Reasons For Giving Thanks (Psalm 136 sermon)

When our son Michael was a little boy, he was VERY plain-spoken; he would just say whatever was on his mind. Thankfully he has grown out of that (somewhat!) as he has matured, but when he was little he just had no “filter.” One time he was sitting in the little seat in the grocery cart at Wal-Mart and a lady was being nice to him and talking to him, and Michael looked at Cheryl and said: “She’s talking to me. Tell her to stop talking to me!” (In all honesty, a lot of us probably wish we could tell people that at times!) Another time we had gotten together with Cheryl’s brother and his family at what we had been told was a really good bbq restaurant in Oklahoma City, but when they brought the food out, they had everyone’s but Michael’s. They apologized and said that his would be out in just a minute. I made a mental note that that might be hard for a preschooler to accept that everyone had their food except him, but I thought, well, we’ll go ahead and pray and maybe his food will be here shortly. So I said, “While we’re waiting, let’s go ahead and give thanks for our food.” Michael looked around at everyone’s food and said, “Why I should give thanks; I don’t have any food!”

Well I hope this Thanksgiving season you already know some good reasons why you should be giving thanks, but in case you’re short of ideas, let’s look together at Psalm 136, which I hope will help to “prime the pump” on reasons we have as God’s people to give Him thanks. Psalm 136 is notable for a number of things. The first thing most people notice is its repetition of the phrase: “For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” But it also significant in that it lists a number of things for which God’s people can be thankful.

Verse 1 begins: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

This phrase one of the most famous in the whole Bible. The first time we see it in Bible history is in I Chronicles 16, when King David is bringing up the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. They sang and praised and thanked God, and we read this phrase in :34 “O give thanks to the LORD for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” We find this same phrase near the end of Psalm 100, where it tells us to “enter His gates with thanksgiving ..for the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting.” From this time forward, that phrase “For His lovingkindness is everlasting” becomes one of the most-used worship phrases in the Bible. It is used in several of the Psalms, and in a couple of very famous occasions in Bible history:
— In II Chronicles 5:13, when the Temple was completed, the priests came out and proclaimed “His lovingkindness is everlasting” and the glory of the LORD so filled the Temple that the priests could not even minister there!
— Then in II Chronicles 20:21, when Israel had been invaded by a coalition of enemy armies, King Jehoshaphat called out to the LORD, and God told him “You need not fight in this battle”. Instead, He sent the priests out before the army, and they sang this phrase: “Give thanks to Yahweh, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” And while they were praying with these words, God set their enemies against each other and they destroyed themselves.
So this phrase which is repeated in every verse of Psalm 136 is a famous one in Old Testament worship and history. And aswe have seen in several of our Wednesday night prayer meetings, this word translated “lovingkindness” or “mercy” is the Hebrew word “chesed”, a word so rich in meaning that it is hard to translate into English. It means the undeserved goodness and love and mercy of God; the New American Standard Bible basically invented this word “lovingkindness” to try to convey the meaning of it; Martin Luther said it may be best to translate it as “grace.” It just means that God is good and loving and merciful and kind to us when we don’t deserve it. And everything that He does for us is out of this “chesed”; this “goodness”; this “grace.”

So in Psalm 136 the worship leaders might read the first part of each verse, and the congregation might respond by with the chorus: “For His lovingkindness is everlasting”, in a kind of responsive reading, that reminded them over and over of the goodness and grace of God.

Because of God’s grace towards us, we have SO much to give Him thanks for. As our Indian friend Abraham pointed out last week, Psalm 136 spells out a number of things for which we can give God thanks. This Psalm is all about thanksgiving. In fact, the first 3 verses all begin with the words: “Give thanks”, and the last verse ends with it. But Hebrew scholar Derek Kidner points out that the words “give thanks” are IMPLIED at the beginning of every one of the verses. (Pastor Abraham pointed this out in his message last week; I don’t know if you caught it or not) So in other words, you could think or add “Give thanks” to the beginning of every verse in Psalm 136: so in :4 you could say “Give thanks … to Him who alone does great wonders”; in :5 you could read it, “Give thanks … to Him who made the heavens with skill” — and so on throughout the whole Psalm. The first 3 and the last verse spell it out, but “give thanks” is implied in every one of the verses. It is a whole Psalm of thanksgiving to God because of all the ways His lovingkindness or grace is shown to us. Let’s look briefly at some of the things that Psalm 136 encourages us to give thanks for:

 
I. FOR WHO HE IS
“For He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

This is right out of Psalm 100:4-5, “Give thanks to Him; bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations.”

The first reason we have to give thanks to God is not because of anything He has done for us, but just because He IS GOOD. Everything that He does for us springs out of Who He Is. He does all these good things for us because He IS good. He is always good. That is just who He is.

It can be hard for us to imagine God as good as He is, because there is no one else we know whom we can compare Him to. We may know people who have some good qualities, but NONE of them are always good. I love our youngest grand daughter Lottie; she has such a good-natured way about her. I would be tempted to say that she is “always” smiling — but she just spent the weekend with us last weekend, and there were a couple of times when she just had a big meltdown right in the middle of the floor when she didn’t get her way! So she is NOT “always” good. She is sweet a LOT of time; but she is not “always” good — and neither are any of us!

But the thing is, God is ALWAYS good. You have heard that expression: “God is good; all the time; all the time; God is good.” That is really true. God is always good. He is never anything but good. We don’t have to catch Him at a good time; we don’t have to catch Him in a good mood. He is always good. We don’t know anyone else like Him. He is always good to us. We can know that He is always working good things in and for us — even in what are the worst times for us — and we should give thanks for that. Everything else that we have, everything else that we give thanks for, comes out of this: that God is good to us. So first and foremost this Thanksgiving season, Psalm 136 tells us that we should give thanks that God is good!

 
II. FOR HIS CREATION

This is what we see in :5-9; (“Give thanks” which we can stick in there) to Him who made the heavens with skill … who spread out the great waters (:6) … Who made the great lights (:7) … the sun to rule by day (:8) … the moon and the stars to rule by night (:9)”.

All these verses describe God’s creation. He made the heavens and the waters and the sun and moon and stars. And He made them for us as a gift of His grace, because He loves us! He did it because “His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

We have SO much to be thankful for in that regard right here in Burke County, don’t we? I hope you don’t take for granted the beauty of the area in which God has allowed us to live: I am amazed every day as I drive to the office, or as I drive around town, and see how we are surrounded by the mountains and foothills; we have the unique view of Table Rock and Hawksbill to the west of us; and the Blue Ridge Parkway so close. The Blue Ridge Parkway has for years been one of Cheryl & I’s favorite places. We first discovered it while we were driving to my sister’s house in Delaware for Christmas one year. We saw the Parkway and got on it for a good while, and we just fell in love with it. There is an old train track at one spot on the Parkway in Virginia and for years I have said that was perhaps my favorite spot in the whole world. We love the Parkway. And how amazing is it that now we get to LIVE HERE?! God’s creation in this area is a real blessing, and something I give thanks for often.

I hope that you appreciate God’s creation. I know that a number of you do; I’ve seen you post pictures of the sunset, or the mountains, or different creatures — and I think that’s good. God has given us so many blessings in the creation He has made and placed us in. This is another reason we should give Him thanks.

 
III. FOR REDEMPTION

Verses 10-15 describe the Exodus of Israel from Egypt: “To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn .. and brought Israel out from their midst … with a strong hand and an outstretched arm … To Him who divided the Red Sea asunder … but He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea …”. This is all about the Exodus, and the great things God did for them in bringing them out of captivity.

The Exodus was considered to be the great “salvation event” of the Old Testament. God told the people of Israel that it was there that He redeemed them and they became His people. So when Israel thought of the Exodus, they thought of salvation.

Well we too have as “salvation event” — but it is not the Exodus from Egypt. For those of us living in post-New Testament times, our “salvation event” is what Jesus did for us on the cross. Instead of a lamb sacrificed at the Passover before the Exodus, we have what I Peter 1:19 calls “the precious blood as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” Our salvation event is Jesus’ death on the cross for us, that washed away our sins, and gave us a relationship with God and a home with Him in heaven.

If you are a Christian, there is NOTHING greater than this that you have to give thanks for. Your sins are forgiven — every one of them! You have a new life! You have a relationship with God and a home in heaven that no one can take away. You can always give thanks to God for these things, no matter WHAT you may be going through in your life.

In the 1600’s there was a persecution of Bible-believing Christians in Scotland. One man named Hugh M’Kail was arrested and was sentenced to be burned at the stake for his faith. He had to climb up a ladder to get to the stake where he was to be burned. He heard many of his friends and supporters crying and yelling in the crowd below him, but he turned around and said to them: “Friends and fellow-sufferers, be not afraid. Every step of this ladder is a degree nearer heaven.” M’Kail knew that no matter what happened to him here on earth — even death on the stake — he was going to heaven, because He had been redeemed by Jesus Christ.

None of us have ever had as bad a day as Hugh M’Kail had that day, and we probably never will — and that should put a lot of the things we complain about into perspective. But it reminds us that all the things we have to go through in this life are temporary, and they will soon be over. And on your worst day, when everything seems to be going against you, and you can’t find much to give thanks for, you can always give God thanks for your eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, that nothing can ever take away!

 
IV. FOR VICTORIES

Then in :17-22 we find some great victories described that God gave the people of Israel. :17 says (implied “Give thanks”) “To Him who smote great kings … and slew mighty kings .. Simon king of the Amorites … and Og king of Bashan …”. These were some of the kings who came out and opposed Israel while they were on their way to the Promised Land. But God helped them to defeat these enemies. So Psalm 136 says, remember the victories God has given to you, and give Him thanks for them.

Many of us enjoyed watching the Olympics in Rio De Janiero this summer. One of the highlights was when Simone Manuel, a 19-year-old Texan, upset many of the favorites and won the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle sprint. Fresh off the victory stand with her gold medal, she was interviewed by the media, and Simone exclaimed, “All glory to God! I’m so blessed.” Appropriately, she gave God thanks for her victory.

We should always give God thanks for our victories. Even when it involves work and effort on our part, every ability we have comes from God. HE gave us our very life; He gave us health; He gave us the special abilities and skills we were born with; He gives us the qualities we have, like perseverance and stamina. If we think that’s all us, we are deceiving ourselves and we are in for a big fall when God takes His hand off us and we see what we can (or CAN’T!) do without Him! We should give thanks to God for the victories of our lives.

We shouldn’t forget those victories God has given us. Like the song we love so much here at Pleasant Ridge says: “We will remember the works of Your hands.” Don’t forget what God has done for you. This Thanksgiving week would be a great season for you to take some time to look back at this past year, and remember the good things God has done for you just this past year, and some of the victories He’s given you.

 
V. FOR TRIALS

But then on a different note, we can also look at :16, which says: (Give thanks) “To Him who led His people through the wilderness.” Someone might say, I’ll give God thanks for getting me OUT of the wilderness, but I didn’t like Him taking me THROUGH it! Is that really a reason for giving thanks? Well, it really is!

My wife Cheryl was reading Psalm 136 a couple of years ago, and she had noticed how each of the things this Psalm talks about is a manifestation of God’s lovingkindness — in other words, He has done all these things that Psalm 136 talks about for us, because of His grace; because He loves us. She read how God made the heavens and earth because He loved us — He gave us a great place to live. She read how :10 says God brought Israel out of the Land of Egypt because He loved them, and parted the Red Sea for them because He loved them. But then she said she came to :16, “To Him Who led His people through the wilderness, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” And she wondered about that: God led His people through the wilderness, because He loved them?! And of course the answer is “Yes!” She said it really struck her that even the difficult times that God leads us through are for our GOOD! Even those trials are from His love and grace for us, because He is working through them for our good. We don’t “enjoy” those things, but God brings us through them in His grace because He knows it is for both our own good, and the good plans that He has for our world.

I am reading a biography of Augustine of Hippo Regis, one of the greatest theologians in all of Christian history, who lived in the second half of the 300’s A.D. in North Africa. They tell us that in Augustine’s day, the northern part of Africa was covered with olive trees, and olive oil was one of their great sources of income. So naturally in his writings, Augustine often referred to the olive trees, and olive oil. And he used it as an illustration of what happens to us in the difficulties we face. Olive oil is made by putting the olive in a press, and the oil is squeezed out of it. In the same way, Augustine said, God allows difficult situation to come into our lives to “squeeze” us, so that the precious oil of what God is doing can be produced in us. He often wrote about our trials being like the olive press; God “presses” us — and it produces the sweet “oil” of good things in our lives and character.

So that is why the thoughtful Christian learns to give God thanks even for the difficult things that God allows into his life. They know that even the hard things; even the “Wilderness wanderings” that He brings us into — as difficult and painful as they are — are for our ultimate good, and for the good of His kingdom purposes. So like Psalm 136 says here, we can “Give thanks … to Him who led His people through the wilderness — for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” We can give God thanks for even the difficult things He leads us into.

I shared one time before that after I had been out of the ministry sick for a couple of years and had recovered, that one day I stood on the porch at our little condo in Norman and looked out the glass door, thinking about all that I had gone through the past couple of years, and suddenly the words of Psalm 119:71 came out of my mouth: “It was good for me that I was afflicted” — and I could give God thanks even for the “wilderness” time He had brought me through.

Maybe God will lead you to do the same thing in an area of your life today. You’ve gone through something hard — or maybe you are even right now in a difficult situation — but today God wants you to learn to give Him thanks for the good things He is doing in you, in others, and for His ultimate purposes through that difficulty. Psalm 136 shows us that we can “give thanks to Him” — even when He is leading us through the wilderness!

 
VI. FOR HIS CARE FOR ME!

:23 may be my own personal favorite verse from Psalm 136: “Who remembered US in OUR low estate”

You know, it is one thing to know that God did all these things for people back in Israel’s day, or in some other place. It is another thing to see that He does it for ME; right here and right now! And that’s what David says here: “Who remembered US in OUR low estate.” He’s saying, God saw US; God helped US; God did this for US! He made it personal.

Of course that’s the key to salvation. It is not enough to “believe in God.” It is not enough to know that Jesus came to the world to die on the cross for sinners. It is not enough to believe that “God so loved the world.” The devil knows that! The demons know that! You have to make it personal; you have to believe that He did this for YOU; you have to confess YOUR sins, and make Him the Lord of YOUR life. You have to make it personal, and trust that God loves and cares and provides for YOU!

The Bible teaches us that God does have an amazing personal love and care for us — no matter how lowly or unworthy we are. In Genesis 21, Sarah’s servant Hagar had been cast out of the camp, into the wilderness, to die, with her son Ishmael. She wandered in the wilderness until her water was gone, and she left her son under a bush to die, and the Bible says she lifted up her voice and wept. And :17 says “God heard.” And he opened her eyes and showed her a well of water, and she and her son lived. Who was she to be heard by God? A cast-out servant woman, as good as dead at that! And yet God remembered her, in her low estate, and rescued her, just like Psalm 136 says.

That gives hope to every one of us. We may be poor, we may be lowly, we may be undeserving, but God loves us; God hears us. Just like Psalm 136 says, He remembers US in OUR low estate. He sees, He hears, He loves, and He helps and saves US. Not just “the world”; not just everyone else; YOU! ME! US! It’s not just that “God so loved the world” as we saw in John 3:16; it is that “He loved ME and gave Himself for ME as Galatians 2:20 says. We can give God thanks today because of His personal love and care for US!

 
CONCLUSION:
So Psalm 136 begins with Thanksgiving, and it ends with Thanksgiving. It begins, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good”, and it ends: “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” And in between it gives us all these reasons to give God thanks. And really all the things we read here are just the tip of the iceberg. Like the song says, there’s “10,000 Reasons for my heart to find” to bless and thank the Lord!
Jim is going to lead us in our song of invitation, and while we sing, go through this list from Psalm 136, and give God thanks for the 6 things we have talked about this morning — and for the “10,000” other reasons you have to thank Him as well!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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