The Right Use of Power (Psalm 136)
Power is essential to most work, and it must be exercised rightly. Psalm 136 lays out the proper use of power by showing four examples of how God uses power.
The first example comes in verses 4-9. It shows God’s use of power to create the world, “who by his understanding made the heavens…who spread out the earth upon the waters” (Ps. 136:5-6). This takes us back to Genesis 1—to the God of creation, giving our world all that we need to flourish. But note the order in which God works, first creating systems (land, water, night, day, sun and moon) that were necessary for the survival of his later creations (plants, land animals, swimming and flying creatures). God did not create animals until there was dry land and vegetation to sustain them. When it is in our power to create tasks or systems, we use power properly when we create environments in which we and those around us not only survive but thrive. For more on God's provision in creation, see "Provision (Genesis 1:29-30; 2:8-14)" in Genesis 1-11 and Work at www.theologyofwork.org.
The second example comes in Psalm 136:10-15 when God delivers his people from slavery in Egypt. The third comes immediately afterwards, when God strikes down the Canaanite kings who oppose Israel in its journey to settle the Promised Land (Ps. 136:16-22). Together these show us that God uses power to free people from oppression and to oppose those who would keep others from the good God intends for them. When our work frees others to fulfill their destiny in God’s design, we are using power rightly. When our work would re-enslave workers or oppose God's work in and through them, we are abusing power.
The fourth example comes at the end of the psalm. “It is God who remembered us in our low estate…and rescued us from our foes…who gives food to all flesh” (Ps. 136:23-25). God lovingly recognizes our weakness and supplies our needs. When we use power to do work that benefits others, we are using power as God would use it.
Finally, for the proper use of power, every verse of Psalm 136 reminds us to give thanks to God, “whose steadfast love endures forever.”