As we continue through the Hallel Psalms, we come to the second of them, and this is a great song of historical remembrance. When we set ourselves to praise God, to say hallelujah, we are to remember His great works of deliverance in history. Keep in mind that the Christian faith is not a faith in detached theological doctrines, but is rather a faith in God’s meaningful interventions in history—His great deeds among the people, deeds rich with theological gold. And so as we consider this song of deliverance from our older brothers, the Jews, we are reminded of an even greater Exodus, the exodus that all other deliverances point to.
“When Israel went out of Egypt, The house of Jacob from a people of strange language; Judah was his sanctuary, And Israel his dominion. The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back . . .” (Psalm 114:1–8).
Summary of the Text
The psalm begins with a burst (v. 1). “When Israel came out of Egypt” means that we are talking about the events that were inaugurated by the Red Sea crossing. The house of Jacob went down into Egypt, and did so when Jacob was still alive. Centuries later, they are still the “house of Jacob,” and they come out of Egypt still one family—about two and a half million of them. When they come out, Judah is first and is called God’s sanctuary. Israel is called His kingdom or dominion (v. 2). We then get our first inkling that the poet is treating the entire departure from Egypt and entrance into Canaan as one event, including the key events in between. The sea saw what Judah and Israel were and fled, and the Jordan was also driven back (v. 3). The mountain skipping like rams appears to be a reference to the convulsions that Mt. Sinai (or Horeb) went through (v. 4; Ex. 20:18). We then return to the Red Sea and to the Jordan. What is the matter with you, sea? What is the matter with you, Jordan? (v. 5). The same question is then posed to the mountains that trembled (v. 6). The answer is then given, and it is an obvious answer—the earth should tremble at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob (v. 7). Remember that this means the presence of the God in Jacob (vv. 1-2). He is the one who turned the rock into standing water (Ex. 17:6), the flint into a fountain of waters (v. 8).
The X on the Map
A quick orientation may help. Moving from west to east, picture Egypt, the Red Sea, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Akaba, and then Arabia. The land of Goshen, where the Israelites were living in Egypt, was in the eastern part of the Nile Delta—up north. Now the traditional view is that Mt. Sinai is located in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula. But this view has a number of difficulties associated with it, not least being the fact that it was identified as such by that noted archeological authority, Constantine’s mom, Helena. I consequently prefer an alternative view, which is that the mountain of God (Sinai, or Horeb) was in Midian (which is in Arabia). We see this in the burning bush incident (Ex. 3:1), where God told Moses that he would bring the people out of Egypt and back to that particular mountain (Ex. 3:12). Furthermore, the apostle Paul also places Sinai in Arabia (Gal. 4:25)—as do Josephus and Philo. This means that I believe that the Red Sea crossing was a deep-water crossing, somewhere at the northern end of the Gulf of Akaba. And that would make it a miracle with a capital M.
The Misery of Man
When Israel went through the Red Sea, the Lord was present with them. The glory cloud prevented Pharaoh from getting at them until the sea parted (Ex. 14:19-20). On the other end of their wilderness wandering, they had fashioned the ark of the covenant by this time, and so that is how the presence of God was manifested this time, causing the waters of the Jordan to stop flowing (Josh. 3:8).
The next time the mercy seat came down to the Jordan it was to be baptized by John (Matt. 3:13).
The Great Exodus
On the Mount of Transfiguration (which was probably the mountain called Tabor), Jesus met with both Moses and Elijah. Note that this means that after his life was over, Moses didmake it into the promised land. Note also that it meant that Christ was meeting with two men who previously encountered God on Mount Horeb. Moses went up on the mountain there and he met with God (Ex. 19:20). And Elijah fled to Horeb after the showdown on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 19:8), and it was there that God spoke to him in a still, small voice. But most importantly, what were they talking about on Tabor with Jesus? Luke tells us—they were conversing with Him about the Exodus that He was going to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).
If we are the people of God, then this means that we are His remembrancers. We are to recallwhat He has down for us throughout the entire history of redemption. You have the Table set before you, do you not?
The Presence of the Lord
What is it that gives victory to the people of God? How is it that enemies are turned to flight? How is it that the adversary is abashed? The Red Sea fled when the Red Sea saw the sanctuary was in Judah, and that the kingdom was with Israel. They saw the presence of the Lord, in other words. “Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob” (Psalm 114:7).
In short, if God is present, who can be against us? “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).