“...His mercy endures forever.” repeated 26 times in Psalm 136
As I was reading through Psalm 136 this morning and kept reading this same set of words over and over again I began to feel like I needed to dig into the original Hebrew of this repeated text to see what exactly the psalmist was getting at as he penned these words time and time again after each preceding remembrance of God's great provision for His people.
I should first point out that the word “endures” is actually not directly translated but it is sandwiched in between the two words “chesedh” which here is represented by the word “mercy” and “ōlām” the word for “forever” as a means to bridge the meaning of the two words together. So, as you look through my study below please do not think I left anything out that would be helpful in shedding more light on this text.
Here is what I found about those two words:
“Chesedh”, according to The Complete Word Study Old Testament by Zodhiates, means “..an act of kindness, love or mercy shown to someone...[where there is a presupposition of an] existence of a relationship between the parties involved. [And] where no formal relationship has previously been recognized, the person exercising chasadh has chosen to treat the recipient as if such a relationship did exist.”
“Ōlām”, also according to The Complete Word Study Old Testament by Zodhiates, describes the “broad range between the remotest time and perpetuity". Basically if you took a time line and stretched it out to infinity both towards the past and the future, this word would describe that time line.
The picture we are left with as we combine these two words and really discern the meaning hidden deep down in them is this: God's kindness, love and mercy towards each of us came about by the choice of Him alone to bridge the gap created by sin so we could come into a relationship with Him and receive these relational gifts from Him. And since God does not change we are guaranteed that just like He granted this “chesedh” in the most remote remembrance of the past, He will grant it into the infinite length of the future.
I think it is interesting that this psalm was one that was often recited as the passover lamb was being slaughtered. It makes the removal of the barrier created by sin all the more meaningful as we now know the type of mercy God wants to give to us - one which comes from a relationship with Him and not just a superior granting of mercy like a distant king or judge.
Our relationship with God is the one thing, above all other things, that will sustain us in His mercy. For that reason we are wise to pursue God first and foremost above all things because without the mercy He grants onto us we become too greatly burdened by our own sinful nature to be anything but a stumbling block in the kingdom. Thankfully, we have an eternal lifetime to experience all the mercy God has to give and the ultimate sacrificial Lamb, Jesus, has taken away the sinful separation that could keep us from receiving God's infinite mercy, yesterday, today and into a forever number of tomorrows.