God’s Love Created, Saves, and Sustains Us

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1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. 2 O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. 3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;
4 who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; 5 who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever; 6 who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever; 7 who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; 8the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; 9 the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;
10 who struck Egypt through their firstborn, for his steadfast love endures forever; 11 and brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures forever; 12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures forever; 13 who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever; 14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures forever; 15 but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever; 16 who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever; 17 who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures forever; 18 and killed famous kings, for his steadfast love endures forever; 19 Sihon, king of the Amorites, for his steadfast love endures forever; 20 and Og, king of Bashan, for his steadfast love endures forever; 21 and gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures forever; 22 a heritage to his servant Israel, for his steadfast love endures forever.
23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever; 24 and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever; 25 who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever.
26 O give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.

(Psalm 136 NRSV)

Key Observation: Worship the Lord for his faithful and steadfast love that creates, saves, and sustains.

Psalm 136 is audacious in its certainty about the goodness of God. This certainty is not solely based on personal experience, but is rooted in the entire community’s history. Our present reality is insufficient for making sense of life, especially when we find ourselves in times of loss and uncertainty. Psalm 136 acknowledges such difficult times. Read between the lines of verses 23–25. These verses affirm God’s faithfulness and salvation, but they also show personal acquaintance with human pain—times of humiliation and oppression (v. 23), days when enemies came close to achieving victory (v. 24), and seasons of hunger and lack (v. 25). Yet Psalm 136 proclaims this truth: the Lord’s loyal love is forever. It is inexhaustible. It shows up during good times and bad. We can trust in God because he has demonstrated over the long haul that he does indeed have our best interests at heart.

Psalm 136 frames its historical testimony with a call to thanksgiving (vv. 1–3 and 26). The psalmist reviews history in order to provide a recipe for thanksgiving that includes God’s mighty acts in creating the world (vv. 4–9) and saving Israel (vv. 10–22). He concludes with open-ended language that empowers God’s people to give thanks for the present (vv. 23–25).

Verses 1–3 address the Lord as Yahweh (God’s personal name). Yahweh is “God of gods” and “Lord of lords” (vv. 2–3). This is a reminder of the Lord’s incomparability with any other being. God’s steadfast love (hesed) is the foundation. Hesed is a central component of God’s character. When we say, “God is love,” we are not making a mere sentimental statement but declaring that hesed is at the core of God’s essence. It is God’s active, loyal, faithful love. It is the love that keeps, restores, and delivers.

God demonstrates hesed in human history. It is not mythic or something merely hoped for. It is real and God’s “great wonders” (v. 4) demonstrate it’s reality. There is no other being with this track record. Verses 5–22 recount the story of creation and God’s gracious actions for Israel in the exodus, wilderness, and inheritance of the land of Canaan. When we read Psalm 136, we inherit this history. Verses 23–25 shift to the present and we encounter “us” language. The God who saved is the God who saves.

Psalm 136 is not the final word on God’s actions. The New Testament witnesses to the climax of God’s work of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Savior. As Paul wrote, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8 NRSV). We are living witnesses of this truth and we await eagerly the new creation (Revelation 21:1–6) when God will make all things new.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How does remembering God’s past faithfulness help you to give thanks and pray today?
  2. Why is it important to have a long view of history and God’s role in it? How does this give you hope for your future?

Are you interested in learning more about the Psalms? Consider taking a deep dive into the book with a dynamic teacher, Brian Russell. The book of Psalms is often quoted and clichéd, but much less often contextualized. When we understand the Psalter relative to the circumstances in which it was written, we find a rich resource for God’s people. Through these prayers, God both speaks to us and models how we might speak back to Him. At its core, the book of Psalms is an instructional guide to a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world. We have three separate Bible studies & videos on the book of Psalms. Get the books and accompanying videos in our store here.

In these pages you’ll:

  • Discover how the psalms of the Bible can translate to your daily life
  • Allow the psalms to help you find words to express yourself to God when you are unsure of how to pray
  • Learn the historical context in which the psalms were written, adding to their richness

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Dr. Brian Russell is Dean of the School of Urban Ministries and Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is also a consultant and speaker on the missional interpretation of Scripture and creating a missional ethos in communities of faith.

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