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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 118

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



We find ourselves unable to accept the dictum of most present-day scholars that, “This is a marching song sung by the pilgrims not yet arrived coming to Jerusalem to worship,”(F1) or that it is a national hymn, “Referring to the whole congregation of Israel.”(F2) Neither of these views is tenable.

(1) Regarding the liturgical explanation (pilgrims marching to the Temple), as Addis admitted, “It is impossible to recover the original arrangement in detail.”(F3) Furthermore, how did all those marching pilgrims bring the goats, and the sheep and oxen for the sacrifices, all the while singing as they came? We simply can’t see it in this psalm. Besides this, “There is little agreement on the specific persons who speak”(F4) in various verses of the psalm.

(2) The “national hymn” interpretation. This is simply preposterous, because the personal pronouns, “I,” “my” and “me” occur thirty times in twenty-five verses (Psalms 118:5-29). The psalm is intensely personal.

(3) The language of the psalm could not possibly have been spoken by a group of singers. Such expressions as, “I will cut them off,” repeated three times in Psalms 118:10-12, presumes an authority that no group of singers, no priest, or even the whole nation of Israel had in their possession. Language such as this belongs only in the mouth of a king. Only a powerful king enjoying the blessings of God Himself could have “cut off nations” as indicated in these verses.

Barnes and others have downgraded the idea that the authorship and occasion of the psalm can now be determined.

“The common opinion has been that it is a psalm of David, and that it was composed when his troubles with Saul ceased, and when he became recognized as king. Some have referred it to Hezekiah… others to the return from Babylon… others to the times of the Maccabees. It would be useless to examine these opinions. They are all conjectures, and no certainty is possible.”(F5)

Nevertheless, it appears to us as a certainty that David is the author and that the psalm was written upon the occasion of the final defeat of King Saul and of David’s coming to the throne of Israel. The whole psalm fits this assumption perfectly.

Supporting this interpretation is the fact that both Christ and the apostles applied what happened to David in this psalm to the Lord Jesus Christ, which indeed is proper enough because David was the Old Testament Type of Christ. It is the wealth of New Testament references to this psalm, therefore, which confirms our view of the Davidic and Messianic character of the composition.

Verses 1-4


“O give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth forever. Let Israel now say, That his lovingkindness endureth forever. Let the house of Aaron now say, That his lovingkindness endureth forever. Let them now which fear Jehovah say, That his lovingkindness endureth forever.”

If this song was composed by King David upon the occasion of his offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving for God’s raising him to the throne of Israel, such a triple repetition of praising God’s lovingkindness appears understandable and highly appropriate. We discussed the “three groups” mentioned here under Psalms 115:11. It appears reasonable enough to suppose that upon the occasion of the king’s coming to the tabernacle, the singers would indeed have chanted such an introduction as this.

Verses 5-7

“Out of my distress I called upon Jehovah: Jehovah answered me and set me in a large place. Jehovah is on my side; I will not fear: What can man do unto me? Jehovah is on my side among them that help me: Therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me.”

“And set me in a large place” The palace of the king of Israel would indeed qualify for such a designation.

“I will not fear what man can do unto me” The author of Hebrews quoted this making it applicable to Christians in Hebrews 13:6.

“Therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me” David indeed lived to see the death of King Saul, and the fierce partisans who had attempted to kill him, either dispersed and powerless, or slain in battle.

Verses 8-9

“It is better to take refuge in Jehovah Than to put confidence in man. It is better to take refuge in Jehovah Than to put confidence in princes.”

No one in ancient history had found the word of princes any more unreliable than had David, His first great disappointment was with Saul the king of Israel.

“It is better to take refuge in Jehovah” Why is it “better?” Barnes answered that question: “(1) It is better because man is weak… God is Almighty; (2) man is selfish… God is benevolent; (3) man is often treacherous and deceitful… God is faithful; and (4) in some emergencies, such as death, man cannot help… God can assist us in any extremity.”(F6)

Verses 10-12

“All nations compassed me about: In the name of Jehovah I will cut them off. They compassed me about, yea they compassed me about: In the name of Jehovah I will cut them off. They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: In the name of Jehovah I will cut them off.”

“All nations compassed me about” When David ascended the throne of Israel, the Philistines had just succeeded in killing Saul; and the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites in a sense “surrounded” Israel.

“In the name of Jehovah I will cut them off” Rawlinson called these terse pledges, “a conviction,”(F7) but they are not a conviction, they are a “promise and a pledge” on the part of the author of the psalm, which can hardly be any other person than king David. Certainly no priest, nor a band of singers, nor even the nation of Israel itself could have made such a pledge. The words fit the mouth of king David; and furthermore, he did exactly what he here said he would do.

Verses 13-17

“Thou didst thrust sore at me that I might fall; But Jehovah helped me. Jehovah is my strength and song; And he is become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation is the tents of the righteous. The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. The right hand of Jehovah is exalted: The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of Jehovah.”

“Thou didst thrust sore at me” The “thou” here is a reference to the enemies that encompassed David.

“Rejoicing in the tents of the righteous” These were the faithful followers of the Lord who had supported David in his long and bitter contest with the wicked Saul.

“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah” King Saul had devoted all the resources of the kingdom to accomplish the death of David; and for a long while the issue was in doubt; but victory at the time of this psalm had been won. Saul was dead and David was on the throne.

“Some of these verses refer to a symbolical humiliation of the king,”(F8) as McCaw stated it, and this is the viewpoint of a number of commentators, but there is no evidence that there was anything “symbolical” about the death threats against David. There was nothing symbolical about that javelin that Saul cast at David with the intention of thrusting him through. It is our conviction that most of the commentators are simply wrong about this psalm. All that imagination about the liturgical procession of the singers is simply not in the picture at all.

Verses 18-20

“Jehovah hath chastened me sore; But he hath not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will enter into them, I will give thanks unto Jehovah. This is the gate of Jehovah; The righteous shall enter into it.”

“Jehovah hath chastened me sore” The hardships, sufferings, anxieties, and constant threat of death that hounded the steps of David during the final years of Saul’s reign fully qualify as the object of such a reference as this. David rejoiced that, at least, God had saved him from death. Therefore King David will enter the Tabernacle with thanksgivings, sacrifices, and praises to God.

“The gates of righteousness” This means that only the righteous were supposed to enter; but, of course, the wicked also found their way through the gates on occasion. Some of the wickedest people in history were the evil High Priests of Israel, Annas and Caiaphas being those who engineered the crucifixion of the Messiah.

This was the gate of “righteousness” in another sense. God’s presence was manifested in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle; and, as Delitzsch pointed out, “The word `righteousness’ comprehends within itself all of the attributes of God mentioned in Exodus 34:6 ff.”

Verses 21-24


“I will give thanks unto thee; for thou has answered me, And art become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is Jehovah’s doings; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which Jehovah hath made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

“I will give thanks unto thee” Notice the pronoun “I.” It is the psalmist who speaks, and we believe that psalmist to have been David. Having been elevated to the throne, he is here in the Tabernacle to worship God with sacrifice, thanksgiving and praise.

“The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner” It is our conviction, as Jesus Christ himself said, that David spoke “In the Spirit of God”: and we hold this sentence to have been a divinely-inspired prophecy. There is no recollection here of some Jewish proverb, or tradition; this is brand new prophecy of what will be in the future. The occasion for the remark was that David, rejected and hated by the Royal House of Israel, had now become the head of the nation; and David was inspired of God to phrase it in the terminology used here.

These marvelous words were fulfilled twice in the times subsequent to those of King David.

(1) They were fulfilled in the building of the temple, either that of Solomon, or the second temple, as Dummelow thought.(F9) It makes no difference, for David wrote before either was built. That is what is so wonderful about this prophecy.

Dean Plumptre said, “The illustration seems to have been drawn from one of the stones, quarried, hewn, and marked, away from the site of the temple, which the builders, ignorant of the head architect’s plans, had put to one side, as having no place in the building, but was found afterwards to be that on which the completeness of the structure depended, as the chief corner stone”!(F10)

(2) The second fulfillment and the Great One was in Jesus Christ who applied the words to himself.

Did ye never read the scriptures? The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes (Matthew 21:42).

Besides the parallel accounts in the synoptic gospels, this figure of the “chief corner stone” is mentioned in Ephesians 2:20; Acts 4:11; and 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:7.

It appears to this writer as extremely improbable that Christ would have been referring in this passage to some accident like that mentioned by Plumptre (quoted above). He was referring to what the great Old Testament Type of Christ, King David, had written “in the scriptures.” McCullough’s fancy that Christ was here quoting what “may have been a proverb”(F11) is flatly denied by the words of Christ himself. The analogy is that just as the rejected David had become King, so the rejected Christ would be the head of the Kingdom of God on earth.

In the analogy of Christ as the chief cornerstone: (1) law and grace; (2) God and man; (3) time and eternity; (4) B.C. and A.D.; (5) the Mosaic Dispensation and the Christian Dispensation; (6) the letter and the spirit; and (7) judgment and mercy, both begin and end in Christ, thus forming in a metaphor a true corner in Christ.

Some have objected to understanding this prophecy as Messianic, on the basis, “The psalmist here was saved from death, but Christ died.” This is worthless as an objection. Of course, David did die, as did Christ; but both David and our Lord were the objects of many attempts to murder them. Herod tried to murder the child Jesus; the citizens of Nazareth tried to throw him off a cliff; and the Pharisees plotted to have him assassinated (Matthew 26:4).

“This is Jehovah’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” It was God who brought David to the throne of Israel; and it was equally true that God Himself protected and blessed Jesus of Nazareth until his “time had come” to make the Great Atonement.

“This is the day which Jehovah hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” What a glorious day it was for David. The hazardous fleeing day and night from the murderous intentions of Saul was over. He was king; his followers were rejoicing all over Israel. God had indeed made it a day of great rejoicing.

But there was a great day of rejoicing of which that was only a feeble symbol. That more glorious day is the Day of Redemption in Christ Jesus. It was the day when Christ was born, and heaven itself broke into songs of praise and rejoicing. It was the day when an angel of God said, “HE IS NOT HERE; HE IS RISEN”!

Verse 25

“Save now, we beseech thee, O Jehovah: O Jehovah, we beseech thee, send now prosperity.”

How appropriately that a prayer like this would have been said by David upon his coming into power. The Philistines had ravaged the country and killed the king. The affairs of Israel were in a sorry mess; and David, mindful of his responsibilities, prays that God will bless Israel “now” with prosperity.

Verse 26

“Blessed be he that cometh in the name of Jehovah: We have blessed you out of the house of Jehovah.”

This is the response of the tabernacle authorities to the king’s appearance in the tabernacle and to his bringing of the sacrifice. They first address the king, whether in song or speech is not known, nor is it of any importance. They pronounce a blessing upon him, saying at the same time, “We have blessed you out of (from) the house of the Lord.”

“Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” These words were addressed to David, the Type of Christ; and we are not surprised that the same words were spoken of Christ himself. The multitude of Jerusalem cried out saying of Jesus, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest”! (Matthew 21:9). And in his lament over Jerusalem, Jesus himself applied the words to his First Advent, saying, “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39).

Verse 27

“Jehovah is God, and he hath given us light: Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.”

These continue to be the words either of the priests or the singers under their direction. What is indicated is the acceptance of King David’s sacrifice. It is such a large one that it will not lie upon the altar, as normally, but it will have to be bound with cords, using the horns of the altar to secure it.

Verses 28-29

Again, it is the king who speaks, closing the ceremony with the following prayer.

“Thou art my God, and I will give thanks unto thee: Thou art my God, I will exalt thee. Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good. For his lovingkindness endureth forever.”

The psalm ends with the same verse with which it began. The newly enthroned king acknowledges his status as a servant of God, promising to give thanks to Him and to exalt Him.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 118". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-118.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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