PSALM 114 OVERVIEW
Subject and Division. This sublime SONG OF THE EXODUS is one and indivisible. True poetry has here reached its climax: no human mind has ever been able to equal, much less to excel, the grandeur of this Psalm. God is spoken of as leading forth his people from Egypt to Canaan, and causing the whole earth to be moved at his coming. Things inanimate are represented as imitating the actions of living creatures when the Lord passes by. They are apostrophised and questioned with marvellous force of language, till one seems to look upon the actual scene. The God of Jacob is exalted as having command over river, sea, and mountain, and causing all nature to pay homage and tribute before his glorious majesty.
Verse 1. When Israel went out of Egypt. The song begins with a burst, as if the poetic fury could not be restrained, but overleaped all bounds. The soul elevated and filled with a sense of divine glory cannot wait to fashion a preface, but springs at once into the middle of its theme. Israel emphatically came out of Egypt, out of the population among whom they had been scattered, from under the yoke of bondage, and from under the personal grasp of the king who had made the people into national slaves. Israel came out with a high hand and a stretched out arm, defying all the power of the empire, and making the whole of Egypt to travail with sore anguish, as the chosen nation was as it were born out of its midst.
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language. They had gone down into Egypt as a single family -- "the house of Jacob"; and, though they had multiplied greatly, they were still so united, and were so fully regarded by God as a single unit, that they are rightly spoken of as the house of Jacob. They were as one man in their willingness to leave Goshen; numerous as they were, not a single individual stayed behind. Unanimity is a pleasing token of the divine presence, and one of its sweetest fruits. One of their inconveniences in Egypt was the difference of languages, which was very great. The Israelites appear to have regarded the Egyptians as stammerers and babblers, since they could not understand them, and they very naturally considered the Egyptians to be barbarians, as they would no doubt often beat them because they did not comprehend their orders. The language of foreign taskmasters is never musical in an exile's ear. How sweet it is to a Christian who has been compelled to hear the filthy conversation of the wicked, when at last he is brought out from their midst to dwell among his own people!
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. The 114th psalm appears to me to be an admirable ode, and I began to turn it into our own language. As I was describing the journey of Israel from Egypt, and added the Divine Presence amongst them, I perceived a beauty in this psalm, which was entirely new to me, and which I was going to lose; and that is, that the poet utterly conceals the presence of God in the beginning of it, and rather lets a possessive pronoun go without a substantive, than he will so much as mention anything of divinity there. "Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion" or kingdom. The reason now seems evident, and this conduct necessary; for, if God had appeared before, there could be no wonder why the mountains should leap and the sea retire; therefore, that this convulsion of nature may be brought in with due surprise, his name is not mentioned till afterwards; and then with a very agreeable turn of thought, God is introduced at once in all his majesty. This is what I have attempted to imitate in a translation without paraphrase, and to preserve what I could of the spirit of the sacred author.
When Israel, freed from Pharaoh's hand,
Left the proud tyrant and his land,
The tribes with cheerful homage own
Their King, and Judah was his throne.
Across the deep their journey lay,
The deep divides to make them way;
The streams of Jordan saw, and fled
With backward current to their head.
The mountains shook like frightened sheep,
Like lambs the little hillocks leap;
Not Sinai on her base could stand,
Conscious of sovereign power at hand.
What power could make the deep divide?
Make Jordan backward roll his tide?
Why did ye leap, ye little hills?
And whence the fright that Sinai feels?
Let every mountain, and every flood,
Retire, and know the approaching God,
The King of Israel! see him here:
Tremble, thou earth, adore and fear.
He thunders -- and all nature mourns;
The rock to standing pools he turns;
Flints spring with fountains at his word,
And fires and seas confess their Lord.
--Isaac Watts, in "The Spectator," 1712.
Verse 1. When Israel went out of Egypt. Out of the midst of that nation, that is, out of the bowels of the Egyptians, who had, as it were, devoured them; thus the Jew doctors gloss upon this text. --John Trapp.
Verse 1. Israel went out of Egypt. This was an emblem of the Lord's people in effectual vocation, coming out of bondage into liberty, out of darkness into light, out of superstition, and idolatry, and profaneness, to the service of the true God in righteousness and true holiness; and
from a people of strange language to those that speak the language of Canaan, a pure language, in which they can understand one another when they converse together, either about experience or doctrine; and the manner of their coming out is much the same, by strength of hand, by the power of divine grace, yet willingly and cheerfully, with great riches, the riches of grace, and a title to the riches of glory, and with much spiritual strength; for though weak in themselves, yet they are strong in Christ. --John Gill.
Verse 1. The house of Jacob. The Israelites though they were a great number when they went forth from Egypt, nevertheless formed one house or family; thus the church at the present time dispersed throughout the whole world is called one house: 1 Timothy 3:15 Hebrews 3:6 ; 1 Peter 2:5 : and that because of one faith, one God, one Father, one baptism, Ephesians 4:5 . -- Marloratus.
Verse 1. A people of strange language. When we find in verse 1, as in 81:5 , Egypt spoken of as a land where the people were of a "strange tongue," it seems likely that the reference is to their being a people who could not speak of God, as Israel could; even as Zephaniah 3:9 tells of the "pure lip," viz., the lip that calls on the name of the Lord. --Andrew A. Bonar.
Verse 1. A people of strange tongue. Mant translates this "tyrant land," and has the following note: The Hebrew word here rendered "tyrant," has been supposed to signify "barbarous"; that is, "using a barbarous or foreign language or pronunciation." But, says Parkhurst, the word seems rather to refer to the "violence" of the Egyptians towards the Israelites, or "the barbarity of their behaviour," which was more to the Psalmist's purpose than "the barbarity of their language"; even supposing the reality of the latter in the time of Moses. The epithet "barbarous" would leave the same ambiguity as Parkhurst supposes to belong to the text. Bishop Horsley renders "a tyrannical people."
Verse 1. A people of strange language. The strange language is evidently an annoyance. Israel could not feel at home in Egypt. --Justus Olshausen.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1-2. The time of first delivery from sin a season notable for the peculiar presence of God.
Verse 1-2. The Lord was to his people --
- A deliverer.
- A priest -- "his sanctuary."
- A king -- "his dominion."
Verse 1,. 7. "The house of Jacob" and "the God of Jacob," the relation between the two.