Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Festival Psalm at the Dedication of the New Temple
What the close of Psa 117:1-2 says of God's truth, viz., that it endureth for ever, the beginning of Ps 118 says of its sister, His mercy or loving-kindness. It is the closing Psalm of the Hallel, which begins with Psa 113:1-9, and the third Hodu (vid., on Ps 105). It was Luther's favourite Psalm: his beauteous Confitemini, which "had helped him out of troubles out of which neither emperor nor king, nor any other man on earth, could have helped him." With the exposition of this his noblest jewel, his defence and his treasure, he occupied himself in the solitude of his Patmos.
It is without any doubt a post-exilic song. Here too Hupfeld sweeps away everything into vague generality; but the history of the period after the Exile, without any necessity for our coming down to the Maccabean period, as do De Wette and Hitzig, presents three occasions which might have given birth to it; viz., (1) The first celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month of the first year of the Return, when there was only a plain altar as yet erected on the holy place, Ezr 3:1-4 (to be distinguished from a later celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles on a large scale and in exact accordance with the directions of the Law, Neh. 8). So Ewald. (2) The laying of the foundation-stone of the Temple in the second month of the second year, Ezr 3:8. So Hengstenberg. (3) The dedication of the completed temple in the twelfth month of the sixth year of Darius, Ezr 6:15. So Stier. These references to contemporary history have all three more or less in their favour. The first if favoured more especially by the fact, that at the time of the second Temple Psa 118:25 was the festal cry amidst which the altar of burnt-offering was solemnly compassed on the first six days of the Feast of Tabernacles once, and on the seventh day seven times. This seventh day was called the great Hosanna (Hosanna rabba), and not only the prayers for the Feast of Tabernacles, but even the branches of willow trees (including the myrtles) which are bound to the palm-branch (lulab), were called Hosannas (הושׁענות, Aramaic הושׁעני).
(Note: Vid., my Talmudic Studies, vi. (Der Hosianna-Ruf), in the Lutherische Zeischrift, 1855, S. 653-656.)
The second historical reference is favoured by the fact, that the narrative appears to point directly to our Psalm when it says: And the builders laid the foundation of the Temple of Jahve, and the priests were drawn up there in official robes with trumpets, and the Levites the descendants of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Jahve after the direction of David king of Israel, and they sang על־ישׂראל בּהלּל וּבהודת ליהוה כּי טוב כּי־לעולם חסדּו; and all the people raised a great shout בּהלּל ליהוה, because the house of Jahve was founded. But both of these derivations of the Psalm are opposed by the fact that Psa 116:19 and Psa 118:20 assume that the Temple-building is already finished; whereas the unmistakeable allusions to the events that transpired during the building of the Temple, viz., the intrigues of the Samaritans, the hostility of the neighbouring peoples, and the capriciousness of the Persian kings, favour the third. In connection with this reference of the Psalm to the post-exilic dedication of the Temple, Psa 118:19-20, too, now present no difficulty. Psa 118:22 is better understood as spoken in the presence of the now upreared Temple-building, than as spoken in the presence of the foundation-stone; and the words "unto the horns of the altar" in Psa 118:27, interpreted in many different ways, come into the light of Ezr 6:17.
The Psalm falls into two divisions. The first division (vv. 1-19) is sung by the festive procession brought up by the priests and Levites, which is ascending to the Temple with the animals for sacrifice. With Psa 118:19 the procession stands at the entrance. The second part (Psa 118:20-27) is sung by the body of Levites who receive the festive procession. Then Psa 118:28 is the answer of those who have arrived, and Psa 118:29 the concluding song of all of them. This antiphonal arrangement is recognised even by the Talmud (B. Pesachim 119a) and Midrash. The whole Psalm, too, has moreover a peculiar formation. It resembles the Mashal Psalms, for each verse has of itself its completed sense, its own scent and hue; one thought is joined to another as branch to branch and flower to flower.
The Hodu-cry is addressed first of all and every one; then the whole body of the laity of Israel and the priests, and at last (as it appears) the proselytes (vid., on Psa 115:9-11) who fear the God of revelation, are urgently admonished to echo it back; for "yea, His mercy endureth for ever," is the required hypophon. In Psa 118:5, Israel too then begins as one man to praise the ever-gracious goodness of God. יהּ, the Jod of which might easily become inaudible after קראתי, has an emphatic Dagesh as in Psa 118:18, and המּצר has the orthophonic stroke beside צר (the so-called מקּל), which points to the correct tone-syllable of the word that has Dechמ.
(Note: Vid., Baer's Thorath Emeth, p. 7 note, and p. 21, end of note 1.)
Instead of ענני it is here pointed ענני, which also occurs in other instances not only with distinctive, but also (though not uniformly) with conjunctive accents.
(Note: Hitzig on Pro 8:22 considers the pointing קנני to be occasioned by Dech, and in fact ענני in the passage before us has Tarcha, and in Sa1 28:15 Munach; but in the passage before us, if we read במרחביה as one word according to the Masora, ענני is rather to be accented with Mugrash; and in Sa1 28:15 the reading ענני is found side by side with ענני (e.g., in Bibl. Bomberg. 1521). Nevertheless צרפתני Psa 17:3, and הרני Job 30:19 (according to Kimchi's Michlol, 30a), beside Mercha, show that the pointing beside conjunctive as beside disjunctive accents wavers between a& and a4, although a4 is properly only justified beside disjunctive accents, and צוּני also really only occurs in pause.)
The constructions is a pregnant one (as in Psa 22:22; Psa 28:1; Psa 74:7; Sa2 18:19; Ezr 2:62; Ch2 32:1): He answered me by removing me to a free space (Psa 18:20). Both lines end with יהּ; nevertheless the reading במּרחביה is attested by the Masora (vid., Baer's Psalterium, pp. 132f.), instead of בּמּרחב יהּ. It has its advocates even in the Talmud (B. Pesachim 117a), and signifies a boundless extent, יה expressing the highest degree of comparison, like מאפּליה in Jer 2:31, the deepest darkness. Even the lxx appears to have read מרחביה thus as one word (εἰς πλατυσμόν, Symmachus εἰς εὐρυχωρίαν). The Targum and Jerome, however, render it as we do; it is highly improbable that in one and the same verse the divine name should not be intended to be used in the same force of meaning. Psa 56:1-13 (Psa 56:10; Psa 56:5, Psa 56:12) echoes in Psa 118:6; and in Psa 118:7 Psa 54:1-7 (Psa 54:6) is in the mind of the later poet. In that passage it is still more clear than in the passage before us that by the Beth of בּעזרי Jahve is not meant to be designated as unus e multis, but as a helper who outweighs the greatest multitude of helpers. The Jewish people had experienced this helpful succour of Jahve in opposition to the persecutions of the Samaritans and the satraps during the building of the Temple; and had at the same time learned what is expressed in Psa 118:7-8 (cf. Psa 146:3), that trust in Jahve (for which חסה ב is the proper word) proves true, and trust in men, on the contrary, and especially in princes, is deceptive; for under Pseudo-Smerdis the work, begun under Cyrus, and represented as open to suspicion even in the reign of Cambyses, was interdicted. But in the reign of Darius it again became free: Jahve showed that He disposes events and the hearts of men in favour of His people, so that out of this has grown up in the minds of His people the confident expectation of a world-subduing supremacy expressed in Psa 118:10.
The clauses Psa 118:10, Psa 118:11, and Psa 118:12, expressed in the perfect form, are intended more hypothetically than as describing facts. The perfect is here set out in relief as a hypothetical tense by the following future. כּל־גּוים signifies, as in Psa 117:1, the heathen of every kind. דּברים (in the Aramaic and Arabic with )ז are both bees and wasps, which make themselves especially troublesome in harvest time. The suffix of אמילם (from מוּל = מלל, to hew down, cut in pieces) is the same as in Exo 29:30; Exo 2:17, and also beside a conjunctive accent in Psa 74:8. Yet the reading אמילם, like יחיתן Hab 2:17, is here the better supported (vid., Gesenius, Lehrgebude, S. 177), and it has been adopted by Norzi, Heidenheim, and Baer. The כּי is that which states the ground or reason, and then becomes directly confirmatory and assuring (Psa 128:2, Psa 128:4), which here, after the "in the name of Jahve" that precedes it, is applied and placed just as in the oath in Sa1 14:44. And in general, as Redslob has demonstrated, כּי has not originally a relative, but a positive (determining) signification, כ being just as much a demonstrative sound as ד, ז, שׁ, and ת (cf. ἐκεῖ, ἐκεῖνος, κει'νος, ecce, hic, illic, with the Doric τηνεί, τῆνος). The notion of compassing round about is heightened in Psa 118:11 by the juxtaposition of two forms of the same verb (Ges. 67, rem. 10), as in Hos 4:18; Hab 1:5; Zep 2:1, and frequently. The figure of the bees is taken from Deu 1:44. The perfect דּעכוּ (cf. Isa 43:17) describes their destruction, which takes place instantly and unexpectedly. The Pual points to the punishing power that comes upon them: they are extinguished (exstinguuntur) like a fire of thorns, the crackling flame of which expires as quickly as it has blazed up (Psa 58:10). In Psa 118:13 the language of Israel is addressed to the hostile worldly power, as the antithesis shows. It thrust, yea thrust (inf. intens.) Israel, that it might fall (לנפּל; with reference to the pointing, vid., on Psa 40:15); but Jahve's help would not suffer it to come to that pass. Therefore the song at the Red Sea is revived in the heart and mouth of Israel. Psa 118:14 (like Isa 12:2) is taken from Exo 15:2. עזּי (in MSS also written עזּי) is a collateral form of עזּי (Ew. 255, a), and here signifies the lofty self-consciousness which is united with the possession of power: pride and its expression an exclamation of joy. Concerning זמרת vid., on Psa 16:6. As at that time, the cry of exultation and of salvation (i.e., of deliverance and of victory) is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of Jahve - they sing - עשׂה חיל (Num 24:18), practises valour, proves itself energetic, gains (maintains) the victory. רוממה is Milra, and therefore an adjective: victoriosa (Ew. 120 d), from רמם = רוּם like שׁומם from שׁמם. It is not the part. Pil. (cf. Hos 11:7), since the rejection of the participial Mem occurs in connection with Poal and Pual, but not elsewhere with Pilel (רומם = מרומם from רוּם). The word yields a simpler sense, too, as adject. participle Kal; romēmā́h is only the fuller form for ramā́h, Exo 14:8 (cf. rā́mah, Isa 26:11). It is not its own strength that avails for Israel's exultation of victory, but the energy of the right hand of Jahve. Being come to the brink of the abyss, Israel is become anew sure of its immortality through Him. God has, it is true, most severely chastened it (יסּרנּי with the suffix anni as in Gen 30:6, and יהּ with the emphatic Dagesh, which neither reduplicates nor connects, cf. Psa 118:5, Psa 94:12), but still with moderation (Isa 27:7.). He has not suffered Israel to fall a prey to death, but reserved it for its high vocation, that it may see the mighty deeds of God and proclaim them to all the world. Amidst such celebration of Jahve the festive procession of the dedication of the Temple has arrived at the enclosure wall of the Temple.
The gates of the Temple are called gates of righteousness because they are the entrance to the place of the mutual intercourse between God and His church in accordance with the order of salvation. First the "gates" are spoken of, and then the one "gate," the principal entrance. Those entering in must be "righteous ones;" only conformity with a divine loving will gives the right to enter. With reference to the formation of the conclusion Psa 118:19, vid., Ew. 347, b. In the Temple-building Israel has before it a reflection of that which, being freed from the punishment it had had to endure, it is become through the mercy of its God. With the exultation of the multitude over the happy beginning of the rebuilding there was mingled, at the laying of the foundation-stone, the loud weeping of many of the grey-headed priests. Levites, and heads of the tribes who had also seen the first Temple (Ezr 3:12.). It was the troublous character of the present which made them thus sad in spirit; the consideration of the depressing circumstances of the time, the incongruity of which weighed so heavily upon their soul in connection with the remembrance of the former Temple, that memorably glorious monument of the royal power of David and Solomon.
(Note: Kurtz, in combating our interpretation, reduces the number of the weeping ones to "some few," but the narrative says the very opposite.)
And even further on there towered aloft before Zerubbabel, the leader of the building, a great mountain; gigantic difficulties and hindrances arose between the powerlessness of the present position of Zerubbabel and the completion of the building of the Temple, which had it is true been begun, but was impeded. This mountain God has made into a plain, and qualified Zerubbabel to bring forth the top and key-stone (האבן הראשׁה) out of its past concealment, and thus to complete the building, which is now consecrated amidst a loud outburst of incessant shouts of joy (Zac 4:7). Psa 118:22 points back to that disheartened disdain of the small troubles beginning which was at work among the builders (Ezr 3:10) at the laying of the foundation-stone, and then further at the interruption of the buidling. That rejected (disdained) corner-stone is nevertheless become ראשׁ פּנּהּ, i.e., the head-stone of the corner (Job 38:6), which being laid upon the corner, supports and protects the stately edifice - an emblem of the power and dignity to which Israel has attained in the midst of the peoples out of deep humiliation.
In connection with this only indirect reference of the assertion to Israel we avoid the question - perplexing in connection with the direct reference to the people despised by the heathen - how can the heathen be called "the builders?" Kurtz answers: "For the building which the heathen world considers it to be its life's mission and its mission in history to rear, viz., the Babel-tower of worldly power and worldly glory, they have neither been able nor willing to make use of Israel...." But this conjunction of ideas is devoid of scriptural support and without historical reality; for the empire of the world has set just as much value, according to political relations, upon the incorporation of Israel as upon that of every other people. Further, if what is meant is Israel's own despising of the small beginning of a new ear that is dawning, it is then better explained as in connection with the reference of the declaration to Jesus the Christ in Mat 21:42-44; Mar 12:10., Act 4:11 (ὑφ ̓ ὑμῶν τῶν οἰκοδομούντων), Pe1 2:7, the builders are the chiefs and members of Israel itself, and not the heathen. From Pe1 2:6; Rom 9:33, we see how this reference to Christ is brought about, viz., by means of Isa 28:16, where Jahve says: Behold I am He who hath laid in Zion a stone, a stone of trial, a precious corner-stone of well-founded founding - whoever believeth shall not totter. In the light of this Messianic prophecy of Isaiah Psa 118:22 of our Psalm also comes to have a Messianic meaning, which is warranted by the fact, that the history of Israel is recapitulated and culminates in the history of Christ; or, according to Joh 2:19-21 (cf. Zac 6:12.), still more accurately by the fact, that He who in His state of humiliation is the despised and rejected One is become in His state of glorification the eternal glorious Temple in which dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and is united with humanity which has been once for all atoned for. In the joy of the church at the Temple of the body of Christ which arose after the three days of burial, the joy which is here typically expressed in the words: "From with Jahve, i.e., by the might which dwells with Him, is this come to pass, wonderful is it become (has it been carried out) in our eyes," therefore received its fulfilment. It is not נפלאת but נפלאת, like הבאת in Gen 33:11, קראת from קרא = קרה in Deu 31:29; Jer 44:23, קראת from קרא, to call, Isa 7:14. We can hear Isa 25:9 sounding through this passage, as above in Psa 118:19., Isa 26:1. The God of Israel has given this turn, so full of glory for His people, to the history.
(Note: The verse, "This is the day which the Lord hath made," etc., was, according to Chrysostom, an ancient hypophon of the church. It has a glorious history.)
He is able now to plead for more distant salvation and prosperity with all the more fervent confidence. אנּא (six times אנּה) is, as in every other instance (vid., on Psa 116:4), Milra. הושׁיעה is accented regularly on the penult., and draws the following נא towards itself by means of Dag. forte conj.; הצליחה on the other hand is Milra according to the Masora and other ancient testimonies, and נא is not dageshed, without Norzi being able to state any reason for this different accentuation. After this watchword of prayer of the thanksgiving feast, in Psa 118:26 those who receive them bless those who are coming (הבּא with Dech) in the name of Jahve, i.e., bid them welcome in His name.
The expression "from the house of Jahve," like "from the fountain of Israel" in Psa 68:27, is equivalent to, ye who belong to His house and to the church congregated around it. In the mouth of the people welcoming Jesus as the Messiah, Hoosanna' was a "God save the king" (vid., on Ps 20:10); they scattered palm branches at the same time, like the lulabs at the joyous cry of the Feast of Tabernacles, and saluted Him with the cry, "Blessed is He who cometh in the name of the Lord," as being the longed-for guest of the Feast (Mat 21:9). According to the Midrash, in Psa 118:26 it is the people of Jerusalem who thus greet the pilgrims. In the original sense of the Psalm, however, it is the body of Levites and priests above on the Temple-hill who thus receive the congregation that has come up. The many animals for sacrifice which they brought with them are enumerated in Ezr 6:17. On the ground of the fact that Jahve has proved Himself to be אל, the absolutely mighty One, by having granted light to His people, viz., loving-kindness, liberty, and joy, there then issues forth the ejaculation, "Bind the sacrifice," etc. The lxx renders συστήσασθε ἑορτὴν ἐν τοῖς πυκάζουσιν, which is reproduced by the Psalterium Romanum: constituite diem solemnem in confrequentationibus, as Eusebius, Theodoret, and Chrysostom (although the last waveringly) also interpret it; on the other hand, it is rendered by the psalterium Gallicum: in condensis, as Apollinaris and Jerome (in frondosis) also understand it. But much as Luther's version, which follows the latter interpretation, "Adorn the feast with green branches even to the horns of the altar," accords with our German taste, it is still untenable; for אסר cannot signify to encircle with garlands and the like, nor would it be altogether suited to חג in this signification.
(Note: Symmachus has felt this, for instead of συστήσασθε ἑορτὴν ἐν τοῖς πυκάζουσιν (in condensis) of the lxx, he renders it, transposing the notions, συνδήσατε ἐν πανηγύρει πυκάσματα. Chrysostom interprets this: στεφανώματα καὶ κλάδους ἀνάψατε τῷ ναῷ, for Montfaucon, who regards this as the version of the Sexta, is in error.)
Thus then in this instance A. Lobwasser renders it comparatively more correctly, although devoid of taste: "The Lord is great and mighty of strength who lighteneth us all; fasten your bullocks to the horns beside the altar." To the horns?! So even Hitzig and others render it. But such a "binding to" is unheard of. And can אסר עד possibly signify to bind on to anything? And what would be the object of binding them to the horns of the altar? In order that they might not run away?! Hengstenberg and von Lengerke at least disconnect the words "unto the horns of the altar" from any relation to this precautionary measure, by interpreting: until it (the animal for the festal sacrifice) is raised upon the horns of the altar and sacrificed. But how much is then imputed to these words! No indeed, חג denotes the animals for the feast-offering, and there was so vast a number of these (according to Ezra loc. cit. seven hundred and twelve) that the whole space of the court of the priests was full of them, and the binding of them consequently had to go on as far as to the horns of the altar. Ainsworth (1627) correctly renders: "unto the hornes, that is, all the Court over, untill you come even to the hornes of the altar, intending hereby many sacrifices or boughs." The meaning of the call is therefore: Bring your hecatombs and make them ready for sacrifice.
(Note: In the language of the Jewish ritual Isru-chag is become the name of the after-feast day which follows the last day of the feast. Ps 118 is the customary Psalm for the Isru-chag of all מועדים.)
The words "unto (as far as) the horns of the altar" have the principal accent. In v. 28 (cf. Exo 15:2) the festal procession replies in accordance with the character of the feast, and then the Psalm closes, in correspondence with its beginning, with a Hodu in which all voices join.