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Something to Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving

It can be difficult to maintain an “attitude of gratitude” when times are tough. An ancient psalm shares the secret to giving thanks—even in the darkest of times.

Something to Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving
The 136th Psalm is a lot of things, but subtle isn’t one of them. Here’s the first stanza:

Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
Oh, give thanks to the God of gods!
For His mercy endures forever.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords!
For His mercy endures forever

(verses 1-3).

And so it goes. That phrase, For His mercy endures forever, appears 26 times in this short psalm, appended to every verse as a constant reminder of the author’s intended theme. If anyone can read through Psalm 136 and still miss the central message, it’s certainly not the psalmist’s fault.

The psalm continues with praise for God’s creation of the universe (“To Him who by wisdom made the heavens, for His mercy endures forever,” verse 5) and His deliverance of Israel from the clutches of Egypt and into the Promised Land (“To Him who led His people through the wilderness, for His mercy endures forever,” verse 16). The last few verses are a sort of general praise for God’s goodness:

Who remembered us in our lowly state,
For His mercy endures forever;
And rescued us from our enemies,
For His mercy endures forever;
Who gives food to all flesh,
For His mercy endures forever.
Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven!
For His mercy endures forever

(verses 23-26).

The psalmist was thankful for hesed

Because the theme of this psalm is so easy to identify (hint: it begins with “For His mercy” and ends with “endures forever”), it’s also easy to ignore. It almost becomes background noise as the psalmist drives it home with all the subtlety of a hammer—and it probably doesn’t help that, at least in modern English, the word mercy is a vague and fuzzy word.

In Hebrew, though, it’s beautiful. The word translated “mercy” here is derived from the Hebrew word hesed (or checed H2617), which means—well, it means something that doesn’t translate particularly well into English. Here it’s translated “mercy,” but it shows up in other verses as “kindness,” “goodness” and even “favor.” Those words all capture aspects of the meaning, but hesed itself is something more.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible renders hesed twice as “covenant loyalty” (Deuteronomy 7:9, 12), and that might be the best translation. In English, mercy can be an extremely arbitrary thing—an emotional reaction, perhaps, or even a whim. But God’s mercy isn’t any of those things. It’s hesed.

God’s approach to covenants

God doesn’t enter into covenants lightly. When He made a covenant with Abraham in the Old Testament, “because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself” (Hebrews 6:13). It was “an everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:7) that would extend not just to Abraham, but to Abraham’s descendants forever. Because Abraham obeyed God, God promised to make Abraham into “a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great. … And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).

Even after Israel, the great nation that descended from Abraham, ultimately rejected and abandoned that covenant (Hosea 6:7), God continued to show hesed. Covenant loyalty. It was through Abraham’s lineage that Jesus Christ was born, and it is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that all the families of the earth will one day be blessed.

The hesed of God is dependable. It is consistent. It is unwavering.That sacrifice marked the beginning of another covenant—a “better covenant” than the one offered to Abraham, because this one was “established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). It’s a covenant that offers forgiveness for our sins (verses 11-12) and the opportunity to live forever in the family of God (Hebrews 12:7-8, 9-10)—and what’s more, it’s an opportunity He intends to offer even to the very nation that failed to live up to His original covenant with Abraham:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

God didn’t give up on His people, even when they gave up on Him. In the future, He is going to restore them to life (Ezekiel 37:11-12) and open their minds to their true potential as His children (verses 13-14).

Why?

Because of hesed. Because of His covenant loyalty. Because His mercy endures forever, far beyond the boundaries you and I might imagine in our minds. “If we are faithless,” wrote Paul, “He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Expressing gratitude for God’s consistency

And that’s the point the psalmist is trying to hit us over the head with in Psalm 136. God’s hesed, His covenant loyalty, endures forever. His love for His people is eternal, unchanging and rooted in an unshakable desire to mold the entire human race into His sons and daughters. There are no whims here, no unpredictable responses driven by wildly fluctuating emotions.

It’s not that He has no standards for us, or that we get to live life with a free pass to do whatever we want. God makes a distinction between those who try and fail to hit the mark and those who continually disregard it. But the point is, the hesed of God is dependable. It is consistent. It is unwavering.

When you enter into a covenant with God, you can count on God to uphold His end of the bargain. He is good … always. He is kind … always. He is patient … always. He is loving and dedicated and merciful … always. It doesn’t depend on the day of the week or the time of day; God’s hesed endures forever. We can depend on it, count on it and trust in it.

This Thursday, the United States will be celebrating its annual observance of Thanksgiving—a holiday established in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Today, more than a century and a half later, we’re going to be observing this day with the backdrop of a turbulent world scene, with tragic news coming at us almost daily from all directions. There is no stability. There is no certainty. There’s rarely even any consistency. How can we give thanks to God in a world as shaky and unsteady as ours?

Give thanks to the Lord for covenant loyalty

The answer is in Psalm 136. Yes, the world is spiraling—but God’s mercy endures forever. Yes, there are evil men out there doing evil things—but God’s mercy endures forever. And, yes, there are moments when hope seems impossible and darkness seems unconquerable—but God’s mercy endures forever.

There’s a reason those words became the chorus of this psalm. In the face of everything, God is stable. God is certain. God is consistent. He has a plan to rescue the world from itself and to heal the pain of the human race. Every day brings us one day closer to the completion of that plan, and that should be high on our list of things to be thankful for.

Surely Paul had the Hebrew concept of hesed in mind when he reminded us in Romans 8:39 that nothing, whether life or death, angels or demons, the present or the future, heights or depths or any other created thing—nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God.

Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His hesed endures forever.

About the Author

Jeremy Lallier

Jeremy Lallier

Jeremy Lallier is a full-time writer working at the Life, Hope & Truth offices in Allen, Texas. He has a degree in information technology, three years’ experience in the electrical field and even spent a few months upfitting police vehicles—but his passion has always been writing (a hobby he has had as long as he can remember). Now he gets to do it full-time for Life, Hope & Truth and loves it. He particularly enjoys writing on Christian living themes—especially exploring what it looks like when God’s Word is applied to day-to-day life. In addition to writing blog posts, he is also the producer of the Life, Hope & Truth Discover video series and regularly writes for Discern magazine.

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