The Twelfth Decade of Psalms
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. A great part of our duty in praise is to be worshiping historians. We are to remember. 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. Now these deeds are rich with theological gold—we are not celebrating meaningless history. We are remembering the God who judged the world with a great flood, who rained fire upon Sodom, who brought Abram out of Ur, who brought Israel out of Egypt, and who—on Skull Hill outside Jerusalem—delivered you from your lusts.
And so as we consider this song of deliverance from our older brothers, the Jews, we are reminded of an even greater Exodus than theirs, the Exodus that all the other deliverances point to and anticipate.
“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 they did so when Jacob was still alive. Centuries later, they were still the “house of Jacob,” and they came out of Egypt as still one family—about two and a half million of them. As they come out, Judah comes first and is called God’s sanctuary. Israel is called His kingdom or dominion (v. 2). Although they eventually became two nations, the habit of speaking about Judah and Israel distinctly began very early.
We then get our first inkling that the poet is treating the entire departure from Egypt and entrance into Canaan as one great event, including some of the key events in between. The sea saw what Judah and Israel were and fled, and the Jordan was also driven back (v. 3). These two water crossings bracketed the formation of the nation. 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). And He is the one who turned the rock into standing water (Ex. 17:6), the flint into a fountain of waters (v. 8).
Who is this God who was present with them? Who was this God who accompanied them? Who was the God who gave them water from the Rock? Who was the Rock who gave them water?
“And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4).
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 (an inlet of the Red Sea), 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.
Now the traditional location of Sinai in the Sinai peninsula does have some able defenders. If you want to see both views fairly represented, I would encourage you to check out the film Patterns of Evidence.
The Mercy Seat
When Israel went through the Red Sea, the Lord was present with them. The Lord crossed the Red Sea. 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 at that crossing, causing the waters of the Jordan to stop flowing (Josh. 3:8).
And the next time the mercy seat came down to the Jordan it was to be baptized by John (Matt. 3:13). And when He came down to this same river, the waters didn’t part—but the heavens did (Luke 3:21-22).
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 did make it into the promised land. Note also that it meant that Christ was meeting with two men who had 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. These two men were the two men who had met with God on the mountain of God.
And so, 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 called to be His remembrancers. We are to recall what He has done for us down 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).
If God be for us, what can they do? If God be with us, what can they do? If God be in us, what can they do? If God is under us, what can they do? If God is over us, what can they do? If God is beside us, what can they do? If God is behind us, what can they do? If God is ahead of us, what can they do?
And the truth that fills out all those ifs is the truth whose very name is Christ. If Christ was the Rock, and the Cloud, and the Pillar, and the Manna for them, how could it be possible that He is not the Word preached, the Water given, the Bread broken, and the Wine poured? It is not possible. Christ is all, and in all, and through all. And we see this by faith—and faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. We are today in the presence of the Lord, and we are in His presence because of the presence of His name. And the name is Christ.