Life Out of Death
We must remember that the "I" and the "me" repeated in this Psalm (118) represent the personification of the remnant or of the nation. It is as though the nation were speaking as an individual; it is a collective "I". The nation is here saying: "The Lord hath chastened me sore" - how true that was for us seventy years in captivity "but he hath not given me over unto death" (v. 18). "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord" (v. 17): so that the remnant speaking in these words does really embody this great truth of life out of death and life triumphant over death.
The Lord had promised His people, when they were in that far-off exile and captivity, that He would 'open their graves' and bring them out (Ezekiel 37:12-14), and here it is. They are out - out of that grave of captivity; and a grave it was. There is no singing in the grave. "The dead praise not the Lord" (Psalm 115:17) is a phrase of Scripture, and how true it was away there. "Upon the willows ... we hanged up our harps... how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" (Psalm 137:2-4). The dead praise Thee not." But listen! "O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; for His lovingkindness endureth for ever" - four times repeated at the very beginning of the Psalm, and then added as the crown at the end. It is a new Psalm on resurrection ground. So the Psalm, to begin with, is one of life out of death.
Release From Bondage
And then quite clearly it is one of release from bondage. These people are so rejoicing in this aspect of their position by the lovingkindness of the Lord, that they are reminded of their earliest great deliverance, and you will see here in the Psalm a reference to the great deliverance from Egypt, and a quotation from the Book of Exodus. They bring the two together - deliverance from Egypt and deliverance from Babylon - and the deliverance from Egypt is always, in the Scripture, termed deliverance "out of the house of bondage." The Psalm, then, is the Psalm of release from bondage.
Now, bringing that into the rebuilding of the second Temple, you can see how the remnant were straitened, were pressed, by the nations represented by these people who had been brought into Samaria. What a time Nehemiah had from these people in building the wall! he was pressed on every side! What a time Ezra had! How those prophets suffered! The work was held up for more than a decade by reason of this opposition and adversity all around. But the point is that the Temple was built and finished and dedicated, and this Psalm was sung at the Passover which followed the dedication. It says: 'Let men do their worst, let them oppress from every side, let them oppose as they will. The thing is done: the Lord has done it in spite of everything, and we are out.'
(continued with # 3 - (From Limitation to Enlargement)