Psalm 114:1-4

1. When Israel went out from Egypt, and the house of Jacob from a barbarous people; 12. Judah was for his 2 holiness, Israel for his dominions. 3. The sea saw, and fled: 3 Jordan was turned backward. 4. The mountains leaped like rams, and the hills as the lambs of the flock.


1. When Israel went out from Egypt. That exodus being a remarkable pledge and symbol of God's love for the children of Abraham, it is not surprising that it should be so frequently called to remembrance. In the beginning of the psalm, the prophet informs us that the people whom God purchased at so great a price are no more their own. The opinion of certain expositors, that at that time the tribe of Judah was consecrated to the service of God, according to what is said in Exodus 19:6, and 1 Peter 2:9, appears to me foreign to the prophet's design. All doubt about the matter is removed by what is immediately subjoined, God's taking Israel under his rule, which is simply a repetition of the same sentiment in other words. Judah being the most powerful and numerous of all the tribes, and occupying the chief place among them, here takes the precedency of the rest of the people. At the same time, it is very evident that the honor which is in a peculiar manner ascribed to them, belongs equally to the whole body of the people. 4 When God is said to be sanctified, it must be understood that the prophet is speaking after the manner of men, because, in himself, God is incapable of increase or diminution. Judah is called his holiness, 5 and Israel his dominion, 6 because his holy majesty, which hitherto had been little known, secured the veneration of all who had witnessed the displays of his incredible power. In delivering his people, God erected a kingdom for himself and procured respect for his sacred name; if then they do not constantly reflect upon such a remarkable instance of his kindness, their insensibility is totally inexcusable.

3. The sea saw, and fled. He does not enumerate in succession all the miracles which were wrought at that time, but briefly alludes to the sea, which, though a lifeless and senseless element, is yet struck with terror at the power of God. Jordan did the same, and the very mountains shook. It is in a poetical strain that the Psalmist describes the receding of the sea and of the Jordan. The description, however, does not exceed the facts of the case. The sea, in rendering such obedience to its Creator, sanctified his name; and Jordan, by its submission, put honor upon his power; and the mountains, by their quaking, proclaimed how they were overawed at the presence of his dreadful majesty. By these examples it is not meant to celebrate God's power more than the fatherly care and desire which he manifests for the preservation of the Church; and, accordingly, Israel is very properly distinguished from the sea, the Jordan, and the mountains -- there being a very marked difference between the chosen people and the insensate elements.

1 The word zel, loez, which Calvin renders, a barbarous people, is translated, in our English Bible, "a people of strange language." His version is supported by many authorities. The word is frequently found, in the sense he attaches to it, in Rabbinical works, and is so understood here by the Chaldee paraphrast, who has yarbrb, and by the LXX., who have barba>rou. The root of these terms, as well as the Latin word for barbarous, is probably the Hebrew rb, out, or without, redoubled; and so it signifies, to a Jew, any man of another nation. According to Parkhurst, the word, instead of signifying a barbarous or foreign language or pronunciation, seems rather to refer to the violence of the Egyptians towards the Israelites, or the barbarity of their behavior, which, he observes, 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. -- See his Lexicon on zel. Horsley reads, "a tyrannical people."

2 "There is a peculiar beauty in the conduct of this psalm, in that the author utterly conceals the presence of God in the beginning of it, and rather lets a possessive pronoun (i.e. His) go without a substantive, than he will so much as mention any thing of Divinity there; because, 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 with all majesty." -- Spectator, volume 6, No. 461. If, however, the last two words of the preceding psalm, hyawllh, Halelu-yah, Praise ye Jehovah, are the title to this psalm, the antecedent to his is supplied.

3 In the Hebrew there is no pronoun after saw; nor is any inserted in the Septuagint and Arabic versions, or in the Chaldee. In our English Bible, it is inserted, and him in the Syriac version; but the sentence is certainly much more sublime without any such supplement.

4 "Judah represents here the whole people of Israel, as Joseph does, in Psalm 81:6. The reason assigned by Kimchi for this use of hdwhy here is, that at the time of the departure from Egypt, Judah was considered the head or chief of the tribes; see Genesis 49:8-10. This, however, is mere conjecture. If it be necessary to assign reasons for the distinction here conferred on this tribe, I should mention as one:, that the ark was kept in the region occupied by the descendants of Judah, and, as another, that from him the Messiah was to spring." -- Phillips.

5 God's holiness being often taken for the keeping his promise sacred or inviolate, as in Psalm 102:9, when, reference being made to the immutability of his covenant, it is added, "holy [as in another respect, reverend] is his name;" some, as Hammond and Cresswell, suppose that the meaning here is, that God's dealings towards Judah -- the people of the Jews, were a demonstration of his faithfulness in performing his promise made to Abraham long before.

6 Hammond reads, "And Israel his power," by which he understands that Israel was an instance of his power; that God, in his acting for Israel, declared his omnipotence most signally.