Titles of the Father – The Deliverer

Titles of the Father – The Deliverer

Titles of the Father – The Deliverer.

Then Manoah, father of Samson, asked the Angel of Yahweh, ‘What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?’ The Angel of Yahweh replied, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is a name of wonder. It is unknowable, and too wonderful for you to understand!’” (Judges 13:18).

Trying to determine a list of God’s titles in the Hebrew Bible can be a tricky business, a daunting task. For one thing, the differences between a name and a title are unclear and they often overlap. There are times, too, when one is tempted to consider a common noun or adjective or metaphor to be a title if it happens to reference God. And there are plenty of times when we read of a character description of God, or a unique ability of God, and we find ourselves turning them into titles. So the titles of the Father that I will highlight in this series is a list, not the list. For all I know, there may not even be a definitive list of God’s titles. I aim to provide varied glimpses of God the Father in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament… who He is, what He can do, what He represents, what He has done. Most importantly, I pray the readers of these titles are able to maintain the Jewish tradition of using God’s titles as ways of addressing the Almighty. As we address God in prayer and worship, may we feel free to put a capital letter at the beginning of each title, making the title an aspect of His identity. In that way each title could be another way to honor God and recognize His greatness.

“Praise be to the Lord Yahweh, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge…” (Ps. 144:2).

Deliverer – Hebrew, Mepalti; one who releases, rescues, delivers, liberates, brings out, sets free.

“You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. You shall encircle me with joyous shouts of victory and rescue. Like garlands of hosannas, you shall enfold me with songs of salvation.”  (Psalm 32:7, a psalm of David; a combination of various versions).

David was totally unique in Scripture. Raised a shepherd boy, the youngest of eight sons, the one everyone seemed to overlook, he became a renowned musician, a legendary poet, a fierce warrior, and the most beloved King in the history of Israel. He was a faithful worshiper of Yahweh, and, the highest accolade one could receive, he was “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14). Was he a prophet? Yes. His psalms prove that, and St. Peter called him a prophet in his first sermon after Pentecost (Acts 2:30). Was he a priest? Well, he led worship and offered sacrifices when the ark was brought to Jerusalem, wearing a priestly garment at the time. Was he a king? Unquestionably, the greatest king of Israel. David’s life certainly hinted at his distant relative, the Messiah Jesus, who was the ultimate Prophet, Priest and King.

King David’s greatest song of deliverance is found in 2 Samuel 22. He probably composed this song around 1018 BC, near the end of his life. By the time he died around 1015 BC, he had been king for 40 years, and he passed away when he was 70 years old. Historians have hailed him as the greatest king of Israel. He was able to unite the separate tribes of Israel into one unified nation, he was able to secure peace with all his neighboring nations, and he maintained Israel as a God-fearing, God-centered nation. By the end of his life, after nearly 400 years of division and of disjointed tribes, he was able to enjoy the unified nation in the Promised Land under Yahweh. Finally, under David, the kingdom was one and at peace, and devoted to the Lord.

It is not surprising that David is being surrounded my music and song. He was the Bible’s chief musician, known as the “sweet psalmist of Israel.”  So he decided to surround himself with songs of confession, forgiveness, lament, salvation, joy, and everything else he was experiencing. It is a vast understatement to merely describe him as a great musician. As a young boy he soothed the spirits of a troubled King Saul (1 Sam. 16) with his singing and playing. David wrote the lyrics, composed the music, organized the choir and orchestra for worship, and even invented some of the musical instruments that were used at the Temple. Biblical scholars maintain that he surely invented the ten-stringed lyre David mentioned in his Psalm 144. And David did claim that he made the instruments for worship (1 Chron. 23). He appointed 4,000 trained musicians, and he trained almost 300 music ministers to serve in the Temple.

If we asked David himself why he chose music for self-expression, he might say that music chose him. He would be tongue-tied to go any further, because music refuses definition. Music can be described, it can be lived, it cannot be defined. Music goes too deep for that. Deeper than we can imagine and deeper than we can possibly know until heaven, where music seems to be the common language. This makes us wonder if, at creation, God didn’t merely speak the words that brought everything into existence. No, perhaps God sung those words. God filled the new universe with the new song of creation. God didn’t merely shout “Let there be light!” No, God sung those words that brought light to life. God’s first creative act, a song. Is it any wonder that at creation “the morning stars sung together and all the angels shouted for joy.” (Job 38:7).

It’s not surprising then, that the Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, are full of songs… from Moses and Miriam to the heavenly angels, from the Psalms to the Song of Songs. For wherever there is self-expression, there is bound to be a song. Rabbis say that the oldest texts in the Hebrew Bible are poems/songs. Because they were sung, they were remembered more precisely through the oral tradition, and they were probably less tampered with or paraphrased down through history. So it appears that the most authentic pieces of Scripture are the songs that were sung. They were memorized more easily, preserved more accurately, and handed down with more authority.

When he was referring to songs of deliverance, David anticipated his own song of deliverance in 2 Samuel 22. And he certainly knew all about the historic songs of deliverance in the story of God’s Chosen People. He was thinking of the Song of Deborah (Judges 5). And without a doubt, David was contemplating the greatest song of deliverance in the Scripture, Moses and Miriam at the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). These three songs of deliverance in biblical history deserve our attention.

The Song of David. David composed this song near the end of his life when all is at peace with the world. There were no troublesome wars with his neighboring nations, and he even exalts in the fact that his long ago flight from Saul is but a distant memory. What begins as a picturesque song of thanksgiving develops into a victory song, and then concludes with his fervent reliance on God’s “everlasting covenant” with him and his throne. David starts by extolling God’s attributes, moves into the triumphant interventions of God, then exults with his messianic expectations for the future. David seems to sum up his life with an energy known only to David at his best. Here at the end, David undoubtedly once again embraced the truth he uttered long ago, that “Surely goodness and mercy (have pursued me) all the days of my life. (Ps. 23). The Orthodox Church has labeled Ps. 18, the identical song to II Samuel 22, as “the victory of David fulfilled in the Messiah.”

David was so utterly convinced of God’s divine goodness and character that he stretched his vocabulary to include numerous, effective word pictures of God. David seems like he wanted to test the limits of his imagination. David truly loved God with all his heart, and this Song of Deliverance and Praise in II Samuel 22 underlines that fact to an amazing degree. David’s attributes of God include: “Rock; Fortress; Deliverer; Refuge; Shield; Horn (Strength); Stronghold; Savior; Worthy of Praise; Attentive; Brightness; Most High; Rescuer; Support; Faithful; Blameless; Pure; Shrewd; Lamp; Helper; Perfect; Flawless; Preserver; Alive; Avenger; Kind.”

David’s personal moments of distress in verses 4-5 lead quickly to his crying out to God for relief. The Lord’s power is described with poetic license as he exults in God’s dramatic intervention. God is described by David as an active volcano to come in support of David against his enemies, as he is surrounded by evil. God’s power is evident, but so his gentleness (v. 17-20), when he is saved from drowning in his troubles, and is brought into a spacious place because God “delighted in me.” David’s God is an intervening God, ready to rescue at a moment’s notice.  Proceeding on, David waxed eloquent again as he claims that God is his lamp, his light in the darkness. God equips him with strength and confidence, able to challenge any enemy and scale any wall. God makes him like a sure-footed deer prancing high on a rock, protected and well-positioned to view his environment and what lies ahead. God is David’s Deliverer, and David is happy to cooperate.

The Song of Deborah. Written around 1300 BC, this song is considered one of the oldest pieces of poetry in the Hebrew Bible, and perhaps the most ancient of early Hebrew literature. The author is unknown, but was certainly an eye witness to the great Holy War described. Judges 5, the Song of Deborah, is the poetic version of Judges 4, which details the battle in prose. Some scholars wonder if Deborah actually wrote this song, since the song was addressed to Deborah and refers to her specifically. On the other hand, many historians claim that Deborah indeed composed the song and was comfortable in referring to herself in the 3rd person in order to give a full account of the war.

Deborah holds a unique place in Biblical heroism. Deborah was the fourth judge during this era in Israel’s history, and the only woman in a long line of judges. Her courtroom was under a palm tree named in her honor. She was famous for her national leadership, and was renowned in rabbinic tradition for her skills as an insightful mediator and impartial advisor in matters of justice. Deborah was an effective judge, but she was also a military leader, and a prophetess of Yahweh, and was even referred to as “the mother of Israel.” (5:7). She obviously had an intimate relationship with the Lord, and full confidence in and dependence upon the God Of Israel. Deborah was an outstanding example of historic leadership during the era when Israel so easily fell into apostasy. Even her military general Barak would not go into battle without her. Deborah’s name means “bee” or “wasp”. One Hebrew scholar said that Deborah was “a bee in peace and a wasp in war.” Deborah is an inspiration to all, male or female, who want to be an obedient mouthpiece and leader for God during time of national distress. She was one of the few judges who was not corrupted by success, and Israel was at peace with her enemies for 40 years after her victory. That figure has led historians to claim that Deborah was Israel’s leader for a total of 60 years.

The roller-coaster ride of the Israelites in the Promised Land is highlighted in the book of Judges. Israel’s spiritual weaknesses would cause them to fall into apostasy and immorality, then the Lord would call a judge to help lead them back to obedience to Yahweh. And then, after a few years of peace and obedience, Israel would fall again, and the patient Lord would raise up another righteous and valiant judge. And so on it goes. Deborah finds herself called to be another judge during twenty years of oppression under the Canaanite king Jabin of Hazor, which was situated north of Galilee. These pagans were known for their ruthless and well-equipped military, which included 900 iron chariots, weapons of mass destruction if there was ever such things in the ancient world. Their military was led by a bloodthirsty general named Sisera, and he was a formidable enemy of Israel. God told Deborah to engage in battle with Sisera in order to free the Israelites from their oppression. She confidently turned to her general Barak and told him what the Lord has said… Get 10,ooo Hebrew soldiers and go to war with Sisera and his army, and the Lord will bring certain victory. As it turns out, after Deborah’s personal involvement and her inspiration of Barak into action, the Lord did indeed bring victory. The Song of Deborah was written to celebrate this amazing triumph over the Canaanites.

The Song of Moses and Miriam. Also called the Song at the Sea, this song (Exodus 15:1-18) was written around 1446 BC by Moses, a hero of the Faith, a Hebrew prophet and emancipator, renowned servant of God.  Many maintain that his sister Miriam had a hand in writing this song as well, 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 in  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.

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, praise and deliverance. 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.

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.

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 17II 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.

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.

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.

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.

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, faithful mercy.

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.

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.

“Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!’”  (Acts 15:20-21).

Miriam. The name means bitter waters, or perhaps waters of strength. Her life span was approximately from around 1400 – 1300 BC. The Greek version of the Hebrew name Miriam is Mary. The root word for myrrh is used in the name, a bitter and fragrant spice used for anointing oil or for embalming. Sheridan Larson noted that when Miriam was named, she was born during  a time when the children of Israel were in bondage to Egypt. Her parents were making a statement about the bitterness of life in captivity. It is ironic that Miriam, known in history for her uplifting praise and worship, did not spread bitterness associated with her name. There are two rabbinic traditions regarding Miriam during the wilderness journey. One tradition maintains that, because of Miriam’s righteousness, and so due to her merit, a miraculous well accompanied the wanderers all the while she lived in order to provide water for drinking. Thus when she died, this well dried up (Numbers 20:1-2). The other tradition noted by Larson is that Miriam’s role during that long journey was to lead the people in praise, just as she did during that victorious Song of Moses at the Red Sea. Like water itself, she was a continual source of refreshing praise. So when Miriam died, no one was there to lead the people in praise to God. When Miriam died, her well of praise died with her. Tradition states that Miriam died at the age of 126, a year before the Israelites entered the Promised Land.

 Miriam is the first woman in the Hebrew Bible to be called a prophetess (Ex. 15:20). She is prominent in Jewish history, and is on the short list of the seven special women in the Jewish faith who were called prophetesses. These women are the “Holy Women to Israel”: Sarah (Genesis), Miriam (Exodus, Numbers), Deborah (Judges), Hannah (1 Samuel), Abigail (1 Samuel 25), Huldah (2 Kings), and Esther. The designated prophet in Jewish circles, whether male or female, held a unique place in the Scriptures. Prophets and prophetesses were able to receive divine revelations from the Lord regarding the future as well as the present. The prophet would speak what was on God’s mind. Prophets were also held up as role models of sanctity and intimacy with God. They set the community standards for religious faith and behavior. Rabbinic tradition holds that Miriam was at first considered a prophet because she had prophesied to her parents that they would bear the person who would deliver the Israelites from bondage. The fact that both mother and sister went to such extraordinary measures to take care of Moses suggests that they knew Moses was going to be unique, with a singular role as savior and deliverer of his people. The other reason Miriam was called a prophetess in Scripture is that she was described that way in direct connection to her role as worship leader in song at the Red Sea.

Music and prophecy have an intimate connection, a unique bond regarding the Lord’s revelations. “Worship in song is a higher form of proclamation.” (St. Benedict). Music is in the very soul of God. Music is in the eternal repertoire of God’s self-expression. The Trinity undoubtedly have spent eternity singing divine love songs to each other. If music is somehow a part of God’s essence, then we humans, being made in the image of God, also have music built into our nature. It makes sense then, that if God wants to communicate a revelation to humans, He will often prefer to communicate musically, through a prophet. That’s why music and prophecy are spiritually joined at the hip throughout Scripture. God talks through music with people, and prophets speak musically to the people. The two are intrinsically and dynamically fused. The Holy Spirit seems to inspire us, and open our hearts that much more effectively, through the prophetic use of music.

“O Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer… I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord Yahweh, do not delay.”  (Ps. 140:7 and 70:5).