Psalm 118 – Repetition and Repetition

Psalm 118 Bible With Tony's Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt
Hey, there’s the other half of Psalm 117. How you doin’, little guy?

Today’s Chocolate: Tony’s Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt

Today’s PassagePsalm 118

I expect that lyrical repetition has been around for as long as singing itself. After all, it’s a potent device. If you want to write a hit pop song, get yourself a simple, singable chorus and a catchy hook, and lean into it hard: just drill it into your listeners’ heads. And whatever lyrical gymnastics you’re pulling off in your rap track, whatever rapid-fire vocals and complex internal rhymes, make sure you’ve got a good call-and-response chorus to get the audience bouncing.

And if you’re an ancient Hebrew lyricist, you too can put these techniques to work. Enter Psalm 118.

There are three repeated phrases in Psalm 118. It begins with a call to worship, “His lovingkindness is everlasting” (vv.1, 2, 3, 4); all of Israel, the priests (“the house of Aaron”), and “those who fear the Lord” are each in turn called to declare God’s lovingkindness. As the song progresses, the psalmist declares of the enemies surrounding him, “In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off” (vv.10, 11, 12). Finally, the phrase “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly” (vv.15, 16) is repeated twice. With his enemies routed, the psalmist transitions from the second section of repetition to the third with this line: “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation” (118:14). The point the psalmist intends to drive home is that God shows his lovingkindness by rescuing his people and empowering them to defeat their enemies.

In the latter portion, the psalm abandons the formulas of repetition, and nearing the end we find a verse that Peter quotes in his first letter. Peter cites the verse “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone” (118:22) in 1 Peter 2:4-8, maintaining that Jesus Christ is the corner stone, despised by men but chosen by God as the foundation of humanity’s salvation. As always, I can’t help but wonder: did the psalmist have the Messiah in mind as he composed this psalm? Does the verse “Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar” (118:27) refer symbolically to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? I don’t know for sure–but I’m inclined to think so.

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