Have you noticed the repetitive use of repetition in church songs? I find it a bit off-putting. I’m happy enough with repetition if you are trying to remember basic mathematical operations (2×2 is 4, 2×3 is 6 etc.), or a short shopping list, but when it comes to singing praise to God, it is generally uninspiring as far as I’m concerned. Why sing the chorus and some particular lines of a song over and over again. Seems to be mindless and purposeless repetition. Except…
There is a song that uses repetition with real teaching purpose. It is Psalm 136. This Psalm repeats the line “For His mercy endures forever” over and over again, but it takes us somewhere rather than sending us into a circling drone.
It is a Psalm of thanksgiving to the only God there is – to the LORD, to the God of gods, to the LORD of lords (for His mercy endures forever). Then the Psalm starts to list the things for which we should be thankful:–
- God’s goodness in creation, (for His mercy endures forever),
- for making the earth, (for His mercy endures forever),
- the seas, (for His mercy endures forever),
- the sun, (for His mercy endures forever),
- moon and stars (for His mercy endures forever),
- for destroying the first-born of Egypt (for His mercy …)
Oh… that’s a bit of a shock. The Psalm praises God for his mercy in destroying people, killing them? This is mercy? Well, yes. But we need to work through this. We need to think about this.
Long ago, God rescued His people, the descendants of Abraham, from Egypt — a nation that had unjustly enslaved them. God sent Moses to ask for their release. The LORD says, ‘Let my people go.”
The Lord gave nine warning plagues, which were ignored, and then the final judgment against Pharoah: the destruction of the first-born of Egypt.
Israel was set free.
So there is a sense that God’s mercy came to his people at the same time that He judged his enemies. Mercy and judgment come together. But there is more here.
The Israelites were told to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the door posts of their homes. It was the blood of the lamb that prevented the death of the first-born of Israel. The point was that God saved Israel twice. Once from His own anger at their sin, and then from Egyptian slavery. Apart from God, there were no good-guys in the Exodus story. The LORD, according to his own sovereign choice, either saves or destroys his enemies. Because of his promise to Abraham, God saved rebellious Israel from sin and slavery; because of his justice he destroyed rebellious Egypt for their sin against the God of gods.
The good news is, that all people may sing this Psalm with confidence and joy, if they trust themselves to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is King of kings and LORD of lords. By the death and resurrection of Jesus, his people are saved from their sins and the death sin deserves. Jesus saves such from the judgment that their rebellious and war-like actions against Him deserve.
Jesus finished judgment for his people by taking that judgment himself, by bearing their sins in His own body on the cross. At the same time, He confirmed the rightness of the judgement that will come upon all who remain outside of Christ — those who continue in refusing his mercy. At the cross, Jesus saved his people, and defeated his enemies.
In the case of Psalm 136, repetition takes us somewhere. It takes us to Jesus Christ, for His mercy endures forever.