When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. (Psalm 114:1-4)
My wife Heidi is great at making memories. Not only have we shared countless memorable moments together throughout our 35 years of marriage, but Heidi has also done an amazing job of capturing and preserving those memorable moments. It started out with simple photo albums, but it has evolved steadily over the years—from Creative Memories parties, to daily journals, to Snapfish and Shutterfly books.
Preserving those memories is valuable for a number of reasons. They can help us to remember and celebrate events and times that are long-past; they can communicate our stories to future generations; and they can even sometimes act as safeguards against forgetting some of the hard-learned lessons of life.
Psalm 114 is a brief song that celebrates some truly valuable memories for the people of Israel. It is the second in a series of psalms (113-118) known as the Egyptian Hallel. “Hallel” is the Hebrew word for “praise.” (Hallelu-jah literally means, “praise the Lord). Together, these psalms are sung as part of the Jewish Passover ceremony, praising God and celebrating Israel’s miraculous exodus from Egypt.
The people of Israel would sing these psalms to remember who God is, what God had done for them and why God was deserving of their total praise and devotion. God had brought them out of a place of bondage and hopelessness to a place of freedom and promise (vs. 1). God had dwelt among His people, making them His domain and sanctuary (vs. 2). Before His presence the Red Sea had “fled,” the Jordan River had “turned back,” and the mountains and had hills skipped and jumped like playful sheep (vs. 3-4). God was not only worthy of His people’s praise, but all creation feared and celebrated the power and goodness of their Creator!
The great 19th-century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon considered Psalm 114 to be one of the greatest psalms ever composed: “This sublime song of the exodus is one and indivisible. True poetry has here reached its climax: no human mind has ever been able to equal, much less to excel, the grandeur of this psalm.” High praise indeed, from the man known as the “Prince of Preachers.”
With all due respect to Mr. Spurgeon, I would like to suggest that the beauty of this psalm isn’t in its “grandeur” at all, but rather in its simplicity. Like a children’s nursery rhyme, the song finds its deep meaning not through its ability to teach or explain, but in the simple curiosity and wonder of a childlike experience: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are; up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.” That’s deep stuff!
I imagine Psalm 114 is a song that could have been sung and understood by young children as well as old sages…by peasants as well as princes…at kitchen tables as well as the Temple altar. It presented valuable memories that reminded the people of their glorious history, communicated the truth to future generations, and served as a warning to avoid the mistakes of their forefathers—all as the mountains and hills joyfully skipped and jumped their way across the pages.
Hundreds of years before this psalm was written, Moses had instructed that first exodus generation to share these stories with future generations, to preserve and pass on these valuable memories, to diligently teach their children to follow the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:20-25). This wasn’t simply to be a religion for the sophisticated, educated and old. It was the good news of God’s deliverance for everyone. In fact, Jesus insisted that everyone who want to enter his kingdom needs to receive this good news with the innocent curiosity and wonder of a little child (Luke 18:17).
God’s good news is deep, but it’s not difficult. Paul summarized it this way, “Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). That’s simply good news! Remembering that simple truth helps us celebrate what God has done, it encourages us to share the good news with everyone, it keeps us from losing our way. Try celebrating God’s simple good news today. Take a few moments to listen to the “Simple Prayer” below. Offer Jesus your simple, childlike, heart-felt Hallel. After all, he has offered us his Living Water. Stay thirsty, my friends!
Song for today: Simple Prayer