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Psalm 118

The rejected stone

Like us today, the post-exilic Jews were dominated by pagan authorities bent on suppressing them. The psalmist recounts his rescue from death to assure his people that God is on their side and call them to faith.

Give thanks to Yahveh because he’s good
and his faithful love always prevails!
2 Let Israel say:
“His faithful love always prevails!”
3 Let the priests of Aaron say:
“His faithful love always prevails!”
4 Let all who revere Yahveh say:
“His faithful love always prevails!”

5 Cornered, with nowhere to turn
I cried out to Yahveh
and Yahveh answered me
bringing me out into unhindered freedom.
6 With Yahveh for me
I’m not afraid—
what can mere mortals do to me?
7 With Yahveh right beside me
supporting me
I can already see my enemies’ downfall.
8 It’s better to take refuge in Yahveh
than to put your trust in people.
9 It’s better to take refuge in Yahveh
than to rely on the most powerful people around.
10 When all the pagan nations surrounded me
I defeated them in Yahveh’s name.
11 When they surrounded me
totally surrounded me
I defeated them in Yahveh’s name.
12 They surrounded me like a swarm of bees
only to burn up like dried thistles
as I defeated them in Yahveh’s name.
13 Pushed hard, I was falling fast
but Yahveh came to my rescue.
14 Yahveh is my strength and my song—
he’s become my savior.
15 The camp of God-seekers
rings with shouts of joy and victory:
“Yahveh’s strong hand struck the decisive blow!”
16 “Yahveh’s strong hand is raised in victory!”
“Yahveh’s strong hand decided the outcome!”
17 I’m not going to die!
I’ll live to tell what Yahveh has done.
18 Though Yahveh tested me to the limit
he didn’t hand me over to Death.
19 Swing wide the gates of goodness and justice
so I can enter in to thank Yahveh.
20 This is the gate to Yahveh’s house
the gate those who rely on God enter.
21 I praise you for answering my prayers
for rescuing me from death.

22 The stone the builders threw away
has now been made the capstone!
23 This was entirely Yahveh’s doing
and it was astonishing to see.
24 This is the day Yahveh has made—
let’s celebrate and revel in what he’s done.
25 Yahveh, we pray you’d rescue us!
Yahveh, please make us flourish!
26 Blessed is the one who comes
in Yahveh’s name.
We bless you from Yahveh’s house.
27 Yahveh is God
and he’s shone his light on us.
Line the path with festive branches
all the way to the horns of the altar!
28 You’re my God and I praise you.
You’re my God and I extol you.
29 Give thanks to Yahveh because he’s good
and his faithful love always prevails!

Regardless of when this psalm was written, any psalm recounting the psalmist’s deliverance from pagans threatening him would have really encouraged post-exilic Jews, living under ongoing oppression. With no way out, the psalmist was pushed so hard he thought he was going to die. Then his good God, whose gracious love is unstoppable, showed up to turn the tide, enabling the psalmist to defeat his foes.

This naturally led to exuberant celebration in God’s camp. Returning home, the psalmist calls out for Jerusalem’s gates to open so he can praise God and tell his people what God has done and what he’s taught him. Namely, that he should neither fear what people can do to him, nor hang his hopes on what people can do for him. Ultimately, he must revere and trust God, who alone is his savior and his song.

The psalm’s last section gives the community’s response to the psalmist. Since the reversal of his fortunes was entirely God’s doing, his people recognize he’s been blessed by God. They exclaim that God has taken the stone the builders spurned as useless and made it the building’s one indispensable stone, exalted above the rest. Rejoicing in God’s favor, they also ask him for ongoing success, and embrace him wholeheartedly as their God.

Lord, I easily alternate between fearing people to looking to others to save me. But you’re the one who takes me from being cornered to breathing free in your appointed place—who takes the stone the builders discarded as worthless and glorifies it in your temple. I worship you, O God. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Give thanks to Yahveh because he’s good
and his faithful love always prevails!

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.