O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:1
Long before Thanksgiving was observed as an annual event in North America, the Israelites of old gave thanks to God after bringing in the harvest. “Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine” (Deut. 16:13). The feast of tabernacles pointed forward to the day when God will tabernacle with men in the new heavens and the new earth. Evidently, the picture of the harvest pointed the Old Testament saints to the reality of God’s gracious salvation. We do well then to see God’s abundant provision in the context of His mercy towards us.
Some make it a practice on Thanksgiving Day to mention various things for which we are thankful. It is good to thank the Lord for family, friends, food, shelter, and clothing. But if we stop there, without reference to the ultimate goal for all these things, we fall far short of the thankfulness we owe to God. If we are not thankful for God’s mercy, we cannot be truly thankful for anything. On the other hand, if we are thankful for God’s mercy, we will be thankful for everything.
Psalm 136, as a whole, is an exhortation to give thanks to the Lord. The psalm begins with three calls to give thanks: “O give thanks unto the Lord,” followed by “O give thanks unto the God of gods,” and then again, “O give thanks unto the Lord of lords.” And lest we forget what the psalm was about, the inspired psalmist closes the psalm with, “O give thanks unto the God of heaven.”
The unmistakable matter for which we ought to give thanks is God’s enduring mercy. The idea is so important when it comes to expressing proper thanks to God that the psalmist repeats the refrain no less than 26 times: “for His mercy endureth for ever.” God calls us to thank Him for mercy. The word “mercy” in the psalm refers to God’s lovingkindness and tender affection.
He is tenderly affected toward Himself as the highest and sole good. Thus, mercy is God’s in a special way. Mercy is one of His perfections at the very core of His being. Thank Him for who He is in Himself.
Then thank Him that He shows mercy to us. In His lovingkindness and tender affection, God wills us to be perfectly blessed in Him. He wills for us to taste His own blessedness. Thank Him for covenant mercy.
Thank Him for compassion that delivered us. He remembered us in the past even when we were guilty and corrupt sinners. He knew we were His enemies, but He still loved us. He remembered the mercy promised to our forefathers. He remembered His holy covenant. He visited and redeemed His people through His only begotten Son. He paid the ransom for our sins on the cross. Thank God, He remembered us.
Thank Him too that He remembers us in our low estate today! He delivers us from our enemies. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). He applies that salvation to us by His Spirit. He grants the verdict in our hearts that our sins are fully covered. He works in us to fit us for heaven. Thank God for present mercies.
Even more wonderful is this mercy to us knowing that it endures for ever!
In reading the psalm, we might tire of the repetition regarding the truth of God’s mercy; but that would be a wrong response. In fact, the repetition provides a powerful picture of the enduring nature of God’s mercy. Not a phrase falls off the lips of the psalmist without the mention of God’s enduring mercy. Every work that God has done in history flows from God’s mercy to His people.
Never are we so far from God that His mercy and goodness are not with us. Even as the sun gives its light though its rays are blocked by the clouds, so too we may not always see God’s mercy and experience it consciously, but it always pursues us. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps. 23:6). Goodness and mercy are like two shepherd dogs that constantly watch and guide the sheep. God’s goodness and mercy relentlessly pursue us.
How can we be so sure that mercy will always follow us? Because God is good. He is good in Himself. But that means He is also the overflowing fountain of all good. He is good yesterday, today, and tomorrow; the fountain of His mercy never runs dry.
Wonderfully, we can see God’s mercy!
Mercy is not an abstract thing hidden in eternity. We see His mercy in all His works.
God’s people of old saw His mercy in the great wonders He performed (cf. v. 4). Give thanks to God, who by wisdom made the heavens, that stretched out the earth above the waters, that made the sun, moon, and stars. All of these things are manifestations of God’s mercy. He stretched out the dry land above the waters in order to give us a place to live and for Him to display His mercy. He made the sun to warm the earth and lighten our day in order to provide for us and show us His mercy. Thank God for the manifestation of God’s mercy in His creation.
But, thank Him especially for His gracious redemption. God gives us a picture of that plan in His redemption of Israel out of Egypt. God delivered them from a horrible bondage. He preserved them in the wilderness. He blessed them with a land flowing with milk and honey.
Mercy is why Jesus came into the world and suffered God’s terrible wrath on the cross to redeem us. At no time in history was mercy more clearly displayed than when Jesus Christ suffered the torments that we deserved in order to deliver us.
O, give thanks for His mercy manifested to us and reaching us in the midst of our misery! Though we deserve to be damned for our sins, mercy delivers us from the guilt and from the powerful grip of sin. Mercy preserves us through the wilderness of this world in the midst of trial and hardship. And, mercy will give us the full blessedness of heaven.
Mercy conquers all our enemies!
It was not Israel’s strength that overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea. It was not Israel’s strength that conquered Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan, those great and famous kings. God conquered these enemies! So too, God sets His mercy on us and nothing can stand in its way. Not the Devil. Not the world. Not my own sinful flesh. Nothing can stop God’s mercy from coming to us.
Just as God gives food to all flesh, He cares for us. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” (Matt. 10:29). If God never forgets the sparrows, then certainly He watches over us. He upholds and governs all things in the whole of creation, in order to manifest His mercy to His children.
Glorious enduring mercy!
In light of the gracious manifestation of such glorious enduring mercy, surely we owe it to God to give thanks to Him. That is why the psalmist commands us to “give thanks.”
Sometimes the same word is translated “be thankful.” Other times the word is translated as a command to “praise.” The Hebrew root has the meaning of casting or throwing with the hand. From there, it gets the idea of broadcasting. That is what God would have us do: broadcast the message. From the heart, openly and publicly acknowledge God’s tender affection towards us. Do not keep it a secret. God’s mercy is too marvelous for that. Gratefully acknowledge what is certainly true: God is a merciful God! Tell others, He has been merciful to me!
To whom must we give thanks? Give thanks unto the Lord. Give thanks to Jehovah, the great I AM. Our faithful covenant God deserves our gratitude. Give thanks to Him who is infinitely above us. Give thanks that He condescends to us poor creatures of the dust.
“O give thanks unto the God of gods.” He is supreme and mighty above all thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, and all that are called gods. “O give thanks unto the Lord of lords.” The Lord rules providentially over all rulers. The very rulers who rule over us must answer to Him. “O give thanks unto the God of heaven.” The God who rules in heaven must also rule over all the earth. The kings and kingdoms of the earth must serve His purposes. Give thanks to Him together. The original command is given in the plural. Gratefully acknowledge His mercy in the congregation.
Give thanks together because He remembers us and redeems us as one body, joined together. Yes, in private too; but especially in unison.
What a glorious imperative in the text! To be told to do what I love to do. I want to praise my God for His mercy.
Even by means of this imperative, our new man is made more willing to give God the praise that is due. He is made willing to think on the enduring mercy of our faithful covenant God. He is made willing to give thanks for the harvest and the bountiful supply of food and things we enjoy each day in light of that mercy.
Now come back around the table again and think about all the things we are thankful for. We might have family, friends, food, shelter, health, fame, and riches; but if we lack God’s mercy, we are truly miserable creatures. “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). Take away God’s mercy and all the things in the world become a curse to us.
On the other hand, take away all the things connected with this life. But, if we have God’s mercy, then we have a mountain for which to give thanks. Give thanks to God for His enduring mercy.
Let us give thanks for all the things God gives us. But do not forget God’s enduring mercy that flows out of His goodness. That is bringing us to dwell in His house forever.