Last week we spent our time on Exodus 14 and the account of how the Lord opened a way through the Red Sea to enable his people to cross over on dry land; whereas the Egyptians — when they too tried to cross over — were drowned when the waters of the Red Sea flooded back into place and covered them. And we thought about how, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul refers to the crossing of the Red Sea as a baptism, because baptism is a sign which signifies how the Lord delivers his people from one kind of life to live a new kind of life. So, just as the Lord delivered the Israelites from a life of slavery and misery in Egypt to become pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land of Canaan, so he delivers us from a life of sin and misery to become pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land of Eternal life. And so, when someone is converted to faith in Christ, and baptised, their baptism marks the end of that old life without Christ and the beginning of their new life with Christ.
Chapters 14 and 15 belong together. Whereas chapter 14 recounted the crossing of the Red Sea in prose, chapter 15 recounts the same events, but in the form of poetry. One of the commentators describes the difference like this:
The purpose of the prose account is narration. The purpose of the poetic account is celebration. Exodus 14 tells the old, old story. Exodus 15 sings the old, old story. Chapter 14 focuses on what God has done. Chapter 15 focusses on our appropriate response to what God has done.
And that’s it, isn’t it? In Exodus 14 we read of what the Lord did for his people; and in Exodus 15 we read of how they celebrated and praised the Lord for delivering them from their captivity and from their enemies. Look at verse 1:
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord….
So, after the events of chapter 14, when the Lord brought them safely through the Red Sea by his mighty power, and when he had destroyed all their enemies in the same Red Sea by his mighty power, they began to sing this song of praise to the Lord.
And you’ll see, of course, that there are two songs. First of all, in verses 1 to 18, we have the song which has become known as the song of Moses which begins with the lines:
I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and rider he has hurled into the sea.
And then, in verses 20 and 21 we have Miriam’s song. Miriam was the sister of Aaron and Moses, and we read how she took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her; and they had tambourines as well; and they also danced to celebrate God’s victory over their enemies. And, according to verse 21, Miriam sang to them the first lines of the song of Moses. Perhaps that’s only a summary of what she sang; perhaps she sang to them the whole of the song of Moses. And perhaps she sang it to the women, in order to teach it to them, so that these women, if they became mothers, could sing it to their children in the nursery. And by passing on the song, they would help to pass on the faith to future generations.
There’s that two-part structure to today’s passage. There’s the song of Moses followed by the song of Miriam. But notice now that the song of Moses really has two main parts. First of all, there’s praise for what God has already done for them. And secondly, there’s the expectation for what God will do for them in the future. And we’ll look at those two parts of the song of Moses now.
First of all, there’s praise for what God has already done for them. We find this in verses 1 to 12 which begin:
I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.
Moses is depicting the Lord has a mighty warrior who has picked up his enemies — the way we might pick up a stone — and he has hurled them into the heart of the sea. And here’s the thing: of all the armies of the world, the armies of Egypt were the best in the world at that time. And remember back to verse 6 of chapter 14, where we read that Pharaoh sent his best chariots after the Egyptians. So, they were the best chariots in the best army in all the world. And the Lord God just hurled them away as if they were nothing.
The Lord is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation
When I was a teenager, I went to a Crusaders Bible Class on Sunday afternoons, and we used to sing a chorus which included those words. Now, every time I read them in the Bible, I hear those words being sung in my head. Moses means that the Lord is the source of their strength and the theme of their song and the one who saves them from all their enemies. The Israelites were afraid whenever they saw the Egyptians coming; they knew that they would not be able to stand up to them themselves. They had only ever been slaves, working in the fields and in the building sites of Egypt; they didn’t know how to fight a battle. And so, when they saw the Egyptians coming towards them, they were terrified. They had no strength or power of their own.
But they needn’t have been afraid, because, though they were weak, the Lord is strong, strong enough to save them. And because he has saved them, they want to sing his praise. And notice that they want to sing praise to ‘my God’ who is also ‘my father’s God’. That’s in verse 2. So, the God who helped my forefathers before me, has come to my help as well, because he is a faithful God, whose love for his people spans the generations.
And then in verse 3, Moses once again sings about the Lord being a warrior who has hurled Pharaoh’s chariots and his army into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers have been drowned in the Red Sea. Think of how many other armies they must have defeated in the past to become known as Pharaoh’s best officers. Think of the victories they have won in the past, and the peoples they have conquered. But they could not withstand the might of God’s power. And so, despite being Pharaoh’s best officers, the deep waters of the Red Sea covered them and they sank to the bottom like a stone.
Verse 6 now: the Lord’s majestic and powerful right hand has shattered their enemies and he’s thrown them down. Again, when I was young, I used to watch the wrestling on TV on Saturday afternoons. This was in the days of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, these giants of men, who would pick up their opponents and slam them down on the canvas. And so you remember? Giant Haystacks would slam them down on the canvas, and then he’d do a belly flop on them, falling on them with all of his gigantic weight. Well, the Lord is far, far, far stronger than any human wrestler and he’s able to throw his enemies and slam them down to the ground.
Of course, I should add that our Shorter Catechism teaches us, because the Bible teaches us, that God is a Spirit. Therefore he doesn’t really have a right hand, or a left hand. He does not have a body like us, because God is a Spirit. And so, when Moses refers to God’s right hand, he’s using that expression to refer to the Lord’s power and might and how he’s able to shatter his enemies with ease.
And then in the second half of verse 7, Moses refers to the Lord’s burning anger which consumed them like stubble. And by the blast of his nostrils — and again, the Lord is a Spirit and doesn’t have a nose; but Moses is using that expression to convey to us the idea of the Lord sending the east wind to divide the Red Sea — by the blast of his nostrils, the waters piled up and stood firm like a wall. The deep waters, which normally surge and swell and churn, congealed for a time and became solid to let the people pass through in safety.
And verses 9 and 10 are important, because they describe for us the pride of the Egyptians and they way they used to boast. Look at all the times the personal pronoun is used in verse 9:
I will pursue.
I will overtake.
I will divide the spoils.
I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword.
My hand will destroy them.
And that’s so important, because it reminds us that this was not an act of terror on God’s part. You know, in these days of Isis and jihads and genocide and terrorism, it’s very easy for us to become uneasy when we read these things, and we worry that this looks like an act of terrorism on God’s part against the Egyptians. And we can be a bit uneasy at the reaction of the Israelites, because it seems that they were taking delight in the suffering of the Egyptians. But this was not an act of terror; it was an act of judgment.
Think again of how the Egyptians had mistreated the Israelites. Firstly, they kept them as slaves for years and years. Secondly, they made their life miserable with hard labour; and do you remember how the Pharaoh kept increasing their workload and showed them no pity. Thirdly, they killed their children. And fourthly, of course, they did not worship the Lord or pay attention to Moses his servant. The Egyptians were sinners who sinned against the Lord continually. And in this verse, we see how their attitude has not changed, and their hearts were still hard and full of pride and hatred, because they were pursuing the Israelites in order to gorge themselves on them and in order to destroy them with their swords. These were wicked people, who wanted to destroy the Israelites. And so, when the Lord hurled them into the sea, and shattered them, and threw them down to the ground, it was not an act of terror on innocent people, but an act of judgment on them for their wickedness.
And so, of course, it speak to us of the coming day of judgment, when the Lord Jesus Christ will come again in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. And while those who have trusted in him will be declared not guilty of all the charges against them and brought into everlasting life, those who have not trusted in him will be condemned for all that they have done wrong, and they will be thrown into eternal torments and punished with everlasting destruction, away from the presence of the Lord. All of these accounts in the Bible of how the Lord destroyed the wicked are designed to warn us of the coming day of judgment, so that, while there is still time, while there is still time, sinners can repent of their wickedness and call out to the Lord to show them mercy and to forgive them their sins for the sake of Christ who died to pay for our sins. And whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
This was not an act of terrorism, but of judgment. And in his judgment on the Egyptians, the Lord blew with his breath, as verse 10 tells us, and the sea covered them and they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
This part of the song ends with a question:
Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?
Of course, we know that there are no other gods; there’s only one God, the one, true and living God. However, the Egyptians believed in many gods. But their many gods can’t compare with the God of the Israelites, because he alone is majestic in holiness — and therefore he hates sin — awesome in glory — and therefore to be feared — working wonders on behalf of his people.
And that’s the other side of this passage, isn’t it? Not only does it speak to us of the coming judgment, but it speaks to us of God’s salvation, because just as he delivered the Israelites from Egypt, so he frees us from our sin and misery by his Son who lived for us and who died for us to pay for our sins before rising again. And from his throne in heaven, he sends his Spirit into our lives to enable us to repent and to believe; and whoever repents and believes is delivered from our sin and misery to receive an everlasting salvation. He works wonders on behalf of his people in order to give us eternal life.
In Revelation 15 we read again of the song of Moses. In that chapter, angels received seven plagues to pour out upon the wicked. It’s reminiscent of the plagues the Lord sent on the Egyptians. And in Revelation 15, God’s victorious people stood beside what looked like a sea of glass. It’s reminiscent of the Israelites, standing beside the Rea Sea after the Egyptians had drowned. And in Revelation 15, God’s victorious people sang the song of Moses. But in Revelation 15, the song of Moses is now known by another name as well. It’s known as the song of the Lamb. You see, in the past, in the days of the Old Testament, God’s people sang the song of Moses, which celebrated how God delivered them from the Egyptians. But now, in heaven, God’s people sing the song of the Lamb, which celebrates how God delivers his people from our sin and misery by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. And when the church on earth meets together, we too sing songs about the Lamb of God, in order to praise the Lord who is our strength and our song and our Saviour.
Let’s move on to think about the second part of the song and the expectation for what God will do for them in the future. Now, in some English versions of the Bible, the verbs in the following verses are in the past tense. So, in the ESV — which I use at home — in the ESV, verse 13 says:
You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
But the NIV puts the same verbs in the future tense. So, in the NIV, verse 13 says:
In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.
Some translations put the verbs in the past tense; some translations put the verbs in the future tense. Which is correct? Well, they’re both correct. The grammarians call this the ‘prophetic perfect tense’ which means the biblical writers are so confident that some future event will definitely happen that they speak about it as if it has already happened. So, the NIV is right to say ‘you will lead’ and ‘you will guide them’, because it still lies in the future. But the ESV and other translations are right to say ‘you have led’ and ‘you have guided them’, because it’s certain that God will definitely do this for his people. Moses was so certain about it, that he speaks about it as if it’s already happened.
And to what was Moses referring when he sang about what the Lord was going to do for them? Well, look at verse 13 again. Moses sang of how the Lord will lead and guide the Israelites to his holy dwelling. Now, Moses could be referring to Mount Sinai, because after they crossed the Red Sea, the Lord led them to Mount Sinai. And the Lord came down to Mount Sinai; and for forty days, Moses met with the Lord on the mountain, his holy dwelling, and received the law from him. So, Moses could be referring to Mount Sinai. However, it’s more likely that he was referring to Mount Zion, where Jerusalem was located and where the temple was built. And, of course, the temple was God’s holy dwelling place, the place where he dwelt among his people; and it was the place where the people went in order to meet with the Lord and worship him and to offer sacrifices to him. So, Moses was singing about how the Lord was going to lead them and guide them to the Promised Land and to the temple, where he would dwell with his people.
But what about the pagan nations? What about the Philistines? What about the Edomites? What about the Moabites? What about the Canaanites? Surely they will attack the Israelites and destroy them on the way? Well, look at verses 14 and 15: when these pagan nations hear what the Lord did to Egypt, they will tremble with fear (v. 14). They will be terrified and will be seized with trembling (v. 15). The people of Canaan, who were occupying the Promised Land of Canaan, will melt away because of their fear so that they will not prevent the Lord from bringing his people to his holy dwelling place on Mount Zion.
And isn’t that what we found at the beginning of the book of Joshua, when the spies went into Jericho. What did Rahab say to the spies? She said:
I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
So, the Israelites did not need to worry about the pagan nations; they didn’t need to worry about their enemies, because the Lord would fill them with fear so that they would become as still as stone (verse 16) and they would not be permitted to hurt or harm God’s chosen people or prevent them from coming to his holy dwelling place.
And so, in verse 17, Moses once again sang of how the Lord will bring his people into the land and plant them on the mountain of his inheritance, the place the Lord would choose for his dwelling and the sanctuary he would establish for himself.
And in the final verse of the song, verse 18, Moses expressed his confidence in the Lord’s eternal rule, for he will reign for ever and for ever.
The first and second halves of this song of Moses are so important, because they highlight for us the way in which the Bible teaches believers to look backwards and to look forwards at the same time.
So, here in this song, Moses sang first of all about what the Lord had already done for them: he had destroyed their enemies and delivered them from their slavery. But then he sang about his great hope for what the Lord was going to do for them in the future: he was going to lead them to the Promised Land where God would dwell with his people and where they would enjoy the presence of the Lord. And, because of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to them in the past, because of his great power and might, Moses knew that the Israelites could count on the Lord to do for them all that he had planned for them.
And it’s the same for us. We’re taught to look back and to give thanks to God and to praise him for what he did for us in the past, when the Son of God gave up his life for us on the cross in order to pay for our sins and to make for us a lasting peace with God. We’re taught to look back on that day, and to give thanks to God for it. But as well, on the basis of what God has already done for us in order to reconcile us to himself by his Son’s death on the cross, we’re to look forward in hope to what God will still do for us.
So, just like Moses and the Israelites, we’re to look backwards and we’re to look forwards. We’re to look backwards with faith, trusting that by his death on the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for all our sins to reconcile us to God. And we’re to look forwards with hope, believing that the Lord God who gave up his one and only Son for us, will do marvellous things for us in the future.
But what is our hope? What does it consist in? Well, since our redemption from sin and misery is patterned after the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt, so our hope for the future is patterned after their hope. They were hoping for the time when God would lead them to his dwelling place so that he would live in their midst. And that’s our great hope as well, because we’re looking forward to the day when Christ our Saviour will bring us at last into the new heavens and the new earth and to the new Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem, where all of God’s believing people will dwell with the Lord for ever and for ever. What do we read in the very last chapter of the very last book of the Bible? We read of a loud voice from the throne of God, saying:
Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Do you see? What Moses was hoping for, and what all the Israelites were hoping for, was to be with the Lord. And that’s our hope as well. And what we’re hoping for will finally be accomplished when Christ the Saviour comes again, because when he comes, God’s dwelling will be with us, and he will live with us and he will be with us for ever and for ever.
That’s our great hope. And so, the Bible teaches us to look forward in expectation for the fulfilment of that great hope when Christ the Saviour comes again. And, while we wait to experience the fulfilment of our great hope, the Bible teaches us to do in the meantime what the Israelites were meant to do, but so often failed to do. It teaches us to trust in the Lord, and to walk in his ways. And if we trust in the Lord and walk in his ways, he will lead us to his holy dwelling place.
But here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. Just as the Israelites had a taste of that, a very faint taste of it, but a taste of it nevertheless, whenever the went up to the temple in Jerusalem, and met with the Lord, so we have a taste of it today. What do I mean? Well, in Ephesians 2:22 Paul wrote:
And in him [Jesus Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
When Paul spoke about the building which was being built together, he was referring to the church. And he describes the church as a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Our great hope, the thing we look forward to, is the coming of Christ when God will dwell with us in the new heavens and the new earth. But in the meantime, while we wait for that, we get a taste of it on Sundays when the church gathers together for worship, because when the church gathers together for worship, the Lord is with us, by his Spirit. And by his Spirit, he comes to us and he speaks to us from this word to re-assure us of his love when we’re afraid; and to rebuke us when we go astray; and to remind us why we ought to trust in him so that we’ll keep trusting in him, and we’ll keep walking in his ways, and we’ll keep looking forward in hope to the coming of our Saviour when at last all of God’s people will be in the place he has prepared for us and we’ll enjoy the presence of the Lord for ever and for ever.