A common theme encountered in the Psalms is that of the confidence of God’s people and the terror of His enemies (either real or expected).
Psalm 114 is an interesting variation on this theme: the redeemed are the ones terrified.
The Psalm seems to be arranged in three sections:
I. Salvation from Egypt to Canaan (1-2)
II. Creation’s Terror (3-6)
III. Commanded Trembling
The first section is a concise celebration of the Exodus salvation: Israel was brought out of Egypt, and God dwelled with Judah in the temple in Jerusalem. The miracles and plagues are assumed but unstated here.
The second section poetically describes the Creation’s response to Yahweh’s display of power: the partings of the Red Sea and Jordan River are portrayed as though the waters ran away in fear from the face of their Creator; mountains and hills as though they were running away with the agility of rams and lambs.
Then the third section commands the earth to tremble before the presence of Jacob’s God, the One who gave water from the rock to provide for the Israelites.
It struck me that this Psalm commands trembling–the same response as the Creation in section II–at Yahweh’s provision and blessing. His judgment is not in view (at least not primarily). His goodness and miraculous care for His people is in view, and yet we are called to tremble before Him because of this.
It’s not hard to see why we would be called to tremble before His holiness, His wrath, His judgment, or any of the “scary” aspects of God. But why should we tremble before His compassion and incredible provision?
Perhaps there is more to His judgment in view here than it seems. Perhaps the episode at Massah and Meribah is in the Psalmist’s mind. Water from the rock was provided in response to the people’s faithless grumbling. We should tremble at the goodness of God to us, knowing how sin-greedy our hearts are and can be.
Paul makes this connection in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He reminds the Corinthians that the first generation out of Egypt ate the miraculous manna and drank the miraculous rock-water, and yet they were consumed with the immorality of their idolatry and fell under wrath and judgment as a result.
These things are examples for us; in fact, “they were written as warnings to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”
What are we to do with these warnings? “Therefore, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall!”
The goodness of God in providing for His people and blessing them is never an occasion for self-boasting or coasting. Thanksgiving is a sword and shield in the fight against indwelling sin; it cuts down the arrogant, serpentine pride that denies God’s goodness, and it guards us from the dangers of self-reliance and boasting.
Thanksgiving is meant to be hearty. It’s meant to be seasoned with amazement and wonder.
But it’s supposed to be mixed with trembling, too.