The last of eight "hallelujah" psalms (111-118), 118 is a hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance from enemies. It presupposes a triumphal procession into the city and the temple of God. Psalm 118 praises God for unfailing love (st. 1) and for deliverance from many enemies (st. 2). In praise to God for bringing victory, the king leads a triumphal entry into God's presence (st. 3); the people celebrate "the day" in which God has set up his cornerstone–the stone the builders had rejected (st. 4). The people praise and joyfully salute the anointed one, "who comes triumphant in God's name." A final call to praise and thank the LORD for unfailing love echoes the psalm's opening statement (st. 5).
Psalm 118 closes the "Egyptian Hallel" used in Jewish liturgies for the annual religious festivals prescribed in the Torah. At Passover, Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the meal; 115 through 118 were sung after the meal. As the last song in that liturgy, 118 may have been the hymn sung by Jesus and his disciples at the end of the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30). Jesus applied verse 22 ("the stone the builders rejected") to himself in Matthew 21:42 and Mark 12:10 (see also Acts 4:11). Stanley Wiersma (PHH 25) versified this psalm in 1982 for the Psalter Hymnal; he took the refrain from verses 1 through 4 and made it the final line of each stanza. Other settings of Psalm 118 are at 179 and 241.
Psalter Hymnal Handbook
Easter hymns accomplish three functions: they recount the Easter narrative, proclaim our Easter hope, and celebrate our joy at Christ’s resurrection. This hymn is built on the professions of Easter truths that are expressed primarily in Heidelberg Catechism. Note especially the following:
In addition, Our Song of Hope, stanza 5 professes: “On the day of the resurrection, the tomb was empty; His disciples saw Him; death was defeated; new life had come. God’s purpose for the world was sealed.”