Psalm 136 is a message of thanksgiving containing 26 verses enumerating amazing things about God displayed throughout ancient history, exulting, “For His mercy endures forever” after each. Consider some ways God has shown mercy that the psalmist lists.
In His Nature
God reveals His goodness and mercy in that He can do what idols cannot. He is “the God of gods” (Ps. 136:2). He speaks and acts with great power, wisdom, and love, yet idols remain idle. Idols remain incapable of showing either justice or mercy, yet the God of scripture exemplifies both. Why trust idols? Their track record exposes complete futility. But God has shown His strength throughout time.
In Creating the Universe
Imagine what kind of power and wisdom it required for God to make this universe. He made “the heavens” (Ps. 136:5), including the sun, moon, and stars (Ps. 136:7-9). The power required to make such wonders is completely beyond our comprehension. The stars are far from us and powerful in nature. Yet God is not limited by time or space; He rules them like we arrange objects on a desk. The wisdom God used creating the universe is also unfathomable. The stars, etc. move in circuits with precision — just like clockwork. God’s intelligence is incomprehensible. He made stars and the earth with ability to last a long time. They are grand on both a large scale (for they are huge) and a small scale (for both have intricate, microscopic workings). Realizing our God’s immense power, wisdom, and intelligence should cause us to stand in awe. The fact that He has used these same attributes to bless us so abundantly should cause us to cry out: “For His mercy endures forever.”
In His Justice
Some think justice and mercy are opposites, yet the psalmist writes about them both as attributes of our God. In truth, how could you have one without the other. For example, would it be just/fair to allow criminals to run free? Would it be just to allow innocent people to be harmed — with the perpetrators in no danger of facing justice? Certainly not. God knows this and set civil governments in place to curb this problem (see Rom. 13:1-7). And, yes, criminals today do seemingly “get away” with crimes at times, but whatever injustice escapes punishment in this world will be dealt with in the next.
God has shown His justice on earth many times. “To Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn, For His mercy endures forever; And brought out Israel from among them, For His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 136:10,11 and following). God’s justice on Pharaoh was to punish him for wickedness. But it was also an act of mercy, for through striking Egypt, God delivered Israel from slavery. God showed His love and mercy for Israel by showing justice to Egypt. God loves all people (John 3:16), but people who cast Him aside will answer for this (John 12:48). May we love and serve Him that His mercy, not justice, will be ours.
In His Ultimate Display of Mercy
The crowning jewel of God’s mercy came in the form of a Man named Jesus. Because we are sinners, we are subject to God’s justice and wrath. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “For the wages of sin is death …” (Rom. 6:23a), and we have all earned this for ourselves.
Perhaps we have abstained from murder, but do you have hate in your heart? Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:21,22). Murder is not the only problem; hatred is also a condemning sin. Perhaps we have abstained from adultery. But have you ever lusted? Jesus said again, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27,28). Adultery is not the only condemning sin; so is lust. The point? Because we are all sinners, we are subject to God’s righteous indignation.
But He wants something better for us. That is why Jesus came. To a world of broken sinners Jesus came as Son of Man and Son of God to be the only Mediator between humanity and God (1 Tim. 2:5). He tasted “death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Truly, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Yes, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
God’s work in history, so beautifully praised in Psalm 136, shows His abundant mercy to us, His creation. And by sending Jesus to live among and die for broken sinners like me and you, God declared His love beyond what words could ever adequately express. Truly, “His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 136:1-26). Magnify and serve Him for His wondrous Gift!