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Deeper Commentary


Psa 118:1

Give thanks to Yahweh for He is good, for His grace endures forever-
It is part of the "Hallel Psalms" (Ps. 111-118), chants sung at the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, which consist of Psalms 113-118. The Psalm began with David thanking God for delivering him from the various crises of his life, but has been developed into a Psalm of hope for the exiles, thanking God in advance for the restoration of the temple which they looked forward to. The restoration didn't happen as was potentially possible, but these things are reapplied to the things of the Lord Jesus. Therefore some of the phrases in the Psalm are specifically applied to Him in the New Testament.

Psa 118:2

Let Israel now say that His grace endures forever-
This appeal to Israel to recognize God's eternal grace was pertinent to the exiles; for Ezekiel presents them as having lost faith in His grace, assuming it had somehow ended at the destruction of the temple. We too need to remember that the wonder of Divine grace isn't just historical, but abides for us too. 

Psa 118:3

Let the house of Aaron now say that His grace endures forever-
This can be read as an appeal to the house of Aaron separately to Israel (:2). But often "Israel" are paralleled with the house of Aaron / Levi. And this seems an example of that. Ps. 135:19,20 parallels all Israel with the priestly family: “Bless the Lord, O house of Israel: bless the Lord, O house of Aaron: bless the Lord, O house of Levi: ye that fear the Lord, bless the Lord... praise ye the Lord”. All Israel were to aspire to the spirit of priesthood. Indeed, the Psalms often parallel the house of Aaron (i.e. the priesthood) with the whole nation (Ps. 115:9,10,12; 118:2,3).

As it was God’s intention that Israel were to be a nation of priests to the rest of the world, so the new Israel likewise are to all discharge the priestly functions of teaching their brethren (Ex. 19:6 cp. 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6; 5:9,10). Under the new covenant, we should all teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16). Indeed, God told Israel [unrecorded in the historical records]: “Ye are gods [elohim] and all of you are sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82:6 RV). Further, Ps. 96:9 makes the paradigm breaking statement that even the Gentiles could come before Yahweh of Israel in holy, priestly array- they too could aspire to the spirit of priesthood (Ps. 96:9 RVmg.). Moses spoke of how all Israel should pray that God would establish the work of their hands (Ps. 90:17)- but this was in fact his special request for the blessing of Levi, the priestly tribe (Dt. 33:11).

Psa 118:4

Now let those who fear Yahweh say that His grace endures forever-
These "who fear Yahweh" could just be parallel with "Israel" (:2) and the "house of Aaron" (:3). Or it could refer to the Gentile proselytes, who became known in Judaism as the God fearers. David is ever eager for the conversion of the Gentiles.

Psa 118:5

Out of my distress, I called on Yah; Yah answered me with freedom-
David appeals in :1-4 for Israel and the Gentiles to praise God for His grace. But this was on the basis of how God had shown him grace in answering David's cry at the time of his distress. The intention was that the exiles would likewise cry to Yahweh and be restored, and the Gentiles (:3) would convert to Yahweh because of His grace to them. And ultimately these things come to apply to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus to eternal life, overcoming the "distress" of death itself. And the whole world is bidden believe in this and praise God for it.

Psa 118:6

Yahweh is on my side, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?-
Whilst this is true as it stands, we note David's tendency to divide people along the lines of whoever is on his side [who will be saved and blessed by God], and those who aren't [who will be cursed eternally by God]. This is a very human tendency. But we must beware of it. The people in David's life were largely amongst God's people; and we are not to judge in the sense of condemning. It's not always so that those not on our side aren't on the Lord's side. Paul lamented that all in Asia turned against him (2 Tim. 1:15), and yet it is clear from the Lord's letters of Rev. 2,3 that there were at least some in Asia who were on His side. And even at the times of persecution by Saul and Absalom, there were some like Jonathan who were on David's side whilst apparently on the side of his persecutors.

Psa 118:7

Yahweh is on my side among those who help me. Therefore I will look in triumph at those who hate me-
See on :6. The day when David would look at his haters in triumph was perhaps not in this life; but rather at the last day. In this case, David clearly understood the doctrine of the resurrection of the body and the last judgment. And yet he seems to see that final judgment as his vindication against his enemies in this life, rejoicing at the thought of their presence at that time. Surely in spiritual terms there are far greater things to look forward to in eternity than seeing our enemies of this life condemned at the day of judgment at the start of that eternity. See on :13.

Psa 118:8

It is better to take refuge in Yahweh than to put confidence in man-
This is a picture of Hezekiah in his better years (s.w. 2 Kings 18:5,18,19,20,21,22,30; 19:10), trusting in God when surrounded by his enemies in Jerusalem (:10).

Psa 118:9

It is better to take refuge in Yahweh than to put confidence in princes-
This repeats :8, but with "princes" replacing the more generic "man". The parallel between princes and men is found in Ps. 146:3. Princes are but men, no more than men, and nothing compared to Yahweh. I noted on :8 the application to Hezekiah. Yet he failed in putting confidence in princes, turning to Egypt for help. Yet he repented and was rewarded for his sole faith in Yahweh alone. And yet afterwards, he put his confidence in the princes of Babylon. His intensity of faith was not maintained.

Psa 118:10

All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of Yahweh, I cut them off-
This continues the Hezekiah connections (see on :8). The theme of being surrounded continues over the next verses, and this was exactly what happened when Jerusalem was surrounded and miraculously delivered at the time of the Assyrian invasion. But being surrounded by far superior odds is a theme in the lives of God's servants. We think of Samson in a foreign city "compassed in" by his enemies, Paul (Acts 9:24), David (1 Sam. 23:26), the spies in Jericho, the returned exiles (Neh. 6:16) etc.

Psa 118:11

They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me. In the name of Yahweh I indeed cut them off-
This could initially refer to David's experience in 1 Sam. 23:26. It is the language of Ps. 2 of the surrounding of Messiah, which is applied in the New Testament both to His death and also to the time of His return to earth.

Psa 118:12

They surrounded me like bees but they are quenched like the burning thorns. In the name of Yahweh I cut them off-
Faithless Israel had been surrounded by their enemies like bees (Dt. 1:44), and thus driven out from inheriting the land. The faithful exiles were intended to have faith that this would not be the case again- if they believed, and stopped acting like historical Israel.

Psa 118:13

You pushed me back hard to make me fall, but Yahweh helped me-
The "you" may refer to David's enemies. It is hard to think it also applies to the "Yahweh" of whom David speaks in the same sentence. This reflects how David seems obsessed with his enemies and opponents, imagining them ever before him, thinking that he was talking to them, and longing to see them again at judgment day and be vindicated by God before them. See on :7.

Psa 118:14

Yah is my strength and song, He has become my salvation-
This is the language of Israel's exaltation after the Red Sea deliverance, which became programmatic for the future deliverances of all God's people.

Psa 118:15

The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous: The right hand of Yahweh does valiantly-
As noted on :6,7, David sees the righteous as those who took his side against his enemies. He expects them to all rise up in ecstatic praise when he is vindicated. But David was not always right, and his enemies were raised up and used by God. Not all of them were evil, and some of them were it seems just used as tools in God's hand. He seems to over personalize everything, because of his oversensitivity to words and opposition.

Psa 118:16

The right hand of Yahweh is exalted! The right hand of Yahweh does valiantly!-
This continues the allusion to the triumphant rejoicing at the deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:6). The Psalm speaks in faith of the future possibilities as if they had happened, hence the past tenses.

Psa 118:17

I will not die, but live, and declare Yah’s works-
As noted on :16, the psalmist is not stating that he has been delivered; he speaks in the past tense of that yet future and hoped for. He has the absolute confidence of faith (:21). The intention of deliverance was that Yahweh's saving works and grace would be declared; and that is what David is doing through this Psalm. And that is the intention for each of us in our experience of answered prayer.

Psa 118:18

Yah has punished me severely, but He has not given me over to death- "Punished" is better "chastened me" (as AV). The allusion is clearly to Job, who was chastened but his life was not taken from him. This is how we should all respond to trial- by seeking Biblical precedent for our experiences.

Psa 118:19

Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will enter into them. I will give thanks to Yah-
It is hard to exactly reconstruct how the Psalms were used in musical arrangement, but I suggest that this is a solo sung by one singer, who has as it were come to the end of the journey to Zion; and then another soloist answers in the words of :20. "The gates of righteousness" are the temple gates; the gates  to be entered by the righteous. Or the allusion could be to Dt. 16:18 (s.w.), that there was to be righteous judgment in all the gates of the restored Kingdom of God on earth. There is great emphasis upon the gates of the restored Zion (Is. 54:12; 60:11,18), being entered by the restored exiles (Is. 62:10). But this would be if Judah accepted the new covenant (Jer. 31:38,40), and built the restored temple as commanded in Ez. 40-48. They didn't do these things, and so they are reapplied to the restored Zion of the last days; for the gates of the new Jerusalem are stressed in the final chapters of Revelation. See on :22.

Psa 118:20

This is the gate of Yahweh; the righteous will enter into it-
As suggested on :19, this is another soloist, replying or perhaps chanting as it were from the temple gate, in response to the solo of :19. The restored exiles were to be counted righteous, by grace through faith in imputed righteousness, as the latter part of Isaiah emphasizes. But they did not repent nor grasp the offer, as noted on :19.

Psa 118:21

I will give thanks to You, for You have answered me, and have become my salvation-
As noted on :16, the psalmist is not stating that he has been delivered, for he has not yet experienced it (:17); he speaks in the past tense of that yet future and hoped for. He has the absolute confidence of faith.

Psa 118:22

The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner-
This is clearly quoted in the New Testament with reference to Christ's exaltation (Mt. 21:42). But in the context, these words are part of a personal prayer of praise from David for God's healing of him and rescuing him from persecution. The temple could have been rebuilt by the exiles with Zerubbabel as the head stone (s.w. Zech. 4:7). But he failed to be the Messianic figure he could have been, and so the prophecy was reapplied and reinterpreted in relation to the Lord Jesus, the stone (Gen. 49:24; Is. 8:14; 28:16; Rom. 9:23; 1 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:8). There may be the hint that the intended rebuilders of Zion would not build as required by the commandments of Ez. 40-48 (see on :19). But God's restoration plan would not ultimately fail; for the rejected stone would as it were arise [in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus] and become the cornerstone of a new kind of temple; that spoken of in the New Testament, comprised of living stones of believers.

Psa 118:23

This is Yahweh’s doing, it is marvellous in our eyes-
The faithful would perceive the wonder of the ultimate restoration of the temple through the reapplication of the prophecies to the Lord Jesus; see on :19,22. It's tempting to assume that it's the natural creation which alone provokes wonder. But Biblically, it's more often God's actions in history, His saving of His Israel, His grace, His undeserved helping of us in practical situations (e.g. Jer. 21:2) which are what should provoke wonder. Otherwise the blind would have no sense of wonder at God. God's whole plan in Christ "is wonderful in our eyes" (Ps. 118:23). It is a "marvellous work and a wonder" (Is. 29:14; Acts 13:41). Wonder doesn't mean we cease to analyze God's word; it's a sense of touching reality, not a fuzzy feeling of vague speculation.

Psa 118:24

This is the day that Yahweh has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it!-
The day created by Yahweh is that of the restoration of the Kingdom of God in Israel; see on :27. The day of Yahweh's making is the term used for the creation (Gen. 2:4), but the arising of the rejected stone, the Lord Jesus (:22), would lead to a new creation; the day Yahweh makes is finally to be in the last day of the return of the Lord Jesus to reestablish God's Kingdom on earth (s.w. Joel 2:22). And the faithful would perceive this and rejoice in it. 

Psa 118:25

Save us now, we beg You, Yahweh! Yahweh, we beg You, send prosperity now-
This is the cry of the faithful for the promised restoration of the Kingdom to come immediately, in their lifetimes. This was the passion of the faithful exiles, and also of David. "Save now" is the equivalent of "Hosanna", and was the desire of the people of Jerusalem at the Lord's triumphal entry. But He deconstructed those desires for an immediate restoration of the Kingdom. He came to die, and to usher in the kind of Kingdom He taught about in His message about the Kingship and Kingly dominion of God in Christian life. Only in the longer term was there to be the literal establishment of such a Kingdom on earth, at the last day, when those principles will finally be physically and eternally articulated in this earth. The exiles wanted the "prosperity" of the Kingdom immediately; but this prosperity was conditional upon their obedience to the covenant (s.w. Josh. 1:8); they would never "prosper" whilst disobeying it (s.w. Dt. 28:29), nor could they "prosper" to enter the land as intended whilst faithless (Num. 14:41 s.w.). The faithful minority amongst the exiles believed God would prosper them (Neh. 2:20), and He was indeed eager to do so (Is. 55:11); but this was not to be, because the majority were faithless. This prosperity was to finally only be through the work of the Lord Jesus (Is. 53:10), seeing the potential 'servant' figures of the restoration all failed (Is. 48:15). David liked to imagine that Solomon would "prosper" because he built the temple (1 Chron. 22:11); but such prosperity was conditional.

Psa 118:26

Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh! We have blessed you out of the house of Yahweh-
This individual is the rejected stone who revives and becomes the cornerstone. The musical arrangement here may be as suggested on :19,20. This is another soloist, replying or perhaps chanting as it were from the temple gate, in response to the arrival of the King at the temple gates. The 'coming one' was Messiah (Mt. 11:3). These words were sung to the approaching Lord Jesus (Lk. 19:38), but they were totally misunderstood. They will be finally be sung by those of the last day who see the Lord Jesus return to Zion. Thus He interpreted them in Mt. 23:39, where He understands that when Jerusalem sees Jesus again, they will be saying: “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord”. This would suggest they are waiting for Him. And these words being taken from the Passover Hallel here in Ps. 118, it could be that the Lord returns to them at Passover time, when they traditionally expect Him. Indeed, Jerusalem will not see the Lord until they say “Blessed is he…”- as if the time of His return depends upon their ‘seeing’ / perceiving Him beforehand.

But the Lord quoted these words to those who were to crucify Him. He was saying that He now was going to stop them 'seeing' / perceiving Him for who He was, so that they would crucify Him. And they would only again perceive Him as God's Son all too late, when at the day of judgment they uttered the words of Messianic welcome "Blessed is He that comes...". And yet even in this terrible judgment there was interwoven a possibility of hope. They would only perceive Him again as God's Son when, or, until the time that, they recognized Him as Messiah in the Messianic words "Blessed is He that comes...". Once they made that repentance, they would again perceive / see Him. However, it could be argued that that is axiomatic. The thrust of the Lord's words is surely that in the day of judgment, all too late, they would perceive Him again as He is in truth. But all too late. When they are appointed their portion with the hypocrites and there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, then shall the Kingdom be likened unto the five wise and five foolish virgins. Then the rejected will understand the principles of that parable, crystal clearly. Members of the ecclesia of Israel will say "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord"- but be rejected. Likewise the Egyptians, fleeing in the mud from Yahweh as they vainly hoped against hope that the returning waters wouldn't somehow reach them... they came to know Yahweh (Ex. 14:18). It could well be that this knowing of Yahweh involves a desperate recounting of their sins, seeing that one of the purposes of condemnation is to make men aware of their sinfulness and the depth of God's grace.

 Psa 118:27

Yahweh is God, and He has given us light-
This is the phrase used for how God "gave light" at creation (Gen. 1:15,17). The idea is that a new creation was to come about with the coming of Messiah to Zion (:26). See on :24.

Bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar-
This is obviously appropriate to usage in the feasts (see on :1). The exiles had no temple; these words are being said in faithful expectation of the day when the temple would be restored, and a thank offering offered (:28).

Psa 118:28

You are my God, and I will give thanks to You; You are my God, I will exalt You-
This continues the allusion to the song of Moses in thanksgiving for the Red Sea deliverance (Ex. 15:2). The "us" of :27 now becomes "me". The personal wonder of salvation is to be ever appreciated. This is no mere nationalistic fervour of praise for Israel's deliverance, but a deep sense that little me... has indeed been eternally saved.

Psa 118:29

Oh give thanks to Yahweh, for He is good, for His grace endures forever-
This forms the conclusion, in the same words as the opening verses. This great salvation is indeed all of grace, and the God who has seemed distant to the exiles, shrouded behind the problem of evil, will be finally and eternally revealed as ultimately "good".