Psalm 118: A Passover Song

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

Psalm 118 is a song of Passover; it is the last psalm of the ‘Egyptian Hallel,’ a group of Psalms sung annually at Passover. Derek Kidner explains what this name means:

“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 Yahweh”

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
This is from Yahweh;
It is marvelous in our eyes.

The Pharisees knew this and understood He was indicting them!

And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to seize Him, they feared the crowds, because they were regarding Him to be a prophet.
Matthew 21:45–46 LSB

Then at the end of His formidable indictment of the Pharisees as He once again laments over Jerusalem, Jesus quotes verse Psalm 118:26 that the crowd had shouted in praise a few days earlier.

“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 23:39 LSB

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 LSB

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 the religious leaders, to emphasize who He was, and to pronounce judgment. 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.

Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to Yah.
This is the gate of Yahweh;
The righteous will enter through it.
Psalm 118:19–20 LSB

These verses are echoed in the final chapter in the Bible,

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the authority to the tree of life and may enter by the gates into the city.”
Revelation 22:14 LSB

By His blood we are made righteous and can enter into the new Jerusalem!

Take the time to read Psalm 118.

Give thanks to Yahweh, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness endures forever.
Psalm 118:1 LSB

Kinnor: Picture Archive of the Bible, Caroline Masom, Pat Alexander, eds., Archeological Notes by Alan Millard (Lion Publishing Corporation, Hertz, England, Batavia IL, Sutherland, Australia: 1987) 59. via Katapi Bible Resource Pages. Katapi Bible Resource cites the photo from the Haifa Music Museum in Israel. My copy of the first edition of the book does not have this information.
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.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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