This is one of a group of Psalms (113-118) known as the Hallel. The word comes from the Hebrew hallelujah meaning “praise ye Jehovah”. These Psalms were sung especially at the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. Alfred Edersheim points out that the Talmud (2) records that, in these Psalms, God’s goodness is expressed to Israel, especially their deliverance from Egypt. Jewish families before the Passover meal would sing Psalms 113 and 114, and Psalms 115-118 after the meal. There is a reference to this practice in the Gospel of Matthew, following the institution of the Lord’s Supper: “When they had sung an hymn [that is, a portion of these Psalms], they went out unto the Mount of Olives” (26:30).
A famous Jewish commentator, Rabbi Akiva, observed some people waving palm and willow branches as they were singing the words from verse 25: “Save now [hosanna], I beseech Thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech Thee, send now prosperity” (Mishna, Succah 3:9). The Saviour rode into Jerusalem on an ass, in fulfilment of the prophecy from Zechariah 9:9: “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass . . . . And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when He was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?” (Matt 21:5,8,9). This was that great and glorious Prophet, the Messenger of the everlasting covenant, riding into Jerusalem shortly before His death, when the people cried out, “Hosanna”, which means, “Save now, I beseech Thee”.
As the Lord may be pleased to help us, we may consider:
1. The Stone.
2. The Stone Refused.
3. The Stone Made Head of the Corner.
4. The Psalmist’s praise of God, when he says, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes”.
1. The Stone. Verses 1 and 29 of this Psalm are quoted in Ezra 3:10,11. There we read of the building of the second temple: “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David, King of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” The temple was the place of worship where the souls of men might see, through types and shadows, God’s way for the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of blood, by the death of the Messiah, God’s dear Son (see John 2:19-21).
In Exodus we read of Moses being told to smite the rock and of water springing out of the rock. On another occasion he was told to speak to the rock (although he smote it) and water came out again, so that they were sustained in the wilderness. In 1 Corinthians we read that Israel “did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (10: 3-5). Many perished because of their unbelief. They refused to believe that God was able and willing to preserve them and to bring them into the land of Canaan. God is manifesting His willingness now to save souls on their way to eternity by bringing them, through His Word, to believe that the stone which the builders refused is become the head of the corner. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).
In Deuteronomy we find the rock being spoken of as a person: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are judgement: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He” (Deut 32:4). The Messiah is here called the Rock whose work is perfect. His work of creation is wonderful, but above all, and especially, His saving work. All His ways are judgement and truth. In Psalm 40, we were singing:
“I waited for the Lord my God, and patiently did bear;
At length to me He did incline my voice and cry to hear.
He took me from a fearful pit, and from the miry clay,
And on a rock He set my feet establishing my way” (Ps 40:1-2).
The Psalmist’s feet were set on a rock. David had a good foundation and was brought to a wealthy place in his experience when he came to rest by faith upon that Rock. This is the work of the Father, the work of His grace. It is the chief part of His divine purpose to cause men to see this stone. “Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste” (Is 28:16). He who believes cannot be lost, or swept away, but he shall be brought at last into heaven, his salvation ensured. These are the sure mercies of David; God will bring His people by a way that they know not.
It is no wonder the Psalmist was singing in the days of old: “O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever” (Ps 136:1). These words are repeated often: “His mercy endureth for ever”. Why the repetition? Is it not because we are slow to learn? We are to gaze with wonder upon the glory of God whose mercy never ends. We are directed to that mercy in this Rock – the eternal Son of God. In Him we find a hiding place from the wind. He is also man, who took a true body and a reasonable soul. In that nature, as a divine person, He paid the price of sin and died, so that we find in Him everlasting stability and durability, protection and shelter, virtue and merit. He is able to bear with the infirmities of men and can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, being tempted in all points like as we are, and yet without sin. As God He could not suffer, but He must suffer and therefore He took our nature. He must die and pay the price of sin. He kept the commandments perfectly and provided righteousness for men. In this way He is the great foundation that the Father laid in Zion.
Those enabled by the work of His Spirit draw near and are brought to rest upon Him as their only hope of salvation. They are united to Christ by faith and built up in Him. As a building fitly joined together they become the habitation of the mighty God of Jacob. Through Christ He says; “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit and trembleth at My word” (Is 66:2). Will you not receive this salvation? How solemn for sinners if this Stone is refused and rejected! Peter, being filled with the Holy Ghost, said to the rulers and elders of Israel: “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name given under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:11,12).
2. The Stone Refused. The religious leaders of Christ’s day refused this Stone like many who now profess to be builders of the Church. Peter quoted Isaiah 28:16: “Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded” (1 Pet 2:6). He shall not be confounded, disappointed, lost or swept away. He shall not be led captive by the devil at his will nor overcome by the world; he shall not go down into hell to everlasting destruction but he shall be saved, because God laid in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious.
“Unto you therefore which believe He is precious” (1 Pet 2:7). What could be more precious than this stone? Yet He is despised and rejected of men (Is 53:3). Multitudes are disobeying the call of God to leave the world, rejecting the gospel command to believe. He is the stone which the builders disallowed – they found no place for Him in this building. Men and women who profess to be building the Church of God are denying the Saviour in all sorts of ways, denying His person and His atonement.
Christ is a stone of stumbling. How many are stumbling! Poor people blinded by the traditions of men, unable to see the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness. Man can never obtain righteousness by the works of the law, for God, who is just, will by no means clear the guilty. But here is One who has been sent to be “our righteousness”. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Woe to those who reject this stone! They “stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed (1 Pet 2:8). “But ye”, He says to His people, “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Pet 2:9).
Jews and Gentiles, persons of all kinds, may come to rest upon this stone. What a great building will be seen when it is finished, when He has brought in the last soul to be part of this building! Rough stones are made comely, believing souls, shaped and fashioned by God’s grace and Spirit, to harmonise together. Jew and Gentile, bond and free, black and white will all be part of this one building. It is for sinners that Christ Himself, the Messiah, the sent messenger, the eternal Son of God, the stone which the builders refused, was made the head of the corner (1 Tim 1:16).
3. The Stone Made Head of the Corner. This means that He was to be the chief stone, the stone which would anchor the whole building. Zechariah prophesied of Him: “Then he answered and spake unto me, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it” (Zech 4:6,7). We are to look to the Lord and not to man. “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils” (Is 2:22). Here is the great provision for the advancement of the cause of Christ in the world and the salvation of individual souls. Without Him we can do nothing. He is the stone refused by the builders but made head of the corner by the Lord. This is the Lord’s doing and marvellous in our eyes.
There can be no Church, no real building, no habitation of God and no revealing of His glory if this chief corner stone is not manifested and preached, as He ought to be, as to His person and work. Some will come with the name of Jesus to preach another Christ and another gospel. They will come with a mere man, with a prophet, but they will not come with the divine, eternal Son of God, the God-Man Redeemer of God’s elect, the Lord Jesus Christ. How then can there be a building? How then can souls be saved? He is made the head of the corner. Who made Him the head of the corner? It was God Himself; it was part of His purpose. He said to Zerubbabel, “Who art thou, O great mountain?” He is speaking of the enemy, of the world and the flesh, the devil and his kingdom, the powers of darkness. And He is speaking of all the obstacles which may meet a poor soul on his way to eternity, who desires to be found in Christ, to embrace the Messiah, seeking the forgiveness of God through the blood of the everlasting covenant. “Who art thou, O great mountain?” What right hast thou to stand between this desire and God’s objective, between this soul and heaven, between this Church and God’s glory?
“Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain”. Christ will prevail. He has overcome and cast down the powers of darkness. Therefore we are called to seek the grace of faith, to have that faith in exercise, to trust in the Lord and to praise Him, “for His mercy endureth for ever”. “Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof”. The Headstone is the One who is made the head of the corner, the chief stone in the building, without whom we can do nothing. Embrace Him while you have time, on your way to eternity. Is it not now time to believe in His name, to come to Christ while He may be found and to call upon Him while He is near?
“He shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.” This headstone is being brought forth in the preaching of the gospel, the reading of the Scriptures, the ordinances of God’s house – in the work of His Church bringing the Word of life to men. This is the matter we are to concentrate on. How many are now building, yet passing by the very heart of the whole matter, this great and glorious Saviour, by whom the souls of men shall have life everlasting? He died and paid the price of the sins of all who believe in His name, and He was raised up, by the power of an endless life, on the third day. What was the Father saying when He was raised from the grave? Was He not saying this: “I have made Him the head of the corner”?
We read of His resurrection in prophecy; “Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption” (Ps 16:10). He is exalted a Prince and a Saviour. He has ascended into heaven and is set down on the right hand of His Father in glory. And He shall come again, in the clouds, to judge the world with power and great glory. He is made the head of the corner – King and Head of His church. He is the One to whom we owe obedience; men are to be subject to Him. He is to reign, and reigns now as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The kings of the earth are to be subject to Him. The doctrine of Christ’s kingship is very precious; it is bound up with His office as a priest and a prophet. He has spoken from His throne in heaven; He has sent His word to our souls. Because He is made the head of the corner, there will be a building; of that there can be no doubt whatever. God’s Word cannot be broken and His purposes can never fail. Though the powers of darkness gather together, they shall not prevail against the love of the Son of God riding in the chariot of the everlasting gospel – because He is made the head of the corner and has all the authority of heaven. But woe to the man who seeks to depose the King of kings from His throne; he shall not prevail, because Christ is made the head of the corner.
He revealed Himself spiritually to many in Israel down through the centuries. The Jewish people had great privileges bestowed upon them, and many were saved. We read in the Scriptures of a great cloud of witnesses. Jews and Gentiles were brought together, all one in Christ Jesus. Glorious times are yet to come through the declaration of His name and through the work which He is to accomplish in the fullness of time. He has truly been made the head of the corner.
Therefore the prophet said to the Jewish Church, and to the Church of God in all ages: “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord” (Is 54:1). Poor small Israel! How shall Jacob arise, for he is small? The agonising, the praying, the thirsting and the longing of the souls of God’s people in ancient times was addressed by these words of comfort: “More are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord”. Embrace these great doctrines, these great prophecies: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited” (Is 54:2,3).
What great prophecies the Jews were given in those far-off times by the prophets! Wonderful days were to come: “Arise, shine,” the prophet said, “for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Is 60:1-3). Word upon word, line upon line, precept upon precept, comfort upon comfort, promise upon promise, blessing on every hand – the riches, the unsearchable riches, of Christ were flowing from the One made the head of the corner. Many Jews, “a remnant”, have been saved since the time of the Apostle. But glorious times are yet to come when all Israel shall be saved and the obstructions and obstacles to their ingathering shall be removed (Rom 11:26). The Church looked down the centuries through the eyeglass of God’s prophecies to the fall of the Turkish Empire, and the downfall of the man of sin and the system of Romanism so deceptive to the souls of men. They saw the day when the walls of Sion would be built. The God of providence is working; He is working to build His Church because Christ is made the head of the corner. The Messiah has been revealed and He has finished the work the Father gave Him to do.
The Jews are returning to their own land and have been doing so for many a long year, and Christ is becoming, to some of them at least, the head of the corner. “And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God” (Amos 9:15). Why would they be planted upon their land and no more be pulled up despite all the hatred of the nations? Well, it was for this reason: that Christ Himself shall effectually be made among them the head of the corner and they shall come to embrace Him as the Hope of Israel.
Many people all over the world have, we may say, a hope of a kind. What sort of hope is it? Well, it’s a false hope, a hope which shall never bring a soul into heaven. There are others in the world, some Jews and some Gentiles, who have a good hope of everlasting life. That hope is set before us here in these words of the Psalmist: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” God in providence began to bring the Jewish people back to Israel through the wicked persecutions that took place in various parts of the world. In Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe many suffered and died. (3) These pogroms moved large numbers of Jewish people to return to their depopulated ancient homeland in Palestine. Later, in the Second World War, that great movement they call aliyah (ascent) was hastened by the terrible slaying of six million of God’s ancient people in the Holocaust. They stood in such great need of hope and yet their eyes were blinded from the true Hope of Israel. They made a national anthem for the State of Israel (re-founded in 1948) and they called it Hatikva, which means The Hope. But the hope of many was in the land rather than in Christ.
The Apostle Paul, that Pharisee of the Pharisees, who came to believe in Christ by His grace, spoke of this true hope: “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil: whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb 6:19,20). Here is the good hope of everlasting life.
In 1878, when the Jews first began to resettle in the land of Israel, they founded new villages on the empty land. One of the first they named Rosh Pinah. When we read about that, we were quite moved because Rosh Pinah means The head of the corner! The day is coming when all Israel shall embrace the true Head of the corner, and Jew and Gentile shall come to trust in the finished work of Christ from the rising to the setting sun.
4. The Psalmist’s praise of God. His praise in verse 23 is very clear and God-honouring: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes”. Marvellous are the doings of the glorious God, the One who is longsuffering and slow to wrath, whose mercy endureth for ever. We ought to be receiving these great matters for the salvation of our souls and the souls of others. We as a Church should be asking for grace to be up and doing, to be advancing, lengthening the cords and strengthening the stakes on the right hand and on the left. We should be looking to the One who is the mighty God of Jacob to do great things for us by this wonderful Stone. Daniel prophesied that it shall prevail over all the empires and kingdoms of the world and over all the powers of darkness. “The stone which the builders refused is become the head of the corner.” We may therefore assert with confidence and with assurance that this is the Lord’s doing and marvellous in our eyes.
1. The sermon preached by the retiring moderator at this year’s Synod meeting.
2. The Talmud, which means study or learning, is a compilation of Jewish law, tradition and comment.
3. The Cossacks murdered 100 000 Jews in southern Russia and the Ukraine in the seventeenth century and 85 000 were murdered in the same region between 1917 and 1920.