Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 15

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Exodus 15:1. Then sang Moses — this song — The first song recorded in Scripture, and, excepting perhaps the book of Job, the most ancient piece of genuine poetry extant in the world. And it cannot be too much admired. It abounds with noble and sublime sentiments, expressed in strong and lofty language. Its figures are bold, its images striking, and every part of it calculated to affect the mind and possess the imagination. There is nothing comparable to it in all the works of profane writers. It is termed the Song of Moses, Revelation 15:2-3, and is represented as sung, together with the song of the Lamb, by those who had gotten the victory over the beast, all standing on a sea of glass with the harps of God in their hands. Doubtless Moses wrote this song by inspiration, and, with the children of Israel, sang it on the spot then, while a grateful sense of their deliverance out of Egypt, their safe passage through the Red sea, and their triumph over Pharaoh and his host, were fresh upon their minds. By this instance it appears that the singing of psalms or hymns, as an act of religions worship, was used in the church of Christ before the giving of the ceremonial law, and that therefore it is no part of it, nor abolished with it: singing is as much the language of holy joy, as praying is of holy desire. I will sing unto the Lord — All our joy must terminate in God, and all our praises be offered up to him; for he hath triumphed — All that love God triumph in his triumphs.

Verse 2
Exodus 15:2. Israel rejoiceth in God, as their strength, song, and salvation — Happy, therefore, the people whose God is the Lord: they are weak in themselves, but he strengthens them; his grace is their strength: they are oft in sorrow, but in him they have comfort; he is their song: sin and death threaten them, but he is, and will be their salvation. He is their fathers’ God — This they take notice of, because, being conscious of their own unworthiness, they had reason to think that what God had now done for them was for their fathers’ sake, Deuteronomy 4:37. I will prepare him a habitation — This version is countenanced by the Chaldee, Extruam ei sanctuarium, I will build him a sanctuary, referring probably to the tabernacles soon to be built, to which there seems also to be an allusion in Exodus 15:13. Rab. Salom., however, considers the Hebrew word here used as being derived from נוי, נוהand נאה, and translates it, I will declare his beauty and his praise. To the same purpose the Seventy, δοξασω, and the Vulgate, glorificabo, I will glorify him.

Verse 3
Exodus 15:3. The Lord is a man of war — Able to deal with all those that strive with their Maker. Houbigant renders the words bellator fortis, Jehovah is a strong warrior, or, mighty in war, a translation countenanced by the Samaritan Hebrew copy, and by the Septuagint, the Chaldee of Onkelos, the Syriac, and the Arabic versions. Jehovah, instead of Lord, should have been retained throughout this song, and especially in the last clause of this verse, Jehovah is his name.

Verse 4-5
Exodus 15:4-5. He hath cast — With great force and velocity, as an arrow out of a bow, as the Hebrew word ירה, here used, signifies. The Egyptian cavalry was numerous, formidable, and covered whole plains. It would have required several days to have defeated and cut them to pieces: but God defeated them in an instant, with a single effort, at a blow. He overthrew, drowned, overwhelmed them all, as though they had been but one horse and one rider: The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea — Observe the pompous display of what is contained in these two words, horse and rider. 1st, Pharaoh’s chariots. 2d, His host. 3d, His chosen captains. A beautiful gradation! Observe again the amplification. He cast into the sea: They are drowned in the sea: The depths have covered them: They sank into the bottom as a stone! Moses seems here to be desirous of extolling the greatness of the power which God exhibited in a sea which formed part of the Egyptian empire, and was under the protection of the gods of Egypt.

Verse 7
Exodus 15:7. In the greatness of thine excellency — Thy great and excellent power. Excellency, or highness, (as the word גאון, here used, properly means,) belongs in the most eminent and unqualified sense to Jehovah, who is superlatively high and excellent in all his attributes.

Verse 8
Exodus 15:8. With the blast of thy nostrils — Or, of thine anger, as the Hebrew word is often rendered. He means that vehement east wind, (Exodus 15:10, and Exodus 14:21,) which was raised by God’s anger in order to the ruin of his enemies. The floods — Hebrew, the streams, or the flowing waters, whose nature it is to be constantly in motion; stood upright as a heap — This is wonderfully beautiful and majestic, as indeed the whole song is. The inspired writer ennobles the wind by making God himself the principle of it; and animates the waters by making them susceptible of fear. The frighted waters withdrew with impetuosity from their wonted bed, and crowded suddenly one upon another. The depths were congealed — Hardened, stood still as if they had been frozen in the heart, the midst, of the sea. So that here the imagination figures to itself mountains of solid waters in the very centre of the liquid element.

Verse 9
Exodus 15:9. The enemy said, I will pursue — This verse is inexpressibly beautiful. Instead of barely saying, “The Egyptians, by pursuing the Israelites, went into the sea,” Moses himself, as it were, enters into the hearts of these barbarians, assumes their passions, and makes them speak the language which their thirst of vengeance and strong desire of overtaking the Israelites had put into their hearts. I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil — We perceive a palpable vengeance in these words as we read them. The inspired penman has not suffered one conjunction to intervene between the distinct members of the sentence, that it might have the greater spirit, and might express more naturally and forcibly the disposition of a man whose soul is fired, who discourses with himself, and does not mind connecting his words together. Moses goes further, he represents them as rioting on spoils, and swimming in joy: My lust shall be satisfied upon them.

Verse 10
Exodus 15:10. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them — What an idea does this give us of the power of God! He only blows, and he at once overwhelms a numberless multitude of forces! This is the true sublime. It is like, Let there be light, and there was light. Can any thing be greater? The sea covered them — How many ideas are included in these four words! Any other writer than one divinely inspired would have set his fancy to work, and have given us a long detail; would have exhausted the subject, or empoverished it, and tired the reader by a train of insipid and useless descriptions, and an empty pomp of words. But here God blows, the sea obeys, and the Egyptians are swallowed up! Was ever description so full, so lively, so strong, as this? There is no interval between God’s blowing and the dreadful miracle of vengeance on his enemies, and mercy to his people!

Verse 11
Exodus 15:11. Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? — So called; the idols or princes. To the wonderful relation above mentioned, succeeds a wonderful expression of praise. And how, indeed, could the writer possibly avoid being transported, and carried, as it were, out of himself at the sight of such a wonder? Well might he describe Jehovah, that performed it, as glorious in holiness — In justice, mercy, and truth; fearful in praises — A Being that ought to be praised with the deepest reverence, and most exalted adoration.

Verse 12
Exodus 15:12. The earth swallowed them up — Their dead bodies sunk into the sands, on which they were thrown, which sucked them in.

Verse 13
Exodus 15:13. Thou in thy mercy, &c. — This and the four following verses contain a prophetic declaration of the glorious protection which God would grant his people after having brought them out of Egypt. And the reader does not know which to admire most, God’s tenderness for his people, whose guide and conductor he himself will be; or his formidable power, which, by causing terror and dread to walk before it, freezes with fear all such nations as should presume to oppose the passage of the Israelites through the Red sea, and strikes those nations, so that they become motionless as a stone; or, lastly, God’s wonderful care to settle them in a fixed and permanent manner in the promised land, or rather to plant them in it, an emphatic expression, and which alone recalls to mind all that the Scriptures observe, in so many places, concerning the care which God has taken to plant his beloved vine, to water it, to enclose it with fences, and to multiply and extend its fruitful branches to a great distance.

Verse 17
Exodus 15:17. Thou shalt bring them in — If he thus bring them out of Egypt, he will bring them into Canaan; for he has begun, and will he not make an end? Thou wilt plant them in the place made for thee to dwell in — It is good dwelling where God dwells, in his church on earth, and in his church in heaven. In the mountains — The mountainous country of Canaan. The sanctuary which thy hands have established — Will as surely establish as if it were done already.

Verse 18-19
Exodus 15:18-19. The Lord shall reign, &c. — This concludes the whole song, by which Moses not only expresses his own faith and that of the people in God’s everlasting kingdom, but promises, in the name of them all, to bear eternally in mind the signal deliverance God had wrought out for them. For ever and ever — They had now seen an end of Pharaoh’s reign, but time itself shall not put a period to Jehovah’s reign, which, like himself, is eternal.

Verse 20-21
Exodus 15:20-21. Miriam the prophetess — So called, either in a general sense, because she was an instructer of other women in the praise and service of God, or in a more special sense, because she had the spirit of prophecy, Numbers 12:2; Micah 6:4. Miriam (or Mary, for it is the same name) now presided in an assembly of the women, who, according to the common usage of those times, with timbrels and dances, sung this song. Moses led the sacred song, and gave it out for the men, and then Miriam for the women. Famous victories were wont to be applauded by the daughters of Israel, (1 Samuel 18:6-7,) so was this. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, it is said, (Micah 6:4,) he sent before them Moses, Aaron, and Miriam; though we read not of any thing remarkable that Miriam did but this. But those are to be reckoned great blessings to a people, that go before them in praising God. And Miriam answered them — The men: they sung by turns, or in parts.

Verse 22
Exodus 15:22. They went three days and found no water — Here we see that deliverances, however great, do not exempt from future difficulties and trials. Never was a greater deliverance, of a temporal nature, wrought out for any people than that of the Israelites from Pharaoh and from Egypt. It is the most wonderful act of God’s almighty power, next to the creation of the world, and its destruction by, and subsequent restoration from the flood, which we read of in the Old Testament: or rather, it is a series of acts, each more wonderful than the other. And yet the very people, thus delivered, find themselves, immediately on their deliverance, with their numerous flocks, and herds, and little ones, in danger of perishing with thirst! And when, after three days of distress on this account, they found water, could not drink of it because it was bitter. But this was for the trial of their faith and patience; and after the wonderful things God had done for them, they were perfectly inexcusable in murmuring against Moses, which was, in effect, murmuring against God. How marvellous was the patience of God with this people!

Verse 25
Exodus 15:25. He cried unto the Lord — Moses did what they ought to have done. He made request unto the Lord for help in this distress. It is the greatest relief of the cares of magistrates and ministers, when those under their charge make them uneasy, that they may have recourse to God by prayer. He is the guide of the church’s guides; and to the chief Shepherd the under shepherds must, on all occasions, apply themselves. The Lord showed him a tree — What tree this was is quite uncertain. And although some have been of opinion that it had a peculiar virtue in it to render the bitter waters sweet, because it is said, God showed him the tree, yet since they were made sweet immediately upon casting the tree into them, and that to such a degree as to correct the taste of them for many hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention the numerous flocks and herds, it seems perfectly evident that this effect must have been miraculous, and that the tree was only a sign, and not the means of the cure, any more than the brazen serpent in another case. May not this tree be considered as an emblem of the cross of Christ, and of the blessings purchased thereby, which, when we receive them in faith, sweeten our bitterest trials with the peace and love of God, peace of conscience, and lively, joyful hopes of everlasting blessedness? There he made them a statute and an ordinance — God, having now eased them of the hard and iron yoke of the Egyptians, puts his sweet and easy yoke upon them, and having undertaken to be their king, protector, and leader, he claims their subjection to himself, and to his laws and statutes. It seems, however, that all he now did was to give them some general intimations of his will, previous to the promulgation of his law. According to the tradition of the Jews, the statute and ordinance now given was, that they should observe the sabbath, and do justice. There he proved or tried them — That is, he both tried their faith by the difficulty now mentioned, namely, their want of water, and their future obedience by this general command, afterward branched out into divers particulars.

Verse 26
Exodus 15:26. If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, &c. — He here states the substance of what he required of them. For as yet he did not load them with that grievous yoke of ceremonies, which he thought fit afterward to lay upon them, for the hardness of their hearts, or because they showed themselves incapable of a more liberal and ingenuous service. And to this the words of the Lord by Jeremiah seem to refer, Jeremiah 7:22-23, “I spake not to your fathers in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings, or sacrifices,” &c. I will put none of these diseases upon thee — Either such preternatural plagues as God had inflicted on the Egyptians, or the diseases which were peculiar to Egypt, and most frequent in that country, such as the leprosy and other cutaneous diseases. This intimates that if they were disobedient, the plagues which they had seen inflicted on their enemies should be brought on them. The threatening is implied only, but the promise is expressed. I am the Lord that healeth thee — That preserves thee in health, as well as heals thy diseases.