YEAR A: SEASON AFTER PENTECOST
(Sunday between September 11 and September 17)
Psalm 114 focuses on the exodus as its major theme and hence is a fitting choice for this Sunday’s lectionary. The psalm divides into four stanzas, each of two verses. The first stanza, vv. 1-2 introduces the theme of exodus. It ends in the NRSV with the statement that at the time of the exodus Israel became God’s sanctuary or dominion. In the Hebrew, however, it does not say clearly ‘God’s sanctuary’ but ‘his sanctuary’. The poem does not resolve who is the real ‘hero’ of this venture or who it is that causes the sea to flee until the end (v. 7). We should keep that in mind as we read. Yahweh is not revealed as the god who does such marvels until v. 7 when the earth is called to tremble in his presence.
The use of the word sanctuary in v. 2 is intriguing. We might have expected ‘people’ or a similar word. The use of ‘sanctuary’ brings to us a strange mixture of act of liberation and worship which is quite deliberate. While we may think of God’s saving or delivering acts as for our benefit in some way and the result of God’s gracious compassion toward us, we are reminded that such acts are meant to result in praise for God by those who are recipients of God’s grace. But also we understand that in the very act of delivering the people, God is praised, even if the people were to forget their need to give thanks.
The second and third stanzas present the intriguing image of the sea and the Jordan River fleeing and turning away (v. 4). In addition the mountains and hills skip like sheep. The third stanza then addresses these entities asking what caused their behaviour? The poem draws on the imagery of creation myths at this point, in particular the old myth of a monster of chaos, often understood in relation to the sea, being vanquished by the creator god in some fashion. This myth of creation seems to survive in the biblical materials only in fragmentary form (see Isaiah 51:9-10; Job 26:10-13; Pss 74:12-17; 98:8-11). The fleeing sea etc. in Ps 114:3, 5 is likely another use of this old imagery. The picture of the animals skipping at the appearance of God also has its roots in creation stories now mostly lost in the Biblical books. It is a reminder of the life that the creator god bestows. Another example in the Bible is in Ps 29:6.
In these stanzas, the story of the crossing of the reed sea is told using this old creation imagery. By doing so the poet links the exodus from Egypt to the great creation stories of Israel’s God, Yahweh. The liberation of the people enslaved and oppressed is part of God’s creative work. Creation does not stop with the making of the physical world. It unfolds in the giving of life to those caught in death’s grip, who are captive to oppression, who suffer in various ways. All earth is called to tremble, or give honour, at the presence of this God, who is now revealed in v. 7 to be the God of Israel. This is the one who reverses expectations thus preserving Israel in the wilderness (v. 8; cf. Ps 107:33-38).
Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship
There may not be a lot that can be done with such a specific psalm. It could be said betyween the Old Testament and New Testament readings in responsorial manner using the stanzas alternatively beginning with the congregation followed by the leader.
Verses 7-8 could also be used to introduce the final blessing in the service:
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD,Old Testament reading: Exodus 14:19-31
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.
And the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Be with you now and forever.
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