Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying,
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider[a] he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a man of war;
the Lord is his name.
4 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
5 The floods covered them;
they went down into the depths like a stone.
6 Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,
your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
7 In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
8 At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
the floods stood up in a heap;
the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
10 You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
12 You stretched out your right hand;
the earth swallowed them.
13 “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
14 The peoples have heard; they tremble;
pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
15 Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
16 Terror and dread fall upon them;
because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
17 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
18 The Lord will reign forever and ever.”
19 For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. 20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:1-21)
This is the first recorded song in Scripture, and it is the first time we see a congregation of God’s people singing together. Moses records this song under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and so the people responded in song to God’s great and mighty act of redemption on their behalf.
As the first instance of congregational song in Scripture, although we don’t know what it sounded like, we can see from the lyrics and the context in which they sang this song by the sea – with the dead Egyptian army washed up on the shore – that singing God’s praise is absolutely epic. This instance of song is an excellent picture of the work of Christ for His Church, and her singing to Him in the midst of her defeated enemies. It is nothing short of epic and glorious.
To make it even more epic, we should remember that they would have also sung this before the presence of Christ, as the pre-incarnate Christ, the angel of the LORD, was there in the midst of the pillar of cloud and fire who interposed Himself between the sons of Israel and the army of Egypt to save His people, and He did not leave them throughout all their journey through the wilderness. And today as the New Testament Church, Christ is spiritually present with us in worship. As Hebrews quotes Psalm 22, Jesus sings the Psalms in the midst of the congregation. So we have this great and epic privilege to sing with Jesus each Lord’s Day, as we have been brought through our Exodus, which is our salvation of having been brought from death to life. And we sing in His presence while our enemies lay defeated around us, and we lay our sins, our idols, and ourselves at His feet. So as we go through this song in a moment, let us keep in mind that it was Jesus who delivered His people out of Egypt in the pillar of fire, and who this song is sung unto.
This song by the sea is not kept for us in the book of Psalms, but essentially everything contained in this song is spread out in various Psalms throughout the Psalter. For those who sing the Psalms today, they are fed a diet of this quality through and through. But it was so sad to me to read modern commentaries and listen to a couple modern sermons this week where so much of their comments were lamenting how modern songs utterly lack the spiritual quality and full picture of God compared to this song. It was sad because we’ve got a book filled with a number of songs like this that they could be singing. It is a complaint that God has given us an answer to. God meant for His praise to be absolutely epic.
Now before we get into the text of this song, there are a few questions that I want to briefly address and answer, being that we only sing from the book of Psalms in worship. The first is this: Why was it good and right for the congregation of Israel to sing this song, which is not included in the Psalter? First, Moses was a prophet, and the writing of praise song is tied to the gift or office of prophecy. We see prophetic character in this song itself, and the book of Psalms have a special character of prophecy. Miriam, who sings to the women after this, was also a prophetess. Second, this of course was pre-psalter. Worship and song, by God’s ordaining, underwent development over time. God revealed how He was to be worshiped progressively over time, and there were ways that were right to worship Him at certain times, which ceased at later times. Indeed worship in Heaven is different than we worship now on earth in the New Covenant. Third, this was indeed a special occasion. This was not part of the regular tabernacle or temple worship. It was a special event, you could even say, a national celebration, having just crossed the Red Sea escaping from the army of Pharaoh and witnessing the defeat of Egypt.
Why don’t we sing this song in worship?
Then we might ask, if it was right for them, why don’t we sing this song in worship, especially since it was divinely inspired through the prophet Moses? First, remember the development over time and covenants of God’s ordained means of worship. We are in a different time and covenant. Second, for New Covenant worship, we must look to the New Covenant for how we are to worship in the New Covenant. In the New Testament we are told to sing the Psalms – Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs referring to the songs of the Psalter. Jesus, after instituting the Lord’s Supper for the New Covenant, goes out and sings a Psalm with His disciples, also instituting the Psalms for New Covenant worship. We are not told to sing this song of Moses. Third, relating to the second point, by God’s providence, this song of Moses is not included in the book of Praises for the perpetual use of the Church. It was God’s wisdom to not put it into the Psalter, so we are to trust Him that He knows what He is doing. So those are just some brief reminders as to how we understand this.
Miriam the Prophetess
Related to this, we might also have questions pertaining to Miriam’s role as a prophetess. How does this square away with our understanding of the role of women in the church? First, we know that God ordained some women to be a prophetess in the times where there were prophets. This was God’s good will even if we don’t fully understand it. And based upon the New Testament we believe that the office of prophet or prophetess has formally ceased, and we have explicit instruction from Paul in places like 1 Corinthians 14 that women are to remain silent in the churches, not teaching or exercising authority in the church.
We might also ask, why don’t we use tambourines and dancing in worship, as they did here in Exodus 15? First, this was a special occasion of national celebration. It was common in Israel that at times of victory in battle the women would go out dancing with tambourines. Second, looking at the text we see that it was just Miriam and the women, and they went OUT with tambourines and dancing. So they went out of the congregation. Third, again, in New Covenant worship, the New Testament does not instruct us to use tambourines and dancing in worship, so we do not. So those are some brief answers to those things.
However, I would say that there is a thematic significance as to the role of Miriam and the women on this occasion. This goes back to the gospel theme that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent in Genesis 3:15. Throughout our time in Exodus thus far, we have traced that theme at various points in the narrative. I believe we see it here as well. Remember, Miriam was Moses’ older sister who watched Moses as he was placed in the basket on the Nile during the time of the persecution of the Hebrew boys. She witnessed Moses’ deliverance from the waters of death, how he was brought up out of the water, while other boys were drowned, and she played a crucial role in seeing Moses delivered from the Nile, escaping the jaws of the serpent who was nipping at his heels. And now here, she stands on dry ground, having witnessed the deliverance of the sons of Israel, and Moses again, from out of the water of the Red Sea, escaping the dragon who now lies dead at the bottom of the sea. And here is a foretaste of that ultimate victory of the seed of the woman over the seed of the serpent. The exultant and joyful tambourines and dancing of the women shows us a type of the fruits of redemption. It shows us in shadows the joyful exulting of the redeemed as the seed of the woman is victorious over the serpent, crushing him underfoot, and delivering His people.
So now let’s consider the song itself. There is an overarching theme in this song, that we also see throughout the Psalms, that would tend to rub modern evangelical sentiment the wrong way. And that is that the LORD is praised, His praises are sung, because His strength and victory are glorious. He is praised for His triumphing and destroying of real historical enemies and people. He is praised for being a man of war. So often in salvation the modern sentiment is simply to think of Jesus as meek and mild, soft and tenderhearted, and things like that. And obviously Jesus was meek, and compassionate, and tenderhearted toward the poor and needy, and humbled himself to the point of death on the cross. So I don’t downplay that at all, and we glory in that, when those are the texts before us. But Jesus is also a lion, a warrior, a man of war, strong, and triumphant, riding a white horse with flames of fire in His eyes and a sword coming out of His mouth. We want to believe in and embrace, praise, and glory in the whole Christ. So victory and strength are glorious things. Jesus wasn’t and isn’t a weakling or a loser. So really, this song just shows us all sorts of different ways that the LORD is strong, and who and what all He is strong and victorious over.
Strength for His People
The first thing to notice is that God is strong FOR His people. The Christian message is not that God is strong, so you need to get strong like Him, and you need to be strong to be worthy of Him. The message of Christ is that He IS OUR strength. We are weak, we are unable, we are law-breakers, we are sinners, but HE is strong, and Has triumphed for weak sinners, for those who cannot. And through Him He can make us strong, and we are made more than conquerors. Verse 2 is where Moses says, “The LORD IS my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation…” This is the reality of union with Christ – all the bad things about us are taken upon Christ in His death, and all the good of Him is ours, for we are united to Him. Thus, His strength is our strength. His victory is our victory.
Imagine Moses leading the people in this song, after what they had just witnessed, the epic and miraculous defeat of the Egyptians in the sea and the Pillar of cloud and fire standing between them, and Moses then sings out, “this is my God, and I will praise him, this is my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war, the LORD is his name.” All the doubting and questioning of the Israelites, should be answered in what they have just seen. And indeed, they did believe at this point, and so they sang. The last verse of chapter 14 says they believed. Psalm 106:12 says they believed His Word and so they sang His praise.
Strength Over Pharaoh
As they sing in verse 4 and following, they have just witnessed God’s Strength over Pharaoh’s chariots. The chosen officers of Egypt, one of the greatest military powers in the ancient world, were sunk to the bottom of the sea like a stone. The most prideful world leader was utterly humiliated before all the nations. And it was God who did it, and it was glorious, and it is worthy of praise.
Strength Over Creation
In this defeat of Pharaoh, which was rather easy for God, God displayed His strength over creation, or really His rule over it. It was like a blast out of his nostrils and the waters stood up straight, and then God just blew with his wind and the sea covered the Egyptians up.
We also see in verse 6 that God’s strength is pictured in His right hand. “Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.” Often in Scripture, God’s right hand is representative of the second person of the Trinity. It is the LORD who sits at the right hand of the LORD. The Son sits at the right hand of the Father. So we could say, “Your Christ, O LORD, glorious in power, your Christ, O LORD, shatters the enemy.” This is almost exactly what Christ does in Psalm 2. Psalm 2:9, the Father is speaking to the Son, His Anointed, and says, speaking of the nations, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” For those kings, rulers, nations, and peoples who do not fear the Lord, serve Him with rejoicing and trembling, and do not kiss the Son, that is what will happen, His anger will be kindled and they will perish in the way. This is not the Father vs. the Son, the Father and the Son are united, they are one in this. It is the Son who shatters them. Pharaoh learned this the hard way, and he stands in Scripture as an example to all kings and rulers, to fear the Lord and serve Him. If Christ is not your strength, your strength is weakness. It is pride that cometh before the fall. The harder the pot is to crack, the harder it is thrown down, and the more greatly God’s glory and power is displayed.
This is serious and it is true. And this will be the case for the United States of America if she does not turn in repentance to Jesus Christ. Our governing authorities have by and large set themselves up, quite pridefully, against the One True God, and His Christ. Our governing authorities are in the process of codifying falsely-called same-sex marriage into law, to protect, promote, and privilege it at a federal level. I don’t need to list off all of our other protected iniquities for you to understand that proudly declaring that, in the face of God, means that His wrath is quickly kindled. The Bible says that God opposes the proud. In this song Moses recounts the pride of Pharaoh in verse 9, how he said that he would destroy the people of Israel. Christ does not take lightly threats against His church, that’s His bride, that He died for, that He purchased. Even verse 16 refers to God’s people as a purchased people. Christ is working for that people, His purchased people, whom He leads and has given His steadfast love, as verse 13 says. That’s good news.
It is also good news that, like Israel, God has the strength to deliver His people out of a nation under judgment, for He is working all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. It can be frightening thinking about the severity of the judgment that is coming when we see increased prideful rebellion almost every day. But as Psalm 2 also says, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Christ is our refuge from the wrath of God. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer in this world when our nation is judged. But it means we have a refuge from the wrath of God. It means that God has the power to deliver His people out of a nation that is being utterly destroyed. He has done it so many times, in many different ways all throughout history. He can do it for us, if and when that time comes.
Strength Over gods
Not only has God shown the glory of His strength over human rulers, but also, verse 11 says, “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?” He has displayed His strength over the gods, which I take to be the principalities and powers of darkness, such as fallen angelic beings. And especially in this context, the gods of Egypt, some of which, I believe were fallen angels and principalities. We saw in the plagues of Egypt that the plagues were also judgments on the Egyptian deities, God displaying His power to be far superior to that of the powers of the magicians and priests of Egyptian religion. Verse 11, “Who is like you, majestic in holiness…?” Not these beings, they aren’t majestic in holiness, they were evil. Who is like you, “awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Their deeds were evil, but God’s was awesome in glory and were wonderful. Verse 12 says, “You stretched out your right hand, the earth swallowed them.” I believe this is judgment upon the principalities and powers. God’s right hand, the angel of the LORD, judged them, defeated them with His strength, and the earth swallowed them up, sentencing them to sheol. This was not only a great defeat of rebellious man, but a judgment upon the principalities that Pharaoh and Egypt sought power from. Not only is man nothing before the strength of God, but spiritual powers of darkness are also brought to nothing before Him.
This too is very good news for us, as Ephesians 6 tells us that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” And in that fight, Christ is our strength. His Holy Spirit is in us. His Word is the Sword of the Spirit, that is living and active against that realm. And by faith, which is the shield of faith, we extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. Christ is not only glorious in deeds over such darkness, but in the gospel, He equips His people to be effective fighters against such foes, as Ephesians 6:10 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
This most often in our lives doesn’t look like facing off with pagan priests and druids. It looks like every day temptation and spiritual warfare, which we don’t often think of as spiritual warfare, but we ought to. Temptations to lose your temper, temptations to despair of hope, temptations to sexual sin, temptations to covetousness, and such things. If Christ can judge the gods of Egypt, if He can bruise the serpent’s head at the cross, if He can defeat death, then Christ in you can defeat those every day temptations. He has given you all the armor and weaponry you will need. He has given Himself, His Spirit, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace as shoes for your feet, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and prayer.
Strength Over All Nations, Canaanites, Giants, etc.
Not only has God displayed the right hand of His strength over the gods, but also, in the context of this song, His strength over all the nations Israel was to conquer is guaranteed. Verse 14 and following shows us that the peoples of Canaan have already heard of what God did to Pharaoh and they are already trembling in fear. Pangs have seized them, the chiefs are dismayed, the inhabitants have melted away, terror and dread has fallen upon them because of the greatness of God’s arm, the greatness of Christ. These were also very wicked and powerful nations, who served false gods and demons. These were nations that were filled with giants and great warrior people. If only Israel had remembered and continued to believe this the first time.
This wonderfully pictures the future conquering of all the nations with the gospel that we have seen to varying degrees already in the last 2,000 years. Because of Christ’s powerful exodus in His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension, the future conquering of the nations from that point on was as good as done, guaranteed. We just need to believe that and obey the Great commission to wield the sword of the spirit on the nations, with beautiful feet fitted with the gospel of peace, that all peoples would hear and lay down their opposition and welcome to Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of lords. Let us not be like the unbelieving generation who did not believe God would conquer them and so didn’t go.
Strength to Prosper His People
Finally we see God’s strength to keep and prosper His people. Verse 13, “ You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.” Verse 17, “You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O LORD, which your hands have established. The LORD will reign forever and ever.” In these elements we see the prophetic nature of song, from the prophet Moses. God indeed brought the nation of Israel to where He said He would bring them. And God is and will bring all His true Israel to Himself, to dwell with Him in His abode. When you feel like you don’t have the strength to stand, or the power to continue, the will to persevere, remember these precious promises of God, that HE guides His people by HIS strength, and He WILL bring them to Himself, to finish the race, and there is not any power of man, no strength of armies, no schemes of satan, no temptation of man, no sin in you that can keep Christ from bringing to completion that good work which He has begun in you. He is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before Him without any spot or blemish where He will say to you, “well done, my good and faithful servant.” So having done all to stand firm, stand therefore.