When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why was it, O sea, that you fled, O Jordan, that you turned back, you mountains, that you skipped like rams, you hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water. Psalm 114.
This little psalm is one of the six (Psalms 113-118) that together form the Hallel which was sung at the festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles as well as at the festivals of new moon and dedication of the temple; and no wonder … It is a most glorious celebration of God’s presence in his people on earth.
As the crowds of fleeing, homeless slaves (seen from a human perspective) reach the Red Sea, the waters see something else. They see their own creator present in the midst of this rag-tag-and-bobtail people, making them his own — and the waters back-up in awe (Exodus 14.21). Likewise at the Jordan. As the priests bearing the ark of the covenant stepped into the river, its waters too recognised the presence of their creator and retreated in wonder (Joshua 3.15-17). Mount Sinai “trembled violently” as her creator stood upon her slopes to make a covenant with Moses (Exodus 19.18). The picture is one of all creation falling over itself in awe and excitement at the presence of the Almighty here in the midst of it, in his chosen people. And present not just in some passive way, but present to rescue and save and redeem … taking something as hard and unyielding as a rock and bringing from it the water of life (Numbers 20.11).
Paul tells us “that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10.4) and so carries me forward fifteen hundred years to when God’s presence among his people became of a different order entirely and one that is an even greater cause for awesome celebration. He reminds me that “the Word — who was God and was with God in the beginning — became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1.1-2, 14) but again it is a “hidden” presence. Jesus was seen by many as a person of no consequence — “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13,55) yet the wind and the sea recognised him and were quiet when he told them “Be still!” (Matthew 4.39).
And I know that he is present in me too, today, by his Holy Spirit … and present in all his people, in his church. And that though we too are (from a human perspective and like those fleeing slaves) of little consequence, a rag-tag-and bobtail people, yet all creation recognises the presence of God in us and “waits in eager expectation” for us to be revealed as the sons of God that we are (Romans 8.19).
And the God who is present still brings water from the rock. He breaks open my hard heart and streams of living water flow from within me (John 7.38) … and if I could only see it, the hills (and we have some lovely hills here in Yorkshire) are skipping like lambs!
Help me, Lord, to practice your presence in my life today and to join with creation in recognising it in all your people. Amen.