Psalm 118 reminds me of my youth pastor days. I’d never been river rafting and thought it would be a great opportunity to hang out with students on a father/son rafting trip in the Kern River. Our adventure began on a “less perilous” portion of the river, but we gradually made it to the “Tombstone and Sock ‘em Dog rapids.” (Good video if the sound is off). As our confidence increased it was time to “man-up” to “Thunder Run.” By day’s end our trusty guide was no longer available so I was “volunteered” to guide the raft through “Thunder Run,” Oorah! Picture “The Gunnie” AKA, R. Lee Ermey.
In less than a minute we capsize, bodies aimlessly bounce through rapids, ricocheting off jagged rocks. Moments later I’m jammed between two boulders about to snap in half.
The self-imposed terror of Sock ‘Em Dog and Thunder Run pale in comparison to that of the writer’s tumultuous experience in Psalm 118. This man finds himself in much greater distress with fierce enemy nations descending upon him from all sides. To the unsuspecting, everything seems hopeless for the psalmist, except for this:
He prayed and God saved
In the middle of the Psalm we see a man in a cyclical pattern of desperation for God’s deliverance. He expresses gratitude for the Lord’s salvation as he envelops the psalm like book ends on a shelf with the same words of praise, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
Psalm 118 teaches God’s people to continually thank Him so that He receives glory for our salvation. First we see what’s required for people to enter through God’s gates of righteousness. Next we see that people must be thankful for God’s marvelous salvation.
The Egyptian Hallel, (Psalms 113–118), were sung at least 18 times a year. Psalm 118 was sung after the Passover meal and was likely the hymn Jesus and the disciples sang in the Upper Room the night Judas betrays Jesus (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26).
Here’s another cool morsel to keep in mind: No other psalm is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament more than Psalm 118.
Verses 1–4 instruct three groups of people: Israel, the house of Aaron and all those who fear the LORD to thank God for His everlasting loving-kindness. NOTE: before your emotions are consumed with the frightful rapids of life, you must securely fasten your thoughts to God’s hesed, Hebrew for “Unending loyal love” (Hebrews 12:2).
Verses 5–14 parade a series of distress, terror and deliverance; and of fear and comfort. The man recognizes that since God is for Him he obviously has no reason to fear. Knowing the answer before asking, he quietly questions himself: “what can man do to me” (118:6)?
Nations are surrounding him, violently pushing against him. He has every reason to grow hopeless. He has every cause to simply give up on life.
God doesn’t allow him to despair more than he’s able. He repeatedly comforts and delivers Him until he admits, “The LORD has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death” (Psalm 118:18). It appears he’s defeated and nearly lifeless, but the very next verse immediately dispels such a notion.
In reality, by the time the man arrives at verse 18 his confidence reaches a point of seeming invincibility, he recognizes the entry requirements through God’s Gates of Righteousness (19–21).
In a seemingly arrogant fashion he demands, “Open to me the gates of righteousness; I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the LORD!” Picture this in your mind’s eye, the man confidently looks to the gate keeper demanding that he open God’s gate. Sounds a bit nervy, why such unyielding assertiveness?
He’s confident about God’s profound unyielding lovingkindness. The man’s trust in God’s deliverance from his most heart-wrenching moments has convinced him of God’s entry requirements demanding access (Psalm 118:19).
He’s not fixated on the surrounding nations bearing down on Him, but on gaining entrance through God’s gates so he can praise Him. Praising God must be your focus, not your gut-wrenching circumstances.
Recall the times the Lord delivered you from distress and pain. He’ll do it again! Draw strength from His testimony in your life. Put the focus on Him and get about the Lord’s business with full assurance of His future triumphs.
The gatekeeper’s response details requirements for entry. He says, “This is the gate of the LORD; the righteousness will enter through it” (Psalm 118:20). Like any good security guard he confidently says, “This is God’s gate, only the righteous are allowed passage!”
The Psalmist, not deterred one bit, confidently knows the requirements and so should you. You must be ready to prove you’re allowed access to God’s gates.
Is the gate keeper demanding a works righteousness way to salvation (Psalm 118:20)? The man’s not getting in until after he shows his “righteousness credentials.” Does he have to perform some kind of “good deed”? Feed the poor?
This man is righteous because he loves God and His precepts which is what the Hebrew word for righteousness is all about. The man validates his righteousness by boldly proclaiming, “You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol you” (Psalm 118:28).
As he enters the gate and he looks back, saying to the gatekeeper, “Thank you, you answered my request and you let me in, you have become my salvation” (Psalm 118:21). Now that he’s inside God’s gate the distress and violence of his enemies remains on the other side and he’s safe and sound, praising God.
Before Debbie and I were married she was walking into her apartment building and noticed a man running towards her in the dark. Debbie quickly slipped her key into the lock and shut the door. She had the proper credentials to enter and the stranger didn’t.
This brings us to the second reason to continually thank God so that He receives glory for your salvation. People must be thankful that God shows them His marvelous salvation (Psalm 118:28–29).
The man thanks God because His lovingkindness is everlasting. Remember the word hesed, describes God’s loyal love (Heb 13:5).
God demonstrates everlasting lovingkindness for His people in verses 22–27.
Verse 22 is a well-known Hebrew proverb found in ancient dialogues. “Builders” means “royal architects.” These men were world-class builders; they knew their building materials very well, except, of course the importance of this particular stone.
They’re looking for a stone upon which to build (perhaps the temple). Out of all the possible rocks from which to choose they keep tripping across the one most suited for the job, but the psalmist says they reject this stone.
“Reject” is the same word God uses about the Israelites when they grumbled for lack of meat (Numbers 11:20). God judged them for “rejecting” Him. Verse 23 tells us that God overrules these architects and chooses this stone as the most significant stone for the building.
The people marvel over God’s choice of this stone. “Marvel” means “wonderful,” “distinguished.”
This passage reminds me of 17 year-old Jonathan on the show, “Britain’s Got Talent.” He enters the stage and everyone notices his physical appearance and dismisses him as a failure. Judge Simon is heard saying, “Just when you think this couldn’t get any worse.”
The kid could hardly talk he was so nervous. To Simon, Johnathon is what this stone looked like to the chief architects, ridiculous! As the music started, Johnathon’s voice fills the theater and the audience, judges and Simon are marveling.
Several hundred years after Psalm 118:22 Jesus repeats this proverb, only this time He uses it to point to Himself as the stone rejected by religious leaders of his day (Matthew 21:40–42).
In context, Jesus told the parable of the landowner who is likened to God and those renting the land are likened to the religious leaders. When the landowner sends his slaves and His own son to collect his earnings, the renters beat some and killed others. Those beaten and killed are likened to God’s prophets and Jesus.
Jesus’ question shouldn’t have shocked the religious leaders. He askes, “Did you never read in the Scriptures.” His inquiry is an indictment because these men would have chanted Psalm 118 at least 18 times that year.
This passage could also read: “All you who are building are rejecting.” Unlike the stone likened to builders of a temple, it’s compared to the religious leaders refusing God’s salvation through His Son, their Messiah.
Jesus says, “Therefore” (Matthew 21:43). Literally, “Through this,” which points back to the way the religious leaders describe to Jesus the capital punishment the vine-growers deserve (v 41). In essence, Jesus tells them that their punishment for the vine-growers is what they themselves deserve for rejecting Jesus as the chief corner stone.
Back in Psalm 118:26–27 we see the kind of response the religious leaders should have given to Jesus. They don’t have the proper credentials to enter God’s gates of righteousness. God is not their God, so they’re unable to extol Him. They may never enjoy God’s everlasting loyal love because they’ve murdered His Son, but it appears some may have become believers (Acts 2:36–42).
So in all you’re tumultuous moments, if you’re a believer, you should say, along with the psalmist, “God, you are my God and I will give thanks to You and I will extol You.”
“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psalm 118:1, 29).