Psalm 114 – The Mighty Presence of God Delivers His People from Egypt
Charles Spurgeon had high praise for Psalm 114, the second in the series of psalms known as the Egyptian Hallel and sung as part of Israel’s Passover ceremony: “This sublime SONG OF THE EXODUS is one and indivisible. True poetry has here reached its climax: no human mind has ever been able to equal, much less to excel, the grandeur of this psalm.”
A. Introduction: God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt.
1. (1) Delivered from a foreign land.
When Israel went out of Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
a. When Israel went out of Egypt: Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was the central act of redemption under the Old Covenant. It was to be constantly remembered and celebrated, and this song joins in the celebration.
i. For those who are under the New Covenant in Jesus, the work of Jesus at the cross and empty tomb becomes the central act of redemption. We are likewise called to constantly remember and celebrate what God did to set us free by dying on the cross for us.
b. The house of Jacob from a people of strange language: The emphasis is on the idea that Israel did not belong in Egypt. Though they lived there for some 400 years, it was never their home. In a similar way, this world is a place of a people of strange language for all whom God redeems.
i. “The reference to the ‘foreign tongue’ evokes the association with oppression (cf. Isaiah 28:11; Jeremiah 5:15) and is synonymous with ‘the house of bondage’ (cf. Exodus 20:2).” (VanGemeren)
2 (2) Delivered to be His dwelling place and His servants.
Judah became His sanctuary,
And Israel His dominion.
a. Judah became His sanctuary: The leading tribe of Israel (Judah) represented the whole nation which became the dwelling place of God (His sanctuary). The godly in Israel always understood that God’s dwelling in the tabernacle or temple was only symbolic of His presence in His people.
i. “There is a dramatic change of status between the first verse and the second. The group of aliens, their isolation increased by the strange language that surrounded them, is now viewed in relation not to man but to God.” (Kidner)
ii. “Judah he mentions as the chief of all the tribes, not only in number and power, but also in dignity, in which the kingdom was to be seated, Genesis 49:10, etc., as at this time it actually was, and from which the Messiah was to spring.” (Poole)
iii. “They are two names [Judah and Israel] for the one people that came out of Egypt at the exodus. This one people is declared to be both God’s sanctuary and God’s kingdom.” (Boice)
b. And Israel His dominion: Any place God dwells, He dominates. God’s desire to make Israel His sanctuary was so they could honor Him as Lord and Master, not merely as a helper or mascot.
B. The great works of God in delivering Israel from Egypt.
1. (3-6) God’s authority over the waters and the mountains.
The sea saw it and fled;
Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
The little hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you fled?
O Jordan, that you turned back?
O mountains, that you skipped like rams?
O little hills, like lambs?
a. The sea saw it and fled: As in other places in Hebrew poetry, the psalmist personified nature and described it as responding to God in fear or reverence. Here he mentioned the parting of waters at both the Red Sea and the Jordan River, at the beginning and end of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land.
i. “Nature recognised His presence and obeyed His will. The sea fled, Jordan was driven back, mountains and little hills were moved.” (Morgan)
ii. “If the divine presence hath such an effect upon inanimate matter, how ought it to operate on rational and accountable beings?” (Horne)
b. Jordan turned back: The psalmist gives a beautiful and powerful picture. When these waters divided, they simply responded to the awesome presence of the Lord. The sense is, “What else could they do?”
i. “The poet does not sing of the suspension of natural laws, or of a singular phenomenon not readily to be explained; but to him the presence of God with his people is everything, and in his lofty song he tells how the river was driven back because the Lord was there.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “It is noticeable that the Exodus is thought of in its completeness; not only escape from Egypt, but entrance to the land, for both Sea and Jordan are seen as passed.” (Morgan)
iii. Spurgeon saw spiritual significance in this combination of the start of the Exodus and the end of it: “The division of the sea and the drying up of the river are placed together though forty years intervened, because they were the opening and closing scenes of one great event. We may thus unite by faith our new birth and our departure out of the world into the promised inheritance…. It is all one and the same deliverance, and the beginning ensures the end.”
c. The mountains skipped like rams: This probably has reference to the strong earthquakes and similar phenomena that happened at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-20) when God manifested His presence there. They shook and “skipped” like sheep.
i. “Men fear the mountains, but the mountains tremble before the Lord.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The idea of skipped like rams carries also the thought of joy. We might say creation was happy God brought this deliverance to His people. “Truly Yahweh appeared to Israel and established his kingdom in Israel. That is why nature as it were responded with a twofold response: fear and great joy.” (VanGemeren)
d. What ails you, O sea: The psalmist challenged both the sea and the mountains. They were powerless to stand against the mighty presence of God. It’s even more foolish to think that mankind (either individually or together) can stand against God’s mighty presence.
i. “Such speeches directed to [inanimate objects] are very frequent, both in Scripture and in other authors, and especially in poetical writings, such as this.” (Poole)
ii. “God has come nearer to us than ever he did to Sinai, or to Jordan, for he has assumed our nature, and yet the masses of mankind are neither driven back from their sins, nor moved in the paths of obedience.” (Spurgeon)
2. (7-8) Calling the earth to honor the Lord.
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a fountain of waters.
a. Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord: The psalmist called upon all the earth to honor Adonai in His mighty presence. The God of Jacob is more than a local deity; He is God of all the earth.
i. Psalm 114:7 is the first time in this psalm that God is referred to by any name or title (Lord [Adonai] and God of Jacob). Up to this point, the psalmist has asked questions: Who is it? What did it? “The author must have been having fun as he wrote, knowing the answer and knowing we know the answer too, but holding it off. What could have caused the sea to part, the river to turn back, and the hills to tremble? he asks. For twelve lines he has allowed our interest to build for dramatic effect.” (Boice)
ii. Morgan linked the idea of tremble to labor pains in birth. “When Jehovah, acting as Sovereign Lord, and in His might thus convulsed Nature, it was that a nation might be born.” (Morgan)
b. Who turned the rock into a pool of waters: The psalmist remembered one more event which demonstrated God’s power over creation during the Exodus years – when God brought forth water for His people from the rock and the hardened flint. This assured the people of God that His mighty presence works for them, not against them.
i. As Psalm 113 closed with God’s compassion on the barren woman, this psalm closes with God’s compassion on thirsty Israel. His great power and might are not merely for the dividing of waters and the shaking of mountains. His majestic might brings blessing to His people one by one.
ii. The flint into a fountain of waters: “This is a miracle which we all need to have wrought in our experience. Our heart is flint, our eyes are dry, our souls fail to respond with tears and regrets to the love of the Pierced One, and to the indictment that charges us with His death.” (Meyer)
iii. Psalm 114 ends without giving any specific instruction to the people of God, but simply declares His great works. “He has no word of ‘moral,’ no application, counsel, warning, or encouragement to give. Whoso will can draw these. Enough for him to lift his soaring song, and to check it into silence in the midst of its full music.” (Maclaren)
iv. We again remind ourselves that Jesus probably sang this psalm together with His disciples on the night He was betrayed and arrested (Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26). He would grant the people of God a greater deliverance than Israel out of Egypt. In that work all nature would be shaken (Matthew 27:45, 51).
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org