Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm, a part of the Hallel (see the notes at the Introduction to Psa 113:1-9), is occupied in celebrating the praises of God for what he had done in the delivering of his people from Egyptian bondage, and in conducting them to the promised land. It is the language of exultation, joy, and triumph, in view of the gracious interpositions of God in their deliverance. The psalmist sees the mountains and hills seized as it were with consternation, leaping and skipping like sheep; Jordan, as it were, frightened and fleeing back; the very earth trembling - at the presence of God. Everything is personified. Everything is full of life; everything recognizes the presence and the power of the Most High. It would be appropriate to use such a psalm on the great festivals of the Jewish nation, for nothing could be more proper than to keep these events in their history before the minds of the people. The author of the psalm is unknown; and the occasion on which it was composed cannot now be determined. It is a most animated, elevated, cheering psalm, and is proper to be used at all times to make the mind rejoice in God, and to impress us with the feeling that it is easy for God to accomplish his purposes.
When Israel went out of Egypt - literally, "In the going out of Israel from Egypt." This is not to be confined to the exact act of the exodus, but embraces all that properly entered into that migration - the whole train of events which resuited in their being brought into the promised land.
The house of Jacob - The family of Jacob - a name appropriately used here, since it was the family of Jacob that had gone down into Egypt, and that had increased to these great numbers.
From a people of strange language - Speaking a foreign or a barbarian tongue. See the notes at Psa 81:5.
Judah was his sanctuary - His home; his abode; his sacred dwelling-place. Judah was the principal or leading tribe, recognized as the tribe where power was to be concentrated, and from which the Messiah was to proceed Gen 49:8-12; and hence, the name was early used to denote the entire people, and ultimately, as modified in the word Jews, became the common name of the nation.
And Israel his dominion - The nation that he ruled; the nation that had his law; the nation that he governed by his presence - or, of which he was the recognized king. There can be no doubt that the reference here is to God, but it is remarkable that the name "God" is not used. Perhaps the reason may be that this psalm was designed to be employed in connection with the preceding one, and as that consists entirely of the praises of God, it was not necessary to repeat the name when his praise was to be continued under another form, and in connection with another line of thought.
The sea saw it - The word it is supplied, not very properly, by our translators. It would be more expressive to say, "The sea saw:" that is, The sea - (the Red Sea) - saw the mighty movement - the marshalled hosts - the moving masses - the cattle - the pursuing enemies - the commotion - the agitation - on its usually quiet shores. We are to conceive of the usual calmness of the desert - the waste and lonely solitudes on the banks of the Red Sea - and then all this suddenly broken in upon by vast hosts of men, women, children, and cattle, fleeing in consternation, followed by the embattled strength of Egypt - all rolling on tumultuously to the shore. No wonder that the sea is represented as astonished at this unusual spectacle, and as fleeing in dismay.
And fled - As if affrighted at the approach of such an host, coming so suddenly upon its shores.
Jordan was driven back - Referring to the dividing of the waters of the Jordan when the children of Israel passed over to the promised land. Jos 3:13-17. They also seemed astonished at the approach of the Hebrews, and retired to make a way for them to pass over.
The mountains skipped like rams - As flocks in their gambols. They seemed to move from place to place; everything seemed to be unsettled, and acknowledged the presence of the Omnipotent One. The word rendered "skipped" means to leap for joy; to dance. See the notes at Psa 29:6. The reference here is to the agitations and commotions of the peaks of Sinai, when God came down to deliver the law. Exo 19:16-18.
And the little hills like lambs - Hebrew, Like the sons of the flock. The reference here is to the less prominent eminences of Sinai. The lofty hills, and the smaller hills surrounding, seemed to be all in a state of commotion.
What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest?... - literally, "What to thee, O sea," etc. That is, What influenced thee - what alarmed thee - what put thee into such fear, and caused such consternation? Instead of stating the cause or reason why they were thus thrown into dismay, the psalmist uses the language of surprise, as if these inanimate objects had been smitten with sudden terror, and as if it were proper to ask an explanation from themselves in regard to conduct that seemed so strange.
Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord ... - This is at the same time an explanation of the facts referred to in the previous verses, and the statement of an important truth in regard to the power of God. The true explanation - as here implied - of what occurred to the sea, to the Jordan, to the mountains, and to the hills, was the fact that God was there; the inference from that, or the truth which followed from that, was, that before that God in whose presence the very mountains shook, and from whom the waters of the sea fled in alarm the whole earth should tremble.
Which turned the rock into a standing water - That is, Before him who could do this, the earth should tremble; the inhabited world should stand in awe of such amazing power. The words rendered "a standing water," mean properly a pool of water. They indicate nothing in regard to the permanency of that pool; they do not imply that it remained as a standing pool during the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness - whatever may have been the fact in regard to that. The simple idea is, that, at the time referred to, the rock was converted into a pool; that is, the waters flowed from the rock, constituting such a pool.
The flint - Another name for the rock - used here to describe the greatness of the miracle.
Into a fountain of waters - That is, The waters flowed from the rock as from a fountain. The Bible is a book of miracles, and there is nothing more improbable in this miracle than in any other.
In the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac, the Arabic, and in many manuscripts, there is no division of the psalm here, but the following psalm is united with this, as if they were a single poem. Why, in those versions, the division of the Heb. was not followed, cannot now be ascertained. The division in the Hebrew is a natural division, and was evidently made in the original composition.