Song of Moses

Song of Moses

Song of Moses.

Please read Exodus 15:1-21.

AUTHOR. Also called the Song at the Sea, this song was written around 1446 BC by Moses, a hero of the Faith, a Hebrew prophet and emancipator, renowned servant of God. Some say that his sister Miriam had a hand in writing this song, since she was called a prophetess (the first time a woman was called a prophetess in the Bible), in connection to her leading the singing and dancing inĀ  15:20-21. Moses, though, seems to have received the credit down through history, and the song is mentioned in Revelation 15:3 as the Song of Moses. This particular song is still recited daily by Orthodox Jews.

CONTEXT. To say that there was a huge backstory leading up to the Red Sea would be quite the understatement. 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Moses and the Call at the burning bush to liberate the Hebrew slaves; The ten plagues, which was the Lord’s direct challenge to the Egyptian deities; The miraculous Passover with the lamb’s blood. Pharaoh’s release of the Hebrews, and then his abrupt change of heart; The Egyptian army’s chasing of the Hebrews in order to recapture them. And finally, the culminating event that completed the Hebrew liberation from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea (also called the Sea of Reeds) and the drowning of the Egyptian army. The Red Sea was a landmark in Biblical history, a signature moment in the Jewish faith, as well as Christian. The Red Sea miracle is a defining event in Judeo-Christian belief, and is an illustration of redemption, of salvation and deliverance, of a people being “redeemed” and “purchased” by God, as Moses sang in his song (verses 13 and 16).

So there they stand on the far side of the Red Sea, huffing and puffing after a 300-yard dash on dry ground through roiling walls of water on both sides, finally breathing deep sighs of relief, watching as the dreaded Egyptian army, complete with its 600 horses and chariots, drown in the sea. Fearfulness and dread has turned to awe and wonder. Finally the Hebrews believe in the Lord and in “Moses, His servant.” (14:31). The people for the first time are finally willing to trust in Moses’ leadership. They realize now that they are saved, they are delivered from slavery. God has achieved a miraculous victory for the Hebrew people. And what do they do first? Slap each other on the back, give each other high-fives, and chant “We’re number one! We’re number one!”? No, the first thing they do is they sing a song of worship and praise. They realize that they did absolutely nothing to bring about this victory. The earlier words of Moses are fresh in their minds… “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” And then the people obeyed, watching as God does all the heavy-lifting. The Red Sea had miraculously parted, they are on the other side, and led by Moses and Miriam, they sing the lyrics to their famous song of deliverance that has come down through the ages. We still know the lyrics to this ancient song, even though it was the first collective song the Jews ever sang.

OBSERVATIONS. Moses put his higher education in Egypt to good use, composing a song that many scholars claim is the finest example of Hebrew literature ever. Many say that this Song of Moses is the first recorded song in history. However one looks at this song, we can agree that it is at the pinnacle of worship, a very high point of praise and thanksgiving to God for His salvation. This song celebrates a singular spiritual event that all can look to as a dramatic picture of God’s mercy and power.

How did this huge congregation of people sing the same song, all at the same time? We’re not sure how they pulled this off. Some rabbis believe that Moses sung a line, then the people repeated the line, through the whole song. Others think that Moses sung it phrase by phrase, and the people repeated each phrase until the song was done. Some believe that Miriam led the women to sing the refrain after each section of the song was sung by the men, based on 15:20-21. Rabbi Nehemiah believed that the whole song was sung in unison without the need for repetition or call-response. He thought that all the people “were seized by divine inspiration and miraculously the same words came into their minds at the same time.” We will never know exactly how the song was sung, but thankfully we know what was sung.

HIGHLIGHTS. The Song of Moses is quoted in the Psalms, in Isaiah, and is referred to throughout Scripture. Israel’s descendants recalled this event through the generations (eg, II Kings 17; II Chronicles 6). And even the Canaanites remembered this demonstration of God’s power and were fearful (Joshua 2). Time and again, God called on Israel to remember His work of salvation at the Red Sea, and to be faithful to Him.

Refrain. The song opens with a victory chant: “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and rider He has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song; He is become my salvation.” These words were probably a refrain sung during the song, since Miriam picked up these words specifically and led the singing and dancing to them, becoming spontaneously the women’s choir director on the shore of the Sea.

Yahweh. Moses refers to “Yahweh, the Warrior – Yahweh is His Name!” in verse 3. Moses has known this intimate, personal name for the Lord ever since the burning bush, and he has hung onto that Name for God ever since. He undoubtedly was thrilled that he was able to sing His Name in public worship after experiencing God’s salvation.

Right Hand. Moses refers to God’s right hand three times in the song, an important symbol of God’s “glorious power,” and His ability to vanquish His foes and defeat His people’s enemies.

Mercy. One of the greatest, richest Hebrew words in Scripture is hesed, which is a combination of mercy, loyalty, faithfulness, unfailing love-in-action. And Moses chose to use hesed, God’s central quality according the rabbis, in verse 13: “In your mercy you lead the people you have redeemed.” God’s on-going leadership of the Hebrew people is viewed by Moses as a continual act of unfailing mercy.

Flow of Song. After starting with a celebration of the destruction of Pharaoh’s army, Moses developed his theme of thanksgiving for God’s power and love. And then, somewhat surprisingly, Moses sings about the conquest of Canaan, and how the Canaanites are full of terror and dread. And then finally, Moses discusses how the Hebrew people will be brought to the Lord’s mountain, Mt. Zion, where His dwelling will be built, the Temple of the Lord. Was Moses given a vision of the future? Apparently, the Lord parted the curtain of time and allowed Moses to see what lay ahead for the Hebrew people, while still standing on the shores of the Red Sea.

King. Moses closes with a shout of proclamation, that Yahweh is King, that He is establishing His Kingdom, and that He will reign for all eternity. This is a powerful way to conclude his song. For God is their King now, not Pharaoh. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks likes to make the point that they are God’s possession now, not Pharaoh’s. They are not slaves to Pharaoh, they are servants of God. The Red Sea was the boundary line. On one side was the territory of Egypt, where Pharaoh was king. On the other side of the Sea is the desert, where there is no human king. There is only God, and He has brought the Hebrew people to a place where they will depend on Him as their Sovereign. Moses said all this when he concluded the song proclaiming Yahweh as King, Yahweh reigns for ever and ever. This is the first time in the Bible God is declared to be a King. And what a wonderful time for that declaration.

Final Thought. “Any approach to salvation that does not eventually become worship reduces salvation to a concept or a program or a technique that we can master and therefore control. Song has always been basic to the act of worship… Salvation is the source of our song. Without the experience of God’s saving grace in our day-to-day lives, we are left with little to sing about.” (Eugene Peterson).