I said yesterday that Psalms 113–118 form a collection known as the Hallel Psalms. These are psalms of praise that were sung by Jewish travellers as they made their way to the temple in Jerusalem for the prescribed feasts. They are known as the Egyptian Hallel because their focus, in particular, is a celebration of God’s deliverance of the Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land. Psalm 114 makes this connection clearest of all.
But it is interesting that, in this brief psalm, Egypt is mentioned in the very first sentence (in fact, the third word in the Hebrew) and then not explicitly again for the rest of the psalm. The remainder of the psalm focuses on the outcome of the deliverance, not the former place of slavery. The writer’s goal, it seems, was to focus his readers on deliverance, not on their former slavery. Christians do well to learn the same lesson.
Too often, Christians feel unduly burdened about their sins of the past, refusing to embrace forgiveness and cleansing in Christ, but instead condemning themselves when God has already promised that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
These Christians tend to think about the past—a lot. They frequently recall sins from their past and talk of them as if they have not been forgiven. While there is certainly value in learning from past sins and mistakes, we must be careful of focusing too strongly on them. Paul was careful to forget what was behind him and to instead stretch for what lay in front of him (Philippians 3:13). He understood that those who are in Christ are new creations and that old things have passed away while all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:18). Instead of allowing yourself to wallow in the sins of the past—in your Egypt-like slavery to sin—take every thought captive in obedience to Christ and press on to what lies ahead. Allow the truth of the gospel to free yourself from feelings of condemnation over past sins.
There is a lot of talk today about the need for people to forgive themselves. More accurately, perhaps, rather than forgiving themselves, Christians need to embrace Christ’s forgiveness extended to them. Your old man and his sins died in Christ, and you have been resurrected to a new man in Christ. The forgiveness that Christ offers is not only a promise that he will not remember your sins against you; it is an actual cleansing from your former sins. He is faithful and just to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
That is why the psalmist wanted his readers to focus on the glorious new position they had been granted through the exodus. It would not help them to continue living like slaves. It would not help them to continue remembering what it was like to live under Egyptian oppression. They needed to know that they had become Yahweh’s “sanctuary” and “dominion” (v. 2). Creation itself understood the significance of the exodus (vv. 3–8); God’s people dare not underplay its significance. They needed to understand that, by virtue of divine deliverance, they were no longer slaves but sons of God.
It’s all too easy to allow past sins and failures haunt us. It’s all too easy to condemn ourselves because we feel guilty over sins for which Christ has promised forgiveness. Allow Psalm 114 to relieve you of that burden. Remember, in Christ, you are a new creature. The old has died; the new is here to remain forevermore.