Psalm 114 - Why is it, O sea?

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A Psalm of David.
1) When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2) Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
3) The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
4) The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.
5) Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
6) O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
7) Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8) who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.

Psalm 114 (NRSV*)
The Great Vigil of Easter
Easter Evening
Proper 19, Sunday between September 11 and September 17, Year A

It's a rhetorical question, of course. Why does the sea flee and why do the mountains skip like rams?

The casual modern reader may hear that image of mountains skipping like rams as playful poetics. Yet few would like to be on a mountainside while the solid rock is prancing about underneath their feet.

We could be hearing a description of an earthquake and tsunami. The signs of seas retreating from shore, rivers running backwards, mountains shaking, and the solid earth turning to water say just that, but so does the text. "Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord" (v7).

Israel's departure from bondage in Egypt and return to the land of Judah is literally an earth-shaking event. The very earth itself moves. This is an event of cosmic proportions. And this is not a God to be trifled with.

We might contemplate the awesome power of this God. And also recognize how this power is seen in our faith tradition. God will open the seas, God will bring water from stone. God will move mountains in relation to crucial events in God's ministry of salvation.

We do not always get to see what God is doing "behind the scenes" to bring a peaceful and just creation into being. But the release of slaves from captivity, finding a promised land, any new chapter in the ongoing history of God's saving grace is truly earth-shaking.

There is ample room for humility in prayer. Can our prayer also touch this awesome and terrible power that God is re-making the world?

Credits:
Photographer unknown, Mountain goats jumping, Public domain (CC0 1.0).
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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