Psalm 136

Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good;

His love lasts forever

Give thanks to the God of gods;

His love lasts forever

Give thanks to the Ruler of rulers;

His love lasts forever

To the one who alone makes great marvels

His love lasts forever

To the one who made the skies by his skill;

His love lasts forever

To the one who laid out the land over the waters;

His love lasts forever

To the one who lit the great lights;

His love lasts forever

The sun for dominion over the day;

His love lasts forever

The moon and the stars for mastery over the night.

His love lasts forever

To the one who slaughtered the first-born of Egypt;

His love lasts forever

To the one who made Israel come out from the midst of them;

His love lasts forever

With a hard hand and an attacking arm;

His love lasts forever

To the one who split the Sea of Reeds;

His love lasts forever

And made Israel pass through the midst of it;

His love lasts forever

And tossed Pharaoh and his troops into the Sea of Reeds.

His love lasts forever

To the one who directed his people through the desert;

His love lasts forever

To the one who cut down great kings;

His love lasts forever

Who killed noble kings;

His love lasts forever

Sihon king of the Amorites;

His love lasts forever

And Og the king of Bashan;

His love lasts forever

Handing over their land as an inheritance;

His love lasts forever

As an inheritance for Israel his slave;

His love lasts forever

To the one who in our wretchedness remembered us;

His love lasts forever

And snatched us from our enemies;

His love lasts forever

To the one who gives food to all flesh;

His love lasts forever

O give thanks to the God of heaven;

His love lasts forever

This is a very tightly structured piece of liturgy, with the refrain being chanted by a group or congregation and the verses by perhaps solo voices. The love emphasised is Yahweh’s for Israel, rather than his love for creation, although his care for all flesh is mentioned at the end. The verses all begin with participial verbs, detailing actions of Yahweh.

We perhaps find ourselves taking a sharp breath when the slaughtering of Egypt’s first born is followed by “his love lasts forever.” Of course, yes, the Egyptians had enslaved the Israelites, but the death of all their first-born seems an amount of collateral damage that even Mr. Putin would find hard to justify. We are reminded that the Biblical story does just that.

It’s not that Israel denied God’s love for humanity, but rather that his love had to work through Israel. In them, all human families would be blessed. Other nations therefore should be careful how they treated God’s chosen.

Here Israel gives thanks that in every circumstance of history, God’s love is present and will last.

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