Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The character of this psalm as a Temple song of thanksgiving is stamped on every line of it. The marked divisions with the refrains (Psalm 118:1-4; Psalm 118:8-9) have induced commentators to arrange it in parts, supposed to have been sung in turn by the full choir, the congregation, and the priests. It is not, however, by any means certain to what particular event or time the psalm is to he assigned. Many incidents in connection with the rebuilding of the second Temple have been fixed upon in connection with Psalm 118:22-23. Others have gone to the Maccabæan period for the occasion of the thanksgiving. Several expressions seem to allude to a particular feast, with its peculiar prayers and sacrifices (Psalm 118:24-27), and there can be little doubt that this was the Feast of Tabernacles. The words of Psalm 118:25 were, we know, sung on one of the days—called the Great Hosanna (Save now)—of the feast; a name given also to the boughs carried and waved in the sacred procession. If Psalm 118:19-23 imply the completion of the Temple, it is natural to fix on the first complete celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles after the Return (Nehemiah 8:14 seq.).
O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.(1-4) Comp. Psalm 115:9-13, where a similar choral arrangement is found.
I called upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place.(5) I called.—Better, out of the straitness I cried to Jah; answered me, with freedom, Jah. The meaning of the last clause (literally, with room. Comp.: “Ay, marry, now my soul has elbow-room”—King John) is determined by the parallelism of Psalm 18:19. The versions read “freedom of Jah,” i.e., boundless freedom,”
The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?(6) A reminiscence of Psalm 56:9-11.
The LORD taketh my part with them that help me: therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me.(7) Made up of Psalm 54:4-7, where see Notes.
It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.(9) Trust.—The word constantly used of the security the Israelite found in his relation to Jehovah. The meaning here is apparently, “Fidelity to the covenant is better than alliance with foreign princes,” though, of course, the larger sense, in which the words are applicable to all men, may be read into the words.
They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.(11) But in the name . . .—Or, more emphatically, It is in Jehovah’s name that, &c
They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.(12) Like bees.—The image of the “bees” may be derived from Deuteronomy 1:44 (comp. Isaiah 7:18), but the LXX. suggest that the poet employed an original and far more expressive image, for they read, “as bees surround the comb.” Possibly the word comb dropped out of the Hebrew text, because the copyist was thinking of Deuteronomy 1:44.
The fire of thorns.—See Psalm 58:9, Note. The rapidity with which a fire made of thorns burns gives the point of the comparison. The LXX. and Vulg. gave this more plainly by rendering, “they burnt out like a fire in thorns.” Shakespeare may have had this verse in his thought when he wrote:
“Shallow jesters and rash bavin (i.e., brushwood) wit,
Soon kindled and soon burnt.”—King Henry IV.
The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.(14) Thou hast.—Better, Thou didst thrust and thrust at me. This sudden change of person and challenge of the foes themselves is very dramatic.
The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.(15) In the tabernacles of the righteous.—Whether we are to see an allusion here to an actual encampment, as the context seems to indicate, or whether tents are put poetically for dwellings, depends on the view taken of the date and occasion of the psalm.
The right hand of the LORD is exalted: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.(16) Is exalted.—Here evidently the attitude of a warrior. The hand is lifted up to strike.
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.(17) I shall not die, but live.—It is Israel, and not an individual, who thus claims a continuance of life for the display of God’s glory. But as so often we find, the hope is so expressed as to suit not only the community for whom the psalm was composed and sung, but each member of it individually.
Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD:(19) The gates of righteousness.—This is explained by the next verse as the gate of the Temple, where the righteous, i.e., Israel alone, entered. There does not seem the least reason for taking the words here in any but this literal sense, though doubtless they are capable of endless spiritual applications. We must imagine a procession chanting the triumphal song as in Psalms 24, and summoning the gates to open on its approach.
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.(22) The stone.—Better, a stone. There is no article. Israel is, of course, this stone, rejected as of no account in the political plans of those who were trying to shape the destinies of the Eastern nations at their own pleasure, but in the purpose of God destined to a chief place in the building up of history. The image is developed by Isaiah 28:16-17, and prepared, by the Messianic hope poured into it, for the use of Christ Himself and the repeated applications of it to Him by the apostles (Matthew 21:42-44; Acts 4:11; 1Peter 2:7; Ephesians 2:20; see New Testament Commentary).
This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.(23) The Lord’s doing.—This change of destiny, which made Israel of sudden political importance, is to be ascribed to none but Jehovah Himself.
This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.(24) This is the day.—Either the festival for which the psalm was composed (Feast of Tabernacles?) or more generally the day of triumph won by Jehovah, as in preceding verse.
Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.(25) Save now.—This is not the adverb of time. Render, Save, we pray. (See Matthew 21:9.)
Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.(26) Blessed . . .—These words of welcome are probably spoken by the Levite in charge, to the procession approaching the gates. According to Rabbinical writings, pilgrim caravans were thus welcomed on their arrival at Jerusalem.
God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.(27) Shewed us light . . .—Whether this is literal or figurative is difficult to decide. If literal, it may be a repetition of Psalm 118:24; or if there is a particular reference in this psalm to the Feast of Tabernacles, Mr. Burgess’s suggestion, which connects the light with the pillar of cloud and fire, of which that feast was very probably specially commemorative, is most worthy of notice. Figuratively the words would, of course, mean “the light of salvation and hope,” as so frequently in the Psalms. It is also possible there may be allusion to the priestly benediction (Numbers 6:25), where the verb is the same.
Bind the sacrifice . . .—This cannot well be, “tie the victim to the horns of the altar,” for the Hebrew is “as far as to,” and no satisfactory explanation is possible of binding animals as far as the altar, unless we are to translate “bind and lead.” But the Hebrew word rendered victim might by derivation (“to go round”) easily mean a circlet or crown, and by supplying the verb go we get bind on a crown, go with garlands even to the horns of the altar. The ancient versions, LXX., Vulg., Aquila, Symmachus, all point to this rendering.