Psalm 136 is a hymn that praises God’s creative acts, historical deeds, and present-day kindnesses. Each of its 26 verses are split into two parts, a line of hymnic praise and the congregational response ki le’olam chasdo “His steadfast love is eternal.”
v. 9 praises God for creating “the moon and the stars to dominate the night.”
1-3. Summons to praise
4-9. Rule of nature
16-22. Entering the land
23-25. Present-day kindnesses
26. Summons to praise
The dominant theme of Psalm 136 is the repetitive chant ki le’olam chasdo “His steadfast love is eternal” found at the end of each of the 26 verses. Based on our psalm and verses like Ps. 118:1-4, Ezra 3:11, and 2 Chr. 7:6 it seems that the phrase was a standard form of communal prayer (appearing a total of 41 times in Tanakh). Thus, it is likely that the first clause of each line was recited by a leader, and the second clause was recited by the community.
The hymn has four sections of praise. The first section praises God’s command/creation of nature (cf. Ps. 104), the second praises God’s involvement in the exodus (cf. Ps. 77:17-21, 105:28-34, 106:8-11, 114:1-4, Ex. 15:1-10), the third praises God’s involvement in conquering the land of Israel, and the final section praises God’s benevolence to the the living community.
V. Important Verses
v. 1:Praise the LORD; for He is good, His steadfast love is eternal.
v. 25: Who gives food to all flesh, His steadfast love is eternal.