Psalm 136

Every verse of this psalm of thanksgiving concludes with an expression respecting the abiding nature of God’s steadfast love, compassionate care, or “mercy” (LXX). It may be that the Levite musicians would sing the first part, and then the assembled worshipers would sing the refrain (“for his compassionate care [continues] forever.”) At the beginning, the Septuagint includes the transliteration for “praise Yah [the abbreviated form of YHWH]” (Hallelujah), but the expression does not appear in the Masoretic Text. The psalm focuses on God’s creative works and major events from his activity with his people.

YHWH is “good,” the ultimate in moral excellence, without even the minutest trace of badness. This is rightly a reason for appreciatively acknowledging him or giving thanks to him, for he is the source of all that is good.

He is the “God of gods,” for all the other gods worshiped among the nations were nonexistent, the products of human imagination. As the “Lord of lords,” he is far superior to all whom humans may call “lord.”

YHWH alone does “great wonders.” These wonders would include his creative activity and his acts of deliverance.

As the possessor of all knowledge and wisdom, YHWH made the “heavens” or all that the psalmist could see when looking at the sky during the day or at night.

God “spread out” (“established,” LXX) the earth or land on the waters. This probably is to be understood to mean that God caused the dry land to rise above the waters. (Compare Genesis 1:9, 10.)

He alone made the great lights. These are the “lights” that appear as the largest orbs during the day and at night—the sun and the moon.

By providing light, the sun rules the day, and the moon and stars rule the night. The psalmist perceived this to be according to God’s arrangement.

To deliver his people, YHWH struck down the firstborn of the Egyptians. He then brought Israel out from among their Egyptian enslavers, doing so with his “strong hand” and “outstretched arm” (“exalted arm,” LXX) or his mighty power.

He parted the Red Sea, making it possible for Israel to pass through the midst of it on dry land. YHWH then overthrew Pharaoh and his force.

In the wilderness, God led his people, providing for them food and water in a barren land that could not have sustained them with their animals. Although the Masoretic Text does not include the point about Israel’s being miraculously supplied with water, Rahlfs’ text of the Septuagint adds that he “brought forth water from hard rock.”

YHWH enabled his people to be victorious over “great kings.” Therefore, the psalmist attributed the victory to him. These “great kings” were also “majestic kings” (“mighty kings,” LXX), well-known for the power they wielded. The psalmist identified them as “Sihon, king of the Amorites,” and “Og, king of Bashan.” These monarchs ruled over land east of the Jordan. Sihon’s dominion basically extended from the Arnon to the Jabbok, whereas Og’s realm was situated between the Jabbok and Mount Hermon. (Numbers 21:23, 24; Deuteronomy 3:3-5, 8-10; Joshua 12:2-5)

God gave the land of Sihon and Og to Israel, specifically the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, as their inheritance. (Deuteronomy 3:12, 13) The psalmist referred to Israel as God’s “servant.”

The period of Israel’s “low condition” evidently denotes the time of the Judges when the people repeatedly experienced foreign oppression on account of their unfaithfulness. Nevertheless, YHWH “remembered” them, responding to their cries for aid. He delivered them from their foes.

YHWH also proved himself to be a provider, giving “food to all flesh.” The psalmist’s words are an acknowledgment that YHWH is the one who makes the land produce food for humans and animals.

The psalm concludes with the imperative to “give thanks to the God of heaven.” Rahlfs’ text of the Septuagint adds, “Give thanks to the Lord of lords.” (See the Notes section regarding the verb for “give thanks.”)


See Psalm 1 for comments concerning the divine name (YHWH).

The Greek word exomologéo, which appears in verses 1, 2, 3 and 26, basically means “acknowledge” or “confess.” In this context, the term denotes an appreciative acknowledgment and so may be understood to signify the giving of thanks. The Hebrew word (yadáh) thus rendered is understood to mean “praise,” “thank,” or “confess.”