Psalms for Troubled Times – Psalm 118

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What can man do unto me?

Having reached the pinnacle and seen much of the glories of the LORD, and known His saving power, these psalms of Hallel conclude by looking forward, fully trusting in the LORD and His redemptive work.

The psalmist, which many take to be David (see Ezra 3:10,11) understands there will still be times of suffering to come, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, concludes with wondrous Messianic prophecies of the coming Saviour.

‘The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.’ (v22-26)

As these words cannot be truly understood apart from Christ Himself, this psalm is thereby designated a Messianic Psalm, the last of 16 such psalms (2, 8, 16, 22, 24, 40, 41, 45, 68, 69, 72, 89, 91, 102, 110, and 118). These are worth studying alone in their own right, and you can find a good introduction to these psalms on the Precious Seed website, written by Richard Catchpole.

‘This is the LORD’s doing’! (v23). It’s all in His hands. Indeed, ‘the LORD is on my side’, and so there’s no need for me to worry over the future. ‘I will not fear’, says the psalmist before asking the last of his rhetorical questions: ‘what can man do unto me?’ (v6). The answer is ‘nothing’!

Thank the Lord

‘O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.’ (v1)

In these introductory verses (v1-5) the psalmist is clearly looking back. The three-fold repetition, calling the houses of Israel and Aaron and those that fear the Lord, takes our minds back to Psalm 115. There the psalmist called upon them to trust the Lord knowing that He would bless. Now he calls upon them to ‘give thanks’, having experienced that the LORD ‘is good’. And because ‘His mercy endureth forever’, we, like them, are given the confidence to continue to trust Him.

Trust the Lord

‘It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.’ (v9)

These words come in the context of great trouble. In the next three verses we read four times that the psalmist, representative of the nation, says ‘they compassed me about’.

Unlike others, who in times of trouble turned foolishly to the military strength of princes, the psalmist will ‘trust in the LORD’. Knowing the LORD will help, the psalmist can face the foe knowing victory is assured. Three times ‘in the name of’ our triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the psalmist says, ‘I will destroy them(v10-12).

As we turn to the Messianic character of the psalm, we can think of the Lord Jesus singing these words with pathos as He departed the upper room. He knew He would soon be compassed about, and that the people would be calling down destruction upon their own heads: ‘His blood be on us and our children’ (Matt 27:25). Yet, for Him there was no rejoicing in this thought. Rather, we hear His passionate intercession on their behalf, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34).

There was however, one who did know what he was doing, and that was the great adversary, Satan. He had already ‘thrust sore at’ the Lord Jesus ‘that (He) might fall’, but the submissive Son could say, ‘but the LORD helped me’ (v13).

Triumph of the Lord

‘The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.’ (v14)

This is an oft-repeated phrase and goes back to the song of Moses in Exodus 15. In that song we are reminded of how the LORD delivered His people: ‘but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea’ (Exo 15:19).

That sea was death to all others, but the LORD brought His people through the article of death, and in doing so destroyed ‘him who had the power of death’ (Hebs 2:14). In their case, this was Pharoah, but at the cross, this was the devil. And so, the people could sing ‘the LORD … hath triumphed gloriously’ (Exo 15:1,21).

The psalmist can therefore say with assurance, ‘the right hand of the LORD is exalted: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly’ (v16), and the Lord Jesus could look onward to the other side of His own Red Sea, through which He must walk, to the place He would assuredly occupy ‘by the right hand of God exalted’ (Acts 2:33).

It is in this context that we find that gem of Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner’ (v22). In Luke 20:9-18, the Lord Jesus clearly applies this verse to Himself, and Peter following this example uses it in 1 Peter 2:7. In both cases, the point being made is that this would be a stumbling block to the disobedient, and ‘grind to powder’ those upon whom it falls in judgment.

But for us who believe, and for Israel in that day to which the Feast of Tabernacles looks, the response is ‘This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.’ (v23,24)

Territory of the Lord

It is precious to us to consider that this must be the way whereby ‘the gate of the LORD’ (v20) could be opened.

These gates are ‘gates of righteousness’, and refer in context to the gateway of Jerusalem, that city of Zion, where the LORD had chosen to place His name.

Sadly, because of sin, man rejected his God and Saviour, and the gate was closed. In the garden of Eden, man was driven from the holy presence of God, but in the days of Jesus, when God in His love and grace had come to save, the people closed the gate in His face: ‘Away with him, Crucify Him’ (John 19:15).

‘Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.’ (Hebs 13:12)

Now, we who are sanctified can say with boldness and joyfulness: ‘Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD’ (v19).

And while we can enjoy much of the blessedness spiritually, we long for the tangible blessing of being in the Lord’s territory, in His presence. This longing results in our looking forward to His coming. As we look for the rapture, the faithful remnant of Israel will one day look for His coming as the glorious King, crying: ‘Hosanna’.

‘Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD’ (v25,26)

Thus these psalms – the Egyptian Hallel – conclude on a resounding note of glorious praise.

‘Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever’ (v28,29)!

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