Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
–Psalm 118:26 (ESV)
Psalm 118 is a psalm that “has it all.” It’s one of the most quoted psalms, both in the New Testament (“the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” – vs. 22) and in our homes and public worship (“this is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” – vs. 24). It expresses both individual and corporate praise, deliverance from danger and confidence in death.
Psalm 118 closes out the group of psalms known as the “Egyptian Hallel,” the group of six psalms of praise traditionally sung at Passover to celebrate the Deliverance from Egypt (as mentioned by Michael in his comments on Psalm 113). It is a psalm of thanksgiving centered on God’s “steadfast love” (vv. 1-4, 29), His faithfulness within the covenant relationship which is the foundation of the deliverance and salvation which this psalm celebrates. That “steadfast love” is the key to the psalm (the psalmist makes that abundantly clear by repetition in vv. 1-4).
One beautiful aspect of this song is that it celebrates deliverance on multiple levels. It is both the song of the entire nation of God’s chosen people (vv. 2-4) and also the individual song of a redeemed saint (vv. 5-7). The psalmist comfortably changes from singular (“I,” “me”) to plural pronouns (“we,” “us”), but always stays in the first person – for whether you’re singing this psalm by yourself or in the company of God’s people, salvation is personal (note vv. 14, 28). Personal praise always comes to it fullest expression in community worship.
This psalm is a joyous celebration to be sung by individual Christians and by the gathered Church. But if this is the song of the Church, how much more can we say that this is the song of Christ, the Church’s Head?
It would historically be reasonable to suggest that Jesus sang this psalm (and the others of the Egyptian Hallel) at the Passover meal with His disciples (Matthew 26:30). And we know that this was the psalm sung to welcome Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (the three Synoptic Gospels go out of their way to make that explicit: Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 19:38). Were the words of this Psalm still ringing in His ears during the events of His Passion? We know that Christ Himself understood His ministry explicitly in light of this psalm (Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, Luke 20:17). This psalm expresses His confidence and courage in approaching His Passion, and His triumph and glory in the accomplishment of redemption.
Psalm 118 is suited for rich and deep meditation on the sufferings of Christ and the glory that followed (Luke 24:25, I Peter 1:11). The psalm explicitly speaks in those terms – suffering followed by glory, thus beautifully explicating the entire work of Christ:
- His betrayal, arrest, and suffering under Pontius Pilate: vv. 10-13
- His resurrection: vv. 17-18
- His glorification and ascension: vv. 19-20
- Verse 22 is quoted in Ephesians 2:20 and I Peter 2:4-7 to describe the scandal of Christ’s work and the glory He received for completing it.
Reading and singing this psalm with Christ-centered eyes gives us even more reason to praise, for we see that through Christ, God has indeed “made His light to shine upon us” (vs. 27). Every time we hear the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) at the end of our service, let us respond with the thoughts of Psalm 118 – that only through Christ can that blessing be ours, only through the steadfast love shown to us in Him.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
–Psalm 118:23 (ESV)