Theme: God’s Sanctuary and Dominion
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the Lord’s abiding presence with his people, even in the midst of great trials and hardships.
Scripture: Psalm 114:1-8
A person who is not familiar with the psalms might suppose that they are very much alike. But as I have worked my way through a careful study of them, the thing that has impressed me most is how unique each psalm is. Some are sad; some are happy. Some deal with national defeats or victories; some are entirely personal. Some deal with sin, others with praise, still others with trying to find the right way in confusing situations. And their structures vary too. Some are lengthy rehearsals of past historical events. Some are short. Some are acrostics. Some are lyrical.
Psalm 114 is a little masterpiece. Isaac Watts called it “an admirable ode.”1 Charles Haddon Spurgeon said it was “sublime.”2 It is the second of the six praise songs known as the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118), sung by Jews at Passover. As we noted in last week’s study on Psalm 113, they are called the Egyptian Hallel because they are supposed to deal with the experience of the people at the time of the Exodus, though Psalm 114 is the only one that mentions the Exodus specifically.
Derek Kidner focuses on the fresh exuberant tone of this psalm, noting how different it is from the actual struggles, doubt and sin of the Exodus when seen from man’s point of view. “Here is the Exodus not as a familiar item in Israel’s creed but as an astonishing event: as startling as a clap of thunder, as shattering as an earthquake.”3
As anyone can easily see, the psalm falls into four matched stanzas, like verses of a hymn. As far as the tone goes, it is a bit like our hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Only here the triumph is not that of God’s people but of God himself. God is going before his people, and it is before him that the seas draw back and the mountains skip like rams.
Each stanza of this lyric is extraordinary in its own way, and the extraordinary thing about the first stanza is its description of Judah as God’s sanctuary and Israel as his dominion.
The names Judah and Israel are not being used in this psalm to denote the two separated parts of the nation as it existed after the split into the northern and southern kingdoms in the time of Rehoboam. They are two names for the one people that came out of Egypt at the Exodus, and the significant thing about the description is that this one people is declared to be both God’s sanctuary and God’s kingdom.
This was literally true, of course, and the reason for it was the presence of God in their midst. When God came down at Sinai and then took up a symbolic residence in the form of the Shekinah Glory that filled the wilderness tabernacle and later the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, Israel was literally God’s sanctuary or holy place, a place set apart by God’s presence. And since God came not merely to be among but also to rule his people, the nation also became his unique dominion or kingdom.
No other nation has ever experienced anything like this. No nation but Israel was ever a theocracy, that is, a nation ruled directly by God. And no other nation was ever his sanctuary. It was a fulfillment of the promise of God spoken at Sinai, recorded in Exodus 19:5, 6, “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, Psalms 88-119 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), p. 44.
2Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, p. 41.
3Derek. Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 403.
Contrast the tone of this psalm with the events of the Exodus.
How are the names Judah and Israel used in this psalm?
In what ways is Israel unique?
Shekinah: the presence of God on earth or a symbol of his presence.