Exodus 15

The Word Made Fresh

1Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:

“I will sing to the LORD who has won a great victory,
The horses and riders God drowned in the sea.
2The LORD is our strong one who rescued our people;
We praise the LORD God, extolled by our parents.
3The LORD, the almighty, we praise the LORD’s name,
4For Pharaoh’s great army is now under water,
His own hand-picked soldiers drowned in the Red Sea.
5The waters swept o’er them and down they sank swiftly,
They sank in the waters like so many stones.
6Your right hand, O LORD, is mighty in power,
Your right hand destroyed Pharaoh’s chariots and men.
7You honor is great, and your enemies are gone now,
Your anger consumed them like stubbles of grass.
8Your breath like a blast piled up all the waters.
The deep waters crowded the depths of the sea.
9The enemy boasted that they would overtake us,
And take our belongings and strike us all down.
10But you blew you breath and the sea covered over them,
And down, down they sank to their death in the waves.
11Who among the gods is majestic and holy,
Performing great wonders like you do, O LORD?
12You reached out behind us with your strong right arm
And caused the sea waters to swallow them up.
13Then in your great love for the people you guarded
And guided with strength toward your own chosen place,
14the nations there trembled with great trepidation
In the land of the Philistines your name is feared.
15And the leaders of Edom and Moab are trembling
The Canaanite leaders are fearful of you.
16Afraid and in dread of your almighty power
They shrink with fear as your people pass by.
17You are bringing them in, your people, to settle
On your sacred mountain, your people established
18as your holy people, in your sanctuary,
Where you will reign solely, forever and ever.”

19When Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and soldiers sank into the sea, the LORD made the waters flow back over them. The Israelites, however, walked across on dry ground.

20Then Miriam the prophet, sister to Aaron and Moses, took up a tambourine and led all the women out with dancing while 21Miriam sang the song to them:

“Sing to the LORD who has won a great victory;
the horses and riders God drowned in the sea.”

22Moses ordered the Israelites to leave the Red Sea coast and they entered the wilderness of Shur. They walked for three days without finding water, and 23when they came to Marah they couldn’t drink the water because it tasted awful (which is why it was called Marah). 24They blamed Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they said, 25Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a special kind of wood. Moses threw some of it into the water, and its taste was improved enough to make it drinkable.

In that place the LORD made them an offer: 26“If you will listen carefully to me and do what I tell you and follow all my rules and obey my orders, I will spare you all the scourges I brought on Egypt. I, the LORD, am your healer.”

27After that, they traveled on to Elim where there were twelve springs and seventy palms, and they set up camp there.

Commentary

1-3: The songs of Moses and Miriam are among the oldest parts of the Bible. Verse 1 is echoed in verse 21. The people have just been delivered out of what appeared to be certain calamity by a miraculous turn of events. What has happened can only be the work of the LORD, and they break forth in praise for God who has fought on their side.

4-10: God’s “right hand” is a popular metaphor in the poems and songs of Israel (Job 40:14, Psalm 16:8, 11, 17:7, 18:35, 20:6, 21:8, 26:10, 44:3, 48:10, etc.). In battle, warriors generally held their shields in the left hand and wielded their weapons in the right hand. In Moses’ song, God’s breath is also imagined as a weapon, blowing the waters over the hapless Egyptians.

11-12: The LORD, the God of Israel, is acknowledged to be above all other gods. The existence of other gods is not questioned in the early history of Israel but will be by the prophets later.

13-18: God’s steadfast love is the abiding presence of God to protect his people and rescue them from their enemies. The theme is resounded throughout the Psalms. “Your holy abode” in verse 13 is a reference to the Promised Land given to Abraham and his descendants, an event that took place in the distant past, but then the reaction of the inhabitants of Philistia, Edom, Moab and Canaan described in verses 14 and 15 seems to refer to the future conquest of Canaan, and verse 17 describes the establishment of Mount Zion (“the mountain of your own possession”) as the worship center of their faith, complete with the temple (“the sanctuary that your hands have established”). The song therefore is as much prophecy as it is praise.

19: Just in case we didn’t get the picture of their miraculous rescue, it is painted once again in brief strokes.

20-21: This is the first time Miriam’s name is given. She is the sister of Aaron, which also makes her the sister of Moses, and is likely the sister who was watching over Moses when Pharaoh’s daughter plucked him as a baby out of the Nile (2:5-10). Her song is a repetition of the first line of Moses’ song, and the women join in as a response to the song of the men. Note that Miriam is called a prophet; this is the only place in scripture to give her that label.

22-25: Moses lived in the wilderness for 40 years before God sent him back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out. So, he ought to know a few things about how to survive there. He sends the people three days into the wilderness, which is exactly what he told Pharaoh he was going to do (8:27). They could find no water, but somehow, they wind up at a place called Marah where there is water, but it is undrinkable. They think it is Moses’ fault, of course, and they complain to him. He calls out to God, and in prayer he is given a solution to the problem.

25-27: God makes a pact with them at Marah. Their part is to obey God’s commandments – which haven’t been given yet. God’s part is to promise not to inflict them with the plagues with which the Egyptians were afflicted. This is the first covenant between God and the people of Israel. Strangely, we are not told whether they agreed to the terms. They move on to an oasis at Elim.

Takeaway

This, I think, is the first record of people singing a hymn of praise to God. None of the hymns we sing on Sunday mornings are based on the song of Miriam and Moses, but many of our hymns are hymns of praise, and thus reflect the same urge Moses and Miriam had to celebrate what God has done for us.