George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 118

1. Structure

a. A summary of the “Passover Hallel”:

(1) Psalm 113 praises God’s majesty.
(2) Psalm 114 speaks of deliverance.
(3) Psalm 115 praises God for the deliverance.
(4) Psalm 116 praises God for the one through whom the deliverance came.
(5) Psalm 117 is the appeal by the saints to the mortal nations in the millennium.
(6) Psalm 118 is the praise of Jesus and the redeemed.

b. Then, there is the “envelope” form, in which the last verse (29) repeats the first.

c. Another kind of repetition, usually in groups of two or three verses, is readily discernible right through the psalm. This would seem to be a particular characteristic of psalms written by Hezekiah himself. The prominence of the first person pronoun is another typical feature.

His mercy endureth for ever
6, 7.
The Lord is on my side (taketh my part)
8, 9.
It is better to trust in the Lord
They compassed me about
15, 16.
The right hand of the Lord
17, 18.
I shall not die
19, 20.
The gates of righteousness... of the Lord
I beseech thee, O Lord
Thou art my God

For other examples, see Psalm 111:3 along with 112:3,9; 113:1-3; and 115:9-11; 116:13,17,18.

2. Hezekiah

The same features occur here as in Psa. 115:9-11.
I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me (Psa. 116:3,4). Here is a close parallel to Isa. 38:1-6.

And set me in a large place (Psa. 18:18,19). That is, a roomy place, so pleasant to one who had been shut up because of his sickness. Probably it means the temple court (vv. 19,20).
I will not fear: what can man do unto me? (Psa. 56:11; Heb. 13:6). The Assyrian threats against Jerusalem coincided with the king’s sickness (Isa. 38:5,6). Not only would Hezekiah not fear them, but he would see their punishment and permanent overthrow (v. 7 here).
The Lord taketh my part with them that help me. Most probably Isaiah and his fellow prophets. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
It is better to trust in the Lord. With the sorry exception of that brief but bad blunder in Isa. 39, everything about Hezekiah had this trust stamped on it.

Than to put confidence in man... or (v. 9)... in princes (cp. Psa. 146:3,4). The Assyrians and Hezekiah’s own princes were alike “treacherous dealers dealing treacherously” (see notes on 116:11).
All nations compassed me about. The Assyrians, like the Romans in A.D. 70, boosted their military strength by enrolling mercenaries from other nations round about Jerusalem (Psa. 47:3; 48:4; 76:12; 79:6; Isa. 5:26,30; 29:7; 30:28; 34:1,2; Mic. 4:11).
They compassed me about. Jerusalem was surrounded; yet the siege was never really begun in earnest.

But in the name of the Lord will I destroy them. Hezekiah had the faith to believe that, even in this bad situation, he would emerge both safe and supreme, because the Lord was at his side (vv. 13-15).
They compassed me about like bees. With the smallest possible emendation, this reads: with words, which succinctly describes Rabshakeh’s sustained propaganda campaign outside the walls of Jerusalem (Psa. 42:10; 44:13,14,16; 74:10; 102:8; 2 Kings 19:4, 16,22,23; Isa. 37:4,17,23,24).

Alternatively, like bees is an allusion to Isa. 7:18: “the bee that is in the land of Assyria” (cp. Deut. 1:44).
Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the Lord helped me. This verse seems to be addressed directly to the Assyrians (v. 6).
The Lord is my strength and song (Isa. 12:2). Compare Isa. 38:20:

“The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.”

And is become my salvation. This “salvation” (and in vv. 15,25 as well) is a word-play on the name Isaiah.
The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous. It was Passover when the Assyrian invasion suddenly hit Jerusalem (Isa. 30:29,31; 31:5; 33:19,20; cp. Isa. 26:20,21 with Exod. 12:22; and Isa. 37:36 with Exod. 12:23; see also Psa. 114, Par. 1). At such a time the normal population of the city was increased by many thousands of religious pilgrims. So here tabernacles refers to their improvised dwellings in and around the city.
The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly. That is, ‘exerciseth power’: here is the angel of the Lord going into action against the Assyrians (Isa. 37:36).
I shall not die, but live. A triumphant reversal of the words of Isaiah: “Thou shalt die, and not live” (Isa. 38:1; cp. v. 18 here).

And declare the works of the Lord. Isa. 38:20 again (see v. 14 above).
Open to me the gates of righteousness. These were the same gates closed by an unrighteous father (2 Chron. 29:3; Isa. 38:22).
The stone which the builders refused. In what sense was this true of Hezekiah? The “builders” were the princes of Judah who blithely assumed the government of the state in the time of the king’s illness (see Psa. 116, Par. 4). These men came in for strong censure by Isaiah (28:18; 30:1,2; 31:1).

The head stone of the corner. Here the Hebrew word for corner (pinnah) means also (figuratively) a ruler or prince (Isa. 19:13; 28:16; Judg. 20:2; 1 Sam. 14:38; Zech. 10:4). “Head stone” does not mean the top of an arch, as is often said, but the chief stone, i.e., a foundation stone.

The original “foundation stone” was the altar-rock of Zion — which was probably the site where Abraham prepared to offer Isaac (Gen. 22: cp. v. 9 there with v. 27 here), and which was probably also the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite on mount Moriah (2 Sam. 24:18-25). The wicked Ahaz, infected with a zest for the worship of foreign gods, re-moved the altar of burnt-offering from its prominent place atop this foundation stone, and “hid” it away in a corner of the Temple enclosure (2 Kings 16:14). Yet whilst the true altar might be set aside, there was no way to shift the massive outcropping of rock on which it had stood (it is still there today, in the center of the Dome of the Rock). Thus, in Ahaz’s day it remained — quite literally — a “stone of stumbling” (Isa. 8:14,15) for priests walking across the temple court, and a “rock of offence” in a spiritual sense.

It was only when Hezekiah came into full control of the kingdom that he could remedy this sacrilege, and restore the Temple worship to its rightful setting. And so the “stone” rejected by the new “builders” of Judah became, once again, a precious stone and a sure foundation for the true worship of the Lord (Isa. 28:16).

It is easy, then, to see how this foundation stone symbolized Hezekiah himself (and his faith in the Lord), upon which all true worship in Judah depended. While sick unto death, he had been “set aside” by other would-be “builders” and rulers, but when miraculously healed he would stand forth again as the chief prince of his people. (See further on H.A. Whittaker, Bible Studies, pp. 111-116.)

This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. The dramatic change in both personal and national fortunes was one of the most sensational in all human history — Hezekiah’s startling recovery from leprosy, and the overnight destruction of the mightiest military force the world had yet known.
This is the day which the Lord hath made. A Passover deliverance outstripping that in the time of Moses.
Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. The Land was devastated, crops and herds destroyed by the invaders. Yet within a few months, thanks to the miraculous blessing of a Year of Jubilee (Isa. 37:30,31), and thanks also to the plundering of the Assyrians and massive gifts from marveling nations round about, there was a breath-taking recovery to more than normal prosperity (Psa. 67:6; 81:16; 85:12; 96:12; Isa. 35:1,6,7; 41:18; 43:19; 44:23).
Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord. This verse is to be read as spoken by the priests in the temple — throwing the gates open for their king to enter in solemn procession, in order to offer formally a special sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Thou art my God. How well this phrase sums up the psalm’s emphasis. In 29 verses, Yahweh/Jehovah comes 27 times.

3. Messianic reference

It is beyond dispute that Hezekiah is one of the finest types of Christ to be found in the Old Testament (see again Psa. 80, Par. 4). So of course a psalm which speaks so intimately about the one must necessarily have reference to the other. And indeed the New Testament uses this psalm so explicitly about Jesus that to read it without reference to him is to miss the best it has to offer.

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever. Mercy and truth are commonly used in the psalms, together and separately, for God’s Covenants of Promise centered in Christ (Psa. 115:1, note). It is an eternal salvation.
The house of Aaron has never been able to pronounce a forgive-ness which endureth for ever; else why an annual repetition of the Day of Atonement (cp. Heb. 10:1,2)? But now, in Christ, God’s mercy, or merciful forgiveness, endureth for ever. His is a once-for-all sacrifice (Heb. 7:27; 9:26; 10:10,12,14).
Them that fear the Lord. In the Book of Acts this expression is constantly used of Gentile believers in the gospel (10:2,22,35; 13:16; 16:38; 19:17; cp. Rev. 11:18; 19:5).
I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me. The inference is often made, from Christ’s cry of distress on the cross (Psa. 22:1), that God deserted him. But there are several good reasons why that was just not the case (Psalms Studies, Psa. 22, Par. 5).
Therefore shall I see (“my desire” is in italics) upon them that hate me (cp. Psa. 54:7). As Judge, Jesus will look upon his enemies, and will in solemn resignation pronounce their fates:

“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them [cp. v. 14], bring hither, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27).

But, like the Father, the Son does not desire that any one should perish (Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; Lam. 3:33; 2 Pet. 3:9).
Trust in the Lord. So Jesus also was justified by faith.
All nations compassed me about. The prototype of this was the collaboration against Jesus by the Jew Caiaphas, the Roman Pilate, and the Edomite Herod (Psa. 2:1,2; cp. Luke 23:12; Acts 4:25-28).

And in the days to come “the kings of the earth set themselves... together against the Lord and against His Anointed” (Psa. 2:1,2 again; cp. this time Joel 3:2; Zech. 14:2).

But in the name of the Lord. Compare John 10:24,25: “The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.”

Will I destroy them:

“And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh” (Rev. 19:19-21).

“It is not in human nature, much less in its political organization, to surrender power, wealth, and honor, at discretion. It does not part with these things without a struggle to retain them. On such a proclamation coming to the pope and ‘crowned heads’ of Europe, from a Jew on Mount Zion, claiming to be Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews, are they likely to acknowledge him, to place their kingdoms at his disposal, and cast their crowns at his feet? We know certainly that they will not; for it is testified that all nations shall compass him about like bees; but they shall be quenched as the fire of thorns; for in the name of Yahweh he will destroy them” (John Thomas, Eureka, vol. 3, p. 402).
They are quenched as the fire of thorns. Thorns are often gathered as fuel in the East. They make a quick, hot fire, which kindles easily and soon expires. The idea conveyed here is of quick and sudden destruction for the wicked (2 Sam. 23:6,7; Psa. 58:9; Eccl. 7:6,7; Isa. 9:18; 10:17; Nah. 1:10).
The Lord helped me (Psa. 116:4), with an angel in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43), with the presence of the Shekinah Glory at the crucifixion (Psa. 18:12 — see notes there), and with a unique confession of faith by a malefactor (Luke 23:40-42).
The Lord is my strength and song. What was Mary’s song (Luke 1:51) became the song of her son as well. Psalm 118 is the concluding and most important part of the “Passover Hallel”; it was quite probably the final hymn sung before Jesus and his disciples left the upper room and went out to the mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30).
The right hand of the Lord is exalted: Phil. 2:9.
I shall not die, but live. The death of Jesus was a “sleep” (v. 18), the prelude to a wonderful awakening. And likewise for those in Christ (John 11:11; 1 Cor. 15:18; 1 Thes. 4:13-16).

And declare the works of the Lord. The LXX has the same verb as in Luke 1:1: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us... ”

This whole verse (17) was quoted by John Wycliffe to his enemies as he lay on his deathbed. It was fulfilled, of course, in the continued success of the English Bible which he did so much to develop and propagate.

The Lord hath chastened me sore. Indeed, “it pleased the Lord to bruise him” (Isa. 53:10; cp. Acts 2:23), but only because thus “the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:4-6; 1 Pet. 2:24,25).
Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord. Hezekiah celebrated his recovery by a special thanksgiving in the house of the Lord. So also Jesus, on the day of his resurrection, ascended to his Father’s presence (John 20:17). This he did to show the tokens of his sacrifice (the wounds in his hands and feet and side), fulfilling the type of the High Priest going once yearly into the presence of God on the Day of Atonement, bearing the blood of sacrifice for the sins of the nation.

(Henry Sulley writes: “Ecclesiasticism makes a fearful travesty of this psalm in the ceremony of a bishop knocking with his jeweled crook at a cathedral door.”)

And in days to come Jerusalem will see “the gates of righteousness” opened so that a King of Righteousness, a King of Glory, may come in (Psa. 110:4; 24:7,10; Isa. 26:2).
I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation. The last part of this verse is an expression impossible to reconcile with any concept of Jesus as “God the Son”, co-equal with the Father.
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This “stone” is specifically interpreted as the Messiah in Matt. 21:42-44:

“Jesus saith unto them, ‘Did ye never read the scriptures, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes”? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder’ ” (cp. Mark 12:10,11; Luke 20:17).

To his quotation of Psalm 118 Jesus adds (Matt. 21:44) an allusion to the “stone of stumbling” of Isa. 8:14,15 — equating both the rejected stone and the stone of stumbling to himself. Peter confirms this, and also joins Isa. 8 together with the tried and precious cornerstone of Isa. 28:16:

“To whom [i.e., to the Lord] coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed [i.e., rejected: Psa. 118:22] indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively [living] stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded’ [Isa. 28:16]. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious {Isa. 28:16]: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner [Psa. 118:22], and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence [Isa. 8:14], even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient” (1 Pet. 2:4-8).

The repeated use by Jesus and the apostles (cp. Paul in Rom. 9:32,33 and Eph. 2:20-22) of these Old Testament “stone” prophecies calls for special attention. Undoubtedly they saw the great altar-stone of Zion (see notes on this verse in Par. 2 above) as emblematic of the sacrificial work of the Messiah.

The One who came to offer his life as the perfect sacrifice was rejected in that task by the would-be spiritual heads of Israel (Acts 4:11); but it was through that very rejection, and only because of it, that Jesus was actually offered as the sacrifice for the sins of all men. And so the cross of Christ, while precious to some, became at the same time a source of confusion and offence, or stumbling, to others (1 Cor. 1:18-29, esp. v. 23). But, like the original altar-stone, Christ too can never be moved or replaced (1 Cor. 3:11). He is, and will be, the sure foundation of all the apostles and prophets, and in and around him the whole “building” of God’s holy temple has been, is being, and will be framed (Eph. 2:20-22; cp. Dan. 2:34,35,44).
This is the day which the Lord hath made. See the earlier note on v. 24, in Par. 2. There is good reason to believe that the Second Coming will take place at Passover (see note, Psa. 102:13). Is this verse quoted in, and (consequently) does this verse help to explain, Rev. 1:10 (“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day”)?
Save now is Hosanna (in Hebrew, hoshi ah na), a word which has a distinct connection with “Jesus” (in Hebrew, Yehoshua), although the Hebrew verb form makes this anything but obvious. In its New Testament appearances (Matt. 21:9,15; Mark 11:9,10; John 12:13), Hosanna is transliterated from the Hebrew into the Greek without any attempt at translation. It is often assumed, mistakenly, that Hosanna is a synonym for “praise” or “Hallelujah”; but it is not: Hoshi means “save” (Psa. 86:2; Jer. 31:7), and na is a particle meaning “please”.

The sufferings of Christ and the glory that shall follow are both in this psalm; but on the day of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowds saw only the glory (Matt. 21:9,15; Mark 11:9,10; John 12:13). They were asking Jesus to send prosperity now. The multitude also used the opening words of this verse; but neither the men of the temple nor the Pharisees blessed him out of the house of the Lord that day!

It was only to be much later — much, much later — that another multitude, “out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues” (cp. Psa. 117:1), would carry palm branches (note, v. 28 here) and ascribe “Salvation... unto the Lamb” — no longer as a plea or prayer, but now in thanksgiving for salvation actually received — for they will then know the reality of those words (Rev. 7:9,10; cp. 12:10; 19:1). This last multitude will have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the (Passover) Lamb (7:14), and now they will celebrate the last and greatest of “Passovers” — the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
He that cometh. By New Testament times the “Coming One” had become a well-recognized title of Messiah; hence Matt. 3:11; 11:3; 23:39; Luke 3:15,16; 13:35; 19:38; John 6:14; 11:27; 12:13; Rev. 1:7 (see Par. 5 below).
God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light. In isolation, these words are difficult; but v. 26 throws light on this darkness: We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord is surely an allusion to the high-priestly blessing of Num. 6:23-27, given in response to the offering of a supremely-acceptable sacrifice (cp. v. 27 here), the “light” of the divine glory shining forth (see LXX). This “we” in v. 26 indicates the nation’s change to enthusiastic approval of Jesus. Now note how 1 Pet. 2:7 (the precious corner stone) is immediately followed by 1 Pet. 2:9 (his marvellous light).

Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar (cp. Psa. 116:3; Gen. 22:9). Jesus used a scourge of small cords to cleanse the temple by driving out the animals and money-changers. It was this action which settled the fate of Jesus. Now he would be bound with cords and led away to crucifixion. (“Bind the sacrifice to... ” — which has occasioned so much expositional guesswork — may simply be an abridged form of “Bring the sacrifice, bound, to... ”)

Very remarkably, the LXX reading is: Celebrate the feast with thick branches (cp. the palm branches of Matt. 21:8). And the RSV has: Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar — with obvious allusion to Jesus’ “Palm Sunday” entrance into Jerusalem (cp. vv. 25,26). (The Hebrew chag is much more often rendered “feast” or its equivalent than it is “sacrifice” — although obviously feasts and sacrifices are closely associated in Scripture.) Though they realized it not, the excited crowd that ushered Jesus into the city was in reality leading him in festal procession to his “altar” of sacrifice!

4. Exodus 15

Apropos to its Passover connections, this psalm echoes the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 quite remarkably:

Exodus 15
Psalm 118
The children of Israel cried unto the Lord
The name Yah
The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation
He is my God... I will exalt him
Thy right hand (repeated)

Thus the Song of Moses is also the Song of the Lamb (Rev. 15:3). In all three places the theme of deliverance is the same even though much of the content is different.

5. “He that cometh in the name of the Lord”

This passage is quite outstanding among a group of Old Testament prophecies about Messiah which were clearly recognized as such by the rabbis in the time of Christ — e.g., Ezekiel 21:27; Psalm 40:7,9; Genesis 49:10; Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 35:4; and Malachi 3:1.

When John was preaching, this phrase ho erchomenos was a recognized title of Messiah. This is immediately evident in Matthew 11:3; Luke 3:15,16; and John 1:39. The common people also had this under-standing (John 6:14).

The same idea is clearly discernible also in John 1:9 (which should read: “That was the true light... which cometh into the world”); Hebrews 10:37; Romans 5:14; and John 5:43.

Especially important is the triple use in Revelation of the Name: “Which is, and which was, and which is to come” (Rev. 1:4,8; 11:17). Since the first two phrases here are parts of the verb ‘to be’, it is natural to expect another part of the same verb: “which will be” or “which is about to be”. But instead, ho erchomenos, the “Coming One”!

6. Acts 3 and 4

The quotation of v. 22 by Peter in Acts 4:11, when studied in depth, proves to be wonderfully fitting to the whole of the context in Acts 3 and 4:

Acts 3 and 4
Psalm 118
At the gate of the temple
Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the name of the Lord
He entered with them into the temple... praising God
The name Jesus... of Nazareth
The Name of the Lord
He took him by the right hand
The right hand of the Lord
His feet and ankle bones received strength
The Lord is my strength and song
The people, greatly wondering
A notable miracle
The Lord’s doing, marvellous in our eyes

God sent him to bless you
We have blessed you
Annas, Caiaphas, the kindred of the high priest
Let the house of Aaron now say, His mercy endureth for ever
Be it known... to all Israel
Let Israel now say...
Neither is there salvation in any other
And is become my salvation

The Day of Atonement
The Day which the Lord hath made

7. Crossroads

Psalm 118 is a veritable “spaghetti junction” of intertwining scriptures:

The offering of Isaac.
Israel’s song of triumph at the crossing of the Red Sea.
The high-priestly benediction.
A psalm of David (56:11 = 118:6).
A host of similarities with Psalms 113-117 (the earlier part of the “Hallel”).
Unmistakable links with the Hezekiah narratives in 2 Chronicles 29 and Isaiah 38.
As well, marked verbal connections with other parts of Isaiah.
Then there are New Testament quotations and allusions aplenty, Matthew 21 and 1 Peter 2 being especially noteworthy.
The experiences of Jesus in Gethsemane, his trial, his crucifixion, and his resurrection are all “echoed” beforehand.
Last of all, Revelation 15 has the Song of Moses and of the Lamb from Exodus 15 and Psalm 118.

Do these things happen by accident, or human cleverness, or — rather — by divine design?

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