Mercy and grace define the Lord’s relationship to His people, and we see that quite clearly when He rescues His people from the discipline that they deserve. Ancient Judah experienced this in the days of King Hezekiah when God used Assyria to discipline His people for their unbelief but then caused the pagan empire to abandon its campaign to conquer Jerusalem (Isa. 7:1–8:10; 36–37). As we consider what it means for the Lord to fight on our side as our Helper (Ps. 118:6–7), we must not lose sight of the fact that sometimes God first fights against us. He permits trials and tribulations in our lives to discipline us, to return us to His will so that He may then fight with us against all His and our enemies.
The author of Psalm 118 understood this well, and he praised the Lord for it. As our Maker disciplines us, turns us from sin, and fights against our trials for us, we too can sing “the right hand of the LORD does valiantly” (v. 16). After all, the psalmist remarks that our Creator disciplined him severely, and yet he praises God (v. 18). Those who are mature in their faith are able to praise the Lord for His discipline and for delivering them from it.
Jesus Himself claims to be the fulfillment of Psalm 118 (Matt. 21:33–44), and so we must examine how this hymn anticipates the work of the Messiah. In an earlier study, we saw how the author, because he does not identify himself, probably intends this psalm to be sung by any Israelite. And since it can be sung by any Israelite, it can be sung by the whole community. Therefore, in noting that it is fulfilled in Himself, Jesus is pointing us to the fact that He is Israel, the truest fulfillment of God’s purposes for that nation. Indeed, Jesus is the only faithful Israel, the true Son of God who fulfills His will (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:13–16; 3:13–17).
This true Israel of God was rejected and crucified, in accordance with Psalm 118:22a. But as v. 22b indicates, this rejection was the path to our Lord’s becoming the “cornerstone,” which in Hebrew can refer to either the cornerstone of a foundation that provides stability for the entire building or a capstone that joins two walls together. In Ephesians 2:20, Paul applies the first meaning of the term to Jesus, but the second meaning can also apply to Christ. In his sermon “The Headstone of the Corner,” C.H. Spurgeon declares: “This precious Cornerstone binds God and man together in wondrous amity, for He is both in one! He joins earth and Heaven together, for He participates in each! He joins time and eternity together, for He was a man of few years and yet He is the Ancient of Days!”