Christian Churches of God
The Song of Moses
in Exodus 15
(Edition 1.0 19981110-19981110)
This commentary is on the first of the two songs of Moses in the Pentateuch. It concerns the deliverance of Israel. The second such text is in Deuteronomy 32.
The Song of Moses in Exodus 15
The following study is both unusual and highly personal. The author approached the text with some degree of scholarship, but did not exhaust the scriptural sources for their contemplation, nor did he examine many of the cultural and historical facets open to its interpretation. He chose sparingly among the other texts that illumine it. Most emphasis is placed on a philological examination combined with a contemplation of the words.
Exodus 15:1 Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
The song itself begins after the respiration. It is used again as an answering refrain to the rhythm of a timbrel in verse 21. This shows that the first verse is the central theme of the song, the glorious triumph of the Lord. The song is in commemoration of the deliverance of the people from Egypt and the attack of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. Although many deliverance events are described in Scripture, this one remains the model to which centuries of believers have looked. This song of deliverance is sung by those who have gotten the victory over the beast and his image in Revelation 15:3, unless the reference is to the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.
Note: The Song of Moses is written in the text of both Exodus 15:1-19 and Deuteronomy 32:1-43, and they both stand as a testimony to Israel regarding the Law of God and His actions.
The song is clearly addressed to YHVH, the name being mentioned twice in the verse. The glorious victory may not seem so great today, but it is well to remember that the Egyptian war machinery was the top of the line at the time. The message is that God’s military victory is over the top of the line equipment used against people with absolutely nothing. The dividing of the sea has been thought to be the natural effects of wind and tide in the area, and indeed, such phenomena are supposed to have happened there. The difference between a natural and miraculous event is largely one of human perceptions. Surely the maintenance of the universe is miraculous enough, and far greater than the dividing of the sea. Yet people go about their business beneath the wonder of the open heavens without giving them a thought. Whether or not the event was one that has recurred on occasion, its timing was so opportune as to be providential in the experience of Israel. It certainly was treated as being a powerful divine intervention by ancient Israel and in Scripture.
Exodus 15:2 The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation; he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
This verse is extremely rich in information about God, yet it tells nearly nothing about what God is intrinsically and in Himself. All is in relation to humankind. The realization that God is my strength is to realize that I can do nothing, but all that is done is God’s. There is no strength, that is capacity to do, but God. The depth of human dependence upon God and of the divine closeness to humanity is beyond imagination.
God is my song, or more literally Psalm. The Psalms are called the habitation of God in the Psalms (see Ps. 22:3). Here God is the Psalm. If a person should make such a statement today, most people would find it blasphemous. The truth is that God is beyond searching, and whatever a human being meets is not God in His essence, but a habitation, a mode of revelation adapted to human limitations. No man has seen God or ever can see him (Jn. 1:18; 1Tim. 6:16). He reveals himself through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in human experience, the Psalm through which God is revealed to the human heart is all a human can know of God. The Psalm is God. The historical failure to realize this has meant that Judaism has developed beyond that primitive Siddur or book of worship that the book of Psalms is, to go through version after version of liturgical books. Christianity has perhaps gone even further afield. Scripture is the only true worship text besides spontaneous prayer, witness and exhortation. Not only the Psalms but also other portions of Scripture, such as the book of Revelation, are clearly written with the intent to be recited and heard as worship. If Scripture is the embodiment of God then it can be argued that to replace the book of Psalms with a hymnbook is to replace the God of the Scriptures with an idol.
God becomes salvation. This is a process in four steps. It begins with the recognition of God as strength that is complete human dependence upon God and the closest possible relationship with Him. The second step is the realization that Scripture is God insofar as humans can experience God as revealed through the Holy Spirit. The third step is salvation through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as God with us. The fourth step defines salvation: He is my God.
The state of salvation is then described. It is to build a habitation for God, that is, to sing the Psalms of deliverance, the praises of Israel that are His habitation. God has chosen to dwell in the elect as Israel. They thus become the Temple of God. The recitation of the inspired music of the Bible through the Holy Spirit in worship is to effectively build the temple of God. Human temples are bound by place, and are thus capable of monopoly and eventually corruption and manipulation. The temple of God is made of Spirit begotten Sons of God worshipping on the Sabbaths, that democratic, fleeting, ungraspable temple that comes equally to high and low through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and equally contains the presence of the Unseen One. Finally, the temple of God is made of the recitation of Scripture, the praises of Israel, again potentially available to everyone who has a voice, an eye, an ear, or a mind. I will exalt Him is a parallel, a repetition of the thought that I will build Him a habitation.
The apostle Paul perhaps reached the comtemplative pinnacle of the unimaginable truth contained in these expressions when he stated that the bodies of the elect in Christ are the temple of God. The Apostle Peter went directly to the heart of the truth by saying “Through these things He has freely granted us precious and most great promises, in order that you might through them become sharers in the divine nature” (2Pe. 1:4).
Exodus 15:3 The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.
The Hebrew does in fact use the word iish or man in reference to the LORD. It would be to construe the Scriptures contrary to themselves to attribute humanity to God in any way. Numbers 23:19 states clearly: Loo iish Eel, God is not a man. The expression could be an elliptical reference to the angel of the LORD, but the context seems clear that the verse is speaking of God Himself. In Hebrew it is not allowed to separate the two words of a construct expression, and this is one of those. What must be analyzed is the whole phrase iish milhaamaa, man of war. As such, the phrase does not regard humanity or lack of it. It focuses on the military function. In this case, the military function is one of salvation. The expression has the import that God saves.
The last half of the verse reveals God’s name. To know a person’s name or reputation (in Hebrew the word covers both meanings) gives access to what that person can do in one’s favor. Humanity needs deliverance from time to time, and knowing the name of God is knowing where to turn, and having the possibility of turning to Him.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea.
The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone.
Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.
And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble.
And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as a heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.
Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.
The description of the event at the Red Sea is impressive and even the sounds of it have a strong effect. The main difficulty with this text is its anthropomorphic description of God. Much of this can be explained by the ancient Hebrew habit of using the same words for concrete and abstract. An outsider to the ancient culture receives a much stronger impression of anthropomorphism and concreteness than the original suggested. An illustration is in the very first word of the passage, “thy right hand.” Whether God has an actual right hand or not, the text does not in any case imply so. The Hebrew expression “right hand” or “hand” means “strength” or “power” just as much as it does a physical hand. To choose either is interpretive, and neither is a more literal translation than the other.
The mind accustomed to dealing with God’s metaphysical attributes finds difficulty with anthropomorphic expressions, but this is a mere prejudice. The word “excellency” in verse seven is just as difficult, even if the reader skips over it without noticing the problem. The word g’oon comes from a verb meaning to grow tall. The metaphor of height is transferred to pride and excellency. Ascribing height to God is to determine God in space, which is just as troublesome in fact as anthropomorphism.
The answer to both problems is simply to recognize that human language is not capable of expressing God’s essence. Therefore, we should not take its expressions as essential to God. They are there for the purpose of revealing God in His relationship to humanity, not in His essential nature. And for that purpose they are completely adequate, indeed, marvelous.
Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.
This passage begins with the question: Who is like God? The expression is reminiscent of the title of the angel of the Lord as noted in Daniel 12:1: And at that time shall Michael stand up... and Daniel 10:13,21. There are eleven human figures in the Bible who also bear the name. The purport of the name is to remind that there is none like God by posing the rhetorical question. Some of the anthropomorphic aspects that are seemingly applied to God in the Bible may in fact refer to the angel of the Lord who is clearly the medium of revelation in a number of passages (Gen. 16:7ff., 22:11ff. et al.) and most probably in many more.
There is a certain consistency in interpreting Jesus’s words in John 8:58 (Before Abraham was I am) as a claim to be this angel of the Lord incarnate. The angel of the Lord is so self-effacing that he speaks God’s words directly, in the first person, as though he had no existence of his own. Jesus reflects this attitude in saying in John 5:30: “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” This is certainly the way to participation in the divine nature 2Peter 1:4.
The expression gods or Eeliim in verse 11 has a marginal reading in the KJV as mighty ones. This indeed seems to be the connotation of the word Eel in the Bible, which is used in various ways similarly to the word Elohim. It is used as power in several places (Deut. 28:32; Neh. 5:5; Pro. 3:27 et al.). It is even translated as goodly in Psalm 80:10(11). It clearly refers to a false god in a few texts, such as in Judges 9:46, and to the physical idol itself in others such as Isaiah 44:10,15,17. Sometimes it is generic of both the true God and false gods as in Exodus 34:14. But mostly it refers to the one true God as in Genesis 14:18; 17:1; 21:33; 31:13; and 33:20, where other titles are joined to it. Used alone in reference to God, it is most typical in the books of Job, Psalms and Isaiah (Job 5:8; Ps. 5:4(5); Isa. 5:16 et al.).
But we are here confronted with a special use of the word in the plural, the mighty ones, which seemingly could refer to a group of false or other gods, to mighty human beings, or to something else. Exodus 15:11 is the first text which appears to refer to this something else by the word Eeliim. A comparison with the few other relevant texts will suggest that this expression is a technical term for the congregation called variously the sons of God (Job 1:6; 2:1 et al.), the morning stars (Job 38:4), the hosts (Isa. 1:9 et al.), and the stars of God (Isa. 14:16). Psalm 29:1: Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty, give unto the LORD glory and strength. The expression here is sons of the mighty, an expression clearly in relation to the expressions in the book of Job. Psalm 82:1: God standeth in the congregation of the mighty… The expression might better be translated great congregation or the congregation of God. It is clearly in reference to a congregation including other than human beings. Psalm 89:6(7): For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD? This text is the most similar to Exodus 15:11. But it defines more precisely who exactly is involved. The mighty are not the powerful human figures of Egypt, but beings set in heaven. This verse also associates sons of the mighty of Psalm 29:1 in the context of the heavenly congregation. At this point the Psalm expressions all fall into place in their explanatory role of Exodus 15:11.
Moving out of the context of the Psalms, we find Isaiah 14:16: For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north. Whether or not we recognize this verse as referring to Satan, as a long Christian tradition posits, there are two clear references here to the heavenly hosts. The first is the stars of God and the second is the congregation. The stars of God might well be translated the great stars, thus distinguishing them from the light-giving orbs we see on a clear night.
Daniel 11:36: “And the king shall do according to his will and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.” The expression God of gods here is Eel eeliim. This text clearly shows God to be reigning over a congregation of eeliim.
Exodus 15:12 suggests that the mighty ones are in fact the Egyptians. It may well be that we should understand the word eeliim in verse 11 as referring not only to the faithful celestial host and their human counterparts, but to the unfaithful along with the mighty ones of Egypt. The following text of Ezekiel seems to describe the mighty ones of Egypt in their common perdition with the unfaithful of the celestial host. Ezekiel 32:21: The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell with them that help him: they are gone down, they lie uncircumcised, slain by the sword. The word eeliim is translated here as strong (ones).
Exodus 15:13 Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.
This passage contains the concept of the chosen people. The idea of redemption in the Bible has two basic foundations. One is in the redemption of the first-born, which is a practice of recognizing that all things belong to God. It is well-established in the passages just preceding this text, that is, in Exodus 13:2 et al., and is clearly symbolized in the Exodus itself, which takes place in the context of God claiming the first-born of Egypt, and passing over those marked with the blood on the doorposts (note Ex. 12:12,13). The other redemption figure in the Bible is that of redeeming the wife of a dead brother, the levirate, most famously mentioned in the story of Ruth. The chosen people become God’s by the Exodus, figuratively as a redeemed first-born son, or a redeemed wife. This is the backdrop of the prophetic references to God as Father and husband, and idolatry as marital unfaithfulness.
The next question is who the redeemed or chosen people are. There are two factors to consider: the one is descent and the other is participation in the redemptive act of Passover and the Exodus. It is precisely the latter that appears significant in the story. There are clearly people of non-Israelite descent among the redeemed (And a mixed multitude went up with them: Ex. 12:38). Considering the strong warnings to put the blood on the doorposts, there is every possibility that some people of Israelite descent were not included among the redeemed.
Nevertheless, both factors have some significance. Considering the dispersion of the Israelites, it is very likely that there is no individual alive today who is not descended from one of those redeemed in the Exodus. If the truth were known, many might be surprised at the percentage of such descent in peoples that seem unlikely candidates. Even the dispersion of Jews, at a later date, has covered the globe, so what the extent of the dispersed ten tribes might be must approach universality. Nevertheless, participation in the Passover and Exodus as they apply on a more universal level is the most essential factor. How one relates to this Song of Moses is an integral feature of that.
The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.
Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.
Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.
The final two passages of this great hymn describe the two facing groups: the redeemed and the fearful embattled. The first description here emphasizes how the embattled are led to fear God by the news of His deliverance of the redeemed at the Red Sea. This extends beyond the Egyptians to those who oppose God in all nations.
Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established.
The LORD shall reign for ever and ever.
For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought again the waters of the sea upon them; but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea.
This final passage reiterates the important themes of the hymn in its description of the redeemed. If the preceding passage goes beyond the Egyptians, this one goes beyond the times to look forward to a universal victory of the redeemed. They receive their inheritance and are made to dwell in the very Temple of God, where the Lord shall reign for ever and ever.