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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Psalms 118

Verses 1-4

1. Praise for Yahweh’s loyal love 118:1-4

The first verse is a call to acknowledge God’s lovingkindness. Then the psalmist appealed to all Israel, the priests, and all those who fear God to acknowledge the limitless quality of His loyal love (cf. Psalms 115:9-13). Perhaps this call and response structure found expression in antiphonal worship in which a leader or leaders issued the call and the people responded out loud.

Verses 1-29

Psalms 118

This is the last in this series of the Egyptian Hallel psalms (Psalms 113-118). It describes a festal procession to the temple to praise and sacrifice to the Lord. The historical background may be the dedication of the restored walls and gates of Jerusalem in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time, following the return from Babylonian captivity, in 444 B.C. [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p. 306.] It contains elements of communal thanksgiving, individual thanksgiving, and liturgical psalms. The subject is God’s loyal love for His people. The situation behind it seems to be God’s restoration of the psalmist after a period of dishonor. This would have been a very appropriate psalm to sing during the Feast of Tabernacles as well as at Passover and Pentecost. The Lord Jesus and His disciples probably sang it together in the Upper Room at the end of the Lord’s Supper (cf. Matthew 26:30).

"As the final psalm of the ’Egyptian Hallel’, sung to celebrate the Passover . . ., this psalm may have pictured to those who first sang it the rescue of Israel at the Exodus, and the eventual journey’s end at Mount Zion. But it was destined to be fulfilled more perfectly, as the echoes of it on Palm Sunday and in the Passion Week make clear to every reader of the Gospels." [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, pp. 412-13.]

Verses 5-9

The writer gave personal testimony to God’s deliverance of him in answer to prayer. Setting him in "a large place" (Psalms 118:5, NASB) pictures freedom to move about without constraint. Since God was with him, he did not need to fear what other people might do to him (cf. Hebrews 13:6). Furthermore the Lord would be his helper, so he could expect to prevail over his adversaries. Therefore it is better to trust in Yahweh than to place one’s confidence in men, even the most powerful of men. "Man" and "princes" (Psalms 118:8-9) constitute a merism meaning all people, both lowly and exalted (cf. Psalms 146:3).

Verses 5-21

2. Praise for Yahweh’s deliverance 118:5-21

Verses 10-13

Note how the Lord gave the psalmist confidence even when his enemies surrounded him. The Lord had cut off his enemies in the past, and he believed He would do so again. The repetition of the phrase in Psalms 118:10 b, Psalms 118:10:11 b, and Psalms 118:12 c expresses his trust in the Lord.

The Hebrew word for "cut them off" (Psalms 118:10-12) literally means "circumcised them." This may be a prophetic reference to Messiah circumcising the hearts of the Gentiles. Circumcision was a physical procedure, but it came to symbolize a spiritual change, namely, trust in God (Deuteronomy 30:6; cf. Romans 2:29). [Note: A. Ross, p. 879.]

Verses 14-21

The psalmist had relied on the Lord as his strength and his source of joy, and He had saved him. Psalms 118:14 repeats the first line of the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:2), the song the Israelites sang just after they crossed the Red Sea successfully. The psalmist rejoiced in God’s saving strength. Temporary discipline had led to recent deliverance, and this provided hope for future salvation. The gates in view probably refer to the temple courtyard gates through which worshippers such as the writer entered to praise God.

What a comfort Psalms 118:15-18 would have been to the Lord Jesus as He sang them at His last Passover in the Upper Room! They assured Him that He would live again even though He would die.

Verses 22-24

The psalmist seems to have been comparing himself to the stone that the builders (his adversaries) had rejected, in view of the preceding context (cf. Psalms 118:18). The imagery is common. Whenever builders construct a stone building they discard some stones because they do not fit. The writer had felt discarded like one of these stones, but God had restored him to usefulness and given him a position of prominence in God’s work. "Corner stone" (NASB) is more accurate than "capstone" (NIV). The cornerstone of a large building was the largest and or most important stone in the foundation. All the other foundation stones were laid and aligned in reference to this key stone. Only God could have done this (Psalms 118:23). The day of his restoration was obviously one God had brought to pass. Consequently the writer called on everyone to rejoice with him in it.

There are many New Testament references to the stone of Psalms 118:22. The Lord Jesus applied it to Himself (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17). Peter and Paul also applied it to Jesus (Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-8). God’s amazing resurrection of His rejected Son to the place of supreme universal authority is marvelous to say the least. The day of His resurrection is the greatest day the Lord ever made. It is indeed the basis for the Christian’s joy and rejoicing. [Note: See Allen, Lord of . . ., pp. 95-101.]

Verses 22-29

3. Praise for Yahweh’s triumph 118:22-29

Verses 25-29

The psalmist proceeded to pray for the salvation and prosperity of his people (Psalms 118:25-26). The one who comes in the Lord’s name refers to anyone who came to worship Yahweh at the temple. The psalmist and the people blessed such a one from the temple. The writer further glorified Yahweh as the giver of light to His people. The NIV of Psalms 118:27 b gives a better rendering of the Hebrew text than the NASB. It reads, "With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar." This probably refers to a custom at the Feast of Tabernacles. The people waved branches to honor the Lord. Psalms 118:29 repeats Psalms 118:1.

The crowds who welcomed Jesus at His Triumphal Entry during Passover season repeated Psalms 118:25-26 (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13; cf. Matthew 23:39; Luke 13:35). "Hosanna" translates the Hebrew word for "save." The people believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. They regarded this psalm as predicting the Messiah, as is clear from their use of it at the Triumphal Entry. Evidently Psalms 118:27 b, "with boughs in hand," led the people to lay their boughs at the feet of Jesus’ donkey (Matthew 21:8). It was most appropriate for the people to do what they did since Jesus was entering Jerusalem to provide salvation. Jesus’ application of the stone reference to Himself after he entered Jerusalem at His Triumphal Entry was a clear claim that He was the Messiah.

This psalm teaches us much about Messiah, but its primary significance, as the Israelites used it originally, was glorifying God for providing deliverance. This deliverance came after a period of evident defeat. God had reversed an apparent disaster and brought great joy and victory out of it. We should praise Him, as the writer called on His hearers to do, whenever He does that for us. [Note: For a summary discussion of the messianic psalms, see The New Scofield . . ., p. 659.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 118". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/psalms-118.html. 2012.