May 13: Psalm 114
The earth-shaking exodus
Long meter 88.88 Truro (Lift up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates), p. 89
Duke Street (Jesus Shall Reign), p. 80
Old 100th (Doxology), p. 99
Tallis Canon, p. 109
This psalm is a celebration of the Exodus-—it is one of the Hallel psalms that was sung by the Jews during the Passover Feast. But it doesn’t just reflect upon the Exodus alone; when God’s hand is extended to deliver, the entire creation arises and everything is shaken. In this psalm, the Red Sea and Jordan River are both turned back, the mountains skip like rams, and the rocks burst forth with water. Everything that is normal is upturned; everything in His path is shaken (Hebrews 12:26-29).
When Isr’el had from Egypt gone, Jacob from men of speech unknown;
Then Judah was His holy place, and His dominion Isr’el’s race.
The sea was frightened, saw and fled; the Jordan river filled with dread;
The lofty mountains skipped like rams, and all the little hills like lambs.
What ailed you, that you fled, O sea? O Jordan, that you back did flee?
You mountains, that you skipped like rams? And all you little hills like lambs?
O tremble, earth! The Lord is near: before the God of Jacob, fear;
Who from the rock did water bring, and made the flint a waterspring.
From the perspective of style, this psalm is a perfect illustration of Hebraic parallelism, a feature found in so much of the Bible’s poetry and the aphorisms of its wisdom literature. The references to Egypt/barbarous people, mountains/hills, stone/flint, rams/lambs, sanctuary/domain, are synonymous parallels, in that they are roughly repetitious. They serve the function of slowing down our prayer, making us take a calmer, more contemplative pace, forcing the mind to a second and more serious look at the line, prolonging our prayer and obliging us not to go rushing off somewhere. There are two events described in this psalm, the turning back of the Red Sea at the Exodus, and the identical phenomenon of the Jordan River at Israel’s entrance into Canaan. These two occasions form the psalm’s twin poles, Israel’s departure from Egypt and her entrance into the Promised Land. Between these two events lie the giving of the Law and the forty years’ wandering of God’s people in the wilderness. Whereas the two poles of that crucial period, the Red Sea and the Jordan, are marked by God’s removal of the waters from their native settings, the time in between them is marked by God’s miraculously giving water for His people wandering through the dry sands of the desert. God, in short, reverses the expected course of things. He makes wet places dry, and dry places wet. Everything is set on its head. It is this complete dominion of the Lord that is manifested in His great acts of redemption. (Reardon, p. 225-226)