The sea saw [Israel] and fled, Jordan ran backward, mountains skipped like rams, hills like sheep. (114:3-4)
Why would the sea, the Jordan river, and the mountains and hills be frightened by the sight of Israel? The answer is simple. It is not Israel who causes the waters to flee or the landscape to run around like skittish animals. God has Israel’s back. Israel gets respect because everyone and everything knows that if they mess with Israel, God will mess with them.
Every slightly nerdy, non-athletic kid in the schoolyard needs a friend like this to keep the bullies away. These four geographical features are like the bullies on the playground, forming obstacles between Israel and its goal of getting from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. The Reed Sea and the Jordan River are the first and last obstacles to cross; in between, the trek through the Sinai and its hills and mountains, including Mount Sinai, makes for a difficult journey. Generations later, Isaiah declares that God “will make all My mountains a road, and My highways shall be built up” in order to ease Israel’s journey from Babylon back to Israel. We might imagine that the geographical features blocking Israel’s passage through the wilderness are worried that God will pave them over, so they are parting and skipping to get out of the way.
The spiritual challenge is to see underneath the bluster of the bully to find his positive characteristics. Most bullies are motivated by fear and insecurity. They bully others to elevate themselves in their own eyes. Take away the fear and insecurity and you can find a potential friend hiding inside. The sea is a source of food. The river is a source of water. Animals graze on hills. Torah comes from the mountaintop. The skipping of the mountains and hills can be playful and full of joy. God can change the heart of the bully, and he can become your friend.