Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;The Response of the Environment
Psalm 114:1; Psalm 114:4
I. It is said that man is affected by his environment. It is true; but it is equally true that man's environment is affected by him. We are influenced by the sights and sounds around us; but it is no less certain that the sights and sounds around us are influenced by us. In this passage we have an incident of the latter kind. When Israel went out of Egypt there was a change in her environment. 'The mountains skipped.' She transferred to the things around her the impression of her own joy. She was inwardly leaping and dancing, and, as in a mirror, she saw the mountains leaping and dancing too. Why the mountains? Why not the brooks, the streams, the rivers? Is not the idea of motion more suitable to these? Certainly; therefore the Psalmist, because he was a poet, did not select them. He selected the most unlikely things—the mountains. The mountains naturally suggest anything but dancing. They suggest immobility, steadfastness, iron determination to be affected by nothing. And that is just where the dramatic power of this poet comes in. He sees the joy of the soul infecting the most stolid objects in the world—the sober, grave, serious mountains. If these could be made to dance to the rhythm of the heart, no part of nature could possibly remain unmoved.
II. I regard it as a fine stroke of literary genius that, in seeking a partner for the dance of the spirits, the Psalmist should have chosen, not the streams, but the mountains. He wants to show how utterly dependent is the aspect of Nature on the state of the heart, even where the aspect of Nature seems most fixed and stereotyped. He tells how in the joy of the spirit even the stable mountains cannot keep still to the eye of the beholder, but leap and bound and vibrate to the pulse of the gladdened soul.
III. Have you not felt this power of joy over prosaic things. Have you not felt how cold has lost its chillness, how rain has lost its dreariness, how wind has lost its bitterness, when the heart was young. Have you not felt how the long way became short, how the rough road became smooth, how the muddy path became clean, when the heart was young. The Psalmist was right when he said that when the soul is emancipated from its Egypt the very mountains leap.
IV. Lord, Thou hast said, 'I go to prepare a place for you'. Yes, and the preparation must be rather in me than in the place. Any place will be joyous if my heart be young. When my heart grows old I get weary of localities; I migrate from spot to spot, I flit from flower to flower, I sigh for the wings of a dove to break the monotony of my rest. But that is because my heart is not leaping. If my heart would leap everything would leap—the very mountains. It is not new objects I want; it is renewed joy in them. Revive the joy of my heart, O Lord! make my spirit young again! Then shall the waves resound once more; then shall the mountains leap as they did at morning's glow.
—G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 61.
References.—CXIV. 3.—T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 172. CXIV.—International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 390. CXV. 2, 3.—J. J. Ingram, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 304.
Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.
The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.
What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?
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;
Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.