Psalm 136:1-16

Psalm 136:1-16
Maundy Thursday – A Women’s Lectionary


O give thanksA to the Lord,B for he is good,C

Notes on verse 1a

A “give thanks” = yadah. From yad (hand). This is to throw one’s hands into the air in a gesture of praise. So, it is to praise, give thanks, or make a confession.
B “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.
C “good” = tob. From tob (to be pleasing, to be good). This is good, beautiful, pleasant, agreeable, bountiful, at ease. This word is used for goodness as a concept, a good thing, a good person. This can refer to prosperity and welfare as well as joy, kindness, sweetness, and graciousness. So, this is ethically good, but also enjoyably good.

    for his steadfast loveD endures forever.E
O give thanks to the GodF of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the LordG of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verses 1b-3

D “steadfast love” = chesed. From chasad (being good, kind, merciful; may mean bowing one’s neck as is done in the presence of an equal for courtesy’s sake; so, if one in a superior position is treating you like an equal, that is what is captured here). This is favor, goodness, kindness, loving kindness, pity, reproach, or a good deed. When done by God to humanity, this is mercy/loving kindness. When done by humanity to God, it is piety.
E “forever” = olam. This is a long scope of time whether in the past (antiquity, ancient time) or in the future (eternal, everlasting).
F “God” = Elohim.
G “Lord” = Adon. From a root that means ruling or being sovereign. This is lord, master, or owner.

who aloneH doesI greatJ wonders,K
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verse 4

H “alone” = bad. From badad (to divide or be separated; alone, solitary, lonely, isolated, straggler). This is apart, alone, separation, body part, tree branch, except. It can also be a city’s chief.
I “does” = asah. This is to make, do, act, appoint, become in many senses.
J “great” = gadol. From gadal (to grow up, become great, become wealthy – to advance. The root meaning may be to twist in the sense of the process of growing). This is great, high, bigger, noble, old, marvelous. It can also refer to someone who is powerful or distinguished.
K “wonders” = pala. From pele (wonder, miracle, wonderful, marvelous thing). This is to be extraordinary, to arise, to be great or accomplish.

who by understandingL madeM the heavens,N
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verse 5

L “understanding” = tebunah. From bin (to discern, consider, attend to; distinguishing things in one’s mind or, more generally, to understand). This is understanding, discernment, discretion, intelligence, skill, fruit, an argument.
M “made” = asah. Same as “does” in v4. See note I above.
N “heavens” = shamayim. Root may mean being lofty. This is sky, the air, or heaven. It is in a dual noun form so this might refer to the part of the sky where the clouds move on the one hand and the part beyond that where the sun, moon, and stars are on the other hand.

who spread outO the earthP on the waters,Q
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
who made the great lights,R
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verses 6-7

O “spread out” = raqa. 11x in OT. This is to beat the earth in a fit of passion. By analogy, it is to hammer something so that it is spread out or spread thin. By extension, it is decoratively overlaying something with metal.
P “earth” = erets. Root may mean to be firm. This is earth, ground, field land, or country.
Q “waters” = mayim. This is water, waters, or waterway in a general sense. Figuratively, it can also mean juice, urine, or semen.
R “lights” = or. From or (to be or become light). This is light, sun, sunshine, dawn, or daylight. Figuratively, it can refer to light from instruction, light of a face (that is to say one that is cheerful or finds favor). It can refer to prosperity or salvation; a light that guides, a light eternal from Zion.

the sunS to ruleT over the day,U
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moonV and starsW to rule over the night,X
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verses 8-9

S “sun” = shemesh. This is sun or toward the east. Its root may mean being brilliant. Figuratively, this could be a ray or an arch.
T “rule” = memshalah. 14x in OT. From mimshal (dominion, ruler, authority); from mashal (to rule, reign, govern, have authority, wield). This is to rule, govern, a ream, ruler, authority, dominion, forces.
U “day” = yom. Root may mean being hot. This is the day in a literal or figurative sense. It can also mean birth, age, daylight, continually or other references to time.
V “moon” = yareach. Perhaps from the same as yerach (month). This is moon.
W “stars” = kokab. Perhaps from the same as kavah (to prick, blister, burn, scorch). This is a star as shining, stargaze. Figuratively, can mean prince.
X “night” = layil. Properly, this refers to light twisting away. It is used for night or midnight. Figuratively, this can mean adversity.

10 who struckY EgyptZ through their firstborn,AA
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verse 10

Y “struck” = nakah. This is to hit whether lightly or severely. It can be used in a literal or figurative sense. So, this could be beat, punish, give wounds, kill, or slaughter.
Z “Egypt” = Mitsrayim. Perhaps from matsor (besieged or fortified place, bulwark, entrenchment; something hemmed in; a siege or distress or fastness); from tsur (to confine, besiege, to cramp). This is Egypt.
AA “firstborn” = bekor. From bakar (to bear fruit, be firstborn, firstling, that which opens the womb, give the birthright to). This is firstborn or chief.

11 and brought IsraelBB outCC from amongDD them,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verse 11

BB “Israel” = Yisrael. Related to “God” in v2. From sarah (to persist, exert oneself, contend, persevere, wrestle, prevail) + el (see note F above). This is Israel, meaning God strives or one who strives with God; new name for Jacob and for his offspring. This refers to the people and to the land.
CC “brought…out” = yatsa. This is to go or come out, bring forth, appear. It is to go out in a literal or figurative sense.
DD “from among” = tavek. This is among, middle, in the midst, the center. Perhaps, properly, to sever.

12 with a strongEE handFF and an outstretchedGG arm,HH
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verse 12

EE “strong” = chazaq. From chazaq (to strengthen, seize, be courageous, repair, bind, heal, conquer, harden). This is strong, hard, powerful, loud, bold, violent, impudent. It is usually strong in a negative sense.
FF “hand” = yad. This is hand, ability, power. Hand in a literal sense, but also what one can do or the means by which one does it.
GG “outstretched” = natah. This is to stretch or spread out, to extend, or bend. In can also imply moral deflection.
HH “arm” = zeroa. Perhaps from zara (to sow, scatter seed, conceive). This is the arm, shoulder, or foreleg of an animal. It is figuratively used for power, force, might, or help.

13 who dividedII the RedJJ SeaKK in two,LL
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verse 13

II “divided” = gazar. 13x in OT. This is to cut or cut down. Used figuratively, it can mean to divide, exclude, decree, or destroy.
JJ “Red” = suph. Perhaps from Egyptian twfi (reeds). This is reeds or rushes. It can be used particularly to refer to papyrus, or a flag. This is
KK “Sea” = yam. Root may mean to roar. This is the sea, often referring to the Mediterranean. It comes from the root in the sense of the roar of crashing surf. This word is sometimes used for rivers or other sources of water. It can mean to the west or to the south.
LL “two” = gezer. Related to “divided” in v13. 2x in OT. From gazar (see note II above). This is cut off – pieces.

14 and made Israel passMM through the midstNN of it,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrewOO PharaohPP and his armyQQ in the Red Sea,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verses 14-15

MM “pass” = abar. This is to pass over or cross over. It is used for transitions, whether literal or figurative. It can also mean to escape, alienate, or fail. This is the root verb from which “Hebrew” is drawn.
NN “midst” = tavek. Sam as “from among” in v11. See note DD above.
OO “overthrew” = naar. 11x in OT. This is to shake, toss up and down, tumble around, overthrow, shake off.
PP “Pharaoh” = paroh. From Egyptian pr (palace, pharaoh; literally house + great). This is Pharaoh, a title for Egyptian kings. See
QQ “army” = chayil. From chul (to be firm, strong, prosperous; to endure). This is strength, wealth, ability, activity. It can refer to soldier or a company of soldiers as well as goods. It is a force of people, means, or goods. It can speak of valor, virtue, or strength.

16 who ledRR his peopleSS through the wilderness,TT
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Notes on verse 16

RR “led” = halak. This is go, come, walk. It is walk literally and figuratively and includes people and animals. It can be used figuratively for one’s moral life – how we walk according to God’s way or against it. It can also refer to the walk of life as in the course one’s life takes, the choices we make, etc.
SS “people” = am. From amam (to darken, hide, associate; creating shadows by huddling together). This is people or nation. It can be used specifically for a tribe, collectively of troops or armies, or figuratively to refer to a flock of animals.
TT “wilderness” = midbar. From dabar (to speak, command, declare). This is mouth or speech. It can also be desert or wilderness. Additionally, it can be used for a pasture to which one drives cattle.

Image credit: “Parting of the Red Sea” by Iforce, 2020.

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