PRAISING GOD FOR ISRAEL'S DELIVERANCE FROM EGYPT
This is one of the Hallel Psalms, being the second hymn always sung by the Jews at the beginning of various solemn feasts. (See the discussion of this in the previous chapter.) The theme here is God's deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Considering the brevity of the psalm, quite a number of the features of that deliverance are included.
"It is possible that in this psalm Israel, returned from Babylon, is looking back to the earlier exodus, and thrilling with the great thought that the old past lives again in the present. Such a historical parallel would have ministered courage and hope to Israel."F1
The very fact that the bondage of the Hebrew Children in Egypt is recognized in the New Testament as an eloquent type of sin, and that their deliverance from that slavery is seen as a type of how men, even today, are saved, endows this psalm with unusual interest.
The purpose of the psalm, stated by Leupold, was, "To encourage the downhearted people who had come back home and were encountering nothing except difficulties and disappointments."F2
The Text of the Psalm
When Israel went forth out of Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language;
Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
The sea saw it and fled;
The Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
The little hills like lambs.
What ailest thee, O thou sea, that thou fleest?
Thou Jordan that thou turnest back?
Ye mountains that ye skip like rams;
Ye little hills like lambs?
Tremble, thou 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."
When Israel went forth out of Egypt, The house of Jacob from a people of strange language; Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea saw it, and fled; The Jordan was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams, The little hills like lambs. What aileth thee, O thou sea, that thou fleest? Thou Jordan, that thou turnest back? Ye mountains, that ye skip like rams; Ye little hills, like lambs? Tremble, thou 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.
(Psalms 114:1). Note here that the name Jacob here is used as the name of all of Israel.
(Psalms 114:2). Judah and Israel here do not refer to the two parts of the divided kingdom; after the return, Judah was regarded as the outstanding tribe; and Israel was still the common name for the whole nation.F3
Judah became his sanctuary. Israel his dominion
(Psalms 114:2). It is incorrect to make the word when in Ps. 114:1 mean that the nation of Israel became God's sanctuary and dominion at a point in time, when they came out of Egypt. Some have made that very mistake. The chosen people, as God's sanctuary and dominion, date back to the patriarchs, as the very names Judah, and Israel most certainly indicate.
The sea saw it and fled, the Jordan was driven back
(Psalms 114:3). These are obvious references to the Red Sea crossing and to the crossing of the Jordan river on dry land at the very time when the Jordan was at flood stage! No greater wonders ever occurred in the history of God's dealings with Israel.
It is not necessary to comment upon those marvelous events here, because we devoted many pages to full discussions of both events in Vol. 2 of my Commentaries on the Pentateuch (exodus), pp. 190-198, and in the commentary on Joshua, pp. 31-34.
The mountains skipped like rams; the little hills like lambs
(Psalms 114:4). This is a metaphorical reference to the wonders that occurred at Sinai where God delivered to Israel the Decalogue, ratified with them the covenant, and gave instructions for the construction of the tabernacle.
What ailest thee, O thou sea?. thou Jordan? ... ye mountains? ... ye little hills?
(Psalms 114:5-6). Here, in a figure of speech called `apostrophe,' the psalmist addresses the sea, the Jordan, the mountains and hills, Inquiring of them for what reason they had forsaken their nature and had done such strange things.F4
Thou fleest. thou turnest back ... ye skip like rams, etc
(Psalms 114:5-6). The use of the present tense throughout this passage suggests that the psalmist is addressing the sea, the Jordan, the mountains and the hills as if they were present, and as if he could actually see them doing such amazing things contrary to nature.
The answer to the question, "What ailest thee?" is not stated as bluntly as the question; but it is here, nevertheless. That answer, stated in the Ps. 114:7, is, "All those mighty wonders are due to the presence of God."
Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob
(Psalms 114:7). Here indeed is the answer as to why the mountains skipped, the little hills frolicked like lambs, the Red Sea fled before Israel, and why the Jordan river at flood stage suddenly presented Israel with a dry-land crossing. It was all due to the presence of God. All nature obeys His voice. He spoke, and great wonders ensued.
Who turned the rock into a pool of water
(Psalms 114:8). This, of course, is a remembrance of the waters of Meribah. This is discussed fully in my commentary on Exodus, pp. 230-233. Twice at Meribah and once at Marah, the water problem was solved for Israel by three of God's most marvelous miracles.
Footnotes for Psalms 114
1: Alexander Maclaren, Vol. III, p. 210.
2: H. C. Leupold, p. 793.
4: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-C, p. 56.