Psalm 114

114A: When Israel Was in Egypt's Land

Performance Notes:

  • For performance notes on this song, see page 1088 of Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship.
  • The following article is by Henrietta Ten Harmsel from Reformed Worship.

Versifying a psalm might sound simple. After all, psalms are poetry—how much effort can it take to make them singable? But as anyone who has tried can tell you, versifying a particular psalm in an appealing, singable, and authentic way is actually a very complex assignment.

The versifier who undertakes this assignment soon becomes aware that much is expected of him: First, the psalm is probably very familiar in one or various biblical prose versions to those who will be singing it. The writer must be sensitive to the language of those versions. Second, those who sing the psalm may remember former versifications; if so, they may be expecting certain outstanding, memorable images to appear in an immediately recognizable way. The writer must be aware of those images. Third, the writer must devise a suitable meter, suitable stanzaic divisions, natural word order, and possibly a pleasant, unforced rhyme scheme. Fourth, and most important, these expectations and the writer's attempts to meet them should not "weigh down" the final product; the final versification should be a lyrical, fairly literal vehicle for the spontaneous worship of God.

Although each of the psalms is unique, and although various versifiers bring different approaches and talents to the task, I believe that the simple guidelines stated above are applicable to most situations and most psalms. To give readers some idea of how these guidelines work, I shall present my versification of Psalm 114 as a fairly typical example of the practices, problems, and pleasures involved in versifying a psalm.

The theme of Psalm 114 is familiar: God's care for his people Israel as they fled Egypt elicits an awesome response from nature (the Red Sea and the Jordan). His power delights the whole creation (even the mountains and the little hills). And at such power the whole creation should tremble ("Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord.")!

The balance and repetitions in the four paragraphs (two verses apiece) of the biblical version of this psalm led me to devise four short stan/as in long meter (eight syllables per line) with an AABB rhyme scheme. Thus, the first stanza evolved:

When Israel fled from Egypt land,
from foreign tongue and cruel hand,
the Lord took Judah for his home
and Israel for his very own.

Since the biblical versions of this psalm begin with the time reference—"When Israel went forth from Egypt"—I was able to start naturally with it, adding the word "land" to make possible the rhyme with "cruel hand" in line two, which captures Egypt's foreign hardships. Instead of making Judah and Israel God's "sanctuary" or "dominion,' I decided on the words "home" and "his very own (3,4), chiefly because these simple ordinary words more easily capture God's intimate dwelling with his people. Throughout the stanza (and the entire psalm) I was also working to avoid unnatural word order like "When Israel out of Egypt went" or "the Lord among his people dwelt." The "slant rhyme" of the words "home" and "own" is acceptable-probably even desirable—I believe, in order to avoid the possible monotony of perfect rhyme throughout.

Paragraph two of Psalm 114 (vv. 3 and 4) introduces the memorable images of the sea and the Jordan receding and of the mountains and hills skipping like rams and Iambs. Although the Israelites' crossing on dry ground is only intimated, and although no direct reference is made to God's command, I include the words "dry land" to rhyme with command, thus, maintaining the graphic images and making the implied exodus reference more clear. Fortunately the words "rams" and "lambs" furnish ready-made rhyme and the adjectives "joyful" and "playful" (inserted to achieve the proper meter) escape being mere padding by enhancing the spirit of exuberant whimsy and praise:

The sea rolled back to form dry land,
the Jordan fled at God's command.
The mountains skipped likejoyful rams,
the little hills like playful lambs.

The emphatic repetition of these vivid images as questions in the next paragraph of the psalm (vv. 5 and 6) encouraged me to retain this technique (four rhetorical questions with one strongly implied answer) in the third stanza:

What made you part, O mighty sea?
Why, Jordan, did you turn to flee?
Why, mountains, skip likejoyful rams?
And, little hills, like playful lambs?

As in the third paragraph of the biblical text, this third stanza reinforces the joy and vigor of praise in the world of nature, implies that God is the answer to each question, and suggests natural possibilities for antiphonal singing in the worship service.

The last paragraph of the biblical text calls on the earth to "tremble… at the presence of the Lord…, the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water." By opening stanza four with the word now and including the Lord is near, my version attempts to apply the call to praise more immediately to the singing congregation:

Now tremble, earth, the Lord is near;
bow down and see your God appear.
His might makes springs to gush and glow;
from flint the cooling waters flow.

Although I regretted omitting the reference to Jacob and the word rock in this stanza, I tried to encourage the spirit of reverent worship by the words bow down and by implying that God may "appear" to his people through the natural images they have seen in the psalm. With the alliteration and liquid sounds of gush and glow, flint and flow, and with the concluding open o in the word flow, I attempted to bring the psalm to an authentic and moving conclusion. I hope that the simple poetic vibrancy of these words may help to make them very personal—to cause the springs of faith to "gush and glow" and cause the dry flint of human hearts to feel the "cooling waters flow."


(1) When Israel came out of Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a
people of foreign tongue,

(2) Judah became God's sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

(3) The sea looked and fled,
the Jordan turned back;

(4) the mountains skipped like
the hills like lambs.

(5) Why was it, O sea, that you
O Jordan, that you turned back,

(6) you mountains, that you
skipped like rams,
you hills, like lambs?

(7) Tremble, O earth, at the
presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,

(8) who turned the rock into a pool,
the hard rock into springs of

Psalm 114 tells the story of the exodus, expecially the part where the "sea rolled back to form dry land" so that all God's people could walk safely through the sea on dry ground. The psalmist expresses the joy of all creation at the salvation of Israel; even the hills and mountains skipped like little lambs.

This psalm is very appropriate as a conclusion to the service of confession and assurance. We celebrate that all our sins were drowned in the sea. The psalm is also very appropriate for a baptism service, when we pray that our children will be buried with Christ into death and be raised with him to newness of life.

The text was versified by Henrietta fen Harmsel, who wrote about her work on this text in RW 4. Dr. Ten Harmsel, retired professor of English at Calvin College, has translated several Dutch works and is justly famous for Pink Lemonade, a collection of translated children's poems (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans).

The tune ANDRE was composed by William Bradbury (1816-1868), a native of Maine. He, like Lowell Mason, organized free singing classes that helped to introduce music into the public schools. In a "Lecture on Music" he said that "only such tunes as are singable in the structure and very easy of execution should be introduced" for the congregation to sing. He practiced that doctrine by composing several melodies we all know today, including "Just as I Am," "He Leadeth Me," and "Jesus Loves Me." We are pleased to provide an arrangement for a male choir or quartet and a children's choir in this issue of Reformed Worship (see insert). Jan Overduin, professor of music at Wilfred-Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, composed a delightful organ accompaniment (with optional flute) to depict the fleeing Israelites and then the joyfully jumping hills and mountains. The men sing the first two stanzas. In stanza 3 the children sing the question, "How did all this happen?" The men respond in stanza 4: "The Lord is near." The question is reminiscent of the Passover celebration, where children ask their fathers, "What does this celebration mean?"

This psalm is simple for children to learn. Have the children memorize stanza 3 and join the male quartet or male choir in singing it the first time. The following weeks have the the congregation sing stanzas 1,2, and 4, with the gathered children singing the question in stanza 3.

Text Information:

A celebration of God s mighty power displayed in the redemption of Israel.

Scripture References:
st. 1 = vv. 1-2
st. 2 = vv. 3-4
st. 3 = vv. 5-6
st. 4 = vv. 7-8

The fourth of the "hallelujah" psalms (111-118), 114 was probably composed by a priest or Levite for use in the temple liturgy. It stands second in the "Egyptian Hallel" used in Jewish liturgy at the annual religious festivals prescribed in the Torah. At Passover, Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the meal; 115 through 118 were sung after the meal. With vivid metaphor (mountains skipping like rams) and masterful compression, this little hymn celebrates the mighty power of God displayed in the Exodus, at Sinai, in the Israelites' desert wanderings, and at the entrance to the promised land. God united with Israel at the time of the Exodus, taking up residence with them (st. 1). Earth's imposing and powerful features - mountains and sea – yielded in awe to the redemptive purposes of God (st. 2), and the psalmist asks them to reflect on why they submitted (st. .3). The psalmist then calls upon all creation to tremble before Its Maker, who can still bring water out of dry, hard rock and provide for his people's every need (st. 4). Henrietta Ten Harmsel versified this psalm in 1985 for the Psalter Hymnal.

Liturgical Use:
Reflection on the Exodus theme, especially during Easter Vigil, when Christians associate the Exodus with their own exodus from sin and death through Christ's victory.

Tune Information:

ANDRE by William B. Bradbury (b. York, ME, 1816; d. Montclair, NJ, 1868) is a solid tune in which a simple harmonization supports melodic and rhythmic motives well suited to the story-like character of Psalm 114. In the 1912 Psalter and in earlier editions of the Psalter Hymnal, ANDRE was set to Psalm 113; for the 1987 edition, the tune was chosen for Psalm 114 and abridged from five to four phrases. Ten Harmsel suggests that "the parallel images make it especially suitable for antiphonal singing." One possible arrangement is to have all sing on stanza 1, men on stanza 2, a children's choir or women and children on stanza 3, and all again on stanza 4. A solid accompaniment for stanzas 1, 2, and 4 should give way to lighter playing for the questions of stanza 3, which is reminiscent of the Passover tradition in which children ask their parents why that night is different from all other nights.

Bradbury came from a musical family who encouraged him from an early age to learn to play various musical instruments. In 1830 his family moved to Boston. There he studied singing with Lowell Mason and sang in Mason's Bowdoin Street Church choir. In 1841 Bradbury moved to Brooklyn, New York, and became the organist at the Baptist Tabernacle in New York City. He organized children's singing classes, which developed into annual singing festivals and stimulated the teaching of music in the New York public schools. In 1854 William joined his brother Edward and a German piano maker to begin a piano firm, which became the Bradbury Piano Company. Bradbury wrote or edited sixty collections of popular music and edited and published numerous song books, including The Psalmodist (1844) and Golden Shower of Sunday School Melodies (1862). He is sometimes known as "the father of Sunday school hymnody."

Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.

Copyright Information:

  • Words: Henrietta Ten Harmsel, 1985, alt. © 1987 Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Music (ANDRE William B. Bradbury (1816-1868), alt., P.D.
  • Reprint Information:
    • Words: permitted with a license from or a CCLI License.
    • Music: The Music is in Public Domain. You do not need permission to reprint it.

114B: When Israel Fled from Egypt Land

Performance Notes:

  • For performance notes on this song, see page 1088 of Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship.

Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.
  • The following are alternative accompaniments for this tune, O HEILAND REISS DIE HIMMEL AUF

Alternative Harmonization for Organ and Descant Resources:

  • Eggert, John. Creative Hymn Accompaniments for Organ. vol. 2 CPH 97-6851 [2000]

Copyright Information:

  • Words: Henrietta Ten Harmsel, 1985, © 1987 Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Music (O HEILAND, REISS DIE HIMMEL AUF Gesangbuch, Augsburg, 1666; harm. dale Grotenhuis, 1985, © 1987 Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Reprint Information:

114C: A Responsorial Setting

Performance Notes:

  • For notes on this setting, see page 1088 of Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship.

Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.

Copyright Information:

  • Words and Music: South African © 1984 Peace of Music Publishing AB, admin. Walton Music Corporation
  • Psalm Text: from Evangelical Lutheran Worship © 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, admin. Augsburg Fortress Publishers
  • Tone: © 2011 Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Reprint Information for the Refrain:
    • Words and Music: permitted with a license from
    • When reprinting the Psalm Text and Tone, please use the correct copyright line. Faith Alive Christian Resources gives you permission to reprint the Tone for use in a worship setting.


  • Words: John of Damascus (ca. 675-749); tr. John Mason Neale, 1859, alt., P.D.
  • Music (GAUDEAMUS PARITER/AVE VIRGO VIRGINUM fragment): Bohemian Brethren's Gesangbuch, 1544, P.D.
  • Tone: © 2011 Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Reprint Information for the Alternative Refrain 1:
    • Words and Music: both are in Public Domain. You do not need permission to reprint this song.
    • Faith Alive Christian Resources gives you permission to reprint the Tone for use in a worship setting; please use the correct copyright line.


  • Words and Music: Gregg deMey; arr. Paul Detterman © 2011 Re:Create Music, admin. Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Tone: © 2011 Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Reprint Information for the Alternative Refrain 2:
    • Words and Music: permitted with a license from or a CCLI License.
    • Faith Alive Christian Resources gives you permission to reprint the Tone for use in a worship setting; please use the correct copyright line.