What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest?
We concluded psalm 113 with the thought of the LORD’s humility ‘to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth’ (v6), and to lift ‘the needy out of the dunghill’ (v7). In this psalm we are given the specific example of how the LORD ‘humbled Himself’ to bring Israel out of Egypt.
The psalm divides into four sections of two verses each:
A) v1&2 – Setting the Scene – Praise or Murmur?
‘When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language; Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.’
The phrase ‘Judah was’ … or maybe better ‘Judah became His sanctuary’, is very important. It tells us this psalm was written later than David, for it‘s looking back upon the building of the temple and the glory of God’s presence being in Jerusalem, the capital of the Land of Judah.
How humble our God is, and how thankful we are, that the LORD does not only ‘behold’ us, or reach out His mighty hand to lift us up, but deigns to come down and dwell among us?
However, why not say Jerusalem? The reason the psalmist fittingly uses Judah’s name is due to the meaning – ‘praise’. In these psalms of praise, the inspired writer wants us to know that the LORD desires to dwell in the midst of a praising people.
Now we often enjoy the words of Christ: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I, in the midst of them’ (Matt 18:20), and what a blessed and precious promise it is! But … what kind of people are we the the Lord dwells amongst? Are we a praising people? Or are we like Israel who were so often found murmuring?
Why were Israel like this? The phrase ‘strange language’ (v1) means ‘to talk indistinctly, unintelligibly or to murmur’. Israel were taken out of Egypt, but Egypt was not fully taken out of Israel.
Similarly for us, it is easy to allow the ‘old man’ to have his way, and be characterised by murmuring and complaining. This ought not to be. Let us ‘put off … the old man … and be renewed in the spirit of our mind’ (Eph 4:22,23). Let us become a people of praise!
B) v3&4 – Recalling How? – A Great Salvation
‘The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.’
The psalmist here recounts the greatness of the LORD’s deliverance of His people, crossing through the Red Sea out of Egypt, and crossing the Jordan into the land. On both occasions a miraculous work was done.
However, in the first phrase of v3, we’re left with a question – what did the sea see? This will be made clear in a few verses.
C) v5&6 – Asking Why? – A Great Mystery
‘What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back? Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?’
The psalmist now beautifully mirrors the precious section, putting the phrases into question form, seeking to understand the workings of God. The way God works is a mystery to us, for truly ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD’ (Isa 55:8).
And as we think of our own salvation, we are just as much in awe of all of God’s dealings: ‘For without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory’ (1 Tim 3:16).
D) v7&8 – Answering the Question – The Face of the LORD
‘At the presence of the Lord, tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the God of Jacob; Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.’
The answer to the questions of the previous section is emphatically given in the first Hebrew word of this last section – milipne!
The root of this word is pane (presence/face), both words being used in Gen 3:8 and 4:14 respectively. In these first references to this word we find Adam & Cain both hiding from the presence or face of a holy God because of their sin.
When we think of the utter holiness of the LORD, it is no surprise that ‘the sea saw it, and fled’. Indeed, at the end of time, we read that ‘the earth and the heaven’ itself will flee away from Him that sits on ‘the Great White Throne’ (Rev 20:11), so awesome and terrible will be His holy character.
What is remarkable, however, is that the LORD in His holiness would be found dwelling among His people, and providing them with life-giving water from the rock.
How precious this thought is to us today, for we understand ‘that Rock was Christ’ (1 Cor 10:4), and we close this meditation marvelling that our holy Lord Jesus Christ ‘humbled Himself’ and allowed Himself to be smitten.
With shame we ponder how our fellow man could be so brazen that they ‘spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, saying, “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?” (Matt 26:67).
One day, those who presently despise the face and presence of our gracious God and Saviour, will find themselves standing before His great and holy presence in judgment. They will then desire to flee along with ‘the earth and the heaven’, but will not be able. How terrible it will be?
However, for those who confess their sin, accept God’s salvation, and come to enjoy God’s presence in their lives, there is a blessed hope. For in that eternal day ‘there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face’ (Rev 22:3,4).
This indeed is something to look forward to.