Scripture: Exodus 15:1-18
1 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: I will sing to the Lord, for an overflowing victory! Horse and rider he threw into the sea! 2 The Lord is my strength and my power; he has become my salvation. This is my God, whom I will praise, the God of my ancestors, whom I will acclaim. 3 The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. 4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he hurled into the sea; his elite captains were sunk in the Reed Sea. 5 The deep sea covered them; they sank into the deep waters like a stone. 6 Your strong hand, Lord, is dominant in power; your strong hand, Lord, shatters the enemy! 7 With your great surge you overthrow your opponents; you send out your hot anger; it burns them up like straw. 8 With the breath of your nostrils the waters swelled up, the floods surged up in a great wave; the deep waters foamed in the depths of the sea. 9 The enemy said, “I’ll pursue, I’ll overtake, I’ll divide the spoils of war. I’ll be overfilled with them. I’ll draw my sword; my hand will destroy them.” 10 You blew with your wind; the sea covered over them. They sank like lead in the towering waters. 11 Who is like you among the gods, Lord? Who is like you, foremost in holiness, worthy of highest praise, doing awesome deeds? 12 You raised your strong hand; earth swallowed them up. 13 With your great loyalty you led the people you rescued; with your power you guided them to your sanctuary. 14 The peoples heard, they shook in terror; horror grabbed hold of Philistia’s inhabitants. 15 Then Edom’s tribal chiefs were terrified; panic grabbed hold of Moab’s rulers; all of Canaan’s inhabitants melted in fear. 16 Terror and fear came over them; because of your great power, they were as still as a stone until your people, Lord, passed by, until the people you made your own passed by. 17 You brought them in and planted them on your own mountain, the place, Lord, that you made your home, the sanctuary, Lord, that your hand created. 18 The Lord will rule forever and always.
Theme- God’s purpose is always to bring the people through death to greater life.
- How should we understand “with your power you guided them to your sanctuary” in v 13?
- Why is God described as a warrior in v3 when there is no battle?
Related texts: Psalm 78:9-16, Matthew 28:1-10, Luke 24:1-35, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, Hebrews 11:23-28
The Song of the Sea is one of the oldest pieces of the Old Testament.
The language of “deep waters” in v5 and “mountain” in v12 are more than simply physical places they represent the abyss (see Gen. 1:2) and Paradise or death and life.
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It might seem strange to some for me to choose Exodus 15 the week we celebrate the quintessential event in the Christian calendar- The Resurrection. However, this passage both continues my theme for the year in working through the Pentateuch and it provides an analogy for helping us understand and respond to Jesus’ rising. One of the elements in the song of Exodus 15 that strikes me is how the world is described, specifically the contrast between the fate of the Egyptian Army and the Israelites. The Egyptian army ends in the depths while the Israelites are brought to God’s mountain. The language used is more than literal geography to describe the sea floor and Sinai, this is sacred geography. We can easily miss such sacred geography because the concepts do not translate easily between cultures, but the Egyptian army is simply drowning in a lake they are being swept into the chaotic abyss. The abyss in Genesis 1 and the Flood stories represents death and distance from God and the Egyptian warriors pursuing Israel are swept into it. The physical sea becomes a metaphor for death and presents a lesson that Pharaoh’s pursuit of power, violence, and injustice ultimately end in destruction. Likewise, verse 17 speaks of Israel having been planted on the Mountain when they are geographically encamped on the western bank of a lake. This language calls us to think of God’s dwelling place, an Eden-like vision of paradise. The song represents God’s deliverance of Israel from Pharaoh in what we would call spiritual terms, The physical escape of Israel reflects the deliverance God wants to bring for all humanity, a deliverance from the qualities Pharaoh represents. We can think of the song like this; the prose narrative of Exodus 14 is a 2-D drawing of what took place between Israel and Egypt while Exodus 15 lays another dimension on top that provides added depth.
The story of Israel crossing the sea provides a picture of God’s character and desire. God wants to free people from the burden of slavery to injustice, greed, and power. To do this God parts the water, the picture of chaos and death, and brings the people through that chaos to the Mountain, the place of God’s own presence and life. This is why Christian’s have used this passage to help form our theology of baptism a ceremony where we like the Israelites cross through death into life, leaving behind the sins and injustice that oppress us. In baptism we stand at the edge of the sea waiting for God to deliver us from all of the wickedness and oppression we have experienced in life. And as the Israelites saw Moses connecting to God’s power through his staff to part the sea, we see Jesus standing having conquered death and parting death for us to walk through. The sea becomes a powerful symbol of God’s character that helps provide us with both a historical pattern and a metaphor for how God wants to interact with humanity. We recognize that all humanity is in bondage to sin the way Israel was in bondage to Egypt and there is a wall hemming us it, but in Jesus’ resurrection God has opened a way through the sea that will only close on those who want to continue holding humanity in bondage.
But not only can we see this passage as a symbol of our freedom; we can also recognize a proper response to God in this passage. While Israel probably didn’t sing this exact song as the waters closed on Pharaoh’s army, this does appear to be an ancient hymn which scholars date back to Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. This means that immediately after the event described in Exodus 14 Moses and the people began reflecting on the event and trying to understand what it meant. This is a lesson Christians have also been learning throughout the centuries with Jesus’ resurrection. We continually discover it new in our own lives and begin to meditate on how we have come through the water with Jesus. We ponder how his life leads us through death into life and we create songs, new songs sung in our lifetime and through our lives. We cannot simply allow the story of Jesus’ resurrection die on our ears but we should, like the Israelites, mediate on it until it is the song passed down from our lives. It is our song of praise that helps connect us to God, as St Augustine said, “To sing once is to pray twice.”
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