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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 118

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


The triumphal procession moves toward the place of sacrifice, and on their way the Levite singers chant the invitation to all to join in praising God, (Psalms 118:1-4;) following this, the precentor, or a division of the Levites, recites the circumstances forming the occasion of the psalm, namely, Israel’s distress and deliverance. Psalms 118:5-18. As they enter the sacred place of sacrifice, the Levites of the procession demand admission, (Psalms 118:19,) and the response is given by a chorus in the outer court, (Psalms 118:20-27;) to which the singers of the procession, in concert, reply. Psalms 118:28-29. The song is certainly antiphonal, and a festal triumph, holding a high rank in the spiritual sphere of worship. It closes the hallel, which begins with Psalms 113:0, (which see,) and was probably the “hymn” sung by our Saviour and the disciples at the close of the passover feast. Matthew 26:30. Modern criticism generally assigns it to the time soon after the return of the exiles, though formerly it was accounted of Davidic origin. If it belongs to the returned exiles, it as fitly suits the laying the foundations of the second temple. Ezra 3:10-11. On its highly Messianic character see the notes, especially Psalms 118:22-26

Verses 1-4

1-4. In this introduction, or joyful call upon all to join in the praises of God, the same enumeration of “Israel,” “the house of Aaron,” and “those who fear God,” is made as in Psalms 115:11, which see. The whole band of singers must be supposed to join in this invitation.

Verse 5

5. In distress Literally, From the strait. Same word as is rendered pain, Psalms 116:3, where see note.

Large place A wide, open field or space, standing opposed to the strait, narrow gorge, or exigency, in the previous line. Sin brings us into straitness and oppression, but the answer of penitent prayer brings enlargement.

Verse 7

7. See my desire, etc. Hebrew, I shall look on those that hate me; an idiomatic form for I shall triumph over them, I shall behold their downfall. This every man hopes for, not in the spirit of revenge, but as a triumph of justice and truth. See Psalms 54:7; Psalms 59:10; Psalms 112:8. How can the righteous triumph but by the downfall of the impenitent wicked?

Verse 9

9. Princes The representatives of earthly power. This is an advance in the thought from “man,” in the preceding line. God alone can be trusted, who overrules men and “princes.” The faithlessness of “princes” was felt by the returned exiles in all their attempts at reconstruction. See, as to the temple building, Ezra 4:5, , Ezra 4:6. But God triumphed through his prophets.

Ezra 5:1

Verse 10

10. All nations All heathen “nations.” The whole world is arrayed against the Church, because the true Church testifies against “all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men.” See John 7:7; John 15:19

Verse 12

12. Compassed me about Repeated four times, which Perowne thinks marks their pertinacious hostility.

Like bees Not only as to their number, but the madness with which they pursue those who attack or disturb them. Deuteronomy 1:44; Isaiah 7:18.

The fire of thorns Which is sudden, violent, and quickly extinguished, answering to the figure of the attack by “bees.”

Verse 13

13. Thrust sore Literally, Thrusting thou hast thrust, etc., an intensive form of speech. Thou hast done thy worst at violence and malice. The third person is changed for the second, and he addresses his enemies.

But the Lord helped me The psalmist does not describe the manner of divine interference, because psalms written for the whole Church, and for all times, and all forms of suffering and deliverance, should not be embarrassed with local details. It is enough to know that Jehovah alone could help him, and that he delivered him.

Verse 14

14. The Lord is my strength Borrowed from the song at the Red Sea.

Exodus 15:2

Verse 15

15. Tabernacles Or tents, poetically for dwellings. The exiles had recently kept the feast of tabernacles, (Ezra 3:4,) and probably most of them still dwelt in tents until their old homes could be rebuilt. Righteous, here, applies to the true Israel, as opposed to the world who are not in covenant with God.

Verse 17

17. I shall not die As the sore chastening seemed to threaten, and as the nation’s enemies had hoped.

And declare the works of the Lord The true end of living to glorify God is now apprehended and confessed. A great lesson had been learned.

Verse 18

18. Unto death Still the image of death, so recently escaped, (Psalms 118:17,) is before him. There is a wonderful freshness and life in this psalm. It is the recital of experience.

Verse 19

19. Open to me the gates The procession (see the introduction) has now reached the place of sacrifice, and desires to enter the sacred enclosure, when the Levitical singers thus demand entrance, declaring the object for which they would enter.

Verses 20-27

20-27. These verses contain the response (Delitzsch) of the singers within the court, who receive the festal procession.

The stone A proverbial expression, denoting that that which was despised and cast away as worthless has become the symbol of honour and strength. It may point to the dispirited ones, (Ezra 3:12,) or, more certainly, to the contempt with which the nations had regarded Israel, who had now risen to honour; but, most of all, to Christ. See Matthew 21:42; Act 4:11 ; 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:7; Isaiah 28:16. Psalms 118:22; Psalms 118:25-26, are Messianic prophecies, to which the Holy Spirit had exalted the perceptions of the poet through the typical light of Israel’s history.

Verse 23

23. This is the Lord’s doing The restoration of the Jews to their nationality was so marked as a divine interposition, that the heathen said, “Jehovah hath done great things for them.” See Psalms 126:1-2. But the language is Messianic. Christ, the Stone which the builders disallowed, was exalted to be the “headstone of the corner” by the resurrection from the dead and the public investiture of the mediatorial government.

Verse 25

25. Save now The words might seem to be equivalent to the Hebrew form, “Let the king live,” or the old English, “God save the king,” combining both praise and prayer, the life of the king implying the salvation of the people. But the Hebrew form emphatically requires the sense of prayer “Ah, now, O Jehovah, save, I pray.” This ascribes to Jehovah the exclusive prerogative to save, with a petition to exercise toward Israel this sovereign grace. הושׁיעה נא , ( hosheeahh-nah,) save now, or, save I pray; Greek form, ωσαννα , ( hosanna,) here addressed to Jehovah, is in Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15, Mark 11:10; John 12:13, directly applied to Christ; a clear recognition also of Zechariah 9:9, “Thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation.”

Verse 26

26. Blessed be he that cometh Originally the salutation given by the body of the Levite singers on the temple hill, who received the procession; (Psalms 118:19-20: see introduction;) afterward the welcome of the Jerusalem Jews to the pilgrims coming to attend the festivals. Its higher import was in Christ, worshipped by the people, (see Psalms 118:25,) “as being the longed for guest of the feast.” D elitzsch. It was also the common form of religious salutation, (Ruth 2:4; Psalms 129:8,) only, perhaps, it should be transposed, “Blessed, in the name of Jehovah, is he that cometh.” According to Matthew 23:39, the Jewish nation are to extend this welcome to Christ as the condition of his triumphant return to them. This psalm, says Bishop Alexander, ( Bampton Lectures, 1876,) “was provided as a song expressive of welcome to Messiah,” and truly it answers to the history of John (John 12:12-15) as face answers to face in a glass.

Verse 27

27. God is the Lord El is Jehovah; that is, The Mighty One is Jehovah; or, transposing the order, Jehovah is God, as in 1 Kings 18:19. El, ( אל ,) was the general Semitic name of God, and also of heathen gods. But the Hebrews distinguished their El by qualifying words: “El of Israel,” the “ almighty El,” the “ everlasting El,” the “living El,” the “El eloheem Jehovah,” the God of gods is Jehovah,” (Joshua 22:22,) while the idols of the heathen were called “ strange gods,” “ no gods,” “nothings,” “vanities.” The idea of the text is, that the God who had saved them was no other than Jehovah, the only true God, and to him alone the praise was due. In an idolatrous world this distinction must be for ever guarded.

Showed us light Caused prosperity and cheer. Light is the emblem of knowledge, favour, prosperity. Esther 8:16; Psalms 97:11; Psalms 112:4.

Bind the sacrifice The animals led into the sacred enclosure for sacrifice were thus secured.

Even unto the horns of the altar A much disputed clause. Ainsworth thinks it “intends many sacrifices,” as if the animals were to be “bound all over the court until you come ‘even unto the horns of the altar.’” So also Delitzsch, supposing the allusion to be to Ezra 6:17. Thrupp would make ( עד , ( adh), unto, depend on the verb shine, in the first hemistich, which, in Hiphil, means to make light, to kindle, (Malachi 1:10,) and translates: “And hath kindled for us the flame even unto the horns of the altar,” leaving “bind the sacrifice with cords” as parenthetical. But this, besides making bad syntax, fails to make sense. Stanley, followed by Hengstenberg, simply considers the allusion to be to tying the animal to the horns of the altar preparatory to sacrifice, and this is the natural, easy sense. The altar was four square, built of shittim wood, overlaid with brass, and the interior space filled with stones and earth, on which the sacrifice was burned. At each corner was an upward projection called a “horn.” Exodus 27:1-2; Exodus 24:25. The binding the animal to the “horns” of the altar was a token and pledge that he was surely devoted, and was an accepted victim, ready to be offered.

Verse 29

29. The psalm ends as it began. Compare the last line with Ezra 3:11. With this beautiful lyric closes the hallel. See introduction. It must for ever stand in hallowed relation to the blessed Saviour in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the scenes of the Last Supper. Matthew 21:9; Matthew 26:30.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 118". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-118.html. 1874-1909.
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