Love that Endures Forever

Thursday July 14, 2022

Psalm 136

            “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

                        “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

            “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

                        “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

That takes me back over 40 years to my high school days.  The cheerleaders out on the sidelines leading the call and response cheer to help get the crowd involved and pumped up to keep the team motivated.

            Call and response is a part of the culture.  In music, particularly jazz and some rock and roll,  the call and response is a form of music with a long history.  One instrument plays a riff, and another answers back.

            Call and response is a big part of African worship.  I once preached a community service with several hundred in attendance including a sizeable contingent of black worshippers who really got into the call and response and kept me, the preacher, energized.

            The call and response is an old form of worship and Psalm 136 is a great example of how call and response was incorporated into the ancient Hebrew worship tradition.  As you look through this great Psalm of praise and worship it’s all about call and response.  One calls out,  “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good” and the other responds right back, “His love endures forever”.  The other calls back, “Give thanks to the God of gods.” And the other responds: “His love endures forever.” And so it goes, call and response, call and response.  It’s an interactive prayer in two voices and it tells a powerful story of Israel’s gratitude to God for his endless love and mercy and faithfulness to his people.

            With each successive call, this Psalm tells the story of God’s greatness.  God is greater than anything else that people worship.  God’s greatness is revealed by his acts of creation. He made the heavens, the lights, the sun and moon and stars, this part of the Psalm shows God’s universal greatness to all people.  Then, the Psalm shifts to how God reveals his greatness particularly to His people, Israel, by recalling the story of the Exodus and how God showed His faithfulness in delivering his people from slavery.

            With each call revealing God’s creative and saving acts there is a response proclaiming the permanence of God’s love.  The Hebrew word, “hesed” is a challenging one to translate.  If you look at various translations of Psalm 136 you will see it translated as love, mercy, steadfast love and faithfulness.  Hesed is a word so full of meaning that it takes a lot of words to try to capture the fullness of it’s meaning.  And that makes sense.  God’s love and mercy and faithfulness are so great and so dependable that it can’t be contained in one simple definition or translation.

            As you go about your day, pay attention to all of the ways that God reveals his love and mercy and faithfulness to you.  Be sure to give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, His love endures forever. 

            As an added bonus, listen to Michael W. Smith rock out on the song: Forever, which is based on this Psalm: https://youtu.be/3lPdtqgouCc

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

  1.  Choose one element of God’s power or character that is included in the Psalm and think about how God has revealed that to you in your life.
  2. Try writing your own Call and Response Psalm to God.  What parts of God’s story revealed in creation, the Bible and your own life experience would you include in the call?  Which element of God’s character would you magnify in the response?
  3. Do a word study on “Hesed” (Bible Gateway lets you compare multiple translations in parallel – for example, see Psalm 136:1 in various translations).  What would your definition of Hesed sound like?
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