Psalm 136:1-16: God’s Chesed

ChesedThe highest mountain in the world, Everest, stands.  The majestic mountain remains unmoved before your birth and after your death.  So permanent in our minds is this tallest peak, stamping itself into our pathway of neurons.  Still, we are left wanting when comparing Everest to the Creator.  The eternal mystery of God’s being is older than all the mountains.  For His name is Yahweh, a form of “He is,” of always existing.

So, we consider the Creator, but we do not stop at His being or existence.  For we reflect on who He is to understand what He does.  To do this, we must turn to what the all-knowing One reveals to us for, in so doing, we take in what is genuine and sure.

Consider Psalm 136.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!”  The Psalm comes to you as a repeating cadence of sounds, pelting your ears over and again—His steadfast love endures forever.

Is such repetition a mindless recurrence of sound?  No.  The Psalmist wants to drive, to imprint, a truth within you.  The Lord of all gives you His gifts because of His unending love.  Do you realize as much, or does the busyness of everyday life cause you to forget what the Lord tells you, withering as the dust?

Imagine yourself a young person—and your mother passes down a family heirloom to you.  The finest bone china comes your way, handed to you from generations past.  In the set is a beautiful cup and saucer with gold leafing and intricate artwork.  A few weeks go by, and mom stops by for a visit.  To her shock, she finds you using the cup to clean the cat litter box and the saucer as an ashtray!

Are not the plates and cups yours to do with as you will?  Yes.  Still, how should your mother react?  Perhaps, she’ll sit you down and explain the value of such beautiful dinnerware.  The lineage goes way back and reflects who we are as a family.  The value of such fine, bone china is in its proper use.

In the same way, through our Old-Testament reading for today, our Father takes us by the hand and sits us down.  Examine what is before you.  Take value in what is yours.  Learn to use the gifts He grants you.

So, we focus on this “steadfast love” from God, which in Hebrew is chesed.  Read through different Bibles and you will find they can’t agree on how to bring out the various facets within the word, chesed.  The ESV uses “love,” but clarifies its focus by adding “steadfast.”  For others, His love becomes “loyal” or “gracious.”  For another, we find, not “love,” but “loving kindness,” showing the Almighty’s disposition is not an emotion but an action, something He does.

The old King James Version uses a word many of us grew up with, “mercy.”  Sometimes, we use words so often we forget what they mean.  Think of mercy and grace as two sides of a coin.  Not getting the punishment, the bad, you deserve, is mercy.  The flipside is grace—receiving undeserved gifts and goodies.

The Lord’s mercy never ends—but to capture the content of this truth, you may need to use a long phrase.  Perhaps, something like, “God’s undeserved, enduring love in action.”  The best definition leaves us wanting.  So the Psalm takes us back to the beginning, to give us a moving pictorial to help portray to us the Father’s enduring love.

First, we find a creating love.  The Psalm bids us, “Give thanks to Him.”  For only He does such wonders, making the heavens and forming the earth on the waters.  By His hand, the sun to rule by day and the moon and stars to rule by night, come into being.

In a few, swift strokes, we sense how His eternal love put the universe into place.  No guide wires or trusses hold the planets in their orbits.  Still, they move, ever in motion, following their yearly cycles, a grand wonder of cosmic amazement.

Yes, God is the Creator of the universe—but also more!  For He is a loving Father, who made us, as well!  The mystery of the inner workings of the human body rival what is in the grandness of the universe.  More than a remarkable architect, He also keeps us in His care.  The years pass, centuries blink like they are but a day, and He keeps feeding and renewing His creation, including us, His children.

Still, I ask you this: “How does one respond to such a reality?”  Trust, trust in His care.  So, examine your life.  How much anxiety and worry drive what you do?  Now, much of what you, you should be doing, but what is your motivation?  Don’t let fear move you when you can live in faith.  Don’t let apprehension mold your movements.

The Lord’s loyal love remains into eternity.  So, let’s live in His promises.  Think back.  In years past, many parents taught their children to pray these words after every meal.  “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”

Every meal reminds you God’s love is providing.  So, whether through others, your abilities, or opportunities, He is meeting your needs.  The Creator’s love prevails.

Such is our Father, but how are we as His children?  Recorded in history, we find the opposite being lived out by those made in His image!  Go back to the beginning.  The jealousy of one brother, Cain, brought him to kill the other, Abel.

Later, freed from slavery by God, His own still did not trust Him.  Too scared to go into the Promised Land, lacking faith, they also complain: Give us something better to eat!

The one, whom the Lord makes into a king, David, murders another to hide a sexual affair.  Later, years later, the rugged disciple of Jesus, Peter, denies his Lord in fear for his life.  The love of our Creator bears such suffering from the hand of His creation.

Oh, the lies we tell, if not to deceive, we color something more to our favor.  The angry words we spew from our mouths, which contradict our faith.  Beaten down by life, we soon realize who the god of this world is and the power he brings.  So, we bow to the Dollar, instead of the real God, who wants to bless you with His gifts.  Need I go on?

Sometimes, when we only think our sins are what we think or do, we consider them trivial.  Oh, I think I do something wrong, two or three times a day.  Hmm, three a day.  In a year the total becomes about a thousand, with 70 or 80 thousand in a lifetime.

Where does our thinking go awry?  More than only what we do, sin is also who we are—in our corrupted flesh apart from Christ.  So, the disease infects everything we do.  For apart from our Savior’s forgiveness and cleansing, everything we do becomes rancid before the Righteous One.  In His eyes, every breath you take and every move you make comes with the ruin of sin.

From the best of us, the Creator’s faithful love receives abuse, from us, His creatures!  Not to be evermore downcast, the Psalm instills us with hope, “His love endures forever.”  The next few verses show us how, by recording the redeeming love of God.

For our God struck Israel’s enemies and rescued His chosen with a strong hand and outstretched arm.  The Red Sea divides, and He leads Israel through, hurling Pharaoh and his army into the waters.  Now, they enter the desert, and He feeds them manna to strengthen them for their journey into the Promised Land.

In faithfulness, the Almighty kept His promise and rescued His people from their bondage through the waters of the Red Sea.  So, His people live, their enemy now defeated.  The Lord does the same for you, which the words in 1 Corinthians 10 reveal.

Now I want you to remember, brothers, our ancestors all walked under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.  [How?]  By being baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea.  All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from a spiritual rock following them, the rock being Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1-4]

In the water, through Moses, God baptized His chosen, freeing them from their slavery to Pharaoh.  For us, God unites the saving work of His Son on the cross through baptism, freeing us from our slavery to Satan in the water.

What happens next?  The Israelites receive spiritual food and drink, coming to them in real food and swallowed liquid.  In their eating and drinking, whom or what did they receive?  The Scripture reveals, “Christ.”  The Savior to come came to them as they made their way to the Promised Land.

So, also with us.  After the baptismal waters, we consume Christ in His Supper.  Like the Israelites of old, the spiritual comes to us in the physical, in the food God gives us to eat and to drink.  The result?  The Lord fits us for the Promised Land of eternity.

Now, the Israelites chose to walk in their sin and unbelief, so most of them did not enter the place the Father pledged to them.  The same can happen to us if we live in unrepentance and choose to remain in sin—but why do so?  The Lord is merciful, abounding in love—and our trust in Him brings us to live in His grace, not to despise what He provides.

The enduring love of God becomes real to us in Jesus, for His constant love perseveres into eternity.  So, don’t let a sinful world or a faltering faith dismay you, for His eternal love is always enduring.  Such love is at work in you, and in all who rely on Jesus for their salvation.

Take in and understand what God gives to you, for His faithful love perseveres, unending.  Value His love, give thanks, and live in and live out your life from what He delivers to you in His grace.  For you can’t wear Him out, He’s everlasting.  Amen.


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