And, sadly, what an often misunderstood, misapplied, define-it-the-way-we-want-to thing. For many, God's love is thought of as nothing more than mushy, sweet emotions God has for everybody; as in God wishes the best for everybody, hopes things turn out great for everyone, etc. Their understanding is that God leaves it all up to us, but genuinely oozes happy thoughts for all people. In fact, some even see God as helpless to make things work out for people (because they just won't let him) and the result is a sad, confused ("Why won't they let me help them be happy?"), frustrated God. What a dishonoring view of God, and an idea foreign to Scripture (remember, the Bible is God's revelation to us of who he is)!
God's love is not the same as (merely) happy thoughts. In Scripture God has revealed to us that his love is personal, unrelenting, and powerful. In love God makes decisions about people (Ephesians 1:4-5), sends his Son to make those decisions happen (Ephesians 1:7-8), gives his Spirit to apply those love-birthed decisions and guarantee that it works out as God decreed (Ephesians 1:13-14). God's steadfast love never fails to accomplish God's glorious purpose. His love is emotion and happy thoughts - but more! - God's love is unfailing action for the good of those on which he has set his affection!
In reading Psalm 136 this morning it hit me how God's steadfast love for some people means not so happy things for other people. Have you ever thought of the implications of God's unrelenting, steadfast love for specific people - upon those who are his enemies?
Psalm 136 is the one that has 26 verses telling about how good God is. And in all 26 of those verses it gives the reason God did what he did: "for his steadfast love endures forever." By the end of the psalm we have read "for his steadfast love endures forever" over and over (26 times!) and we have applied to an amazing array of situations; some of which are very surprising!
We see in this psalm a display of God's general love for all of his creation. We are told that because his "steadfast love endures forever," God made the heavens (v5), made the sun and moon (vs 8-9), and even gives food to all flesh (v25). This is a glorious thing in itself! But unfortunately this is the extent of many people's idea of God's love. The rest of Psalm 136 seeks to remedy this incomplete view of the love of God.
We are taught that God may have a general love for all of his creation, in that he provides good things for people whether they worship him or not, but he has a specific love that works on behalf of his own people - those he is in covenant with. This makes sense. Speaking merely in human terms I have a general love for people. But I have a different kind of love for my wife, a love that no other person can (or should) receive. My love for my wife is special to me, and brings me great delight. Christ also has a bride - his church (Ephesians 5:25)! God's general love is amazing, but his special covenant love with his own people defies description!
In Psalm 136 God's special covenant people who are the objects of his specific steadfast love is the nation of Israel. God made a promise to Abraham that he would make a nation of his descendants and bless all peoples. The Messiah would come through this people! God is not just a God of words and promises, but of action! Because of his steadfast love (that endures forever) God acted on behalf of his convenant people, again and again (and again)! This is what Psalm 136 celebrates!
Look at some of the awesome ways God showed his steadfast love to his covenant people, and consider the implications of this covenant love for Israel's enemies:
- who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever (v10)
- to him who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever; and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures forever; but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever (vs 13-15)
- and killed mighty kings, for his steadfast love endures forever (v18) [it even names these kings God killed in the next 2 verses!]
- and gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures forever (v21)
- and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever (v24).
Finally, let me say that although Psalm 136 speaks of God's special love for those who were under his old covenant (Israel), God has now made known a special, steadfast love for those who are in his new covenant in Christ! Christ did away with the old and shed his blood at the cross, purchasing a new covenant people. He did this in love! "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). "Care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
If you have repented of your sins and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, then God has included you in the covenant and has set on you his awesome steadfast love! But if you are continuing in your sins and rejecting Christ, you are not in the covenant and not under God's special saving love. Be warned! If you do not repent and trust Christ you will never know this wonderful love of God, but only his wrath and fury (John 3:36). Come to Christ!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!