Lesson: Exodus 15:11-21; Time of Action: about 1445 B.C.; Place of Action: At the Red Sea
Golden Text:“Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”(Exodus 15:11).
I. INTRODUCTION. In this week’s lesson we have the first song recorded in the Bible. It has been aptly called the Song of Moses, and the Song of the Redeemed. Moses and the people he led out of Egypt and across the Red Sea had something to sing about. God had redeemed them! So Moses taught the people a song describing the mighty works of God.
II. THE LESSON BACKGROUND. After the LORD brought the tenth plague upon Egypt which was the death of all firstborn humans and animals, the Egyptians urged the Israelites to leave Egypt immediately (see Exodus 12:31-33). Over 600,000 men plus women and children journeyed from Ramses to Succoth (see Exodus 12:37). A large company of non-Israelites, as well as a great deal of livestock, also made the journey (see Exodus 12:38). From Succoth, the Israelites continued their journey to Ethan located on the edge of the wilderness (see Exodus 13:20), where they set up camp. By day, God used a pillar of cloud to guide His people, and by night He used a pillar of fire to give them light and direction (see Exodus 13:21). The LORD told Moses that Pharaoh would come after them (see Exodus 14:4). However, God also said that He would crush Pharaoh’s forces and bring honor to Himself and make His identity further known to the Egyptians. At some point, Pharaoh and his officials had a change of heart. They regretted letting their Israelite slaves go free (see Exodus 14:5). Pharaoh then organized a large military force of soldiers and chariots to pursue the Israelites (see Exodus 14:6-8). The sight of Pharaoh and his great army terrified the Hebrews (see Exodus 14:10). When they saw the Egyptians following them, they complained to Moses saying “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?” (see Exodus 14:11). The people of God had wished that Moses had left them alone to continue in their enslavement to their oppressors (see Exodus 14:12) instead of experiencing greater suffering from the Egyptian military. But Moses reassured them that they had no reason to fear, for the LORD would rescue them from danger and fight on their behalf (see Exodus 14:13-14). The LORD wanted His people to go forward (see Exodus 14:15) so He told Moses to lift up his rod and stretch out his hand over the sea, which would then divide and the Israelites would pass through the sea on dry ground. It’s interesting that there was no natural need for Israel to travel in this direction to cross the Red Sea. They could have easily taken another shorter route (see Exodus 13:17). No doubt, through this experience the LORD burned forever into His people’s consciousness His love, power, and sovereign control. By travelling the way through the Red Sea, God would receive all the glory for delivering Israel. As Pharaoh’s army drew near to the Israelites, the pillar of cloud relocated behind them (see Exodus 14:19), and all during the night the cloud brought darkness to the Egyptian forces but light to the Israelites. By doing this, God kept the Egyptian army away until He was ready to judge them. When Moses obeyed God by stretching his rod over the Red Sea, the LORD used a strong east wind to drive back the sea all through the night and made the seabed into dry ground (see Exodus 14:21). When the Egyptians pursued the Israelites into the Red Sea, God commanded Moses to stretch his hand over the sea and the waters returned drowning all the soldiers who followed after God’s people (see Exodus 14:23-28). But the children of Israel walked through on dry ground and the LORD saved them from the Egyptians. As a result the people feared God and believed Him and His servant Moses (see Exodus 14:29-31). In Exodus 15:1-10, Moses and the children of Israel began to sing a song describing how the LORD had triumphed gloriously over the Egyptians. Our lesson begins with verse 11.
III. GOD’S POWER PRAISED (Exodus 15:11-19)
A. The Person of God (Exodus 15:11). Our first verse says “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” After reviewing the mighty ways God had subdued Israel’s enemies and brought deliverance to His people, God was exalted above all others and everything else. This exaltation was in the form of two rhetorical questions. Led by Moses in this song of praise, the people first asked “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods?” Of course the answer is absolutely no one! Yes, some people do build gods with their hands and others have idols within their hearts (see Colossians 3:5). But Jehovah God is beyond compare (see II Samuel 7:22). Egypt was notorious for the multitude of its gods, but the God of the Hebrews was too hard for them and baffled them all (see Numbers 33:4; Deuteronomy 32:37-39). The princes and potentates of the world are called “gods,” but they are feeble and mortal, none of them are comparable to Jehovah, the almighty and eternal God. Then the people asked, “who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” This is pure praise, and a high expression of humble adoration. Again, the answer to this question is absolutely no one! God alone is “glorious” or majestic “in holiness” or purity (see I Samuel 2:2). There is no flaw in Him, for He is incomparable perfection. His “holiness” is His glory. It is that attribute which angels adore (see Isaiah 6:3). God’s holiness appeared in the destruction of Pharaoh, His hatred of sin, and His wrath against obstinate sinners. God is also “fearful in praises, doing wonders” (see Exodus 9:14). The term “fearful” here can mean “awe-inspiring” for the LORD’s “wonders” inspire awe. The phrase “fearful in praises” indicates that the “wonders” we praise God for are joyful to His servants, but they are dreadful and very terrible to His enemies (see Psalms 66:1-3). This phrase also instructs us to praise Him with a humble holy awe or amazement. God is to be worshipped and adored as a Being of such infinite perfection that there is none like Him (see Psalms 86:8; I Chronicles 17:20; Isaiah 46:9), nor any to be compared to Him.
B. The Power of God (Exodus 15:12-13).
1.(vs. 12). This verse says “Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.” This verse as well as the next verse emphasizes God power. In demonstrating His power over the Egyptians, the people’s song said “Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.” This refers to the drowning of the Egyptian army when God returned the waters in the Red Sea and they were “swallowed” up by the sea (see Exodus 14:21-30). This song of praise declares that God “stretchedst out thy right hand.” In Scripture, the words “thy right hand” often speaks of God’s power (see Exodus 15:6; Psalms 17:7; 18:35; 20:6; 44:3; 139:10). What is ascribed here to God was performed by Him through Moses His servant (see Exodus 14:26-27). Moses, the man was so close to God that God worked through him to defeat Israel’s enemies (see Exodus 17:8-16). Moses, the man of God stretched out his hand and the waters parted. At God’s command he stretched it out again and the sea returned to its place, drowning those who pursued the Israelites.
Note:God is often presented in Scripture as having human physical body parts. Here in this song, He is said to have a “right hand.” But since God is spirit (see John 4:24), He does not have physical parts and passions like we do. These type of expressions are intended to show that God can do all that man can do, and much more without human limbs. Such terms as “hands,” “feet,” “eyes,” and the like are called anthropomorphisms when used of God. This means that human characteristics are given to God to help finite human beings understand the infinite God better even though He does not possess these physical characteristics. Therefore, they should not be taken literally.
2. (vs. 13). This verse says “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 song continues saying “Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed.” In His mercy, God “led” the people whom He had delivered from Egyptian bondage. Indeed, He is the God of power, but He is also a God of tender “mercy” and compassion upon all who trust and fear Him. The term “redeem” means “to buy back.” Since Christians were “redeemed” or bought back from the bondage of sin with the precious blood of Jesus (see I Peter 1:18-19), we often think of being “redeemed” in a spiritual sense. But here, in Moses’ song, the term “redeemed” is used in a physical sense for God had delivered Israel from Egypt to bring them into a new way of life (see Exodus 3:8). Likewise, in our spiritual redemption, we have been delivered from the power of sin and brought into a new life (see Colossians 1:9-14). After God “redeemed” His people from Egyptian bondage, the song goes on to say “thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.” It’s interesting that this phrase is in the past tense indicating that God had already “guided” His people to His “holy habitation,” which refers to Canaan, the Promised Land. However, at this time, they had just crossed the Red Sea. But the truth is that when God promises something, we can count on it as already done because God cannot lie (see Numbers 23:19), nor can He deny Himself (see II Timothy 2:13). The place where God would lead His people is referred to as “thy holy habitation” because the LORD would also abide there in Jerusalem (see Deuteronomy 12:5; Psalms 132:13; Ezra 7:15).
C. The nations fear the greatness of God (Exodus 15:14-16).
1. (vs. 14). This verse says “The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.” The extraordinary, divinely induced fear of the inhabitants of Canaan is depicted here. For when the “people” who presently occupied Canaan “shall hear” about the LORD’s power and mighty acts in delivering His people (see Joshua 2:10), they will “be afraid” (see Deuteronomy 2:25). In addition, “sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.” The word “sorrow” here has the idea of both physical and mental anguish. This anguish will “take hold” or grip the people in Canaan when they “hear” of how God delivered His people from Egypt (see verses 12-13). The term “Palestina” was the name given to Canaan before the Jews conquered the land. During that time the “inhabitants” or people of “Palestina” or Philistia were the Philistines who lived east of the Mediterranean Sea. This is the first time the term “Palestina” is used for Canaan or the Promised Land. Over time, the whole nation of Israel became known as Palestine (see Isaiah 14:29, 31; Joel 3:4) and is often called that today.
2. (vs. 15). This verse says “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.” Both the nations of “Edom” and “Moab” were east of the Jordan River and would be nations that the Israelites would have to travel through to get to the Promised Land. But just like all the other nations who heard about God’s mighty works and were afraid (see verse 14), “the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them.” In the context of previous verses, the term “amazed” here has the idea of being dismayed and horrified. The “dukes of Edom” refer to the tribal chiefs of “Edom” and “the mighty men of Moab” refer to the leaders in “Moab.” It’s safe to say that upon hearing about God’s actions in favor of the Israelites all the leaders in “Edom” and “Moab” will be dismayed and horrified and “trembling shall take hold (or grip) upon them.” Of course, all the nations that Israel would come in contact with when they entered the Promised Land would experience the same horror and fear of the Israelites and their mighty God. The Edomites were afraid of them (see Deuteronomy 2:4), so were the Moabites (see Numbers 22:3), and “all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away” (see Joshua 2:9, 10: 5:1) or lose courage in the face of Israel’s God.
Note:It’s interesting that the Edomites and Moabites were distant relatives to the Israelites. The Edomites were descendants of Esau (see Genesis 25:30; 36:1) and the Moabites were descendants of Lot through his older daughter (see Genesis 19:36-37). Because of the inheritance God had given to the forefathers of these two nations, the Jews were commanded not to trouble either of them (see Deuteronomy 2:1-5, 9). To make sure that they didn’t disobey God, when the Edomites refused to let the Israelites pass through their land, they went around Edom (see Numbers 20:13-21; 21:4). This was proof that the “the dukes of Edom” were “amazed” or horrified by the God of Israel.
3. (vs. 16). This verse says “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.” Still referring to the other nations in Canaan identified as Canaanites (see verse 15), Israel’s song of praise continued saying “Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone.” The nations who heard about “the greatness of thine (God’s) arm” meaning God’s awesome power over the Egyptians, would be filled with such great “fear” that they would “be as still as a stone.” This means that any efforts by the nations to stop God or His people would not be effective. This condition would continue “till thy (God’s) people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.” In other words, “Fear and dread shall fall upon” all the nations in Canaan as they stood by like rocks unable to move until all the Israelites whom God had “purchased” or redeemed (see verse 13) passed by and reached the place to which God was leading them.
D. God’s blessing for Israel (Exodus 15:17-19).
1. (vs. 17). This verse says “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 people continued to sing their song to the LORD saying that He will bring His people into the Promise Land and “plant them in the mountain of thine (God’s) inheritance.” This is a brief summary of the purpose of the Exodus. It was to settle Israel as God’s special people in the Promised Land, “the sanctuary” of God’s dwelling. The “inheritance” here is the Land of Canaan and the “mountain of thine (God’s) inheritance” refers to Mt Zion (see Psalms 2:6; 78:68), the hill upon which Jerusalem was situated (see II Samuel 5:7; II Kings 19:31; Isaiah 52:1). The phrase “in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in” also refers to Jerusalem which would be “the place” of the tabernacle and eventually the temple, which is here called “the Sanctuary, O LORD, which thy hands have established.” The land would become “the Sanctuary,” God’s indwelling presence, reminding readers that the goal of the Exodus was the worship of God in the Promised Land. Without God’s gracious presence, there was no point in going to the land (see Exodus 33:13-15).
2. (vs. 18). This verse says “The LORD shall reign for ever and ever.” It is fitting that the wondrous works done by the LORD draws this song to a close by declaring that “The LORD shall reign for ever and ever.” God’s people had now seen the end of Pharaoh’s “reign;” but time itself will not limit Jehovah’s “reign,” which, like Himself, is eternal and not subject to change. It is the unspeakable comfort of all God’s faithful subjects that He not only reigns universally and with an incontestable sovereignty, but that He will reign eternally (see Psalms 146:10; Revelation 11:15), and there shall be no end of His dominion (see Micah 4:7; Luke 1:33).
3. (vs. 19). This verse says “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 verse summarizes how God destroyed the Egyptian army and saved the children of Israel. The song declares that “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.” All of “Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots,” and cavalry raced onto the dry seabed and were drowned confirming Moses’ prophecy to the Israelites that “the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more for ever” (see Exodus 14:13). Yes, the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, “but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea.” God’s deliverance was so complete that His people didn’t even walk in any mud, for they walked “on dry land in the midst of the sea.”
Note:Exodus 15:9 gives us a glimpse of what the Egyptians were thinking at the time they went after the Israelites. They arrogantly boasted “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil.” Pride is a terrible thing (see Proverbs 16:18). The enemies of God and His people consistently act with arrogance and are blinded to the power and judgment of God. The LORD does not look kindly on those who challenge Him or threaten His people. In the end, all God’s enemies will experience devastation.
IV. MIRIAM PRAISES GOD (Exodus 15:20-21)
A. Miriam’s example of praise (Exodus 15:20).This verse says “And 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.” The singing of this song praising God for delivering Israel from the Egyptians now turns to introduce us to “Miriam” (or Mary; it is the same name) who is described as “the prophetess, the sister of Aaron.” This would also make her “the sister” of Moses (see Numbers 26:59). “Miriam” and both of her brothers, “Aaron” and Moses are called prophets (see Exodus 7:1; Deuteronomy 18:15; 34:10; Micah 6:4). She is also one of several women called “prophetess” in the Bible (see Judges 4:4; II Kings 22:14; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36). It is said here that “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand” as if to lead “the women” in musical praise. Following “Miriam’s” lead, all the women went out after her (or followed her) with timbrels and with dances” in an expression of joy as they sang this song. It appears that Moses led the song and gave it out to the men, and then “Miriam” to the women. Famous victories were often applauded and celebrated by the daughters of Israel (see I Samuel 18:6-7), and so was this one.
B. Miriam exalts the LORD (Exodus 15:21). Our final verse says, “And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” In response to all the women following her in playing the music on the timbrels and dancing, “Miriam” said to “them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously.” She called on the women to praise the LORD in song because He has “triumphed gloriously” and is highly exalted. God had “triumphed gloriously” because “the horse and his rider (Pharaoh’s army) hath he (God) thrown (drowned) into the sea.”
V. Conclusion. Throughout biblical history, God has revealed Himself to His people by mighty acts. The Jews remembered God for a glorious deliverance from their slavery in Egypt. As a result, Moses and Miriam led the people in a song of triumph and praise to the LORD. When we think of all the marvelous things God has done, is doing and will do for us, we should do as the Psalmist declared: “O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory” (see Psalms 98:1). But even more significantly than His wonderful acts, God has provided eternal life for His people. Christians must always remember that God gave His Son to pay the redemption price for our sins and that He raised Him up again. At the very least, doesn’t knowing that deserve a song of praise?