Beckett: Tremble in God’s Presence

Psalm 114
When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became His sanctuary, Israel His dominion.
The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

As a poem, this psalm uses strange imagery. The sea “flees,” the Jordan river “turns back,” the mountains “skip like rams,” and the hills likewise skip “like lambs” (vv. 3-4). Of course, the waters don’t actually run and the mountains and hills don’t actually frolic like cheerful cattle. This is a poem, so we know the psalmist is being metaphorical. A metaphor of what, however? That’s why the psalmist questions the waters and the mountains. Why are they fleeing and skipping away?

Because of God’s mighty presence. God has the power to turn “the rock into a pool of water” and “the flint [a really hard rock] into a spring of water” (v. 8). One might say, “But this is impossible! A rock cannot suddenly turn into water!” Exactly. Now you are beginning to understand the endless extent of God’s power (His omnipotence). God created the rock. Therefore, He can do with it as He wishes, even something as impossible as turning it into a pool of water.

A finite creature can only tremble in the presence of such almighty power. Yet this God chose Israel as His dominion—as His dwelling place (v. 2). God dwelt in the tabernacle of Israel. Ultimately, God dwelt in Christ, the very embodiment of Israel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [literally, “tabernacled”] among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Only we do not tremble in the presence of Jesus. Why? Because He comes full of grace and truth. As He said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

Featured Image Source

©Joshua Passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant, Benjamin West, 1800.

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