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Psalm 136:1-9

1. Praise Jehovah, for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever. 2. Praise the God of gods, for his mercy endureth for ever. 3.. Praise the Lord of Lords, 171171     “The three first verses of this Psalm contain the three several names of the Deity, which are commonly rendered Jehovah, God, and Lord, respectively; the first having reference to his essence as self-existent, and being his proper name; the second designating him under the character of a Judge or of an all-powerful being, if Aleim be derived from Al; and the third, Adoni, representing him as exercising rule.” Cresswell. for his mercy endureth for ever. 4. Who alone hath done great wonders, for his mercy endureth for ever, 5. Who made the heavens by his wisdom, [or, intelligently,] for his mercy endureth for ever. 6. Who stretcheth out the earth above the waters, for his mercy endureth for ever. 7. Who made the great lights, for his mercy endureth for ever. 8. The sun for rule by day, for his mercy endureth for ever. 9. The moon and stars for rule by night for his mercy endureth for ever.

 

1. For his mercy, 172172     Jebb observes, that “the 136th Psalm is altogether peculiar in its construction, as it has the recurrence of the same words, ‘For everlasting is his mercy,’ at the end of every distich.” He adds, that “this elaborate artifice of construction seems characteristic of that later period which comprised the captivity and restoration;” although he at the same time admits, that it is to be found in Psalms of an earlier date than the Baby-lonish captivity, quoting a passage in the account of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, which informs us, that the whole choir of Israel united in praising God “for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever:” and observing that this expression forms the.commencement of three other Psalms, the Psalm 106, Psalm 107, and Psalm 118. In his remarks on the Psalm 119, after adverting to the alphabetical character of that Psalm, he adds, “There are other artifices of construction observable in the Psalms and Hymns composed in these later ages of the Church. For example, that repetition of the same words and clauses, and the frequent recurrence of a characteristic word, so frequent in the Greater Hallel, [from the Psalm 111 to Psalm 118th, inclusive,] and in the Songs of Degrees: and in a continually recurring burden, in each distich, as in the Song of the three Children, and Psalm 136, which latter is unique in the Psalter. It has been the tendency of the poetry of most countries, in the progress of time, to make its characteristic features depend less upon the exactness of sentimental arrangement, and more upon some external artifice, whether this be prosodial metre, alliteration, rhyme, assonance, or the recurrence of a burthen. Now, though the poetry of the Scriptures, because it was inspired, never declined from the perfection of its sentimental construction, still those artificial contrivances, practiced, indeed, in earlier times, seem to have been more prevalent at the time of the captivity, and the time immediately following, than heretofore. It was probably so ordained, for the purpose of assisting the memories of the Jews, who at Babylon were excluded from the open exercise of their religion, and from public teaching, and, therefore, required more private helps, which could be more easily communicated orally from parents to children, or from masters to disciples.” — Jebb’s Translation of the Psalms, etc., volume 2. etc. The insertion of this clause again and again in so many short and abrupt sentences, may seem a vain repetition, but verses repeated by way of chorus are both allowed and admired in profane poets, and why should we object to the reiteration in this instance, for which the best reasons can be shown, Men may not deny the divine goodness to be the source and Fountain of all their blessings, but the graciousness of his bounty is far from being fully and sincerely recognised, though the greatest stress is laid upon it in Scripture. Paul in speaking of it, (Romans 3:23,) calls it emphatically by the general term of the glory of God, intimating, that while God should be praised for all his works, it is his mercy principally that we should glorify. It is evident from what we read in sacred history, that it was customary for the Levites according to the regulation laid down by David for conducting the praises of God, to sing by response, “for his mercy endureth for ever.” The practice was followed by Solomon in the dedication of the Temple, (2 Chronicles 7:3, 6,) and by Jehoshaphat in that solemn triumphal song mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:21, of the same book. [Before proceeding to recite God’s works, the Psalmist declares his supreme Deity, and dominion, not that such comparative language implies that there is anything approaching] Deity besides him, but there is a disposition in men, whenever they see any part of his glory displayed, to conceive of a God separate from him, thus impiously dividing the Godhead into parts, and even proceeding so far as to frame gods of wood and stone. There is a depraved tendency in all to take delight in a multiplicity of gods. For this reason, apparently, the. Psalmist uses the plural number, not only in the word אלהים, Elohim, but in the word אדונים, Adonim, so that it reads literally, praise ye the Lords of Lords: he would intimate, that the fullest perfection of all dominion is to be found in the one God.

4. Who alone hath done great wonders Under this term he comprehends all God’s works from the least to the greatest, that he may awaken our admiration of them, for notwithstanding the signal marks of inconceivably great wisdom and divine power of God which are inscribed upon them we are apt through thoughtlessness to undervalue them. He declares that whatever is worthy of admiration is exclusively made and done by God, to teach us that we cannot transfer the smallest portion of the praise due to him without awful sacrilege, there being no vestige of divinity in the whole range of heaven and earth with which it is lawful to compare or equal him. He then proceeds to praise the wisdom of God, as particularly displayed in the skill with which the heavens are framed, giving evidence in a surprising degree of the fine discrimination with which they are adorned. 173173     “Les cieux sont composez d’un si excellent et bel artifice, qu’ils crient que c’est d’une facon admirable qu’ils ont este ornez d’une si plaisante distinction.” — Fr. Next he comes to speak of the earth, that he may lead us to form a proper estimate of this great and memorable work of God, stretching forth as it does a bare and dry superficies above the waters. As these elements are of a spherical form, the waters, if not kept within their limits, would naturally cover the earth, were it not that God has seen fit to secure a place of habitation for the human family. This philosophers themselves are forced to admit as one of their principles and maxims. 174174     “De mettre ceci entre lents principes et maximes.” — Fr. The earth’s expanded surface, and the vacant space uncovered with water, has been justly considered therefore one of the great wonders of God. And it is ascribed to his mercy, because his only reason for displacing the waters from their proper seat was that regard which he had in his infinite goodness for the interests of man.

7. Who made the great lights, etc. — Moses calls the sun and moon the two great lights, and there is little doubt that the Psalmist here borrows the same phraseology. What is immediately added about the stars, is, as it were, accessory to the others. It is true, that the other planets are larger than the moon, but it is stated as second in order on account of its visible effects. The Holy Spirit had no intention to teach astronomy; and, in proposing instruction meant to be common to the simplest and most uneducated persons, he made use by Moses and the other Prophets of popular language, that none might shelter himself under the pretext of obscurity, as we will see men sometimes very readily pretended an incapacity to understand, when anything deep or recondite is submitted to their notice. Accordingly, as Saturn though bigger than the moon is not so to the eye owing to his greater distance, the Holy Spirit would rather speak childishly than unintelligibly to the humble and unlearned. The same remark may be made upon what the Psalmist adds regarding God’s having assigned the sun and moon their respective parts, making the one to rule the day, and the other to rule the night, by which we are not to understand that they exercise any government, but that the administrative power of God is very manifest in this distribution. The sun in illuminating the earth through the day, and the, moon and stars by night, may be said to yield a reverential homage to God.


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