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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 118

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

Introduction

Psalms 118:0

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASBNKJVNRSVTEVNJB
Thanksgiving for the Lord's Saving GoodnessNo MT IntroPraise to God for His Everlasting MercyThanksgiving for Deliverance in BattleA Prayer of Thanks for VictoryProcessional Hymn for the Feast of Shelters
Psalms 118:1-4Psalms 118:1Psalms 118:1Psalms 118:1-4Psalms 118:1
Psalms 118:2-4Psalms 118:2-4 Psalms 118:2-4
Psalms 118:5-9Psalms 118:5-9Psalms 118:5-9Psalms 118:5-9Psalms 118:5-7
Psalms 118:8-9
Psalms 118:10-14Psalms 118:10-14Psalms 118:10-14Psalms 118:10-12Psalms 118:10-12
Psalms 118:13-14Psalms 118:13-14
Psalms 118:15-18Psalms 118:15-18Psalms 118:15-18Psalms 118:15-16Psalms 118:15-16
Psalms 118:17-18Psalms 118:17-18
Psalms 118:19-21Psalms 118:19-20Psalms 118:19Psalms 118:19Psalms 118:19-21
Psalms 118:20Psalms 118:20
Psalms 118:21Psalms 118:21-25Psalms 118:21
Psalms 118:22-29Psalms 118:22-24 Psalms 118:22-25Psalms 118:22-24
Psalms 118:25-28 Psalms 118:25-27b
Psalms 118:26-27Psalms 118:26-27
Psalms 118:27-28
Psalms 118:28Psalms 118:28
Psalms 118:29Psalms 118:29Psalms 118:29Psalms 118:29

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This Psalm is an antiphonal processional Psalm (cf. Psalms 118:1 and 2-4). There are several different groups who seem to respond to each other. This explains

1. the repetitive nature

2. the different subjects involved in this Psalm

B. The exact historical setting of this Psalm has been disputed. It is obvious that Moses' song of victory at the Red Sea (i.e., Exodus 15:0) is the historical source of the metaphors. However, the exact date could fit the period of the post-exilic return under Nehemiah or an eschatological setting which would make the Psalm applicable to the pressures and problems of each generation.

C. In history this Psalm became identified with the Passover festival. It is the last of the Hallel Psalms, Psalms 113:0 through 118. Jesus quotes it during the Triumphant Entry (cf. Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10, Mark 12:11; Luke 20:17). This Psalm is used quite often in the NT to interpret the work of Christ (cf. Acts 4:11; Romans 9:32, Romans 9:33; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:7).

D. The Jewish Midrash interprets the Psalm in a Messianic sense. This can be particularly seen in the NT uses and interpretations of Psalms 118:22 and 26 (cf. Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; Luke 19:38; John 12:13).

E. This Psalm characteristically describes the experiences of the nation in terms of a unique individual, originally the king of Israel, but later came to be the ideal figure known as the Messiah (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MESSIAH). In this sense, as the ideal Israelite, He fulfills not only this passage, but also Isaiah 53:0.

Verses 1-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 118:1-4 1Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 2Oh let Israel say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.” 3Oh let the house of Aaron say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.” 4Oh let those who fear the Lord say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

Psalms 118:1 “Give thanks” This Psalm begins and ends with praise (“give thanks,” BDB 392, KB 389, Hiphil imperative). A good title for this Psalm would be “A Festival of Thanks.”

As far as personal application of this Psalm to everyday life, it is extremely meaningful to enumerate the blessings of God to His people, both historically and existentially.

“the Lord” This is the covenant name for God, YHWH, from the Hebrew verb, “to be” (cf. Exodus 3:14, see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY).

“He is good” Often when one reads the OT one is uncertain of the character of God (i.e., holy war, exodus, exiles). This Psalm reassures us of the basic character of the creator God (cf. 1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalms 25:8; Psalms 34:8; Psalms 73:1; Psalms 86:5; Psalms 100:5; Psalms 106:1; Psalms 107:1; Psalms 118:1, Psalms 118:29; Psalms 119:68; Psalms 135:3; Psalms 136:1; Psalms 145:9; Jeremiah 33:11). See Special Topic: Characteristics of Israel's God.

“For His lovingkindness is everlasting” This is to show the mercy and faithfulness of God, not only in His character but also His creative and redemptive acts (cf. Nehemiah 9:0; Psalms 136:0). This term (see Special Topic: Lovingkindness [hesed]) really means “God's covenant loyalty.”

Psalms 118:2 “Oh let Israel say” “Say” (BDB 55, KB 65, Qal jussive) is repeated three times. Psalms 118:2-4 shows three distinct groups within Israel who are called upon to praise the Lord. These three groups can also be seen in Psalms 115:9-13. The sequence seems to be:

1. the nation

2. the priests

3. those who fear the Lord (the Jewish Study Bible, p. 1414, suggests “proselytes,” but Psalms 15:0 implies godly Israelites)

They are to praise the Lord for His covenant fidelity.

Verses 5-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 118:5-9 5From my distress I called upon the Lord; The Lord answered me and set me in a large place. 6The Lord is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? 7The Lord is for me among those who help me; Therefore I will look with satisfaction on those who hate me. 8It is better to take refuge in the Lord Than to trust in man. 9It is better to take refuge in the Lord Than to trust in princes.

Psalms 118:5 “From my distress I called upon the Lord” It is obvious that the existential setting of the author is some type of confinement, persecution, or problem. It seems that this worship leader, whether it be the king or the nation personified in the Messiah, is going to experience problems.

The term “distress” (BDB 865) is a rare form found only here in the singular. It is found in the plural in Lamentations 1:3 and in a construct in Psalms 116:3 (where NASB translates it as “terrors of Sheol”).

“The Lord answered me and set me in a large place” This is a wonderful affirmation that God does always hear and respond to our call for help (cf. Psalms 118:21; Psalms 17:6; Psalms 31:2; Psalms 34:15; Psalms 40:1; Psalms 69:17; Psalms 71:21; Psalms 86:1; Psalms 102:2). The Hebrew word for “distress” (BDB 865) means “to confine or cause someone to be under pressure,” while the metaphor “set in a large place” (BDB 932) speaks of taking someone out of confinement and releasing them in a large pasture (cf. Psalms 4:1; Psalms 18:19; Psalms 31:8). Some think it refers to heaven (AB, p. 156), but in context it simply means deliverance from a physical problem or need.

Psalms 118:6 “The Lord is for me, I will not fear; What can man do to me” What a tremendous affirmation of faith that God is on our side (cf. Psalms 16:8; Psalms 23:4; Isaiah 43:1-2). And if God is on our side, victory is assured (cf. Psalms 56:4, Psalms 56:11). The presence of God is the greatest blessing!

“What can man do to me” This is the faith conclusion of a faithful follower who, by Scripture and experience, knows the Lord's presence, care, provision, and protection (cf. Psalms 56:4, Psalms 56:11; Psalms 146:3; Hebrews 13:6).

Psalms 118:7 “The Lord is for me among those who help me” This Hebrew idiom means “the Lord is our military champion” (cf. Psalms 54:4). The concept of God as warrior (cf. Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:10-12) is significant to those who are unjustly suffering persecution for His name.

“Therefore I will look with satisfaction on those who hate me” “Those who hate me,” who caused the psalmist “distress” in Psalms 118:5, surrounded him in Psalms 118:10-13.

God's judgment is both eschatological and temporal. The Psalms speak often of vindication and justice in this life (cf. Psalms 23:5; Psalms 37:34; Psalms 52:5-6; Psalms 54:7; Psalms 58:10; Psalms 59:10; Psalms 91:8; Psalms 92:11; Psalms 112:8).

Psalms 118:8-9 “It is better to take refuge in the Lord

Than to trust man” This is an affirmation on the fleetingness of temporal help but the joy and power of the eternal, redeeming God (cf. 2 Chronicles 32:7-8; Psalms 108:12; Psalms 146:3; Isaiah 2:22; Isaiah 30:1-3; Isaiah 31:1-3; Jeremiah 17:5-8).

The AB (p. 157) asserts that “man” (adam, BDB 9) in Psalms 118:8 is parallel to “prince” (BDB 622) and that they are an idiom for “all men” (i.e., Psalms 146:3).

Notice the use of four Qal infinitive constructs.

1. seek refuge - BDB 340, KB 337 (twice)

2. trust - BDB 105, KB 120 (twice)

Verses 10-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 118:10-14 10All nations surrounded me; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off. 11They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off. 12They surrounded me like bees; They were extinguished as a fire of thorns; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off. 13You pushed me violently so that I was falling, But the Lord helped me. 14The Lord is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.

Psalms 118:10-12 “All nations surround me” This phrase has been interpreted in several different ways.

1. Because of the many allusions throughout this Psalm and many other Scriptures, some commentators have seen this as referring to the exodus period.

2. Many commentators have assumed that the individual aspects better fit a post-exilic period with its reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem (cf. Nehemiah 4:7, Nehemiah 4:8).

3. Others have assumed that this refers to an eschatological context where the kingdoms of this world come against the kingdom of our God and His Christ (cf. Psalms 2:2; Zechariah 14:2; Revelation 19:11-21).

“In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off” “Cut them off” (BDB 557, KB 555, Hiphil imperfect) is literally the Hebrew phrase used for circumcision. Because of the Messianic implications of this Psalm, some see this as a conversion of the Gentile nations. See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan. However, in context, it seems to be their destruction, not their salvation.

The repeated use of “I” and “me” in Psalms 118:10-13 implies the author is the king. “Surround him” would denote laying siege to Jerusalem.

Psalms 118:12 These two metaphors seem to imply the tumultuous surrounding of the people of God by anti-God, worldly forces and their complete and immediate destruction. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE.

Psalms 118:13 “pushed me violently” This phrase is intensified in Hebrew by the use of the Qal infinitive construct and the Qal perfect verb of the same root (BDB 190, KB 218).

The AB (p. 158) sees this action as an idiom for death, based on the concept of “stumbling” (cf. Psalms 35:6; Psalms 36:12; Psalms 56:13; Psalms 116:8; also note NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 933).

Psalms 118:14 “The Lord is my strength and song,

And He has become my salvation” Psalms 118:14 and 15 reflect the song of victory which was sung after the crossing of the Red Sea (cf. Exodus 15:2a); the same quote is found in Isaiah 12:2.

For “strength” see Exodus 15:2; Psalms 28:8; Psalms 46:1; Psalms 59:17; Psalms 81:1; Isaiah 12:2b. This is often used in a military sense, as is “salvation/deliverance.”

For “salvation” see SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (OLD TESTAMENT TERM).

Verses 15-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 118:15-18 15The sound of joyful shouting and salvation is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. 16The right hand of the Lord is exalted; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. 17I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord. 18The Lord has disciplined me severely, But He has not given me over to death.

Psalms 118:15 “The sound of joyful shouting” See Exodus 15:6, Exodus 15:12.

“tents of the righteous” This is a historical allusion (or dead metaphor) to the wilderness wandering period, which was always idealized in Israel's traditions as the courtship between God and His people.

Psalms 118:15-16 “The right hand of the Lord” This thrice repeated phrase emphasizes in anthropomorphic terms (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN (ANTHROPOMORPHISM)) the power, presence, and willingness of God to act on behalf of His people in time as well as eternity. See SPECIAL TOPIC: HAND.

The term “left hand” denoted weakness and is never used of God's activity.

Psalms 118:17 “I will not die, but live” This may be an emphasis on national survival but used in the sense of an individual.

“And tell of the works of the Lord” This refers to verbal praise in the temple (cf. Psalms 9:14). This was a way of expressing both

1. theology about YHWH (cf. Exodus 9:16; Psalms 96:1-6)

2. personal trust in YHWH (cf. Exodus 10:2)

The verb (BDB 707, KB 765, Piel imperfect) denotes recounting the saving acts of YHWH (cf. Psalms 40:5; Psalms 73:28; Psalms 78:3, Psalms 78:4; Psalms 79:13; Psalms 107:22). This retelling of YHWH's acts

1. educates the next generation of faithful followers (cf. Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 6:7, Deuteronomy 6:20-25; Deuteronomy 11:19; Deuteronomy 31:13; Deuteronomy 32:46)

2. evangelizes the nations (cf. Deuteronomy 4:6)

Psalms 118:18 “The Lord has disciplined me severely” This implies that the people of God, symbolized here as an individual, will go through extremely hard times because of their sin and unfaithfulness. It is also an emphasis on the fact that God is in control of history. These things are not simply meaningless happenings, but have historical purpose in moving toward ultimate conclusion and the victory of God. See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

The individual and corporate aspects can be seen in

1. use of two singular imperfects used in a cohortative sense in Psalms 118:19, Psalms 118:28

2. use of two plural cohortatives used in Psalms 118:24, note Hiphil plural imperative at Psalms 118:29

Also note that “disciplined me severely” is an infinitive absolute and a perfect verb of the same root (BDB 415, KB 418), which denotes intensity (cf. same form but different root in Psalms 118:13).

God does discipline His children (cf. Deuteronomy 4:36; Deuteronomy 8:5; 2 Samuel 7:14; Job 5:17; Job 33:19; Psalms 73:14; Psalms 94:12; Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71, Psalms 119:75; Proverbs 3:11-12; Jeremiah 31:18; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-11; Revelation 3:19).

Verses 19-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 118:19-21 19Open to me the gates of righteousness; I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the Lord. 20This is the gate of the Lord; The righteous will enter through it. 21I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me, And You have become my salvation.

Psalms 118:19 “Open to me the gates of righteousness” “Open” (BDB 834, KB 986) is a Qal imperative. Psalms 118:19-27 seems to suggest a processional (possibly military) from outside the city of Jerusalem to the inside of the temple area. Psalms 118:19 does not refer to the temple, which is mentioned specifically in Psalms 118:26, Psalms 118:27, but the city gates of Jerusalem.

Psalms 118:20 “The righteous will enter through it” This is a reference to the processional entering the holy precincts of the city or the temple. Notice the righteousness factor is not only national or corporate, but also individual (cf. Psalms 15:1-2; Psalms 24:3-6; Psalms 26:6; Psalms 140:13; Isaiah 33:13-16). See SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Psalms 118:21 “And You have become my salvation” One must remember that the term “salvation” (cf. Psalms 118:14) in the OT speaks of physical deliverance. See SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (OLD TESTAMENT TERM).

Verses 22-29

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 118:22-29 22The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. 23This is the Lord's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. 24This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity! 26Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord; We have blessed you from the house of the Lord. 27The Lord is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. 28You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. 29Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Psalms 118:22 “The stone which the builders rejected” This is obviously used in the sense of paradox. It seems here to refer to national rejection. But we understand from the life of Christ that it was individually fulfilled in Him. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CORNERSTONE.

“Has become the chief corner stone This seems to be a reference to the Messiah (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MESSIAH), used in Isaiah 28:16. It also speaks of the rejection of the Messiah and the seeming defeat of God's purpose (i.e., Calvary).

Psalms 118:23 “This is the Lord's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes” God's ways are so different from our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:9-11). No one expected the Messiah to be God Incarnate. No one expected His substitutionary atonement (cf. Isaiah 53:0; Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 5:21). But this was the pre-determined plan of God (cf. Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18; Acts 4:28). See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

Psalms 118:24 “This is the day which the Lord has made;

Let us rejoice and be glad in it” God is in control of history (both corporate and individual)! That which seems to be a spiritual disaster is often turned into a tremendous spiritual victory!

I recommend the book by Hannah Whithall Smith, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.

For “day” see Special Topic: DAY (yom).

Psalms 118:25 “O Lord, do save” This is the term “Hosanna,” which was spoken about Jesus at the triumphant entry into Jerusalem during the last week of His earthly life (cf. Matthew 21:42, Matthew 21:45). Whatever the original historical setting of this Psalm, it had come to be used in first century rabbinical Judaism as a welcoming ceremony for the pilgrims entering the city for Passover. However, when Jesus appeared, they took that which was an annual greeting and made it very personal to Him.

This verse begins with two imperatives.

1. save - BDB 446, KB 448, Hiphil

2. send prosperity - BDB 852 II, KB 1026, Hiphil

In OT theology (i.e., “the two ways,” cf. Deuteronomy 30:15, Deuteronomy 30:19; Psalms 1:0), God's forgiveness and acceptance were demonstrated visibly by prosperity. However, this proved not always to be the case (cf. Job, Psalms 73:0).

Psalms 118:26 “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” The use of this phrase in the NT puts a Messianic aspect to this Hallel Psalm (cf. Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; Luke 19:38; John 12:13). See SPECIAL TOPIC: MESSIAH.

Psalms 118:27

NASB, NRSV, TEV, JPSOA“The Lord is God” NKJV“God is the Lord”

There is no verb, just El (BDB 42) and YHWH (BDB 217). This same form occurs in Psalms 85:9. The same combination without a verb is also in Psalms 118:28, El (lit. “My El”) and pronoun (BDB 61).

The Deity of Israel goes by several names.

1. some have developed through history

2. some were titles of pagan deities applied to Israel's God

3. some denote different aspects of His being

4. some are poetic parallels for literary purposes

“He has given us light” There have seen several interpretations.

1. God's personal presence - Psalms 89:15; Psalms 90:8

2. God's revelation

a. Scripture - Psalms 19:8; Psalms 36:9; Psalms 119:105; Isaiah 51:4

b. Messiah - Isaiah 49:6; Micah 7:8; John 1:9; John 3:19-21; John 12:35-36; 1 John 2:8

3. God's blessing - Numbers 6:25

4. the Shekinah cloud of the exodus - Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:20

5. God's portable throne chariot - Ezekiel 1:4, Ezekiel 1:27

“Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar” This is a very difficult Hebrew phrase and has been understood in several different ways.

1. “link together the pilgrims” - This involves an emendation of the text based on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

2. “with branches in your hand draw up in procession” - This is the translation of the Jerusalem Bible (JB) and the NIV; it seems to reference the OT allusion of branches used in the Festival of Tabernacles (cf. Leviticus 23:40). The term “cords” can be used for branches (cf. Ezekiel 19:11; Ezekiel 31:3, Ezekiel 31:10, Ezekiel 31:14).

3. “bring the sacrifice down to the horns of the altar” - This seems to fit the context best, and the term “bound” can be found in this connotation in Judges 15:13; Judges 16:11; Ezekiel 3:25.

4. The concept of sacrifice seems to be caught up with the substitutionary atonement of Christ (i.e., Isaiah 52:13-12), which is alluded to in the Masoretic Text of Malachi 2:3. The horns of the altar would have been the holiest part of the altar on which the sacrificial blood was smeared (cf. Exodus 27:2; Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 4:7, Leviticus 4:18, Leviticus 4:25, Leviticus 4:30, Leviticus 4:34; Leviticus 8:15; Leviticus 9:9; Leviticus 16:18).

Psalms 118:28-29 This Psalm ends as it began, with a festival of thanks (i.e., BDB 392, KB 389, Hiphil imperatives) to God for who He is, what He has done, and what He is going to do on behalf of His faithful followers.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. List all of the blessings that God has given us in this Psalm.

2. Why do many scholars think this Psalm is antiphonal?

3. How is the nation personified in the king and later in the Messiah?

4. Explain the Messianic elements of Psalms 118:22 and 26, how they fit into ancient Israel and how they fit into the life of Christ.

5. What is a preferred translation of Psalms 118:27? What are its implications to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 118". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-118.html. 2021.
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