There are two Messianic Psalms in Book Five1, namely Psalms 110 and 118. While Psalm 110 is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament, Psalm 118 is arguably the second most quoted Psalm, especially v.22. Psalm 110 speaks of the Lord’s ascension post-Calvary: “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool” Ps.110.1, whereas Psalm 118 places emphasis on the Lord’s acknowledged prominence at His second coming, alluded to in verses such as Ps.118.22,26.
1. The Psalms are divided into five ‘Books’ (Pss.1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150).
Psalm 118 was Martin Luther’s personal favourite Psalm. While he was awaiting his fate to be decided by the German emperor, he wrote a commentary on this Psalm. He said of it: “This is my Psalm, my chosen Psalm. I love them all; I love all holy Scripture, which is my consolation and my life. But this Psalm is nearest my heart, and I have a peculiar right to call it mine. It has saved me from many a pressing danger, from which nor emperor, nor kings, nor sages, nor saints, could have saved me. It is my friend; dearer to me than all the honours and power of the earth.”
We shall now explore Psalm 118 by considering the following headings:
It is sometimes thought that the one hundred and fifty Psalms were arranged in a random manner. This could not be further from the truth. Not only was each one inspired by the Holy Spirit, but their arrangement is also Divinely inspired.
Since that is so, the strategic placement of every Psalm in the Psalter should be of great interest to the student of the Bible. This is especially so when we turn our attention to the Messianic Psalms, which point us to the Lord Jesus Christ, and consider how they are placed. If we believe that the Lord Jesus is the focal Person of the Scriptures, and He is, then it is no exaggeration to say that the Messianic Psalms are pivotal points placed by the Spirit of God so that the Psalter revolves around the Messiah. The scope of this chapter will not allow us to comprehensively develop this point, but only to look briefly at the placement of Psalm 118 in the light of the Divine arrangement.
Psalm 118 as Climax to the Egyptian Hallel
Psalms 113-118 are generally known as the Egyptian Hallel, because these Psalms centre around Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, especially Psalm 114. These songs would have been sung at the Passover Feast, as well as Pentecost and Tabernacles. The Lord would have sung this collection of Psalms with His disciples on that fateful Passover night when He was being betrayed, Matt.26.30; Mk.14.26, but earlier that week, as the Synoptic Gospels record, He had quoted Ps.118.22, acknowledging the significance of this Psalm. How moving it is to think that when He cited the Egyptian Hallel, some of the words of this Psalm would have resonated with His holy emotions, for example, “This is the day which the LORD hath made …” Ps.118.24. There was no day like that day for the Lord Jesus; it was the fulcrum of eternity and the centre of all history, and the Lord would have been fully conscious and aware of it. It was the day when the Lord of life died for the sin of the world!
Psalm 118 is the last Psalm in the Egyptian Hallel, and is the climactic song of thanksgiving to the Lord for His faithfulness and mercy. The Egyptian saga was a history of deliverance and salvation, and Psalm 118 is appropriately placed at the end of this group of Psalms as the climactic song of spiritual deliverance and redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ, the rejected Stone Who has become the Head of the corner.
Psalms 110 and 118 as Brackets of the Hallelujah Collection of Psalms 111-117
Psalm 110 and Psalm 118 (the only two Messianic Psalms in Book Five) are strategically located in such a way that they form the brackets to the Hallelujah Psalms, 111-117. As suggested, Psalm 110 is generally fulfilled at the ascension of Christ post-Calvary, but Psalm 118 sings of the Lord’s public reign post-Tribulation. No wonder the Psalmist, inspired by the Spirit of God, shouts ‘Hallelujah’ throughout Psalms 111-117! “Praise the LORD”! The thought that the Lord had finished the work at His first coming and had ascended to the right hand of God, in Psalm 110, and that He will finally defeat all the foes who compassed His chosen nation at His second coming, in Psalm 118, must surely cause our hearts to burst out with shouts of adulation and praises as seen in Psalms 111-117.
It is quite surprising that in the collection of these praise Psalms, Psalms 111-117, the one in the middle of the seven (Psalm 114) does not have the word Hallelu-Yah. Psalm 114 describes Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, and how the Lord, through His Divine power, controlled nature and effected salvation for Israel. Why does Psalm 114 deliberately omit the word Hallelujah? Is it not to arouse our attention, that we might ponder the truth that central to the heart of the Messiah is the deliverance and the redemption of His people, much like the ‘heart’ of these Hallelujah Psalms? Furthermore, the main theme of worship and praise of His redeemed in time and eternity will be centred around Calvary and the work of His redemption.
The symmetrical structure, and some other interesting features, are depicted as such:
Psalm 110 (Messianic, no mention of Hallelujah) – His glorification after His first coming
111,112 (Hallelujah at the beginning of the Psalms)
113 (Hallelujah beginning and ending the Psalm)
114 (Heart of the Hallelujah Collection; no mention of Hallelujah)
115,116 (Hallelujah at the end of the Psalms)
117 (Hallelujah beginning and ending the Psalm)
Psalm 118 (Messianic, no mention of Hallelujah) – His glorification at His second coming
In summary: Christ is at the beginning (Psalm 110) and at the end (Psalm 118) but in the core, or the ‘heart’, there is a reminder of redemption (Psalm 114). Between this centre and each extremity (Psalms 110 and 118) are praises (Psalms 111-113 and 115-117).
The Coupling of Psalm 118 to Psalm 119
Of equal prominence to the Psalms before Psalm 118 is the Psalm that follows it. Being the last in the collection of Messianic Psalms, it is no accident that it should precede the most impressive acrostic Psalm that extols the beauty of the Torah. Interestingly, there is another Messianic Psalm that is coupled together with a Psalm that speaks about the law: Psalm 2, about the Son, the Messiah, coupled with Psalm 1, about the law. Therefore, the first and the last Messianic Psalms are both coupled with another Psalm that extols the law, the Word of God.
Perhaps the Spirit of God wants to impress upon us that the Lord Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law, Matt.5.17, but another practical point to consider is this: our willingness to obey the Word of God, Psalm 119, is due to a heart that has been filled with Christ, Psalms 110 and 118.
The Messianic Psalms are Psalms that contain Christological allusions, and are generally prophetic Scriptures that point to the first coming of Christ, or His second coming and beyond. However, not every verse in every Messianic Psalm is Christological. Some Messianic Psalms have more verses about Christ than others.
A Psalm can be Messianic in the sense that Messiah is speaking in the first person through the voice of the Psalmist. A well-known example is Ps.22.1: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Or a Psalm can be Messianic in the sense that Messiah is referred to in the third person by the Psalmist. It is fair to say that Psalm 118 is largely Messianic in the latter sense and is mainly a Psalm that points to the future coming of Messiah.
However, we can also approach Psalm 118 in the former sense and hear the Lord speaking about His rejection, His darkest hours on Calvary, His resurrection, and His future glorification. In this section, we will adopt this approach to the Psalm, appreciating where Christ is speaking in the first person, about Himself. Later, when we give an exposition of the verses under “The Passage of the Psalm”, we will understand the Psalm from the perspective of Israel, where the nation is speaking through the Psalmist and giving thanks to God for His deliverance of them through the Messiah, the Stone, the Lord Jesus Christ.
When the Lord was in the Upper Room, what would have been in His mind when He sang, “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner” v.22? He must have been able to relate to the words of this Psalm, and He knew that their climactic rejection was imminent, when they would cry vehemently, “Away with Him, away with Him” Jn.19.15, though His disciples were still quite in the dark.
The Lord Jesus always knew and could say, “the LORD is on My side” (literally ‘the LORD for Me’) v.6, because He was the faithful Servant of Jehovah. As such, there was not a single instance in the life of the Lord Jesus on earth when He ceased to put His trust in God and His Word, even under the most severe and unfavourable situations. Therefore, the Lord could say more than anyone, “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man” v.8.
Many hated Him, v.7, and His enemies often sought opportunities to close in on Him. They were eventually successful – so they thought – when they compassed Him about. Four times the Psalmist says they “compassed me about” vv.10,11 (twice),12. We have similar descriptions in Psalm 22, where four different kinds of animals symbolise the various types of oppression inflicted upon the Saviour: the bulls of Bashan in their power, v.12; the roaring lion in its ferocity, vv.13,21; the dogs with their systematic persecution, vv.16,20; and the wild bulls (“unicorns” A.V.) in their unbridled lunacy, v.21. There are also four mentions of the word “compassed” in Psalm 22 in relation to these animals, albeit using three different Hebrew words: sâḇaḇ, ḵâṯar and nâqap̱. In Psalm 118 there is again a fourfold mention of the relentless oppression of the enemies, using the word sâḇaḇ, but now another creature is mentioned: the bee, v.12. The emphasis now is not so much the power, or the ferocity, or the systematic persecution, or the unbridled lunacy of His enemies, but the relentless, overwhelming, and constant swarming of foes around Him.
When His enemies had crucified Him, they had put Him as if in a ‘narrow place’. That is the word for “distress” in Ps.118.5; but He could say, “The LORD answered Me, and set Me in a large place [literally ‘broad place’]” and that reminds us of His resurrection and ascension. However, it was not only His enemies who afflicted Him: “the LORD … chastened [Him] sore” v.18. Beyond that which is visible and physical, “the LORD … laid on Him the iniquity of us all” Isa.53.6. The prophet Isaiah, in Isa.53.8, asked a question: “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? For He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was He stricken.” The Lord Jesus, as if answering in the language of this Psalmist upon resurrection ground, now says, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD … but He hath not given Me over unto death” Ps.118.17,18.
The Psalmist further speaks of entering through the gates of righteousness, which he also calls “this gate of the LORD” vv.19,20. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” Heb.9.24. The Psalmist also mentions three times the “right hand of the LORD” vv.15,16 (twice). Particularly, the Psalmist says, “the right hand of the LORD is exalted”. This reminds us of One Who is now exalted at the right hand of God in heaven.
vv.21-29: The LORD’s Forgiveness through the Rejected One
The Psalm begins and ends in the same way, by giving thanks to the Lord and acknowledging His enduring mercy. The theme of thanksgiving is the main subject of this Psalm. The word yadah, “thanks”, appears five times throughout the Psalm, vv.1,19,21,28,29, perhaps to intimate the thought of grace, which is associated with the number five. Israel has now been delivered and the reign of the Messiah has been ushered in. In the restful bliss of Messiah’s presence, they look back to the not-so-distant past of Tribulation days, and remember that Jesus of Nazareth, Whom they had rejected in their history, has come to deliver them. Though they crucified Him, yet He has graciously saved them and forgiven them. His lovingkindness endureth forever!
The first part of the Psalm (vv.1-18) is a look back to the days of trouble and describes the nation of Israel immersed in tribulation and sufferings, a period of time which we know as the ‘seventieth week’ of Daniel’s prophecy, Dan.9.24-27, or “the time of Jacob’s trouble” Jer.30.7. But the second part of the Psalm, vv.19-29, takes us beyond, to the day of Israel’s deliverance and salvation through the appearance of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. The once rejected Nazarene is now the acknowledged King. Once there was a sanctuary defiled and desolated by the Man of sin, but now there is a sanctuary graced by the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel now sings in thanksgiving, relief and gratitude that Messiah has borne them over the boundaries of the Great Tribulation and is ushering them into the Kingdom. The nation now sings of “this gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter” v.20.
The Psalmist speaks in the first-person singular pronoun from vv.5-21, but after the mention of the Stone Which the builders refused, v.22, he uses the first-person plural pronoun from vv.23-27. He then concludes this Psalm by reverting to the first-person singular pronoun to give thanks to God, v.28. I suggest that in vv.23-27 every redeemed Israelite is speaking in the united voice of gratitude and marvelling.
Seven times in this Psalm the Psalmist writes that the enemies did something to “me” vv.6,7,10,11 (twice),12,13, but eight times that the Lord did something for “me” vv.5,6,7 (twice),13,18 (twice),21. What the enemies did to the saints, the Lord equalled numerically by His intervention, and did one more additionally in order to display His overruling power.
Verse 1: The Psalm begins with a call to “give thanks” (yadah) unto the Lord. We have explained before that Psalms 111-117 are punctuated with the call to “praise” (hallelujah). But praise has now given way to thanksgiving. To praise is to ascribe glory and honour to God and to Christ, and to speak well of Them; therefore, praise focuses on Who God is, but to give thanks is to be grateful and appreciative of what God has done for us through Christ, and therefore focuses on what God has done for man. The order is noteworthy: praise first, then thanksgiving.
This expression “His mercy endureth for ever” occurs for the first time in 1Chr.16.34. This was David’s song when the Ark of God had finally arrived at the house of God. The next occasion on which this expression appears in the Bible, 2Chr.5.13, is also connected with the Ark of God being brought into the sanctuary. This expression appearing in Psalm 118 is very significant. The Psalmist is as if sounding the trumpet and singing with the heart of thanksgiving that the “ark of God” has arrived. However, it is not the physical furniture as in the days of David and Solomon. Israel can now truly sing, “for He is good: because His mercy endureth forever”, as they have witnessed the arrival of the anti-type of the Ark, the Christ for Whom they had been waiting, and Who happened to be the Stone Whom they had rejected. In Jer.33.11, this expression “The LORD is good; for His mercy endureth for ever” appears in relation to the future day of joy and gladness for Israel. With God in their midst in the Person of Christ their King, they will sing this song for a very long time.
The word chesed, translated as “mercy” in the Authorised Version (likely adopting the rendering of the Septuagint, which translates this word as eleos in Greek, or “mercy”), is perhaps more suitably translated as ‘steadfast love’ or ‘lovingkindness’. W.E. Vine explains: “The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But chesed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Chesed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law.”2
2. Vine, W.E. “Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words”.
Hence chesed not only brings to mind the love and mercy of Jehovah, but the covenantal obligation of Jehovah. No matter how dejected and unfaithful Israel has become throughout her history, God will never cast His people away, because His mercy is bounded by His promise and His Person, and endures forever.
Verses 2-4: The call to “Israel”, “the house of Aaron” and to all that “fear the LORD” is also seen in Ps.115.9-13. There it was the call to “trust in the LORD”, for He was their help and their shield, and that He would bless them. Now the call is sounded again, but this time to recall His enduring mercy. When Solomon brought the Ark of God into the Temple, the trumpets sounded and the singers sang. Now the Psalmist is summoning his group of ‘trumpeters’ and ‘singers’: Israel, the house of Aaron, and all that fear the LORD. They all now sing, “His mercy endureth for ever.”
In this grouping of three, the Psalmist seems to move from the larger group down to the individual. When Israel “say”, the verb is in the singular in Hebrew; but when the house of Aaron and all that fear the LORD “say”, the verb is in the plural. The nation of Israel, unitedly, as one, will sing of the enduring mercy of God, but this jubilation will flow down to every individual in the household of Aaron and every individual in the faithful remnant who fears the Lord. Hence, singularly as a whole nation, and yet every individual out of the whole, will offer thanksgiving.
Verse 5: The word “distress” has the sense of being besieged and put in a strait. The nation of Israel, now personified in the voice of the Psalmist, found herself trapped and had nowhere to escape. She was surrounded by her enemies and was facing annihilation just before the appearance of the Messiah. Later on, the Psalmist will speak of nations compassing him, vv.10-12. The Lord Himself spoke of Jerusalem being compassed about with armies, and He said, “then know that the desolation thereof is nigh” Lk.21.20. But when it seemed that all hope was lost, “the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place.” The Lord Jesus intervened for Israel, and distress was turned to deliverance.
The word “LORD” here is the shortened name of Jehovah, Yah. This title of the Lord appears six times in this Psalm, vv.5 (twice),14,17,18,19: more times than in any other Psalm. The shortened name of Yah is most apparent in the word Hallelu-Yah. In the Hallelujah Psalms from Psalms 111-117, Hallelu-Yah appears seven times, and though the word Hallelu-Yah does not appear in Psalm 118, the weight is made up with these six mentions of the name of God, Yah.
Verses 6,7: The next two verses both begin with “The LORD [is] for me” (“is” has been added by the translators) in the Hebrew text. The language of the Psalmist reminds us of another great man in the New Testament who said, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Rom.8.31, and again, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers … nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Rom.8.38,39.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews quotes Ps.118.6 as well, in Heb.13.6. His use of this verse reminds us of the practical aspect of what it means for the Lord to be for us. Coupled with the reminder of the faithfulness of the Lord, Who will not leave or forsake us, he calls upon us to boldly say that “the LORD is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”
There is an alternative translation to Ps.118.7. It could read, “The LORD is for me by helping me, and I will see them that hate me.” This is my preferred reading of the verse, instead of “The LORD taketh my part with them that help me …” A.V., because it seems strange that in all the eight instances that say something about the Lord doing something ‘for me’, there should be one instance where the help has to be rendered through others. It would be more consistent with the tenor of this Psalm that the Lord is able to meet every instance of danger and trial through His direct intervention. No doubt He is able to use others (and He often does) to render help to His beloved ones, but this Psalmist is keener to tell us about the Lord’s direct actions in caring for His own. The difficulty, however, with translating the text as “by helping me” instead of “with them that help me”, as in the Authorised Version, is the fact that the participle verb for “help” is in the masculine plural. If it is the Lord Who is helping me, rather than others, then we would have expected the word “help” to be in the masculine singular. However, this difficulty is not insurmountable, as it is not uncommon for a Hebrew noun or a verb to be rendered in the plural to express greatness rather than plurality in number. If it is the Lord Who is helping me, what help can be greater than His help?!
Those whom the Lord helped were granted the Divine insight into the evil intentions of the enemies, even though these intentions were disguised in false friendship. Israel will witness such falsehood in the Antichrist, who will pretend to be a friend of Israel through a covenant, Dan.9.27.
Verses 8,9: It is said that Psalm 118 is the centre chapter of the Bible, and v.8 is the centre verse of the whole Bible. How good to think that the centre of the Bible calls us to put our trust in God rather than to put confidence in man. Each of these two verses begins with the word “good” (tov) in the Hebrew text. The Psalm begins and ends with the mention of the Lord being good, and punctuates the middle of the Psalm with the word “good”, associated with deliverance. The Lord is good in the beginning, in the middle, and right till the end! He has been good to Israel through her entire history: past, present, and future. The Lord Who is good has always provided refuge directly or providentially to Israel, even when she did not know that it was from the Lord.
To seek refuge is to flee in desperation from danger to a place of safety. Israel in the wilderness of tribulation had discovered that she could not trust man or princes despite a covenant made, and she will be made to seek refuge in the Lord’s protection, Rev.12.6.
Verses 10-12: In these verses the Psalmist vividly portrays the danger that surrounds him. He has spoken about being in distress, v.5; he has mentioned those who hate him, v.7, but now the crescendo of the enemy’s animosity has reached the climax: the enemy is at the door.
Israel has suffered similar fates in its history. The Assyrians laid siege on Judah under King Hezekiah, and the Babylonians did the same before they finally destroyed Jerusalem and carried the people of God into exile. The modern warfare history of Israel in the twentieth century has also witnessed similar scenarios. The four mentions of the expression “compassed me” point to the four directions of north, south, east and west. The enemy bunkered in and garrisoned its war machineries on all sides of Israel’s borders, but all these historical events are only a prelude to what awaits the nation during the Day of the LORD, when the enemy’s raw power and evil machinations will hammer upon Israel to the point of near obliteration, Zech.14.2,3.
The Lord will not allow the annihilation of His remnant people. The Psalmist says, “in the name of the LORD will I destroy them.” The word “destroy” is literally to ‘circumcise’ but can also mean ‘to cut off’. Therefore, the Authorised Version rendering of the word as “destroy” is not inaccurate. The Psalmist could also be employing a figurative device: these uncircumcised Gentile nations will face the cutting-off of Jehovah’s destructive power.
The expression “the name of the LORD” appears four times in this Psalm, vv.10,11,12,26, and many more times in Book Five of the Psalms. It is an expression that is especially relevant in Book Five, which is predominantly prophetic. But what does it mean here for the Psalmist to say, “… but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them”?
The Lord Jesus quoted Ps.118.26 and said, “For I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the LORD’” Matt.23.39. He would have been their Protector, but He had to say to them, “ye would not!” Matt.23.37. However, He will eventually be the Deliverer of Israel, and then they shall say, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the LORD!” Because He associated Himself (“Me”) with the phrase “He that cometh in the name of the LORD” in His citation of Ps.118.26, we infer that the One Who will come ‘‘in the name of the LORD’’ in Ps.118.26 is also the Lord Jesus Himself. Therefore, the cry of the Psalmist, “in the name of the LORD I will destroy them”, alludes to the coming Deliverer, the same Jesus Christ, Who will embolden the Israelites to victory, Zech.12.6. Israel had been so used to fighting wars and winning in the twentieth century, and they thought that it had always been by their own might and innovations, but they will one day face annihilation, and Messiah will appear, to deliver them, and they will understand that salvation and victory will not be by their own might, or by the name of some great man, but by the name and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 13: The enemy is being referenced here for the last time in the Psalm. However this is first time in the Psalm when the enemy is referred to by the second-person singular pronoun: “thou”. I have no doubt at all that the evil one addressed here is the Antichrist. He will be the final viceroy of the devil, together with the False Prophet, to be confronted and defeated by the power of the Lord. But before he is finally defeated he will be the cause of great suffering for the nation of Israel.
The word “thrust sore” is the verb in the infinitive absolute form, and it carries the sense of intensity and resoluteness. The Day of the LORD will see a form of resolve and determination by the enemy never seen before. The Antichrist will be the devil’s agent to accomplish this persecution, before the Lord appears in manifest glory to destroy the enemy and deliver the nation, 2Thess.2.8. All the power and glory of Christ in deliverance are now summed up in these words: “the LORD helped me”! But how will the Lord help Israel? The next two verses give us a glimpse of His strength and salvation.
Verses 14-16: How will the Lord be a help and deliverance to Israel at the end of the Tribulation? Verse 14 is actually a word for word quotation of Ex.15.2 in the Hebrew text, which is from the victorious song of Moses. By quoting Moses, the Psalmist is saying that Jehovah’s deliverance will be nothing short of miraculous, and will be the type of deliverance which parallels, if not surpasses, the parting of the Red Sea. Isaiah also quotes from Ex.15.2 in Isa.12.2, word for word in the original text.3 The prophetic context of Isaiah chapter 12 is similar to Psalm 118. In Isaiah chapter 12, the nation is in the Millennial glory, because Isa.12.6 says, “great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.” As the nation of Israel crosses over the threshold of the Great Tribulation into the realms of Jehovah’s salvation, they will appreciate this deliverance more than the deliverance of the Red Sea, and will sing, “The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.”
3. Ps.118.14 and Isa.12.2 are the only two verses in the Old Testament that quote Ex.15.2, and word for word in the original text.
Not only will they be singing the song of salvation, but they will also rejoice with a ringing sound from their homes. The “tents of the righteous ones” (literal rendering) remind us of restful dwelling for those who have entered into the Kingdom of peace with their King. Not only will the Temple be reinstated with the service of praise, but the homes of the redeemed will constantly be ringing out with songs of thankfulness.
One of the themes of their rejoicing will be this: “the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly”! This is again in reference to the song of Moses in Exodus chapter 15. The hand of the Lord is mentioned three times in Exodus chapter 15; now the Psalmist uses the same frequency to describe His comprehensive and swift victory over Israel’s enemy. However, by then, Israel will not just appreciate the right hand of the Lord as a symbol of power and might but will also know the One Who, beyond the symbol, has truly been exalted to the right hand of God, Heb.1.3. Israel will finally know the One Who is at the right hand of the Lord exalted: Jesus Christ the Messiah! By the time the nation sings “the right hand of the LORD”, they will already have been singing in worship to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verses 17,18: Psalm 118 was Luther’s personal favourite, but v.17 was said to be the crown of his love and was written on a plaque upon his study wall. These words belong to those who have experienced near death and destruction but were miraculously saved and delivered by the intervention of God. So many saints have gone through times of great distress and illnesses, and have appreciated the personal value of these words. They come out of dire and desperate times, rejoicing in the words, “I shall not die, but live”. Sometimes the Lord allows hardship to come our way, even near-death experiences, in order to enhance our appreciation and gratitude for His works and mercy. Many can say that they were delivered from the lion’s mouth so that they might “declare the works of the LORD”.
However, the context of this Psalm refers to the experience of Israel, having come out of such great tribulation by “the right hand of the LORD [that] doeth valiantly”. The nation had been near obliteration, surrounded and swarmed by enemies, helpless to save themselves, powerless to fight the foe, but now they say, “I shall not die, but live”!
Although their enemies hemmed them in, it was ultimately the chastising hand of the Lord that set the events in motion. They once cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children” Matt.27.25. God certainly heard them, and these words have reverberated through the centuries for at least two thousand years now, but they have not yet known the full payment of their atrocity as a nation, until now. The expression “chastened me sore” comes from the word yasar in the infinitive absolute form, which emphasises the intensity of the verb, or the absoluteness of the action being carried out. An example of such a grammatical form is God’s warning to Adam: “the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” Gen.2.17. Here in Ps.118.18 it is more likely that the intensity of the action is meant. The Lord has dealt very bitterly with Israel by chastening her sore. Yet, out of His mercy, He did not exact the full payment of death. Out of His mercy He spared Israel.
In Psalm 122, the Psalmist speaks of the gladness of being within the reach of the gates of Jerusalem: “Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem … whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD” Ps.122.2,4. That was the desire and experience of the pilgrims when three times a year they visited Jerusalem. That desire has now found a glorious fulfilment in these words of vv.19,20. Now these are no longer the gates of a deteriorating city. The Prince of glory has now delivered them from the jaws of death and annihilation, and they now stand before the gates of His glorious Kingdom. But the entrance is only reserved for the righteous, for they are the gates of righteousness. Only the redeemed will enter in. They speak with confidence, knowing in Whom they have placed their faith and received salvation. They say, “I will go into them and I will praise the LORD.”
Notice that the word “gates” is in the plural in v.19, whereas the singular is used in v.20. They might be referring to the same thing, or the plural might be referring to the multiple entrances into the city of Jerusalem, whereas the singular gate is a reference to the singular entrance into the sanctuary of the Temple. That is why it is emphatically called the “gate of the LORD”. Hence the redeemed will not only have the exclusive privilege of entering into the gates of the new city, but they will find themselves in the presence of the Lord through the “gate of the LORD”.
This is the main Christological section of the Psalm. It is likely that this section is the song of the redeemed as they appear before the Messiah King. This is apparent because for the first time in this Psalm, the Lord is addressed by the Psalmist in the second person, in v.21: “I will praise Thee”. Furthermore, the Psalmist moves from referring to himself in the first-person singular, to including others in the first-person plural in v.23 and the subsequent verses. Together with his fellow brethren, the righteous redeemed, they now enter the sanctuary and are heard to be singing this song of thanksgiving before the Lord.
Verse 21: The progression from “gates” of the city to the “gate” of the sanctuary ultimately leads the saints into the very presence of the Lord. This is seen in the fact that for the first time in this Psalm the Lord is addressed personally in the second person: “I will praise Thee”. Now in the sanctuary, they have come face to face with Christ. They have entered through the gates of the city, into the gate of the Lord, and now into the sanctuary, and it is only inevitable that they raise their song of thanksgiving to the Lord their Saviour.
As mentioned before, the “praise” of Psalm 118 is literally “give thanks”. Hence the Psalm begins with giving thanks, v.1, is punctuated with two mentions of giving thanks, vv.19,21, and ends with two more such mentions, vv.28,29. We certainly cannot miss the intention of the Psalmist to give thanks to the Lord in the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Psalm.
Who is this “Thee” of Whom the Psalmist is speaking? The next verse gives the answer: He is the once rejected Stone, Jesus of Nazareth!
Verse 22: This is the most Christological and quoted verse in this section. The mentions of the Stone (Who was rejected and then exalted) are found in Matt.21.42; Mk.12.10,11; Lk.20.17; Acts 4.11; Eph.2.20-22; 1Pet.2.4-8.
The word “stone” is the first word in the original text, which is how the Authorised Version puts it, though there is no specific definite article attached to the word in the original text. However, the absence of the definite article does not mean that the noun is not definite. Students of the Bible familiar with the New Testament quotation of this verse will quickly recognise that this Stone is the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore it is in perfect harmony with the mind of the Spirit of God that this is “the Stone”.
The decisive rejection of this Stone had taken place in the past and continues until today. This rejection culminated in the Jews’ crucifixion of their Messiah. Israel was always in the process of nation building, but while they attempted to build their nation and to remove the Roman yoke, they made the mistake of refusing the most important element of the construction work: the Messiah. Israel is now a nation, built upon a weak foundation, without a cornerstone. If she is ever going to experience the glory that she longs for, Israel has to recognise that she is a building crumbling under unbelief and the rejection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The cornerstone was an important piece in the construction of ancient buildings. It was the ceremonial stone set in place first, and subsequently the walls and the building were built with the cornerstone as the reference point. Therefore, the whole building was set into position by the cornerstone. Over time, the cornerstone also bore the name of the architect, the time of its construction, and other details about the project. In view of its strategic importance, it is now used metaphorically by the Psalmist to typify Christ in relation to Israel.
However, there are scholars who believe that this stone in Ps.118.22 is not the cornerstone, but the top stone. This is not without basis, as the word “head” (rosh) could mean either ‘chief’ (as it is translated in the Authorised Version) or ‘top’. If the Psalmist meant that this was the chief stone, it might fit the conventional understanding of a cornerstone, but if what he had in mind was the top stone, then it would be the last stone to complete the building instead of the first stone to set off the construction project. I prefer the former interpretation, of a cornerstone. There is a hint in Ezra 3.10,11 that this stone in Psalm 118 might be the cornerstone and not the top stone. The returning remnant under the leadership of Zerubbabel were rebuilding the Temple, and they laid the foundation of the Temple of the Lord. When the foundation had been laid, they “sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel”. Perhaps they sang Psalm 118 when the foundation had been laid and the cornerstone was set in place. It is also possible that Psalm 118 was written by Ezra in view of what had taken place in Ezra chapter 3. Taking these things into consideration, the possibilities point us to the higher likelihood of a cornerstone.
In what way did the Lord Jesus apply Ps.118.22? The quotations of this verse in the Synoptic Gospels are all linked to the parable of the husbandmen, in which the master of the vineyard sent his servants to receive the fruits of the vineyard, but the husbandmen had either beaten or killed the servants. Then the master sent his son and thought that the husbandmen would reverence him, but instead they killed the son too. What was left for the husbandmen was the imminent wrath of the master. The Lord Jesus then quotes Ps.118.22,23 to explain the meaning of the parable. Just as the husbandmen killed the master’s son, they have also rejected the Stone, the Messiah; and just as the husbandmen will receive the due punishment of the master of the vineyard, so Israel will go through a history of turmoil and tribulation. But what is perhaps missing from the parable is the return of the Son. The Lord compensates for this through quoting Ps.118.22, and bringing in the mention of the cornerstone. Therefore, though the narrative of the parable does not continue with the return of the Son Who had been killed, the citing of Psalm 118 implies that He will return! The rejected Stone will become the head of the corner because the slain Son will one day make an appearance again and will be recognised as the head of the corner.
The word “become” is the word haya in the Hebrew. The English translation uses a present tense verb, that is, the remnant is now viewed in the future, and stands before Messiah, and they have come to realise that He is the head of the corner; thus this verse becomes part of their confessional song. However, technically the word “become” can also be taken simply as a past tense verb and could just have been translated “became”. Hence, just as they “refused” Him in the past, He also “became” the head of the corner in the past. In this case, the verse could be translated, “The stone which the builders refused became the head stone of the corner.” Visualise this: Israel realises that He is the head of the corner for them as they stand before Messiah in His presence, but recognises at the same time that He had already become the head of the corner even before they knew Him. Of what structure had He become the cornerstone prior to this? The answer is: the Church, the body of Christ. This is what we get in Eph.2.19,20, which also quotes Ps.118.22.
In Acts 4.11, Peter quotes this verse too, and speaks of the cornerstone as something already fulfilled in Jesus Christ. How wonderful to think that when Israel stands before Christ on the ground of redemption, and confesses to Him their thanksgiving in the language and spirit of Psalm 118, they will come to acknowledge that He not only has become the head of the corner for Israel, but He had already become the chief cornerstone of the Church. Jesus Christ will then be the universal King, the chief cornerstone of the heavenly realm and the earthly sphere!
However, Israel is in unbelief today. Presently, the rejected Jesus of Nazareth is to them a stone of stumbling. Matthew, Luke and Peter, writing about the cornerstone, also mention the stumbling stone, which is taken from Isa.8.14,15. The Lord says, “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” Matt.21.44; Lk.20.18. Peter says, “And ‘a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence,’ even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed” 1Pet.2.8. While Christ has become the chief cornerstone of the Church, He is now the stone of stumbling for the unbelieving Jews.
Furthermore, following the parable of the wicked husbandmen, Matthew mentions that “the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” Matt.21.43. On the same line, Mark and Luke add, “… He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others” Mk.12.9; Lk.20.16. Not only has the Stone become a stone of stumbling for Israel, but Israel has also been temporarily set aside, and the focus of God’s redemptive plan is now centred upon the Church in this dispensation of grace.
Verse 23: The first part of this verse could literally be translated, “This has become from the LORD”. The word “this” is the demonstrative pronoun referring to the Stone of v.22. Therefore, literally (though not the best English): “This Stone has become from the LORD”. The word “become” is the same haya of v.22. What it means is that the Stone having become the head of the corner was part of God’s Divine plan: it is the Lord’s doing.
The confessional song of Isaiah chapter 53 will be sung in the future by the remnant when they will finally recognise Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah. They once said, “… when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” Isa.53.2. They further said, “… we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” Isa.53.3. How wonderful when, guided by the Divine metronome of the new song, the Spirit-filled Israelites should also sing, “This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” He was once heinous in their sight, but now regenerated eyes have given them a Divine perspective: ‘He is marvellous in our eyes!’ No wonder the Psalmist now changes from the first-person singular pronoun to the first-person plural possessive pronoun “our” for the first time in this Psalm, much like the plural first-person pronouns throughout Isaiah chapter 53. Perhaps after confessing their sins with the language of Isaiah chapter 53, they continue with the song of Psalm 118, and every single redeemed Israelite will say, ‘He is marvellous in our eyes.’
Verse 24: The emphatic “this” appears three times in this Psalm: being used of the gate of the LORD, v.20; the Stone, v.23; and the day, v.24.
If we pivot the time context of this Psalm on “This is the day” in v.24, then we expect the content of this Psalm to be sung and experienced on that particular day. What day would that be? I suggest that it will be the first day of Israel’s Feast of Tabernacles, fulfilled and celebrated in the presence of their Messiah. This will become more apparent when we consider the word “sacrifice” in v.27, which is the word chag, which literally means ‘feast’ and is used mainly on those three feasts in the year (Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Tabernacles) when the Israelites arrive in Jerusalem. The first two chag had already been fulfilled through the death and burial of Christ, and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. The Feast of Tabernacles is the only chag still awaiting a prophetic fulfilment.
Just four days before “this …day”, Israel will have celebrated the Day of Atonement, but not with the blood of bulls and goats. Instead of bringing animal blood into the Holy of holies, Israel has now realised the efficacy of His precious blood shed on Calvary and has entered into His presence, celebrating the fulfilled Day of Atonement. The nation will experience the fulness of the forgiveness of sins that they had longed for. Then what is recorded in Zech.3.9 will be fulfilled: “I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.”
With sins forgiven, and now the dawning of the Millennial Kingdom, they rejoice with much gladness. The word “rejoice” has the root meaning ‘to circle around’, and has the sense of exuberant joy and an outward expression of such enthusiasm. One of the most notable verses that employs this word is Zech.9.9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem”.
This rejoicing in Zech.9.9 had to do with the first coming of the King, but the days are coming when the nation of Israel will finally fully understand the significance of Zech.9.9 in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ, will rejoice in the presence of the crowned King of kings, and will be very glad and say, “This is the day which the LORD hath made”.
Verse 25: It might be helpful to note how the Hebrew text is structured in this verse. Literally it looks like this:
‘I beseech Thee now LORD! Save Please!
I beseech Thee now LORD! Prosper [us] Please!’
The verse is divided into two parts, each with an imperative: “Save” and “Prosper”. Both imperatives are bracketed by “I beseech Thee now LORD” and the word “Please”. These imperatives are not commands, but a plea and call out of desperation. In the prophetic context of this Psalm the remnant now stands before Christ, and not only do they acknowledge the Stone, but they also remember desperate days when, surrounded by the enemy, they cried out to heaven to beg for mercy and for salvation.
On the Feast of Tabernacles a tradition developed in which, each day of the feast days, the high priest led a procession that moved from the Temple Mount to the Pool of Siloam to fetch water in a golden pitcher. After they had fetched water from the pool, the high priest led the procession back to the Temple Mount. There he took another pitcher, full of wine, and poured out the wine and the water before the Lord, while reciting Ps.118.25: “Save now, I beseech Thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech Thee, send now prosperity.” The Feast of Tabernacles was associated with the harvest, and on the days of the feast the longing of the people was for God to prosper their harvest and bless them abundantly for another year by causing the former and the latter rain to come. The ultimate blessing of Millennial harvest is now realised prophetically with the presence of the Messiah, and the words of Ezekiel will be fulfilled: “And I will make them and the places round about My hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing” Ezek.34.26.
From these words ‘Save Please!’ come the well-known cry “Hosanna”, heard when the Lord Jesus entered into Jerusalem. Vine tells us: “Hosanna, in the Hebrew, means ‘save, we pray’. The word seems to have become an utterance of praise rather than of prayer, though originally, probably, a cry for help.”4 As they cried “Hosanna” when the Lord entered into Jerusalem, they likely intended the word as a form of praise and honour to Him. They had come to recognise His Messianic prospect, and so they cried “Hosanna to the Son of David” Matt.21.9. It seems that they had understood Ps.118.26 to be associated with the King Messiah, and so they cried, “Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the LORD” Jn.12.13. All these took place on a Sunday; in less than a week the nation’s Messianic expectations vanished and hope turned into hatred. The cry of “Hosanna” gave way to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” They cried “Hosanna” but were not cognisant that the same song also incriminated Israel for their refusal of the Stone.
4. Vine, W.E., ibid.
When the throng cried “Hosanna” to the Lord Jesus, the chief priests and scribes said to Him: “Hearest Thou what these say?” It is possible that they rebuked the throng because they understood that the crowd’s citing of Ps.118.25 implied that the Lord Jesus was the LORD Himself, since the Hosanna call of Psalm 118 was a beseeching of the LORD. The Lord Jesus answered them in a most surprising way (at least surprising to the priests and scribes). He quoted Ps.8.2 from the Septuagint and asked them, “Have ye never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise’?” Matt.21.16. In Ps.8.2, the praise from the lips of babes and sucklings was to the LORD. The Lord Jesus, instead of silencing the throng, was saying in effect to the chief priests and the scribes that this Jerusalem throng was ascribing praise to the Lord: in this case, to the Lord Jesus Himself. The Lord Jesus was really saying that He is the Lord of Psalm 8! Therefore, whether it is their cry of “Hosanna” from Ps.118.25, or the Lord’s quotation of Ps.8.2, Matthew shows us that the Lord Jesus was none other than the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
Verse 26: The Lord Jesus said, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the LORD’” Matt.23.38,39. In the Greek text, “ye shall not see Me” consists of a double negative with an aorist subjunctive, which is the strongest negation in Greek and could be read thus: “Ye shall never never see Me from now on, until you say, ‘Blessed is the One Who comes in the name of the LORD.’” Since A.D.70, Israel has been left without a temple, desolated, and will continue to be left in this sad state because they have rejected the Lord Jesus. How long will this desolation last? As long as they reject Him, and until they welcome and receive Him. But now Christ has delivered them, and with regenerated sight they have embraced the Saviour, and their song of Millennial rhythm is “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the LORD.” Now they have come to appreciate what the Lord meant when He said “until”: the house was waiting for the Christ and waiting for their acceptance of Him. The desolation of the house is now no more, because the One Who comes “in the name of the LORD” is in their midst.
Not only is Messiah now in their midst but they have also entered into His presence and have occupied the house, and because of that they can now be the mouthpiece of blessing out from the house, and they will say, “… we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.” But a surprising second-person plural pronoun appears now for the first time: who are the “you” of this verse? And to whom particularly does the pronoun “we” refer? The Psalmist is possibly thinking of the priestly benediction in Numbers chapter 6. Aaron and his sons were to bless the children of Israel by saying, “The LORD bless thee, and keep thee” Num.6.24. Therefore, I suggest that the “we” of v.26 likely refers to the priests now in the presence of the Messiah, and the “you” is Israel at large. Those who entered into the sanctuary will likely be the leaders of the nation and the priests, and they will represent Israel to come before the Lord in His Temple to pay homage and give worship. And, more than that, they now represent the Lord, in speaking blessing to the land and her people. In v.25 they represent Israel to call out to the Lord for salvation. Now, in v.26, they represent the Lord, to pour out blessing to Israel!
Verse 27: In v.25 and v.26 we have indicated that Israel will one day come to the realisation that “the LORD” of the Psalmist is Jesus Whom they have crucified. The Lord Jesus bears testimony to this point through His quotation of these verses of Psalm 118 in the Synoptic Gospels. But nothing can be more direct than these words: “God is the LORD”, or a better translation would be ‘The LORD is God’. The words of Thomas are symbolic of what Israel will say to the Lord Jesus: “My Lord and my God” Jn.20.28.
‘He caused light to shine towards us’ is a more literal translation. This reminds us of Psalm 80, where the Psalmist mentions three times “… cause Thy face to shine …” Ps.80.3,7,19. Some have suggested that what we have here in v.27 is the Shekinah glory of God returning to the Temple. However, the Shekinah glory was just God’s representative presence in the form of an outshining in the Holy of holies. When the Lord Jesus returns on earth and sits as the Priest upon His throne, there will no longer be the need of a representation of God’s presence. “The LORD is God”, and He is Light, and His Divine presence will cast a beam of spiritual light upon those privileged to be around Him, Isa.9.2; Matt.4.16. Not only will His untainted beam shine upon Israel, but Israel will be the channel of His glory for the enjoyment of the Gentiles. We are told, “and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” Isa.60.3.
The word for “sacrifice” is actually the word chag in the Hebrew, and is the word usually used for “feast”, especially the feasts of Jehovah. The fact that this word is now used for the sacrifice tells us that this is a festal sacrifice. The binding of the sacrifice to the horns of the altar implies that the animal has been marked out and is waiting to be killed and offered as a sacrifice. Textually, the word aḏ should be “until” but it is translated “even unto” in the Authorised Version. Some have said that the sacrifice is bound ‘until’ the horns of the altar because there were too many animals waiting to be sacrificed, and they were all lined up in the vicinity of the altar, and the animal that was about to be slaughtered was bound ‘until’ the horns of the altar. This might be the case, but in deciding the best sense of the word aḏ we should also consider the overall context of this Christological section, especially when we have appreciated these verses in the light of the Lord Jesus as fulfilment.
If the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, is the Person in the context of this Christological section of the Psalm, then we must accept the theological relevance of the sacrifice as being a reference to Him, with emphasis upon His death. The focus is, therefore, not the word ‘until’, but the singularity of the word “sacrifice”. Israel has been accustomed to offering many animal sacrifices on their feast days. But now, there seems to be only one sacrifice bound to the altar: what a big difference! By the time Israel stands before the Messiah and sings this Psalm, they will have realised that the innumerable animal sacrifices of the old economy were only a type of Christ. Jesus Christ was the Lamb of God appointed and marked out by God for the “altar”. They will sing “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of altar” in enlightened understanding that these words were fulfilled in Him, and their hearts will be moved.
Verses 28,29: Thomas’ confession has now become Israel’s confession. “Thou” is emphatic, and no doubt refers to the One Who has come in the name of the Lord. There was a time in their history when their leaders accused the Lord by saying, “For a good work we stone Thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God” Jn.10.33, but now, the Person of which the Shekinah glory was only a symbolic representation of His presence, is manifest before their eyes, and they say, “Thou art my God, and I will praise [yâdâ, give thanks to] Thee”.
The word “exalt” is used also in Isa.52.13: “Behold, My servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.” Now the day has come; He has not only been exalted by His Father, but the very nation that cast Him down has also given Him His rightful place.
The Psalmist ends his song with how he began. More than ever now, the nation shouts thanksgivings to the One Who not only has delivered them from their enemies but has also brought salvation and total redemption to them. This future deliverance will be more epic than that of Moses; this Temple will far exceed in glory compared to that of Solomon’s days; this return of Israel will be comprehensive and final, unlike that of Zerubbabel. The second coming of the Messiah will be God’s proof of His faithfulness to fulfil His covenantal promises, and therefore the Psalmist closes His song with the phrase, “for His mercy endureth for ever.”
The Psalm began with the Saints: the house of Israel, the house of Aaron, and all who fear the Lord. But much of the middle section of the Psalm brings us to some very dark days awaiting the nation that rejected the Christ. They will be in Straits, surrounded, and outnumbered. But Salvation will come in the Person of Christ in the form of national deliverance. In the name of the Lord, all their enemies will be defeated. But Who is this Lord Who will come in salvation? He is the Stone which they have rejected but has now become the head of the corner. With gladness and relief, they enter through the gates of the Lord, and come into His Sanctuary. Israel will receive full forgiveness, and they will experience the full significance of the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. They will sing a new Song, the song of thanksgiving and adoration, appreciating the true Sacrifice, and that is how this Psalm concludes. They once crucified the Lamb, but they will, with the saints of the present dispensation of grace, sing in that future day, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain”!