Tom Lowe


Psalm 114 - How God Gives Power


This is another of the Hallel psalms (which begin or conclude with a hallelujah {2]), but others hold that it is a theophany hymn. Psalms 113-118 are called the Egyptian Hallel psalms, and they were used at the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles and Dedication. Apparently they were sung during the time the Passover was being celebrated. Some Bible scholars think that three of them were sung at the beginning and three at the end. Others think they were sung intermittently during the Passover {1] feast.

With gifted poetic skill and memorable imagery, the author {3] of this brief song of praise celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, and he presents it directly and frankly, the provision of water in the wilderness, the crossing of the Jordan into Canaan, and above all the advent of God which brought it all about.

The psalm before us is a call to praise the wonderful God at whom we have been looking in psalms 112 and 113. In psalm 113, for instance, He is the Creator, He is the Redeemer, and He will be the Redeemer of creation. Because of this, we are to praise God. The Hallel psalms are for the purpose of praising God.

Psalm 114 is a history lesson; God does not want us to forget the lessons of history. This psalm looks back to the time Israel was delivered from Egyptian bondage. The Jews always regarded their deliverance from Egypt as the greatest event in history, and God would have us recall Calvary in that way.


Scripture: Psalms 114:1-8 (KJV)

1 When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;

2 Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.

3 The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.

4 The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.

5 What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?

6 Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?

7 Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;

8 Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.


The first two verses tell us that spiritual power has three prerequisites. The first principle for obtaining power from God is SEPERATION.


1 When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;

When Abraham went into the Land of Promise for the first time, he was a stranger. God told him that his people would go down to the land of Egypt and there they would become a nation. Israel became a nation in Egypt, and anti-Semitism began in Egypt. The Bible tells about what transpired there; their suffering, hardships, persecution, and their troubles. God knew He had to get them out of Egypt because many Israelites were becoming just like the Egyptians; for all anyone can tell they were Egyptians, they ate the same food, dressed like them, acted like them, and they were even worshipping Egyptian Gods. Then “God remembered” His covenant with them, heard their cry, looked upon the children of Israel [= the family of Jacob], and had sympathy for them. We read this in Exodus 2:24, “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”

It sounds like God woke up one morning and slapped Himself on the forehead, suddenly realizing that He left Israel down there in Egypt where they were oppressed and treated as slaves. But the idea in this passage is that God acted upon His promise that Israel would become a great nation.

Later in Genesis we find another example: “Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb” (v. 30:22). Once again, the verb “remember” focuses on the action, not the mental activity. God paid attention to Rachel’s needs, listened to her prayer, and answered it. Here (Ps. 114), “remember” means “to intervene,” focusing on what God did, not what God was thinking about.

Dear reader, I want to ask you a question. Is God forgetful? Could He have forgotten the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God does not and cannot forget, because if He did He would not be God. The words “God remembered” are found in several places in the Bible, but they do not refer to His memory at all, but rather to some action He has taken.

God did deliver Israel out of the hands of the Egyptians; He separated the nation of Israel from the Egyptian army at the Red Sea; I hope you have heard the story, better yet, that you read the account in your Bible. So the first way to spiritual power is “separation” ― turning away from the world’s language, the world’s way of thinking, to listen to what God has to say. That kind of separation brings our intellects to rest on the language of Heaven spoken by the Holy Spirit through the pages of His book.


 This psalm begins with the wilderness march.

A second principle for obtaining power from God is SANCTIFICATION.

2 Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.

Sanctification is the other side of separation. Separation sets us apart from the world; sanctification sets us apart for God. God will not give His power to a worldly, carnal person. That would be like putting a loaded rifle in the hands of a three-year-old. God gives His power only to those He can trust.

(114:2a) “Judah was His Sanctuary {5].” Now God is speaking of the whole nation being a tabernacle. God’s original intention was that Israel would be a nation of priests ― not just one tribe ― which means that they would become priests for the world. Some think that that will happen during the Millennium when Israel will serve in the earthly temple.

 When Israel came forth from Egypt, and the family of Jacob from amongst a people with a strange sounding language {4] [the Egyptians], Judah became for Him His holy place, and Israel the place of His reign. Judah and Israel are used in reference to the Exodus, when they were not so separated, but in parallel to suggest Yahweh’s idea of the unity of His people, whatever their political differences. Thus no distinction is to be made between holy place [Sanctuary, which suggests the Temple in Jerusalem, is an unfortunate translation] and the place of dominion. The point is that Yahweh brought out his people together, and is present amongst them.

A third principle for obtaining power from God is SURRENDER.

(114:2b)And Israel his dominion.”  Israel was the sphere of God’s rule, the place where His sovereignty was acknowledged. God will not give His power to those who want to use it independently of Himself. Surrender is the key to a life of victory.

A verse of scripture we often misquote is this: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  That, however, is not true. The devil is not going to flee from us. He is not the least bit afraid of us. What that verse actually says is: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Here we see the secret of power over the enemy ― personal submission to God. God will not give His power to those who are not in submission to Him.

These then are the roots of spiritual power; separation, sanctification, and submission.

Next the psalmist presents in quick succession, references to the parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, and to the quaking of the mountains which was a frequent side effect of the advent of Yahweh’s Presence (vv.3-6). A glance at these four verses shows that seas flee away, rivers part wide, mountains and hills begin to shake. Surly that is what we want ― for things to begin to happen. We want it to be very evident that God is at work.


3 The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.

The sea took one look and fled quickly (Ex. 14:21; 15:8). The Jordan rolled back upon itself (Josh. 3:14-16; 4:21-24). The people of Israel not only crossed the Red Sea, they also crossed the Jordan River.

The first thing we notice is that obstacles will be removed: “The sea . . . Jordan.” It is not difficult to see what those obstacles represent.


(114:3a) “The sea saw it, and fled.” The sea kept them in the world. Israel marched right up to the Red Sea and there they stopped. They could go no further. They were still in Egypt’s domain. They had been saved, put under the shelter of the blood, but now the enemy was coming after them. He wanted to drag them back to slavery, back to the brick kilns, the taskmaster’s lash, and the ghetto on the Nile. He wanted to bring them back to the old way of life, to maintain his rule and dominion over them.

The sea was the only thing that stood between them and freedom. It kept them there in the world, in Egypt. Then the sea fled. Why? Because Joshua was there with a few hundred brave men? Because Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had arrived. Because Aaron prayed, or Miriam prophesied.

No, it fled because, Moses, at God’s command took the rod in his hand and did what he was told. Then, over they went ― walking on the floor of the sea ― over on to dry land. Then, too, at the summons of that same rod, back the waters went to sweep away the foe. Thus Israel put the waters of separation between them and the old way of life. What had been an obstacle became their protection to make it difficult for them ever to go back to Egypt and their past.

We are told next that Jordan was driven back. When that happened, the Hebrews had been saved from Egypt for a considerable time. A new, younger generation had arisen, who now stood beside the Jordan. That is what kept them in the wilderness. They had been in the wilderness for forty years and had known little but defeat, discouragement, and disobedience. The life that beckoned in Canaan eluded them because they had never crossed Jordan. Jordan kept them in the wilderness, in their grumbling, mumbling, carnal life.

Now Jordan, too, was driven back and the obstacle removed. They had symbolically passed through death, burial, and resurrection, and now they stood on the victory side of Jordan. The land was before them and, although both battles and blessings lay ahead, they were in the Promised Land at last.

Things begin to happen when God gets us out of the world and then out of the wilderness. Obstacles are removed. We noticed also that opportunities will be revealed.

4 The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.

The mountains frolicked like Rams at play, the hills like frisky lambs (Ex. 19:18; Jud. 5:5; Psalms 18:7, 29:6). The three phenomena (vv. 3-4) are not related, but are all connected with Yahweh’s self-revelation and His deliverance of His people. The quaking of the mountains is not to be thought of as related only to the theophany at Sinai, but as in Psalm 29, as accompanying the advent of His Presence on repeated occasions.

Now they are in Canaan, the place where all the promises of God are “yea and amen.” Look at the opportunities. The mountain speaks of higher ground, of nearness to God. The enemy would like to keep us in the valley, on lower ground.

But look! Those mountains skip like rams. They shake at the mighty tramp of those who are determined to scale their heights and occupy higher ground for God. Every stronghold and device of Satan to keep us down will be shaken to the ground. The way is clear now, right up to the top.

But there is more: and the little hills [skipped] like lambs.” “The little hills” suggest fruitfulness. The rolling, undulating, fertile hills were where the best crops were grown, where the cattle stood knee-deep in clover, where the vines and olives flourished.

God wants us to be fruitful, but first He wants us to get out of the world and out of the wilderness, out of Egypt into Canaan. We have to take our stand on the ground of separation, sanctification, and surrender, and scale the heights of fellowship. We have to plow and sow the seed, and take the steps to fruitfulness. And when we do we are invincible.


5 What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?

6 Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?

In these two verses (vv. 5-6) the psalmist goes over the same ground. Only now instead of all nature cringing, all nature is questioned: “What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest; thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back; Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?” What a healthy attitude for a believer to adopt.

Feigning astonishment, the poet prepares the way for the climax of his anthem with a series of questions prompted by the extraordinary behavior of sea, river, mountains, and hills. It is a clever touch, the more so since He uses it to bring His congregation into direct contact with the phenomena of advent by shifting suddenly to unfinished or present action. The answer to the questions, of course, is the arrival of Yahweh; and it is an answer which the poet gives straightforwardly and powerfully by commanding the earth to shake and tremble because of the Presence of the Lord.

The God of creation [whom we saw in Psalm 113 with His omnipotent power] rolled back the Red Sea, and He also held back the waters of the Jordan River. There were other miracles, and I don’t think they can be explained on any other basis. When the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea they had been delivered from Egypt by blood ― blood on the doorposts. When they crossed over the Jordan they were separated from the wilderness and brought into the Promised Land. These are the two stages of redemption, and they illustrate the two stages of our redemption. The Lord Jesus, on the cross, has delivered us from the penalty of sin ― that is, for the past. He delivers us from the power of sin in the present ― provided we meet His conditions ― and He will deliver us from the presence of sin, which has not yet been realized. The crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan picture the two stages of redemption.

There was no natural explanation for what happened. Only God could have produced such results. The psalmist does not lose his sense of awe and wonder. It was not Israel who did it, it was God.

We are invulnerable as long as we maintain an attitude of “Not I, but Christ.” I was just the instrument. It is all of God. The moment we become proud, imagining that it is our zeal, prayers, intellect, eloquence that did it, God lays us sadly aside.


7 Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;

When God is moving in power, people will tremble. The Spirit of God convicts of sin, of righteousness, of judgment to come. People begin to tremble, not at the preacher, but at the presence of the God of Jacob. The name the psalmist uses is Adon  Eloah, the Mighty Lord and Living God of Jacob. The name Jacob speaks to us of human frailty, of natural weakness. It is when He moves into a church service, into a soul-winning situation, into a gospel campaign, into a revival, that people begin to tremble. There is conviction.


8 Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.

Two miracles are mentioned here, one from the beginning of the wilderness journey, the other at the end. In the one case the word for “rock” implies a low-lying rock; in the second case the word here rendered “flint” is sela, a high cliff. One speaks of Christ in His humiliation; the other of Christ in His glory.

In the first place the rock was to be smitten; in the second it was to be spoken to. In each case there were results. Water flowed; people came and stooped and drank and went away filled. Christ on the cross, smitten. Christ in glory, addressed in prayer. And the water of life flows out to thirsty, needy souls. Millions upon millions of people have been convicted and converted.

Special notes and Scripture

[1} You can see how appropriate the reading of this beautiful little psalm would be at the celebration of the Passover. It is a call for the remembrance of God’s mercy and power on behalf of God’s people.

[2} Although this psalm has no actual “hallelujah,” it is linked with the psalms making up the Great Hallel

[3} We do not know who wrote it or when it was written.

[4} The expression “strange language” means “stammering tongue.”

[5} A “sanctuary” is a sacred enclosure where God dwells