Psalm 118: A Passover Song

Psalm 118 is the last psalm of the ‘Egyptian Hallel.’ It is a song of Passover. Derek Kidner explains:

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

Psalm 118 was first heard this week as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday with the crowds both in front and following Him shouting the words of verse 26:

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord

Jesus quoted Psalm 118 later in His confrontation with the Pharisees, using verses 22–23 to clearly identify Himself as Messiah.

The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief corner stone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.

The Pharisees knew this and understood He was indicting them!

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 21:42

Then at the end of His formidable indictment of the Pharisees Jesus himself quoted verse 26 that the crowd had shouted in praise a few days earlier.

Remember Kidner wrote that Psalms 113–118 “were probably the last psalms our Lord sang before His passion (Mk. 14:26)”? Psalm 118 was the final psalm of Passover. Not only Jesus, but the Pharisees, after having heard this Psalm throughout the week, would probably have sung this psalm after their Passover, and they, themselves, would have remembered His words.

After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Mark 14:26

I am in awe as I think of how Psalm 118 was used this week: in the praises of the crowds, and in Jesus’ use of it both to confront and to emphasize who He was. And then, after He had eaten the Passover meal with His disciples it was probably the last psalm He sang before He, our Passover Lamb, went out to pray in agony in Gethsemane, and face betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion so that death would pass over those of us who believe in Him.

Take the time to read Psalm 118.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
Psalm 118:1

Agnus Dei, Francisco de Zurbarán: Public Domain.
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150, (Inter-Varsity Press: Leiscester, England: 1975) 401.
Psalm 118:22 is also quoted in Acts, Ephesians, and 1 Peter, referring to Jesus as the Cornerstone. Psalm 118:6 is quoted in Hebrews 13:6. And Psalm 118:20 is echoed in the final chapter in the Bible in Revelation 22:14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.” By His blood we are made righteous and can enter into the new Jerusalem!

Original content: Copyright ©2011–2020 Iwana Carpenter

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