Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
At first glance, Psalm 136 is a psalm of thanksgiving. In the New Living Translation, 12 times this psalm exhorts us to “give thanks” to God. (In the original Hebrew, the imperative form of the verb yadah shows up only four times, but it is implied in many other verses. No other psalm uses this imperative as often.)
What does it mean to give thanks to God? Commonly, we give thanks to someone who has done something for us. Thanksgiving acknowledges a person for acting in a positive way. We see this sense of thanksgiving in Psalm 136. Verse 5, for example, reads, “Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully.” Our thanks acknowledges God’s action in creation and gives him appropriate credit.
Yet the use of “give thanks” in Psalm 136 goes beyond our ordinary sense of thanksgiving. Consider the first verse, for example: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” Though one might rightly note that God’s goodness and faithful love are communicated through his actions, this verse connects thanksgiving, not specifically to what God has done, but to who God is. We are to give thanks, not just because God has done good things for us, but because God is good.
Thus, Psalm 136 takes us beyond thanksgiving to a deeper acknowledgement, not only of God’s actions, but also of God’s nature. The Hebrew verb yadah, translated here as “give thanks,” means more than “acknowledge someone when that person does something good for you.” It has the sense of speaking out what is true. Thus, beyond saying “thank you” to God when God blesses us, we are to confess his goodness, his grace, his beauty, his grandeur.
Practically speaking, thanksgiving often leads us to deeper praise. When we think of what God has done for us, we can’t hold back our gratitude. But, even more, our consideration of God’s actions helps us to reflect upon God’s nature. God does good for us because God is good. Thus, thanksgiving opens the door to praise by bringing to mind God’s character.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Why do you think Scripture calls us to praise God? What is the purpose of praise? What helps you to praise God?
PRAYER: Indeed, Lord, you have done good things for me, more than I can comprehend. You deserve every bit of gratitude I communicate, and far more. Yet, as I offer thanks to you, I am reminded of who you are. I turn from meditating on your works to meditating on you. My praise flows when I let your character fill my mind and heart, and therefore my mouth.
All praise be to you, O God, for who you are. You are a God of justice and mercy, of power and tenderness, of holiness and presence. Indeed, your faithful love endures forever! Amen.
Here’s how . . . .
This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org). You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.