God’s power for his people – Psalm 114

Psalm 114 is short poem (song) about God’s power for his people.

It’s a psalm that looks back to things God has done in the past and encourages you to think about what he will do in the future.

It’s a song for God’s people, but it’s also a powerful warning to the whole world. And in the Bible, warnings are often signs of God’s grace – examples of his patience, waiting for you to see the truth and turn to him.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

God separates humanity in two (1-2)

Read Psalm 114:1-2.

The background to psalm 114 is the Exodus.

  • God gave instruction to Moses to lead the people up out of Egypt. Israel had been in Egypt for 400 years, and by then they were being abused as slaves.
  • Verse 1 speaks of Egypt as a foreign land (lit. “a people of strange language”).
  • After 400 years, they were still separate. The separation was ethnic as much as religious, but it was very real.

So they were brought up out of Egypt. Led through the Red Sea on dry land in safety. Once they were all through, the sea closed up over the Egyptian pursuers and drowned them all.

The Israelites had been an ethnic group within Egypt, but in Exodus 19 God called them a “nation” for the first time. In fact, they were his nation. God’s special possession, a holy nation, a royal priesthood.

  • They had been brought out of obscurity, pain, and slavery to being the special possession of the God of the whole earth.
  • God had demonstrated both judgment and salvation in Egypt and at the Red Sea.
  • He had saved a people to himself, and brought terrible judgment on all those who opposed him.

And then (Psalm 114:2), “[the land of] Judah became God’s sanctuary, and Israel became his kingdom”.

  • “The land of” isn’t really necessary (not in the Hebrew).
  • The sanctuary is the place that is sanctified (made holy).
  • Only God is holy by nature; and where he dwells must also be holy.

God’s people as his dwelling place

So don’t miss the wonder of verse 2: God dwelt among his people, and by doing that they became his sanctuary – his presence made them holy. And yet his sanctuary was also a place you could go to – his holy place – the tabernacle or temple. So his people are his sanctuary – where he dwells, and can also go to him to be sanctified.

Also in v2, “Israel became his kingdom” – the kingdom of God is not so much a place as a reign; wherever anyone bends the knee in obedience to God as king.

In the New Testament, something amazing happens in Luke 9. Jesus ascends a mountain with Peter, James, and John. He is met there by Moses and Elijah, and Luke tells us that they discussed Jesus’ “exodus”.

  • Because the original exodus from Egypt was just a blueprint, a small model of what Jesus was to do.
  • Jesus rescues his people not from slavery in Egypt but slavery to sin, slavery to the idols and useless gods of this world.
  • Jesus gathers his people to himself – the whole world-wide church. Together, we’re called by the same words Israel first were: God’s special possession, his holy nation, a royal priesthood.

Ascended to heaven, Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit into every single Christian. If you’re a Christian, Holy Spirit of God dwells in you – he sanctifies you, makes you holy by his presence.

God dwells among us now

Together, we’re a holy people because God dwells among us. Gathering like this is a supernatural event. God is here. And, as we hear his voice (in the Bible) and grow in our obedience, the kingdom of God is upon us. We are his kingdom.

And where Israel had been a distinct ethnic group within Egypt, Christians are a distinct holy group in the world. As God sees humanity, there are those who belong to Christ and those who don’t.

No other distinction matters. Not brains, nationality, sexual orientation, skin colour, social status – only whether or not you are in Christ. So which side are you on?

God works power for his people (3-6)

In the next few verses, the psalm reminds you of what exactly God did to save his people at the Exodus.

Read Psalm 114:3-4.

They passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. When we looked at Exodus, I suggested that the distance was probably a minimum of ½ mile, and maybe up to 6 miles. Water on either side. Supernatural stuff. The moment everyone was through, the sea went back to its place – and all the Egyptians who were pursuing were drowned. The Red Sea event was an amazing and complete deliverance from Egypt.

When they finally reached the border of Canaan (the promised land) they had to cross the huge river Jordan somehow. In a miracle that would have reminded everyone of the Red Sea, God caused the river to stop flowing somewhere upstream. Everyone walked across in safety, then the river resumed its flow.

The land they then entered is hilly (look it up on Google maps). There’s year-round snow on the highest peaks.

Those are not great conditions for driving out occupied territories, and yet Israel drove the enemies out: It was as if the mountains and hills skipped like rams and lambs! 

The point is that these were massive obstacles to progress: The impassable sea; a huge river; hostile territories. But God acted powerfully in nature to remove the obstacles. God strengthened his people and (in some cases) again acted powerfully in nature to defeat enemies.

These things would have been impossible for you and me. Were they hard for God? No, not really. Hence the mocking tone of Psalm 114:5-6 [read].

Miracles? Really? Yes. Easy.

So, when you read of miracles in the Bible, what are you to make of them? Calming the storm, healing the sick, walking on water, turning water to wine? Small fry.

God works power for his people. He removes all obstacles to bring them to himself. He even removes all enemies and hostile territories (or will do).

I was at a funeral recently where someone read from 1 Corinthians 15: “The last enemy is death.” Seeing all the grieving family there, thinking back to so many funerals and more to come, I thought about just how much an enemy death is. Death is your enemy. Death robs you. It takes people you love. It cares nothing for you. Death snuffs out a life of possibility, ends joy, and reminds you of how this life should be so much better than it is.

God works power for his people. He has defeated death itself. Jesus died and rose again. That’s a historical fact. He has ascended to heaven, where he is now. He has defeated that last enemy by smashing through it.

You still expect to die, physically. But if you’re a Christian you have life – eternal life – even now.

He parted the Red Sea, stopped the river Jordan, and scattered enemies to bring his people Israel into their promised land. He has conquered death itself and paved a way through the heavens to the promised rest of peace with God for you.

Jews sang these psalms at Passover, remembering the first Exodus with thanksgiving and praise, remembering God’s power for his people. And now, in Christ, we do the same. Praise God and remember how he works his great power for his people – but also in judgment against all others. Hence:

Tremble (7-8)

With all this in mind, read Psalm 114:7-8.

It’s a call to the whole earth: Tremble. Tremble before the God who is prepared to part seas, stop rivers, and even conquer death itself to save his people. Fear the Lord. Tremble before his power – no-one can stop him. Tremble before his presence – he is holy, and hold you accountable for your sin against him.

There’s no call to tremble before Christians, but before God himself.

The last verse seems surprisingly mundane, ordinary. It’s from Exodus 17. The people were grumbling that they had no water, so God gave Moses the instruction to strike a rock. Water came gushing out, and everyone had enough to drink. Because here’s the thing:

  • God, our infinitely powerful creator, applies his great power to move creation itself to bless his people.
  • He applies astonishing power to bring life to his people.
  • God will sustain, nourish, protect and keep his people.

You might ask what happens to Christians who are then imprisoned, tortured, and killed? Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead; everyone who has the Son has life. Anyone who has faith in Christ will live, even if he dies!

You might think God is too busy, too big, too important to have anything to do with “little old you”? But that’s just the point of v8. He delights to apply astonishing power to bless his people, to bless you. Since God is for you, no-one and nothing can be against you.

So this little psalm divides all humanity in two: Those who are Christ’s and those who aren’t.

Two messages for the Two types of people

To the earth, the message is simple: Tremble!

  • The Judge of all the earth will do right; he will hold you accountable. Thankfully, that same judge came into the world to save you. He will forgive you today, if you ask him

To God’s special people, his message is also simple: Drink!

  • He has moved heaven and earth to save you, to provide living water that brings eternal life.
  • You go to Christ for nourishment.
  • He is your sanctuary – you are in him.
  • And you are a sanctuary, a holy place, indwelt by the Holy Spirit of adoption.
  • You are in his kingdom, under the rule of the King of kings.
  • As you life kingdom life, your godliness will bring you ever closer into Christ, taking hold of eternal life now.
  • And God will continue his deliverance and provision of you to the end.

Are you struggling, stumbling, doubting, worrying? Cry out to him! He has already moved heaven and earth to bring you to him.

Christ has living water to nourish you; all enemies are already served notice. That last enemy, death itself, has no permanent hold over you.

I can offer no better answer, no greater hope, no stronger lifeline, than to tell you to go to Christ. And keep going back. Persevere in him, abide in him, and you will experience his life.

He will forgive your every sin, and he’ll provide divine assistance – grace to help in time of need.