The Twelfth Decade of Psalms
And so these Hallel psalms conclude on a note of high triumph—but it is triumph through the midst of trials. This is triumph that perseveres through the heat of a great battle. It is the joy of a rejected stone, now made the corner. A likely occasion for the psalm is the ascension of David to the throne. In Ezra 3:10-11, when they were laying the foundation of the Temple, we read that citations from the first and last portions of this psalm were sung—indicating that the whole psalm was sung on that occasion. Luther once said that this was his favorite psalm. They were all precious to him, but this was his favorite.
“O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: Because his mercy endureth for ever. Let Israel now say, That his mercy endureth for ever . . .” (Psalm 118:1–29).
Summary of the Text:
Here is a psalm with some glorious repetitions, culminating in a great messianic promise. The repetitions are indicated below in bold. Give thanks to the Lord because His mercy endures forever (v. 1). Let Israel say that His mercy endures (v. 2). Let the house of Aaron say that His mercy endures (v. 3). Let those who fear the Lord say the same (v. 4).
I called on the Lord, who answered and delivered me (v. 5). What can man do to me if the Lord is on my side (v. 6)? This passage is quoted in Heb. 13:6. The Lord takes up my side, and so I will triumph over my enemies (v. 7).
Trusting in the Lord is better than putting confidence in men (v. 8). For those who like to keep track of such things, this is the middle verse of the over 30K verses in the Bible. Trusting in the Lord is better than putting confidence in princes (v. 9). The nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I destroy them (v. 10). They encircled me, but I destroy them (v. 11). They came at me like a swarm of bees, but I quenched them like a thorn fire. I destroyed them (v. 12).
They thrust me back, but the Lord sustained me (v. 13). The Lord is my strength, song, and salvation (v. 14). The tents of the righteous are filled with jubilation, and the right hand of the Lord does valiantly (v. 15). The right hand of the Lord is exalted, and again does valiantly (v. 16). I will not die because I need to talk about the Lord (v. 17). The Lord chastened me severely, but not to the point of death (v. 18).
I will go through the gates of righteousness in order to praise the Lord (v. 19). The righteous will go through this gate (v. 20). I will praise the Lord because He has heard me, and has been my salvation (v. 21).
The next verse is quoted in multiple places in the New Testament (Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11;1 Pet. 2:7). The builders rejected this stone, and it has been made the cornerstone (v. 22). The Lord has done this thing, and we think it is marvelous (v. 23). This is the day the Lord has made, the day of resurrection. This is why we rejoice and are glad on this, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection (v. 24).
The next verse (v. 25) is fulfilled in the hosannas of Palm Sunday (Mark 11:8; John 12:13), and the verse after (v. 26) is cited multiple times (Matt. 21:9; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; Luke 19:38; John 12:13).
God is the Lord, and He made His light shine on us, and we bind our boughs to the altar (v. 27). You are my God, and I will praise You (v. 28); You are my God, and I will exalt You (v. 28). And then the psalm concludes by returning to the key note established at the very beginning of the psalm. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever (v. 29).
In Imitation of Christ
In a moment, we are going to consider the application of this psalm to the Lord, in whom the psalm finds its complete fulfillment. But the fact that we see Christ in this psalm, which we do, does not mean that we cannot see ourselves in it as well. In fact, because of our union with Christ, we must learn to see ourselves there. We are in Him.
In Hebrews 13:6, verse 6 from this psalm is quoted, and is introduced with this phrase—“So that we may boldly say . . .” If God is our help, and He most certainly is, then there is absolutely nothing that man can do to us. What is it to us if the enemy has a thousand spears when the Lord has ten thousand shields? The fact that the Lord persevered all the way through His conflict, and into the resurrection, means that we may take hope in the midst of our afflictions and conflicts.
Joshua 1:5 is quoted just before this, and this is God’s promise to us. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” The context from Joshua, and from the larger point of Hebrews, is a context of God’s people on the brink of the great invasion. We are appointed to take the land, and in the Great Commission, the land is now the entire earth. The book of Hebrews is a New Testament Deuteronomy, given to God’s people just as they were about to enter the land.
If you want iron in your veins, then internalize the psalms. At one point in his ministry the great Wycliffe fell ill, and the word went around that he was dying. He had been a great nuisance to the various orders of friars, and representatives of four orders came to his bedside in order to exhort him to repent, to renounce what he had been doing, to make a full confession, and to die reconciled to them. When they were done with their urging, Wycliffe had a servant raise him up a bit, and he then quoted, in a loud voice, from this psalm (v. 17). “I shall not die, but live, and declare the evil deeds of the friars.” In confusion, the monks tumbled out of the chamber.
Christ the Valiant
When the Lord observed the Passover meal with His disciples, we are told that when they were done, they all sang together. “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives” (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26). According to the custom of the Jews, what they sang was almost certainly this psalm. And it is striking for us to consider what the Lord was singing when we consider right alongside it what the Lord was facing.
The Garden was still before Him. The arrest, the impudent midnight trial, the flogging, the taunting, the crucifixion—all that was before Him. And yet, consider the jubilant and victorious tone of this agonistic psalm. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
So this stone has multiple meanings. The keepers of the vineyard had been faithless (Mark 12:10-11), and so it was a stone of judgment. The kingdom was to be taken from them (Matt. 21:42). Considered positively, the stone was a cornerstone for building the new Israel. But the stone is not just a cornerstone, but also a wrecking ball (Luke 20:17) “Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Luke 20:18).
The children who sang at the triumphal entry, and at the cleansing of the Temple, were self-consciously echoing this psalm. They were singing hosannas (Mark 11:8-9; John 12:13).
“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
Acts 4:10–12 (KJV)
Not only was the stone made the cornerstone, it was necessary that a particular rejected stone be the stone selected. The stone that was “set at nought” by the builders was essential to the building.
“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
1 Peter 2:6–8 (KJV)
This was a seed stone, and from the seed stone a mountain was to grown. It was mountain seed
“Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”
Dan. 2:34–35 (KJV)