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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 118

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



The character of this psalm as a Temple song of thanksgiving is stamped on every line of it. The marked divisions with the refrains (Psalms 118:1-4; Psalms 118:8-9) have induced commentators to arrange it in parts, supposed to have been sung in turn by the full choir, the congregation, and the priests. It is not, however, by any means certain to what particular event or time the psalm is to he assigned. Many incidents in connection with the rebuilding of the second Temple have been fixed upon in connection with Psalms 118:22-23. Others have gone to the Maccabæan period for the occasion of the thanksgiving. Several expressions seem to allude to a particular feast, with its peculiar prayers and sacrifices (Psalms 118:24-27), and there can be little doubt that this was the Feast of Tabernacles. The words of Psalms 118:25 were, we know, sung on one of the days—called the Great Hosanna (Save now)—of the feast; a name given also to the boughs carried and waved in the sacred procession. If Psalms 118:19-23 imply the completion of the Temple, it is natural to fix on the first complete celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles after the Return (Nehemiah 8:14 seq.).

Verses 1-4

(1-4) Comp. Psalms 115:9-13, where a similar choral arrangement is found.

Verse 5

(5) I called.—Better, out of the straitness I cried to Jah; answered me, with freedom, Jah. The meaning of the last clause (literally, with room. Comp.: “Ay, marry, now my soul has elbow-room”—King John) is determined by the parallelism of Psalms 18:19. The versions read “freedom of Jah,” i.e., boundless freedom,”

Verse 6

(6) A reminiscence of Psalms 56:9-11.

Verse 7

(7) Made up of Psalms 54:4-7, where see Notes.

Verse 9

(9) Trust.—The word constantly used of the security the Israelite found in his relation to Jehovah. The meaning here is apparently, “Fidelity to the covenant is better than alliance with foreign princes,” though, of course, the larger sense, in which the words are applicable to all men, may be read into the words.

Verse 11

(11) But in the name . . .—Or, more emphatically, It is in Jehovah’s name that, &c

Verse 12

(12) Like bees.—The image of the “bees” may be derived from Deuteronomy 1:44 (comp. Isaiah 7:18), but the LXX. suggest that the poet employed an original and far more expressive image, for they read, “as bees surround the comb.” Possibly the word comb dropped out of the Hebrew text, because the copyist was thinking of Deuteronomy 1:44.

The fire of thorns.—See Psalms 58:9, Note. The rapidity with which a fire made of thorns burns gives the point of the comparison. The LXX. and Vulg. gave this more plainly by rendering, “they burnt out like a fire in thorns.” Shakespeare may have had this verse in his thought when he wrote:

“Shallow jesters and rash bavin (i.e., brushwood) wit,

Soon kindled and soon burnt.”—King Henry IV.

Verse 14

(14) Thou hast.—Better, Thou didst thrust and thrust at me. This sudden change of person and challenge of the foes themselves is very dramatic.

Verse 15

(15) In the tabernacles of the righteous.—Whether we are to see an allusion here to an actual encampment, as the context seems to indicate, or whether tents are put poetically for dwellings, depends on the view taken of the date and occasion of the psalm.

Verse 16

(16) Is exalted.—Here evidently the attitude of a warrior. The hand is lifted up to strike.

Verse 17

(17) I shall not die, but live.—It is Israel, and not an individual, who thus claims a continuance of life for the display of God’s glory. But as so often we find, the hope is so expressed as to suit not only the community for whom the psalm was composed and sung, but each member of it individually.

Verse 19

(19) The gates of righteousness.—This is explained by the next verse as the gate of the Temple, where the righteous, i.e., Israel alone, entered. There does not seem the least reason for taking the words here in any but this literal sense, though doubtless they are capable of endless spiritual applications. We must imagine a procession chanting the triumphal song as in Psalms 24:0, and summoning the gates to open on its approach.

Verse 22

(22) The stone.—Better, a stone. There is no article. Israel is, of course, this stone, rejected as of no account in the political plans of those who were trying to shape the destinies of the Eastern nations at their own pleasure, but in the purpose of God destined to a chief place in the building up of history. The image is developed by Isaiah 28:16-17, and prepared, by the Messianic hope poured into it, for the use of Christ Himself and the repeated applications of it to Him by the apostles (Matthew 21:42-44; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7; Ephesians 2:20; see New Testament Commentary).

Verse 23

(23) The Lord’s doing.—This change of destiny, which made Israel of sudden political importance, is to be ascribed to none but Jehovah Himself.

Verse 24

(24) This is the day.—Either the festival for which the psalm was composed (Feast of Tabernacles?) or more generally the day of triumph won by Jehovah, as in preceding verse.

Verse 25

(25) Save now.—This is not the adverb of time. Render, Save, we pray. (See Matthew 21:9.)

Verse 26

(26) Blessed . . .—These words of welcome are probably spoken by the Levite in charge, to the procession approaching the gates. According to Rabbinical writings, pilgrim caravans were thus welcomed on their arrival at Jerusalem.

Verse 27

(27) Shewed us light . . .—Whether this is literal or figurative is difficult to decide. If literal, it may be a repetition of Psalms 118:24; or if there is a particular reference in this psalm to the Feast of Tabernacles, Mr. Burgess’s suggestion, which connects the light with the pillar of cloud and fire, of which that feast was very probably specially commemorative, is most worthy of notice. Figuratively the words would, of course, mean “the light of salvation and hope,” as so frequently in the Psalms. It is also possible there may be allusion to the priestly benediction (Numbers 6:25), where the verb is the same.

Bind the sacrifice . . .—This cannot well be, “tie the victim to the horns of the altar,” for the Hebrew is “as far as to,” and no satisfactory explanation is possible of binding animals as far as the altar, unless we are to translate “bind and lead.” But the Hebrew word rendered victim might by derivation (“to go round”) easily mean a circlet or crown, and by supplying the verb go we get bind on a crown, go with garlands even to the horns of the altar. The ancient versions, LXX., Vulg., Aquila, Symmachus, all point to this rendering.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 118". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/psalms-118.html. 1905.
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