Psalm 136 picks up Psalm 118’s repetition of the phrase “His lovingkindness is everlasting” in its opening verses and takes it to its logical conclusion: repeating it throughout the whole song. The result is a call-and-response worship song that is sure to get the whole ancient Hebrew congregation bouncing. It inspired the song “Forever,” written by Chris Tomlin and performed by Michael W. Smith on his 2001 album Worship. “Forever” repeats the line “His love endures forever” throughout the verses, but while it focuses on God’s faithfulness, power, and compassion for humankind in general, Psalm 136 is specifically a song from Israel’s history about Israel’s history.
Like yesterday’s, today’s psalm also has a verse that you may recognize from elsewhere. The line “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (111:10) is better known as Proverbs 9:10, and I could rehash discussions of to what extent “fear” means simple respect and awe, or contrast human wisdom with “the wisdom that comes from heaven” (James 3:17). But I know you guys, and you’ve probably heard those points to absolute death. So let’s try to discover something new here.
I’ve noticed that when a psalm enjoins its hearers to worship, it generally gives a reason why. As anyone with a two-year-old can attest, it’s human nature to ask “Why?” and the psalmists know their audience. After all, the psalmists are human beings, too. They’ve asked why God is worth worshipping, and they’ve not only found reasons, but they’ve also found that God doesn’t want people to worship him for no reason. In Psalm 105, the reason of the day is God’s great deeds, as the psalmist states: “Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth” (105:5). Specifically, it’s God’s work in Israel’s history: his covenant with Abraham to give his people the land of Canaan, how he protected them from pagan nations, and how Joseph and Moses were instrumental in God’s fulfillment of his promise.
How many gods are there? Just one. But also several.
I read an article this morning about the Social Survival Mammoth, which keeps you from doing stuff that will make people kick you out of your tribe and leave you to fend for yourself in the wild where you will probably starve or be eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. It’s largely useless to listen to your Social Survival Mammoth these days, as there is lots of food and the saber-toothed tiger is extinct, but we still do. And I am trying to write this post, wanting to write a good post that you will get something out of, and not wanting to write a bad post that you will ignore and not like and that will cause you to stop following my blog, and that’s my Social Survival Mammoth talking. God does not have a Social Survival Mammoth.
Today’s chapter is about fasting. It comes as a response to Israel’s complaint: “Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?” (58:3). Remember yesterday, when God accused his people of forgetting him? Today, they’re all, “Nah, God, we remember you! We’ve been fasting and humbling ourselves! Come on, why are you ignoring us?”
If yesterday was a knock on Babylon’s gods, today is a knock on their rulers.
Reading today’s chapter, you may have questions from the very first verse–heck, from the first word. The passage begins: “Bel has bowed down, Nebo stoops over” (46:1). Who is Bel? Who is Nebo? Fortunately, we live in a world of information at our fingertips, and with a quick search I found our answer. They’re Babylonian deities.
Now we’re actually ready for Isaiah 45. As happens entirely too often, now that I’ve gotten out my reading shovel and dug into the passage, I’m not sure what to carry back out for the blog post. But when in doubt, ask what the passage teaches you about God. There’s a bit in the beginning about God using King Cyrus of Persia without his knowledge, but the meat of the passage concerns God’s strength and how his provision for Israel will show that strength to the foreign nations, so let’s take a look at that.
Yesterday’s chapter from Isaiah focused on God’s greatness and power. Building on the foundation that God is strong enough to come to his people’s aid, today’s chapter emphasizes that he’s good enough to come to his people’s aid.