History or His Story?
(1) When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, (2) Judah became his (Yahweh’s) sanctuary, Israel his dominion. (3) The sea looked and fled. The Jordan turned back. (4) The mountains skipped about like rams, the hills like lambs. (5) What (ails) you, O sea, that you flee, O Jordan, that you turn back, (6) O mountains, that you skip about like rams, O hills, like lambs? (7) Tremble, O earth, in the presence of the Lord, in the presence of the God of Jacob, (8) who turns rock into a pool of water, flint into a spring of water.
One lengthy repetition dominates the psalm. Verses 5 & 6 virtually repeat verses 3 & 4, turning statements of historic fact into a rhetorical question by which the psalmist emphasizes his point by directly addressing the sea, the river, the mountains, and the earth as if they were persons. This figure of speech, known as “apostrophe,” effectively draws our attention to the amazing events of the Exodus and stresses the importance of worshiping Yahweh for delivering the nation.
In the rest of the psalm we find two more words repeated for emphasis: “in the presence of” and “water” (vss. 7 & 8). Note also the segment’s chiastic structure: verses 1 & 2 are related to verses 7 & 8 while verses 3 & 4 are associated with verses 5 & 6.
I. What happened in the Exodus: Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel (1-4)
II. What should result: the entire creation worshiping Yahweh in reverence and awe (5-8)
Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt should motivate the whole creation to worship him in reverence and awe.
This psalm vividly illustrates a tension all historians face whether simply to report what happened in the past as a series of events (reference Sgt. Friday’s constant reminder in the old television series, Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am”) or to interpret those events in order to show us their significance. In the first part of the psalm, the “what happened” section (vss. 1-4), the author recalls for his readers the events of the Exodus. In the “what should happen” section (vss. 5-8), the psalmist calls on the entire world to worship Yahweh because of what took place. When viewed from the perspective of their spiritual significance, these events stand as a vivid testimony to the power and glory of Yahweh.
Historians who acknowledge the God of the Bible have been known to say, “History should be called ‘His Story.’” In other words, the events of the past should be interpreted as a testimony to God’s mighty acts displayed throughout the centuries. Secular historians reject this perspective since they leave no room for God’s working in their interpretation of past events. However, with God in the picture, the past becomes a powerful testimony to his purposes and plans for the future.