Except for the occasional lyrics of a song, I have little interest in poems. However, there are times when a poem is especially interesting. For instance, I learned a love poem written by Edmond Waller when I was in high school. I still remember some of the words:
Go lovely rose
Tell her that wastes her time and me
That now she knows
When I resemble her to thee
How sweet and fair she seems to be
Tell her that’s young
And shuns to have her graces spied
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide
Thou must have uncommended died
Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired
Bid her come forth
Suffer herself to be desired
And not blush so to be admired
Then die—that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair
In today’s Scripture passage, everyone was eager to hear the words to this poem set to music. The event that caused such interest was God’s miraculous rescue of the Israelites from Pharaoh and his army. The Lord parted the Red Sea and allowed the Israelites to cross to the other side. But when Pharaoh and his army tried to cross, God caused the water to collapse on them and they were all drowned.
“There they stand, seeing the shores of the sea strewn with the dead bodies of men and horses, with the broken pieces of chariots and weapons of war scattered in all directions… all ornaments of the mighty power and distinguishing favor of their covenant God!” (Bush 183-84)
After experiencing such an incredible event, it is no wonder that the people joyfully sang about what the Lord had done.
Now as we read through this song, it would be easy to read it and miss what is being said. You could summarize the song with, “Yay, God saved us. Amen.” However, there is much more than that in this poem. The writer, probably Moses, used Hebrew poetry and song to express his thoughts about what the Lord did for them that day.
To help us understand the poetry better, I have converted the song’s lyrics into an outline of five questions. Hopefully, these questions will help us to remember what the Lord did back then.
- What is the Lord to me? (2)
[Read Exodus 15:2.]
I like how the song writer points us toward the Lord. In these verses, he points out four things that the Lord is to us.
a. He is my strength.
The Lord was the strength behind the Israelites’ deliverance. What had the Israelites done to defeat Egypt or part the Red Sea. They had done nothing.
ILLUS. When we were in college, the college soccer coach wanted his players to learn to trust in the Lord and to not be proud in their own abilities. One year the team’s theme verse was Psalm 20:7 which says, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” That is the right focus.
b. He is my song.
The Lord was their reason for singing. As they celebrated the victory over Pharaoh’s army, they made sure to make the Lord the focal point of their song.
c. He is my salvation.
The Lord was the One who had saved them from the Egyptian army. As the author of that act, He could right be called their salvation.
d. He is my God.
The Lord had been an abstract idea until this point. Yes, they had seen the plagues, but this was something even more eye-popping. Now they could say that the Lord was their God, not just the God of their forefathers.
APPLIC. What is the Lord to you, today? Is He the One who strengthens you, makes you sing, and who has rescued you? Is He your God or just an abstract idea you think about on Sundays?
- What was the Lord for me? (3-8)
[Read Exodus 15:3-8.]
If you were to describe what the Lord has done for you, what would you say? Moses and the Israelites were quick to describe Him in war-like terms.
a. He was a warrior (3-5).
“Some have thought there was something degrading in a form of expression which seemed to bring down the Deity to the level of a mere mortal hero. … The very same phrase occurs 1 Sam. 17.33, as an appellation of Goliath” (Bush 186).
Rather than think this is degrading of God, try to think of the best way to explain in English how tremendously powerful God’s defeat of the Egyptian army was. He showed himself to be a mighty warrior on behalf of the Israelites.
Who is this mighty warrior? The Lord is His name.
This reminds me of when Pharaoh asked who “the Lord” was. At the time, he was so full of himself that he didn’t recognize the Lord. But he eventually found out that the Lord was His name and He was a mighty warrior.
b. He was powerful (6-8).
Moses proclaims God’s power in poetic terms. He refers to God’s right hand and nostrils. While God is a Spirit, we understand things in human terms.
Right hand – “The right hand, being naturally the strongest from being most employed, is used by an apt metaphor for the highest degree of power” (Bush 187).
ILLUS. I remember arm wrestling someone in 8th grade. I could not beat him right handed. He was too powerful.
This is the idea of God’s right hand. His power was on display for all to see and nobody could stop him. With his “right hand,” He dashed the Egyptian army to pieces and overthrew those who fought against Him.
Nostrils – “The blast of Your nostrils (v. 8) refers to the wind that parted the sea, and the words You blew with Your breath (v. 10) refer to the wind that collapsed the billowed water; these are poetic anthropomorphisms” (Hannah 132).
This is a curious idea. Are any of you powerful enough to blow water apart with your nostrils? Some might sneeze and make their coffee spill, but no human can make water divide. It almost seems like God’s power was so great that just a sneeze caused the water to stand aside.
APPLIC. Think back to those events in your life where God showed Himself to be powerful for you. Have you forgotten? Take some time to thank Him today.
- What did the enemy think? (9-10)
[Read Exodus 15:9-10.]
It is easy to see that Pharaoh and his army had not learned their lesson under the ten plagues. They actually thought they could win against the Lord. These hard hearted men were fools to harden their hearts and fight against the one, true God. And yet they progressively thought of how they would overcome Israel.
a. We can overtake them.
First, they agreed that they could pursue Israel and overtake them. Remember how Pharaoh and his servants decided that they shouldn’t have let the people go. They then figured that they could pursue and catch them.
b. We can plunder them.
But their pursuit was not to just catch them, they wanted to plunder them. Remember how the plagues had decimated the Egyptian economy. Their crops and livestock had been ruined and many had given away valuables to the departing people. They Egyptians were ready to plunder them and take back whatever they could take.
c. We can destroy them.
The Egyptians were ready to satisfy their lust for revenge on the Israelites. They were ready to draw their swords and kill their former slaves.
d. We were wrong.
But none of these thoughts ever materialized. The Lord blew with the wind and caused the waters to cover them. Then the heavily armored soldiers sunk in the water like lead.
They were wrong.
“Thus it is that men are often never more confident and presumptuous than when they stand upon the very brink of ruin” (Bush 188).
APPLIC. How said it is that some people are so hardened against the Lord that they rush to their doom still thinking that they can fight against God and win.
- Who is like the Lord? (11-13)
[Read Exodus 15:11-13.]
The first question is very specific. Who is like the Lord among the gods. Moses and the Israelites had recently seen how impotent the Egyptian false gods were against the Lord. This led them to believe at least three things about the Lord.
a. Nobody else is so glorious.
God’s glory is unlike any other. He is holy (totally separated from any other), fearful (so incredibly powerful that we should fear), and a doer of wonders (look at the Red Sea for instance).
“Though we honor him with praises on our tongues, we should do it with an humble awe upon our spirits” (Bush 189).
Is there anyone so glorious as our God? The answer is obvious. No one.
b. Nobody else could have done this.
The idea of the earth swallowing them seems odd since the army was drowned in the water. But this was just another way of saying how far under the earth they were taken. Jonah used the same words to describe his time under the water inside the great fish.
Who else could have done this? The answer is obvious. No one.
c. Nobody else would have helped.
The Israelites of this time were not necessarily lovable people. They complained against Moses before crossing the Red Sea and at the end of this chapter, they complained about not having water in the wilderness.
And yet the Lord showed mercy on these people and guided them out of Egypt across the Red Sea, and eventually took them to the Promised Land.
Who would have done this for such an ungrateful people? The answer again is no one.
- How will the nations respond? (14-18)
[Read Exodus 15:14-18.]
Think about what just happened.
“The greatness of Egypt had been effaced, her land ravished, her people left in mourning, and her army destroyed. Other nations, hearing of the power of the Israelites’ God, would cower in fear” (Hannah 133).
a. They will hear and be afraid (14-15).
This is exactly what happened later in Israel’s history.
Joshua 5:1 –”So it was, when all the kings of the Amorites who were on the west side of the Jordan, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel until we had crossed over, that their heart melted; and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel.”
Moses rightly points out that other nations would hear and then fear. He mentions the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Canaanites. Each of them were affected by sorrow, dismay, trembling, and a melting of their hearts. They knew that they could do nothing against the Lord or the people He was protecting.
b. They will be filled with dread (16-18).
Have you ever been so afraid that you couldn’t move? We call this being petrified. This is the picture presented in the song. Because of the greatness of the Lord’s “arm,” the Canaanites would become as still as a stone. They would be so overcome with dread of the Lord’s power that they could not resist.
I would imagine that it would be tempting to think that it was their own power that made them afraid. However, “it was not their own arm which would get them the victory. It was to be the greatness of God’s arm … that the inhabitants were thus rendered impotent” (Bush 191).
APPLIC. We ought to consider this point as well. Whether we are thinking of our changed life or success in obedience or evangelism, always remember that it is God’s might that made all of these things possible.
At the end of the song, we have two extra thoughts.
In verses 19, Moses summarizes what the Lord did. The Lord drowned Pharaoh and his army in the water. But the Lord allowed the Israelites to walk on dry land in the midst of the water. What could have been a terrible defeat was turned into a terrific victory because of what the Lord did.
In verses 20-21, Miriam gets the women involved in their own response to Moses’ song and celebration. With a timbrel in her hand, she sang an answering chorus which praised the Lord and showed what happened to Pharaoh’s army.
What do we learn from this ancient song?
1. We learn that those who fight against God will eventually lose.
Our world is filled with people who think that they can get away with sin and that God will not hold them accountable. But this is never the case. Pharaoh and his advisers saw the power of God and were given the opportunity to respond, but they chose to harden their hearts and eventually found that they had made the wrong decision.
2. We learn that the Lord loves and fights for His people.
As you read the words of Moses’ song, were you aware of how often the Lord’s power was wielded against the enemy and how often He showed his love for His people? God loves His people. And if you are one of His children, you can be sure that He loves and cares for you.
Will you take a moment today and thank Him for that?
John D. Hannah, “Exodus” in Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, 132-33.
George Bush, Notes on Exodus, Minneapolis: James & Klock, reprint 1976, 183-94.