Psalm 114Well, we certainly have skipped ahead! The reality is that many of the later psalms don't appear to have any specific context, or the commentators profoundly disagree as to what it is. Here we have a psalm which refers to the story at the heart of the Jewish consciousness of salvation, the Exodus.
However, that in itself causes us problems, as we will see.
verses 1 and 2
The idea of 'coming out of Egypt' here and elsewhere in the scriptures encompasses everything through to the entry into Canaan. The psalmist is content to point to a difference in language as that which distinguished the Hebrews from the Egyptians - not culture, not deities, but simply an inability to communicate. Verse 2 causes a lot of conflict between the commentators - does it mean the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, or Judah as part of the kingdom of Saul, David and Solomon? Either way, we see God's blessing of the people by being present in Jerusalem, and by elevating them to being a specific divine possession.
verses 3 and 4
This combines two crossings undertaken dry-shod - Exodus 14: 21 - 29 at the Reed Sea on the Nile Delta and Joshua 3: 7 - 17 at the Jordan. The first marks salvation from the oppressors, the second entry into the lands promised to the patriarchs in Genesis. God is recognised as the fulfiller of promises, as well as the wielder of sufficient power that the army of the world's most powerful nation is destroyed.
It is interesting that all of this is being placed within the context of major earthquakes, and that may say something of the psalmist's personal experience.
verses 5 and 6
Oh, what a rhetorical question! The psalmist and all of those singing the psalm know the answer full well. This portion exists to 'raise the emotional stakes' of the story, so that the punch-line payoff should be all the greater.
verses 7 and 8
Verses 1-4 were observational, 5&6 questioning, but 7&8 declare the power of God, and threaten even greater deeds. The entire land of Canaan should tremble before the coming of the Lord, and with God comes the chosen people. The psalm is revealed as a statement of conquest through divine might.
Now, why did I say that we might have a problem with Exodus as history? Over the last century and a half or so a great many Biblical scholars have called the historicity of the Exodus, and of the entry into the land of Canaan, into question. The archaeology doesn't seem to support the tale, and even those serious archaeologists who are Bible-friendly have difficulty with the issues involved.
For example, William G Dever wrote a book entitled 'Who were the ancient Israelites and where did they come from?'.
So the question has to be asked - Does it matter if the story isn't literally true?
My answer would have to be, it depends on who is asking, and why?
To the archaeologist and the historian, yes, obviously.
To the worshipper, reading or singing an expression of faith in the providence of God, probably not.
How can we use it today?This is a psalm that speaks of the joy to be found in serving the God who saves the people, and gives them a new home. (The rights and wrongs of conquering someone else's country we will leave for another occasion!) There is no specific guarantee for the psalmist, but there is for the community of which he is a part, and that can be of comfort to us.
At a time of considerable personal uncertainty, we can know that God is with us all. There is no guarantee of my personal safety, but I may rejoice in the continuity of the people of God.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.