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Of the authorship of this psalm, and the occasion on which it was composed, nothing can now be ascertained with certainty. 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 was recognized as king. Some, however, have referred it to Hezekiah on the occasion of his restoration from sickness; others to the time of the return from the Babylonian exile; and others to the time of the Maccabees. It would be useless to examine these opinions, as they are all of them mere conjecture, and as no certainty can now be arrived at.
What is apparent on the face of the psalm is, that it was a psalm of thanksgiving, to be employed in the temple when an offering or sacrifice was led up to the altar Psalms 118:27 to be presented as an acknowledgment of mercy from God, on some occasion of deliverance from danger, by someone whose claim to rule had been rejected, but who was now victorious over his enemies, and recognized as the rightful leader and ruler of the people. The psalm is in a measure dramatic. The author is the speaker in the first twenty-one verses; in the remainder of the psalm the priests and the people speak, and at the close, the psalmist again utters praise.
The psalm consists of the following parts:
I. The author of the psalm speaks, Psalms 118:1-21.
(1) he calls on all to praise the Lord, and to unite with him in the expression of thanks, because what had occurred was a matter of interest to all the people; to Israel, to the house of Aaron, to the priesthood to all that feared God, Psalms 118:14.
(2) a description of his peril and deliverance, Psalms 118:5-18. He had been in distress; he had called on the Lord; he had seen the benefit of trusting in the Lord rather than in man. All nations had compassed him about as bees; they had thrust sore at him; they had sought his life; but he had not been dismayed; he had felt, even in the midst of his dangers, that he would live to declare the works of the Lord, Psalms 118:17-18
(3) The speaker approaches the temple. He asks that the doors may be opened that he may enter and praise the Lord. He addresses those who have charge of the temple - the ministers of religion - and desires leave to come and present his offering,Psalms 118:19-21; Psalms 118:19-21.
II. The priests and people speak, Psalms 118:22-27.
(1) they recognize him now as the Ruler - the cornerstone - the foundation of the nation’s prosperity, and its hope. He had been rejected by those who were professedly laying the foundation of empire, but he had now established his claims to being regarded as the very cornerstone on which the whole edifice must rest, Psalms 118:22.
(2) they recognize this as a marvelous work of God, and as suited to excite the deepest admiration, Psalms 118:23.
(3) they recognize this as a joyful day, as if God had created a day for the very purpose of celebrating an event so joyous, Psalms 118:24.
(4) they pronounce him blessed who thus came in the name of the Lord; they bless him out of the house of the Lord, Psalms 118:25-26.
(5) they direct him to bring his offering, and to bind it to the horns of the altar preparatory to sacrifice. He is permitted freely to come. His offering is recognized as proper, so that he can approach with an assurance of acceptance, Psalms 118:27.
III. The author of the psalm again speaks, Psalms 118:28-29. He acknowledges God as his God, and calls on all to praise him.
Portions of the psalm are, in the New Testament, applied to Christ; and it has been made a question whether it had, or had not, an original reference to him. Thus in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:11; Luke 20:17, it is quoted by the Saviour as illustrating a truth in regard to himself In Acts 4:11, the twenty-second verse of the psalm is applied by Peter to the Saviour, as having been fulfilled in him - or, as meaning that the language of the psalm would properly describe the fact which had occurred in the treatment of Jesus of Nazareth. Many of the Jewish rabbins regarded the psalm as referring to the Messiah, and not a few Christian interpreters have supposed that it had such an original reference.
It seems clear, however, from the psalm itself that it could not have been composed primarily with reference to him. There are portions of it which cannot, without a very forced use of language, be applied to him, as for example, the allusion to the attack made by “all nations” on the person referred to in the psalm Psalms 118:10, and in the allusion to the danger of death Psalms 118:17-18. The person referred to in the psalm was in danger of death, but he was not given over to death. He had the assurance in the very midst of the danger that he would not die, but would continue to live Psalms 118:17. The Redeemer, however, did die. His enemies accomplished their purpose in this respect. They put him to death, though he rose again from the dead.
It is clear, therefore, I think, that the psalm had not an original reference to the Messiah. Still, there is much in it which is applicable to him, and which might be used as expressive of what occurred to him. It contains principles also which may be as applicable to him as they were to the psalmist; and, therefore, it is used by the Saviour to enforce the moral of his own parable in reference to himself, as having had a counterpart in their own history, in a case which must have been familiar to them all. As such, it is right to use it now, as illustrating what occurred in the treatment of the Redeemer.
O give thanks unto the Lord ... - Let others unite with me in giving thanks to the Lord; let them see, from what has occurred in my case, what occasion there is for praise. Every instance of a particular favor shown to anyone is to others an occasion for praise, inasmuch as it is an illustration of the general character of God. On this verse compare the notes at Psalms 106:1. The language is nearly the same.
Let Israel now say ... - The Hebrew people; the people of God. They have now, in my case, a new illustration of the mercy of God which ought to animate them, and to encourage their hearts. Compare Psalms 115:9.
Let the house of Aaron now say ... - Compare Psalms 115:10. The ministers of religion. They are appointed to serve God; to lead in his worship; to defend his truth; to keep up faith in the truth of religion. They are, therefore, interested in my case, and may derive from it a new proof of the merciful character of God which they may employ, not only for their own encouragement in personal piety, but in the duties of their office. My case furnishes a new argument, of which they can make use in defending the truth, and in illustrating the power of religion.
Let them now that fear the Lord say ... - Compare Psalms 115:11. All that worship God are interested in what God has done for me. It is a manifestation of the divine character which should cheer them. They are called, therefore, to unite with the author of the psalm in praise and thanksgiving, not merely from sympathy with him, but because great truths of religion had been illustrated, in his case, which were of as much importance to them as to him.
I called upon the Lord in distress - Margin, as in Hebrew, “out of distress.” In the very midst of trouble he called upon the Lord; his voice was heard, as it were, coming from the depth of his sorrows. See the notes at Psalms 18:6.
The Lord answered me - That is, he heard my prayers, and delivered me. See the notes at Psalms 18:6.
And set me in a large place - I was before pressed on every side; sorrows compassed me around; I could not move; I had no liberty. Now he gave me space and freedom on every side, so that I could move without obstruction or pain. This is literally, “The Lord” - (not יהוה Yahweh here, but יה Yâhh) “answered me in a large place.” See Psalms 4:1, note; Psalms 18:19, note.
The Lord is on my side - Margin, as in Hebrew,” for me.” The Lord is with me. He is my helper. He defends my cause.
I will not fear - I have nothing to be afraid of. God is more mighty than any or all of my foes, and he can deliver me from them all. Compare Psalms 56:4, Psalms 56:9,Psalms 56:11.
What can man do unto me? - Any person; all people. They can do no more than God permits. They cannot destroy me when he means to save me; they cannot defeat his gracious designs toward me. I am safe if God is my Friend. Compare the notes at Romans 8:31.
The Lord taketh my part with them that help me - The psalmist had friends. There were those who stood by him. He relied, indeed, on their aid, but not on their aid without God. He felt that even their help was valuable to him only as God was with them. There was direct dependence on God in reference to himself; and there was the same sense of dependence in respect to all who were engaged in his defense. This might be rendered, however, simply “for my help,” and is so rendered by DeWette. The Septuagint and Latin Vulgate render it, “The Lord is my helper.”
Therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me - literally, “I shall see upon those that hate me;” that is, I shall look upon them according to my wish; I shall see them overthrown and subdued. See the notes at Psalms 54:7. Compare Psalms 92:11; Psalms 112:8.
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man - This is stated apparently as the result of his own experience. He had found people weak and faithless; he had not so found God. Compare Psalms 40:4; Psalms 62:8-9. Literally, “Good is it to trust in Yahweh more than to confide in man.” This is the Hebrew form of comparison, and is equivalent to what is stated in our version, “It is better,” etc. It is better,
(1) because man is weak - but God is Almighty;
(2) because man is selfish - but God is benevolent;
(3) because man is often faithless and deceitful - God never;
(4) because there are emergencies, as death, in which man cannot aid us, however faithful, kind, and friendly he may be - but there are no circumstances in this life, and none in death, where God cannot assist us; and
(5) because the ability of man to help us pertains at best only to this present life - the power of God will be commensurate with eternity.
It is better ... than to put confidence in princes - Even in the most mighty of the human race; in those who of all people may be supposed to have the most ability to aid us; in those whose favor is often sought more than the favor of God. Princes are only men; often as faithless and deceitful as other men; often less reliable in their character than those in more humble life. and in the great matters where we most need aid - in sickness, in danger, in death, in the eternal world - as absolutely powerless as men in the lowest condition of poverty, or in the most humble rank.
All nations compassed me about - They surrounded me; they hemmed me in on every side, so that I seemed to have no chance to escape. It would seem from this that the psalm was composed by someone who was at the head of the government, and whose government had been attacked by surrounding nations. This would accord well with many things that occurred in the life of David; but there were also other times in the Jewish history to which it would be applicable, and there is nothing that necessarily confines it to the time of David.
But in the name of the Lord will I destroy them - Margin, as in Hebrew,” cut them off.” This is the language which he used at that time; the purpose which he then formed; an expression of the confidence which he then cherished. He meant to subdue them; he had no doubt that he would be able to do it.
They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about ... - The sentiment and the language of the previous verse are here repeated, as if to give force to what he had said, or to deepen the impression. His own mind dwelt upon it, and the events to which he referred came so vividly to his recollection, and were so important, that he dwells upon them. The subject was worth more than a passing remark. The mind was full, and the language comes from an overflowing heart.
They compassed me about like bees -
(a) As thick or numerous as bees;
(b) armed as bees - or, their weapons might be compared to the stings of bees.
They are quenched as the fire of thorns - The Septuagint and the Vulgate render this, “They burn as the fire of thorns.” The connection would seem to demand this, but the Hebrew will not bear it. The figure is changed in the Hebrew, as is not uncommon. The mind of the psalmist at first recalls the number and the malignity of his foes; it then instantly adverts to the rapid manner in which they were destroyed. The illustration from the “fire of thorns” is derived from the fact that they quickly kindle into a blaze, and then the flame soon dies away. In Eastern countries it was common to burn over their fields in the dry time of the year, and thus to clear them of thorns and briars and weeds. Of course, at such a time they would kindle quickly, and burn rapidly, and would soon be consumed. So the psalmist says it was with his enemies. He came upon them, numerous as they were, as the fire runs over a field in a dry time, burning everything before it. Compare the notes at Isaiah 33:12.
For in the name of the Lord I will destroy them - That is, such was his purpose then; such was the reason why they so soon and suddenly disappeared.
Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall - literally, “Thrusting thou hast thrust at me.” This is the Hebrew mode of expressing intensity, repetition, or emphasis. The meaning is, that they had made a deadly thrust at him; that they had repeated the blows; that they had come with a fierce determination to crush and destroy him. The psalmist, as it were, sees the enemy again before him, and addresses him as if he were present. Everything is vivid to the mind; the whole scene appears again to pass before him.
The Lord is my strength and song - He is the source of strength to me; and he is the subject of my praise. There is no ground of praise in myself for anything that I have done, but all is due to him.
And is become my salvation - He has saved me. I live because he preserved me. So we shall be saved in heaven solely because he saves us, and there, more than can be possible here, we shall say, “God is our strength and our song, and is become our salvation.”
The voice of rejoicing and salvation - Rejoicing for salvation; song, praise, thanksgiving. Luther renders this beautifully; “They sing with joy for victory in the houses of the righteous.”
Is in the tabernacles of the righteous - The tents of the righteous; their dwellings. That is,
(a) it is a fact that the voice of joy and rejoicing is there;
(b) it is appropriate that it should be so, or that a righteous family should be happy - the dwelling-place of praise;
(c) God will add to the happiness of the righteous, or will make their habitation happy, peaceful, blessed.
There is nothing that diffuses so much happiness through a family as religion; there is no joy like that when a member of a family is converted; there is no place on earth more happy than that where a family bows before God with the feeling that all are children of God and heirs of salvation.
The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly - Hebrew “Doeth strength.” That is, God does great things, laying the foundation for joy and praise.
I shall not die, but live - Evidently the psalmist had apprehended that he would die; or, he had felt that he was in imminent danger of dying. In this language he seems, as in Psalms 118:13, to go back again to the scenes referred to in the psalm. He lives them over again. He describes the feelings which he had then. He saw that he was in danger. His enemies were thick round about him, and sought his life. But he had then the assurance that they would not be victorious; that they would not accomplish their object; that he would be protected; that he would live to declare what God had done for him. He does not say how he had this assurance, but there is no impropriety in supposing that he had it, as Hezekiah had in similar circumstances (see Isaiah 38:5-8, Isaiah 38:21), by a direct divine intimation. Things like this are not uncommon now, when, in danger or in sickness, the mind is strongly impressed with the belief that there will be a restoration to health and safety, and when the mind is made calm and peaceful by that belief - the very calmness of the mind under such a belief contributing not a little to that result. Why should we hesitate to believe that such a faith and hope may come from the Lord? Compare Acts 27:22-25.
And declare the works of the Lord - Declare what he has done.
The Lord hath chastened me sore - Hebrew, “The Lord has chastened - has chastened me.” See the notes at Psalms 118:13. The psalmist had been greatly afflicted, and he now looked upon his affliction in the light of a fatherly chastisement or correction. It had been a severe trial, and he was not insensible to its severity, though he regarded it as designed for his own good.
But he hath not given we over unto death - He interposed when I was in danger; he rescued me when I was on the verge of the grave. This is the close of the psalmist’s statement in regard to the divine dealings with him. He had passed through great danger; he had been sorely afflicted; but he had been rescued and spared, and he came now to express his thanks to God for his recovery. In the following verse he addresses those who had the care of the sanctuary, and asks that he might be permitted to enter and offer his thanks to God.
Open to me the gates of righteousness ... - The gates of the house devoted to a righteous God; the gates of a house where the principles of righteousness are strengthened, and where the just emotions of the heart may be expressed in the language of praise. Compare the notes at Isaiah 26:2. The language here may be regarded as addressed to those who had charge of the house of the Lord - the priests - requesting that they would open the doors and permit him to enter to praise God for his mercy. Compare Isaiah 38:20.
This gate of the Lord - This gate dedicated to the service of the Lord; that belongs to the house of the Lord.
Into which the righteous shall enter - Through which the righteous pass. That is, It is for such persons, and all who come with a purpose to serve and worship God should be permitted to pass through them; I claim the privilege, therefore, of so passing through these gates into the house of God, for I come to praise him. All who are truly righteous, all who desire to worship God, all who wish and purpose to be holy, have a right thus to enter the house of God - to be recognized as his friends - to be permitted to join in all the devotions of his people; all such will have a right to enter the temple above. None have a right to exclude them here; none in heaven will be disposed to exclude them there.
I will praise thee - Within thy courts.
For thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation - See Psalms 118:14.
The stone which the builders refused - See the notes at Matthew 21:42-43. Compare Mark 12:10-11; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7. This is an allusion to a building, as if a stone should be cast away by workmen as unfit to be worked into the edifice. The figure would then be applicable to anyone who, for any purpose, was rejected. Thus it might have been applied many a time to David; so, doubtless, to others who urged claims to authority and power; and so, eminently, to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not to suppose that this had original reference to the Messiah, but the language was applicable to him; and it is used in the passages above referred to, in addresses to the Jews, merely to show them how the principle was found in their own writings, that one who was rejected, like a stone regarded as unfit to be worked into any part of a building, might be in reality so important that it would be laid yet at the very corner, and become the most valuable stone in the edifice - that on which the whole superstructure would rest.
Is become the head stone of the corner - The principal stone placed at the corner of the edifice. This is usually one of the largest, the most solid, and the most carefully constructed of any in the edifice. Of course one would be needed at each corner of the building to constitute a firm support, but usually there is one placed at one corner of an edifice larger and more carefully made than the others, often laid with imposing ceremonies, and prepared to contain whatever it may be thought necessary to deposit in the foundation of the building to be transmitted to future times as preserving the names of the builders, or expressing the design of the edifice. Such a position he who had been rejected was to occupy in the civil polity of his country; such a position eminently the Lord Jesus occupies in relation to the church. Ephesians 2:20.
This is the Lord’s doing - Margin, as in Hebrew, “This is from the Lord.” That is, It is to be traced to the Lord alone. It is not the result of human wisdom or power. The deliverance from danger - the raising up from the low condition - the change by which he who was rejected was restored to his rightful place - all this was to be traced to God alone. So it was in the case of the psalmist; so it was in the case of the Redeemer. None but God could have made him who was rejected, despised, crucified, and laid in the grave, the Saviour of a world. The place which the once rejected Redeemer now bears in the church - the honors bestowed on him as the head of the church - the triumph of his gospel in the world - all prove that it is the work of God.
It is marvelous in our eyes - It is suited to excite wonder. It is not one of those things which are to be ranked with the common and well-known events that are easily explained, and that excite no wonder; it is one of those things which cannot be explained by any known law; which belong to the “supernatural;” which bear the marks of a direct divine interposition; which are suited to excite the admiration of mankind. Thus it was in the case of the psalmist; thus, pre-eminently, it was in the case of the Redeemer. No operation of natural laws will constitute a sufficient explanation of the latter. It is a matter for wonder, for rejoicing, and for praise, that one, despised, rejected, crucified, has been raised from the grave; that his religion has spread so far over the world; that it influences mankind as it does; and that he himself is exalted to a rank “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” Ephesians 1:21.
This is the day which the Lord hath made - As if it were a new day, made for this very occasion; a day which the writer of the psalm did not expect to see, and which seemed therefore to have been created out of the ordinary course, and added to the other days. He was in danger of death; his days were likely to be cut off and ended, so that he should see no more. But God had spared him, and added this joyous day to his life; and it was meet that for this he should be praised. It was so full of joy, so unexpected, so bright, so cheerful, that it appeared to be a new day coming fresh from the hand of the Almighty, unlike the other days of the year. So the Sabbath - the day that commemorates the resurrection of the Redeemer - is God’s day. He claims it. He seems to have made it anew for man. Amidst the other days of the week - in a world where the ordinary days are filled up with so much of earth, so much toil, trouble, care, vexation, vanity, wickedness - it seems like one of the days that God made when he first made the world; before sin and sorrow entered; when all was calm, serene, happy. The Sabbath is so calm, so bright, so cheerful, so benign in its influence; it is so full of pleasant and holy associations and reminiscences, that it seems to be a day fresh from the hand of God, unlike the other days of the week, and made especially, as if by a new act of creation, for the good of mankind. So when a man is raised up from sickness - from the borders of the grave - it seems to be a new life given to him. Each day, week, month, year that he may live, is so much added to his life, as if it were created anew for this very purpose. He should, therefore, regard it not as his own, but as so much given to him by the special mercy and providence of God - as if added on to his life. Compare Isaiah 38:5.
We will rejoice and be glad in it - The psalmist, and all who united with him in his thanksgivings. So the Christian Sabbath. It is a day of joy - all joy, and no sorrow. It is a day to be happy in; a day of rest; a day, when the cares and toils of life are suspended; a day, when we are no longer harassed with those things which vex us in the worldliness of the week; a day, when we think of God, of redemption, of hope, of heaven. The Sabbath should be a day of joy, and not of gloom; it would be the happiest of all days to weary and jaded people everywhere, if they observed it aright. In a world of toil and sorrow, it is among the richest of God’s blessings to people; it strengthens, refreshes, and cheers the heart of burdened and sorrowful man here; it lifts the soul to joyous contemplation of that eternal Sabbath where wearisome toll and sorrow shall be no more.
Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord ... - The word save here seems to be used in the general sense of imploring the divine interposition and mercy. It is a part of the word which in the New Testament is rendered “Hosanna” - save now Matthew 21:9 - and is the language which the multitudes employed when they followed the Saviour as he went from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. The language which they used on that occasion was borrowed from this psalm, and was eminently appropriate to the occasion - “Hosanna - blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord;” but the fact that it was thus employed does not prove that the psalm had original reference to the Messiah. The language was not improbably used on high festivals, and would be naturally employed when the Messiah came.
Send now prosperity - Give success; be favorable. God had interposed, and now the prayer is, that there might be continued and uninterrupted prosperity; that as the tide had begun to turn in the psalmist’s favor, it might recede no more; that the calamities and woes which he had experienced might not be repeated. This was omitted in the acclamations of the multitude that attended the Saviour Matthew 21:9; but it is eminently an appropriate prayer to be used in connection with his coming - since his coming, whether to the world, to an individual, to a church, or to a community, brings the highest kind of “prosperity” in its train.
Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord - See the notes at Matthew 21:9. This is the language of those who had charge of the sanctuary, addressing him who came in the name of the Lord to present his thank-offering. It is the language of welcome; the assurance that his offering would be acceptable to God. It was applicable to the Messiah, as coming in the name of the Lord, and was so used by the multitudes Matthew 21:9, and by the Saviour himself Matthew 23:39; but this use of the language does not prove that it had original reference to him. The Old Testament abounds in language which may thus be employed to express ideas under the Christian dispensation; but this does not prove that all such language was originally designed to refer to that dispensation.
We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord - We, the priests, the ministers of religion, have pronounced and do pronounce you blessed. We welcome your approach. You may come freely with your thank-offering. It will be accepted of the Lord. You come under our benediction, and the benediction of God.
God is the Lord - Still the language of the priests in their official capacity. The meaning here seems to be “God is Yahweh;” or, Jehovah is the true God. It is an utterance of the priesthood in regard to the great truth which they were appointed specifically to maintain - that Yahweh is the true God, and that he only is to be worshipped. This truth it was appropriate to enunciate on all occasions; and it was especially appropriate to be enunciated when a prince, who had been rescued from danger and death, came, as the restored leader of the people of God, to acknowledge his gracious intervention. On such an occasion - in view of the rank and character of him who came - and in view of what God had done for him - it was proper for the ministers of religion to announce in the most solemn manner, that Yahweh was the only true and living God.
Which hath showed us light - Who has given us light in the days of our darkness and adversity; who has restored us to prosperity, and bestowed on us the blessings of safety and of peace.
Bind the sacrifice with cords - Come freely with the sacrificial victim; with the offering which is to be presented to God in sacrifice. The word - חג châg - commonly means a festival or feast, Exodus 10:9; Exodus 12:14; and then it means a festival-sacrifice, a victim, Exodus 23:18; Malachi 2:3. The Septuagint and Vulgate render it, “Prepare a solemn feast.” Our translation probably expresses the true sense. The word rendered cords, means properly anything interwoven or interlaced. Then it means a cord, a braid, a wreath; and then a branch with thick foliage. Different interpretations have been given of the passage here, but probably the word is correctly rendered cords.
Unto the horns of the altar - altars were often made with projections or “horns” on the four corners. Exodus 27:2; Exodus 30:2; Exodus 37:25; 1 Kings 2:28. Whether the animal was actually bound to the altar when it was slain, is not certain; but there would seem to be an allusion to such a custom here. Lead up the victim; make it ready; bind it even to the altar, preparatory to the sacrifice. The language is that of welcome addressed to him who led up the victim - meaning that his sacrifice would be acceptable.
Thou art my God, and I will praise thee - This is the language of the author of the psalm - his solemn profession before the sanctuary and the altar; his response to the priesthood. In Psalms 118:27, they had declared that “Jehovah alone was God;” to this he now replies, that he acknowledges, it; he recognizes him as the true God, and as his God; he comes to praise him; and he professes his purpose always to exalt him as his God.
Thou art my God, I will exalt thee - Repeating the solemn declaration that Yahweh alone was the God whom he worshipped, and that it was his purpose always to magnify his name.
O give thanks unto the Lord ... - The psalm closes, as it began, with an exhortation to praise God. In the beginning of the psalm, it was a general exhortation; here it is an exhortation founded on the course of thought in the psalm, or as a proper conclusion from what had been referred to in the psalm. Evidence had been given that the Lord was good; on the ground of that, all people are exhorted to give him thanks.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 118". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20