By David Faust
Repetition sounds boring, but it can be a good thing. If a surgeon operates on your heart, you prefer it’s not the first time he wielded a scalpel. When a mechanic tinkers with your car, you’re glad to know he’s worked on other vehicles many times before.
Coaches make their players review the fundamentals again and again. Musicians practice until the notes become second nature to play or sing. Actors rehearse until their words are certain and their delivery flawless.
Jesus warned about heartless prayers that amount to mere “babbling”—what the King James Version calls “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7)—but that doesn’t mean we should never repeat a prayer. It wasn’t vain repetition when Jesus poured out his heart in the Garden of Gethsemane, “saying the same thing” over and over again (26:44). There’s nothing vain about Paul’s admonition, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). And there’s nothing vain about Psalm 136 even though it repeats the same phrase 26 times in 26 verses!
Reasons for Praise
Psalm 136 is an antiphonal hymn. The first part of each verse (probably meant to be sung by a soloist or a choir) urges the worshipper to praise God and mentions a reason why the Lord deserves our praise. Why worship the Lord?
Praise him because there is no other God like him. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. . . . Give thanks to the God of gods. . . . Give thanks to the Lord of lords. . . . to him who alone does great wonders” (vv. 1-4). God’s unparalleled character merits praise.
Praise him because of his creative power. “Who by his understanding made the heavens . . . who spread out the earth upon the waters . . . who made the great lights—the sun to govern the day . . . the moon and stars to govern the night” (vv. 5-9). God’s amazing handiwork calls forth praise.
Praise him because of his interventions in human history—leading the Israelites out of Egypt, parting the Red Sea, providing for his people in the wilderness, judging the enemies of Israel, and leading his people to the promised land (vv. 10-22). God’s steady guidance in human affairs deserves our praise.
Praise him because of his kindness to those who love him. “He remembered us in our low estate . . . and freed us from our enemies. . . . He gives food to every creature. . . . Give thanks to the God of heaven” (vv. 23-26). God’s concern for each individual moves us to praise him.
God’s Abiding Faithfulness
Here’s the repetitive part. Throughout Psalm 136 the second section of each verse (presumably sung by the congregation in response) affirms God’s covenant loyalty, mercy, and love (Hebrew hesed) by repeating, “His love endures forever.”
No other chapter of God’s Word states the same refrain 26 times in a row, but we need constant reminders of God’s enduring love. Skeptics doubt it. Sorrows make us question it. Other priorities tempt us to ignore it. But if there’s anything we ought to repeat over and over again as the theme of our lives, it’s the faithfulness of God. Praise the Lord, “His love endures forever.”
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of the Lookout.
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of THE LOOKOUT.
THELOOKOUT’s Bible Reading Plan for July 8, 2012
Psalms 130, 131
1 Chronicles 15, 16
1 Chronicles 17—19
Psalms 133, 134
1 Chronicles 20—22
1 Thessalonians 1
1 Chronicles 23—25
1 Thessalonians 2:1–9
1 Chronicles 26—28
1 Thessalonians 2:10–20
1 Chronicles 29