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Psalm 118


Thanksgiving for the Lord's Saving Goodness
No MT Intro
Praise to God for His Everlasting Mercy Thanksgiving for Deliverance in Battle A Prayer of Thanks for Victory Processional Hymn for the Feast of Shelters
118:1-4 118:1 118:1 118:1-4 118:1
  118:2-4 118:2-4   118:2-4
118:5-9 118:5-9 118:5-9 118:5-9 118:5-7
118:10-14 118:10-14 118:10-14 118:10-12 118:10-12
      118:13-14 118:13-14
118:15-18 118:15-18 118:15-18 118:15-16 118:15-16
      118:17-18 118:17-18
118:19-21 118:19-20 118:19 118:19 118:19-21
    118:20 118:20  
  118:21 118:21-25 118:21  
118:22-29 118:22-24   118:22-25 118:22-24
  118:25-28     118:25-27b
    118:26-27 118:26-27  
    118:28 118:28  
  118:29 118:29 118:29 118:29

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


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.



A. This Psalm is an antiphonal processional Psalm (cf. Ps. 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) 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, Psalm 113 through 118. Jesus quotes it during the Triumphant Entry (cf. Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10,11; Luke 20:17). This Psalm is used quite often in the NT to interpret the work of Christ (cf. Acts 4:11; Rom. 9:32,33; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 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 Ps. 118:22 and 26 (cf. Matt. 21:9; 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; 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.



 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."

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. Exod. 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 Chr. 16:34; Ps. 25:8; 34:8; 73:1; 86:5; 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1,29; 119:68; 135:3; 136:1; 145:9; Jer. 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; Psalm 136). This term (see Special Topic: Lovingkindness [hesed]) really means "God's covenant loyalty."

118:2 "Oh let Israel say" "Say" (BDB 55, KB 65, Qal jussive) is repeated three times. Psalm 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 Ps. 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 Psalm 15 implies godly Israelites)

They are to praise the Lord for His covenant fidelity.

 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.

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 Lam. 1:3 and in a construct in Ps. 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. Ps. 118:21; 17:6; 31:2; 34:15; 40:1; 69:17; 71:21; 86:1; 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. Ps. 4:1; 18:19; 31:8). Some think it refers to heaven (AB, p. 156), but in context it simply means deliverance from a physical problem or need.

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. Ps. 16:8; 23:4; Isa. 43:1-2). And if God is on our side, victory is assured (cf. Ps. 56:4,11). 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. Ps. 56:4,11; 146:3; Hebrews 13:6).

118:7 "The Lord is for me among those who help me" This Hebrew idiom means "the Lord is our military champion" (cf. Ps. 54:4). The concept of God as warrior (cf. Isa. 59:17; Eph. 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 Ps. 118:5, surrounded him in Ps. 118:10-13.

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

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 Chr. 32:7-8; Ps. 108:12; 146:3; Isa. 2:22; 30:1-3; 31:1-3; Jer. 17:5-8).

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


NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 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.

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. Neh. 4:7,8).

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. Ps. 2:2; Zech. 14:2; Rev. 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 Ps. 118:10-13 implies the author is the king. "Surround him" would denote laying siege to Jerusalem.

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.

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. Ps. 35:6; 36:12; 56:13; 116:8; also note NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 933).

118:14 "The Lord is my strength and song,

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

For "strength" see Exod. 15:2; Ps. 28:8; 46:1; 59:17; 81:1; Isa. 12:2b. This is often used in a military sense, as is "salvation/deliverance."


NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 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.

118:15 "The sound of joyful shouting" See Exodus 15:6,12.

▣ "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.

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.

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. Ps. 9:14). This was a way of expressing both

1. theology about YHWH (cf. Exod. 9:16; Ps. 96:1-6)

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

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

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

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


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 Ps. 118:19,28

2. use of two plural cohortatives used in Ps. 118:24, note Hiphil plural imperative at 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 Ps. 118:13).

God does discipline His children (cf. Deut. 4:36; 8:5; 2 Sam. 7:14; Job 5:17; 33:19; Ps. 73:14; 94:12; 119:67,71,75; Pro. 3:11-12; Jer. 31:18; 1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:5-11; Rev. 3:19).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 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.

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

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. Ps. 15:1-2; 24:3-6; 26:6; 140:13; Isa. 33:13-16). See SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS.

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

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 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.

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 Isa. 28:16. It also speaks of the rejection of the Messiah and the seeming defeat of God's purpose (i.e., Calvary).

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

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).

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. Matt. 21:42,45). 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. Deut. 30:15,19; Psalm 1), God's forgiveness and acceptance were demonstrated visibly by prosperity. However, this proved not always to be the case (cf. Job, Psalm 73).

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. Matt. 21:9; 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; 19:38; John 12:13). See SPECIAL TOPIC: MESSIAH.


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 Ps. 85:9. The same combination without a verb is also in Ps. 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 - Ps. 89:15; 90:8

2. God's revelation

a. Scripture - Ps. 19:8; 36:9; 119:105; Isa. 51:4

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

3. God's blessing - Num. 6:25

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

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


▣ "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. Lev. 23:40). The term "cords" can be used for branches (cf. Ezek. 19:11; 31:3,10,14).

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 Jdgs. 15:13; 16:11; Ezek. 3:25.

4. The concept of sacrifice seems to be caught up with the substitutionary atonement of Christ (i.e., Isa. 52:13-53:12), which is alluded to in the Masoretic Text of Mal. 2:3. The horns of the altar would have been the holiest part of the altar on which the sacrificial blood was smeared (cf. Exod. 27:2; 30:10; Lev. 4:7,18, 25,30,34; 8:15; 9:9; 16:18).


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.


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 Ps. 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 Ps. 118:27? What are its implications to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth?