Why Passover Psalms? We refer to Psalms 113-118 as the Passover Psalms because Psalms 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal, and Psalms 115-118 were sung after the meal. These latter psalms, referred to in Matthew 26:30, were most likely sung together as one hymn before Jesus was crucified: “When they had sung a hymn they went out into the Mount of Olives.” He was crucified at Passover! Praise The Lord The Passover Psalms are all praises to God, but 113 and 117 begin by specifically calling both individual “servants” and then “all you nations” to praise the Lord. In these psalms, we see actual praise for Him in things, such as glorifying Him for what He is, for His power, for the miraculous deliverance of His people, for His provision for their spiritual welfare and for His care of them in life and death. We are to “offer to God a sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15 NIV) and these psalms are excellent examples for us to follow.
Praise The Name Of The Lord
Psalm 113:1-3 speaks of praising “the name of the LORD.” We often use this expression without realizing what His “name” means. According to W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary, in Scripture, “name” refers to “all that a name implies, of authority, character, rank, majesty, power, excellence, etc., of everything that name covers.” We are to praise God by confessing His name (Heb. 13:15), but we need to know what that means to be able to do it.
We have examples of this in Psalm 113, where His name is praised by “servants” who look to Him as the one who took care of them. His name is praised by recounting how He delivered them from captivity and preserved them as they journeyed onward. His name is also praised in Psalm 118 by alluding to His help with specific problems.
God Saves, Then Delivers
The Passover feast was a celebration of Israel’s salvation from slavery in Egypt. Similarly, breaking bread in communion is in part a celebration of the salvation of the Christian from the slavery of sin: “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” for us (1 Cor. 5:7). After the deliverance of the children of Israel came their journey to the Promised Land, while for us, after our deliverance comes the journey of the Christian life.
When the Israelites sang Psalm 114, they were praising God for performing miracles for them. He parted the sea (114:3), delivered them from the enemy (114:1; Ex. 14:16-30), provided water in the desert at Horeb (114:8; Ex. 14:16) and at Kadesh (114:8; Num. 20:1-4), and took them safely to the Jordan River stopping its flow so that they could cross and enter the Promised Land (114:3,5; Josh. 3:14-17). Similarly, we can praise God for His care of our needs along the way until our Lord comes to take us to His Father’s house – our promised land (Jn. 14:1-4).
Miracles Then And Now
Psalm 114 stresses the miracles God did for His people on their journey, and His provision of water from the rock is most interesting. Today we know that underlying the Sinai desert is a vast aquifer of water that has been there for thousands of years.1 It appears to be the source of water twice provided from the rock, and also the source of the “bitter” water at Marah (Ex. 15:23-25). Knowing that His people would need water in the desert, God arranged things so that it would be there for them. Similarly, we can be assured that God “who foreknew” us (Rom. 8:28) has also foreseen our needs and will provide for them.
When Israel needed food, God miraculously provided manna and meat (Ex. 16:13; Num. 11:31-32). The fact that the meat was provided by quails which may well have been blown off their usual migration course by unusual winds does not change its miracle character. God, who controls the weather, could easily cause the needed shift of wind (Num. 11:31).
Some explain away the miracle whereby God parted “the sea that … fled” (114:3,5) that was blocking the Israelites, and then drowned the Egyptians who pursued them. Scoffers point out that this sea was actuallyYom Sooth – literally, “the Reed Sea” and never the “Red Sea.” But this translation problem 2 is of no consequence. Whatever sea it was, it suited God’s purposes in three ways: to block the Israelites and cause them and the pursuing Egyptians to think they were trapped; to divide when the Lord sent “a strong east wind” in response to their cry, and become “dry ground” for the Israelites to cross; and to drown the Egyptians when the “sea went back to its place” (Ex. 14:27). Their cry to the Lord was answered in a mighty way!
The fact that “the Jordan turned back” (114:3,5) – referring to the miracle in Joshua 4:23-24 which allowed Israel to cross safely and enter the Promised Land – may have been a natural phenomenon does not mean that the event was not a miracle.3
Similarly, when we ask the Lord to do something for us and He answers by using natural processes, that does not mean it was not a miracle. We should believe that God does many such miracles to provide for His people in answer to their prayers.
Where Is Their God?
The question, “Where is their God?” was asked by the nations of unbelievers (Ps. 115:2). In that day, people pointed to the carved statues that were their idols and said, “Here is our god! Where is yours?” Without realizing it, skeptics today make science their god and ask the same question. They have been deceived into thinking that science holds that there is no God, that the question of the existence of God is beyond its purview and that all of its explanations will be materialistic.
Death And The Saints
Old Testament saints did not have the insight that we have into the state of the believer in death. They cried for deliverance from it (Ps. 116:1-8). But having the teaching of Christ and the Word, we have a different outlook. We desire to live and engage in “fruitful labor,” and when that is accomplished, to “depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil. 1:20-24). However, the psalmist did have some insight, for in Psalm 116:1-5 he wrote, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints” (116:15).
When we participate in collectively remembering our Lord, we emphasize that it is just “until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). We know that He has gone to prepare a place for us and that He will come back to take us to be with Him (Jn. 14:2-3). We will then be alive with Him, whether we were dead or alive at the time of His coming (1 Th. 4:14-17). Knowing this, we can say, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). Similarly, the psalmist in 116:17, when he considers the death of saints, says, “I will sacrifice a thank offering to You, and call on the name of the LORD.”
God Cares About Our Welfare
At God’s command, the Aaronic priesthood – the house of Aaron (Ps. 118:3) – was set up (Ex. 28:1-3) for the spiritual welfare of His people. Today, all believers are “being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood … a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5,9). The word “house” refers figuratively to believers as being “living stones” and to Christ as “the capstone” (1 Pet. 2:7). And Psalm 118:22 is quoted by Peter. As priests, we “declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Psalm 118 Is Prophetic
Like many other psalms, Psalm 118 prophesied events at the coming of Christ. Thus, verses 25-26 were quoted by the crowd carrying palm branches as they met Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. They recognized Him as the Christ, and like all the Jews of the day, they expected that when Christ came He would save them from Roman rule. They shouted, “Hosanna!” – which means “Save now” (Mt. 21:9). They overlooked verse 22 which preceded the verses they quoted. It prophecied Christ’s rejection, and it is only later in verses 25-26 that the prophesied salvation comes.
Peter quoted 118:22 in his first epistle (1 Pet. 2:7). He and the disciples had learned that the prophets had predicted that “the Christ (would) have to suffer these things and then enter His glory” (Lk. 24:25-26). The predicted rejection has occurred, but the entering into His kingdom, into His glory, remains to be fulfilled.
The Jews arrogantly thought they had it all figured out, but they were unaware that they had ignored the Scriptures which did not fit with their understanding. This fact should lead us to be more humble and less argumentative about our own understanding of prophecy, as we too may have some things wrong, and some things yet to learn!
The Passover Psalms come to an end with the psalmist proclaiming: “You are my God … and I will exalt You. Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; His love endures forever” (Ps. 118:28-29).
We can do the same.
1. Issar, Arie. “Fossil Water Under the Sinai-Negev Peninsula,” Scientific American, July 1985, pp. 104-110. This fossil water is made bitter by a high concentration of sulfate; and the Israelites, used to Nile River water, did not like it.
2. The sea could not have been what we call the Red Sea for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that the high coral reefs that make it red would have blocked their passage and that of the Egyptians. The origin of the translation “Red Sea” is obscure.
3. It is instructive to read the comment by H. J. Blair in The New Bible Commentary, Revised; editors, D. Guthrie et al, Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970, p. 237: “In AD 1266 … the bed of the river was left dry for ten hours … in 1927 an earthquake caused the west bank to collapse … and the Jordan was dammed up for more than twenty-one hours … This explanation does not detract in any way from the supernatural intervention which opened the way to Israel just at the moment when they needed to cross.”
By Alan H. Crosby
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org