George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 114

1. Structure and Historical Background

This psalm is a homogeneous paragraph. Israel’s Exodus from Egypt and wilderness journey are traceable in every verse. Probably it was be-cause of the Passover associations that Hezekiah included it in his compilation. The destruction at Passover of the Assyrians by a great Theophany, the return of the captives, and the uprising of a battered nation are the overtones to be detected here. Isaiah has many allusions to this theme (10:24-27; 11:11,15; 19:1,3,5,11,16; 35:9,10; 41:17,18; 43:2-4, 19-21; 48:21; 49:9-12; 51:9,10; 63:11,12; 64:1-3), as do other “Isaiah/Hezekiah” psalms (44:1-3; 66:6; 74:13,14; 77:13-20; 80:1-8; 81:5-7).

2. Passover

Of all the psalms in the “Hallel”, this one is most obviously relevant to the Passover (see Par. 1). There is a strong underlying message: See what happened when Israel trusted in God’s deliverance and guidance! This is what the nation can expect yet again when there is faithful Passover observance (2 Chron. 30). It may be taken as certain that in his later years Hezekiah maintained his pressure on the estranged northern tribes (note the division of “Judah/Israel” in v. 2) to intensify their renewed allegiance to the temple in Jerusalem. That Passover of 2 Chronicles 30 would not be a one-time (English “one-off”!) affair.

3. Details

The house of Jacob. This phrase is an indirect reminder of how the mind of Jacob was set on the fulfillment of the promise made to him at Luz/Bethel (“the house of God”) — that is, of his inheritance of the Land (Gen. 28:13,14,19; 48:3,4).

From a people of strange (foreign: NIV) language (cp. Psa. 81:5; Deut. 28:49). Not only the Egyptians (Gen. 42:23), but also the Assyrians are so described in Isa. 33:19: “a people of deeper speech than thou canst perceive; of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand” (cp. Isa 28:11). If God could rout the Egyptians, He could also deal with the Assyrians.

The LXX has barbaros; in God’s eyes this oldest and proudest civilization in the world was a “barbarian” one — not just because their language was incomprehensible to the Israelites, but especially because in that language there was no knowledge or confession of the God of Israel. (With this bleak picture contrast the future for all nations, including Egypt and Assyria, beautifully depicted in Isa. 19:18,22-25; Zeph. 3:9; Zech. 14:9).
Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion. The crucial event depicted here was the establishing of God’s covenant with the whole nation of Israel at Sinai, and the construction of the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle to house it. From the earliest days all segments of the nation were closely associated in the worship of their God, and so it must be in later days. There were (and are) no “lost ten tribes”!

His sanctuary. The holy place, where God will dwell, is not a mere building; it can be (and is) a special people in whom He will dwell: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exod. 19:6; cp. 1 Pet. 2:9).
The sea saw it, and fled (Exod. 14:21; Psa. 77:16): Jordan was driven back. Foes “flee” at the coming of a mightier force! The beginning and end of the wilderness journey were marked by unmistakable phenomena, emphasizing God’s control not only of Nature but also of all His people’s affairs. The psalm treats these well-remembered details in vivid figurative fashion.
The mountains skipped (s.w. “danced” in Eccl. 3:4) like rams (Psa. 29:6; 68:16; Hab. 3:10). In general, earthquakes accompany awesome manifestations of God (Exod. 19:18; Judg. 5:4; Psa. 77:18; Isa. 2:10-22; Jer. 4:24; Ezek. 38:20; Joel 3:16; Amos 9:1,5; Zech. 14:4; Rev. 6:12; 11:19; 16:18).

At the back of this impressive simile, of rams frolicking in the fields, there is a remarkable factual addition to the Exodus history. What brought about the dividing of the waters of the Red Sea? Exod. 14:21 answers: God’s operation of a strong east wind. But this verse says: Earthquake (cp. “Tremble” in v. 7 here)! And the same must then have been true at the crossing of Jordan (Josh. 3:16,17). (There may be reference here to the earthquake on mount Sinai — Exod. 19:18; but this psalm as a whole is plainly concentrating on the passages through the Red Sea and the Jordan.) And the fall of the walls of Jericho (6:5,20) suggests a renewal of seismic phenomena. While this may seem like a too-“natural” explanation, the question remains for any would-be skeptic: Why did these seemingly “natural” causes operate just when and where and how they were needed?
What ailed thee? Compare the question of Psa. 68:16.
Tremble, thou earth (eretz = Land of Israel), at the presence of the Lord (cp. Rev. 20:11). Here is the explanation of these mighty works. It was not just the presence of the Ark of the Lord, but of the Lord Himself. “Tremble” (Hebrew chuwl) is a word associated with the labors of childbirth (Psa. 29:8,9; 77:16; Isa. 13:8; 23:4,5; 26:17,18; 45:10; 54:1; 66:7,8; Mic. 4:10). The Land of Israel was “travailing” to bring forth the new nation of God’s people in its midst!

The God (Elohim) of Jacob. Elohim here suggests angelic activity (cp. Josh. 5:13-15; Gen. 28:12). And “Jacob” means “supplanter” — the twelve tribes of Jacob were about to take over the Promised Land and supplant the ten nations that dwelt there (Gen. 15:18-21)!
Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters (Exod. 17:6; Num. 20:11; Deut. 8:15; 32:13; Psa. 78:15; 105:41; 107:35). This was performed not only at the beginning and end of the wilderness journey, but also according to need during the hardship of the journey. Is this verse a vivid hyper-bole, or did Moses actually smite the rock at just such a spot as would allow the water to accumulate and form a pool?

4. Messianic reference

The New Testament uses the language of the Exodus to describe the salvation of the New Israel (Rev. 7:9-17, esp. vv. 16,17; cp. Isa. 49:10). Because of v. 8 here, this psalm was sung in the temple court on the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the day when the ceremony of water-pouring at the base of the altar was discontinued (H.A. Whittaker, Studies in the Gospels, pp. 387, 388). It was on that day and with reference to the special ceremony and to the Smitten Rock that Jesus cried out in his great open-air meeting in the temple court:

“If any man thirst let him come unto me: and he that believeth, let him drink, as the Scripture hath said, ‘Out of his belly [i.e., from Christ, the antitypical Smitten Rock] shall flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:37,38; cp. 4:14; Zech. 13:1; 14:8; 1 Cor. 10:3,4; John 9:34; Ezek. 47:1-12; Rev. 22:1).

Also, Revelation 11:15-19 has earthquake and the Ark of the covenant at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, as in v. 7 here and at the crossing of Jordan and the fall of Jericho.

5. Postscript

When Israel, freed from Pharaoh’s hand,
Left the proud tyrant and his land,
The tribes with cheerful homage owned
Their King; in Judah was He ’throned.

Across the deep their journey lay,
The deep divides to make them way;
The streams of Jordan saw, and fled
With backward current to their head.

The mountains shook like frightened sheep,
Like lambs the little hillocks leap;
Not Sinai on her base could stand,
Conscious of sovereign power at hand.

What power could make the deep divide?
Make Jordan backward roll its tide?
Why did ye leap, ye little hills?
And whence the fright than Sinai feels?

Let every mountain, every flood,
Retire, and know the approaching God,
The King of Israel! see Him here:
Tremble, thou earth, adore and fear.

He thunders — and all nature mourns;
The rock to standing pools He turns;
Flints spring with fountains at His word,
And fires and seas confess their Lord.

Isaac Watts
Next Next Next