Psalm 118

by Rabbi Jeffrey A. Adler

“Hodu l’Adonai ki-tov ki l’olam chasdo!”. “Praise Adonai, for He is good, for His lovingkindness endures forever.”

So begins the last of the canonical psalms of the grouping called “Hallel”, or “praise”. While all the psalms have some element of praise, these (Psalms 113-118) are specifically recited at the special seasons known as the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot (Weeks or Pentecost), and, Sukkot (Tabernacles or Booths), as well as New Moons and, often, Hanukkah. Some use them for Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day, as well.

“Hodu” is the hiphil stem imperative of “yadah”, to cast or throw, and came to take the sense of confess openly, to give thanks. The “hiphil” stem carries the sense of causing something to happen; thus, here, we are encouraged to cause thanksgiving to resound to Adonai. (In an ironic twist, the form used here is the modern word for “turkey”, the poultry so popularly eaten in the United States for the feast of Thanksgiving.)

The reasons stated for the need to thank Adonai are that He is good and that His lovingkindness is forever.

That God is good is a fact communicated from the very beginning of His message in the Scriptures. The stages of Creation are described as “good”, with the final result described as “tov meod”, “very good”. There is an excellence to the quality of work that God does. In the 100th Psalm, David says, in verse 3, “know that Adonai, He is God; it is He who has made us…” It could have been any of the vindictive, fickle “deities” worshiped in the world, and, while the sovereign Lord has the freedom to be anything and any way He chooses, He choose to be consistent, faithful, merciful, loving, gentle, kind…Psalm 100:5 begins, “For Adonai is Good…”. The goodness of God is good for man.

Psalm 118:1 goes on to say, “ki olam chasdo”, “His lovingkindness endures forever”. There is no end to the Lord’s mercy in extent or range. Time cannot restrict it, nor can cause. God forgives all kinds of sins, and His mercy never ends. Imagine all the offences perpetrated against God and His Torah, yet, even throughout eternity, God will never forget the eternal grace He has demonstrated, especially expressed through the gifting of Mashiach and His atonement. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life!” (John 3:16). Throughout all eternity in Heaven, God will never hold against us all our offences, or, that Messiah suffered profoundly for our benefit.

Verse 2 says, “Yomar-na Yisrael, ‘ki l’olam chasdo’”, Let Israel say that His lovingkindness endures forever,”. Joyfulness in the Lord, thankfulness, praise, are not only the domain of the clergy, but, the heritage of all Israel. Rabbi Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Good News, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who trusts- to the Jew first…”

The psalmist then calls on the kohanim, the priests, to say, “ki l’olam chasdo”, “that His lovingkindness endures forever. Sometimes, we in the clergy, “the professionals”, become so caught up in the business of service that we forget to be thrilled and excited about the nature and character of the One we worship. Adonai is less pleased by the forms than the substance. Forms, though often beautiful, may lose their joyfulness if we are not careful.

Then, in verse 4, “Yomru-na yare Adonai ‘ki l’olam chasdo’”, “Let those who fear Adonai say: ‘For His lovingkindness endures forever,’”. This statement includes those not from the tribes of Israel, but, any and all who recognize the nature and character, the mercy and compassion, indeed, the salvation, provided by the Lord. Romans 1:16 tells us that the Good News is the power of God to the Jew first and “also to the Greek”. The T’nakh, commonly called the Old Testament, as well as the B’rit ha Chaddashah, or New Covenant, regularly relate the plan of God to rescue from sin and bring back to Himself not only Israel, the Jewish people, but the goyyim, or Gentile nations, as well. Isaiah 42 and 49, for example, describe the prophesied coming, suffering, Messiah as a “covenant for the people (Israel) and a light to the nations (Gentiles),”.

Verse 5 states, “Min-hammetzer qarati Adonai,”, “Out of a tight place I called on Adonai,”. “Metzer” refers to a tight, restricted, place. The Hebrew name for Egypt,“Mitzraim” derives from this nominal root. It refers to the bondage of Egyptian slavery. Powerless, our forefathers cried out to God. Adonai told Moses that He had seen the affliction of His people in Egypt and had heard their cries. Hence, the response of speaking to Moses from the burning bush and sending him to command Pharaoh to let them go. God hears the cries of people, even the lowly slaves, and that mercy and lovingkindness endure forever. He responded: “Adonai answered me with a spacious place,”, the land of Israel.

The psalmist goes on to say that with the Lord’s lovingkindness, he will not fear. Powerful people and nations may surround and threaten him, but, in all things, he will overcome by the power of Adonai. Verses 14 and 15: “Adonai is my strength and song, ‘vayy’hi-li l’lishua’, and He has become my salvation (Yeshua, Jesus). God’s lovingkindness revealed through Messiah conquers all!

This everlasting mercy works out into everlasting life. Verse 17 says, “I will not die, but live, and proclaim what Adonai has done,”.

Verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become “rosh pinnah”, the capstone’,” the foundation of everything. The world exists because of the goodness and eternal lovingkindness of the Lord. Its survival is dependent on the same.

So, in verse 25, the cry is made, “Hoshiana!”, “Lord, save now!”. We still need, as much as ever, the intervention of the Holy, loving, God. Hence, verse 26: “Barukh haba b’shem Adonai,”, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of Adonai.” This reference to the coming of Messiah longs for the initial coming of the promised One who makes atonement for our sins and opens the door for reconciliation to the Holy One and grants us everlasting life, but, also for His promised return to establish His throne in Jerusalem, giving real peace and justice in a world so devoid of both. It also cries for divine intervention to deliver us from our own wrong ways.

This confident hope leads the writer to conclude as he began, “Hodu l’Adonai ki-tov ki l’olam chasdo,”, “Praise Adonai, for He is good, for His lovingkindness endures forever.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.