of his Father in heaven who loves us,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

 Finally, Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that we are constrained, controlled or compelled by the love of God expressed by Jesus death on the cross for our sins in 2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 15,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”.

 My verse for extra verses for Don Mclean’s Babylon song for these last two goes like this,

“Remember Lord Babylon and repay it Lord for what it’s done

It lay siege to Jerusalem and attacked your Zion

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion.

 CONCLUSION

 Psalm 137 is both a beautiful Old Testament song and encouraging word from God about not giving up or turning away from God and his heaven when life’s troubles and difficulties might come upon us just as we read in the famous Christian allegory called, Pilgrim’s Progress.

I know that some people turn away from God and blame him for their problems and difficulties when they face them. Others I know find God’s help and assistance in the midst of their problems and difficulties and their faith is deepened and grows through that experience.

Will you not forget Zion when you are caused to weep in a Babylonian type place in your life?

Interestingly I did some study on the bibles significance of the Babylonian Empire and the best thing I read on this was the conclusion “Gotquestion.org” said on this and I will quote it directly now for your edification,

“In the Bible, Babylon is mentioned from Genesis to Revelation, as it rises from its rebellious beginnings to become a symbol of the Antichrist’s evil world system. When God’s people required discipline, God used the Babylonian Empire to accomplish it, but He limited Judah’s captivity to 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11). Then, God promised to “punish the king of Babylon and his nation” (Jeremiah 25:12) “for all the wrong they have done in Zion” (Jeremiah 51:24). Ultimately, all evil will be judged, as symbolized by Babylon’s demise in Revelation 18:21: “The great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again.”

 My last verse of Don Mclean’s “Babylon” song extended to five more verses reflects Revelations 18: 21 prophecy of the demise of Babylonian ant – God world system and attitude when Christ returns,

“One day the Lord will destroy the forces of Babylon

The Lord Jesus will come, will come and establish Zion

We look forward, we look forward, we look forward to Zion”.

 I close with the full Don Mclean extended song of Babylon and a final word of prayer,

BABYLON

(Based on Psalm 137 and Don Maclean’s Babylon)

By the waters, the waters of Babylon

We lay down and wept, and wept, for thee Zion,

We remember we, remember we, remember thee Zion.

 

Sing us a song of Zion our enemies called upon

How could we sing a song in a foreign land far from Zion?

We remember we, remember we, remember thee Zion.

 

If I forget you Jerusalem may I not be able to sing a song

May my tongue be stuck to the roof of my mouth so I cannot sing a song.

For we remember we, remember we, remember thee Zion.

 

Jerusalem is my place of joy unto my enemies seized upon

Remember Lord those Edomite’s and others who attacked Zion

We remember we, remember we, remember thee Zion.

 

Remember Lord Babylon and repay it Lord for what it’s done

It lay siege to Jerusalem and attacked your Zion

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion.

 

One day the Lord will destroy the evil forces of Babylon

The Jesus will come, will come and establish Zion

We look forward, we look forward, we look forward to Zion.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Father in heaven I pray for your help to keep my eyes fixed on you and your wonderful promise of eternal life with you in heaven even in the dark and difficult times in my life. Help me to always remember your Son who died for my sins on the cross and made a way for me to travel in this life to heaven above. Thank you, Jesus, that you promise to always be with me helping me to carry my load and guide me through to the joy of knowing you now and for ever more. In Jesus name I pray this, Amen

PSALM 136 TALK: THE GOD OF ENDURING LOVE

PSALM 136 TALK:  THE GOD OF ENDURING LOVE

(A Psalm or ancient Hebrew worship song or hymn that appears to be an Old Testament form of liturgy in that one group or person makes a statement and another group of people respond with a continual refrain that thanks God for being a God of enduring love).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

INTRODUCTION

I have read of many stories of people lost in the darkness of sin and despair turning in prayer to God for help and finding a God who loves them despite the wretched state of their lives. In this Psalm talk I will refer to the famous conversion story of the 18th century former slave trader who became an Anglican church minister whose name is John Newton.

I love John Newton’s story for a number of reasons and one is the hymn he later composed when he was the minister in a church in a small English village called Olney. The hymn is of course “Amazing Grace” in which Newton calls himself a wretch.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

The book of Psalms contains Psalms that are obviously designed as congregational corporate prayers and hymns designed to be read or sung Antiphonally or in a responsive manner. Psalm 136 is an excellent example of such a Psalm. It has the first part of a verse that is a reason to thank God for something specific followed by a set refrain that says,

“His love endures forever”

This specific response in this Psalm speaks of the kind of love John Newton discovered when he called out to God in the midst of a terrifying storm. He prayed something like God if you are really there to save me. The God of the bible is there and wants to save all sinners who turn to him and his Amazing enduring love.

Interestingly this congregational response in an act of worship recorded three times in the history of Israel, God’s ancient chosen people. The first is during the time of dedication of the Temple during the reign of King Solomon recorded in 2 Chronicles 7: verses 3 and 7 in the 10th century B.C.

Two hundred years later in the reign of King Jehoshaphat in the southern Kingdom of Judah we have another record of this refrain,

“His love endures forever”

This time it is part of the song Jehoshaphat appointed singers to sing as they led the army of Judah into battle agains the combined attacking armies of Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites. That day God fought ahead of this army and these attacking armies were routed and turned away from Jerusalem.

Then around four hundred years later we find this same refrain sung again and this time the refrain is sung at the celebration of the laying of the foundation stone of the re-building of the Temple in Jerusalem recorded in Ezra 3: 11.

So, God’s enduring undeserved love is celebrated at least three times over a 600-year period and it seems that around the time of Ezra this well -known congregational response to acts of God’s goodness and love became the Psalm we now call, Psalm 136.

It is believed that the first part of each verse of this Psalm was spoken or sung by a priest in the Old Testament Temple and the refrain was said or sung by the entire congregation present at that worship service. This makes Psalm 136 not only unique but I believe a powerful statement of the central theme of the entire bible, namely the enduring love of the God of the bible.

Only the Jewish – Christian religion presents their God as a God of enduring love and for the Christian the central message of God’s enduring love is summed up in one famous verse, John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

It has been said that only the Christian faith and message is not based on what we do for God to get into his favour but is simple based on what God has done for us. The fact both the Old and New Testaments presents the God of heaven and earth as a loving saving God and Psalm 136 does this not only in its refrain but in all it says from its beginning to its end.

Psalm 136 calls on us to constantly and regularly thank God for his powerful saving enduring love. Paul made it clear to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18 to praise and give thanks to God always and that this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus,

“Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.

With the enduring love of God and the call to give thanks to God in all circumstances in mind my outline for this Psalm talk is:

1. (1 – 3) THANK GOD FOR HIS GOODNESS

1. (vs. 1) The God of goodness and love
2. (2 – 3) The God of God’s

2 (4 – 7) THANK GOD FOR HIS CREATIVE POWERS

1. (4 – 5) The creative wise God
2. (6 – 9) The God who made the world

3 (10 – 15) THANK GOD FOR HIS REDEMPTION

1. (10 – 12) The God who saved Israel out of slavery
2. (13 – 15) The God who saved Israel but judged Egypt

4 (vs. 16) THANK GOD FOR HIS GUIDANCE

5. (17 – 22) THANK GOD FOR FIGHTING FOR US

1. (17 – 20) The God who fought off two kings
2. (21 – 22) The God who gave Israel its inheritance

6. (23 – 26) THANK GOD FOR LOOKING AFTER US

1. (23 – 25) The God who helps us and provides for us
2. (vs. 26) Thank the great God of Heaven

Let’s then have a close look at this Psalm with theses headings:

1. (1 – 3) THANK GOD FOR HIS GOODNESS

1. (vs. 1) The God of goodness and love

The opening line of this Psalm 136 is the first call for thanks or praise of the God of heaven and earth. The God we only know because he has made himself known through the events of history when he got involved in it recorded for us in the pages of what we call the bible.

These words, we believe were spoken loudly by a chosen priest in the Temple worship service in Jerusalem in ancient Israel.

The topic of this opening reason for praising or thanking God is The Goodness of God expressed like this,

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good”.

Many times, in the book of Psalms we have read of the goodness of God and in the previous Psalm, Psalm 135 we read in verse 3a,

“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good”

I stated in my Psalm talk for Psalm 135 and this verse that the Goodness of God is,

“Mentioned in at least five other Psalms, Psalm 25: 8, 34: 8, 73: 1, 86: 5 and 100: 5″.

In Psalm 34: 8 David issues us a challenge that says,

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him”.

In my Psalm talk for Psalm 34 and this verse I commented this way on the concept of “Tasting” the goodness of God,

“David wants his listeners to experience for themselves what God can do for them. Many non-Christians say to Christians I will not believe unto I can see for myself that God is true and real. The answer to this is why not take God at his word and see for yourself. I remember when I was a teenager attending church fellowship groups I heard a number of times an older leader challenging us after he had presented the Gospel message to pray a simple prayer like, “God if your there please reveal yourself me” and then he said now sit down in a quiet place and read Johns Gospel. I think he had copies of Johns Gospel in a simple plain English version to give to anyone who was willing to take on his challenge. He had the “Taste and See” approach to evangelism.

David like that fellowship leader had great confidence in God’s willingness to reveal himself as he writes,

“Blessed (happy) is the man who takes refuge in him”.

This taste and see form or challenge is not unique to David as Jesus himself uses it to his listeners when he says in Matthew 7: 7 – 8,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened”.

I have heard the testimonies of many Christians asking God if you are their reveal yourself and as I said in my introduction one is the famous testimony of the 18th century slave Trader John Newton who lived a debouched life but one night was tied to the wheel of his ship by his crew during a powerful storm and in desperation he cried out to God if you’re their save me.

John Newton was saved that night and went on to discover the love and goodness of God and write the famous hymn, Amazing Grace which the first verses says,

“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see.”

The response or refrain we will see is not a set of mindless words that has no connection to each statement for giving thanks to the God of the Bible and I will show how this refrain relates to each of the statements for giving thanks to God in this Psalm.

So, the refrain says,

“His love endures forever”

You see the goodness of God to us not something we deserve or could ever earn it comes only because the God who is good to us is an enduring God of love. He saved John Newton not because he deserved to be saved but as John Newton wrote it was because of God’s amazing grace that a wretch like him was saved and received the goodness of God.

Paul says in Ephesians 2: 8 – 9,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast”.

The goodness of God which is the grace or undeserved love of God is the first reason Psalm 136 suggests as a reason for thanking God.

2.  (2 – 3) The God of God’s

Again, like the previous Psalm, Psalm 136 the supremacy of the God of the bible over all other God alternatives is presented in the two phrases,

“Give thanks to the God of God’s” (vs. 2)

And

“Give thanks to the Lord of Lords”. (vs. 3)

These statements of reasons for thanks are similar to verse 5 of Psalm 135 that says,

“I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods”.

I will now give you what I said about verse 5 of Psalm 135 which I think is also an excellent commentary on verses 2 and 3 of this Psalm 136,

“This verse is not saying there are other God’s as we will see in verses 15 – 18, the supposed other God’s represented by the great idols people made of them are nothing but false and unreal.

However, the God of the bible is very real and very great and our writer probably has Exodus 18: 11 in mind here that simply says,

“Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

These words were spoken by Moses after the God of the bible had defeated the supposed God’s of Egypt and in the end a whole army inspired by these gods was destroyed when they sought enter the red sea or sea of reeds to pursue and destroy God chosen people, Israel. Interestingly God used forces in nature to destroy this non -God of the bible opponents.

Today we face a society aggressively running away from the God of the bible and turning to other ways of thinking about the origins of life and the great questions of why we exist and how they should live. Paul tells us in Romans 1: 21 – 25

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen”.

Paul is saying here that mankind is actively and collectively turned away from God to some other form of God or God’s and in Pauls day these were represented by idols. Today these idols are not usually images made to look like human beings or animals but are things like money, fame, self-glory or even other religions that have as part of their philosophy the denial of the truth of the God of the bible.

Even in the Christian church today we have influential so-called leaders denying the truth of the bible and offering an alternative way of thinking about it. Paul warned Timothy of such preachers and teachers rising up even in the early church in 2 Timothy 4: 1 – 5,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.

So, we promote and praise the God of the bible like Paul encouraged Timothy to do proclaiming how our God is “Great” and no other so- called god alternative is as great or greater than him”.

The New Testament presents The Lord Jesus Christ as God become flesh and he is spoken about in the book of Revelations, like Revelations 19: 16 as the,

“King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s”.

We are then, to give thanks to God of God’s and Lord of Lords or king of kings and the peoples response to that was again,

“His love endures forever”

Israel only knew this great one true God because he chose to reveal himself to them and in revealing himself to them he set up an agreement with them which we call the covenant of love. This covenant of love started with the great patriarch Abraham but became clear in the renewed covenant of love made to Abrahams descendants through Moses on mount Sinai.

This covenant of love is expressed in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 9,

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments”.

This covenant of love was fulfilled and transformed by the coming of God’s Son Jesus Christ as Hebrews 9: 15 clearly states,

“For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

So, we thank God for his enduring love expressed in the fact that God is the one and only God who chose to save us through the death and resurrection of his only Son who is God with him and the Holy Spirit one God a great God of enduring love.

The apostle John later we believe in his ministry and life spoke of the enduring love of God as our motivation to both love God and one another in one of his three letters to churches he cared for and we read these amazing words about love and God in 1 John 4: 7 – 12,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”

2 (4 – 7) THANK GOD FOR HIS CREATIVE POWERS

1. (4 – 5) The creative wise God

We have already seen that Psalm 136 follows a similar pattern of teaching to the previous Psalm, Psalm 135 and this next little section and the one that follows it is another example of this. For verses 4 – 5 looks at the creative abilities and evidences of the great God of the bible followed by the redemptive activities of the God of the bible in verses 10 – 15 similar to that same pattern in Psalm 135 as a reason for thanks and praise of our God.

In verses four and five the creative activities of the God of the bible is spoken about as showing God’s great wondrous nature and also his wisdom as we read these words again spoken more than likely by a leading priest in the Temple,

“To him who alone does great wonders” (verse 4)

And verse 5,

“Who by his understanding made the heavens”.

Allan Harmon writes,

“Creation is the fruit of many wonders that God performed”.

Today the majority of people believe that our wondrous or amazing world and universe came about by an accident of nature. Let me ask you can you accept that the intricate, complex and perfect design of our genes points to its creation as an accident?

I believe modern science has only pushed us further towards concluding that some kind of designer lies behind the wonderful designs and beauty of nature. Many modern scientists say that out of the chaos of the big bang came eventually the order and beauty of nature as we know it.

May I suggest that this view requires a bigger leap of faith to believe than the belief in a wondrous and great almighty God as the creator and designer of the world and our universe.

There are eminent scientists who believe in a God and still practice good sound scientific study and they do not believe that modern science proves the non- existence of a God but sadly many people today blindly accept this as fact.

Psalm 72 verses 18 and 19 express well marvellous or wondrous deeds in creation that deserves our thanks and praise,

“Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvellous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory, Amen and Amen.

The whole earth is filled with God’s glory as we admire God’s handiwork in this world and the universe.

So how did God do it?

According to verse 5 of Psalm 136, he did it by his understanding which could be translated as wisdom,

“Who by his understanding made the heavens”. (vs. 5)
This verse seems to be a summary of what we read in Proverbs 3: 19 – 20,

“By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; 20 by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew”.

From the amazing and great intelligence of our God came the creation of the world and the universe. God is almighty, powerful and the highest of any intelligence in the entire universe and John tells us at the start of his Gospel that God’s creative intelligence lies in his Son called in this passage “The word”, John 1: 1 – 5,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.

John goes on to say in verse 14 that this great word or God became flesh in the form of the Lord Jesus Christ,

“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

So, we can thank God for his wondrous and intelligent nature seen in the creation of this world and the universe through his only Son Jesus Christ and join in the refrain the people of God in ancient Israel responded with that says,

“His love endures forever”

God is a God of enduring love made evident every day of our lives by the wonder and beauty of nature. I live in the midst of a beautiful expression of the God of nature, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney Australia and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t marvel at the great enduring God seen in the natural beauty that surround my home.

Paul makes a clear statement about the role Jesus Christ played in the creation of the world and his enduring love for us for not only did he made a beautiful creation but he also continues to makes beautiful re-creations, his church all the company of all true believers that was made possible by his great act of enduring love on the cross for the forgiveness of our many sins as we read in Colossians 1: 15 – 20,

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross”.

2. (6 – 9) The God who made the world

Our writer of Psalm 136 then goes on to spell out a bit more of the actual creation God’s wonder and wisdom actually made as further reasons for thanks and praise, he writes in verses 6 – 9,

“Who spread out the earth upon the waters” (vs. 6)

“Who made the great lights” (vs. 7)

“The sun to govern the day, (vs. 8)

And “The moon and stars to govern the night”, (vs 9).

These three verses “echoes” Alan Harman says the words of Genesis 1: 6 – 8 is telling us,

“And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day”.

Spurgeon comments aptly on God’s creation of the great lights of day and night with these words,

“This also is a creating miracle worthy of our loudest thanks. What could men have done without light? Though they had the heavens above them, and dry land to move upon, yet what could they see, and where could they go without light? Thanks be to the Lord, who has not consigned us to darkness. In great mercy, he has not left us to an uncertain, indistinct light, floating about fitfully, and without order; but he has concentrated light upon two grand luminaries, which, as far as we are concerned, are to us “great lights.”

Again, the great refrain of the ancient Hebrew congregation responds to this with the words,

“His love endures forever”.

God’s great enduring love is again proclaimed as a word of thanks and praise for his creation of this world and particularly his provision of light. Not only should we thank God for his enduring love for us expressed in his creation of natural light but also for his provision of spiritual light for because of our many sins we are naturally in the dark about God but John tells us in John 3: 19 – 21 both what God has done about our spiritual darkness and how we should respond to it,

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God”.

We must accept the gift of God’s enduring love of light given to us freely by God through the Lord Jesus Christ because if we turn away from this great gift of light we are condemned to live in spiritual darkness.

3 (10 – 15) THANK GOD FOR HIS REDEMPTION

1. (10 – 12) The God who saved Israel out of slavery

As I said before Psalm 136 follows a similar pattern to the previous Psalm 135 and here is another example of this with the source or God’s acts and deeds of creation followed by his acts of great redemption for his people as a source for great thanks and praise. It was the enduring love of God that led him to free and save his people from slavery in Egypt.

So, we read of this as a source of thanks and praise with these words, again spoken or sung by a leading priest in the Temple worship service,

“To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt” (vs. 10)

“And brought Israel out from among them” (vs. 11)

And vs. 12, “With a mighty hand and outstretched arm”.

In Psalm 135 verse 8 the striking down of the first born of Egypt is spoken of in verse 8 and again I will quote directly from my Psalm 135 on this,

“The God of the bible is not a God in exile or inactivity he did not create the world and the universe and then remove himself from it. The fact I believe he is actively involved in our world even today leading people to redemption or salvation.

In ancient Hebrew times the proof that the God of the bible was involved in their world in acts of redemption was through his saving of his people out of slavery in Egypt which the writer of Psalm 135 reminds his readers of in verses 8 and 9,

“He stuck down the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of people and animals. He sent signs and wonders into your midst, Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants”.

I have seen in many Psalms the story of the Exodus used in many ways on many occasions and here it seems to be used to reveal that Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to turn to the one true living God. After many signs and wonders that the God of the Bible revealed to Pharaoh only hardened his heart against the God of the bible. Ultimately God judged Pharaoh and he lost the life of his beloved first born son.

Over and over again in the story of the Exodus is used in the book of Psalms to remind the people of God that the God of the bible is a saving God of love but also a God of Judgement for those who seek to oppose him and his chosen people.

There is no better example of the principle of salvation for God’s people and judgment of those who oppose God and his people than Psalm 81: 5 – 7,

“When God went out against Egypt, he established it as a statute for Joseph. I heard an unknown voice say: 6 “I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket. 7 In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thunder cloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah”.

Then again and even more clearly in Psalm 106: 7 – 11,

“When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. 9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert.
10 He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
11 The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived”.

So, God’s great saving hand in the Exodus is referred to in the book of Psalms and in the books of Old Testament prophecies as a concrete example of the Saving Power of the God of the bible”.

Here in Psalm 136 God’s saving outstretched arm is proof of his enduring love God for his people, Israel. This outstretched arm judged Pharaoh and the false God’s he and his people believed in and sought to overcome Israel and their God the one true God of the bibles.

So, God saved Israel out of Egypt just as The Lord Jesus Christ through his death on the cross saved us from the slavery of sin and death. So, like the ancient Hebrews of old we can respond with the same refrain they sang in response to the message of God saving Israel out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt with the words,

“His love endures forever”

The New Testament sees a clear connection between the act of God’s enduring love in the Exodus story and the act of enduring love of The Lord Jesus Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins as we see from a passage like 1 Peter 1: 18 – 19,

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect”.

And Pauls words in 1 Corinthians 5: 7,

“Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed”.

John the Baptist saw clearly this amazing connection of Jesus and the passover when he called Jesus this in John 1: 29,

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.

We have great cause and reason to thank and praise God because of his enduring love shown to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is our hope for our salvation as Paul speaks of in Romans 15: 13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

2. (13 – 15) The God who saved Israel but judged Egypt

This remarkable story of the redemption or salvation of the people of Israel out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt continues in the next three verses where the salvation of the people of Israel co- insides with the judgement of God on Pharaoh and his non – God of the bible driven army.

We read these grounds for thanks and praise in verses 13,

“To him who divided the Red Sea asunder”

And verses 14,

“And brought Israel through the midst of it,

And finally verse 15,

“But swept Pharaoh and his army into the red sea”.

The story of the Exodus makes clear that Pharaoh after letting the people go had a change of heart and decided to hastily form an army to pursue and destroy the people of Israel.
Pharaoh would have thought he had the people of Israel trapped on the shores of the red sea and all had to do was ride in on his chariots and hack to death the people responsible for the death of his first- born son.

Even the people of Israel felt they were trapped and doomed on the shores of the red sea because we read this in Exodus 14: 10 – 12,

“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”.

However, as verse 13 of Psalm 136 says God divided the red sea asunder and the people were able to cross in safety. When Pharaoh arrived he decided, foolishly to follow the Israelites into the divided sea and he discovered to his horror that God brought Israel through the midst of the sea, safely as verse 14 of Psalm 136.

However, just as God saved Israel he judged Pharaoh and his non – God of the bible believing army and as verse 15 states,

“But swept Pharaoh and his army into the red sea”.

I mentioned earlier the words of John 3 that spoke of God sending his light, Jesus Christ into the world and just before that in verses 17 – 18 we read these words about how the salvation and judgment of God actually works,

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son”.

Pharaoh and his fellow Egyptian soldiers refused to believe in the God of the Bible even after the many signs and wonders they had witnessed including now the opening of a sea and their stubborn closed minded sinful hearts led to their destruction at the hands of the God they opposed.

This again was wonderful grounds for thanks and praise and so the ancient worshipping congregation says or sings the refrain again that says,

“His love endures forever”

They realised yet again that their ancestors were saved only because their God is a God of enduring love and for that they are full of praise and thanks.

As Christians, we are reminded over and over again through the communion service that Jesus instituted that we are only saved through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ an even greater expression of the enduring love of God. As Paul sets down to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26,

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.
” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

Paul made it clear in many places that we are saved only in and through the giving of Jesus in his death and resurrection and that this was God’s great act of love and salvation for us as Paul speaks of in Galatians 2: 20,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”.

This then is central to our continual thanks and praise.

John Newton expressed this central concept of enduring love he called in his hymn “Amazing Grace” and in his second verse of that hymn he says this,

“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed”.

4. (vs. 16) THANK GOD FOR HIS GUIDANCE

Most of the commentaries I read on this Psalm 136 made verse 16 a separate topic for the bases of our thanks and praise and I agree with this as verse 16 says,

“To him who led his people through the wilderness”.

This verse speaks of thanking God for the guidance of his people Israel in the wilderness period. We will see in the next section that this guidance included God’s fighting for his people against large and aggressive enemies during the wilderness period of around 40 years.

However, this verse is probably a direct reference to the miraculous way God led his people as expressed in Exodus 13: 21 – 22,

“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people”.

Once the people of the wilderness entered the promised land God stopped this very miraculous form of guidance but he still guided them through the conquest of Canaan and beyond with the Ark of the Covenant going before them.

I once read an article about the word Guidance that our English word Guidance is made up of two parts, 1. Guide and 2. Dance and that this is a picture of how God wants us to be guided in our lives.

We are to look to God for Guidance he promises to Guide us and we are to live our lives believing he is guiding us as we look to him which is like dancing. In ballroom dancing it is the male partner who leads and the female who follows and in the dance of the Christian life it is God who leads and it is us who follow that lead as Proverbs 3: 5 – 6 states,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight”.

The Ancient Israel worshipping congregation on hearing of how God guided the Israelites through the wilderness respond with that refrain again that says,

“His love endures forever”

God chooses to guide us because he is a God of enduring love and this is yet again wonderful grounds for our thanks and praise. I like Spurgeon’s comments on this when he says,

“Their faithfulness soon failed, but his did not: the fiery, cloudy pillar which never ceased to lead the van was the visible proof of his immutable love”,

In the New Testament we, if we truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are led by his Holy Spirit as Paul speaks so clearly of in Romans 8: 14 – 17,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory”.

James gives us practical advice of guidance in James 1: 5 – 6 when he says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”.

Personally, I have claimed this verse in the midst of difficult times or times when I felt I did not understand what God wanted me to do or say and I can testify to the fact that in some way or another God always answered my prayer for wisdom and guidance and I have found yet again the love and guidance God has for my life.

God does guide us and this is not because we deserve or earn that blessing but again it is given to us because God is a God of unmerited enduring love. For this also I give God the thanks and praise he deserves.

5. (17 – 22) THANK GOD FOR FIGHTING FOR US

1. (17 – 20) The God who fought off two kings

In verses 17 – 20 two important illustrations of the enduring love of God are stated which are part of the previous point of God guiding his people through the wilderness period. These two illustrations of God’s enduring love and guidance are of the two kings and their nation’s attempt to stop and destroy the people of Israel in their long journey to God’s Promise land of Canaan.

We read of God fighting for Israel against the two kings this way,

“To him who struck down great kings” (vs. 17)

and vs, 18, “And killed mighty kings”

Then vs. 19 and 20 these kings are named,

“Sihon king of the Amorites”

“And “Og king of Basham”.

Albert Barnes explains the significance and application of these verses with these words,

“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”.

Of course, wicked people being removed from the earth is never fully done in this present age but in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as judge rather than as Saviour we will see the total over- throw of all evil and wickedness as we see from a passage like Revelation 20: 11 – 15,

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire”.

However, God does judge evil from time to time in this life especially when evil attempts to bring down his church or people like we see in the case of the people of Israel in the wilderness opposed by powerful evil nations led by their non -God of the bible believing Kings.

In the New Testament, I like Pauls prayer in 2 Thessalonians 3: 1 – 5, here Paul wants his readers to pray for him particularly because of the opposition by wicked people to his preaching the Gospel message and also for his Thessalonian brothers and sisters who like him are caught up in the fight or battle against the evil one (the devil) as they live the faithful Christian life.

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance”.

Not how Paul sees in this pray that the Lord does fight for us or helps us fight the battles we all face against the evil forces of this world and the spiritual world as Paul sets down in Ephesians 6: 12,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

As with other wonderful examples of God’s help and blessing expressed in this Psalm the people or the worshipping congregation respond with the now familiar refrain,

“His love endures forever”.

God fighting for his faithful people is yet another example of the enduring love of God in action. The God of the bible is not just a theory or hope but an active living God of love.
Paul proved over and over again that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ does connect us to God and his loving assistance and no better illustration of this is his words in Romans 8: 37 – 39,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

John Newton expresses his conviction of the enduring love of God he calls “God’s grace” has and will help him in the rough and tumble of this life in his third verse of his hymn that says,

“Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home”.

2. (21 – 22) The God who gave Israel its inheritance

The writer of Psalm 136 then moves from thanking God for his enduring love expressed in his loving help for the ancient people of Israel in their wilderness journeys to the actual provision and possession of the promised land for them.

The next two verses, verses 21 and 22 express this great gift of God for his chosen people,

First, we have verses 21,

“And gave their land as an inheritance.

And verse 22,

“An inheritance to his servant Israel”.

The first portion of the promised land given to Israel was the Transjordan area that the defeated King of the Amorites and Bashan controlled these were given to the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh. This land and the larger land called Canaan is known as the Promised Land as way back it was promised to Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 15: 18 – 21,

“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites,Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

In verses 16 God tells Abraham that this land would not be taken away from these people unto their sinfulness had reached its full measure which means unto their sinfulness was so bad God would judge them and take their land away from them and give it to Abrahams descendants,

“In the fourth generation, your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

God being God knows everything and he knew at the time of Abraham that the sinfulness of the people of the Transjordan and Canaan in the future would reach an unacceptable level and his judgment would fall upon them at the hands of his chosen people who would through God’s enduring love give them this land as a kind of inheritance.

We don’t get inheritance’s because we deserve them but they are given to us in this life because we are the next generation that rightfully can claim them. God’s inheritance of the Land of Israel was not given to Israel because Israel deserved it but it came from the hand of the God of enduring love.

So, the right response of the worshipping congregation is made in the refrain,

“His love endures forever”

The ancient Hebrew congregation is acknowledging that the land they now lived in only came to be theirs because God chose to give it to them out of his enduring and undeserved love.

As Christians, we have a far greater gift of inheritance than a patch of earth to live on as Peter declares in 1 Peter 1: 3 – 5,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time”.

Note how Peter says that this eternal inheritance is given to us out of God’s great mercy and therefore we could never say or claim we deserve the gift of eternal life with God in heaven as we only have it because of God’s enduring love. John Newton claimed that this enduring love of God was his Amazing Grace and in his hymn of that title the last verse speaks of the gift of God’s eternal life in heaven coming from God’s Amazing grace with these words,

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

6. (23 – 26) THANK GOD FOR LOOKING AFTER US

1. (23 – 25) The God who helps us and provides for us

In the final four verses the things the writer of Psalm 136 speaks of for thanking God for which he gives freely to us out of his enduring love are more general in nature than the previous verses as they dealt directly with the ancient Israelites.

In verses 23 – 25 we have things to thank God for that relate to what I call God’s promise to look after us in this life.

Verse 23 says,

“He remembered us in our low estate”.

All we have seen so far falls under this general concept of God remembering or helping his people when they needed held and needed it badly or they were in a low estate or in a bad way.

They were in a low estate when they were led by God out of slavery in Egypt and when they faced the Egyptian army coming at them with their backs to the red sea. They were in a low estate when far more powerful kings opposed them in the wilderness. Even as they entered the Promised Land they were in a low estate compared to the numerous powerful Canaanite nations living there.

However, the God of enduring love made the difference between their lowly estate and as verse 23 declares,

“And freed us from our enemies”

Stephen J. Cole makes an insightful spiritual application for us in these words,

“The biggest hindrance to salvation is the notion that you can do something to save yourself. If you think that you are good enough or that you deserve salvation, you don’t get it. Only God can save you from your sins and He does it apart from anything that you can do. You must simply receive it as His gift by faith”.

Israel only had victory over their enemies because the God of enduring love chose to fight for them. On some occasions in the Old Testament Israel went out to battle trusting in their own abilities to save themselves but they were soundly defeated like King Saul towards the end of his reign and life against the powerful Philistine forces he fought against and lost badly. David however trusted in the God of enduring love and God gave him victory over the powerful Philistines.

Paul makes the point that our salvation from sin and death is only made possible by God alone and it is by God’s enduring love he calls grace that we are saved by and that has nothing to do with our good works, Ephesians 2: 8 – 9,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast”.

Humility lies at the heart of the Gospel and this humility or total reliance on God extends as far as our daily needs of food and water as the writer of Psalm 136 speaks of in verse 25,

“He gives food to every creature”.

God’s enduring love extends to all creatures or everyone in the daily provision of food and sustenance a principle Jesus declares in Matthew 5: 45,

“That you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

This general principle of God’s providence to all creatures, good and evil is made even clearer by Jesus in the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew 6: 25 – 27,

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Jesus however does make it clear at the end of this chapter that God especially blesses those who turn to him and put him first as Jesus declares in Matthew 6: 33 – 34”,

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”.

This seeking God first is an outworking of God’s enduring love in the hearts and lives of those who come to him by faith an act of God to save us as Paul declares to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1: 9 – 10,

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”.

We like the ancient Hebrew congregations of old can respond to these great truths with that wonderful refrain,

“His love endures forever”.

God saw our lowly estate of sin and darkness and lifted us up out of that terrible dark place by his enduring love through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

God saved us from our enemies of sin, death and the devil again through his only Son Jesus Christ and his death for our sins on the cross an act of enduring love.

God provides for us our every need and if we lack anything or need his help he again through his enduring love will give us what we need and we only need to ask for it in faith as Jesus boldly proclaims in John 14: 13 – 14,

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it”.

Jesus, I believe is saying this couched in the provision of what we ask for is not contrary to the expressed will of God as if we ask for something that God says we cannot or should not have then that prayer will be answered with a big no. God promises to give us all we need not what we necessarily want as Paul makes clear to the Philippians in Philippians 4: 19,

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus”
Recently I proved yet again how God answers the prayers of our needs as for week I suffered some pain and discomfort after I got out of hospital after major kidney surgery and I prayed that a procedure my doctor was going to perform would be successful and relieve the pain and discomfort I was experiencing. God answered that prayer and immediately after my doctor performed the procedure I was pain and discomfort free.

John Newton knew the full extent of God’s enduring love which he called “Amazing Grace” and in his fourth verse of his hymn of the same name he writes,

“The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures”.

2. (vs. 26) Thank the great God of Heaven

The last verse raps up the ancient Hebrew priest call to his congregation to give thanks or praise with the words,

“Give thanks to the God of heaven”.

And interestingly phase only used in the later books of the bible (Ezra 1: 2, Nehemiah 1: 4, 2 Chronicles 36: 23 and Daniel 2: 18) and Leopold explains its significance,

“This title is a reminder of the exalted nature of him who did his people all the mighty works which have been enumerated in this Psalm”.

This Psalm then has made clear that the God of heaven is a God of enduring love and in fact this is his overriding attribute. He is a God of enduring love in that he,

1. Shows himself as Good
2. Created everything
3. Redeemed his people out of Egypt
4. Guided them through the wilderness and into the promised land
5. Fought for them against their enemies
6. Always provides and helps his people.

This means we should give thanks or praise to The God of Heaven for is Amazing enduring love for us.

As Christians, we know far more of the Amazing enduring love of God in and through the Lord Jesus Christ and Paul speaks of the reality of his enduring love in his second letter to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 15,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”.

In Pauls prayer for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 3: 14 – 19 we see the power, wonder and praise of the enduring love of the God of heaven seen in Christ,

“For this reason, I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”.

So, we can join the ancient Hebrew congregation one more time and say or sing the phrase used throughout this Psalm,

“His love endures forever”.

We might change it to read,

“Christ love endures forever”

For Christ is God’s ultimate expression of his enduring love as we know this from John 3: 16, that says,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

This is then the heart of the message we as Christians have and should take to the world that there is Good News in such a bad News world as even though our sins lead to death or eternal separation from God, God has made a way for us to know his enduring love by the Amazing love of God seen in sending his only Son to pay the price of our many sins on the cross and through that give us the gift of eternal life.

As the little letter of Jude puts it in verses 24 – 25,

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Before I close I would like to quote one more verse from John Newton’s hymn, Amazing grace, this time verse 5, not often sung these days,

“Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil
A life of joy and peace”.

I close as usual with an original poem and final word of prayer:

THE EDURING LOVE OF GOD
(Based on Psalm 136 and John 3: 16)

(vs’s 1 – 4)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
God’s love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
God’s love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
For we see great things his done by his words
Yes, he made the heavens and this world
For God’s love endures forever.

(vs’s 5- 9)

God by his understanding made the heavens,
God’s love endures forever.
He spread out the earth upon the waters,
God’s love endures forever.
He made the great lights to send their ray
The sun to govern the day,
Moon and stars at night display
For God’s love endures forever.

(vs’s 10 – 14)

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
God’s love endures forever.
And brought Israel out from among them
God’s love endures forever.
With a mighty hand and outstretched arm
He divided the red sea that was calm
And Moses sang of Israel’s deliverance in a Psalm
For God’s love endures forever.

(vs’s 15 – 21)

God swept Pharaoh’s army all away
God’s love endures forever.
He then led his people through the wilderness;
God’s love endures forever.
He struck down all the kings who opposed them
The Amorite king and the king of Basham
Then he led his people to the promise land.
For God’s love endures forever

(vs’s 21 – 26)

God gave his people an inheritance
God’s love endures forever.
He remembered his people’s low estate
God’s love endures forever.
He freed them from their enemies.
And provides food in great quantities
So give to God in heaven wonderful praise
For God’s love endures forever.

(John 3: 16)

God sent to earth his only Son
God’s love endures forever.
He died on the cross to forgive our sin
God’s love endures forever.
And whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life
And we can trust him even in our strife
So, we praise God for his gift of eternal life
Yes, God’s love endures forever.

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

Dear Father up in heaven we thank you for being a wonderful God of enduring love seen clearly in all you have made and how you have saved us from our many sins. We thank you for your love made clear by the sending of your Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins on the cross and rising to life to give us the gift of eternal life. May we thank you daily by the way we live and what we say because of your Amazing enduring love and we look forward to being with you in your eternal home where we will join with the Angels in praising you for your amazing enduring love. In Jesus Name we pray, Aman.

PSALM 135 TALK:   PRAISE THE LORD YOU SERVANTS OF THE LORD

PSALM 135 TALK:   PRAISE THE LORD YOU SERVANTS OF THE LORD

 (A Psalm or ancient Hebrew worship song or hymn that directs God’s chosen religious leaders called servants of the Lord to lead the people of God in praise and worship).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

INTRODUCTION

 I am not an ordained minister of my church but years ago after three years training in a Bible College I worked for 13 years in three full time ministry positions in my church, The Anglican church of the Sydney Diocese. Those 13 years gave me among many things an insight into what’s involved in working full time in ministry for God.

In my thirteen years, I realised I had very little time to myself and I was in constant demand from the people I sought to minister to even putting pressure on my time and commitment to my family. I know that people ask a lot of their ministers and sometimes the pressure this causes them leads them to emotional and even spiritual pressure and even physiological breakdowns.

In the pressure cooker atmosphere of full time ministry, it is easy for us as ministers to lose sight of his calling and what should be his ultimate goals in leading the people of God that God has given him to lead.

Psalm 135 is an excellent reminder of what any full- time minister in his church should focus on and I believe if they do focus on this their ministry will get its priorities right and God will bless them and the church they seek to serve.

In this Psalm talk I am interpreting the phrase, “You servants of the Lord” as first and foremost the full -time ministers or leaders in the church today as verse 2 of this Psalm says,

“You who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God”.

 This is a clear reference to the Old Testament Priests and Levites who were also pinpointed in this Psalm in verses 19 and 20.

 However, because the New Testament teaches us clearly that all true believers are priests or ministers, 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,

that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

 The special word to servants of the Lord who minister in the house of the Lord has application to all of us. In recent years God has lead me to have a unique ministry in his wider church through music and these studies of the Psalms so I like all who follow the Lord Jesus Christ am a servant of the Lord.

This means that the priorities of ministry Psalm 135 sets down also apply to me as much as they do to one of my full-time minsters at my local church.

I would like to give you one quick word on the general background of this Psalm which deals with how it was written. Psalm 135 has been described as a mosaic or patchwork of thoughts of lots of previous Old Testament Scriptures. Spurgeon writes,

“The whole Psalm is a compound of many choice extracts, and yet it has all the continuity and freshness of and original poem”.

 Because of the use of many Psalms used in this Psalm clearly written after the return from the exile in Babylon this Psalm or song must have been written around the same time. So far as its author we have no way of determining but the suggestion is that the author was probably some kind of Temple priest or Levite which has merit but cannot be proven.

Leupold refers to Nehemiah 9: 4 and 5 as a kind of interesting outworking of the servants of the Lord in the house of the Lord leading the people in praise and worship,

Standing on the stairs of the Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. They cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God. And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise”.

 With the theme, then of the servants of the Lord leading the people of God in praise and worship my outline for this Psalm talk is:

  1. (1 – 4)  A CALL FOR GOD’S SERVANTS TO LEAD THE PEOPLE IN PRAISE
  1. (1 – 2) Praise him you servants of the Lord
  2. (3 – 4) Praise him for he is good

      2    (5 – 7)  PRAISE GOD’S ACTS OF CREATION

  1. (vs. 5) God is great
  2. (6 – 7) God is creator

      3   (8 – 14) PRAISE GOD’S ACTS OF REDEMPTION

  1. (8 – 12) God’s redemption of ancient Israel
  2. (13 – 14) God’s enduring reputation as a saving God

      4  (15 – 18)  PRAISE THE ONE TRUE GOD NOT IDOLS

  1. (15 – 17)  The truth about God alternatives
  2. (vs. 18) The truth about those who turn to God alternatives

      5  (19 – 21)  A CALL FOR ALL GOD’S PEOPLE TO PRAISE THE LORD

  1. (19 – 20) God’s servants and people are to praise the Lord
  2. (vs. 21) God’s praise is to go out from Jerusalem.

  Let’s then have a closer look at this Psalm using this outline:

  1. (1 – 4) A CALL FOR GOD’S SERVANTS TO LEAD THE PEOPLE IN PRAISE
  1. (1 – 2) Praise him you servants of the Lord

This Psalm opens and closes like so many of the Psalms in book five of Psalms with the Hebrew term, “Hallelujah” which we translate as “Praise the Lord”. This is because the Hebrew word “Hallelujah” is made up of two key concepts:

“Hallelu” which in Hebrews means “praise” and “Jah” which is the start of the Hebrew special name for God most people pronounce as

“Yahweh” which is usually translated in English as “The Lord”.

However, “Yahweh” is a special name for God that carries much deep and significant meaning and Allan Harman points out that “Yahweh” literally means,

“I am who I am” and that this term carries with it the idea of,

“The one who defines himself”.

 We will see from the rest of this Psalm the unique and powerful nature of this God who alone defines himself as good, great, powerful creator, redeemer, real and worthy of praise.

Then we read in the rest of verse 1 of this Psalm 135 that one particular group of people are exhorted to praise the Lord,

Praise the name of the Lord; praise him, you servants of the Lord”.

 The term, “Servants of the Lord” must be referring to the Old Testament forms of full time ministers in Old Testament times, the Priests and Levites which is made clear by what we read they did in God’s service in verse 2,

“You who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of the Lord”.

 You only got to be a priest or Levite by birth as we see from verse 19 of this Psalm that speaks of the,

“House of Aaron”

 This goes all the way back to the time of Moses and we read in Numbers 18: 1,

“The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood”.

 Then in Numbers 1: 48 – 51 we read of God’s decree for the family group known as the Levites as special servants of the Lord in the Temple worship of ancient Hebrew people,

“The Lord had said to Moses: 49 “You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. 50 Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the covenant law—over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp around it.51 Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who approaches it is to be put to death”.

So, the Priests and Levites where the God ordained full time leaders of worship in his Temple in ancient Hebrew times.

Note how they are to lead by example in praise of the name of the Lord. The name means all that characterises God, his essence and the rest of the Psalm spells out many of these wonderful characteristics of this God that should cause us all to praise him.

So, the number one priority of a full -time servant or minster of the Lord should be to lead the people in praise of the God of the bible. This means that a minister must have as his focus at all times nothing other than the name or character of the God of the bible.

Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18 that Praise or thanks to God is God’s ordained will for all believers,

 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

So, it is not strange to say that our full -time ministers must have as their number one priority the leading of the people of God in praise and thanks.

Paul also sets down to Titus the characteristics and Godly qualities of the full- time elders or ministers of the church in his day and says this in Titus 1: 5 – 9,

“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believeand are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it”.

 The characteristics of these elders I want you to note are the very characteristics of the God of the bible and particularly The Lord Jesus Christ as they both serve and help others to serve.

I see 10 Christ like qualities here:

  1. Blameless
  2. Faithful
  3. Leading a Godly household
  4. Self- controlled
  5. Living a good example
  6. Hospitable
  7. Loving good
  8. Holds firmly to the word of God
  9. Encourages others to know and follow God’s word
  10. Refutes those who oppose God and his word.

To have any of these Godly qualities a person must be putting God first in their lives and always seeking to give him the praise he deserves.

As I said in my introduction I am not an ordained minister of the church I attend in Sydney Australia yet as we are all “priests” or ministers of the Gospel according to 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,

that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

 Then we all should seek to exhibit the same Godly qualities of an elder or minister that Paul set down for New Testament ministers in Titus 1: 5 – 9 and we too can only do this if we truly put God first in our lives and “Praise his name”.

  1. (3 – 4) Praise him for he is good

 From verse 3 onwards Psalm 135 then spells out all sorts of reasons why the God of the Bible should be praised. The first reason given is in verse 3 which says,

“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good”

 The goodness of God is a great theme of particularly the Psalms and we see it mentioned in at least five other Psalms, Psalm 25: 8, 34: 8, 73: 1, 86: 5 and 100: 5. I like the last one of these references Psalm 100: 5,

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations”.

 David Guzik writes,

“What would be more basic than this, God is good? Nothing at all, since this is God’s essential nature. Even the word God is a shortened form of “the good”.

 Only this week I experienced the goodness of God, I had one set back from my recovery from Kidney possible cancer surgery and I prayed to God about this and got others to pray for me as well. Only yesterday our prayers were answered by the good God we prayed to and my operations complication went away.

This experience reminds me of two wonderful bible verses that promise us the goodness of God in our daily lives:

Psalm 31: 19,

“How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you”

 Romans 8: 28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Who are called according to his purpose”.

 This knowledge of the goodness of God should show itself in our outward daily worship of this Good God as the second half of verse 3 says,

“Sing praise to his name, for this is pleasant”

 The idea that singing God’s praise is pleasant probably comes from Psalm 133 verse 1 which says,

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”.

We might say the people of God who sing the praises of God together stay together in unity and peace and this is a very worthwhile or pleasant experience.

Allan Harmon speaks of the Hebrew word for pleasant as coming from the idea of graciousness and the next verse speaks directly of the graciousness of God in how he chose Jacob who became Israel as his treasured possession,

“For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession”.

 The Old Testament makes it clear that Jacob and his descendants who became the nation of Israel did not deserve to be chosen in any way and it only happened because of the Grace or undeserving love of God as we see in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 8,

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt”.

 So, it is with us as Christians we are only chosen because the God who chose us is a God of grace as Paul spells out in Ephesians 2: 4 – 9,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”.

 So, this great gift of grace should cause us to constantly praise the great God of grace and love and again praise is not only something we do with our lips but we should show it also with how we live our lives as Paul makes clear from Romans 12: 1,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”.

 A full -time minister’s priority should always be to encourage and promote the people in their churches to a life lived in praise and thanks to the good God of the bible who is a God of grace or unmerited love.

      2    (5 – 7)  PRAISE GOD’S ACTS OF CREATION

  1. (vs. 5) God is great

The Psalmist then looks at two great ways the God of the Bible reveals why he should be praised by the servants of the Lord and those two ways are:

  1. In his acts of creation
  2. In his acts of redemption

In verses 5 – 7 the Psalmist deals first with God great acts in creation. He starts this by simply stating the greatness of God compared to any other supposed God for in verse 5 he says,

“I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods”.

 This verse is not saying there are other God’s as we will see in verses 15 – 18, the supposed other God’s represented by the great idols people made of them are nothing but false and unreal.

However, the God of the bible is very real and very great and our writer probably has Exodus 18: 11 in mind here that simply says,

“Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

 These words were spoken by Moses after the God of the bible had defeated the supposed God’s of Egypt and in the end a whole army inspired by these gods was destroyed when they sought enter the red sea or sea of reeds to pursue and destroy God chosen people, Israel. Interestingly God used forces in nature to destroy this non -God of the bible opponents.

Today we face a society aggressively running away from the God of the bible and turning to other ways of thinking about the origins of life and the great questions of why we exist and how they should live. Paul tells us in Romans 1: 21 – 25

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen”.

Paul is saying here that mankind is actively and collectively turned away from God to some other form of God or God’s and in Pauls day these were represented by idols. Today these idols are not usually images made to look like human beings or animals but are things like money, fame, self-glory or even other religions that have as part of their philosophy the denial of the truth of the God of the bible.

Even in the Christian church today we have influential so-called leaders denying the truth of the bible and offering an alternative way of thinking about it. Paul warned Timothy of such preachers and teachers rising up even in the early church in 2 Timothy 4: 1 – 5,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.

 So, we promote and praise the God of the bible like Paul encouraged Timothy to do proclaiming how our God is “Great” and no other so- called god alternative is as great or greater than him.

            2. (6 – 7) God is creator

 God’s greatness is seen then in verses 6 and 7 in his great power and majesty in creation for the God of the bible is first and foremost the creator God as we see from these two verses,

“The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lighting with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses”.

 Note how God does as he pleases and no one man or spiritual being can make God do what they want as God is sovereign a major teaching that runs right through the whole bible and this psalm mirrors a lot of the teaching of Psalm 115 a Psalm the writer or writers of this Psalm must have known and known as verses 2 and 3 of that Psalm says,

“Why do the nations say, “where is their God” Our God is in heaven, he does whatever pleases him”.

 Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 19: 26,

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.

 So, God does whatever he pleases and it pleased God to make the heavens and the earth as verses 6 and 7 express and Paul says that God made all this through his Son who is the great supreme one as we read in Colossians 1: 15 – 18,

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”.

 Our writer speaks of the vastness of God’s creative ability and control by speaking of what we can see in heaven and earth and also what we cannot see the seas and particularly its great depths.

He then in verse 7 eludes to God providing sustenance to the earth like rain or water which come ultimately from God’s vast storehouses,

“He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses”.

 One of the major God of the bible alternatives the ancient people of Israel turned to was the Canaanite God Baal, who is called by its followers as the storm God.

Baal and in fact storms are not to be praised or worship but rather the one true God who is behind them and makes them possible is to be worshiped. Recently our rural sector has been experiencing great lack of rain but I hear nothing of these farmers seeking help from the God of the bible. I’m sure there are churches in our rural areas praying for rain but sadly the general trend in our rural areas for some years now has been the turning away from the God of Bible that shows itself in churches closing down.

We need more servants of the Lord going out into these rural areas to call people to the Lord who is the only answer to the drought our country is presently going through.

My personal thought is that God is using this drought to encourage our country brothers and sisters to turn to him in prayer and praise.

An interesting incident takes place in one of Pauls missionary journeys in the city of Lystra where God leads Paul to heal a man who had been lame from birth. The locals, fixed in their pagan Greek god’s beliefs start thinking Paul and his companion Barnabas are two of the God’s come to earth, named Hermes who they said was Paul and Zeus who they thought was the real identity of Barnabas.

In such a pagan, non – God of the bible world Paul and Barnabas reaction and words to this is very informative, Acts 14: 14 – 17,

“ But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He 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.”

 My counties rural areas need many men and women preaching this kind of message to people who for a number of generations now have lost faith in the one true God, the God of the bible who Paul says wants us to know the Good News of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

      3   (8 – 14) PRAISE GOD’S ACTS OF REDEMPTION

  1. (8 – 12) God’s redemption of ancient Israel

So, we have seen how the servants of the Lord should reflect on the great God of creation as a source of praise and worship and now a second great reason or source of praise is presented in verses 8 – 14 which I call his acts of redemption.

The God of the bible is not a God in exile or inactivity he did not create the world and the universe and then remove himself from it. The fact I believe he is actively involved in our world even today leading people to redemption or salvation.

In ancient Hebrew times the proof that the God of the bible was involved in their world in acts of redemption was through his saving of his people out of slavery in Egypt which the writer of Psalm 135 reminds his readers of in verses 8 and 9,

“He stuck down the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of people and animals. He sent signs and wonders into your midst, Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants”.

 I have seen in many Psalms the story of the Exodus used in many ways on many occasions and here it seems to be used to reveal that Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to turn to the one true living God. After many signs and wonders that the God of the Bible revealed to Pharaoh only hardened his heart against the God of the bible. Ultimately God judged Pharaoh and he lost the life of his beloved first born son.

Over and over again in the story of the Exodus is used in the book of Psalms to remind the people of God that the God of the bible is a saving God of love but also a God of Judgement for those who seek to oppose him and his chosen people.

There is no better example of the principle of salvation for God’s people and judgment of those who oppose God and his people than Psalm 81: 5 – 7,

“When God went out against Egypt, he established it as a statute for Joseph.I heard an unknown voice say: “I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket. In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thunder cloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah”.

 Then again and even more clearly in Psalm 106: 7 – 11,

“When our ancestors were in Egypt,they gave no thought to your miracles;they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up;he led them through the depths as through a desert.
10 He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
11 The waters covered their adversaries; notone of them survived”.

 So, God’s great saving hand in the Exodus is referred to in the book of Psalms and in the books of Old Testament prophecies as a concrete example of the Saving Power of the God of the bible.

What does the Exodus story have to say to Christians then?

I came across a very interesting Christian article that answers this question beautifully it was by a man named Silverio Gonzalez and in a short section of his Article called “Why the book of Exodus matters for your life” and under the heading “The Pattern of Salvation” he writes,

“After God saved his people from Egyptian bondage, he began to prepare the world for a salvation from greater slavery. Through the Mosaic Law and Israel’s temple worship, God brought his people into a loving relationship to prepare them for the coming Messiah. The Messiah would come to save the world from sin, death, and the devil. This, Jesus did.

Exodus shapes both Jewish and Christian identity. Its themes are a major part of the Psalms and the Old Testament prophetical books. Many themes in Exodus are taken up in the New Testament and displayed in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection”.

The central Jewish feast that remembers and celebrates the Exodus is called the “Passover” for on the night the angel of death passed through Egypt to kill the first born son’s the believing Jews slaughtered a lamb as a sacrifice and blood from this Passover lamb was sprinkled on the doors of the people of Israel. When the angel of death saw the blood of the sacrificed lamb he passed over and the first -born sons of that house and they were saved.

This concept of the Passover lamb or the lamb sacrificed to save us is picked up right through the New Testament and we first come across it in Johns Gospel right at the very beginning of Jesus ministry that led to his death on the cross we read of John the Baptist saying loudly, John 1: 29,

“Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.

At the last supper Jesus institutes a remembrance service that would replace the Passover that helps us look back to what Jesus achieved through his death on the cross in our salvation as Jesus himself said to hid disciple on that last night, Luke 22: 19 – 20,

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”.

 The God of the bible is an active saving God and he continues to get involved in our lives today if we have faith in him but as we have seen in the case of Pharaoh and the Egyptians the God of the bible is active in our world judging those who refuse to turn to him which the writer of Psalm 135 picks up in verses 10 – 11 which says,

“He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings – Sihon king of the Amorites, Og king of Bashan, and all the kings of Canaan”.

 These two kings mentioned here are the kings and their people who opposed the people of Israel when they were on their wilderness journeys.

Then we read of the conquest of the Promised land again attributed to the God of the bible who struck down the kings of Canaan to deliver to his chosen people what verse 12 speaks of,

“And he gave their land as an inheritance, an inheritance to his people Israel”.

 In all these battles Israel was always the weaker army but God made the difference and gave his people victory.

As Christians, we are involved in a great spiritual battle with all the forces of evil as Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6: 10 – 12,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

 We have not an earthly inheritance but a heavenly one as Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 1: 3 – 5,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

 So, as servants of the Lord who lead the people in the house of the Lord we need to encourage both knowledge and praise of the great saving God of the bible and remind them that this is only possible because of the mercy or grace of God.

  1. (13 – 14) God’s enduring reputation as a saving God

We have just seen that the God of the bible deserves our praise because he is a great God of salvation or redemption and that all through the bible the saving acts of God in the Exodus from Egypt and in the conquering of the Promised land are remembered and used to inspire trust and praise in him.

So, the writer of Psalm 135 now states this enduring reputation of the saving God in verses 13,

“Your name, Lord, endures forever, your renown, Lord, through all generations.

 In the next Psalm 136 the enduring and never- ending love of God will be dealt with in some detail. However here in Psalm 135 something of the never- ending saving nature of the God of the bible is spoken of in the concept of his enduring reputation.

Have you ever asked the question, can you always rely on God?

The answer to that question according to verse 13 of Psalm 135 is yes you certainly can. This is because the God of the bible is not a man that he can lie as Numbers 23: 19 proclaims. Our Psalm writer could look back to both recent and long way back evidences of God being reliable as a saving God.

I say this because we are fairly certain this Psalm was written after the return from exile in Babylon and our writer could have been a returning Jew or was only a few generations away from people who recently returned from exile through the mighty saving hand of God.

We can look back to far greater evidences of the enduring nature of the God of salvation particularly as we look back at the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins.

The writer to the Hebrews puts this fact this way in Hebrews 2: 9,

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

 However why does our writer of Psalm 135 say this in verse 14,

“For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants”.

 No matter when we live as believers we will always face some kind of opposition and difficulty and if this was written during the time of the return from Babylonian captivity we know from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that God’s people back in Jerusalem faced great difficulties caused by non- God of the bible believing people so our writer most naturally and properly calls on the Lord for vindication and compassion from his peoples many enemies.

He could be seen in verse 14 as putting into practice what he has just been saying about his God as a God of power, love and salvation that he is now relying on the essence of real faith in God.

As full -time servants of the Lord who serve in the house of the Lord the priority of promoting praise and worship of our God does not diminish in the face of opposition and difficulty but in fact should increase as we prove God in our lives even in the midst of difficulties and strife.

Paul a giant in the field of full time servants of the Lord rejoices in the saving power and love of God in Christ Jesus and also speaks of doing this in the midst of suffering which he sees also is part of God’s loving act of salvation in Romans 5: 1 – 5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”. 

      4  (15 – 18)  PRAISE THE ONE TRUE GOD NOT IDOLS

  1. (15 – 17)  The truth about God alternatives

Verses 15 – 17 are almost a direct quote from Psalm 115: 4 – 8 and as I did quite a bit of work coming to terms with these verses in my Psalm 115 talk I will now directly quote from that Psalm talk to explain these verses in Psalm 135 with some appropriate adjustments that fit better with Psalm 135 than Psalm 115.

“In our writer’s day, the great God of the bible alternative view was usually some kind of god’s that were made of wood or stone. In Myanmar which I visited again recently the idols are usually big Buddha’s often made of gold or at least coated with gold but no matter how big or expensive looking they might be they leave me feeling cold uninspired as they are useless religious structures that have no spiritual power or ability.

 This is what verses 4 – 7 of Psalm 115 is actually saying and is what verses 15 – 17 of Psalm 135 is saying as well.

 “The idols of the nations are silver and gold,made by human hands.16 They have mouths, but cannot speak,eyes, but cannot see.17 They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths”.

 I love Isaiah’s sarcastic go at the futility of idol worship of idols made out of wood in Isaiah 44: 14 – 20,

 “He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. 15 It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. 16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” 17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!”

 18 They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. 19 No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” 20 Such a feed on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

 Idol worship is condemned in a number of places in the bible, like other passages in Isaiah, 40: 18 – 20, 41: 7 and verse 29, 46: 5 – 7 and even Jeremiah has something to say about this in Jeremiah 10: 1 to 5.

 The story of Elijah challenging the priests of the idol worshipping god called Baal shows both the futility and powerlessness of idol worshippers and of course the value and power of believing in the one true God of heaven and earth, the God of the bible. The climax of that wonderful story is in 1 Kings 18: 36 – 39,

 “At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.

 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

 Even though idol worship still exists today in the Old Testament form of man fashioning idols as I have seen in places like Myanmar when I visit their other alternatives to the God of the bible is still applicable here.

 Any god view that does not see God as the almighty spirit who dwells in heaven as lord supreme of this world and entire universe and who is both God to be feared and yet God who has stooped down particularly through the Lord Jesus Christ to save us is nothing more than a delusion.

 When Paul was in Athens recorded in Acts 17 he saw the many idols their and reasoned that this was evidence that these people did not know God. All other non – God of the bible views of God are simply elaborate attempts by human beings seeking to know the unknown God and designing from their own minds and imaginations a view of God that is useless and futile.

 So, Paul’s sermon to the top thinkers of the idol worshipping Athenians was to take them from an altar to an unknown God to the message of the God who has revealed himself in his Son, Jesus Christ and Paul says this about him in Acts 17: 24 – 31,

 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’.

 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

 So how do these four verses in Psalm 135 (15 – 17) taken from Psalm 115 fit into the context of Psalm 135?

We must understand that in Old Testament times only the small nation of Israel believed in one great God who demanded no earthly image be made of him, Exodus 20: 4 – 6,

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”.

 So, Israel was always surrounded by many Nations who believed in many God’s represented by some kind of idol. Tremper Longman the 111 points out this reality about idol worship,

“These idols were not seen as Gods but represented God’s though through certain ritual (the opening of the mouth) they were seen as physical vehicles through which the God’s made their presence known to the people”.

 The problem with Israel and all believers in the God of the bible making an image to even represent the God of the bible is that no image we could come up with would do him justice. If it was a big giant man idol, God is not a man. If the image was an animal like a large bull God’s strength might be understood but a bull is also dumb and God is supremely intelligent.

So, in the context of Psalm 135 the full- time ministers or servants of the Lord were to discourage the people of God from any form of idol worship and promote true spiritual worship of the God of the bible.

In a previous Psalm talk I spoke of an Anglo – catholic Anglican friend of mine when I was attending Bible College taking me to a highly elaborate High Church service and asking me what I thought of it after the service was finished.

I told my friend that the involved ritual was both unnecessary and dangerous as it could promote a form of idol worship where even the communion elements are held up and bowed down to.

My friends reply was both shocking and surprising, he said, Jim you must understand some people like to worship with smell, touch and colour while others like worship God in spirit and truth”.

I had to strongly say to my friend that Jesus came to change and encourage true worship and quoted Jesus words to the Samaritan women about the answer to what is true worship in John 4: 21 – 24,

“believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

 I am not condemning my Anglo – Catholic Christian friends but as a servant of the Lord I must warn them that the danger of heavily dominated ritual worship services is the worshipper worships the service and not the God who it is directed to, sadly this can become another form of idol worship.

  1. (vs. 18) The truth about those who turn to God alternatives

 So, our writer and the writer of Psalm 115 has said that the idol God’s of the nations that surround them are dead and useless, made by human hands, cannot speak, cannot see and cannot hear.

Now in verse 18 he like the writer of Psalm 115 in verse 8 states that,

“Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them”.

 I like C.H. Spurgeon’s comment on this verse,

“The idol worshippers are as bad as the idol makers; for if there were none to worship, there would be no market for the degrading manufacture. Idolaters are spiritually dead, they are the mere images of men, their best being is gone, they are what they seem”.

 What they seem we have learnt is that they are spiritually dumb, blind and deaf to the true living God who made heaven and earth.

Idol worship is a delusion of the devil and people caught up in it are under the condemnation of God as we see from Isaiah 44: 9 – 11,

“All who make idols are nothing,and the things they treasure are worthless.Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.10 Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing?11 People who do that will be put to shame;

 such craftsmen are only human beings.Let them all come together and take their stand;

 they will be brought down to terror and shame”.

 And in the New Testament Revelations 9: 20,

“The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk”.

 My wife and I visited the ancient ruins of Ephesus in 2011 and we were amazed of how much adultery can still be seen in the ruins there. Shells of temples to God and Goddesses line the steep and narrow streets of that ancient city yet it was here that God made a stand against idol worship through Paul and his preaching of the Gospel. The makers of idols in Ephesus caused a riot as they saw Paul’s message as a great danger to their trade (Acts 19: 23 – 41).

Years later Paul wrote these words as a prayer to the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 3: 14 – 20, a prayer that contains the true nature and foundation of God ordained worship as opposed to the dead and useless worship of idol worship,

“For this reason, I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”.

 So, all true full- time servants of the Lord who work in the house of the Lord (in New Testament terms the church) are to promote spiritual worship based on the Gospel of Christ and to denounce the false, worthless and dangerous worship of idols or any other alternative to worship of the true and living God of the bible.

      5  (19 – 21)  A CALL FOR ALL GOD’S PEOPLE TO PRAISE THE LORD

  1. (19 – 20) God’s servants and people are to praise the Lord

This Psalm 135 started with a call to praise particularly a call to the full -time servants of the Lord who ministered in the house of the Lord and now this Psalm concludes with a call to praise and worship the Lord. This call is also addressed to the full- time servants of the Lord who minister in the house of the Lord but also widens out to all of Israel who believe in the Lord for verse 19 says,

“All you Israelites, praise the Lord; house of Aaron, praise the Lord”.

 The people of God are to follow the lead of their full- time ministers and praise and worship the Lord. If the people of God do this they are fulfilling the desire and motive of their minister’s goals and objectives.

Sadly, most of the Old Testament reveals that the House of Aaron, or the ordained full -time ministers of praise and worship failed to fulfil their God given role and function. Some even led the people of God into idol worship and many Old Testament prophets pronounced God’s judgment on these priests and the people who follow their evil leadership, like Jeremiah in Jeremiah 32: 30 – 35,

“The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but arouse my anger with what their hands have made, declares the Lord. 31 From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight. 32 The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done—they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem. 33 They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. 34 They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it.35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin”.

 This judgment of God came on Israel in a devastating way in the form of the Babylonian conquest of Judah and Jerusalem in 598BC.

In the New Testament those who teach and lead the church will be judged with greater strictness as James says in James 3: 1,

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly”.

 Paul sets down very clear and strong guidelines for full time ministers of the church of Jesus Christ, ministers he calls overseer’s and deacons in 1 Timothy 3: 1 – 10,

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.

 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.“4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.In the same way, deaconsare to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.11 In the same way, the womenare to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything”.

 Paul also warns Timothy of full time ministers who will enter the church to lead the people of God away from the truth in 2 Timothy 2: 14 – 19,

“Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

 Our writer of Psalm 135 repeats this call for the full -time servants of the Lord who minister in the house of the Lord joined by all the people of God to praise and worship the Lord in verse 20.

“House of Levi, praise the Lord; you who fear him, praise the Lord”.

 I like Albert Barnes comments on this verse and the one before it when he writes,

“It is an earnest call on all classes of the people to bless and praise the Lord. It is language expressive of overflowing joy; the utterance of a heart full of exalted conceptions of the majesty, the glory, and the mercy of God; of a heart which feels to the utmost the fitness of praise, and desires that all classes of people – priests and people – that all created things should unite in the praise of Yahweh. Who, in reading the psalm, can fail to catch the feelings of the psalmist, and to say Amen and amen!”

 It has been suggested that the phrase, “you who fear him, praise the Lord” could include non- Jews who are called Gentiles who came to recognise that the God of the bible is the one true God of Heaven and earth and therefore must be feared or respected and therefore worshipped.

Through the coming of Christ Jews and Gentiles can come to God in faith and praise as Paul speaks of in Galatians 3: 26 – 29,

“So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.

 Paul lays down in Colossians 3: 15 – 17 the Christian full -time servant of the Lord’s guidelines for leading worship and praise in his household or church,

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. 

  1. (vs. 21)    God’s praise is to go out from Jerusalem

This Psalm ends its word of praise in the place the Lord chose to dwell in Old Testament times, Zion in Jerusalem,

“Praise be to the Lord from Zion, to him who dwells in Jerusalem, Praise the Lord”.

 Allan Harmon points out the significance of these words<

‘The temple in Jerusalem was the visible token of God’s presence with his people. From there he blessed them (Psalm 128: 5), and in turn they ascribe praise to him”.

 Harmon points out that from Jerusalem true praise would go into all the world which was only fulfilled by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ who preached the Gospel in Jerusalem died on the cross just outside Jerusalem, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven close to Jerusalem.

From Jerusalem, the disciples are sent out to preach and teach the Gospel message as Acts 1: 8 clearly states,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

 Jesus commissions the disciples from Jerusalem with these words in Matthew 28: 19 – 20,

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 Finally, the Psalm ends with the Hebrew term for praise, “Hallelujah” just as it commenced with this term.

God’s full-time servants who minister in the house of the Lord are to be champions of praise leading God’s people in Hallelujah’s or praise for the God of the bible known as Yahweh”. They in New Testament terms are ministers of ministers or priests to priests as we are all priests of God or ministers of God according to 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,

that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

May we all then serve the Lord with praise and love for both who he is and what he has done for us in The Lord Jesus Christ.

I close as usual with an original poem / song and a final word of prayer:

PRAISE HIM YOU SERVANTS OF THE LORD

(Based on Psalm 135 and influenced by the Polyeleous chant)

Give Praise to the Lord all you servants of the Lord

You who minister in the house of the Lord

Sing God’s praises for he is good

All you chosen sister – brotherhood.

Serve him now for he is full of grace

And he treats us like his chosen race.

 

I know that the Lord is a great amazing God

For he is greater than any other supposed God’s

He does whatever he wants to do

In heaven and in this world too

He makes the clouds rise on the earth

And course’s rain to give the earth new birth.

 

God struck down Egypt’s first -born son’s

For Pharaoh ignored God’s many powerful signs

He like many earthly kings stood against the Lord

And God judged them with his mighty word.

He gave Israel the land as an inheritance

And through Jesus one day we’ll stand in his presence.

 

God’s name endures for endless generations

And the Lord gives those who trust him vindications

For our God is a wonderful God of love

Who sent to earth his Son from heaven above

All other God’s are idols with no power

But our God is real and we can trust him every hour.

 

So, all Christian people join to praise the Lord

You minister’s must show how to praise the Lord

Praise God on earth and in heaven above

Praise him for his undeserving love

From Zion God gave us his word

So praise him you servants of the Lord.

 

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

 Father up in heaven we pray for the minters of our churches that they would faithfully lead us in praise in worship of you and your dear Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Help them to faithfully teach your word, encourage us in our various ministries for you and correct those who fall away from the truth of your word. It is your glory we seek in and through the wonderful name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.