Moses was only flesh and blood. As great as he was, a servant in Christ’s house, the Lord’s legislator for Israel and the world (Deut. 4:6-8), a privileged witness to our Lord’s transfiguration, he was overwhelmed by what happened at the Red Sea. Watching the Lord decimate Egypt and humble Pharaoh, Moses’ heart was gripped by the glory of Gods’ power. He had great faith before the Red Sea was parted, for above the din, he shouted, “Stand still, and the see the salvation of the Lord.” But when he had seen it, when he saw and heard the wind and the fiery pillar, when Israel passed through the sea on dry ground but Pharaoh and his armies lay dead on the shore, his heart was overflowing with wonder, adoration, thankfulness. He could not be contained. This is the first recorded hymn in world history. It is not out of place here, as blind critics say. Without it, Exodus is denuded of its transcendent God-centeredness and salvation lacks a focus, which is simply this: What God has done for us in Christ demands our most exuberant and heartfelt praise. Salvation is unto worship, and worship then bears fruit in obedience.
The song of Moses is sung in heaven by the angels (Rev. 15:3). The Red Sea deliverance is such a part of Christ’s saving work that Moses’ song is entitled, “The Song of Moses and of the Lamb.” It must deeply strike us that Moses’ song is sung in heaven and that our Savior attached his own name to it. There is no wedge between Moses and Christ, between law and grace, between the Old and Testaments. Our Lord Jesus sings one song, his song of deliverance that he has been working from the beginning. When we hear him sing in heaven, as we undoubtedly shall, and his voice shall be everlasting life to our souls and so wonderful that we shall never tire of hearing it, never feel that we have heard enough, always wonder that we should be so privileged as to hear his song, then he will not hesitate to sing about what he did through his servant Moses at the Red Sea.
I Will Sing unto the Lord (vv. 1-5)
1 Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying: "I will sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! 2 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father's God, and I will exalt Him. 3 The LORD is a man of war; The LORD is His name. 4 Pharaoh's chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. 5 The depths have covered them; They sank to the bottom like a stone.
His Wonders Must be Praised (v. 1)
No long hours or days passed in the composition of these words. The seas were barely quiet when Moses began giving out the words of this song, perhaps singing it himself. Folk singers and ballad writers often compose on the spot, and God’s judgment upon the Egyptians and deliverance of his people struck the deepest chords in Moses’ soul. He began praising God. This is his triumph. He has thrown horse and rider into the sea. He is my strength and my song. What he has done for me and for his people must be celebrated. Before those wondering, still trembling millions, Moses taught them by his singing that God’s wonders deserve our praise. He does not need our praises; it is our privilege to praise him. It is the purpose of our existence to praise him. When we do not praise him, will not praise him, especially as professing Christians, it is no wonder that we are sullen, sad, and selfish. All our thoughts are turned inward, but our true life is outward first – in what God has done for us.
Think upon his wonders in your life. If you cannot remember them, think of what he did for us at the Red Sea, for this is no less the work of the Lamb (14:19) than his death on the cross. Without the Red Sea crossing, there would have been no hell crossing and quenching on Calvary, for the promise and the seed would have died on the shore. Praise God! Learn his mighty works! Tell them to your children! Are you born again? Praise him. Are you sins forgiven? Wonder and adore the Lamb of God! Has God heard your prayers, helped you, provided for you, guided you, comforted you? And you think you deserve this, that he is your personal genie in the sky, that you are worthy of his slightest consideration (Gen. 32:10)? Praise him! Praise him! Our Savior praised him from the cross (Ps. 22); you praise him in life, and watch his praise transform you as you worship the God of your salvation and sing to him. We are redeemed to praise God with our song and with our life (1 Pet. 2:9). Many Christians are utterly miserable because they forget this one truth: salvation is unto praise. Begin praising Christ, singing his wonders, singing the old hymns and creating your own, and you will soon find God indwelling you as you praise him.
His Grace Evokes Consecration (v. 2)
Grace and gratitude, salvation and praise, love and obedience – these are such basic gospel lessons taught in the Old Testament that it is inexplicable that men should lose track of them when we arrive at the New. When God is our salvation and our song, we want to serve him. Here this is connected to God’s house even before he had a house – to beautify his dwelling place. If we have tasted of God’s kindness, we shall have some zeal for his house, as our Savior did, some desire to please him in all things and to see his name glorified in all the earth. When he is our God, when he takes us unto himself as his people and takes upon himself the full responsibility for our salvation, we should praise and thank and obey him. It is true that we are very slow to do this, for sin and the flesh fight back (Gal. 5:17). But this truth is at the heart of Scripture and is practiced by every joyful disciple of Jesus Christ – Lord, you have redeemed me at the cost of your precious blood, and I would see your name glorified and your house built and holy (1 Cor. 6:20). The more amazed and humbled we are at God’s mercy, the more we shall want to be consecrated to him with all that we are (Rom. 12:1).
His Might Destroys His Enemies (vv. 3-5)
Pharaoh was a fearsome enemy, but Israel had learned that the Lord is a “man of war.” This will be jarring in our sin-tolerant age. It is jarring to many in the church, who forget that the Angel at the Red Sea was the Son of God. He threw Pharaoh and his chariots into the depths of the sea. He killed them. He made sure they sank like a rock. Wait! This is the wrathful God of the Old Testament. No! This is also the warring King of the New Testament. He did not come to destroy men’s lives, praise be to God, but to save them (John 3:16-17). Nothing about him being sent from the Father’s love at all changes the reigning dominion of his mediation. Upon his enemies, those who obey not his gospel, he marches and makes war (Rev. 19:11-15). He has a sharp sword with which he slays his enemies – sometimes unto new life, sometimes under everlasting ruin. He strikes unbelieving nations and is stained with the blood of his enemies. This is the only Savior and Mediator of the covenant. That he was also the Lamb slain under the judgment of God in our place heightens the gospel imperative and abundantly satisfies every believer as to the seriousness of Jesus Christ. He is the most merciful, longsuffering, forgiving, and tender Savior. He will turn away none who come to him and seek his healing, saving grace. To the hardened and disobedient haters of his gospel and tormentors of his church, he is an unrelenting and deadly foe. We are learning this side of his character in our land. Let us turn to him quickly and repent lest he come and strike us with the sword coming out of his mouth (Rev. 2:16).
God’s Enemies Dashed to Pieces (vv. 6-10)
6 "Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces. 7 And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You; You sent forth Your wrath; It consumed them like stubble. 8 And with the blast of Your nostrils The waters were gathered together; The floods stood upright like a heap; The depths congealed in the heart of the sea. 9 The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, My hand shall destroy them.' 10 You blew with Your wind, The sea covered them; They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
His Right Hand Glorious in Power (v. 6)
Israel’s deliverance was completely the work of God’s power. As Yahweh, he had shown himself to be the faithful Savior of his people. The Lord is his name. He keeps covenant and mercy. The people were only a few hours ago complaining against Moses and wanting to go back to Egypt. Three days from now, they will commit the same evil. Yet, God has become their powerful deliverer, and his purposes will not be frustrated. We must remember this in all our struggles in this life. God is patient with his enemies, as he was with Egypt. He does not deliver and give us peace in the time and way we would like. He will show us his glory so that we worship him for his goodness, now and later. Moses celebrated God’s right hand, his strength in dashing to pieces his enemies. He has done the same many times since. He will smash them again, but with an important difference. Now that we have come to the day and kingdom of Jesus Christ (Ps. 110:3; 2 Cor. 6:1-2), the gospel sword is prominent – the power of his right hand in giving a new life and a new heart to his enemies. He protects and makes war against the persecutors of his church, but his warfare goes far deeper now than city walls and political machinations. It penetrates to the very heart and mind of man. And as co-laborers with God (1 Cor. 3:39), we have the privilege of tearing down all that opposes Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5) and building up his church and kingdom in the world. It is still God’s glorious right hand of power, wielded by the exalted Savior who sits and reigns there. Perhaps if we trembled more for his power in saving dead sinners, we should see more of his mighty works.
All His Enemies Disappointed (vv. 7-10)
For God is still warring against Satan and his seed. In “the greatness of his majesty” he overthrows his enemies. He is still “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11). Then, he parted the seas with the breath of his nostrils. He used wind, but Moses and all the faithful never attribute the workings of nature to impersonal forces but to the direct hand of God. The winds blow, sometimes fiercely, fires burn and devastate, and hurricanes swirl and knock over all in their path. This is God’s mighty hand. When men speak of “natural disasters” but give no thought to God’s hand, those disasters will continue and sometimes increase until sinners stop fighting against the testimony of conscience, history, and Scripture, repent of their rebellion, and bow the knee to Christ. It is pointless to fight against God. The Egyptians had other plans that day for themselves and Israel. As they raced through the desert, horse and rider moving in unison, they thought only to pursue, to overtake, and to spoil. Israel will be easy pickings for our swords. God blew with his wind and invited them into a grave – their own. They sank like stones into the bottom of the sea.
And thus, the expectations of God’s enemies against him and his church will always be disappointed. They may seem to prosper for a time, but God fights for us. He is a man of war. Jesus Christ the only begotten Son is building his church, and no one can thwart his purposes. He told us never to fear men, even as Moses told the Israelites watching Pharaoh’s forces approached. He said to fear God, just as Moses, Isaiah, and all the prophets said. Fear Yahweh the Lord of the covenant, the great Warrior for his people, the Governor of the nations (Matt. 10:28). Fearing him, we can entrust ourselves into his safekeeping and boldly seek to do his will, regardless of man’s threats and schemes. And when it is time to fight, whether with gospel swords or sometimes with steel ones, we shall be ready and courageous, for we fight in the ranks of the glorious King and are upheld by his right hand. O, Christian, learn to fight with the weapons he has provided. Accept the daily challenge of the warfare to which he has called you, for the Spirit and your flesh are in constant combat (Gal. 5:17). Sometimes that flesh organizes into “the Egyptians,” globalist statism, or socialism, but always it is the devil deceiving and maiming men, making war against the church (Rev. 12:17). Be ready, believe God’s promises, and fight in faith.
Who Is Like the Lord? (vv. 11-18)
11 "Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, Fearful in praises, doing wonders? 12 You stretched out Your right hand; The earth swallowed them. 13 You in Your mercy have led forth The people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength To Your holy habitation. 14 "The people will hear and be afraid; Sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be dismayed; The mighty men of Moab, Trembling will take hold of them; All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away. 16 Fear and dread will fall on them; By the greatness of Your arm They will be as still as a stone, Till Your people pass over, O LORD, Till the people pass over Whom You have purchased. 17 You will bring them in and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O LORD, which You have made For Your own dwelling, The sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands have established. 18 "The LORD shall reign forever and ever."
Exalted above the Heavens (vv. 11-12)
The Lord has humbled the gods of Egypt, mocked them, and exposed them as frauds. Moses is thus led higher by God’s wonderful works to contemplate his incomparable excellence. To say that God is “glorious in holiness” is to express boundless wonder at his separation from all the weaknesses and impurities of his creatures. He is above us, independent of us, and deserves to be praised day and night for exalted holiness. He is so exalted that even in praise, he is to be feared, adored, and supremely loved. Singing praises to God does not bring him down to our level but raises our hearts to worship him for his goodness to us. Today there is so much taming of God and bringing him down to our level so that no one feels uncomfortable, but we must feel uncomfortable, or we do not truly know him. He is near in love and grace, but this does not diminish his exalted greatness. The more we know him, the more we shall fear him. And when we think of the great wonders past and present that he has done for his people, like Moses we shall be overwhelmed by his glory and sing his praises. And notice here that God’s exaltation is tied especially to the display of his strength in humbling his enemies. He has created this earth and directs men and their times to reveal his glory in building his church, overthrowing the counsels of the wicked, and bringing deliverances to his people. Let us think upon what he has done and praise him with all that is in us! We are commanded to remember his great works, and Moses wrote this particular song so that we would not forget this illustrious instance of his holiness, power, and faithfulness.
Salvation by Your Love (v. 13)
The incomparable God who is glorious in holiness delivered his people because he loved them. His mercy (ds,x,) is his loving-kindness, his steadfastness, his favor, his goodness. Neither Israel nor we are to think that God has saved us from Satan’s clutches or heard our prayers for deliverance because of any good in us but because of his great love. Again and again, it is not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). Had Israel remembered this, it would have kept them humble and obedient, but do we not often forget it? We think too much of our love for him, our works, or our feelings, but almost all our focus and wonderment should be on his great love. Remember that he is the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY God, who humbled himself to behold what happens in heaven and earth (Ps. 113:6). We can never rise to his level or earn his favor or even attract one kind look from him, but he extends constant love and help and mercy to us because of his sworn kindness to us. This must humble our hearts, and more so now that we see how great God’s love is in giving us his Son and also the depths to which he descended in becoming sin for us, bearing our curse, and delivering us from the wrath to come.
Your Enemies Will Hear and Tremble (vv. 14-18)
One of the reason critics say this song is out of place and interrupts the flow of the narrative is that they have no apprehension of the grace-gratitude, deliverance-rejoicing, love-obedience motif of salvation. Another reason is that they say Moses’ song anticipates future events of which he could have no knowledge. But this is to assume what critics must prove: that there is no such thing as inspiration, or the sovereign Spirit speaking through human instruments, or the holy God revealing the future to his servants the prophets. Let us leave them to gnaw on their knowledge-destroying skepticism and seek our wisdom in God’s light alone (Ps. 36:9). Moses sings that all of God’s Canaanite enemies will hear of what he has done and be very afraid. He mentions by name the dukes of Edom and the mighty men of Moab. God’s people are coming to their promised inheritance, and he goes before them as their mighty Captain. They cannot stop his march. They shall be planted in the place of God’s choosing, and his sanctuary will be built. He will reign forever. Thus, Moses understood and taught Israel that the Red Sea deliverance was a pledge of their total victory and entrance into Canaan. Their enemies would hear what he had done for them and how he had destroyed the Egyptians, and they will stand amazed. These enemies fought against Israel, but they also feared the God of the Hebrews (Josh. 2:10; 1 Sam. 4:8).
And for us, God’s mighty works in the past before Christ were preparations for his coming and guarantees that he would keep his promises. Since then, our Savior’s mighty deeds of gospel victory, sustaining his people against humanly insurmountable threats, preserving his word, and building his church should be taken as absolute guarantees that he will perfect his work of redemption (Phil. 1:6). Against all her weakness and worldliness, the malice of Satan, and the scheming of wicked men, he will present his bride to himself without spot or blemish (Eph. 5:27). He who began faith in us will bring it to perfection (Heb. 12:2). We have his promise, and we must praise him for it and move forward in joyful obedience and living faith in our loving God and Savior.
Miriam Takes up the Song (vv. 19-21)
19 For the horses of Pharaoh went with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them. But the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea. 20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. 21 And Miriam answered them: "Sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!"
Moses’ sister – and here we encounter her name for the first time, likely because Moses was not writing a family history, as if he were running a family business, as many religious hucksters do today – then took up the song. Whether this was after the men sang it or leading the way with the godly women, we are not told. She was a prophetess, which means that God delivered his word through her. She took up the chorus, “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea!” With timbrel and dancing, they joyously praised the Lord. Not many in that throng had a true faith in Yahweh, but those that did stood in awe of what the Lord did for them and at his deadly judgment upon Pharaoh. God’s mighty works must be praised! It is our duty, our privilege, and our joy. One of the marks of the Spirit’s saving presence is that he puts a new song in our mouths that reflects the grace in our new heart. And when our hearts grow cold, one reason must surely be that the memory of his great works of salvation has grown faint and must be rekindled by sincere seeking of the Lord’s mercy and intentional remembrance and study of the Lord’s mighty works, especially his atoning sacrifice, resurrection, and glorious ascension (Ps. 111:2; Col. 3:1-3).
Three Days Later (vv. 22-27)
22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?" 25 So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them. And there He tested them, 26 and said, "If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you." 27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters.
No Water Test: Complaining (vv. 22-25)
Have we not often found it true that after an exhilarating season of answered prayer or victory over sin or renewed resolve to fight for holiness we are tested. This is God’s way; it is the way of the cross. The victories he gives us are not heaven’s rest but pledges of heaven, not the end of our warfare but encouragement to persevere in it. The complaining began three days after the Red Sea crossing. Deeper into the desert wilds they went, and their water skins were empty. There was no water to be found. Coming to Marah (bitter), the waters were undrinkable, and they complained to Moses. It would not be the last time. Odd that at the Red Sea they complained of too much water, and here of too little – could not they trust the Lord to deal with both situations? Only by faith, and the majority lacked any living faith in God. Moses cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. Throwing it into the brackish waters, they were made sweet. We are not told whether the tree had some natural property that sweetened the waters, or whether the tree, like Moses’ rod, was a symbol of God’s power. There is nothing to indicate that the tree was a symbol of our Savior’s cross. The point seems to be is that Moses had to obey God’s instructions, and when he did, God again provided for the needs of his people. There need not be a connection between the means God uses and the desired result; the point is that obedience opens the door to blessing – like Naaman washing in the Jordan, or Jesus putting wet clay upon the eyes of the blind man. Trust me, God says to us, and obey me, and I will provide for you.
Law: Trust and Obey (v. 26)
And this is what was to be codified in Israel. It is really an amazing dynamic that seems to be lost upon so many today when they come to consider the older covenant. All they can see is a system of works righteousness, but that has more to do with the lawlessness of our age and misunderstanding of grace (Tit. 2:11-12) than anything to be found in Scripture. When God proved his people at Marah (v. 25), he was setting a precedent that was at the heart of his covenant of grace. Listen to me, obey me diligently; I will take care of you (v. 26). The mention of “none of these diseases” is an instance of his blessings, not the whole of them, or even an absolute promise that his people will never be ill. We shall not be ill like the plagues with which God struck the Egyptians. He will make a separation. He will provide water in the wilderness, deliverance from dreadful foes, grace to endure the martyr’s pyre, and strength to forsake the lusts of the flesh. How is this? When we diligently listen to his voice. When we abide in his word (John 8:32). When loving him, we obey him, and obeying him, he dwells with us (John 14:15,21-23).
This grace-gratitude, love-obedience dynamic is the heart of the fellowship promised in both the old and new covenants. This is because God does not change. If anything, from John’s Gospel and first Epistle especially, this dynamic is heightened in the new covenant, for the Lover of our souls has come. If we love him, we shall delight to obey him. When we struggle to obey him, we shall not tuck tail and hide behind our fig leaves but cry to him for mercy, depend upon his strength, and learn daily to die to ourselves that we may love him who first loved us and rejoice in his unchanging love that depends not upon our progress, our holiness, but upon his faithfulness alone!
Refreshment: Only a Few More Miles (v. 27)
Ironically, Elim was only a few miles past Marah. Had Israel used their complaining energy for obedience, they would have reached that wonderful oasis of wells and palms trees. Of course, they needed the strength from the sweetened waters to reach the oasis. The Lord gave them enough at Marah to make it to Elim. Let us not forget this. Our earthly lives are a pilgrimage, and we shall often be tempted to complain against God’s providence and even more specifically against our Savior’s shepherding. Complaining not only insults him, but it also wastes valuable time and energy. Could they not remember the Red Sea glory longer than three days? Can we remember God’s morning answers to our prayers and the Spirit’s refreshment through the morning traffic? God sees the oasis ahead. Let us trust him to lead us there. We can and must cry to him for strength to reach it, but remember the law of his covenant of grace with us: trust and obey. Obey me, and I will take care of you. And when he gives us even small encouragement, it is to take us to the next oasis of his grace.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. What is the connection between salvation and praise?
2. What is significant about the title, “The Song of Moses, and of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3)?
3. How may we overcome much of the misery in our lives?
4. What is the fire that fuels consecration?
5. What is the connection between the Lord who overthrew the Egyptians and the warring King of Revelation 19:11-15?
6. What good is it to learn that the plans of the wicked will be frustrated?
7. What is God’s holiness and how is he glorious in holiness?
8. Why does God’s nearness not diminish his majesty?
9. Explain the grace-gratitude, salvation-rejoicing, love-obedience dynamic of salvation.
10. What was the law exemplified in the bitter waters being made sweet? What was God’s promise?
11. How can this dynamic more influence and guide your life and faith?