Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This exquisite little poem treats a familiar subject with consummate artistic skill and singular freshness and force. For perfection of form and dramatic vividness it is almost if not quite unrivalled in the Psalter. It consists of four stanzas of two verses each. In each stanza one dominant thought is presented in the fewest but most expressive words; and in each verse the law of parallelism (Introd. p. lxi) is strictly observed.
i. The Exodus from Egypt was the birthday of Israel as the people of Jehovah (Psalm 114:1-2).
ii. Miracles marked their progress. Natural obstacles voluntarily made way for them: the solid mountains trembled (Psalm 114:3-4).
iii. And why? The past becomes present to the poet’s mind, and he challenges Nature for the reason (Psalm 114:5-6).
iv. It was before its Lord and Master that earth trembled then. But instead of answering the question directly he answers it by implication, bidding earth tremble still as it trembled then before the Almighty God, Who can transform its most stubborn elements for the service of His people (Psalm 114:7-8).
The Psalm belongs to the period of the Return. The deliverance of Israel from Babylon was a second Exodus, a new birth of the nation. At such a time it was natural to dwell on the great memories of the past as an encouragement for the present and the future. It is a companion and sequel to Psalms 113, and may have been written by the same author. Psalms 113 celebrates Jehovah s condescending love in helping the afflicted: Psalms 114 recalls the most signal instance of it in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Both Psalms may have been composed for use at the Passover, and not merely adopted for such use.
 The final î which is characteristic of Psalms 113 appears in Psalm 114:8, together with a similar final ô.
Dante places this Psalm in the mouth of the spirits on their passage to Purgatory (Purg. c. 2. 46), interpreting it mystically of the exodus of the soul from the bondage of the flesh into the rest of God. Upon this interpretation also rests its use from the sixth century onward in the Western Church in the last offices for the dying and at the burial of the dead. It is most fitly appointed as a Proper Psalm for Easter Day, not only because it formed part of the Hallel, but because the deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt which it celebrates was typical of the greater deliverance from the bondage of sin, which was wrought through Christ’s Resurrection.
The LXX, perhaps rightly, transfers the Hallelujah from the end of Psalms 113 to the beginning of this Ps.
When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;1. When Israel went forth out of Egypt] LXX ἐν ἐξόδῳ Ἰσραὴλ ἐξ Αἰγύπτου, In the exodus of Israel from Egypt; Vulg. In exitu Israel.
a people of strange language] The Egyptian language was unintelligible to Israelites (Genesis 42:23). In the ancient world difference of language emphasised difference of race; and a stranger was presumably an enemy. The tyranny of oppressors seemed to be aggravated by the barrier which difference of language placed between them and their victims. Cp. Deuteronomy 28:49; Isaiah 28:11; Isaiah 33:19. The Greek work barbăros (used by the LXX here) which originally meant simply a foreigner as one who spoke unintelligibly came gradually to bear the modern sense of barbarous.
1, 2. When Jehovah brought Israel out of Egypt He separated them from all other nations to be a holy people over which He Himself designed to rule.
Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.2. Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion (R.V.).
The division of the lines is rhythmical not logical. Israel became Jehovah’s sanctuary and dominion. No contrast is intended between Judah and Israel, as though one was preeminent as the centre of religious life, the other as the chief civil power, but for the sake of the parallelism the whole nation is designated by its two principal divisions in later times as in 1 Kings 4:20, and often. By His act of Redemption Jehovah consecrated it to be His dwelling place, and marked His choice of it as His kingdom. See the fundamental passage in Exodus 19:3-6; and cp. Exodus 15:13; Exodus 15:16; Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 7:6 ff; Deuteronomy 32:9 ff.; 1 Kings 8:51; Hosea 13:4; Amos 3:1-2; Jeremiah 2:2-3 : &c.
It is commonly noted as an indication of the poet’s art that the simple pronoun His is used, and the name of God not introduced till Psalm 114:7, as though to excite the reader’s curiosity. The suggestion is fanciful. “The whole of the preceding Psalm had been saying who the object of their praise was” (Kay); and the two Psalms were probably intended to be used liturgically together, as we know they actually were used. Moreover a Hallelujah preceded the Psalm as in the LXX, and supplied the antecedent for the pronoun.
The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.3. The sea saw and fled;
The Jordan turned backwards.
In the parallel passages Psalm 77:16; Habakkuk 3:10, God is the object of the verb saw. But here the object is significantly left unexpressed. The whole spectacle of Israel’s triumphant Exodus is meant. The Red Sea and the Jordan are personified, and represented as hastening to withdraw the barriers they opposed to Israel’s exit from Egypt and entrance into Canaan. Awestruck Nature recognised and obeyed its Master’s Will.
3, 4. The wonders of the Exodus from Egypt and the Entry into Canaan.
The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.4. A poetical description of the earthquake which accompanied the giving of the Law at Sinai (Exodus 19:18; cp. Jdg 5:4; Psalm 68:8). For the figure cp. Psalm 29:6.
What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?5, 6. The past becomes present to the poet’s mind, and he challenges Nature to explain its behaviour.
The A.V. misses the vividness of the Hebrew tenses. Render:
What aileth thee, thou sea, that thou fleest?
Thou Jordan, that thou turnest back?
Ye mountains, that ye skip like rams?
Ye hills, like young sheep?
Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?
Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;7. Cp. Psalm 97:4-5. The Lord (Âdôn) denotes Jehovah as the Ruler of the world. He it is and no other Who is the God of Jacob.
7, 8. It was at Jehovah’s presence that earth trembled then; but instead of a formal answer the poet’s words take a wider range, and he bids earth tremble still at the presence of its Lord, Who proves His sovereignty by transforming its most stubborn elements for the benefit of His people.
Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.8. Which turned &c.] Who turneth the rock into a pool of water. The participle in the Heb. is independent of time. It denotes not merely a historic fact but an attribute expressed in the terms of historic fact. He Who made water flow from the rock in Rephidim and the cliff in Kadesh (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:8 ff.; cp. Psalm 78:15-16; Psalm 78:20) can still provide streams of blessing for His people. The verse combines reminiscences of Isaiah 41:18 (‘pool of water,’ ‘fountain’), and Deuteronomy 8:15 (‘flint’): cp. Psalm 107:35.