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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Psalms 118

 

 

Verses 1-29

Psalm 118

1 O give thanks unto the Lord;

For he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever

2 Let Israel now say,

That His mercy endureth for ever.

3 Let the house of Aaron now say,

That his mercy endureth for ever.

4 Let them now that fear the Lord say,

That his mercy endureth for ever.

5 I called upon the Lord in distress:

The Lord answered me, and set me in a large place.

6 The Lord is on my side;

I will not fear: what can man do unto me?

7 The Lord taketh my part with them that help me:

Therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me.

8 It is better to trust in the Lord

Than to put confidence in man.

9 It is better to trust in the Lord

Than to put confidence in princes.

10 All nations compassed me about:

But in the name of the Lord will I destroy them.

11 They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about:

But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.

12 They compassed me about like bees;

They are quenched as the fire of thorns:

For in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.

13 Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall:

But the Lord helped me.

14 The Lord is my strength and Song of Solomon,

And is become my salvation.

15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous:

The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.

16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted:

The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.

17 I shall not die, but live,

And declare the works of the Lord.

18 The Lord hath chastened me sore:

But he hath not given me over unto death.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness:

I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord:

20 This gate of the Lord,

Into which the righteous shall enter.

21 I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me,

And art become my salvation.

22 The stone which the builders refused

Is become the head stone of the corner.

23 This is the Lord’s doing;

It is marvellous in our eyes.

24 This is the day which the Lord hath made;

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord:

O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity,

26 Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord:

We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.

27 God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light:

Bind the sacrifice with cords,

Even unto the horns of the altar.

28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee;

Thou art my God, I will exalt, thee.

29 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good:

For his mercy endureth for ever.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Contents and Composition.—The Psalm begins with an exhortation, of an altogether liturgical character, to offer thanksgiving to Jehovah in acknowledgement of His mercy ( Psalm 118:1-4). It is addressed to the whole Church, its priests, and its members. In the next strophe the Psalmist, because he had himself experienced the help of the Hearer of prayer, praises joyfully the security of those who do not seek refuge in men, even in princes, but confidently seek it in God. This passage is interspersed with sentences repeated like a refrain ( Psalm 118:5-9). Confidence of victory in the name of Jehovah over enemies that have risen up all around him is then boldly expressed ( Psalm 118:10-12). And lastly he celebrates the power of Jehovah, who has helped and will help, and vows that he will proclaim His doings, because he has been delivered by Him ( Psalm 118:13-18). Then follows a command to open the temple-gates that the just may enter to praise Jehovah; for He had actually heard and answered prayer, and made the stone, rejected as useless by the builders, the corner stone, and that in a wonderful manner ( Psalm 118:19-23). This is succeeded by a demand for solemn rejoicing on the feast-day, with the usual prayers and blessings, and for the offering of the sacrifice ( Psalm 118:24-26). The Psalm then closes with a profession of faith made to God, and a vow of thanksgiving, returning to the mode of expression employed in the opening sentence ( Psalm 118:27-28.)

This is unmistakably a Temple-Song. Several expressions seem to allude to a particular feast, with its peculiar prayers and sacrifices.—One feels tempted to assign the several strophes to the several divisions of the congregation, priests or people, who were marching up to the temple, or welcoming the festal train, or preparing the sacrifice, or praising God. But there are no convincing grounds to enable us to pronounce decisively upon the special event, even if there is no reason to deny a definite historical situation and occasion for the composition (Hupfeld). There is no need of going down to the Maccabæan period in order to establish a connection with the inauguration of Simon (Venema, De Wette, Rosenmüller), or with Judas Maccabæus after the victory over Nicanor (Hesse), or with the rescue of King Demetrius II, by the help of the despised Jews, from the uprising in Antioch, 1 Maccabees 11:44 ff (Olshausen), or with the return of Jonathan from his victorious campaign, 1 Maccabees 11:74 (Hitzig). The period succeeding the return from Exile affords a more suitable occasion, and, since Psalm 118:19-20 presuppose the completion of the Temple, this occasion could not have been the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month of the first year after the return, Ezra 3:1-4 (Ewald), or the laying of the foundation-stone of the Temple in the second month of the second year, Ezra 3:8 f. (Hengst.), but either the dedication of the completed Temple in the twelfth month of the sixth year of Darius, Ezra 8:15 ff. (Del.), or the first complete celebration, according to the legal ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles, Nehemiah 8:14 ff. (Stier).

[Perowne adopts this last view. He thus sums up the arguments in its favor, mainly following the discussion by Delitzsch, from whom most of the remarks given above are also taken: ‘1. The use of the Psalm in the ritual of the Second Temple leads to the conclusion that it was originally composed for the Feast of Tabernacles. For the words of the 25 th verse were sung during the feast, when the altar of burnt-offering was solemnly compassed, that Isaiah, once on each of the first six days of the feast, and seven times on the seventh day. This day was called ‘the great Hosanna’ (save now, Psalm 118:25), and not only the prayers for the feast, but even the branches of trees, including the myrtles which were attached to the palm-branches, were called ‘Hosannas.’ Further, although the Psalm itself contains no allusion to any of the national feasts, the word ‘tents,’ in Psalm 118:15, at least accords very well with the Feast of Tabernacles2. In the second place, it seems equally clear that the Psalm supposes the completion of the Temple. The language of Psalm 118:19-20. … and the figure employed in Psalm 118:22. … cannot be easily explained on any other supposition. The allusions in Psalm 118:8-12 to the deceitfulness of human help and the favor of princes, as well as to the active interference of troublesome enemies, are exactly in accordance with all that we read of the circumstances connected with the rebuilding of the Temple. The most probable conclusion, therefore, Isaiah, that the Psalm was composed for the first celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, after the completion of the Second Temple.”—J. F. M.]

The Messianic interpretation (the Rabbins and most of the ancients) is based especially upon Psalm 118:22; Psalm 118:25-26, and confounds the application of the Psalm with the original sense. To seek, in addition, a three–fold prophetic sense (Stier), is at variance with the principles of a sound interpretation. Luther: “This is my Psalm, which I love. Although the whole of the Psalter, and of Holy Scripture itself, which is my only consolation in life, are also dear to me, yet I have chosen this Psalm particularly to be called and to be mine; for it has often deserved my love, and helped me out of many deep distresses, when neither emperor, nor kings, nor the wise and prudent, nor saints, could have helped me.”

[In the second member of each of the Psalm 118:2-4, the translation, “for His mercy, etc,” is most favored.—J. F. M.]

Psalm 118:5. Through the wide expanse [E. V, and set me in a large place], that Isaiah, from His lofty heavens ( Psalm 20:7). But it is admissible also to translate: with the wide space=freedom (Olshausen), or to suppose a pregnant construction: by setting me in a large place (most). Instead of Jah at the end of Psalm 118:5 b, there is a reading recognized also by the Masora (comp. Baer, Psalterium, p132), according to which the יָה, which expresses the utmost degree of any condition, is to be read as the final syllable of the preceding word (comp. Jeremiah 2:31). If this be correct, boundless space would then be described. But the usual pointing, having the first member of the verse in view, is to be preferred.

Psalm 118:6 is related to Psalm 56:10, and Psalm 118:7 to Psalm 54:6. Accordingly, the meaning is not, that Jehovah was one among many helpers, but that He was the One, who surpassed all others. In an historical connection the passage may allude to the hostile efforts of the Samaritans and the Satraps during the building of the Temple, while the contrast which is drawn between the confidence placed in man and that placed in God, may bear some allusion to the fact, that the work, begun under Cyrus and already brought into suspicion under Pseudomerdis, was interdicted under Cambyses, and not resumed until the accession of Darius (Del.).

Psalm 118:10. We ought perhaps to translate: “ward off” (Sept. and others), instead of “hew in pieces” [E. V, destroy], since the Hebrew word means literally: to cut off (Hupfeld). But it is scarcely to be supposed that this action was a token of violent subjection ( 1 Samuel 18:25; 2 Samuel 3:14; Josephus Ant13:9, 1; 2:3;) and mentioned with allusion to the sign which distinguished the Jew and the Gentile, Galatians 5:12; Philippians 3:2 (J. H. Mich, Hengst.). Such a translation is held to be possible from a comparison with the Arabic, so that there is no need of changing אֲמִילָם into אֲכִילֵם (Hupfeld). [Alexander: The construction of the last clause is unusual and doubtful…. Perhaps the best solution is the one afforded by the Hebrew usage of suppressing the principal verb in oaths or solemn affirmations…. The sense will then be: in the name of Jehovah (1swear or solemnly affirm) that I will cut them off.

Psalm 118:19-23. Gates of righteousness are identical with the gate of Jehovah, Psalm 118:20, by which the righteous, that Isaiah, the Israelites, entered into the outer court of the Temple on the eastern side, it alone being accessible to them. There is not the slightest occasion to abandon this local designation, and to regard it as a figurative expression (Hupfeld) for turning to God, or to import into it religious and theological notions of righteousness (older and recent expositors with all possible references). For in Psalm 118:27 religious rites are expressly spoken of. It is only through the symbolical significance and the typical aspect which all of these had in Israel that they contained the germs of a higher development, and it was in the process of development that they disclosed a deeper import and unfolded a richer meaning. The same principle also justifies the final reference to Jesus Christ of the statement ( Psalm 118:22 f.) with regard to the stone that had been rejected, but which became the chief corner-stone through God’s wonderful power ( Matthew 21:42 ff.; Mark 12:10 f.; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7). This purpose is equally well served whether the sentence be viewed as a proverb (De Wette, Ewald) or not. It is self-evident that the expression is figurative. So also is the allusion to the builders (Hupfeld), and therefore this designation is not to be pressed, in order to make it apply, so early as in this Psalm, specially and historically to the heathen (Kurtz), or to the Jews (Del.). The declaration of Jehovah, Isaiah 28:16 : “Behold it is I who have laid in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone of a sure foundation—he who believes, shall not waver,” is specially important for the biblical conception of this figure. What is said of the servant of Jehovah in Isaiah 42. f. furnishes also essential points of comparison.

[Alexander: “As this Psalm was sung by the people at the last Jewish festival attended by our Saviour, He applies this proverb to Himself, as one rejected by the Jews and their rulers, yet before long to be recognized as their Messiah whom they had denied and murdered, but whom God had exalted as a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance to Israel and the remission of sins ( Acts 5:31). This, though really another application of the proverb in its general meaning, has a certain affinity with its original application in the verse before us, because the fortunes of the ancient Israel, especially in reference to great conjunctures, bore a designed resemblance to the history of Christ Himself, by a kind of sympathy between the Body and the Head. Even the temple, which suggested the original expression, did but teach the doctrine of Divine inhabitation, and was therefore superseded by the advent of the Son Himself. The head of the corner means the chief or corner-stone of the foundation even in Zechariah 4:7, where the Engl. Vers. translates head-stone.”—J. F. M.]

Psalm 118:24-29. This is the day,etc.—This word also admits of manifold applications to sacred seasons and to God’s gracious deeds in the lives both of individuals and of nations, and has always received them in full measure. In the passage before us it is applied to the celebration alluded to in this Psalm. This we are inclined to regard as that of the Feast of Tabernacles (Ewald), since Psalm 118:25 appears to contain the exclamation with which, in the time of the Second Temple, the altar of burnt-offering was solemnly compassed, once on each of the first six days of the feast, and seven times on the seventh day (comp. Delitzsch, Der Hosannaruf, Zeitschrift für luther. Kirche und Theologie, 1855). [See the addition in the introduction to this Psalm.—J. F. M.]. At the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem this exclamation in the mouths of the people, when they hailed the visitor at the festival as the Messiah ( Matthew 21:9), was coupled with the words of Psalm 118:26 a, with which according to Jewish tradition the inhabitants of Jerusalem were accustomed to greet the pilgrims to the Temple. Here it appears to have been the priests who welcomed the congregation as they ascended the Temple-hill with the animals to be sacrificed. [The view of Delitzsch; see the introduction above.—J. F. M.]. According to Ezra 6:17, the victims were very numerous. This appears to agree with Psalm 118:27. For the translation: adorn the feast with boughs (Luther, Geier and others, after the Sept, Aquila, Jerome), is untenable. Although עֲבוֹת may perhaps mean: thickly-leaved clusters of twigs, Ezekiel 19:11; Ezekiel 31:3 f. (a meaning disputed, however, by Hengst. and Hävernick), yet אסר ב׳׳ cannot mean: to bind round, wrap round, and still less: to decorate, but only: to bind on with cords ( Judges 15:13; Judges 16:11; Ezekiel 3:25). חַג must therefore be taken in the sense of: victim, as in Ezekiel 23:18; comp. 2 Chronicles 30:22; Deuteronomy 16:2; John 18:28. And since the victims were not bound to the horns of the altar, but their blood was sprinkled upon them, the words “even unto” are not intended to mean that they were fastened close against the horns with short cords (Hitzig). The expression is either a pregnant one, conveying, in a general manner, the idea that the animals should be bound even until the sacrifice (Chald, Kimchi, J. H. Mich, Hengst, Hupfeld), or crowded so closely together as to fill up all the space even to the horns of the altar (Del. and others). [Del, referring the Psalm to the dedication of the Second Temple, compares Ezra 6:17, where it is mentioned that great numbers of animals were sacrificed on that occasion. On his explanation Perowne remarks: “But in this interpretation there is nothing appropriate in the mention of the horns of the altar. These have always a reference to the blood of the sacrifice.—The expression is apparently a pregnant one and the sense is: Bind the victim with cords till it is sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the horns of the altar.” Alexander explains: “Hold fast the sacrifice with cords until it comes to the horns of the altar, poetically put for the altar itself, not only as its prominent or salient points, but as the parts to which the blood, the essential vehicle of expiation, was applied.”—J. F. M.] According to the context the words of Psalm 118:26 : in the name of Jehovah, are not to be connected with: he that cometh, but with: blessed. [For the force of the particles of entreaty in Psalm 118:25, see on Psalm 116:16 and the additional note.—J. F. M.]. The second clause of Psalm 118:27 a [God is Jehovah and hath given us light], which is not to be rendered as a present (Luther, De Wette), but as a præterite, does not allude, as does Numbers 6:25, to the priestly blessing, but, like Exodus 12:21; Exodus 14:20, to the shining forth in the pillar of cloud and fire in the history of the march through the desert (Hupfeld), comp. Nehemiah 9:12; Nehemiah 9:19. It is only the application of this expression which can afford the idea of the light of mercy, freedom, and joy (Del.) The correction וַיָּאֵל and he led (Hitzig), is unnecessary.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. Not only the priests, but all the members of God’s Church are to praise Him. The ordinary service of God affords opportunity for the expression of this relation in an edifying manner. The believer finds occasion for it in the goodness of the Highest, ever manifested anew in His kindness, which endures forever, of which individuals and the whole Church have rich experiences, while, by particular instances of prayer-hearing, they are urged to mutual encouragement. “Let him who can learn, learn here, and let every one become like a falcon, which in its distress soars far upwards into heaven. It is said: I called upon the Lord. Thou must learn to call, and not sit by thyself or lie upon the bench, hanging and shaking thy head, and letting thy thoughts bite and devour thee; but rouse up thou indolent fellow! fall upon thy knees, raise thy hands and eyes to heaven, repeat a Psalm or the Lord’s Prayer, and present thy distress before God with tears.” (Luther).

2. Under such experiences and the reception of such benefits, trust in God increases, along with the growing insight into the value of His help, and into the blessing of such trust. Thus increases also courage to face a hostile world in the midst of dangers and afflictions. The resulting evidences of our assurance have a vivifying and gladdening influence, but have nothing in common with the boasting of presumption. They are based, along with the confession of the perishableness of all earthly greatness and human power, upon the wonderful help of God’s mercy, and are therefore surrounded and sustained by thankful praise for that help, and by ardent entreaties for its continuance.

3. The sufferings which God’s people have to endure, are regarded by believers as chastenings from the hand of the Most High; and they are so severe, that they are felt to be heavy and painful strokes. But the same (Hand which has chastened them so severely, delivers them again from death and all their enemies, if they humble themselves before Him. By His wonderful working He makes the stone rejected by men, the cornerstone of a building indestructible and pleasing to Him, so that there is joy in the tabernacles of the righteous, and songs of thanksgiving resound in the house of the Lord.

4. God be praised that He has His house amongst us, and has opened its gates that His people might enter before His face, to celebrate those sacred feasts which He has ordained! May we, on the days consecrated by the Lord, always become ourselves consecrated, to perform joyfully the service which He requires of us: not to count up or lament the sacrifices demanded, but only to seek how we may please Him, how we, as “the righteous,” may go in and out, and receive and take with us the blessing which is held in readiness for those who come in the name of the Lord ( Numbers 6:24 ff.; Deuteronomy 21:5).

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Those are the right prayers which have thanks-giving for their support. God will not be weary of them; let us not be indolent or wearied in them.—We have certainly not deserved, and we cannot repay, all that God has done for us and for our house; but we can offer our thanks, and proclaim His goodness in His house.—God has attached great blessing to His day, and to coming to His house; but it rests with us to obtain that blessing.—If our church-going is one of blessing, it will be seen also to be one of prayer, of penitence, and of faith.—The courage of trust in God: (1) its sources; (2) its manifestations; (3) its results.—He who comes to God’s house as one of His people, is to pass through the gates of righteousness, and gain His presence, and will be blessed with the name of God.—If God’s judgments are not to tend to our death, but to our life, we are to make them serve as chastenings unto righteousness.

Starke: God’s goodness is unspeakably great, as well in the kingdom of nature as in the kingdom of grace.—The ground of thanksgiving and praise to God is the knowledge of His valiant doings and great goodness.—Well for the country, the city, and the Church, when the three great orders of the people are united in the true fear of God and in praising Him.—Religion does not make a life free from distress, but it does not allow us to remain held under distress.—The arm of men cannot take away my courage, as it cannot give me courage. The former is a groundless fear, the latter a vain hope.—Strong faith in God begets unwavering courage in all the events of life. The name of the Lord is a strong tower ( Proverbs 18:10).—We have a Lord who helps us and holds us by the hand. Let him thrust at us who will; but who will help him whom God casts aside?—God is our Psalm; of Him we must glory and sing, and His name we must confess, though we should have to suffer for so doing.—He who praises with joy the power of the Divine mercy, will evermore share in His salvation.—The song of joy is born of the cross.—If God has given thee thy life, employ it in proclaiming His deeds of mercy.—Let him who would enter with praise and thanksgiving into the gates of glory, enter in faith the gates of God’s righteousness here, and glorify His name.—Do not wonder at it if the Lord deals with thee in wonderful ways. He who would be something precious in the sight of God must first be rejected and ennobled by affliction.—As the sun in heaven makes the natural day by his light, so does Christ the Sun of Righteousness make ours a spiritual day.—He who abides in the house of the Lord will hear from heaven and earth no word but of blessing.—If our service on our sacred days is to please God, we must come before Him with penitent hearts, so that He may give us light, and thus rejoice us.

Osiander: It is a greater work of God, to deliver a lost soul from the power of the devil, and make it blessed, than it is to create a new world.—Frisch: Behold how much faith can do! It gives an invincible courage which fears nothing.—Adam introduced a day of sadness, but another day is made by Christ: Abraham saw His day from afar, and was glad; we walk even now in His light.—Oetinger: The most insignificant event on the most unimportant occasion is to be ascribed to grace, which achieves also the greatest results in the most decisive junctures.—Rieger: Full trust in God may be excited and endure, while all trust in man is counted as nought, and, consequently, he who so trusts will be less controlled by the fear of man; and, at the same time, he will humbly resolve to submit to all chastening, yea, even to the suffering of death, and yet never yield the blissful hope of glory.—Tholuck: The glorious deliverances which God’s people experience give them the assurance of future victory.—Diedrich: God has brought us out of distress into blissful rest, that we may be enabled to have heartfelt delight in Him.—Expect no aid from the world; rather be prepared for all kinds of rebuffs from it: but God’s word will give thee strength enough for victory.—Our God welcomes all with blessing, who come together to enjoy that blessing in Israel; and those who are thus blessed on earth will also be blessed in heaven.—Stier: A song of thanksgiving for the victory of the Anointed and His people.—Taube: Whenever the everlasting goodness of God is sung, let all who have experienced it say Amen.—Schaubach: An evidence of the conflict, the victory, and the peace of the Redeemer.—Deichert: The victory of the risen Saviour, and its far-reaching consequences: (1) Death is vanquished; (2) the gates of righteousness are opened; (3) the corner-stone of the Church is laid.—G. Huyssen ( Psalm 118:15-21): The thanksgiving of the Christian in the joy of victory: (1) the joy of victory and its source; (2) the sacrifices of victory, and their significance; (3) the thanksgiving for victory, and the mode of rendering it.

[Matth. Henry: Without the Lord I am weak and sad, but on Him I stay myself as my strength, both for doing and suffering; and in Him I solace myself as my Song of Solomon, by which I both express my joy, and ease my grief; and making Him Song of Solomon, I find Him so; He doth strengthen my heart with grace, and rejoice my heart with His comforts. If God be our strength, He must be our song; if He work all our works in us, He must have all praise and glory from us. God is sometimes the strength of His people when He is not their song; they have spiritual supports, when they want spiritual delights; but if He be both to us, we have abundant reason to triumph in Him; for if He is our strength and our Song of Solomon, He is become not only our Saviour, but our salvation; for His being our strength is our protection to the salvation, and His being our song is an earnest and foretaste of the salvation.—We are weak and act but cowardly for our lives, but God is mighty and acts valiantly for us with jealousy and resolution, Isaiah 63:5, and when God’s right hand doeth valiantly for our salvation, it ought to be exalted in our praises.—It is not worth our while to live for any other purpose than to declare the works of the Lord, for His honor and for the encouragement of others to serve Him and trust in Him.—Sabbath days must be rejoicing days, and then they are to us as the days of heaven. See what a good Master we serve, who, having instituted a day for His service, appoints it to be spent in holy joy.

Scott: As we need not dread the rage of the ungodly, so we need not envy their carnal, vain, and vanishing mirth.—Our thanksgivings on earth must always be accompanied with prayers for further mercies and the continuance of our prosperity; our Hallelujahs with Hosannas.

Barnes ( Psalm 118:15). There is nothing that diffuses so much happiness through a family as religion; there is no joy like that when a member of a family is converted; there is no place on earth more happy than that where a family bows before God, with the feeling that all are children of God and heirs of salvation.—J. F. M.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 118:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/psalms-118.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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