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Calvin on Psalm 114

January 25, 2009

Introduction
This psalm contains a short account of that deliverance by which God, in bringing his people out of Egypt: and conducting them to the promised inheritance, gave a proof of his power and grace which ought to be held in everlasting remembrance. The design of that wonderful deliverance was, that the seed of Abraham might yield themselves wholly to God, who, receiving them by a gracious act of adoption, purposed that they should be to him a holy and peculiar people.

Verses 1-4
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. 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, and Israel his dominion, 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.

Verses 5-8
5 What ailed thee, O sea! The prophet interrogates the sea, Jordan, and the mountains, in a familiar and poetical strain, as lately he ascribed to them a sense and reverence for God’s power. And, by these similitudes, he very sharply reproves the insensibility of those persons, who do not employ the intelligence which God has given them in the contemplation of his works. The appearance which he tells us the sea assumed, is more than sufficient to condemn their blindness. It could not be dried up, the river Jordan could not roll back its waters, had not God, by his invisible agency, constrained them to render obedience to his command. The words are indeed directed to the sea, the Jordan, and the mountains, but they are more immediately addressed to us, that every one of us, on self-reflection, may carefully and attentively weigh this matter. And, therefore, as often as we meet with these words, let each of us reiterate the sentiment, — “Such a change cannot be attributed to nature, and to subordinate causes, but the hand of God is manifest here.” The figure drawn from the lambs and rams would appear to be inferior to the magnitude of the subject. But it was the prophet’s intention to express in the homeliest way the incredible manner in which God, on these occasions, displayed his power. The stability of the earth being, as it were, founded on the mountains, what connection can they have with rams and lambs, that they should be agitated, skipping hither and thither? In speaking in this homely style, he does not mean to detract from the greatness of the miracle, but more forcibly to engrave these extraordinary tokens of God’s power on the illiterate.

7 At the presence of the Lord. Having aroused the senses of men by interrogations, he now furnishes a reply, which many understand to be a personification of the earth; because they take י, yod, to be the affix of the verb חולי, chuli; and they represent the earth as saying, It is my duty to tremble at the presence of the Lord. This fanciful interpretation is untenable; for the term, earth, is immediately subjoined. Others, with more propriety, considering the י, yod, in this, as in many other passages, to be redundant, adopt this interpretation: It is reasonable and becoming that the earth should tremble in the presence of the Lord. Again, the term חולי, chuli, is by many rendered in the imperative mood; which interpretation I readily adopt, as it is most probable that the prophet again makes an appeal to the earth, that the hearts of men may be the more sensibly moved. The meaning is the same, — It must be that the earth quake at the presence of her King. And this view receives confirmation from the term אדון, adon, being used, which signifies a lord or a master. He then immediately introduces the name of the God of Jacob, for the purpose of banishing from men all notions of false gods. Their minds being prone to deceit, they are always in great danger of allowing idols to usurp the place of the true God. Another miracle is mentioned, in which God, after the passage of the people through the Red Sea, gave an additional splendid manifestation of his power in the wilderness. The glory of God, as he informs us, did not appear for one day only, on the departure of the people; it constantly shone in his other works, as when a stream suddenly issued out of the dry rock, Exodus 17:6. Waters may be found trickling out from among rocks and stony places, but to make them flow out of a dry rock, was unquestionably above the ordinary course of nature, or miraculous. I have no intention of entering into any ingenious discussion, how the stone was converted into water; all that the prophet means amounts simply to this, that water flowed in places formerly dry and hard. How absurd, then, is it for the sophists to pretend that a transubstantiation takes place in every case in which the Scripture affirms that a change has been produced? The substance of the stone was not converted into water, but God miraculously created the water, which gushed out of the dry rock.

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