When Israel exited Egypt,
Jacob’s family from a people of foreign words,
Judah became God’s holy house
Israel his jurisdiction.
The Red Sea looked and ran away;
Jordan’s flow was reversed;
The mountains bounded like rams
The small hills like sheep of the flock.
What spooked you, Sea, that you ran away
Or you Jordan, that you were reversed?
You mountains, that you bounded like rams,
Or you small hills, like sheep of the flock.
Dance before the face of the Lord, you earth,
Before the face of Jacob’s God
Who changes rock into reservoir
Flint into fountain.
This is a fine psalm, surging with energy. It depicts the exodus of Israel from Egypt as a literally world-shaking event. It points to the crossings of the Red Sea and the River Jordan, and probably also the revelation at Sinai. All of these are shown as personal appearances of the God who is present in the Temple and exercises his rule over Israel.
There is a serious difficulty for the translator which few versions acknowledge. The Hebrew verb “raqad” means to dance, skip, or leap. It is often translated “skip” in this psalm, the mountains and the hills skip. In English, however, this word has connotations of happiness which cannot be ignored. So are the mountains, unlike the sea and the river, responding joyfully to the presence of God? I lean towards that, but have left the interpretation open by translating “bound”.
Careless translators also have put rams and lambs at the end of successive lines, making a lame jingle. I have taken advantage of the fact the Hebrew “sons of sheep/goats” need not refer to lambs but to sheep as a race.( compare “sons of Adam” = the human race).
The whole psalm leads to the incident of the water from the desert rock, which here is made to stand for the wonderful rescuing power of God. Perhaps the psalm was composed after the exodus from Babylon.