The Savior’s Powerful Presence
Psalm 114:7 – “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” (ESV)
Psalms 113–118 are called the Egyptian Hallel and were sung during Passover, but this second psalm of the collection is the only one that directly mentions the Exodus from Egypt. It sets the tone for the rest of the psalms surrounding it. The opening line celebrates how God took the people of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt and made them his special kingdom and holy dwelling place (verses 1 and 2). Think of the contrast! In Egypt, they were misfits, foreign residents in a land of “strange language” (v. 1) and customs. They were mistreated, oppressed by forced labor as they built Pharaoh’s cities instead of prospering in their own work. They were even threatened with extinction as a distinct people group, for Pharaoh in his paranoia instituted a pogrom to wipe out all their baby boys (Exodus 1). If this policy had been successful, within a generation there would have been only female Israelites left, and they would have been taken by Egyptian husbands and masters to complete the absorption of Israel into Egypt. But God intervened! He brought his people out of Egypt and established their own special identity: Israel would henceforth be “his dominion,” and eventually—centuries later in David’s day—the tribe of Judah would become the place of “his sanctuary” (verse 2).
These first two verses, then, recall the fact that God saved Israel. But the rest of the psalm celebrates the mighty signs and wonders that accompanied that salvation. God parted the sea under Moses’ leadership so that the Israelites could escape the murderous Egyptian chariots. The next generation of Israelites followed Joshua through the dried-up Jordan River to conquer the Promised Land. In between those two supernatural crossings, Israel camped at Mt. Sinai, which shook with earthquake and thunder when God came down to make his covenant with his people (Exod. 19). Psalm 114 delights so much in how God moved sea, mountain, and river for Israel’s sake that the psalmist repeats himself (verses 3–6). Then, as a postscript, he reminds his listeners of one more Exodus miracle: the times that God used Moses to bring drinking water for the nation out of a rock in the desert (verse 8; see Exod. 17:1-7; Num. 20:1–13). The proper conclusion to be drawn from all these wonders appears in verse 7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord.” When God steps in to save his people, he shakes things up! Mountains and rocks, seas and rivers shudder and split in his saving presence! Bodies of water turn to dry ground while dry boulders pour out water!
Fast forward to the first century A.D. Jesus and his disciples may well have sung this psalm before eating the Passover meal. At that meal, Jesus split bread, poured out wine, and called them his body and blood. The next day the noontime sun went dark for three hours as he hung on the cross. At his death the temple veil split in two, an earthquake split the rocks, and the tombs of the righteous split open to allow the dead to rise (Matt. 27:45, 50–54). A soldier split Christ’s side with a spear and both blood and water flowed out (John 19:33–37). Centuries later, the revivalist Augustus Toplady wrote a hymn that linked together the split rock in the desert with the piercing of Jesus’ side:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
Let the water and the blood
From Thy wounded side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure:
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Three days later, another earthquake shook the garden where Jesus had been buried. An angel rolled away the stone over the entrance, breaking the seal, to display that the Lord had risen from the dead (Matt. 28:2). Once again, when God stepped in to save his people, he shook things up!
When God acts to save you from your sins or deliver you from a difficult situation or call you to a new level of holiness or service to him, he will move mountains, part seas, split open hard hearts, provide what you need in apparently impossible ways, and generally shake up your life. When everything’s going topsy-turvy, it may well be a sign of his saving presence. In the midst of the trembling, trust him!