Thursday, August 13, 2009

Psalm 114 – Testimony of Presence & Deliverance

Right in the mix of the Hallel psalms (Psalms 113-118), preceding the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) and separated only by the ‘theological monster’ (Psalm 119), comes this one which reaches right back to the holy nation’s Exodus from Egypt and the journey to the Promised Land.

Universally a hymn,[1] this psalm is quite unlike the vast majority of psalms which speak about personal or communal lament, grief, joy, thanksgiving and praise. But it is incredibly fluent and graphically resplendent in situating for today’s reader the glorious works of the LORD God in history.

The final six of the eight verses read almost straight out of something like the latter part of Job where Elihu has his point of view, followed by God’s direct charge to Job. These verses speak so much about the visible earth-shaking miracles that must’ve simply awed the people of God, at least at that time, into an unshakable knowledge of the Most High.

The event that is the Exodus cannot ever be underestimated in its power and significance for the Jewish people. It’s every bit as significant as the forging of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ for the Christian. It speaks deliverance, and of God’s enduring loving faithfulness.

The Christian is doubly blessed to have linked into the Jewish tradition via the Exodus--the prelude to the Old Covenant and New, both of which are equally relevant to us, and likewise so, the story of the entry into the Promised Land.

Getting back to Psalm 114, it speaks of God’s inimitable Presence. As the mountains leapt and the sea fled at the pure touch of God’s hand, his breath breathing over the earth, the people must’ve been totally and irrevocably aghast.

As they saw and later recalled Moses commanding water from the rock with two strikes of his staff via verse 8 (and Numbers 20:1-11), again they saw and remember God, not Moses’ ‘magic.’[2] It’s God’s Presence manifest in deliverance for the people, today as yesterday.

Psalm 114, sung or chanted in the Hallel sequence, is fundamentally about “connecting place and people with meaning and hope.”[3] The connection of history, deliverance, and the Presence of God is fused in this seldomly acclaimed (at least in our culture) psalm.
[1] Philip S. Johnston & David G. Firth (eds), Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches (Leicester, England: Apollos/IVP, 2005), p. 299.
[2] But, God’s Presence is not simply about the awesome wonders; we see in the remainder of Numbers 20 how the people (Moses and Aaron included) would be frustrated in their insolence. Meribah, the waters of quarrelling, was where God said, ‘Enough is enough,’ regarding the whining of the Israelites.
[3] James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation Commentary (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), p. 365.

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