Christological Psalms: Psalm 118: 20-25

Christological Psalms: Psalm 118: 20-25

Psalm 118 is one of the most frequently recited psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours, being sung on some Sundays either in its entirety at Morning Prayer or at Midday Prayer divided into three. Its association with Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, isn’t surprising, for it speaks throughout of triumph over all kinds of adversities, and of confidence in the salvation offered by God. The verses of the psalm are used in all kinds of liturgical occasions, and both Matthew and John have the crowds shouting, ‘Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord,’ (118:26) at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

But the verses, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes’ (118:23-4) are perhaps the most recognisable. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have Jesus quoting this to the scribes and pharisees as he experiences their opposition to His ministry, and the early Church obviously closely associate this text with the world’s rejection of Jesus, leading to his death, but also showing the glory of His resurrection (see Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7).

But the Psalm also contains within in it echoes of the Old Testament. First the psalmist describes the menace of his enemies encompassing him like bees, and similar language can be found elsewhere. Deuteronomy describes the Amorites as attacking the Israelites like bees (Deuteronomy 1:44), and Isaiah uses similar language to describe the Assyrians (Isaiah 7:18). But here comes the climax, with the psalmist declaring that ‘The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation’ (118:14), echoing the song of Moses and the people of Israel at the Red Sea: ‘The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him’ (Exodus 15:2).

It is in this climax that the true importance of the psalm shines through. The Lord becomes, for the psalmist, a saviour, just as Jesus, living up to his name, will save mankind from sin (Matthew 1:21). The salvation which God offers in Jesus is rejected by men, but set up by God as the head of the corner. The psalm makes clear that God’s offer of salvation in Jesus is open for all, leaving us to ask ourselves wether we wish to be like the builders who reject the cornerstone, or declare Jesus to be our strength, our song, our salvation.

Br Albert Robertson was recently ordained Deacon, and is completing his theological studies at Blackfriars, Oxford.