Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
20. Israel’s Song
Exodus 15 contains the first song recorded in Scripture. Well has it been said, "It is presumably the oldest poem in the world, and in sublimity of conception and grandeur of expression, it is unsurpassed by anything that has been written since. It might almost be said that poetry here sprang full-grown from the heart of Moses, even as heathen mythology fables Minerva come full-armed from the brain of Jupiter. Long before the ballads of Homer were sung through the streets of the Grecian cities, or the foundation of the Seven-hilled metropolis of the ancient world was laid by the banks of the Tiber, this matchless ode, in comparison with which Pindar is tame, was chanted by the leader of the emancipated Hebrews on the Red Sea shore; and yet we have in it no polytheism, no foolish mythological story concerning gods and goddesses, no gilding of immorality, no glorification of mere force; but, instead, the firmest recognition of the personality, the supremacy, the holiness, the retributive rectitude of God. How shall we account for all of this? If we admit the Divine legation and inspiration of Moses, all is plain; if we deny that, we have in the very existence of this Song, a hopeless and insoluble enigma. Here is a literary miracle, as great as the physical sign of the parting of the Sea. When you see a boulder of immense size, and of a different sort of stone from those surrounding it, lying in a valley, you immediately conclude that it has been brought hither by glacier action many, many ages ago. But here is a boulder-stone of poetry, standing all alone in the Egyptian age, and differing entirely in its character from the sacred hymns either of Egypt or of India. Where did it come from? Let the rationalist furnish his reply; for me it is a boulder from the Horeb height whereon Moses communed with the great I AM—when he saw the bush that burned but yet was not consumed—and left here as at once a witness to his inspiration, and the nations’ gratitude" (W. M. Taylor, Moses the Law-giver).
This first Song of Scripture has been rightly designated the Song of Redemption, for it proceeded from the hearts of a redeemed people. Now there are two great elements in redemption, two parts to it. we may say: redemption is by purchase and by power. Redemption therefore differs from ransoming, though they are frequently confounded. Ransoming is but a part of redemption. The two are clearly distinguished in Scripture. Thus in Hosea 13:14 the Lord Jesus by the Spirit of Prophecy declares, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death." And again we read, "For the Lord bath redeemed Jacob and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he" (Jer. 31:11). So in Ephesians 1:14 we read, "which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession."
Ransoming is the payment of the price; redemption, in the full sense, is the deliverance of the persons for whom the price was paid. It is the latter which is the all-important item. Of what use is the ransom if the captive be not released? Without actual emancipation there will be no song of praise. Who would ever thank a ransomer that left him in bondage? The Greek word for "Redemption" is rendered "deliverance" in Hebrews 11:35—"And others were tortured not accepting deliverance." "Not accepting deliverance" means release from their affliction, i.e., not accepting it on the terms of their persecutors, namely, upon condition of apostasy. The twofold nature of Redemption is the key to that wondrous and glorious vision described in Revelation 5. The "book" there, is the Redeemer’s title-deeds to the earth. Hence his dual character; "Lamb"—the Purchaser; "Lion"—the powerful Emancipator.
On the Passover-night Israel were secured from the doom of the Egyptians; at the Red Sea they were delivered from the Power of the Egyptians. Thus delivered—"redeemed" they sang. It is only a redeemed people, conscious of their deliverance, that can really praise Jehovah, the Deliverer. Not only is worship impossible for those yet dead in trespasses and sins, but intelligent worship cannot be rendered by professing Christians who are in doubt as to their standing before God. And necessarily so. Praise and joy are essential elements of worship; but how can those who question their acceptance in the Beloved, who are not certain whether they would go to Heaven or Hell should they die this moment,—how could such be joyful and thankful? Impossible! Uncertainty and doubt beget fear and distrust, and not gladness and adoration. There is a very striking word in Psalm 106:12 which throws light on Exodus 15:1—"Then believed they His words; they sang His praise."
"Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord" (15:1). "Then." When? When "the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore" (14:30). A close parallel is met with in the book of Judges. At the close of the 4th chapter we read, "So God subdued on that day Jabin the King of Canaan before the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan" (vv. 23, 24). What is the immediate sequel to this deliverance of Israel from Jabin? This: "then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying, Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel" (5:1). An even more blessed example is furnished in Isaiah. The 53rd chapter of this prophecy (in its dispensational application) contains the confession of the Jewish remnant at the close of the Tribulation period. Then will their eyes be opened to see that the One whom their nation "despised and rejected" was, in truth, the Sin-Bearer, the Savior. Once their faith lays hold of this, once they have come under the virtue of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, everything is altered. The very first word of Isaiah 54 is, "Sing O barren thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing."
"Then sang Moses and the children of Israel." What a contrast is this from what was before us in the earlier chapters! While in the house of bondage no joyful strains were upon the lips of the Hebrews. Instead, we read that they "sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried . . . and God heard their groaning." But now their sighing gives place to singing; their groans to praising. They are occupied no longer with themselves, but with the Lord. And what had produced this startling change? Two things: the blood of the Lamb, and the power of the Lord. It is highly significant, and in full accord with what we have said above, that we never read in Scripture of angels "singing." In Job 38:7 they are presented as "shouting," and in Luke 2:13 they are seen "praising" God, while in Revelation 5:11, 12 we hear them "saying," Worthy is the Lamb. Only the redeemed "sing!"
"Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord." And what did they sing about? Their song was entirely about Jehovah. They not only sang unto the Lord, but they sang about Him! It was all concerning Himself, and nothing about themselves. The word "Lord" occurs no less than twelve times within eighteen verses! The pronouns "He," "Him," "Thy," "Thou," and "Thee" are found thirty-three times!! How significant and how searching is this! How entirely different from modern hymnology! So many hymns today (if "hymns" they deserve to be called) are full of maudlin sentimentality, instead of Divine adoration. They announce our love to God instead of His for us. They recount our experiences, instead of His mercies. They tell more of human attainments, instead of Christ’s Atonement. Sad index of our low state of spirituality! Different far was this Song of Moses and Israel: "I will exalt Him" (v. 3), sums it all up. "I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (v. 1). How many there are who imagine that the first thing for which we should praise God is our own blessing, what He has done for us! But while that is indeed the natural order, it is not the supernatural. Where the Spirit of God is fully in control He always draws out the heart unto God. It was so here. So much was self forgotten, the Deliverer alone was seen. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and where the heart is really occupied with the Lord, the mouth will tell forth His praises. "The Lord is my strength and song." Beautiful and blessed was this first note struck by God’s redeemed. O that our hearts were so set upon things above that He might be the constant theme of our praise—"singing and making melody in your hearts unto the Lord" (Eph. 5:19).
"I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider bath He thrown into the sea." The theme of this song is what the Lord had done: He had delivered His people and destroyed their enemies. Israel began by magnifying the Lord because in overthrowing the strength of Egypt He had glorified Himself. This is repeated in various forms: "Thy right hand O Lord, is become glorious in power: Thy right hand, O Lord, bath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of Thine excellency Thou hast overthrown them that rose up against Thee" (vv. 6, 7). Joy is the spontaneous overflowing of a heart which is occupied with the person and work of the Lord, it ought to be a continuous thing—"Rejoice in the Lord alway"—in the Lord, not in your experiences nor circumstances; "and again I say, Rejoice" (Phil. 4:4).
"The Lord is my strength and song" (v. 2). The connecting of these two things is significant. Divine strength and spiritual song are inseparable. Said Nehemiah, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (8:10). Just as assurance leads to rejoicing, so rejoicing is essential for practical holiness. Just in proportion as we are rejoicing in the Lord shall we have power for our walk.
"And He is become my salvation" (v. 2). Not until now could Israel, really, say this. Not until they had been brought right out of the Enemy’s land and their foes had been rendered powerless by death, could Israel sing of salvation. It is a very striking thing that never once is a believer found saying this in the book of Genesis. Not that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, were not saved; truly they were; but the Holy Spirit designedly reserved this confession for the book which treats of "Redemption." And even here we do not find it until the Red Sea is reached. In 14:13 Moses said, "Fear ye not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you today." And now Jehovah had "shown" it to them, and they can exclaim, "The Lord is become my salvation."
"He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation" (v. 2). Beautiful is this. A spirit of true devotion is here expressed. An "habitation" is a dwelling-place. It was Jehovah’s presence in their midst that their hearts desired. And is it not ever thus with the Lord’s redeemed—to enjoy fellowship with the One who has saved us! True, it is our happy privilege to enjoy communion with the Lord even now, but nevertheless the soul pants for the time when everything that hinders and spoils our fellowship will be forever removed—"Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" (Phil. 1:23). Blessed beyond words will be the full realization of our hope. Then shall it be said, "Behold the Tabernacle of God is with men, and lie will dwell with them. and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21:3, 4).
"The Lord is a man of war: The Lord is His name" (v. 3). This brings before us an aspect of the Divine character which is very largely ignored today. God is "light" (1 John 1:5) as well as "love;" holy and righteous, as well as longsuffering and merciful. And because He is holy, He hates sin; because He is righteous, He must punish it. This is something for which the believer should rejoice; if he does not, something is wrong with him. It is only the sickly sentimentality of the flesh which shrinks from believing and meditating upon these Divine perfections. Far different was it here with Israel at the Red Sea. They praised God because He had dealt in judgment with those who so stoutly defied Him. They looked at things from the Divine viewpoint. They referred to Pharaoh and his hosts as God’s enemies, not as theirs. "In the greatness of Thine excellency Thou hast overthrown them that rose up against Thee" (v. 7). The same thing is seen in Revelation 18 and 19. Immediately after the destruction of Babylon by the fearful plagues of God, we read, "And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God; for true and righteous are His judgments; for He hath judged the great whore which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and bath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia"(Rev. 19:1-3).
Far different were the sentiments of Israel here than those which govern most our moderns. When they magnified Jehovah as a Man of War their meaning is clearly expressed in the next words of their song: "Pharaoh’s chariots and his hosts hath He cast into the sea; his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. The depths have covered them; they sank into the bottom as a stone." They did not regard this Divine judgment as a reflection upon God’s character; instead, they saw in it a display of His perfections. "He hath triumphed gloriously." Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power... in the greatness of Thine excellency Thou hadst overthrown them (vv. 6. 7) was their confession. The "modernists" have not hesitated to criticize Israel severely, yea, to condemn them in unmeasured terms, for their "vindictive glee." Such a conception of the Lord as Israel here expressed was worthy, we are told, of none but the most ferocious of the Barbarians. But that Israel were not here flits-representing God, that they were not giving utterance to their own carnal feelings, is abundantly clear from Revelation 15:3, where we read of saints in Heaven singing "The Song of Moses the servant of God, and the Song of the Lamb." Certainly there will be no manifestations of the flesh in Heaven!
Strikingly does the Song of Exodus 15 set forth the perfect ease with which the Almighty overthrew His enemies: "The Enemy said, I will pursue you, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters" (vv. 9, 10). The Lord had promised to bring His redeemed into Canaan, the haughty Egyptians thought to resist the purpose of the Most High. With loud boastings of what they would do, they followed Israel into the parted waves of the Red Sea. With one breath of His mouth the Lord overthrew the marshaled forces of the enemy, in their mightiest array, as nothing more than a cob-web which stood in the pathway of the onward march of His eternal counsels.
Well might Israel cry, "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?"(v. 11). And well may we ask to-day, "Who is like Thee, O God of the Holy Scriptures, among the ‘gods’ of Christendom?" How entirely different is the Lord—omnipotent, immutable, sovereign, triumphant—from the feeble, changeable, disappointed and defeated "god" which is the object of "worship" in thousands of the churches! How few today glory in God’s "holiness!" How few praise Him for His "fearfulness!" How few are acquainted with His "wonders!"
"Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed. Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation" (v. 13). This was a new standing—brought nigh to God, into His very presence. This is what redemption effects. This is the position of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. "For Christ also hath once suffered for sills, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18). God’s redeemed are a people whom He has purchased for Himself, to be with Himself forever—"that where I am, there ye may be also." "Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation." "This is our place as His redeemed. That is, we are brought to God according to all that He is. His whole moral nature having been completely satisfied in the death of Christ, He can now rest in us in perfect complacency. The hymn therefore does but express a Scriptural thought which says—‘So near, so very near to God, I nearer cannot be, For in the person of His Son, I am as near as He.’ The place indeed is accorded to us in grace, but none the less in righteousness; so that not only are all the attributes of God’s character concerned in bringing us there, but He Himself is also glorified by it. It is an immense thought, and one which, when held in power, imparts both strength and energy to out souls—that we are even now brought to God. The whole distance—measured by the death of Christ on the cross, when He was made sin for us—has been bridged over, and our position of nearness is marked by the place He now occupies as glorified by the right hand of God. In Heaven itself we shall not be nearer, as to our position, because it is in Christ. It will not be forgotten that our enjoyment of this truth, indeed our apprehension of it. will depend upon our present condition. God looks for a state corresponding with our standing, i.e., our responsibility is measured by our privilege. But until we know our place there cannot be an answering condition. We must first learn that we are brought to God if we would in any measure walk in accordance with the position. State and walk must ever flow from a known relationship. Unless therefore we are taught the truth of our standing before God, we shall never answer to it in our souls, or in our walk and conversation" (Ed. Dennett).
"The people shall hear, and be afraid; sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of Thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till Thy people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, which Thou hast purchased. Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established" (vv. 14-17). What firm confidence do these words breathe! What God had wrought at the Red Sea was the guaranty to Israel that He who had begun a work for them, would finish it. They were not counting on their own strength—"By the greatness of Thine arm they (their enemies) shall be as still as a stone." Their trust was solely in the Lord—"Thou shalt bring them in," blessed illustration of the first outflowings of simple but confident faith! Alas, that this early simplicity is usually so quickly lost. Alas, that so often it is displaced by the workings of an evil heart of unbelief. Oh, that we might ever reason as did Israel here, and as the apostle Paul—"Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust that He will yet deliver" (2 Cor. 1:10).
"Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of Thine arm they shall be as still as a stone" (v. 16). Opposition there would be, enemies to be encountered. But utterly futile would be their puny efforts. Impossible for them to resist success fully the execution of God’s eternal counsels. Equally impossible is it for our enemies, be they human or demoniac, to keep us out of the promised inheritance. "Who shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?" Who, indeed! "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us" (Rom. 8:38, 39). Thus the end is sure from the beginning, and we may, like Israel, sing the Song of Victory before the first step is taken. in the wilderness pathway!
Israel’s confidence was not misplaced. A number of examples are furnished in later Scriptures of how tidings of Jehovah’s judgments on Israel’s behalf became known far and wide, and were used by him to humble and alarm. Jethro, the Midianite, comes to Moses and says, "Blessed be the Lord, who bath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh. . .now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods" (Ex. 18:10, 11). Rahab of Jerico declared to the two spies, "I know that the Lord hath given you the land and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you," etc. (Josh. 2:9, 10). Said the Gibeonites to Joshua, "From a very far country thy servants are come because of the name of the Lord thy God; for we have heard the fame of Him and all that He did in Egypt" (Josh. 9:9). Hundreds of years later the Philistines said, "Who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness" (1 Sam. 4:8)!
"The Lord shall reign forever and ever" (v. 18). And here the Song ends—the next verse is simply the inspired record of the historian, giving us the cause and the occasion of the Song. The Song ends as it began—with "The Lord." Faith views the eternal future without a tremor. Fully assured that God is sovereign, sovereign because omnipotent, immutable, and eternal, the conclusion is irresistible and certain that, "The Lord shall reign forever and ever."
"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbral in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrals and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (vv. 20, 21). "The women’s voices, with their musical accompaniments, take up the refrain. It is the seal of completeness. Sin had come in through the women; now her heart is lifted up in praise, which testifies in itself of victory over it. The mute inanimate things also become responsive in the timbrals in her hand. The joy is full and universal in the redeemed creation" (Numerical Bible). Blessed witness to the final fruits of Redemption.
Some persons have experienced a difficulty here in that Miriam also led in this Song of Victory. It seems to clash with the teaching of the New Testament, which enjoins the subordination of women to the men in the assembly. But the difficulty is self-created. There is nothing here which in anywise conflicts with 1 Corinthians 14:34. Observe two things: it was only the "women" (v. 20) whom Miriam led in song! Second, this was not in the presence of the men—"all the women went out after her!" Thus Divine order was preserved. May the Lord grant a like spirit of subordination to His daughters today.