The Passover & The Cornerstone

The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief corner stone.
This is the LORD’S doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
Psalm 118:22–23

Psalm 118 is in Book V of the Psalms. In the Shout of Palm Sunday, I wrote that the crowd shouted Psalm 118:26 as Jesus was entering Jerusalem. It is the last psalm of the ‘Egyptian Hallel’, Psalms 113–118, a group of psalms used at Passover. Derek Kidner writes:

A short run of psalms used at the yearly Passover begins here [at Psalm 113], and is therefore commonly known as the ‘Egyptian Hallel’ (Hallel means Praise). Only the second of them (114) speaks directly of the Exodus, but the theme of raising the downtrodden (113) and the note of corporate praise (115), personal thanksgiving (116), world vision (117) and festal procession (118) make it an appropriate series to mark the salvation which began in Egypt and will spread to the nations. By custom, the first two psalms are sung before the Passover meal, and the remaining four after it. So these were probably the last psalms our Lord sang before His passion (Mk. 14:26), and Psalm 118 had already made itself heard more than once in the confrontation of the previous few days. There was more relevance in these psalms to the Exodus—the greater Exodus—than could be guessed in Old Testament times.1

Kidner says Psalm 118 had already made itself heard during confrontations in the previous days. If you look in the Gospels, you’ll find that after Jesus told the parable of the vine-growers killing the son of the vineyard owner (cf. Matthew 21, Mark 12 and Luke 20), He quoted Psalm 118:22–23:

Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They *said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”

Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,

‘The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief cornerstone;
This came about from the Lord,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.
Matthew 21:40–46

At the end of His formidable indictment of the Pharisees Jesus quoted Psalm 118:26:

“Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Matthew 23:38–39

Jesus knew Psalm 118 referred to Himself. Not only that, He told the Pharisees this by His use of this psalm. Leslie M’Caw and J. A. Motyer point this out about Psalm 118:22:

Isaiah (28:16) uses identical terminology about God’s promises to David: it was the error of Hezekiah at that time to seek military security rather than the security of trusting the promises. In standing by His promises, God chooses the stone which the worldly-wise rejected. Cf. Dn. 2:34, 35, 44, 45; Zc. 3:9; 4:7. Stone was obviously in common use as a symbol of Davidic monarchy and a Messianic term.2

Now think about that for a  moment. Jesus knew this. The Pharisees and other religious leaders knew this. He was clearly telling them He was Messiah, and they knew this. Psalm 118 was the final psalm of Passover, and now the Passover Lamb Himself had quoted it when He confronted them. Not only Jesus, but the Pharisees themselves would have sung this psalm after Passover, and they, themselves, would have remembered His words.

I am in awe as I think of His use of this psalm timed as it was both to confront and to emphasize who He was as they ate the Passover meal, and that it was probably the last psalm He sang before He as our Passover Lamb went out to face arrest, trial and crucifixion so that death would pass over those of us who believe in Him.

Take the time to read both psalms. Psalms 117 is very short, and in Psalm 118 there many truths to reassure us to trust in the Lord when we are in distress.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
The Corner Stone (Le pierre angulaire), James Tissot, No known copyright restrictions.
Agnus Dei, Francisco de Zurbarán: Public Domain.
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150 (Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England: 1975) 401. Psalm 118:26 is also quoted in the Gospels in their record of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and Jesus quoted it earlier in His ministry (cf. Luke 13:35).
2Leslie S. M’Caw, J. A. Motyer, “Psalms,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 526.

*The NASB Explanation of General Format has this explanation of their use of an asterisk in translation:

“ASTERISKS are used to mark verbs that are historical presents in the Greek which have been translated with an English past tense in order to conform to modern usage. The translators recognized that in some contexts the present tense seems more unexpected and unjustified to the English reader than a past tense would have been. But Greek authors frequently used the present tense for the sake of heightened vividness, thereby transporting their readers in imagination to the actual scene at the time of occurrence. However, the translators felt that it would be wiser to change these historical presents to English past tenses.”

Original content: Copyright ©2014 Iwana Carpenter

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s