Psalm 118 - Because His mercy is everlasting

I love this psalm. I think it is the most enjoyable psalm that I have worked on to date. It is simple enough for children to enjoy, but the truth in it is very deep. It meets me where I am at in my distress and lifts me to rejoice in simplicity.
This is generally agreed to be the last psalm about Christ.
Verses 6, 22-23 & 25-26 are quoted by the New Testament.

This was Martin Luther's favorite Psalm:
"This is my own psalm which I specially love. Though the entire Psalter and the Holy Scriptures are indeed very dear to me as my sole comfort and my very life, yet I have come to grips with this psalm in a special sense, so that I feel free to call it my very own. For it has done me great service on many an occasion and has stood by me in many a difficulty when the emperor, kings, wise men and clever, and even the saints were of no avail ..."

Many scholars (John Owen, Matthew Henry, Jonathan Edwards, David Brown, Alexander Hodge, John Broadus) believe that this is the psalm that the Lord sang with His disciples at the end of the Last Supper in Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26.
Psalm 118 is the last hymn of the great Hallel, consisting of psalms 113-118, which were sung by the Jews during the Passover according to the Talmud (ref). It makes sense that Jesus would choose this Psalm for His last supper, particularly as its verses predict His crucifxion, resurrection and result.

If this was the psalm that the Lord sang with His disciples, and I think it was, then I think they sung it in rounds as indicated by parts to be sung by Israel, the house of Aaron, and those fearing the Lord.

Christ in this psalm:
1. the gate that leads to the Lord (v20)
2. my salvation (v21)
3. the head cornerstone of God's building (v22)
4. the incarnated feast sacrificed on the horns of the altar (v27)

Repeated phrases in this psalm:
1. "Because His mercy is everlasting" 5x (vv1-4, 29)
2. "The nations turned around to Me" 4x "in the Lord's name because I cause them to be circumcised" 3x.  (vv 10-12)
3. "The Lord's right hand" 3x "does valiantly" (2x) (vv15-16)
4. "The Lord is for me" 2x (vv 6-7)
5. "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than" 2x (vv 8-9)
6. "The Lord is become my salvation." 2x vv14, 21

Speakers in this psalm:
Verses 10-12 & 19 must be the Messiah Himself speaking and probably also in vv 13 & 17.  
Verses 23-27 must be God's people speaking because of the 1st person plural pronouns.
All the other 1st person singular pronouns in this psalm could be the Messiah or the psalmist. I take them all as the Messiah speaking except for vv 21-22 which I include with vv23-27 as God's people speaking.

Overview of Narrative in this Psalm:
This psalm contains mostly praise, observations, exhortation & revelation, but there is also a little narrative.
1. Jah answers the Messiah's distress bringing him into Jah's spacious place. v5
2.  The Gentiles turn and turn again and again to the Messiah in the Lord's name, and the Messiah grafts them into God's people in vv 10-12.
3. The Messiah's death and resurrection are in v13. and 17-19.
4. v22 foretells the Messiah's rejection by Israel and His becoming the Head cornerstone joining the Gentiles and Jews in God's building, the church.
5. vv25-26 tells of the Jewish people receiving the Messiah, which was fulfilled superficially at His first coming and will be actually fulfilled at His 2nd coming.
6. v27 is a prayer by God's people to the Triune God for the Messiah to be incarnated and shed His blood on the altar so that we all can enjoy His everlasting mercy.

 Verse by verse:
v1 - The reason we are thankful for the goodness of the Lord is "because His mercy is everlasting".  If not for His everlasting mercy, the Lord may be extremely good, but that doesn't mean much to me.

The words mentioned in Ezra 3:10-11 are the first and last sentences of this Psalm, and we therefore conclude that the people chanted the whole of this sublime song; and, moreover, that the use of this composition on such occasions was ordained by David, whom we conceive to be its author." - C. H. Spurgeon

"Those who only praise God because he does them good should rise to a higher note and give thanks to him because he is good. " - Spurgeon

'Mercy is a great part of his goodness, and one which more concerns us than any other, for we are sinners and have need of his mercy. Angels may say that he is good, but they need not his mercy and cannot therefore take an equal delight in it; ... but man, deeply guilty and graciously forgiven, beholds mercy as the very focus and centre of the goodness of the Lord. The endurance of the divine mercy is a special subject for song: notwithstanding our sins, our trials, our fears, his mercy endureth for ever. The best of earthly joys pass away, and even the world itself grows old and hastens to decay, but there is no change in the mercy of God; he was faithful to our forefathers, he is merciful to us, and will be gracious to our children and our children's children. ... The Lord Jesus Christ is the grand incarnation of the mercy of God. ' - Spurgeon
 
v2-4 - The reason for everything positive in our lives is "because His mercy is everlasting." This mercy reaches us wherever we are and at all times. This is possible because of the Messiah's sacrificial death (vv13, 17, 27).

His everlasting mercy is not just a reason behind everything in our lives, but we should also say this. When someone asks us how we can be happy, say, "Because His mercy is everlasting." When someone asks you how you were able to joyfully do something, say, "Because His mercy is everlasting."

"Those who fear the Lord" is last rather than 1st to tell us that we never graduate from fearing the Lord. God's people and priests need to fear the Lord (1 Pet 2:17; Acts 9:31).

The 1st 4 verses of this Psalm are like a warmup for everyone to proclaim because they believe it, "Because His mercy is everlasting." Unless you appreciate His mercy to you, you will not enjoy the riches of the rest of the psalm.

These 1st 4 verses are a warmup, but much more than a warmup because the psalm also closes with the same words.

Let not the reader pass on to the consideration of the rest of the Psalm until he has with all his might lifted up both heart and voice to praise the Lord, "for his mercy endureth for ever."  - Spurgeon
 
v5 - "Prayers which come out of distress generally come out of the heart, and therefore they go to the heart of God. It is sweet to recollect our prayers, and often profitable to tell others of them after they are heard. Prayer may be bitter in the offering, but it will be sweet in the answering. The man of God had called upon the Lord when he was not in distress, and therefore he found it natural and easy to call upon him when he was in distress. He worshipped, he praised, he prayed: for all this is included in calling upon God." - Spurgeon

Verses 5-9 are very encouraging to me in my present distress. They meet me where I am at and bring me into Jah's spacious place to be able to enjoy the revelation of the rest of the psalm. "Jah" is short for Jehovah. "Jah" is used 6 times in this psalm, far more than in any other place in the Bible.

The phrase "in Jah's spacious place" is unique. Most translate it as "Jah answered me in a spacious place", but the word "Jah" is at the end of the sentence, immediately following "spacious place", which makes it mean "the spacious place of Jah".
I think that vv 5-9 foretell the Messiah in distress, praying in the garden of Gethsemane.
It probably also applies to the psalmist: Jah brought him into Jah's spacious place to see the enlarging revelation of this psalm, that the Messiah would become the Head of the corner in God's house (v 22) to bring in the gentiles (vv 10-12). The psalmist did not understand what this meant because he did not have the New Testament (Eph 3:3-6) revelation yet to explain it.
 
v6 - quoted in Hebrews 13:6
"He does not say that he should not suffer, but that he would not fear: the favor of God infinitely outweighed the hatred of men, therefore setting the one against the other he felt that he had no reason to be afraid. He was calm and confident, though surrounded with enemies, and so let all believers be, for thus they honour God. What can man do unto me? He can do nothing more than God permits; at the very uttermost he can only kill the body, but he hath no more that he can do." - Spurgeon
 
v7 - The Lord helps us through many kinds of people in many ways (1 Cor 3:21-22, Rom 13:4). This is different than trusting in man or in princes. The Lord is there helping us, but usually not in an outwardly miraculous way.
This statement shows great appreciation for those who are helping him.

I shall look at those who hate me means that I neither fear them nor have animosity toward them.

' "Therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me. The words, "my desire, "are added by the translators; the Psalmist said, "I shall look upon my haters: I shall look upon them in the face, I shall make them cease from their contempt.' - Spurgeon

I shall look in such a way at those who hate me that my look says, "It is better to trust the Lord than to trust in man or even princes."
 
v8 - The revelation of what the Lord will do in this psalm is something no man could think of. The Lord wondrously exceeds our expectation.
"to trust in man tends to make us mean, crouching, dependent; but confidence in God elevates, produces a sacred quiet of spirit, and sanctifies the soul." - Spurgeon
 
v9 - It is better to trust in the Lord for help than in the best government.
"These should be the noblest of men, chivalrous in character, and true to the core. The royal word should be unquestionable." Spurgeon
 
vv 10 -12 - No one translates these verses as they are written. Every translation that I have consulted, even the most literal, translates these 3 verses to mean that the nations surrounded me as enemies, but I destroyed them in the name of the Lord. The inspired words and structure of these verses unambiguously prohibit this meaning.

1st, it is clear that what the nations did here, they did "in the name of the Lord". "In the name of the Lord" unambiguously modifies the action that the nations did, not what "I" did because there is the conjunction "because" in between them. Since "in the name of the Lord" is repeated 3 times, this is really in the name of the Lord, not a pretense.

2nd, the Hebrew verb, muwl,  for what I will do to the nations does not mean "destroy". The verb is the causative form of the word "circumcised", which means "cause to be circumcised". The verb is used 36 times in the Bible and is always translated "circumcised" except for the 3 uses in this Psalm, plus 2 others (Ps 58:7;90:6) where it is translated "cut down". However those 2 others are the intensified, polel, form, which is not the form here. Thus all the non-intensified uses of the verb are translated "circumcised" except for the 3 uses in this Psalm. If the Holy Spirit wanted to say "destroy" or "cut off" there are a number of Hebrew words that could be used. The meaning here should be consistent with all the other uses of the non-intensified form of this verb, which is "circumcise". Spiritually this means to cut off the flesh and its natural strength to graft them into God's people. Circumcision separated Israel from the rest of the nations. For the Messiah to cause the gentiles to be circumcised is to graft them into God's people (Rom 11:17-14).

The Hebrew verb, sabab, for what the nations did here, means to turn around, encircle or change direction.  Normally in the Old Testament, when the subject is the nations, it means to encircle as in war. But that meaning is impossible here because it is "in the name of the Lord" (repeated 3 times) and it is "because I cause them to be circumcised", (also repeated 3 times).
"sabab also characterizes the turning of one’s mind so as to give attention to thorough investigation. {Ec 7:25} It describes a changed mind or attitude, occasionally in great sorrow. {1Ki 21:4 2Ki 20:2} This changed mind can involve a changed condition before God, whether for evil {2Ch 29:6} or good. {Ezr 6:22} From this, it becomes associated with repentance and restoration to favor after apostasy. {1Ki 18:37} " - Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT)

Although it is written in the Old Testament that the Gentiles would become part of God's chosen people, the understanding of this was not given until the New Testament (Eph 3:3-6). Hence the LXX did not translate these verses correctly. Thus, it is not wise to rely on the LXX translation too much when the Old Testament prophesy is regarding the church or the Triune God (vv8-9).
 
v11 - "They turned around to Me" is repeated 4 times. Many gentiles would turn to the Lord in many places and times. Each individual needs to turn to the Lord again and again. By our turning to Him again and again, He circumcises us, cutting off our sinful nature and natural strength, which makes us more a functioning member of HIs Body, the church.
 
v12 - Like verses 10-11, this verse also literally says "because I cause them to be circumcised."
Bees have stingers, and thorns have pricks for self defense. These are characteristics of fallen human beings. The Gentiles who came to the Lord were like this. They came to the Lord just as they were. Some things the Lord deals with right away, like quenching fire in thorns, such as violence, fornication and foul language. But we are still prickly thorns and stinging bees. We need the cross of the Lord to deal with these things in our nature through many turnings around to Him and by experiencing His cross, which is His causing us to be circumcised (Col 2:11-13; Philip 3:3; Rom 2:28-29).
 
v13 - "You" is singular, and thus must be God. The only singular "You" addressed in this Psalm is God. It was God who put the Messiah to death (Isa 53:10). Some translators think it is not allowed to have God addressed as "You" followed closely by "the Lord", but this is not rare ( Ps 18:1-2).

If God thrusts hard at someone for the purpose that he would die, then that person will surely die. Why would God cause someone to die violently, and then help him and become his strength and song and salvation? This can only apply to the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

The Hebrew word for "die violently" is literally "fall". This word in Hebrew has the meaning to die a violent death (Jud 20:44, etc.).
 
v14 - Jah always was Christ's strength and song. By resurrecting Christ, Jah became Christ's salvation.
 
v16 - The Lord's right hand, repeated 3 times, is God's main action, the central will of God (Deu 33:2, etc.). What you do with your right hand is what you are focused on, your primary action (Jud 7:20, etc.).
 
v17 - Lit. I shall not die because I shall live and retell the works of Jah. This means that after His death and resurrection (vv13-14), the Messiah would never die. The works of Jah are what the Messiah retells in the next verse.
 
v18 - Jah punished the Messiah for our sins (1 Pet 2:21, etc.). God put Him to death (v13) for our sins, but did not give Him over to death to remain there (Ps 16:9-10).
 
v19 - The Messiah is the only man that could command, "Open to me the gates of righteousness. I will enter through them."
The gate of righteousness was the law.  Only Jesus fully kept the law. So only He could enter in by the door. The Pharisees twisted the law and pretended that they kept it. This is to climb up another way (John 10:1-3).
 
v20 - "The gate that leads to the Lord" is Jesus the Messiah (Jn 14:7; Eph 2:18).  Through His death and resurrection (vv13, 17-18; Jn 10:11,17-18) Jesus opened the way for us to come to the Father. He took the punishment for our sins upon Himself (v18) so that we could be righteous and come to the Father, God.  No longer the law is the gate.
Jesus is the gate for us to enter into the New Covenant and be saved (Jn 10:7-11). When a Jew enters into the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34), he goes out of the Old Covenant. He cannot leave the Old Covenant without entering the New Covenant first (Jn 10:9).
 
v21 - We know that in v23 the speaker has changed from the Messiah speaking to God's people because the 1st person pronoun becomes plural. I believe that in this verse the speaker first changes from the Messiah to the psalmist, who represents each one of us individually, and then to God's people in v22. Jesus, the Messiah, has become to each one of us salvation. Jesus heard each of our prayers to be saved and has become our salvation.
"You have become to me salvation" is repeated from v14. There is a lot of repetition in this psalm, but all the other repetition is consecutive except for the closing verse which repeats the 1st verse. In v14 "You have become to Me salvation" means that the Father has become Jesus' salvation by resurrecting Him. Here in v21 it means that Jesus has become my salvation by His becoming the gate that leads to the Father through His death and resurrection.
 
v22 - Lit. The Stone which the builders refused is become the Head of the corner.
At this point, the speaker changes from the psalmist to God's people, the church. Salvation in v21 is individual, but the building of God's house is corporate.
The Messiah as the gate to the Father is the cornerstone of God's building, the church. The cornerstone joins the 2 parts of the building, the Jews and the Gentiles (Eph 2:11-21).
Even though this is written in the Old Testament in a number of places (Zec 11:10; etc.), it was not understood until the New Testament revelation was given (Eph 3:3-6).

As the Jewish builders did, so builders of a Christian religious organization will have a tendency to refuse Christ, the cornerstone, because He is not for our organization, but for God (Josh 5:13-14).

I am a Jew and my wife is a Gentile Christian. I wanted to name our firstborn child, a daughter, Cornerstone according to Eph 2:20 and Psalm 144:12. My wife wouldn't allow for that, nor for Cornerstone as a middle name, but she suggested that it could be her 2nd middle name. So we named her Ruth Elizabeth Cornerstone Miller.

"Thus he has joined the two walls of Jew and Gentile into one stately temple, and is seen to be the binding cornerstone, making both one. This is a delightful subject for contemplation. " - Spurgeon
 
v23 - This is the church composed of Jewish and Gentile believers speaking.
"Marvelous" means it is beyond human understanding, but we can enjoy it in our spirit (Isa 9:6; 29:14, etc.).
 
v24 - This is the day that the Father made Christ the Head of the church. This is the day of Christ's resurrection, which we remember every Lord's Day. Every Lord's Day we remember that the Father raised Christ from the dead to be the Head of the church, and we rejoice and are glad in it.
NIV Psalm 118:24 The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
 
v25 - This is the only occurrence of Hosanna in the Old Testament. Hosanna is two separate words in Hebrew, Hoshea, the masculine singular imperative of "save", and Na, meaning "please" or "be pleased to".

The verse literally says,
"I pray, Lord be pleased to save.
I pray, Lord be pleased to send prosperity."

 This verse and v26a are quoted by the people when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and a donkey's colt, by which He openly proclaimed Himself to be the Messiah King (Matt 21:1-9,15; Zech 9:9).

'Prayer should always be an entreating and beseeching. O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Let the church be built up: through the salvation of sinners may the number of the saints be increased; through the preservation of saints may the church be strengthened, continued, beautified, perfected. Our Lord Jesus himself pleads for the salvation and the prosperity of his chosen; as our Intercessor before the throne he asks that the heavenly Father would save and keep those who were of old committed to his charge, and cause them to be one through the indwelling Spirit. ...
[The church] never pants so eagerly for prosperity as when she sees the Lord's doings in her midst, and marvels at them. Then, encouraged by the gracious visitation, she sets apart her solemn days of prayer, and cries with passionate desire, "Save now, "and "Send now prosperity." ' - Spurgeon
 
v26 - This verse was quoted by the people with v25 when Jesus rode into Jerusalem (Matt 21:1-9,15; Zech 9:9). It also will be quoted by the Jewish people at Jesus' 2nd coming (Lk 13:35).

The "you" here is plural. The Lord's house is the church of which Christ is the Head of the corner (v22).
 
v27 - "We have received light, by which we have known the rejected stone to be the head of the corner. ... With the light of knowledge has come the light of joy; for we are delivered from the powers of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Our knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ came not by the light of nature, nor by reason, nor did it arise from the sparks which we ourselves had kindled, nor did we receive it of men; but the mighty God alone hath showed it to us." - Spurgeon

The 2nd half of the verse says literally,
"Bind the feast with cords until the horns of the altar."
The feast is the Messiah Himself (Jn 6:4,51-58), who is our Passover (1 Cor 5:7). Passover is the name of the feast holy day and it also refers to the lamb sacrificed on Passover and eaten (Ex 12:21, etc.; .Jn 1:29; etc.).
To bind the feast with cords means for God to be incarnated as a man to be the Messiah (Hos 11:4; etc.). His physical body was a great bondage to Him, limiting Him in space and time (Phil 2:6-8; etc.) and having necessities and suffering.
This bondage of the physical body would last "until the horns of the altar". The horns of the brass altar of burnt offering (Ex 29:12; etc.) and the horns of the golden altar of incense (Lev 4:7; etc.) are where the blood of the sin offering was ultimately put. When Jesus shed His blood for our consummate sin offering, His blood went to the horns of the altar in the heavens (Heb 8:5; etc.)  to pay the price for every one of our sins.

The preposition "until" in "until the horns of the altar" prohibits the meaning of tying the sacrifice to the altar.  Sacrifices were never tied to the altar except in the case of Isaac by Abraham and the Messiah to the cross, but that is not the meaning here.

The verb "bind" is 2nd person plural imperative. The speaker here is still the church since verse 23. I believe that the "You" who is being commanded to "bind the feast with cords" must be the Triune God. The incarnation and human living of Jesus is such a fantastic miracle that it requires the whole Triune God (Lk 1:35; etc.).

The word translated "cords" can also be translated as thick branches (only in Ezekiel, where it is used symbolically of men), but when this word is used with the verb "bind", the meaning should be "cords" (Jud 15:13; etc.) .

Some translate the word "feast" as "festival procession", but the word never has that meaning.

Orthodox Judaism practices a tradition called isru chag which is to add an extra day to the holy feasts in the Old Testament.
Isru chag is the words "bind the feast" taken from this verse.  To add an extra day to the feasts proscribed in the Bible cannot possibly be the intended meaning of "bind the feast with cords until the horns of the altar".  This shows that the mysteriousness of the meaning of this verse was striking to the Jewish readers of this verse.
This psalm is read in the synagogues on Isru Chag Passover, that is the 8th day of Passover, which Biblically should be 7 days.
 
v29 - After all the high revelation of this psalm, we must never forget how good is the Lord's mercy. The Holy Spirit wanted to leave us with the same thought that He started with (Rom 9:16, 23, etc.).

"The Psalmist would have risen to something higher, so as to end with a climax, but nothing loftier remained. He had reached the height of his grandest argument, and there he paused. The music ceased, the song was suspended, the great hallel was all chanted, and the people went every one to his own home, quietly and happily musing upon the goodness of the Lord, whose mercy fills eternity. " - Spurgeon

-updated 8/16/2015
-copyright Steve Miller 2/12/2009