Psalm 114

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2006-04-17 11:13.

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In the opening verse, “Israel” and the “house of Jacob” are parallel expressions. After wrestling with an angel and pleading for a blessing, Jacob had his name changed to Israel. (Genesis 32:24-28) Accordingly, the descendants of Jacob could be spoken of as his “house” or family and “Israel.” (Suggested meanings for “Israel” include: “God contends”; “God strives”; “God fights”; “God perseveres”; “God persists”; “let God persevere”; “let God persist”; “let God contend”; “contender with God”; “perseverer with God,” and “fighter of God.”)

The Egyptians did not speak Hebrew. So, when the Israelites departed from Egypt, they left a people whose language consisted of foreign or alien sounds. Describing the language of the people of Egypt, the Septuagint uses a word (bárbaros) from which the English expression “barbarian” is derived, the repetition of “bar” suggesting babbling, stammering, or unintelligible speaking (as perceived by one who does not understand the language).

Judah and Israel are parallel, with Judah as the dominant tribe representing all Israel (just as “Ephraim” often denotes the entire ten-tribe kingdom). Since the events highlighted in this psalm are those following the exodus from Egypt, the reference to Judah becoming God’s sanctuary probably relates to the camp of Israel becoming his dwelling in a representative sense as manifest by the “column of cloud” by day and the “column of fire” by night. (Exodus 13:21, NAB; Deuteronomy 23:14[15, NAB]) YHWH was with his people, and so they constituted his sanctuary. Because he was the nation’s sovereign, Israel was his dominion.

The psalm does not say whom the sea and the Jordan saw. It could be YHWH, his representative angel, or the people. Based on Exodus 14:19 and Joshua 5:13-15, YHWH’s angel may be regarded as the object of the seeing. (Because the angel is so closely associated with YHWH, he is often referred to as YHWH. [Compare Genesis 18:1-19:1.]) When the Red Sea saw, it fled, parting to permit the Israelites to cross to the other side. The Jordan River turned back, having been stopped from flowing. (Exodus 14:21, 22; Joshua 3:15, 16)

At the time God revealed himself at Mount Sinai, the “whole mountain shook violently.” (Exodus 19:18, NRSV) This violent movement of Sinai’s peaks is likened to the skipping around of rams, and the shaking of the lower elevations is compared to the skipping around of lambs.

The psalmist then raises the question as to why the sea fled, the Jordan turned back, and the mountains and hills skipped around. This was on account of YHWH as revealed in the command for the entire earth or land (not just the higher and lower elevations of Sinai) to tremble when he, the “God of Jacob,” makes his presence manifest. He is the One who in the dry, barren desert provided the Israelites with a pool of water from the rock, a spring of water from the flint. (Exodus 17:5, 6; Numbers 20:11)

Note: Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.