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Psalm 118

118:0The Jews have a story that may or may not be true. It is about building the temple in Jerusalem. They cut big stones to build the temple. One stone was the wrong shape and size. They threw it away. Then they needed one that shape and size. They needed it to fix two walls together. So, they found the stone that they threw away. They put it in an important place at the top of the two walls. It fixed the two walls together. As Psalm 118:23 says, ‘The builders threw away a stone. It is now in an important place at the corner.’

The legend makes Bible students think that the psalmist wrote Psalm 118 after the Jews had built something. Perhaps they had just built the temple, or the walls of Jerusalem. Now Solomon built the temple in 950 BC. Soldiers from Babylon destroyed it in 586 BC. The Jews built it again in 516 BC. They built the walls round Jerusalem again in 444 BC.

The Jews had a special feast in 444 BC. They called it ‘the feast of tree houses.’ This was because they made little houses with branches from trees. They lived in them for a few days in October. This feast happened every year. But in 444 BC, it was very important, because they had just built the walls of Jerusalem. The story is in Nehemiah 8:14-18.

For Christians, the psalm means more than it does for the Jews. It means that Jesus, not Israel, is the stone that the builders threw away. For Israel, her people became the important ‘stone’ in the history of the world. But for Christians, Jesus is the important ‘stone.’

So when we read Psalm 118 we must remember this: it means one thing to Jews, and something else to Christians. But we must also remember that God made it like this. He wanted what happened to the Jews to be a picture of what would happen to Jesus. As Jesus is the Christian Messiah, we call this a messianic psalm.

Hosanna! (Save Us Now!)

1 Thank the LORD because he is good.

His kind love will always be with us.

2 Israel must now say,

‘His kind love will always be with us.’

3 The house of Aaron must now say,

‘His kind love will always be with us.’

4 Everyone that is afraid of the LORD must now say,

‘His kind love will always be with us.’

118:4Verses 1-4 tell everybody to thank the LORD, because he is good. In verse 2, ‘Israel’ means all the people that live in the land of Israel. In verse 3, ‘the house of Aaron’ means the priests and levites of Israel. Priests were special servants of God who worked in the temple at Jerusalem. The levites also worked in the temple, and in the towns and villages of Israel. The words ‘kind love’ come in all 4 verses. ‘Kind love’ is a special love. In Hebrew, it is ‘hesed.’ It is not human love. It is the love that God showed in his covenant. It is a love that gives help, and never stops.

5 My enemy shut me in a prison.

There I cried to the LORD.

The LORD answered me and made me free.

6 The LORD is with me. I will not be afraid.

What bad thing can anybody do to me?

7 The LORD is with me. He gives me help.

So, I will see the LORD destroy my enemies.

118:7Verses 5-7 tell us what God did to send help to Israel. Remember, ‘me’ and ‘I’ in these verses is not one person. It is the whole country of Israel. Maybe their leader spoke these words for them. In Hebrew, verse 5 says ‘I was in a small place and I could not get out.’ This place was like a prison. Maybe it was Egypt, maybe it was Babylon. For Christians, maybe it is a bad habit. A habit is something that you cannot stop doing. The answer is the same for everyone: cry (or pray, maybe out loud) to the LORD. Tell him that you want to be free. He will make you free. In verse 7, the enemies may be the Egyptians, the Babylonians or the bad habits. For Jews it may be better to translate verse 7 like this. ‘The LORD was with me. He gave me help. So I saw (the LORD destroy) my enemies.’ The Hebrew language does not have past, present (now) and future like most of our languages. The important thing is this: verse 7 always was true. It is true now. And it always will be true! The words ‘the LORD destroy’ are not in the Hebrew Bible. Most translations include them to give us help to understand the verse.

8 It is better to trust in the LORD

than to trust in people.

9 It is better to trust in the LORD

than to trust in the leaders of people.

118:9In verses 8-9, ‘trust’ is an important word. It means ‘believe that someone will give you help.’ It means a lot more than this, also. It means that if someone promises to do something, then they will do it. You can trust them (or rely on them) to do it. The psalm teaches us that we can trust the LORD more than people. We can even trust him more than our leaders!

10 All the nations were round me,

but I destroyed them in the name of the LORD.

11 They were all round me, yes, all round me.

But I destroyed them in the name of the LORD.

12 They were round me like a cloud of bees.

They burnt quickly like a dry bush burns quickly.

I destroyed them in the name of the LORD.

13 My enemy pushed me so that I started to fall.

But the LORD gave me help not to fall.

118:13In verses 9-13, we read that the enemy was all round Israel. They were ‘like (a cloud of) bees.’ Bees are insects that make something sweet and sticky called honey. Bees can sting you, or give you a sharp pain. Thousand of them live together. Often they fly together in a great cloud or ‘swarm.’ To the psalmist, his enemies seemed like this because there were so many of them. But he destroyed them all! It was like a thorn-bush burning. The bush becomes dry when it dies, and burns quickly. He destroyed his enemies quickly. He did it ‘in the name of the LORD.’ These are special words. They mean ‘with everything that the name of the LORD means.’ It means that he is great and powerful; it means that he loves his people and gives them help; it means that he will punish anyone that hurts his people. ‘Punish’ means ‘hurt someone because they have done something wrong.’ So when ‘the enemy pushed me’ then ‘the LORD gave me help’, (verse 13).

14 The LORD makes me strong and gives me psalms to sing.

He has saved me.

118:14In verse 14, ‘saved’ means two different things. For the Jews, it means that the LORD made them safe from their enemies, either Egypt or Babylon. For Christians it means that God will keep them safe after they die. They will go to live with God in his home. We call this home ‘heaven.’

15 Listen to the happy shouts of God's people in their tents.

They do this because they have destroyed their enemies.

The right hand of the LORD is very strong.

16 The LORD has lifted his right hand very high.

The right hand of the LORD is very strong.

17 I will not die. I will live.

I will tell everyone what the LORD has done.

18 The LORD has punished me a lot,

but he has not let me die.

118:18Verses 14-18 tell us that this made the Jews very happy. They sang psalms, or songs, (verse 14). They shouted how great God was in their tents. A tent is a small house made from animal skins. Many Bible students think that the people made these tents with tree branches. This is because they sang the psalm at the feast of tree houses. God had punished them and hurt them a lot, but they were still alive, (verse 18). God punished them when he let the Egyptians or Babylonians become their masters.

God did all this with his ‘right hand’, (verses 15-16). The right hand of God is how the Bible describes God doing things on earth.

Bible students think that the Jews sang Psalm 118 in a special way. The priests said some verses, then the people coming in to the temple answered them with other verses. It is not easy to see who said what in verses 1-18. It is easier in verses 19-20. The people coming in said, ‘Open the gates’, (verse 19). The priests answer from inside the temple gates, ‘Righteous people can go in’, (verse 20). The word ‘righteous’ means ‘very, very good.’ Only God is really righteous, always doing what is right. But he calls his people righteous also. These are the people that love him. They are the people who trust him and obey him. For the Jews, this was the Old Covenant (or the Old Testament). For Christians, it is the New Covenant (or the New Testament). In verse 19, ‘gates of the temple’ is ‘righteous gates’ in the Hebrew Bible. Because God was in the temple, it was righteous too. And its gates were righteous.

19 Open the gates of the temple for me.

I will go in and thank the LORD.

20 This is the gate of the LORD.

Righteous people can go in through it.

21 Thank you because you answered me.

You saved me.

22 The men who were building threw away a stone.

It is now in an important place at the corner of the building.

23 The LORD has done this.

And we think that it is wonderful.

24 This is the day that the LORD has made.

We will be happy in it, we will be very happy.

118:24Verses 21-24 again tell us what God has done. He saved his people, (verse 21). Like the stone that the builders (men who were building) threw away, Israel was now important, (verse 22). The LORD did something wonderful, or ‘very great’, (verse 23). He did it on ‘this day’, (verse 24). ‘This day’ now means the day when people remember what God did. For Jews it is one of their feasts, Passover, Pentecost or Tree Houses. For Christians, it is Sunday because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday.

25 LORD, save us now!

LORD, make us do very well!

26 The man that comes in the name of the LORD will be blessed.

We bless you from the house of the LORD.

27 The LORD is God and he has made his light to shine on us.

With branches in our hands

we will go with the people who are going to the feast.

Go to the horns of the altar.

118:27Verse 27 is difficult to translate. This is because nobody is sure what the word that we translated ‘branches’ means. Some Bible students think that it means ‘tie up.’ They translate the verse, ‘Tie the animal you are going to offer to God to the horns of the altar.’ The horns were special parts of the altar. The priests killed animals on the altar and burned them there. They believed that this made God happy. Nobody does this now, neither Christians nor Jews.

28 You are my God and I will thank you.

You are my God and I will say that you are great.

29 Thank the LORD because he is good.

His kind love will always be with us.

118:29Verses 25-29 finish the psalm. Verses 25 and 26 give us another example of the people and the priests talking to each other. The people say, ‘LORD, save us and make us do very well.’ The priests bless the people from inside the temple. ‘Bless’ is a special word in the Bible. In the beginning it meant, ‘Have many children. Your animals have many young animals. Your plants grow big and strong.’ Later it meant ‘everything that you do will have a good result.’ The word ‘bless’ does not mean ‘be happy.’ But if everything you do has a good result, then you will be very happy! ‘Blessed’ describes the person that God blesses.