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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 114

Psalms 114

The power of the world in the times immediately after the return from captivity stood constantly against the Church of God, like a raging sea, an overflowing river, a high hill, a bare barren rock. Those who yielded to despair in looking at this view, the Psalmist leads out of the present into the past, when the earth was compelled to humble itself before the God of Israel, the sea and Jordan overflowing all its banks turned back before him, Sinai moved in its firm foundations, the bare rock was made to send forth water, as a type of what is repeated in all ages, and which faith sees coming again into existence now when the circumstances are so similar to those of Israel when they came out of Egypt.

When Israel came out of Egypt, the Lord declared them to be his people by mighty deeds of omnipotence, Psalms 114:1-2. The sea fled, Jordan gave way, mountains moved, Psalms 114:3-4. The Psalmist addresses the sea, &c., and interrogates it as to the cause of this singular terror, Psalms 114:5-6. He answers the question himself: the earth trembled before the Lord, who is the God of Israel, and who caused water to come out from the rock, and salvation from places most unlikely to give salvation to his people, Psalms 114:7-8.

As the preceding Psalm forming the conclusion of the trilogy is wholly ruled by the number three, so this one opening the tetralogy and the fourth in the heptade is wholly ruled by the number four, the signature of the earth, Psalms 114:7. It has four strophes each of four members. Of the great deeds of the Lord which are represented in it as pledges of similar deliverance at the present time, there are four which, along with the three made mention of in Psalms 111 which opens the trilogy, make up seven.

The assertion of some recent expositors, that the Psalm before us must be a passover-hymn, rests on no ground. The facts which are celebrated, the yielding of the sea, &c., are not directly connected with the passover.

Verses 1-2

Ver. I. When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language. Ver. 2. Then was Judah his sanctuary, Israel his dominion.

The departure from Egypt in Psalms 114:1 is to be taken in a wide sense; for the facts made mention of in what follows go on as far as the entrance into Canaan. The clause, “from the people of a strange language,” points to the oppressive character of the previous abode, the beneficent character of the departure; comp. at the parallel passage, Psalms 81:5. As then, so now, Israel went out from a people of strange language, a people of whom it was said in Deuteronomy 28:49, “the Lord shall raise up against thee a people from afar . . . whose language thou dost not understand.” They must now see a similar confirmation of their election.

In Psalms 114:2 the discourse is not of an elevation of Israel to the rank of children of God taking place in words, but of one in deeds. This is evident from what follows, where the manner in which this elevation ensues is more particularly described, viz. by the opening up of the way through the Red Sea, &c. The verbal declaration took place at Sinai, where the Lord said to Israel: “ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy people.” We cannot, however, think of this; for the passage through the Red Sea had taken place previously. Judah represents here the whole people, as Joseph had done in Psalms 81:5. The whole is denoted from that branch which at the time was still flourishing, from that part which was the heir of all ancient reminiscences (comp. at Psalms 76:1), and to which the prophecies concealed in facts were yet to be fulfilled. The connection of Judah with the feminine cannot here be explained from the circumstance that the land is used instead of the people—for Judah had at that time no land—but from the frequent personification of communities as women or as virgins, for example, the daughter of Tyre, in Psalms 45:12, the daughter of Edom, Lamentations 4:21, the daughter of my people, Isaiah 22:4. As the holiness of God denotes his separation from all created being (comp. at Psalms 22:3), the choice of Israel to the sanctuary or holy place of God denotes his separation from the world, and his reception into the territory of God; comp. Deuteronomy 7:6, Exodus 19:5-6, Christol. 3, p. 431. From the circumstance that the suffixes refer to the Lord, and that the name of the Lord had not previously been mentioned, it has been improperly concluded that the Psalm is more closely connected than it really is with Psalms 113, and that it makes up along with it, in a certain measure, one whole. He who is always present to the mind of the godly, does not require on every occasion to be expressly named. Psalms 87 also begins with the words “ his (city) founded on the holy mountains.” The position of the bare suffix in the passage arises from a particular reason. The questions in Psalms 114:5-6 would have been anticipated and their appropriateness destroyed, had the Lord been previously mentioned by name as the cause of these great deeds. In the plural his dominions, his states, it is implied that no other people enjoyed such a preference. The rubric, “states of God,” was exemplified in Israel alone. The discourse here is only of the kingdom of grace. “Thus shall Judah even now be anew raised to the dignity of the sanctuary and of the dominion of the Lord,” stands in the back-ground.

Verses 3-4

Ver. 3. The sea saw and fled, and Jordan, and turned back. Ver. 4. The mountains skipped like rains, the hills like lambs.

On Psalms 114:3, comp. Exodus 14:21, Joshua 3:14-16. “The sea and the Jordan of the heathen world shall in like manner flow back at the present time,” stands in the back ground. Compare on the sea and rivers as the emblems of the powers of the world, at Psalms 113, Psalms 107:23, ss.

Psalms 114:4 depends, as to expression, on Psalms 29:6, but as to the reality upon Exodus 19:18, “and the whole mountain trembled very much;” comp. Psalms 68:8, “then the earth moved, the heavens also dropped before God, it was at Sinai, before the God of Israel,” Judges 5:4, ss., “O Lord, when thou didst march out from Seir, when you did go forward from the field of Edom, the earth quaked . . . . the mountains flowed down before the Lord.” The assertion, “it must be merely taken poetically,” is shown to be a ridiculous one by these passages. The analogy of the three other facts is left unnoticed, and the consideration that it is not a poetic fiction, but only historical facts, that can be appropriate here, is overlooked; everywhere throughout the Psalm the past is employed as allegorical of the future. On the mountains, as symbols of the kingdoms of the world, which the Psalmist sees move along with Sinai, comp. at Psalms 76:4. [Note: Berleb.: “Sinai anti Horeb, together with the neighbouring mountains, leapt as it were by the mighty earthquake when the Lord descended to give the law, and the kingdoms shall be also thrown into a mighty movement when the Lord shall come to judgment to execute his law.”] In Zechariah 4:7, “who art thou, O great mountains, before Zerubabel? Become a plain!” the great mountain is the Persian kingdom which hindered the building of the temple.

Verses 5-6

Ver. 5. What is the matter with thee, thou sea, that thou fleest, O Jordan, that thou turnest back? Ver. 6. Ye mountains that ye leap like rams, ye hills, like lambs?

We cannot translate “what was the matter with thee that thou didst flee?” The constant use of the future is against this, as is also the trembling in the seventh verse, which supposes that the action is not completed. The Psalmist brings the whole scene out of the past into the present, in which lie expects to see it again repeated.

Verses 7-8

Ver. 7. Before the Lord tremble thou earth, before the God of Jacob. Ver. 8. Who changes the rock into water, the hard stone into a fountain of water.

The Psalmist himself replies to the question addressed to the sea, &c.: shall I say so to you? Thou earth with thy sea, &c. We cannot translate: “before the Lord tremble thou still more,” for in this case, the question propounded in the previous strophe would remain unanswered, and the eighth verse is also against it, for it still refers to the events of the Mosaic time. In point of form “tremble thou earth” refers to the Mosaic age, but, in reality, to all ages,—as certainly as the Psalmist considers the events of the Mosaic age as prophetic of the future. We are to comp. at Psalms 114:7 and Psalms 114:4, Psalms 97:4-5.

On Psalms 114:8 comp. Exodus 17:6 Numbers 20:11, Deuteronomy 8:15, Deuteronomy 32:13. The words contain a general thought which, however, is expressed in language borrowed from the facts of the Mosaic time, and of which a similar application is made in Isaiah 41:18, Isaiah 43:2: who sends continually to his church water out of the hard rock, causes salvation to arise in most unfavourable circumstances, so that the power of the world rises against it in vain.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 114". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-114.html.