Treasury of David
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 illustrated with marvelous force of language, until 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!
Verse 2. Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion. The pronoun "his" comes in where we would have looked for the name of God; but the poet is so full of thought concerning the Lord that he forgets to mention his name, like the spouse in the Song, who begins, "Let him kiss me," or Magdalene when she cried, "Tell me where you have laid him."
From the mention of Judah and Israel certain critics have inferred that this Psalm must have been written after the division of the two kingdoms; but this is only another instance of the extremely slender basis upon which an hypothesis is often built up. Before the formation of the two kingdoms David had said, "Go number Israel and Judah," and this was common parlance, for Uriah the Hittite said, "The ark, and Israel and Judah abide in tents"; so that nothing can be inferred from the use of the two names.
No division into two kingdoms can have been intended here, for the poet is speaking of the coming out of Egypt when the people were so united that he has just before called them "the house of Jacob." It would be quite as fair to prove from the first verse that the Psalm was written when the people were in union as to prove from the second that its authorship dates from their separation.
Judah was the tribe which led the way in the wilderness march, and it was foreseen in prophecy to be the royal tribe, hence its poetic mention in this place. The meaning of the passage is that the whole people at the coming out of Egypt were separated unto the Lord to be a peculiar people, a nation of priests whose motto should be, "Holiness unto the Lord."
Judah was the Lord's "holy thing," set apart for his special use. The nation was peculiarly Jehovah's dominion, for it was governed by a theocracy in which God alone was King. It was his domain in a sense in which the rest of the world was outside his kingdom.
These were the young days of Israel, the time of her espousals, when she went after the Lord into the wilderness, her God leading the way with signs and miracles. The whole people were the shrine of Deity, and their camp was one great temple.
What a change there must have been for the godly among them from the idolatries and blasphemies of the Egyptians to the holy worship and righteous rule of the great King in Jeshurun. They lived in a world of wonders, where God was seen in the wondrous bread they ate and in the water they drank, as well as in the solemn worship of his holy place.
When the Lord is manifestly present in a church, and his gracious rule obediently owned, what a golden age has come, and what honorable privileges his people enjoy! May it be so among us.
Verse 3. The sea saw it, and fled; or rather, "The sea saw and fled"—it saw God and all his people following his lead, and it was struck with awe and fled away. A bold figure! The Red Sea mirrored the hosts which had come down to its shore, and reflected the cloud which towered high over all, as the symbol of the presence of the Lord: never had such a scene been imaged upon the surface of the Red Sea, or any other sea, before. It could not endure the unusual and astounding sight, and fleeing to the right and to the left, opened a passage for the elect people.
A like miracle happened at the end of the great march of Israel, for "Jordan was driven back." This was a swiftly flowing river, pouring itself down a steep decline, and it was not merely divided, but its current was driven back so that the rapid torrent, contrary to nature, flowed uphill.
This was God's work: the poet does not sing of the suspension of natural laws, or of a singular phenomenon not readily to be explained; but to him the presence of God with his people is everything, and in his lofty song he tells how the river was driven back because the Lord was there.
In this case poetry is nothing but the literal fact, and the fiction lies on the side of the atheistic critics who will suggest any explanation of the miracle rather than admit that the Lord made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all his people.
The division of the sea and the drying up of the river are placed together though forty years intervened, because they were the opening and closing scenes of one great event.
We may thus unite by faith our new birth and our departure out of the world into the promised inheritance, for the God who led us out of the Egypt of our bondage under sin, will also conduct us through the Jordan of death out of our wilderness wanderings in the desert of this tried and changeful life. It is all one and the same deliverance, and the beginning ensures the end.
Verse 4. The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs. At the coming of the Lord to Mount Sinai, the hills moved; either leaping for joy in the presence of their Creator like young lambs; or, if you will, springing from their places in affright at the awesome majesty of Jehovah, and flying like a flock of sheep when alarmed. Men fear the mountains—but the mountains tremble before the Lord. Sheep and lambs move lightly in the meadows; but the hills, which we are accustomed to call eternal, were as readily made to move as the most active creatures. Rams in their strength, and lambs in their play, are not more stirred than were the solid hills when Jehovah marched by.
Nothing is immovable but God himself: the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed—but the covenant of his grace abides fast forever and ever.
Even thus do mountains of sin and hills of trouble move when the Lord comes forth to lead his people to their eternal Canaan. Let us never fear—but rather let our faith say unto this mountain, "Be removed hence and cast into the sea," and it shall be done.
Verse 5. What ailed you, O sea? Were you terribly afraid? Did your strength fail you? Did your very heart dry up?
What ailed you, O you sea, that you fled? You were neighbor to the power of Pharaoh—but you never feared his hosts; stormy wind could never prevail against you so as to divide you in twain; but when the way of the Lord was in your great waters you were seized with affright, and you became a fugitive from before him.
O Jordan, that you were driven back? What ailed you, O quick descending river? Your fountains had not dried up, neither had a chasm opened to engulf you! The near approach of Israel and her God sufficed to make you retrace your steps. What ails all our enemies that they fly when the Lord is on our side? What ails Hell itself that it is utterly routed when Jesus lifts up a standard against it? "Fear took hold upon them there," for fear of HIM the stoutest hearted did quake, and became as dead men.
Verse 6. You mountains, that you skipped like rams; and you hills, like lambs? What ailed you, that you were thus moved? There is but one reply: the majesty of God made you to leap! A gracious mind will chide human nature for its strange insensibility—when the sea and the river, the mountains and the hills, are all sensitive to the presence of God. Man is endowed with reason and intelligence, and yet he sees unmoved, that which the material creation beholds with fear. God has come nearer to us than ever he did to Sinai, or to Jordan, for he has assumed our nature—and yet the mass of mankind are neither driven back from their sins, nor moved in the paths of obedience.
Verse 7. Tremble, you earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob. Or "from before the Lord, the Adonai, the Master and King." Very fitly does the Psalm call upon all nature again to feel a holy awe because its Ruler is still in its midst.
"Quake when Jehovah walks abroad,
Quake earth, at sight of Israel's God."
Let the believer feel that God is near, and he will serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Awe is not cast out by faith—but the rather it becomes deeper and more profound. The Lord is most reverenced where he is most loved.
Verse 8. Who turned the rock into a standing water, causing a mere or lake to stand at its foot, making the wilderness a pool; so abundant was the supply of water from the rock that it remained like water in a reservoir.
The flint into a fountain of waters, which flowed freely in streams, following the tribes in their allusive marches. Behold what God can do! It seemed impossible that the flinty rock should become a fountain; but he speaks, and it is done. Not only do mountains move—but rocks yield rivers when the God of Israel wills that it should be so.
"From stone and solid rock he brings
The spreading lake, the gushing springs."
"O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together," for he it is and he alone who does such wonders as these. He supplies our temporal needs from sources of the most unlikely kind, and never allows the stream of his liberality to fail. As for our spiritual necessities, they are all met by the water and the blood which gushed of old from the riven rock, Christ Jesus; therefore let us extol the Lord our God.
Our deliverance from under the yoke of sin is strikingly typified in the going up of Israel from Egypt, and so also was the victory of our Lord over the powers of death and Hell. The Exodus should therefore be earnestly remembered by Christian hearts. Did not Moses on the mount of transfiguration speak to our Lord of "the exodus" which he should shortly accomplish at Jerusalem; and is it not written of the hosts above that they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and of the Lamb? Do we not ourselves expect another coming of the Lord, when before his face Heaven and earth shall flee away and there shall be no more sea? We join then with the singers around the Passover table and make their Hallel ours, for we too have been led out of bondage and guided like a flock through a desert land, wherein the Lord supplies our needs with heavenly manna and water from the Rock of ages. Praise the Lord!