Reflection on Psalm 113A(114)

God Accompanies Us on Journey Through Desert, Says John Paul II

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 3, 2003 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 113A(114), about the wonders of the exodus from Egypt.

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1. The joyful and triumphant song which we just proclaimed, evokes the exodus of Israel from the oppression of the Egyptians. Psalm 113A(114) is part of that collection that Jewish tradition has called the «Egyptian Hallel.» They are Psalms 112-117, a selection of songs, used especially in the Jewish Passover liturgy.

Christianity has taken Psalm 113A(114) with the same paschal connotation, but opening it to the new reading derived from the resurrection of Christ. The exodus celebrated by the Psalm becomes, therefore, the figure of another more radical and universal liberation. In the «Divine Comedy,» Dante puts this hymn, following the Latin version of the «Vulgata,» on the lips of the souls in Purgatory: «In exitu Israel de Aegypto / they all sang together with one voice …» («Purgatorio,» II, 46-47). He saw in the Psalm the song of waiting and hope of all those who are on the way, after purification from every sin, toward the last end of communion with God in Paradise.

2. We now follow the thematic and spiritual line of the brief prayerful composition. At the beginning (see verses 1-2) it evokes the exodus of Israel from the Egyptian oppression until the entrance into that promised land which is the «sanctuary» of God, namely, the place of his presence in the midst of his people. In fact, land and people are fused together: Judah and Israel, terms with which the holy land or the chosen people were designated, come to be considered as the seat of the presence of the Lord, his special property and inheritance (see Exodus 19:5-6).

After this theological description of one of the fundamental elements of faith of the Old Testament, that is, the proclamation of the wonderful works of God by his people, the Psalmist reflects more profoundly, spiritually and symbolically, on the constitutive events.

3. The Red Sea of the exodus from Egypt and the Jordan of the entrance in the Holy Land are personified and transformed in witnesses and instruments that participate in the liberation effected by the Lord (see Psalm 113a[114]:3,5).

At the beginning, in the exodus, there is the sea that withdraws to let Israel pass and, at the end of the march in the desert, is the Jordan which turns back in its course, leaving its bed dry so that the procession of the children of Israel can cross over (see Genesis 3-4). At the center, the experience of the Sinai is evoked: Now the mountains participate in the great divine revelation, which takes place on their summits. As living creatures, like rams and lambs, they exult and skip. With a most vivid personification, the Psalmist now asks the mountains and hills about the reason for their confusion: «[Why was it] … You mountains, that you skipped like rams? You hills, like lambs of the flock?» (Psalm 113A[114]:6). Their answer is not forthcoming: It is given indirectly through an injunction, addressed to the earth so that it, too, should tremble «before the Lord» (see verse 7). The confusion of the mountains and hills was, therefore, a startled adoration in the presence of the Lord, God of Israel, an act of glorious exaltation of the transcendent and saving God.

4. This is the theme of the final part of Psalm 113A[114] (see verses 7-8), which introduces another significant event of Israel’s march through the desert, that of the water that gushed from the rock of Meribah (see Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:1-13). God transforms the rock into a spring of water, which becomes a lake: Deep down in this prodigy is his paternal concern in his meetings with the people.

The gesture acquires, then, a symbolic meaning: It is the sign of the saving love of the Lord who sustains and regenerates humanity while it advances in the desert of history.

As is known, St. Paul will take up this imagery and, on the basis of a Jewish tradition according to which the rock accompanied Israel on its journey in the desert, he will re-read the event in a Christological vein: «all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ» (1 Corinthians 10:4).

5. In this connection, when commenting on the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt, a great Christian teacher like Origen thinks of the new exodus undertaken by Christians. He expresses himself thus: «Do not think then that only Moses led the people out of Egypt: now, too, the Moses we have with us …, that is, the law of God, wishes to lead you out of Egypt; if you listen to it, it wishes to take you away from Pharaoh … it does not want you to remain in the dark actions of the flesh, but that you come out of the desert, that you reach the place free from the disturbances and fluctuations of the century, that you reach quietness and silence. … So, then, when you will have arrived in this quiet place, you will be able to immolate to the Lord, to recognize the law of God and the power of the divine voice» («Homilies on Exodus,» Rome, 1981, pp. 71-72).

Taking St. Paul’s image, which evokes the crossing of the sea, Origin continues: «The Apostle calls it a baptism, realized in Moses in the cloud and sea, so that you too, who have been baptized in Christ, in the water and in the Holy Spirit, will know that the Egyptians are pursuing you and want to recall you to their service, namely, to the rulers of this world and the spirits of evil to which you were at first enslaved. They, it is true, seek to follow you, but you go into the water and escape unhurt and, having washed the stains of sins, come out as a new man ready to sing the new canticle» (ibid., p. 107).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the following summary was read in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The joyful and triumphant hymn of praise we proclaim today celebrates the liberation of the people of Israel from the oppression of the Egyptian Pharaoh. The exodus event reminds all Christians that the Lord, who led Israel to safety through the Red Sea, is the same Lord who leads us by baptism to freedom from our sins. May we always listen to God in the silence of our hearts, so that we can recognize his law and the power of his divine voice.

[The Holy Father greeted the English-speaking pilgrims as follows:]

I offer special greetings to the participants in the General Assembly of the Conference of International Catholic Organizations. Today I bless the crosses that you will receive at the closing Mass of your Assembly: may they serve as a permanent reminder of the Lord’s love and his promise to be with us always, «to the close of the age» (Matthew 28:20). Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at this audience, especially from Malta, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ.

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