“Summaries, Psalms 136-140”

Categories: Bulletin Articles

Psalm 136 is famous for being the most repetitive psalm in the entire book.  It is built around the phrase “for [God’s] steadfast love endures forever.”  “Steadfast love” (also translated as “lovingkindness”, “mercy”, and “faithful love”) is a translation of the Hebrew hesed, a word which has no English equivalent.  It combines the concepts of love and faithfulness to a covenant.  For instance, a husband who displays hesed loves his wife because of the mingling of affection and commitment.

Psalm 136 explains the work of God as the expression of His everlasting hesed.  All that He has ever done in time and space is the result of His love for and His promises to His people.  This includes His work in creation, in delivering the Israelites from bondage, in giving them the land, and in protecting them in the land.  Because He is constant in His love, He is worthy of praise.

Psalm 137 comes from the time of the Babylonian Captivity.  It describes the misery of the captives in Babylon.  The Babylonians are forcing them to sing the songs of Jerusalem even though the Jews are miserable because of Jerusalem’s destruction.  The psalm concludes with a famously raw plea to God to take vengeance on the Edomites, who cooperated with the Babylonians in destroying Jerusalem.  It expresses the wish that someone might do to the children of the Edomites as the Edomites had done to the children of the Jews—cruelly bashing their heads against rocks to kill them. 

Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving to God.  It praises His love and faithfulness because He answered the prayers of the psalmist.  The psalmist predicts that even the kings of the nations will praise Him because of what they have seen of His works.  Even though the psalmist’s life is troubled, God continues to protect him from his enemies.  The psalm concludes with a prayer to God to sustain His protection.

Psalm 139 praises the omniscience and omnipresence of God.  The psalmist states that God knows not only his actions, but also his thoughts.  He knows what the psalmist is going to say before the psalmist does!  Everywhere the psalmist might go, God is there with him, and nothing can conceal him from God’s eyes.  Indeed, God even knew him in his mother’s womb and watched as he was being formed there.

As a result, the psalmist values God and thinks about him all the time.  He asks God to protect him from his enemies and justifies this by pointing out his own faithfulness.  He concludes the psalm by asking God to search his heart and lead him in the paths of eternity.

Psalm 140 is another plea for God’s help in trouble.  The psalmist’s enemies are causing trouble and setting traps for him.  In such a time, the psalmist asks God to hear his prayers while not giving the wicked what they want.  In fact, he asks God to punish them instead.  He concludes the psalm by expressing confidence in God’s justice.