The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone (v. 22).
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (v. 26).
This is the final psalm in our series on the messianic psalms. This particular psalm is interesting in that its fulfillment is connected with the final days of Christ’s ministry which took place in Jerusalem and in the Temple precincts. It has a solemn place in that regard, but the words of Psalm 118 are words of worship and thanksgiving despite the fact it reveals that Messiah would be rejected by the leaders of His own nation.
The Egyptian Hallel
Prophetically Psalm 118 will be the song in the mouth of the Jewish remnant when they will be delivered by Messiah out of the hands of their enemies in the last days. They will recount with thanksgiving and praise how the nations had surrounded them and afflicted them but the Lord had delivered them and had given them victory (vv. 5–21). However, as mentioned above, this prophecy was also anticipated in the Lord’s ministry when upon the earth. His disciples in this way represent the future Jewish remnant by the fact they followed Him when the nation as a whole was ruled by corrupt and apostate rulers.
It is very likely also that this Psalm is the “hymn” the Lord Jesus and His disciples sang before leaving the upper room during the last Passover He had celebrated with them on earth (Mt. 26:30). This psalm was traditionally sung during the Passover at that time and the practice still continues today. It was part of the “Hallel” psalms known as the “Egyptian Hallel” sung commemorating their deliverance from Egypt on the Passover night. (The Egyptian Hallel consists of Psalms 113–118; Hallel simply means “praise”). It is touching to think of Christ singing this with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed and delivered up; indeed He was the true Passover Lamb.
There are three parts to the messianic prophecy of Psalm 118. First we see Christ as the rejected “Stone,” secondly, He is the subject of praise, and thirdly, connected with this, He is confessed to be Messiah by the believing remnant. Thus it has the strange (to our minds) combination of Christ being rejected as the Messiah while at the same time being confessed as Messiah. But we see this exact thing when we come to the Gospels: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, He gave the right (authority) to become children of God” (Jn. 1:11–12). So this division really existed and was manifested at the time of Christ: a minority of the nation and a small group of devoted disciples on one side and on the other the majority and the leadership of the nation who rejected Him. So it will be in Israel again during the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (the Great Tribulation). Indeed it is even so today.
But Psalm does not just deal with the opposition from within the nation of Israel but also from without, “all the nations surrounded me” (v. 10). Thus prophetically, the godly remnant in Israel in the future will not just face pressure from within the nation but from without, from the nations—the Gentiles. And behind the nations is the power of Satan (Rev. 12:11–17). Yet God is in control and working out His purpose, as Hamilton Smith wrote: “The devil is behind the outward enemies of God’s people, but the Lord is behind the power of the devil, and there is no one behind the Lord.”1
The Rejected Stone
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes (v. 22). This verse of Psalm 118 is quoted by the Lord Jesus on the day following His “triumphal entry” to Jerusalem.2 The chief priests and elders of the people had questioned His authority (Mt. 21:23). The Lord’s response was a direct quote from Psalm 118:22, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Mt. 21:42). The “builders” are the Jewish leaders who rejected Christ, but God would highly exalt this rejected “stone” and make Him “the head of the corner.” The Lord Jesus quoted this prophecy and applied it to Himself in Matthew 21:42, thus there can be no higher authority in authorizing Psalm 118 as indeed messianic. The Lord’s quotation of this is found at the end of a parable He told to the chief priests and elders about the treatment of a vineyard owner’s servants by the vineyard workers. Finally He sent his son and they rejected and murdered him (Mt. 21:33–43). The point being that their rejection of Him would bring judgment upon the nation and God would turn to others. The effectiveness of the parable is evident, the chief priests and Pharisees “knew that He spoke about them” (Mt. 21:45).
From our vantage point we can now see the fulfillment of this with Israel’s subsequent history and the gospel now continuing among the Gentiles. Indeed this rejected “Stone” has become the “Chief Cornerstone” and has been exalted to the right hand of the Father (1 Pet. 2:4–7; Eph. 2:20).
1. Psalms, p. 186.
2. Really it was a “lowly” entry according to Zechariah 9:9.