Psalms For Life
Looking for content on a specific topic?
Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 114

Joyful invitation to faith

The Jews who returned from exile were marginalized and looked down on in their own land, much like Christians in the West today. This psalm reminds them of who their God is and, wonderfully, does so with playfulness, not anger.

Praise YHWH!
1 When Israel came out of Egypt—
when Jacob’s family escaped
from a people babbling in a strange tongue—
2 Judah became his sanctuary
and Israel his domain.

3 The sea saw it and bolted
the Jordan River turned tail and ran.
4 The mountains jumped like rams
and the hills skipped like lambs.

5 What was wrong with you, sea
that you bolted?
And you, Jordan
that you ran away?
6 Why, mountains
did you jump like rams
and you hills, skip like lambs?

7 Tremble, Earth
before YHWH!
Tremble before the God of Jacob!
8 He turned solid rock
into a pool of water
hard stone into a gushing spring.

Two things suggest that Psalm 114 originally began with “Praise YHWH,” dislocated by a scribal mistake to the end of Psalm 113. First, the text of Psalm 114 makes it the only Hallel (Praise) psalm that doesn’t explicitly praise God and Psalm 113 the only one that begins and ends with “Praise YHWH.” Second and more importantly, the pronoun “his” in Psalm 114:2 demands either “God” or “YHWH” as its antecedent, which the psalm’s initial “Praise YHWH” originally supplied. By making this textual correction, we make the psalm’s currently implicit call to praise explicit.

The Jews who returned from exile were suppressed by their pagan overlords, which made praising God hard. This psalm uses the Exodus, Israel’s signature story, to address that situation. And it does so with playful pugnacity, by ridiculing the river, sea, and mountains and then calling the whole earth to submit to the omnipotent God who cares for his people.

Something about Israel’s departure from Egypt terrified the waters and made the earth quake. But instead of saying what it was, the psalmist taunts the natural formations, leaving them mute before her taunts.* She also brings us readers on stage since, by voicing her words, we join her taunting and relish the resultant silence.

Only when the earth is commanded to tremble are we told what overwhelmed nature in the Exodus. But since these were Israel’s best-known stories, the psalmist’s audience knew the secret all along, the psalm’s dramatic irony making her jibes all the more lively and fun.

The psalm’s images of YHWH’s controlling water evoke the region’s creation myths, in which Baal subdued the chaotic waters of the cosmos to permit the ordering of creation. These images underscore Earth’s need to submit to YHWH absolutely. And the fact that the psalm ends with God’s tender care for his people tells us he’s just as compassionate as he is powerful. All these things point to God’s majesty, giving us ample reason to praise him.

Lord, you defeated all the powers of darkness degrading and dehumanizing your people in Egypt. And Jesus, you defeated evil itself in your death-and-resurrection Exodus. When I feel powerless, against the evil around me, help me believe you have absolute agency and you live in me. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Tremble, Earth, before YHWH!
Tremble before the God of Jacob!


* I imagine the psalmist here as a woman of faith, like Miriam, Deborah, Hanna, or the Virgin Mary (see further, my answer to the question: Who wrote the psalms?).


Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.