I read Psalm 114 a few weeks ago, and while I know I’ve read it before, this was the first I’d ever seen it well, the first time I’d acknowledged it. What caught my eye was the first statement, that Israel became God’s sanctuary after they left Egypt.
God gave Abraham a land and a people. Both were required for Israel to fulfill her plans for God. Israel was a people. The number that left Egypt was huge. This was definitely a people group, and since they were Abraham’s descendants, we can assume God loved this people group. But they had a bigger destiny than being loved. They had to be a sanctuary. They were destined to shine for God in a way no other nation ever would, and in the end, they would be home to the Messiah, God’s ultimate salvation for the whole world.
I’ve been thinking about rest lately. This year I spent too much time striving. I worked to improve my iron levels to fix an anemia issue. I watched many podcasts and read articles about book marketing, putting all my effort into everything I did. While it isn’t wrong to work hard, too often I did them in my own power, and the energy I put into my efforts was more than I could ever get out.
It was unsustainable. I was living an unsustainable life, and I was getting nowhere. A simple health event brought my year of iron supplements back to where I’d started—actually worse than where I’d started– and all the book marketing classes in the world weren’t increasing my reach, but they sure were frustrating me.
Enslaved by the good
Then we have Israel. God’s people, promised a great inheritance at the time of Abraham. They went to Egypt as protection during a drought. But things didn’t go well, and here, four hundred years later, they are slaves. Their protection had become their prison, because God had other plans for them, plans that relied on their physical land.
I understand feeling enslaved by things that are supposed to be helpful and good. I’ve felt a little enslaved myself. Social media marketing, email marketing, podcasts, trying to sell products in a dark, sour economy, insurance companies and health care… Again, unsustainable and without reward because I’m right in the thick of it, trying to navigate the world like I belong here.
But like Israel didn’t belong in the borders of Egypt, I don’t belong to the economy and wisdom of the world. I never have and never will.
God called Israel away. He called them out. They had to have a physical distance from the rest of the world. To be a sanctuary, they had to have a place.
That really hit me. God called them away. He had in mind not only a spiritual future for them but a physical one in a physical time and place. Their land, beautifully situated at the crossroads between European, Asian, and African empires, was going to be a place for renewal and restoration of people from all over, too.
I, too, may have to be called out to fulfill God’s plans for me. I won’t look like the world. Be it business or how I live my family life or all the time I spend with my spiritual family, if I’m going to be a spiritual sanctuary for the world—and I think all of us in the Kingdom are part of a spiritual sanctuary for the world—then I have to come out. I have to step away and reflect something different.
I’m lit by a different sun. I cast different shadows. Someone looking at my life, like someone visiting Israel in the time of the Psalms, needs to see something other.
This Psalm has more than one verse, so eventually I had to stop pondering the first stanza I and move on. From here the Psalmist speaks of the exodus—the sea fleeing as the Israelites crossed it and the mountains shaking, likely referring to the giving of the commandments on the mountain. The earth itself shuddered when God led His people.
Why tremble, earth?
Then the Psalmist asks a very good question. Why did the sea turn and the mountains leap like rams? There’s almost a mockery in the question. What made the powerful earth tremble at the passing of the Israelites? Why, big, giant, powerful earth, did you shudder at the passing of this little, powerless group of nomadic people? What made them different than all the other nomadic people of the world?
The answer is simple, and it’s given in verse seven. The presence of the Lord was with Israel. The people themselves didn’t cause the earth to stir. The church herself as a collection of people and buildings also can’t cause the earth to stir. No, it trembled at the presence of God.
Think about that. The planet itself responded to God leading his people. His presence altered physics. Where God is, the world trembles. If I wish to be a sanctuary, to show the world God, I need to be experiencing God myself. My words and striving and business plans mean nothing to anyone.
But if those are bound and backed by the presence of God… Get ready, world. A sanctuary is born, a place for rest and refreshment, a tiny bastion of truth and light in a darkening world.
Water in the dry land
I love the final verse, which we can’t read without thoughts of Jesus. God turned rock into pools. He gave Israel springs of water. Jesus does this same thing, claiming he is this water. Where spiritual thirst is truly quenched, Jesus is there. Where the filthy stand under the falls to be cleaned, that water is Him.
God’s presence shakes the world. Jesus’s presence hydrates and cleans and enlivens it.
I want to be a sanctuary. I want to be a place where God has dominion. In a dark world, I am a spot of light on the horizon pushing away the shadows. Not by my own efforts, which are useless, but by the presence of the LORD and the waters of the SON.
Spend time with Psalm 114 today. I hope you find it encouraging and alive. I’d love it if you would share your own thoughts with me. I spent days looking at this Psalm again and again, and I feel like it has more to say about God’s power and His plans and my role. It’s a Psalm of care and love and strength. As the world tilts toward war and fills with unrest, it’s good to know we have a God whose presence overcomes even the stone we walk on and the water we rely on.