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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 114

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-8


A PSALM of reminiscence, designed to encourage the exiles on their return from Babylon, during their "day of small things" (Zechariah 4:10; comp. Ezra 3:12). If God had done so much for them when he brought them out of Egypt, if such glorious prodigies had marked that epoch, might they not be sure that his hand would be stretched out for them now? Formally, the psalm is more like a modern poem than most. It divides into four stanzas of four lines each, very evenly balanced, and perfect in its metrical arrangement. "The psalm is evidently by a skilled artist" (Cheyne).

Psalms 114:1

When Israel went out of Egypt; literally, at the going forth of Israel from Egypt; ἐν ἐξόδῳ Ἰσράηλ, LXX. The "going forth from Egypt" was the only thing parallel in Israelitish history to the going forth from Babylon. The nation should learn what to expect in the future by what occurred in the past. The house of Jacob (compare the more common "house of Israel," Psalms 98:3; Psalms 115:12; Psalms 135:19) from a people of strange language; literally, from a stammering people; but a people of foreign speech is no doubt meant.

Psalms 114:2

Judah was his sanctuary; or "became his sanctuary;" Judah—i.e. the land of Judah—received the special honor of being chosen for the seat of God's sanctuary. And Israel his dominion. While all the rest of Israel was accepted as constituting his kingdom or dominion. The whole people came under God's special protection.

Psalms 114:3

The sea saw it, and fled. "The sea" is the Red Sea. It "looked," and saw God leading his people (Exodus 14:19-24), and then at once "fled," and left a dry channel as "a way for the ransomed to pass over." Jordan (literally, the Jordan) was driven back (comp. Joshua 3:13-17). These two marvels "marked respectively the beginning and the end of Israel's long journey" (Cheyne). They were parallel facts, and are naturally alluded to together (comp. Habakkuk 3:8).

Psalms 114:4

The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs. The poet sees in the earthquake that shook Sinai (Exodus 19:18) a general commotion of the entire region, in which both the greater and the lesser elevations take part (comp. Psalms 29:6; Psalms 68:8, Psalms 68:16).

Psalms 114:5, Psalms 114:6

What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou filledest thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back t. ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs? Most poetically, the psalmist apostrophizes the sea, the Jordan, the mountains, and the lesser hills, inquiring of them for what reason they had forsaken their nature and done such strange things; or rather, addressing them as present, and as if the scenes were being enacted before his eyes, and asking why they are so strangely employed—what is causing the commotion and disturbance (see the Revised Version, where the present tense is used throughout the two verses).

Psalms 114:7

Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord. The answer is given, but only indirectly given, in these words. Nothing less than "the presence of the Lord"—a miraculous and abnormal presence—can have produced the strange phenomena. The earth has felt the presence of God, and has trembled, and has done right to tremble; but Israel may take comfort from the theophany, for it is a manifestation on her behalf. The presence that has made itself felt is the presence of the God of Jacob—the God who watches over Jacob, and will succor and protect him constantly.

Psalms 114:8

Which turned the rook into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters (see Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11). Miracles of mercy, showing at once God's almightiness and his care for Israel.


Psalms 114:1-8

God with us.

This psalm, which is so full of fine poetry, is also charged with spiritual suggestiveness. In the few verses of which it is composed, it brings before us the nearness of God to us, and the power he is exerting on us. We have—

I. HIS DWELLING-PLACE IN US. "Judah was his sanctuary" (Psalms 114:2). God dwelt in Judah in a sense in which he dwelt nowhere else. There was his manifested presence, and thither the tribes came up when they wanted to offer sacrifice, to make supplication, to hold high and happy fellowship. It was the place of his abode. Now God dwells not merely with, but in, his people. We are "the habitation of God through the Spirit." Our human hearts are his earthly home. To the pure, obedient, believing heart that seeks his presence (see Luke 11:13) God will come, and in that heart he will abide. "If any man love me … we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23).

II. HIS INHERITANCE IN US. "Israel was his dominion" (Psalms 114:2). The kingdom of Israel, i.e. the people who dwelt within it, were God's inheritance (see Psalms 94:5; Jeremiah 2:7). If God "rejoices in his works," in those things which he made and "pronounced good," much more does he rejoice in his own children—in those who know, who worship, who trust, who love, who serve, him. More precious than all fruitful fields, than "all the cedars of Lebanon," is one human heart that, redeemed by his Son and renewed by his Spirit, reciprocates his Fatherly affection, is gladly subject to his will, and labors heartily in his cause. How great, then, is his inheritance in all his people, in all those of every age and beneath every sky who have returned to him, and who are rejoicing in him! Are we such, in spirit, in conversation, in life, that our God can find a part of his Divine heritage in us.

III. HIS ENERGIZING PRESENCE. (Psalms 114:3-7.) What was it that moved the mountains, that rolled back the river that made the waters of the sea to stand up like a wall? It was the operative presence of Cod himself; it was the working of the unseen hand. What is it now that makes the tides of the ocean to keep their time, the streams and the rivers to fertilize the soil through which they flow, the seed to germinate in the soil, the corn and the fruit to ripen in the sun? When we have reached the ultimate physical cause, we have not obtained the explanation that we seek. We come finally to the great fact of God's presence, of the energizing power which he supplies, without which there could be no life, no growth, no motion, no result. What the psalmist says in fine poetic language, our intelligent piety confirms; the answer to our questions How? and Whence? is this—The presence of the Lord, "without whom nothing can be made that is made." "The Lord of hosts is with us;" "My Father worketh."

IV. HIS CONVERTING POWER. (Psalms 114:8.) The "turning of the rock into standing water" was a Divine, a wonderful action. But the spiritual and the supernatural are as Divine as the miraculous. Equally wonderful as, and more gracious and more benignant than, such physical transformation is the changing of the flinty heart into the water of penitence, into the fountain of piety and purity. God is doing daily, through his people, in his Churches, that which "calls for loudest songs of praise." But this, his greatest work, is not on rock, or soil, or sea, or river: it is on the hard tablet of the human heart, and on the sinful habits of the human life.


Psalms 114:1-8

The soul's exodus.

The psalm is a wonderfully vivid and beautiful description of the deliverance of God's people from Egypt. In all ages of the Church this has been looked upon as the pattern and type of the soul's deliverance by the redemption of Christ. Much of that history is suggested here. We are shown—


1. From Egypt, the true type of the world. At first so pleasant, so prosperous, so Goshen-like, so free from care, life so easy and secure.

2. But at length its true character is revealed. They are a strange—a barbarous, or tyrant, so the word is variously rendered—people. And the redeemed soul has found that out.


1. There was the indwelling of God. The soul became his shrine. He was worshipped, beloved, trusted day by day.

2. There was willing obedience. God was the Lord of their life. The soul becomes the dominion, the domain, of God.

3. Things beforehand impossible, happened. (Psalms 114:3, Psalms 114:4.) The sea, symbol of the whole power of spiritual death, saw and fled. "You hath he quickened who were dead," etc. It is a true picture of what takes place at the real conversion of a soul. Old things pass away. The stream and course of life are turned in an opposite direction, as was the Jordan. On and on, rapidly flowing downwards to the Dead Sea, so was it with the Jordan; so is it with the soul till its redemption comes. But then there is a conversion, a complete turning round, in the aims, principles, and motives of the life. The fixed habits and propensities—fixed like the mountains and hills of Sinai—the pride, unbelief, selfishness, love of sin, all which seemed firmly settled in our nature, are shaken, plucked up by the roots. The rock-like heart, so hard and barren and lifeless, becomes transformed as into a standing water, a very fountain of waters (cf. John 7:37, John 7:38). The soul is blessed, and becomes a blessing.

III. HOW IS ALL THIS TO BE EXPLAINED? Men will ask this, and no answer will they find save that it is the presence of the Lord (Psalms 114:5-7). It is the standing miracle of the Christian Church.—S.C.


Psalms 114:2

Man is God's temple.

"Judah became his sanctuary." Though neither the author nor the occasion of this psalm can be definitely known, it clearly belongs to the time of the returned exiles, when the remaking of the nation was the matter most prominent in the interests of the people. It was quite a familiar thing to compare the remaking of the nation with the first making of it; and to get the comforting assurance that God was presiding over the remaking, by realizing, in as forcible a manner as possible, how he had presided over the making. In the making there had indeed been very remarkable, truly miraculous, outward and visible signs of the Divine presence—the dividing of the Red Sea at the beginning, the quaking mountains in the earlier part, the smitten rock and flowing water in the latter part, the divided Jordan at the end. After these signs had fixed their impressions, the people could act as a nation.

I. GOD'S PRESENCE AND POWER WERE THE GLORIES OF THE NATION FROM THE FIRST. This truth was impressed by the marvels which were wrought in connection with their deliverance from Egypt. The plagues were indeed judgments; but they were, even more truly, teachings, sanctifying impressions made upon the people of Israel. They taught them God, and helped them to realize what God with them would involve. The truth was impressed by such signs as dividing the sea; but this only illustrated God's presence as the Ruler, Rewarder, and Judge of the people. From all material signs of the Divine relations, we should rise to discern the far more important moral signs. God himself moulding the national life; God himself directly ruling the moral and religious life of the nation;—these are the marvels of grace and wisdom which the Jews never tired of contemplating.

II. GOD'S PRESENCE AND POWER WERE THE GLORIES OF THE RESTORED NATION. But what a moral advance had been made when men could discern God's working in ordinary providences, and no longer needed miracles of astonishment! To the restored exiles common providences became signs of direct working on their behalf. And they were right in so thinking. God was making things work together to work out the fulfillment of his promise.

III. GOD'S PRESENCE AND POWER ARE THE GLORIES OF THE CHURCH TO-DAY. But we have risen above the reach of the restored exiles. To us God is present and working—not in miraculous act, not specially even in providential orderings, but in the spiritual indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Then we may be reminded that there are conditions of this abiding in us, and that jealousy of our supreme possession is our fitting attitude of mind and feeling.—R.T.

Psalms 114:3, Psalms 114:4

Nature made to serve God's purposes.

These verses are poetical representations of three actual facts which are recorded in the history of God's people. We may see facts in their bare, bald nakedness, or we may see them with the color on them which poetical genius can put. It may be disputed whether bald history or suggestive poetry is really the truer to nature, just as it may be disputed whether the realistic or the idealistic picture is the truer to life. If nature is to suggest thoughts to men, then men only see Nature aright when they know what she says as well as what she is. The poet tells us what Nature says. In these verses we are made to understand that the sea felt God working in it, and yielded to his touch. Jordan felt God working in it, and stopped its flowing. Sinai felt God working in it, and responded with a trembling of reverence and holy joy. The response of Nature is a lesson for man. God would work in his higher powers and his higher spheres; and his response should be more prompt than the hurrying waves, more complete than the check of the river's flowing, and more joyous than the trembling and dances of the divinely honored hills. The psalmist was the moral teacher of his times, and had a definite purpose before him in thus recalling the most impressive events of the national history. His point may be thus briefly stated: Nature does respond to God and serve his purposes,—and man should.

I. NATURE DOES RESPOND TO GOD AND SERVE HIS PURPOSES. This may be illustrated from the usual and the unusual. Pagans peopled the woods and streams and hills with fairies; Wordsworth poetically conceived of Nature as a living being. Religion finds God working out his thought everywhere, and everything responsive to his use. Nature is not God; it is distinct from him. But it is so kin with him that, unhindered, his thought finds expression in it. And so responsive is Nature to God, that it readily yields itself to the unusual, to the miraculous, when these are necessary to God's purposes. Seas will part, rivers will stop, mountains will tremble, in response to him. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."

II. MAN SHOULD RESPOND TO GOD AND SERVE HIS PURPOSES. He should, because he is a part of Nature, and ought to be in harmony with her. But man is a higher being than any thing or being in Nature—a being with a will, a being made in God's image. It is his willing response, it is his loving and obedient outworking of the Divine purposes, that God asks of restored exiles and of us.—R.T.

Psalms 114:8

The natural and the supernatural.

"Which turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters" (Revised Version). Wollaston tells us that "on the north-eastern face of Mount Sinai (Jebel Sufsafeh), in the Wady Shubeib, is a protruding mass of rock, about fifty feet in diameter, much water and weather-worn, and presenting a smooth and striking appearance. It forms a part of the solid granite cliff which rises twelve hundred feet above it. In the lower part of this protuberance is a fissure of a semicircular, or rather horse-shoe, shape, about four feet tong and four inches wide. Oat of this fissure, inside which a small shrub is growing, runs a perpetual stream of the purest spring water, clear as crystal, and of delicious coolness and flavor, which, according to the testimony of the Arabs, has never been known to fail. The water thus flowing out of the very heart of the living rock of Sinai is received into an artificial basin, thence it descends to a succession of small and rudely constructed terraces, where the Bedouins cultivated a few fruit trees and vegetables, and is ultimately absorbed in the gravelly hollow at the base of the mountain." The incident is, no doubt, thus poetically recalled to the mind of the restored exiles, in order to assure them that God, in his power to provide, and his power to meet emergencies, was all that he had ever been; and this suggests a very suitable subject of meditation, which may be very effectively applied to our times and needs. But a less usual topic is suggested by the discovery of what is probably the very spring that Moses brought to light. As our knowledge advances, we are coming more and more fully to apprehend that the natural and the supernatural are inextricably blended in human life, and that in God's working out of his purposes the natural and the super natural are one. See how this is suggested by the smiting of the rock and the result which followed. No one would suggest that God put the water into the rock specially and on purpose for the Israelites. It was there. It was its natural habitat. The fountains of water, the pools into which the waters drain, are always in the rocks. Miners have to be careful lest they let in upon them the floods of waters that are stored in the rocks. Our towns are often supplied with water that is pumped up from the reservoirs of the rocks. It was quite natural for the water to be in the rock. And man brings the water out of the rock by smiting the rock. Just now the workmen of our town have been engaged in tunneling the chalk rock to get a fresh supply of water; and the other day a workman, smiting with his pick, opened a fissure, from which a stream is pouring abundantly. To get water out of the rock by smiting the rock was also quite natural. It is fancy that makes Moses only give the rock a gentle pat. He smote it; on the second occasion he even roughly smote it twice before the fissure opened. So far the provision was natural, and the method of obtaining it also natural. But how evidently the supernatural was blended with the natural! Direct Divine direction fitted the time and the place. No mere human wisdom could have thus immediately discovered the exact spot where the rock would yield to a single smiting, and send forth its treasures. Only a divinely ordered man would think of such a way of relieving the necessities of a caravan. The supernatural character of the incident comes at once to view if we think of the leader of an ordinary caravan in that Sinaitic district going about tapping the rocks, hoping to meet with a fissure in which was a water-store. God directed Moses, and he went straight to the place. And the marvel that grows ever greater to devout souls, as they pass through the experiences of life, is not the mere presence of supernatural forces, but the way in which the super natural blends with the natural, until the deepest feeling is that the natural is lost in the supernatural and God, working everywhere, in everything and through every thing, becomes the most cherished thought. Men make sharp lines of distinction between the natural and the supernatural. When men come experimentally to know what God can do in their own souls and in their own lives, they cease to feel any interest in those sharp lines of distinction, for their sphere is the sphere of God. To them there is no natural. God is in it all, and his presence and actual working makes it all supernatural.R.T.


Psalms 114:1-8

The spiritual exodus.


1. A life of sin is a life of spiritual bondage. (Romans 6:16.)

2. Such a life of bondage brings us into "strange" and unnatural relations. (Psalms 114:1.) Egypt was not the home of the Israelites.


1. We become consecrated temples for the indwelling of God. (Psalms 114:2.) "Judah was his sanctuary."

2. We are kingdoms over which God reigns. "And Israel his dominion."


1. There is a grand revelation of the presence of God. (Psalms 114:7.)

2. A wonderful proclamation of the Law of God. Sinai is shaken by it, and so is the soul of man. Moses said, "I exceedingly fear and quake."

3. There is a revelation of the abundant mercy of God. (Psalms 114:8.) This manifestation of God "turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters."—S.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 114". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/psalms-114.html. 1897.
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