By Edward Dennett
THIS chapter occupies a most important place - both as marking the new position into which the children of Israel were now brought, and as expressive of the feelings - begotten in them undoubtedly by the Holy Spirit - which were suited to it. It is really a song of redemption; and at the same time it is prophetic in its character, embracing as it does the purposes of God with respect to Israel until the millennium - when "the Lord shall reign for ever and ever" (v.18). It has therefore a twofold character, applying primarily to Israel, and then, inasmuch as the passage of the Red Sea was pre-eminently typical in its character, also to the position of the believer. Bearing this in mind, its interpretation will be the more easily apprehended.
"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 Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation: He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation;1 my father's God, and I will exalt Him. The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is His name. 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 an 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. 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. Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed: Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation. The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine. 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. 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" (v.1-19).
The first thing to be remarked upon this outburst of joy is, that we have no singing mentioned in Scripture, except in connection with redemption. Angels even are never said to sing. At the birth of our blessed Lord "there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:13,14). So in the Revelation John says, "I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing" (Rev.5:11,12). It is only therefore redeemed ones who can sing, and we learn therefrom the true character of Christian song. It should express the joy of salvation, the accents of praise and gladness produced in the soul by the knowledge of redemption. "Is any merry?" says James, "let him sing psalms" (James 5:13 ). That is, if any one is overflowing with true joy, joy consequent upon known redemption, joy in the Lord as the Redeemer, it should be expressed in psalms - psalms of praise to God. "Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord." It was then, when they knew for the first time what redemption was, that they poured forth the gladness of their hearts in song. And there should be no other, indeed there is no other, song for the Christian. To take another into his lips is to forget his true character as well as the only source of his joy.
The song itself may be considered in two aspects - its general subject, and the truths it contains. As to its general subject, it is simply the Lord Himself, and what He has done. But this embraces a great deal. It is the Lord Himself as apprehended and known in redemption. "The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation" (v.2). For it is only in redemption that He can be known. Thus, until the cross of Christ He was not, could not be, fully revealed. He was revealed to the children of Israel in the character of the relationship into which they were brought, but it was not until the redemption was accomplished, of which this recorded here was but the type, that He made Himself fully known in all the attributes of His character. But whatever the measure of His manifestation in each succeeding dispensation, He could not be apprehended, even so far, except through redemption, typical or otherwise, and the consequent relationship into which the redeemed were brought. The children of Israel knew Him as Jehovah; we, by grace, know Him as our God and Father, because the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; but whatever the dispensation, He Himself, as so revealed, is ever the subject of song, for it is in Him alone that His people in every age rejoice. As, however, we have remarked, there is another thing, and that is, what He has done, and this is fully brought out in the song of Moses and the children of Israel. There are necessarily two aspects of this - the salvation of His people, and the destruction of their enemies. This is expressed in every variety of phrase, and with all the sublimity of expression which beseemed the majesty of Him who had thus wrought on their behalf. It is not what they had accomplished, but what the Lord has done. It was not their, but His triumph that they celebrated.
They have lost sight of themselves in the presence of such an astounding display of redemptive power. "I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (v.1). They thus magnify the Lord, for they perceive, as divinely inspired, that the work which He had achieved redounded to His own exaltation and glory. "Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power;" and again, "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (v.6,11). Surely believers of this dispensation might learn from this primal redemptive song, what should be the character of their praise when gathered for worship in the power of the Holy Ghost. As it is the first song of redemption, it contains the principles of praise for all future generations. It deserves, on this account, the prayerful consideration of every believer.
It is, however, when we consider the truths it contains, that we learn its fulness and variety. The first is that they were now redeemed - redemption being, as pointed out, the burden of their song. "The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation." And again, Thou hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed. Until now they were not redeemed, they did not know salvation. They had been perfectly sheltered from the destroyer in Egypt, but they could not be said to be saved until they were brought out of Egypt, and delivered from Pharaoh - from Satan's power. There is the same difference observable now in the experience of souls. There are many who know the forgiveness of their sins through the blood of Christ; but afterwards not knowing themselves - the nature of the flesh still in them - or the power of Satan to harass and disturb - they not only lose their joy consequent upon pardon, but sometimes fall, through the difficulties which surround them on every hand, into a state of despondency and alarm. Brought into the consciousness of their utter inability to do any thing, or to resist the enemy, they are made to cry, as in Romans 7, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (v.24). It is then they are taught that the Lord Jesus has not only provided cleansing for their sins through His precious blood, but that also, through His death and resurrection, He has brought them out of their old condition, and put them in a new place in Him on the other side of death and judgment. Their eyes are now opened to see that in Him they have been completely delivered from all that was against them, and therefore that Satan has lost his rights over, and consequently has no further claim upon, them. They are thus set free; their evil nature has already been judged, and Satan's power has been vanquished, in the death of Christ, and hence, delivered, their hearts are filled with thanksgiving and praise. That many stop short of this full blessing is only too true, but it is, nevertheless, the portion of every believer. And there never can be full assurance of salvation - firm and solid peace - until this complete deliverance is known. No doubt it must be learned experimentally, but it depends entirely and alone upon what Christ is and has done; and accordingly the whole of this blessing is presented to sinners in the gospel of God's grace. It may be that the soul learns forgiveness of sins first; but it is no less the fact that a full redemption is provided for, and preached to, every one who will receive the message of the gospel. It is of the first importance that this truth should be known; for through ignorance of it, there are thousands who are a prey to doubts and fears, instead of rejoicing in the Lord as the God of their salvation. Souls in such a state have little freedom in prayer, or worship, or service; but when once the truth of redemption dawns upon them, like the children of Israel in the scene before us, they are constrained to give vent to their new-found joy in songs of praise.
But there is more. Their position is changed. "Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation." They were brought to God as to the new standing they occupied. In the desert, just indeed entering upon it - this marked their character as pilgrims - they were yet brought unto God's holy habitation. This corresponds with our position as believers in the Lord Jesus. He once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. This is our place as His redeemed. That is, we are brought to God according to all that He is; His whole moral nature, having been completely satisfied in the death of Christ, can now rest in us in perfect complacency. The hymn therefore does but express a scriptural thought, which says -
"So near, so very near to God,
I cannot nearer be,
For in the person of His Son
I am as near as He."
The place indeed is accorded to us in grace, but none the less in righteousness; so that not only are all the attributes of God's character concerned in bringing us there, but He Himself is also glorified by it. It is an immense thought, and one which, when held in power, imparts both strength and energy to our souls - that we are even now brought to God. The whole distance - measured by the death of Christ on the cross, when He was made sin for us - has been bridged over, and our position of nearness is marked by the place He now occupies as glorified at the right hand of God. In heaven itself we shall not be nearer, as to our position, because it is in Christ. It will not be forgotten that our enjoyment of this truth, indeed even our apprehension of it, will depend upon our practical condition. God looks for a state corresponding with our standing - i.e. our responsibility is measured by our privilege. But until we know our place there cannot be an answering condition. We must first learn that we are brought to God, if we would in any measure walk in accordance with the position. State and walk must ever flow from a known relationship. Unless therefore we are taught the truth of our standing before God, we shall never answer to it in our souls, or in our walk and conversation.
The third thing to be observed is, that their present position was the pledge of the fulfilment of all the rest. "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" (v.17,18). The power God had displayed at the Red Sea was the guarantee; first, that He would accomplish all His purposes respecting Israel ; and, secondly, that that power would finally be exhibited in His everlasting reign. Faith, begotten through the knowledge of redemption, lays hold of this - embracing the whole scope of the purposes of God, and looking upon them as if already accomplished. It is so in the epistle to the Romans. "Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom Re justified, them He also glorified" (Rom.8:30). If indeed the purposes of God could be frustrated, He were not God. There may be enemies in the way - and they may set themselves against the execution of His declared will. But faith says, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Thus Israel could sing, "The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine. 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" (v.14-16). In like manner, the apostle cries, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" No - nothing, for he is "persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom.8:35-39). The efficacy of the blood secures the completion of all God's counsels, brings in all that He is - His majesty, His truth, His mercy, His love, His almighty power - on behalf of His people. It is therefore not presumption, but simplicity of faith, to anticipate the consummation of our redemption. It is not to overlook the character and might of our foes; but, measuring these by what God is, the soul is immediately certified of being more than a conqueror through Him that loved us. It is to derive the full and blessed consolation of the truth, that God is acting by His own power outside of us, and for His own glory. The legions of Satan - the dukes of Edom, the mighty men of Moab, and the inhabitants of Canaan, may seek to bar the way to the inheritance, but when God arises in His strength on behalf of His blood-besprinkled host, they will be scattered as chaff before the wind. Thus the end is sure from the beginning, and hence our triumphant song of victory may be raised before a single step has been taken in the wilderness path. And the issue will be to the glory of the One who has redeemed us. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever. So we read in the epistle to the Philippians, that it is according to God's purpose and decree, "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (2:9-11). What joy it should be to the heart of the believer to contemplate that while we are brought into unspeakable blessing, yet that the result of redemption will be the exaltation of the Redeemer. In this Scripture the reign spoken of has undoubtedly primary application to the earth. It is the everlasting kingdom of Jehovah - the millennial sway of the Messiah, who must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. But in principle it goes further - for He shall reign for ever and ever; and this too will be the fruit of the cross. There He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, and as a consequence He is now, and will be for ever, exalted.
There is another thing demanding our notice. So far, everything that has been considered is connected with the purposes of God. But in the second verse there is an exception. No sooner can they say, "The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation," than they add, "He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation;2 my father's God, and I will exalt Him." This is different from The sanctuary which Thy hands have established, in the seventeenth verse. That looks on to the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the establishment of the kingdom and the temple at Jerusalem. But this was to be a present thing: "I will prepare Him an habitation." It is in fact the tabernacle. This will come more properly before us in subsequent chapters; but it may be noted here that this is the first time mention is made of a habitation for the Lord with His people. He had saints before this, but not a people; and until redemption was accomplished He never dwelt on earth. He visited His saints, and appeared to them in many ways, but He never had His dwelling-place in their midst. But as soon as expiation for sin has been made by the blood of the lamb, and His people have been brought forth out of Egypt, saved through death and resurrection, then He inspires their hearts to build Him a habitation.3 He led them by the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, as soon as they commenced their exodus; but He could not have a dwelling-place in Egypt, in the territory of the enemy. But when they are brought on to new ground, He can identify Himself with them, dwell in their midst, and be their God, and they His people. It is so also in Christianity. Not until atonement had been made, and Christ had risen from the dead and ascended up on high, did God form His present habitation on earth through the Spirit. (Acts 2; Eph.2). It is so with the individual believer. It is not until he is cleansed by the blood of Christ that his body is made a temple of the Holy Ghost. The truth therefore is, that God's dwelling upon earth is founded upon a completed redemption. And what an immense privilege. Although the wilderness was no part of the purpose of God, yet, in His ways with His people, they wandered there forty years. How blessed, then, for these weary pilgrims, looking onward to the inheritance, to have the habitation of God in their midst; a place where they could approach Him, through the appointed priests, with sacrifices and incense; the centre, too, of their encampment. How it would inspire the hearts of the godly with courage to behold that tabernacle, with the cloud resting upon it, the symbol of the divine presence. Hence the agonizing cry of Moses, after the people's failure, "If Thy presence go not, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not in that Thou goest with us?" (Exod.33:15,16). Nor should it be forgotten that God has also now His dwelling-place on earth. This truth is, amid the confusions of Christendom, in danger of being ignored. But, spite of our failure, God does dwell in the house which He has formed, and will dwell in it until the return of the Lord. This truth should inspire us also with strength and consolation; for it is no mean privilege to be brought out of the sphere, and from under the power, of Satan into the scene of the presence and the power of God. It is the only place of blessing on earth, and happy are they who have been made sharers of it through the grace of God in the power of the Holy Ghost.
This was no common joy which found expression in this song of jubilant praise. It evidently pervaded the whole host; for "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances" (v.20). And Miriam cried, as she led the chorus of their song, "Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (v.21). It is the first mention of Miriam by name, and it is exceedingly interesting to notice that she was a prophetess. It was she, most probably, who watched over the ark of bulrushes in which her infant brother Moses was laid, and who was the means of his restoration to his mother. Thus she also becomes prominent in Israel, not only from her connection with Moses, but also from her own distinct gift. It is the way of the Lord to bless all connected with the man of His counsels; and at the same time it reveals to us how sacred is the family tie in His sight. But in the scene before us it was her honour and privilege to be the leader and mouthpiece of the joy of the women of Israel. The hearts of all were filled with gladness, and found their utterance in music, dancing, and song. They were redeemed and they knew it on this happy morn; and laden with the joy of their salvation, they tell it out in these accents of gratitude and praise.
1) This translation is more than questionable. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, Luther, and the French version, agree in rendering it, "He is my God, and I will praise (or glorify) Him, my father's God, and I will exalt Him."
2) It may well be doubted if the Hebrew word is here properly translated. (See the note on the translation of this verse, earlier in this chapter). The comments made upon the English text may, however, stand; for the truth is of all importance.
3) The thought of building a sanctuary came from God, and not from Israel. (See ch. 25:8.) It was His desire to dwell in the midst of His redeemed.