Psalm 118

Psalm 118[a]

Thanksgiving for Salvation

1 [b]Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his kindness[c] endures forever.
2 Let Israel say,
“His kindness endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say,
“His kindness endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the Lord[d] say,
“His kindness endures forever.”
5 [e]In my distress I called out to the Lord;
he answered by setting me free.
6 With the Lord to protect me I am not afraid.
What can mortals do to me?
7 The Lord is at my side to offer me help;
I will look down upon my enemies.
8 [f]It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to place your trust in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to place your trust in princes.
10 [g]All the nations surrounded me;
in the name of the Lord I overcame them.
11 They surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the Lord I overcame them.
12 They swarmed around me like bees;
they blazed like a fire in the midst of thorns;
in the name of the Lord I overcame them.
13 I was hard pressed and close to falling,
but the Lord came to my aid.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.[h]
15 Joyful shouts of triumph
ring out in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord has done wondrous deeds;
16 the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord has done wondrous deeds.”
17 I shall not die; rather I shall live
and recount[i] the works of the Lord.
18 Even though the Lord punished me harshly,
he did not hand me over to death.
19 [j]Open to me the gates of righteousness
so that I may enter them and praise the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous enter.
21 I thank you for having answered me;
you have become my salvation.
22 [k]The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;[l]
let us exult and rejoice in it.
25 O Lord, grant us salvation.[m]
O Lord, grant us success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.[n]
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Holding leafy branches, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.[o]
28 [p]You are my God, and I will offer thanks to you;
you are my God, and I will extol you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his kindness endures forever.

Psalm 119[q]

Praise of God’s Law

Aleph

Footnotes

  1. Psalm 118:1 This psalm brings to a close the Egyptian Hallel. As the procession of pilgrims goes up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (vv. 15, 27; see Lev 23:39-43), the celebrants and the crowd conduct a dialogue, the rhythm of which is determined by the stages of the journey. The procession starts out with a familiar refrain (vv. 1-4) and proceeds while singing a hymn of thanksgiving (vv. 5-18); it arrives at the gates of the temple that has been rebuilt (v. 19) and has become the sign of Israel’s renewal after the Exile (vv. 22-24) where the priests respond to the acclamations of the people by blessing them (vv. 25-27). Finally, with palms in hand the procession reaches the sanctuary, whose courts are illumined, and the liturgy takes place with the most solemn thanksgiving (vv. 28-29).
    Songs of thanksgiving such as this one called to mind the entire history of Israel, from past to present. Israel is ceaselessly put to the test, humbled, and then delivered, and in this very experience, it discovers its calling to be a people that bears witness to God in the midst of the nations and to be the capstone of the world (v. 22).
    Jesus makes this calling his own (see Mt 21:42), and the apostles speak of it in their preaching (see Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-7). For them this psalm expresses in advance the mystery of Christ who is rejected and then exalted and who is the foundation stone of the new People of God (see 1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20). This festal song soon became popular; we find the crowd spontaneously singing it on Palm Sunday to greet Jesus as the envoy promised by God (v. 26; see Mt 21:9; Jn 12:13). We find this same acclamation in the Sanctus of the Mass; in all the liturgical families, the psalm has become an Easter song.
  2. Psalm 118:1 The liturgical call to praise that begins the procession. All Israel had benefited from God’s goodness and kindness, i.e., the congregation of Israel, the priests (house of Aaron), and those who fear the Lord (see note on Ps 115:9-11). Now the people of God’s kingdom (Ps 114:1; Ex 19:5-6) and the priests, the descendants of Aaron, are called to profess that the Lord is King and that he is good and kind in standing behind his covenant.
  3. Psalm 118:1 A conventional call to praise (see Pss 105–107). Kindness: see note on Ps 6:5.
  4. Psalm 118:4 Israel . . . house of Aaron . . . those who fear the Lord: see note on Ps 115:9-11.
  5. Psalm 118:5 A song of thanksgiving for deliverance of the whole nation voiced by a single individual. Some believe the speaker is a king, others opt for Israel as a corporate body, and still others for a priest/Levite. In any case, the worshiper does a good job in reciting the deeds God worked in response to the prayers of his people in affliction.
  6. Psalm 118:8 All should be ever mindful of the motto learned through experience that it is better to have confidence in the Lord than to rely on flesh and blood (see Ps 33:16-19; see also Pss 62; 146).
  7. Psalm 118:10 The fury of the assault recalls the attacks experienced by Jesus at his trial (see Lk 22:63—23:25) and even during his public ministry (see Lk 11:53f). Name: see note on Ps 5:12.
  8. Psalm 118:14 This verse is an exact quotation from the song of victory at the Red Sea (see Ex 15:2) and is echoed in verses 15 (“right hand”) and 28 (“extol you”). Hence, God’s saving acts throughout history bear the stamp of the Exodus events (see 1 Cor 10:6) culminating in the work of Christ (see Lk 9:31: “his departure [literally, ‘exodus’], which would come to pass in Jerusalem”).
  9. Psalm 118:17 Live and recount: see note on Ps 6:6.
  10. Psalm 118:19 The procession has arrived at the gates of the rebuilt temple; all the righteous may enter and give thanks.
  11. Psalm 118:22 The community of the righteous join in with thanksgiving. They praise the Lord because he has given prominence to his suffering servant Israel like a cornerstone. It was rejected by the worldly powers but has been made the cornerstone for God’s salvation of the world in the Messiah. These verses allude to Isa 8:14; 28:16; Jer 51:26; Zec 3:9; 4:7, passages that are interpreted in a Messianic sense. Israel is here a type of Christ, in whom these words have been most eminently fulfilled (see Mt 21:42 par; Acts 4:11; Rom 9:33; 1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:7).
  12. Psalm 118:24 This is the day that the Lord has made: the day given by the Lord in which joy and jubilation are appropriate, the day of thanksgiving and rejoicing because of the wondrous deed of the Lord (vv. 22-23; see Ps 71:17; Jer 32:17, 27), the day of salvation. Used by the Liturgy as an antiphon for the Easter Season, this phrase identifies the “day” as that of Christ’s Resurrection.
  13. Psalm 118:25 O Lord, grant us salvation: the Hebrew for this cry has come into English as “Hosanna.” The crowd takes it up on Palm Sunday (see Mt 21:9; 23:39; Mk 11:9; Jn 12:13). It has become part of the Sanctus at Mass.
  14. Psalm 118:26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord: words used in the Gospels to welcome Jesus entering the temple on Palm Sunday (see Mk 11:9 par).
  15. Psalm 118:27 The people respond to the blessing by confessing that the Lord alone is God. He has made his light shine upon them, protecting them from the darkness of great trials (e.g., famine, war, and exile; Ps 43:3). Accordingly, they are here renewing their commitment to the Lord in a formal liturgical celebration. The horns of the altar: the four corners of the altar of burnt offerings (see Ex 27:2; 38:2; Lev 4:25, 30, 34).
  16. Psalm 118:28 The psalm concludes with the community’s affirmation that the Lord alone is God, similar to the confession of Moses (see Ex 15:2). Kindness: see note on Ps 6:5.
  17. Psalm 118:29 This longest of the psalms is a monumental literary piece consisting of twenty-two strophes, each containing eight verses (sixteen lines) and each beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet that is repeated at the beginning of each pair of verses. Each strophe is a unit, but does not have a close connection with the strophe that precedes or follows. The whole is a free-flowing meditation, now sad, now joyous, now peaceful, now passionate. It is a reflection and a prayer in which the author, a sage and a mystic who draws his inspiration from the Prophets and Deuteronomy, converses with God and voices his deepest feelings: love of true wisdom, attachment and fidelity to the word of God in spite of weakness and obstacles; desire to better understand and live the truth; joy of outdoing oneself to follow the will of God manifested in the law.
    In practically every verse, there is the word “law” or some equivalent. We can point to eight such terms—four with a more juridic nuance (statutes, precepts, decrees, commands or commandments) and four with a more religious nuance (law, promise, word, laws, or judgments). These terms introduce us into the heart of the psalm, for they signify less an ensemble of laws to observe than the word of God, which sometimes ordains and judges and sometimes reveals and promises. It is a psalm of spiritual intimacy, of love for God (which means doing his will). In meditating on the law, believers contemplate above all the visage of God and let themselves be transformed in the very depths of their hearts. Such observance becomes liberty. Understood in this fashion, the law proclaims to us Jesus Christ, the living revelation of God, given to human beings to lead them to the Father: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

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