Psalm 118: Confidence

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures for ever.

Let Israel say:
    ‘His love endures for ever.’
Let the house of Aaron say:
    ‘His love endures for ever.’
Let those who fear the Lord say:
    ‘His love endures for ever.’

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Psalm 118

Psalm 118 is the conclusion of the ‘Egyptian Hallel’ and would have been the last psalm that Jesus would have sung with his disciples at the Last Supper. The day we call Palm Sunday was less than a week before. Verse 25 had been on the lips of the crowds as Jesus had made his way into the holy city. It’s not very clear in English translations but the pilgrims cry of ‘hosanna’ means ‘rescue us’ in Hebrew and the only time the phrase is used in the Old Testament is here. The crowd also picked up on verse 26 as they proclaimed Jesus as the coming King and, echoing verse 27, welcomed him by cutting down palm branches and going out of the city to meet him (John 12:13). The triumphant entry was a time of expectation and great rejoicing. At least some of the Passover crowd believed that their prayers were being answered – the Messiah was entering Jerusalem, coming to boot out the Romans and their lackeys and establish God’s reign on earth. Vive la revolution!

Jesus knew however that the real problem was not Rome. Rome was just a symptom. There had been other ‘evil empires’ before – Egypt, Babylon – and there would be again. The real problem was a humanity that had gone wrong. Both Jew and Gentile, were alienated from God and in the grip of sin and death, in need of a new deliverance, a new Exodus, and as Jesus broke bread and shared wine in the upper room that’s what he tried to communicate to his barely-understanding disciples.

Verses 5-14 speak of opposition and faith and of ultimate deliverance. We don’t know when the Psalm was originally written but these verses would seem to refer to hostile nations surrounding Israel. For Jesus, the perfect Israelite, these words must have spoken of the religious and political authorities, Gentile and Jew, who would conspire together to snuff out the light of the world (v. 27). In the face of such opposition Jesus could have stayed silent, Jesus could have escaped over the Mount of Olives and fled into the Judean wilderness. Jesus could have unleashed heaven’s armies to rout the Romans, but instead he chose the path of obedience to his Heavenly Father.  

In verse 18 the Psalmist says that YHWH chastised him severely. Jesus was not punished by the Father – he was the one who delighted his Father and in whom his Father always delighted. However, Hebrews tells us that ‘Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered’ (Hebrews 5:8). The writer to Hebrews has already made it clear that Jesus was without sin (4:15, 7:26) but nonetheless what was unfolding before Jesus was a new obedience, not that he hadn’t been obedient before but there was a new decisive work to be done, so that he might ‘became the source of eternal salvation’ (Hebrews 5:9).

Jesus knew that the road he was called to walk was very different to what others expected, that it would involve suffering and abandonment but that through him God would make atonement and reconcile humanity to himself. When he was on trial, Peter quotes verse 22 to explain how Jesus rejection had brought salvation (Acts 4:11, 12).  Peter might have added that ‘in the name of YHWH’ Jesus had cut down, defeated our enemies of sin and death and Satan (vv. 10–13). Through Jesus’ faithfulness, God has done a marvellous thing indeed, he has brought the day of salvation and the day of great rejoicing (vv. 23, 24).

The English word ‘confidence’ derives from Latin and literally means ‘with faith’. Jesus’ confidence in the midst of distress (v. 5) and in the face of opposition (v. 7) was the faith he placed in his heavenly Father who doesn’t just do good (as even we might do from time to time) but whose very being is ‘goodness’. Because of that we can share Jesus’ confidence that God is with us in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Verses 15–21 speak of seemingly being cut off forever from the land of the living. Good Friday looked like that but YHWH’s love endures forever (vv. 1–4) and the silence of Easter Saturday would give way to Easter Sunday’s shouts of joy and victory (v. 15).