THOSE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED DELIVERANCE SHOULD CELEBRATE GOD’S
This song of Moses artfully sets the standard for how believers should worship and praise their Redeemer for His powerful deliverance. The echoing refrain by the women under the direction of the prophetess Miriam serves to reinforce and enhance the worship experience. We need to reflect constantly on the Lord’s victory, His majestic power, His uniqueness as the one true God and His eternal dominion over all.
John Mackay: Having looked with awe at the doom the Lord had brought on the Egyptians, the Israelites give voice to their wonder and gratitude at what has occurred. They had seen no future before them but capture and death at the hands of the pursuing Egyptians, but the Lord had intervened. His people had survived, and their enemies, who thought their power invincible, have been wiped out. The people gladly join in singing two songs that are composed for the occasion, the first by Moses (verses 1–18) and a second briefer one by Miriam (verse 21). The ‘Song of Moses’ found here is often referred to as such, because the title seems warranted by the parallel scene in Revelation 15 where beside a sea of glass mixed with fire the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb are sung to the accompaniment of harps (Rev. 15:1–4). However, there is another Song of Moses in the Pentateuch (Deut. 32:1–43) and it is preferable to reserve the title for that and to use instead the traditional Hebrew title ‘The Song of the Sea’ for Exodus 15:1–18. . .
The exalted language of poetry conveys better than mere prose the joyful exuberance of the Israelites as they express their thanks to the Lord who, true to his covenant commitment, has taken pity on them and delivered them from the grasp of the tyrant. The Song of the Sea does more, however, than look back with gratitude. It also looks forward with confidence. The God who has already done so much for them will surely not desert them or prove powerless when they move into the land he has promised them. The people of God may still argue in the same way in the light of the greater deliverance that has been secured in Jesus Christ. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31–32).
Constable: The Exodus was one of the foundational events of Israel’s religion. It marked the liberation from Egyptian slavery, which in turn made possible the formation of a relationship of covenant between Israel and God. And nowhere is the Exodus given more powerful expression than in the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18), a great victory hymn celebrating God’s triumph over Egypt at the sea. To this day, the ancient hymn continues to be employed in the synagogue worship of Judaism. Its continued use reflects the centrality of its theme, that of God’s control over the forces of both nature and history in the redemption of his people.
When one reads the Song of the Sea, one immediately gains an impression of the joy and exhilaration expressed by those who first used its words in worship. But what is not immediately evident to the modern reader is the subtle manner in which the poet has given force to his themes by the adaptation of Canaanite mythology. Underlying the words and structure of the Hebrew hymn are the motifs of the central mythology of Baal; only when one understands the fashion in which that mythology has been transformed can one go on to perceive the extraordinary significance which the poet attributed to the Exodus from Egypt.
The poet has applied some of the most central motifs of the myth of Baal. These motifs may be summarized in certain key terms: conflict, order, kingship, and palace-construction. Taking the cycle of Baal texts as a whole (see further Chapter IV), the narrative begins with conflict between Baal and Yamm (“Sea”); Baal, representing order, is threatened by the chaotic Yamm. Baal’s conquest of Yamm marks one of the steps in the process of creation; order is established, and chaos is subdued. Baal’s victory over Yamm is also the key to his kingship, and to symbolize the order and consolidate the kingship, Baal initiates the construction of his palace. And then, in the course of the myth, conflict breaks out again, this time between Baal and Mot. Baal is eventually victorious in this conflict, establishing once again his kingship and the rule of order. It is important to note not only the centrality of these motifs in the Baal myth, but also their significance; the motifs as a whole establish a cosmological framework within which to interpret the Baal myth. . . a cosmology, developing the origins and permanent establishment of order in the world, as understood and believed by the Canaanites. Its central celebration is that of creation.
In the Song of the Sea, the poet has developed the same central motifs in the structure of his song. The song begins with conflict between God and Egypt (Exodus 15:1-12), but the way in which the poet has transformed the ancient motifs is instructive. “Sea” is no longer the adversary of order, but God uses the sea (Hebrew yam) as an instrument in the conquest of chaos. After the conquest, God is victorious and establishes order; his kingship is proclaimed in a statement of his incomparability (Exodus 15:11). But then the theme of conflict is resumed again, as future enemies are anticipated (Exodus 15:14-16). They, too, would be conquered, and eventually God’s palace and throne would be established as a symbol of the order achieved in his victory (Exodus 15:17). Finally, God’s kingship would be openly declared, as a consequence of his victories: “the Lord shall reign for ever and ever” (Exodus 15:18). The Hebrew expression for this statement of kingship is yhwh ymlk, directly analogous to the celebration of Baal’s kingship in the Ugaritic texts: b’l ymlk.
It is one thing to trace the motifs of the Baal myth in the Song of the Sea; it is another to grasp their significance. The primary significance lies in the cosmological meaning of the motifs; the Hebrew poet has taken the symbolic language of creation and adapted it to give expression to his understanding of the meaning of the Exodus. At one level, the Exodus was simply the escape of Hebrews from Egyptian slavery; at another level, it marked a new act of divine creation. Just as Genesis 1 celebrates the creation of the world, so too Exodus 15 celebrates the creation of a new people, Israel. And when one perceives this underlying significance of the poetic language employed in the Song of the Sea, one is then in a position to understand better another portion of the biblical text, namely, the reasons given for the observation of the sabbath day.
I. (:1-18) SONG OF MOSES (SONG OF THE SEA)
“Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and said,”
Tone of celebration, rejoicing, boasting in the Lord
A. (:1b-5) Celebrating the Victory of the Lord
1. (:1b) Victory in Judgment
“I will sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted;
The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.”
Spurgeon: Note, that they were singing, singing a very loud and triumphant song; and you would have thought that they would have kept on singing for the next forty years. It was such a triumph, such a deliverance, God’s arm was made so bare before their eyes, that you would have thought that their jubilation would have lasted throughout a lifetime, at the least. On the contrary, it lasted a very little while. Yet what a song it was that they sang! “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” What a song of triumph that is which is sung by souls saved from sin, and death, and hell, by the great atoning sacrifice of Christ! Oh, when we first realize that we are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, we do, indeed, “feel like singing all the time”, for our sins are washed away, and we have a notion that we shall always keep on singing till we join in the song of the glorified in heaven.
G. Campbell Morgan: That was natural, inevitable. There are moods of the soul that can only be ex-pressed in poetry and in music. They are the great moods, whether of joy or of sorrow, of gleam or of gloom. This was a moment of high experience. The hour was full of the sense of the greatness of life. The shackles were gone, the enemies were destroyed; freedom was theirs, and opportunities were before them. This sense of the greatness of life was created by the sense of the greatness of God. What could they do other than sing? In such experiences prose becomes useless, poetry is the only method of expression; monotone is insufficient, harmony is necessary. An examination of the son& will show that it was a glorious celebration of their King, on the part of this newborn nation. It had its backward and its forward look, and in each case the supreme fact was God. He had triumphed gloriously. All the power opposed to Him, and so to them, had proved weak in His mighty grasp. Moreover, He would fulfil all His purposes, bringing them in and planting them in the mountain of His inheritance. When, looking back, God is seen, and forward, His purposes and power are recognized, the soul can sing, even though the threatening dukes of Edom, men of Moab, and inhabitants of Canaan are all about it. Such moments of high vision and glorious praise are full of value, even though presently there may be much of darkness and declension. Whenever they come, let us avail ourselves of them to the full.
2. (:2) Victory in Salvation
“The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
This is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will extol Him.”
Wiersbe: On three special occasions recorded in Scripture, the Jews sing, “The Lord is my strength and song; and he is become my salvation” (Ex. 15:2): when God delivered Israel from Egypt, when the Jewish remnant laid the foundation of the second temple (Ps. 118:14), and when the Jews are regathered and return to their land to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom (Isa. 12:2). In each instance, the Lord gives strength, salvation, and a song.
J. Ligon Duncan: Now, remember this is an important assertion for the children of Israel because he is connecting the worship of the God of Israel with the worship of the patriarchs all the way back to Abraham. This is not some new god who has never been heard of before. This is the same one true God who revealed Himself to Abraham and Isaiah and to Jacob and now to us here at the Exodus and these realities are followed up with this doxology, this praise of the God of the Exodus. “He’s the same God our forefathers worshiped and I’m going to worship Him too,” Moses says.
3. (:3-5) Victory as a Conquering Warrior
“The LORD is a warrior;
The LORD is His name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea;
And the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deeps cover them;
They went down into the depths like a stone.”
Thompson: Here is a “Lord is” statement that some people do not like. Many people want a passive-love God, not an active-warring God. God is a warrior and people need to live in fear of this fact. If God decides to go on the offensive against someone or some nation, they are doomed. God had many unconventional weapons available for Him to use.
Douglas Stuart: The statement “the Lord [Yahweh] is his name” clarifies for the singer and audience of the song the identity of this one, supreme and highly exalted God: it is Yahweh, the God of the patriarchs, the creator of the world and all in it, and the sole God of the people of Israel. All other gods were distorted imitations of him fabricated in the minds and sculpting shops of those who worshipped them. “Name” conveys identity, and the song asserts the identity of the one who has delivered Israel as none other than Yahweh.
Constable: It is interesting that Moses described the Egyptian pursuers as being thrown into the sea (Exodus 15:4) and sinking like a stone (Exodus 15:5) and lead (Exodus 15:10). The same image describes Pharaoh’s earlier order to throw the Hebrew babies into the Nile River (Exodus 1:22). God did to the Egyptians what they had done to the Israelites.
John Mackay: The waters here present no threat to the Lord, nor are they viewed as active in the situation. They are at most part of his armoury, which he uses to accomplish his purpose. He is the lord of creation, and the waters do what he commands. Those who oppose him are consigned to the deepest depths like a stone tossed into the sea never to be seen again.
B. (6-10) Celebrating the Power of the Lord (His Weapons)
1. (:6) Majestic in Power
“Thy right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power,
Thy right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.”
2. (:7-8) Fierce in Power
a. (:7) Unleashing the Power of Divine Wrath
“And in the greatness of Thine excellence Thou dost overthrow those who rise up against Thee;
Thou dost send forth Thy burning anger, and it consumes them as chaff.”
John Mackay: The comparison with the burning of stubble is a common one in Scripture (Isa. 5:24; 33:11; 47:14; Joel 2:5; Mal. 4:1) and signifies rapid and complete removal.
b. (:8) Unleashing the Power of Nature
“And at the blast of Thy nostrils the waters were piled up,
The flowing waters stood up like a heap;
The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.”
3. (:9-10) Supreme in Power
a. (:9) False Confidence of the Enemy
“The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be gratified against them; I will draw out my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’”
John Mackay: Verse 9 presents the arrogant claims of the enemy (see verse 6). Pharaoh’s pretensions are held up to ridicule in a series of staccato statements which invite comparison with the outcome. How little substance there was to all he said! In the face of divine opposition he was unable to carry out what he had intended.
b. (:10) Futility of Fighting Against God
“Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them;
They sank like lead in the mighty waters.”
John Mackay: Verses 10–12 take up the theme of Yahweh’s incomparable deeds and person. In contrast to the ineffective bluster of the Egyptians, the Lord merely blew with his breath (‘blast’, 15:8; ‘wind’) and catastrophe enveloped them. They went down as quickly as a lead weight (a poetic variation on stone in verse 5).
C. (:11-13) Celebrating the Uniqueness of the Lord
1. (:11) Unique in His Person and Work
“Who is like Thee among the gods, O LORD?
Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?”
John Hannah: Who is like You? (Cf. Pss. 35:10; 71:19; 77:13; 89:6; 113:5; Micah 7:18).
Gispen: The song now rises in profound gratitude. No one was like Jahweh, the gods of Egypt had been defeated, none among the gods of the nations could do what He had done. He glorified Himself (cf. v. 6) by showing Himself to be holy, separated from all those gods, exalted above all people and enemies, destroying His enemies (v. 12) but blessing His people (cf. v. 13). Because of His holiness God was above all that was created and all that was sinful. He revealed His holiness in the punishment of sin and the redemption of His people (and the world) form the power of sin (cf. Rev. 15:3-4). That is why He was feared with trepidation among all nations, and why the songs that were sung to His glory spoke of the impotence of all gods before His omnipotence and because He worked wonders that amazed the nations. Once more Moses came back to this special wonder. It was as if the earth itself (of which the sea is considered to be a part) swallowed the Egyptians, because Jahweh merely stretched out His hand and showed His power effortlessly.
Douglas Stuart: You are infinitely superior to all real and false superhuman beings, including angels heavenly and fallen, and even to what the pagans think their nonexistent gods are. The repetition of “who is like you” emphasizes through rhetorical questioning the fact that God has no one like him.
2. (:12) Unique in His Judgment
“Thou didst stretch out Thy right hand,
The earth swallowed them.”
Guzik: on Your right hand – Obviously, this is the use of anthropomorphism, understanding something about God by using a human figure of speech, even though it does not literally apply. This idea of the right hand is used in the Scriptures more than fifty times, including these passages:
– Psalm 45:4: God’s right hand teaches us
- Psalm 48:10: God’s right hand is full of righteousness
- Psalm 77:10: Remembrance of the years of the right hand of the Most High
- Psalm 110:1: The Father invites the Son to sit at His right hand
– Habakkuk 2:16: The cup of God’s judgment is held in His right hand
– Ephesians 1:20: Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father
3. (:13) Unique in His Salvation and Guidance
“In Thy lovingkindness Thou hast led the people whom Thou hast redeemed;
In Thy strength Thou hast guided them to Thy holy habitation.”
D. (:14-18) Celebrating the Dominion of the Lord
1. (:14-15) Dominion Reflected in the Dread of the Nations
“The peoples have heard, they tremble;”
Douglas Stuart: These verses address yet another aspect of the divine deliverance at the sea: its impact on the peoples/nations that the Israelites knew they would have to encounter as they proceeded to conquer the promised land. Because Moses grew up as an Egyptian princeling and spent the first forty years of his life exposed to royal concerns, he would have been well acquainted with political/military/economic events in Canaan and its environs. The Egyptians were obsessed with keeping Asia Minor from becoming a threat to their well being and thus kept constant tabs on what was happening in the four regions listed in these verses. The conquest of the promised land would of necessity involve the elimination of opposition from these regions. The predominant tense/aspect found in the Hebrew in these verses continues to that of the perfect so that the entire section could, if desired, be translated as if what is described were a foregone conclusion (again in the mode of the so-called prophetic perfect)
“Anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia.”
“Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;”
“The leaders of Moab, trembling grips them;”
“All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.”
John Mackay: Moses then goes on to describe the reaction of three groups, listed in roughly the order in which Israel encountered them as they travelled to Palestine.
‘Chiefs’ seems to have been the appropriate technical term for the Edomite rulers (Gen. 36:15–19, 40–43). Edom lay east of the rift valley, extending from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea. Its people were descended from Esau, but they did not permit the Israelites to pass through their territory on their way to Palestine (Num. 20:14–21), and subsequently displayed great hostility to them. Here the reaction of their leaders is described as one of distress and dismay when confronted by an unexpected threat.
The focus then moves north to Moab, which lay to the north of Edom, on the east of the Dead Sea. There the ‘leaders’ (literally ‘rams’; probably reflects a local usage) are similarly affected by immense terror. ‘Seize’ is the same word as ‘grip’ in the previous verse. The fulfilment of this prophecy is found in Numbers 22:2–4, after which Moses relates how Balak, the king of Moab, tried to frustrate the advance of Isaiah by acquiring the services of the prophet Balaam (Num. 22–24).
The third people group to be mentioned are the Canaanites who inhabited the central region of Palestine, west of the Jordan, will also lose courage in the face of conflict (Josh. 2:9, 24; 1 Sam. 14:16; Isa. 14:31). Perhaps the first line of verse 16 refers to all the peoples affected and not just the Canaanites. They will experience ‘terror’—which may give rise to fear of an untimely death from divine judgment (Ps. 55:4; 88:15)—and ‘dread’, which leaves them quaking as they sense that God is at work in the events that have engulfed them (Ps. 14:5).
2. (:16-17) Dominion Reflected in the Deliverance of God’s People
a. (:16a) Deliverance Observed by the Terrified Enemy
“Terror and dread fall upon them;
By the greatness of Thine arm they are motionless as stone;”
b. (:16b) Deliverance Experienced by God’s Redeemed People
“Until Thy people pass over, O LORD,
Until the people pass over whom Thou hast purchased.”
c. (:17) Deliverance Intended for Dwelling with God
“Thou wilt bring them and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance,
The place, O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thy dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established.”
Douglas Stuart: Three great biblical themes conclude the song:
– God’s creation of a people (v. 16b),
– God’s eternal holy dwelling place as the home for that people (v. 17),
– and the eternal reign of God supreme over all things (v. 18).
3. (:18) The Eternal Dominion of the Lord
“The LORD shall reign forever and ever.”
Douglas Stuart: The final verse of the song is a sort of recapitulation of the lessons it states throughout. God is supreme over all other beings and forces. And the Israelites, still in the process of getting to know him and about him and to use his newly re-revealed name, Yahweh, to distinguish him from all other gods and idols were expected to come increasingly to realize that he is eternal and that their association with him had eternal consequences. The New Testament develops this concept in greater detail, especially with the added emphasis on God’s people sharing his reign (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 20:4, 6; 22:5; cf. Dan 7:18). The unstoppable, uninterruptible, eternal reign of God is a widely represented topic within the Bible (e.g., Pss 10:16; 45:6; 48:14; Heb 1:8; Rev 1:18; 11:15) and an assurance to all who place their faith in him.
II. (:19) STORY BEHIND THE REJOICING
A. (:19a) Destruction of Egyptian Army
“For the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea on them;”
B. (:19b) Deliverance of Israel
“but the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea.”
Deity is exercised in two key areas:
– God executing judgment on the wicked
– God effecting salvation for His people
Christ demonstrates His Deity by virtue of the Father having committed to Him both functions of salvation and judgment.
III. (:20-21) SONG OF MIRIAM
A. (:20) Musical Celebration
1. Led by Miriam
“And Miriam the prophetess,”
b. Sister of Aaron
John Hannah: Since Moses was 80 years old and Aaron was 83 at the time of the Exodus (Ex. 7:7), Miriam was probably in her 90s because she was a young girl when Moses was born (2:4, 7-9).
2. Accompanied by Instrument of Choice and Involvement of All the Women
a. Instrument of Choice = Timbrel
“took the timbrel in her hand,”
Gispen: A tambourine was a small drum with bells or pieces of metal that tinkled when the instrument was struck or swung; Egyptian tambourines had handles, as seen in illustrations that have been found of Egyptian dancers and priestesses with tambourines.
b. Involvement of All the Women
“and all the women went out after her
with timbrels and with dancing.”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: Miriam led the women perhaps in an antiphonal response, repeating the song at the conclusion of each part or strophe, accompanied by timbrels and dancing.
B. (:21) Verbal Celebration – Focus on the Lord’s Person and Work
“And Miriam answered them,”
1. Focus on the Lord’s Person
“Sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted;”
2. Focus on the Lord’s Work
“The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.”