Psalm 114 bursts with anticipation for the glorious salvation that would be accomplished by Jesus Christ. Psalm 114, however, is not what we would typically consider a “Messianic Psalm”–that is, a psalm that refers explicitly to some aspect of the life of Jesus, such as Psalm 22, where the crucifixion imagery throughout climaxes in the blatant exclamation, “they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16).
In Psalm 114 we have something much more subtle–but no less direct. Psalm 114 was written chiefly to proclaim the salvation of Christ.
Psalm 114 opens with an observation about God’s salvation in bringing his people Israel out of Egypt:
 When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
 Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
The Exodus is the great salvation of the Old Testament, and it was a shadow of the salvation that Jesus would accomplish at the cross. Just as God led Israel out of Egypt, Jesus led his people out of slavery to sin, the shadow of death, and the condemnation of hell.
But the emphasis of Psalm 114:1-2 is not so much on the salvation itself, but on the results of this salvation: because God saved his people, Judah became his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.
“Judah became his sanctuary.” A sanctuary is the place where God’s holiness could freely dwell. The word itself is a derivative of the Hebrew word qadosh, meaning “holy.” The sanctuary of God was the tabernacle, and then later on, the temple. The tabernacle was to be a recreation of Eden, a place of such perfection (in design, materials, construction, furniture, sacrifices, etc.) that (1) God’s holiness could dwell there without being polluted; and (2) sinful humans were not allowed access, with certain rare exceptions.
“Israel his dominion.” By dominion, we are speaking about God’s kingdom on earth, where his reign and rule has absolute sway and authority. When Jesus prayed, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” he was praying that God’s reign and rule would command the perfect obedience on earth that it already does in heaven.
Notice what the psalm is declaring about God’s sanctuary and God’s dominion: both the holiness of God and the reign of God were to dwell chiefly in the midst of the people God had saved. The purpose for salvation was not to free the house of Jacob to do anything and everything they pleased, but rather to become God’s tabernacle and his kingdom.
But not so fast–while this idea sounds good at first glance, there are huge problems.
First, Judah cannot be the sanctuary of God. Judah is one of the twelve tribes of Israel, but Judah is not the tribe to whom God granted the privilege of the priesthood. The “certain rare exceptions” concerning those who could approach the holiness of God in the tabernacle do not apply to Judah. Only the sons of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi, could serve as priests. As the author of Hebrews notes, “in connection with that tribe [Judah], Moses said nothing about priests” (Hebrews 7:14).
Some commentators suggest that this statement applies to the temple, which was located in Jerusalem, which is within the territory of Judah. This does not completely solve the problem, but rather raises another. The entire nation of Israel (the tribe/nation of Judah included) eventually became so sinful that God would not even tolerate his temple to stand in their midst, and so God sent the Babylonians to destroy it. How could such a people be considered the sanctuary of God?
Second, Israel did not function as the dominion of God. Israel’s history is not a story of absolute, unreserved obedience to God the King, but the exact opposite. Whether Israel refers to the entire 12 tribes, or merely to the northern 10 tribes, Israel’s story is one of rebellion, apostasy, and idolatry. Yes, God brought Israel out of Egypt; no, Israel did not become God’s dominion.
Yet, this was the goal. The house of Jacob was to become the sanctuary and the dominion of God so that God might reach all the nations through them. God planned to save members from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, but he was going to deal directly with every people group at the same time.
By taking the house of Jacob as his people, God established a beachhead in this world. Israel was his people, his sanctuary, and his dominion. They were to invite all the nations of the earth into what God was doing first in their midst.
But they failed completely in this mission.
And here is where we see Christ. Where the tribe of Judah failed to be the sanctuary of God, one of their members succeeded. Jesus Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, actually became the sanctuary of God by tabernacling among us (John 1:14). Where the presence of God had to depart from the temple built by King Solomon, God built his own temple for the fullness of his holiness in the body of Jesus Christ.
Even more, God established his perfect reign and rule on this earth by sending his obedient Son into our midst. Where we fail to obey God, Jesus succeeded. In Jesus, God’s authority held sway on earth as it does in heaven.
Jesus did not, however, became the tabernacle of God’s holiness and the dominion of God’s kingdom for his own sake alone. Jesus became the temple of God so that through him, you and I might become God’s sanctuary. Jesus became the obedient Son so that through him, you and I might be clothed in his righteousness and made members of God’s kingdom.
In this way, Psalm 114 anticipates, pleads, and longs for the coming of Jesus Christ into this world.
Post Series on Psalm 114:
- Jesus Christ, the Sanctuary and Dominion of God (Psalm 114:1-2)
- Creation’s Response to the Salvation of Jesus Christ (Psalm 114:3-6)
- The Repentance Demanded by Jesus Christ (Psalm 114:7-8)