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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Psalms 118

Psalm 118 is the last psalm of the hallel-psalms (Psalms 113-118). This makes this psalm the last song that, as far as we know, the Savior sang on the night He was being betrayed and delivered into the hands of men (Mt 26:30). He knew that a few hours later the fulfillment would come.

In Psa 118:27 we recognize one of the feasts of the LORD from Leviticus 23. The Talmud says that this is the Feast of Booths celebrated when the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt by Nehemiah (Neh 8:14-18). The connection with the other psalms also indicates that this is the Feast of Booths, which points prophetically to the blessings of the realm of peace (Zec 14:16-19).

Verses 1-4

The LORD Is Good

The psalmist in this psalm represents the faithful remnant. In him we hear the remnant speaking. The psalm begins with the exclamation and call that we hear so often: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psa 118:1; Psa 106:1; Psa 107:1; Psa 136:1-26). The first time we encounter this expression is in the song of praise recorded of David in 1 Chronicles 16 (1Chr 16:34).

It is the confession that all the people’s victories and their prosperity are due not to their own strength or ability, but to the goodness of the LORD, to His faithfulness to His covenant.

Again and again, we are reminded by this
1. Who the LORD is: “He is good”,
2. what He does: He proves “His lovingkindness”, which is His covenant love,
3. and that this is endlessly so: “everlasting”, for He is the Eternal and never changes.
Again and again when the believer notices this or is reminded of it, he cannot help but give thanks to Him for it. In Psalm 136 we hear this at length in an impressive way. Every action, every evidence of it, elicits this exclamation and call from the believing heart.

After the psalmist’s exclamation, he urges three groups to say the same thing: “His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psa 118:2-4). In Psalm 115, these same three groups are called to trust in the LORD (Psa 115:9-11) and are told that the LORD will bless them (Psa 115:12-14).

“Israel” (Psa 118:2) is the whole people, “the house of Aaron” (Psa 118:3) is the priestly family, and “those who fear the LORD” (Psa 118:4), are all the individual God-fearers of the people. God’s lovingkindness binds the people together, makes them a priestly people, while each individual believer bears witness to God’s lovingkindness. We can even say that because in Psalm 117 the nations are called to praise the LORD, the call to those who fear the LORD applies not only to the people of Israel, but all individuals who fear the LORD, including those among the nations.

Then in the following verses (Psa 118:5-14) we see the practice and life of an individual Israelite who fears the LORD. The language of this section is the language of the book of Exodus, the redemption from Egypt. The content is prophetic, namely the redemption of the remnant of Israel in the end time, here the redemption from the hand of the nations (Psa 118:10).

Verses 5-9

The LORD Is For Me

The psalmist tells why he calls to praise the LORD for His lovingkindness. He has from his “distress … called upon the LORD” and “the LORD” has “answered” him and set him “in a large place” (Psa 118:5; cf. Psa 4:2; Psa 18:20). He testified that by virtue of the covenant, by virtue of the LORD’s lovingkindness, He heard the psalmist’s cry for help and redeemed him. “[Set] in a large place” means “redeemed”; it is so rendered in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

The psalmist here represents the people, that is, the faithful remnant, who have been in distress and in their distress have cried out to the LORD. The LORD has answered the cry. Out of a narrow place the remnant cried out and the LORD answered with a large place. He has led out of the distress and set in the large place of freedom.

The LORD has not put the remnant, which is His people, in a large space only to leave them to themselves. He is for His people (Psa 118:6; Heb 13:6). The people are aware of this and express it. This gives utter peace to the earlier so anxious heart. Now there is no more fear. The remnant even says with great confidence: “What can man do to me?” (cf. Psa 56:11; Rom 8:31).

Trusting the LORD drives out fear, just as in trusting the LORD and His word (Psa 56:10-11; cf. 1Jn 4:18). “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2Tim 1:7). The wise King Solomon once said: “Fear of man [someone] lays a trap, but those who rely on the LORD are put in a safe fortress” (Pro 29:25).

Once again the psalmist says the LORD is for him (Psa 118:7). There are others for him, for the LORD is “among those who help me”. He is in a similar position with others and has support from the others. However, they could never help him if the LORD were not for them. The LORD is the only, true support. Because He is in the midst of them, victory over his haters is certain. He can look on them with satisfaction because they are all lie defeated around him (cf. Exo 14:30-31).

The remnant, through the great distress because of the LORD’s discipline of them by the king of the North, learned to put their trust in the LORD. For this they have always resorted to the help of men, sometimes to Egypt (Isa 31:1), sometimes to Assyria (Hos 5:13; Hos 7:11). They have experienced the futility of that and in contrast have experienced the help of the LORD.

Therefore, they twice confess that it is “better to take refuge in the LORD, than to trust in man”, even if they were “princes” (Psa 118:8-9; cf. Psa 146:3). Ordinary man (Psa 118:8) and princes (Psa 118:9) are similar to “the small” and “the great” in Psalm 115 (Psa 115:13). The help of men, whether they hold a low or a high position, avails nothing. Only the LORD is able to deliver from need. This is a lesson we must learn again and again.

Verses 10-14

The Enemies Cut Off

In the time of distress, the remnant is surrounded by “all nations” (Psa 118:10; Psa 83:3-8; Zec 12:2-3; Zec 14:2). In Psa 118:5-9, the remnant has said that the LORD is for them and is their refuge. Therefore, they can say that “in the name of the LORD” they “will surely cut them off” (cf. 1Sam 17:45; Mic 5:4-5). They say this three times in Psa 118:10-12.

In Psa 118:11, they once again pronounce that the nations had surrounded them. They even say it twice, preceding the second time by an empowering “yes”. Being surrounded by their enemies felt to them like a suffocating stranglehold. But they freed themselves from it by invoking “the name of the LORD”, the God Who is for them by virtue of the covenant with them.

The nations had “surrounded” them “like bees” (Psa 118:12; cf. Deu 1:44; Isa 7:18). A cloud of bees coming at people causes them to flee in panic. In the case of the remnant, the danger of the bees is “extinguished as a fire of thorns”. The remnant has taken refuge “in the name of the LORD”. The fire of His judgment has burned the nations like a fire of thorns, that is, very quickly, as quickly as thorns burn (cf. Isa 33:12). As a result, the danger of the nations disappeared.

We are also surrounded by nations, by people who do not know God and do not want to know God. They want to impose their will on us and that we submit to them. We see this in anti-godly legislation. Only the Name of the Lord Jesus, fellowship with Him, can deliver us from the stranglehold by which we are otherwise stifled in our witnessing for Him. To avoid being strangled, we must put on the armor that God has made available to us (Eph 6:10-18). Thereby we must remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

The psalmist says: “You pushed me violently so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me” (Psa 118:13). This is about the Assyrian, the discipling rod of God, who did everything possible to wipe out the faithful remnant. He failed, because the remnant fought in the name of the LORD.

They give credit to the LORD for the victory when they say, “The LORD is my strength and my song” (Psa 118:14). This is what Moses sang after the people were delivered from the pursuing Egyptians who perished in the Red Sea (Exo 15:2). Here the final deliverance of the people in the end time from the great tribulation is connected to the first deliverance of the people, the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. We also see this connection between the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb (Rev 15:3).

Verses 15-18

The LORD Does Valiantly

The greater the danger, the greater the deliverance from it. The greater the deliverance, the greater the joy. The joy of the psalmist is no longer personal joy, but is shared by others. The song of joy because of deliverance fills “the tents of the righteous” (Psa 118:15). In the tents is “the sound of joyful shouting and salvation”.

The content of the song is “the right hand of the LORD” (Psa 118:15c-16; cf. Exo 15:6; 12). Its threefold repetition indicates the exuberance of joy. Twice it is sung with joy that that hand “does valiantly” and once that that hand “is exalted”. By “the right hand of the LORD” we can think of the Lord Jesus, Who is exalted at God’s right hand (Psa 110:1). Through Him, God does valiantly.

Attached to the joy of the LORD’s powerful deeds, for the psalmist or the remnant, is the assurance that they will “not die, but live” (Psa 118:17; cf. 2Cor 6:9b). At the same time, they also mention what the purpose of their lives is: it is to “tell of the works of the LORD”.

Also, they are aware that they have no right to life. They have been “disciplined … severely” by the LORD because of their sins (Psa 118:18). Therewith, they acknowledge His justice. Discipline, however, is not intended to cause them to perish, but to cleanse them (Heb 12:5-11). Discipline is not an end goal, but a means. They have understood this. That is why they add with gratitude: “But He has not given me over to death.” Everything speaks of the LORD’s lovingkindness.

Verses 19-21

The Triumphal Entry

And this lovingkindness does not end with their joy about the deliverance. When the remnant is restored to their relationship with God on the basis of the work of His Son, they will boldly ask that “the gates of righteousness” be opened to them (Psa 118:19). These are the gates that give access to righteousness. They are the gates of Jerusalem, which is now “the city of righteousness”, “a faithful city” (Isa 1:26).

The psalmist enters, followed by the righteous (Psa 118:20) who have first given thanks to the LORD in their tents (Psa 118:15). Only the righteous may enter (Psa 24:3-6). There they will “give thanks to the LORD” for all the benefits He has proven to them.

The gates of righteousness lead to “the gate of the LORD” that is the gate of the temple. That is where the LORD dwells. The gates and the gate are a picture of Christ. The righteous must enter through Him, just as Christ is the door for the sheep in the New Testament (Jn 10:7-9).

Each of the twelve gates of the city (Eze 48:30-35) leads to Him Who is the center of the city. The name of the city in the realm of peace is therefore “The LORD is there” (Eze 48:35b). The remnant – they “all … [will be] righteous” (Isa 60:21) – will enter through that gate.

In the city, in the temple, the remnant will give thanks to Him because He has heard them, for He has become their salvation (Psa 118:21). He has redeemed them from affliction and brought them into the salvation of the realm of peace. For this He deserves all praise and thanks.

Verses 22-26

The Day That the LORD Has Made

The Lord Jesus, the Messiah, is “the stone which the builders rejected” (Psa 118:22). This is clear from what He Himself says about it to the corrupt “builders”, the religious leaders of God’s people during His life on earth (Mt 21:33-46). He was made the chief corner stone by God by raising Him from the dead and glorifying Him at His right hand (Acts 4:11). There God made Him the chief corner stone of the church (Eph 2:20).

But here He is the chief corner stone on which restored Israel will be built (Isa 28:16). A chief corner stone is either a large stone on the foundation that holds two or more rows of stones together, or the last stone of an arch or of a building (Mk 12:10).

Earlier, Israel stumbled over that stone. Christ is the touchstone for every human being. It is accept or fall. Unbelieving Israel stumbled and fell over Him. What is most precious to the believer is most hateful to the unbeliever. Peter points out in his first letter that God’s Word foretold that the unbelieving Jews would stumble over Him (1Pet 2:7-8; Isa 8:14; Rom 9:31-33).

When Christ returns, He will scatter all who have fallen over Him and despised Him (Mt 21:42-44; Mk 12:10; Lk 20:17-18; Dan 2:34-35; 44-45). Then He will set up His kingdom. When the remnant sees it, they will say with admiration: “This is the LORD’s doing”, and then express their amazement at it: “It is marvelous in our eyes” (Psa 118:23).

They will immediately add that this is the day that “the LORD has made” (Psa 118:24). It is a new day, the day of the realm of peace, which comes from God’s hand and where everything is in perfect accord with God’s thoughts. His intentions for heaven and earth will have been fulfilled. For His people and all who share in that glorious time of blessing, this is cause for joy and gladness. This will be the case throughout the time of the realm of peace.

Along with this assurance is a prayer to the LORD: “O LORD, do save” and “do send prosperity” (Psa 118:25). “Do save” is the translation of the word “hosanna” (Mt 21:9; Mk 11:9-10; Lk 19:38; Jn 12:13). This prayer shows that the remnant is aware that the continuance and enjoyment of that glorious situation depends entirely and only on the LORD. He has given the blessing, but must also maintain it. This attitude of dependence is characteristic of all who know their blessings and enjoy them in fellowship with God.

When it can be said “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD; we have blessed you from the house of the LORD”, the time of the rejection of God’s people and the Christ of God is over (Psa 118:26). Based on this verse, the Jews give the Messiah the title baruch ha-ba or ‘blessed He Who comes’. We hear this in the question to the Lord Jesus in Matthew 11: “Are You the Expected One?” (Mt 11:3a).

The crowds shouted this when the Lord Jesus went to Jerusalem for the last time during His life on earth before His death and resurrection (Lk 19:38). It was the day of their “visitation”, of His visiting them (Lk 19:44). However, it did not become a day of salvation for them because they did not recognize the Savior.

It will be different at the second coming of the Lord Jesus to earth. The people will have repented and welcome the Messiah, for it is He and no one else Who comes in the Name of the LORD (Mt 23:39). They are in the house of the LORD to sacrifice to the LORD and wish Him all good. He is worthy, for He has turned everything for the better for them.

Verses 27-29

Voluntary Sacrifices

The remnant confesses wholeheartedly and with their whole heart: “The LORD is God” (Psa 118:27; cf. 1Kgs 18:39). There is no longer any thought of idols that they used to worship. He has, in accordance with the priestly blessing (Num 6:25), “given” them “light”. This is the light of the day He has made, the day in which they rejoice and are glad (Psa 118:24; cf. Est 8:16).

The salvation by the LORD and introduction into the realm of peace is cause for great celebration. It is a feast for and with the LORD. That includes a sacrifice. They call one another to offer a sacrifice, “the festival sacrifice”, to Him (cf. Exo 10:9; Exo 12:14). This sacrifice is to be brought “with cords to the horns of the altar”. The cords indicate the close connection between the sacrifice and the altar. The altar is the place where the slaughtered sacrificial animal was burned as an offering by fire to God. The horns of the altar speak of the power of the sacrifice.

The sacrifice is a picture of Christ. Only through His sacrifice there is blessing for God’s people. In the realm of peace, sacrifices will be offered again. They are then memorial sacrifices in remembrance of Christ’s once accomplished work of which the value and power remain forever.

The LORD Who is God (Psa 118:27) is also the God of each individual, “my God” (Psa 118:28). Twice this personal relationship with God is mentioned. Experiencing it causes to “give thanks” to Him and to “extol” Him. The remnant as a whole and each individual give thanks to Him and extol Him for Who He is and what He has done.

The psalm ends with the same call and expression of appreciation to the LORD with which it began (Psa 118:29; Psa 118:1). Everything said in between gives an abundance of reasons to give thanks to the LORD. It is a succession of testimonies that He is good and that His lovingkindness is everlasting. That thanksgiving will sound forever.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 118". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.