The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15)
A number of years ago, a child was tragically killed in an accident. The child was the son of the minister of a very liberal church. His funeral was one of the saddest occasions because there was no evidence of a truly Christian faith on the part of those most intimately involved. I will never forget the song that was given as an expression of the young boy’s affirmation of faith. The song was “Zippiddy Doo Dah.”
Israel’s first great affirmation of faith was expressed in a song as well, but a very different kind of song. Some have titled this song, the “Song of the Sea.” Since it is not the only song of Moses (cf. Deut. 32; Psalm 90), this title is definitive enough, linking it to Israel’s passing through the Red Sea, as described in Exodus chapter 14.
The 400 years of the Israelites’ oppression in Egypt which God had foretold Abraham (Gen. 15:13-15) has now ended, fulfilled precisely, to the very day (Exod. 12:40-41).155 The affliction of the Israelites was noted by the God who had covenanted with Abraham to bless him through his offspring and to bring them out of bondage into the land of Canaan. Sending Moses to Pharaoh, God forced this reluctant ruler to release the Israelites through the ten plagues wrought by the hand of Moses. The death of every firstborn male of the Egyptians moved them to urge the Israelites to leave their midst, providing them with gifts of the best of Egypt (Exod. 12:31-36). After the Israelites, Pharaoh and his officials had second thoughts, and with the report which led them to believe that the Israelites were wandering about, lost in the wilderness, they pursued them, up to and even into the Red Sea, where they were destroyed as the waters of the sea returned to their place (Exod. 13:17–14:31).
The deliverance of the Israelites and the defeat of the Egyptians is the occasion for the song which is recorded in Exodus chapter 15. It would appear that Moses wrote this song, which is no surprise in the light of the other songs he has written (Deut. 32; Psalm 90). The mood of the song is triumphant. The song is a description of the power of God as Israel’s defender, as evidenced in the destruction of the Egyptian army and in the deliverance of Israel by means of the Red Sea. The recent victory of God at the Red Sea is seen as a guarantee of the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Israel in the future, especially in the defeat of their enemies and in their possession of the land of Canaan.
The structure of Exodus 15 is straightforward. Verses 1-21 contain the “Song of the Sea.” Verses 22-26 describe the incident at Marah, occasioned by thirst of the Israelites and the bitter water which they found there. Verse 27 records the arrival of the Israelites at Elim, where there was water in abundance.
God’s Victory Over the Egyptians in the Red Sea
Generally speaking, the structure of the “Song of the Sea” is straightforward. The simplest division of the song is two-fold: (1) What God had done for Israel by drowning the Egyptians in the Red Sea (vss. 1-12); (2) What God will therefore surely do for Israel in the future (vss. 13-21). Finer distinctions can be drawn, but there is less agreement as one becomes more detailed in the breakdown of the song.
Moses apparently wrote the song,156 and may have led Israel as they sang it. The first refrain, “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea” (v. 1) is echoed by Miriam,157 who led the women in singing almost the same words and dancing: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea” (v. 21). While this song was sung corporately as Israel’s expression of praise and thanksgiving for God’s deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea, verses 1 and 2 express this praise in a personal and singular. The first person pronouns “I” and “my” make the praise here personal.
In typical psalm-like fashion, the acts of God are viewed as evidences of His nature and character. Consequently, the defeat of the Egyptians is described in poetic imagery. God’s deliverance is then viewed in the light of the character of God which is demonstrated in His deliverance.
With dramatic poetic strokes, the event which just occurred in the midst of the Red Sea is described. While natural forces are employed, they are seen as miraculous events, brought about by the direct intervention and involvement of God. The Lord is said to have “hurled the Egyptians into the sea” (v. 4). They sank to the depths158 “like a stone” (v. 5). The winds are described as coming from the “nostrils of God” (v. 8). The waters “congealed” so as to “pile up like a wall” (v. 8). God’s sovereignty is evidenced by His control over the forces of nature (e.g. the winds), and by His ability as the Creator to cause nature to act unnaturally (e.g. the “congealing” of the water, so as to pile up like a wall).
In verses 9 and 10, the sovereignty of God is seen in His ability to prevail, as a mighty warrior (cf. v. 3) over the Egyptians, the mightiest army on the face of the earth. They arrogantly pursued the Israelites, confident of victory (v. 9). In spite of their power and confidence, God simply “blew them away,” causing them to “sink like lead” in the sea (v. 10). The greatest army on the face of the earth was no problem for the God of Israel to dispose of.
Verses 11 and 12 summarize the implications of the mighty acts of God at the Red Sea, focusing upon God’s nature and character: “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed them.” The greatness and the goodness of God are thus recognized by the Israelites as they reflect on God’s victory over their enemies, the Egyptians. What impresses me about the conclusions which this song reveals is that they are the same as those purposes God has already stated in the Book of Exodus. What God intended for His people to learn from the miracles of the exodus is exactly what they concluded, as indicated in the song which they sang.
Before his return to Egypt, God told Moses that Pharaoh would not release the Israelites until He compelled him to “with a mighty hand,” revealed by performing “wonders” among them (Exod. 3:19-20; cf. 6:1). Now, after their passing through the Red Sea, Israel praised God for what His “mighty hand” had done (vss. 6, 9, 12). God revealed through Moses that He was about to “bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Exod. 12:12). Now, after the exodus, Israel proclaims, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?” (Exod 15:11). By the exodus, God said that Israel would know He was the Lord their God, who brought them out from under the yoke of the Egyptians (Exod. 6:7). Thus, after the crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites sang, “He is my God, and I will praise him” (Exod 15:2). That which God sought to accomplish in the events of the exodus, He did accomplish, as seen by the praises of His people in this song.
God’s Victory Over the Enemies of Israel in the Future
The first half of the “song of Moses” emphasizes the defeat of Israel’s enemies, the Egyptians. The second half of this song, in verses 13-21, is upon the defeat of those who would oppose Israel in the future. To state the matter differently, the first half of the song dwells on the Egyptians’ defeat, while the second half focuses on Israel’s deliverance, especially that deliverance which was yet to come, the defeat of those enemies who would resist Israel’s possession of the land of Canaan, which God promised He would give them.
The New International Version clearly underscores the shift from the past defeat of the Egyptians to the future defeat of Israel’s enemies by consistently rendering the verbs of verses 13 and following in the future tense.159 Thus, while verses 1-12 have dwelt on God’s past deliverance of His people, verses 13-21 look to His future deliverance of the Israelites.
Rightly, the Israelites saw the plagues and their passing through the Red Sea as a beginning. God did not just promise to release the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, He promised to bring them into the promised land of Canaan. In one sense, the whole exodus event was somewhat of a secondary matter, a means for His people to possess the land of Canaan:
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them and will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. … And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord’” (Exod. 6:6, 8).
Verse 13 therefore begins with a summary statement of what God is yet to accomplish for His people. Out of His unfailing love, He will lead His people, whom He has just redeemed, into His “holy dwelling.” There is a lack of consensus as to what is meant by the expression “holy dwelling” here. I doubt that it’s primary reference is to the temple (cf. Psalm 92:13), which is, as yet, not an element of Israel’s hope.160 The song could be referring to the promised land of Canaan as God’s “holy dwelling” (cf. Psalm 78:54; Isaiah 11:9). In the light of the promise of God to Abraham that the sign of His presence with Israel would be that Israel would worship God on “this (holy) mountain” (Exod. 3:12; cf. v. 5), the “holy dwelling” may be Mount Sinai. In any case, I believe that the “holy dwelling” of God is a reference to the promised land, whether or not a particular place (either Mt. Sinai or the temple) is also in mind.
The hope expressed in verse 13 will require the defeat of Israel’s enemies, the Canaanites, who will resist their entrance and possession of the land. The means of accomplishing this are viewed as the same as those used to deliver her from Egypt and the Egyptian army. The defeat of Israel’s Canaanite foes is thus described in verses 14-15.161 The defeat of the Canaanites is assured by the defeat of the Egyptians, the most formidable enemy of all. The Canaanites will be more easily overcome because of the terror produced by the report of the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. They will know that the God of Israel is a God of might, a warrior (v. 3), who is able to overcome the enemies of His people.
There is a play on words evident in the second half of the “Song of the Sea,” which takes up some of the same expressions or imagery employed to describe the defeat of the Egyptians and uses them to apply to the defeat of the Canaanites. For example, the Egyptian soldiers were said to have sunk “like a stone” in the Red Sea (15:5). Now, the terrified Canaanites are prophesied to become “as still as a stone” (15:16). As the arm of the Lord enabled Israel to pass through the Red Sea, so the Israelites will pass through their enemies (15:16).
Verses 17 and 18 conclude with a confident affirmation that God will bring His people in to the promised land, where He will plant them on His holy mountain. Perhaps now the reference to the Lord’s sanctuary does refer to the temple. At least this can be the fulfillment in a way that is more specific than Israel anticipated. There, the Lord will reign over His people for ever and ever. The Lord is now seen, for the first time I believe, as Israel’s king. The treaty between God and His people will be delivered to them from Mt. Sinai. The exodus will serve as the basis for that treaty, as the early chapters of Deuteronomy will make clear.
Verses 19 and 20 turn from poetry to prose, but they may still be a part of the song. These verses serve to emphasize the fact that Israel’s hope for the future is directly related to God’s act of deliverance at the Red Sea. Miriam, a prophetess and the sister of Aaron (not to mention Moses, cf. footnote 3), led the women as they repeated the first refrain of the “Song of the Sea,” which must have been quite a feat for a woman who would have had to be around 90 years old. Both the men and the women seemed to have sung their own parts in this marvelous hymn of praise.
The “Song of the Sea” was obviously important to the Israelites who passed through the Red Sea, and who sang it as recorded in our text. It served as a vehicle by means of which they could praise God. It also provided the mechanism for recording and recalling God’s great act of deliverance at the Red Sea. It directed Israel’s attention on the character of God, and it produced hope and confidence in God’s future protection and blessing.
The “Song of the Sea” reveals the great significance the exodus event had for the one who had passed through the sea, but what value does this event have for others? Is the exodus and the passing of Israel through the Red Sea only dull history, unrelated to our lives? Far from it, the exodus is a theme which permeates the remainder of the Old Testament, as well as the New. For saints of every age, the exodus is both a prototype and a prophecy of the future redemption(s) of God. Notice the following allusions to the exodus or to the terminology of the “Song of the Sea”:
(1) The events of the exodus were retold to the next generation of Israelites, as the basis and motivation for their obedience to the Law which God had given (cf. Deut. 4:32-40; 7:17-19).
(2) In the crossing of the Jordan, there is a decided parallel to the crossing of the Red Sea (cf. Josh. 3:14-17).
(3) The story of Israel’s exodus and portions of the “Song of the Sea” are frequently quoted in the Psalms.162
(4) Throughout the Book of Isaiah, as well as in some of the other prophets, the deliverance of Israel from its bondage in Egypt was likened to the deliverance of Israel and Judah from their Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Thus, either by a direct reference or by an allusion, the exodus is constantly drawn upon as a symbol and source of hope for Israel’s future deliverance.163
(5) The exodus was, in the Old Testament prophets and in the New Testament gospels, a prototype of the greatest redemption of all, the redemption of men’s souls from bondage to sin, which was accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ, the lamb of God (cf. Luke 9:31, where the “departure” which Jesus was discussing with His disciples was literally His “exodus”).
(6) In the Book of Revelation, the deliverance of Israel (as depicted in the “Song of the Sea”) was seen as typical or symbolic of the deliverance of the tribulation saints (Rev. 15:1-4).
Biblical history is not written to bore us with irrelevant details. It is written in order to provide our faith with historical roots. Israel’s hope regarding the future (Exod. 15:13-21) was rooted in their experience in history, through the plagues and their passing through the Red Sea. So, too, our future hope is based upon God’s actions in the past, both in our experience, and in the experience of those who have lived (and experienced the hand of God) before us. The Old Testament is therefore a rich source of faith-building history, which assures us of what God can do, based upon our knowledge of what God has already done. This assumes, of course, that we read the Old Testament with the “eyes of faith,” believing that these events did happen, as they were described.
The “Song of the Sea” and the exodus experience which it describes is an excellent illustration of a principle which is taught in the New Testament:
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Rom. 5:2b-5).
Here, Paul is teaching us that the joy of the Christian remains, and even grows, in the midst of trials and tribulation. The more difficult things become, the more our faith is put to the test. The more our tested faith proves to be legitimate and living faith, the more hope we have for the future. It is the testing of tribulation and trials which shows that our faith is much more than a “fair weather faith,” thus giving us even greater confidence in the future.
Israel came to know God in a greater way as a result of the trials and testings that they experienced in Egypt and in the wilderness. We, too, come to know God more intimately and more fully in the midst of the trials which He leads us through. And when we “pass through” these trials, we look to the future fulfillment of God’s promises as even more certain, having experienced His faithfulness in the tough times of our lives.
The “Song of the Sea” which the Israelites sang also serves to remind us that our security and hope are ultimately dependent upon the character of God. While their song described the deeds of God in the destruction of their enemies, the song points to the character of God which His actions point to. God’s greatness, goodness, and faithfulness are the basis for our faith and our hope. Ultimately, we trust a person for his character, and not for his abilities. God is both able and willing to help us in our time of need. The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New, and because He does not change (Jas. 1:17), we can trust in His character as demonstrated in the lives of the saints of old.
Israel’s Protests at the Waters of Marah
The “Song of the Sea” was not written to be sung but once. Perhaps the Israelites continued to sing this song as they traveled on their way from the shores of the Red Sea, entering into the Desert of Shur. For three days they found no water. This does not mean they had no water to drink, but their supplies would have been limited, and they would have had to ration them carefully. The people were no doubt anxious about their water supply as they came to Marah.
Sighting the waters at Marah must have brought great rejoicing to the Israelites. Their thirst, they thought, would be quenched, their cattle could be watered, and their reserves replenished. What a disappointment it must have been to discover that the waters were bitter, and thus unfit for consumption. Their joy at discovering water turned quickly to anger at Moses for leading them to such a place. How could Moses have bungled this matter so badly? They did not hesitate to place the responsibility for this blunder squarely on the shoulders of their leader—Moses. They demanded that he come up with a solution.
Moses cried out to the Lord, who showed him a piece of wood, which he cast into the water, causing it to become sweet. No one knows of any wood which could produce the result which is here described. The transformation of the waters of Marah (which means “bitter,” cf. Ruth 1:20) was a miracle. The casting of the wood into the water must have been a symbolic act, like Moses raising his staff over the waters of the Red Sea.
The incident at Marah was divinely designed as a test of Israel’s faith (v. 25), and as a teaching tool (v. 26). By Israel’s protest against Moses, the people had revealed their lack of faith and hardness of heart. They were deserving of the same plagues which God had brought upon the Egyptians. If the Israelites would obey Him (which, I take it, meant to obey the leadership of Moses) God would keep the plagues of Egypt from falling upon them. If they persisted in protesting against Moses’ leadership, the inference is that God would plague His people as He had done to the Egyptians. God does not tolerate disobedience and unbelief, either in the Egyptians or in His people. Just as the Lord “healed” the bitter waters of Marah, making them sweet, so He would be Israel’s healer, if they would but obey.
Having brought this message home to the Israelites, God led them on to Elim, where there was an ample supply of water. Here they camped, and gained needed refreshment from the water of the springs and the shade of the trees (v. 27).
While this chapter appears to have two very distinct accounts, there is good reason for the fact that Moses has placed them side by side. The “Song of the Sea” and the “bitter waters of Marah” are contrasting accounts, but accounts which have a direct relationship to each other. Two observations are crucial to our understanding the relationship between the praises of Israel in the “Song of the Sea” (vss. 1-21) and the protests of Israel at Marah (vss. 22-26).
(1) The Israelites failed to see the relationship between the affirmation of their faith in their worship (vss. 1-21) and the application of their faith in their daily walk (vss. 22-26). Israel had just proclaimed her faith in God as her warrior (15:3), but she was unable to trust in God as her waterer (15:22-26). That God could handle a problem with the water at Marah should not come as any surprise. After all, God had delivered Israel and destroyed the Egyptians by means of His control of the water in the Red Sea. The winds (which the song describes as coming from the breath of God, vss. 8, 10) caused the waters to part. God was able to make the waters congeal, so that there were walls of water on both sides of the Israelites (cf. v. 8). God caused the waters to close in upon the Egyptian army, drowning them all. If God could deal with the waters of the Red Sea, surely He could be trusted to deal with the waters of Marah. Israel should have been able to apply the faith she affirmed in the “Song of the Sea” to her dilemma at the waters of Marah, but she did not.
Lest we become unnecessarily perturbed at the Israelites for their lack of faith, and become a little proud of ourselves, let me suggest that the problem which Israel illustrates is also one of the greatest problems of Christians in every age, including our own. We often fail to apply our faith in God, resulting from one event, to another event which is virtually identical. For example, the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:30-44) should have taught the disciples to trust in the Lord Jesus to feed the multitudes, and yet shortly after this great miracle, the disciples failed to apply their faith to the matter of feeding the 4,000 (Mark 8:1-10).
When we gather to worship God, we do not sing the “Song of the Sea” but we do sing many hymns and choruses which express our faith in God. We sing, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and then go our ways fretting and worrying about the petty details of our lives, as though God was not faithful at all. We sing, “It Is Well With My Soul,” but when some little irritation comes along, our faith flounders. We sing, “O, for a Thousand Tongues,” and then, when someone makes fun of our faith, we are tongue-tied and cannot find any words to say concerning our faith.
The point is simply this. It is a great deal easier to affirm our faith in public worship than it is to apply our faith in our daily walk. Here is the real crunch. Here is where the rubber meets the road. It is not that we need to worship less, it is that we must apply in our daily walk those truths which we affirm in our worship. Just as God led the Israelites to the waters of Marah, so He leads us in such a way as to give us ample opportunity to apply our faith, or at least to reveal our lack of faith.
One of the contributing factors to our failure to apply our faith in our daily walk is that we tend to create false distinctions between those areas which are sacred (church, public worship) and those which are secular (work, daily living). The result is that we think of our faith as relevant to our “devotional” activities, but not to our daily activities. It is my contention that God distinguishes between those matters which are holy and those which are profane, but not between those matters which are sacred and those which are secular. A more careful look at the Law of Moses will reveal that Israel’s faith was to govern and guide them in the minute details of their (secular) lives.
(2) Not only did Israel fail to apply their faith to their situation at Marah, they failed to even see the problem as being spiritual. In the text we read that the Israelites protested against Moses, not against God (v. 24). They demanded that Moses produce water for them, they did not cry to God for water. It is my contention that they did not see their circumstances as demanding a “spiritual” solution, but only as demanding a “secular” solution. At least when the Israelites were trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea they cried out to God for help (before they began to grumble against Moses, cf. 14:10-12). Here, at Marah, they immediately confronted Moses, and ignored God altogether.
Ironically, the Israelites forgot that the pillar of cloud was still guiding them (cf. 13:21-22), and that God Himself was present with them in the cloud. If they were wrongly led, God led them wrongly by the cloud. Imagine the protests of the Israelites, while the cloud hovered over the waters of Marah. The Israelites failed to understand that if God promised to bring them safely out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan, any obstacle which would hinder or prevent them was one with which God was concerned, and which He could overcome. They failed to see bitter water as a matter about which God would be concerned, but He was concerned because water was necessary to preserve His people.
At the Red Sea, Israel should have learned that God was able to overcome any obstacle (such as the Red Sea, which He parted) or any opponent (such as the Egyptians, which He drowned in the Red Sea—the obstacle). Thus, while the Israelites sang that God was going to overcome their opponents (the Canaanites), they did not grasp the fact that He would also overcome all the obstacles to their entrance into Canaan (such as the bitter waters of Marah).
How often we fall into the very same trap. We view God as being concerned only with the big problems of life, those which appear to be spiritual. But anything which hinders our growth, our sanctification, or our ability to do what He has purposed is a matter about which He is concerned, and which He is able to overcome. Frequently, when we encounter a problem in our lives, we do not even consider that it is something about which God is intimately concerned. We immediately begin to turn to secular solutions, without seeking God’s solution.
One reason why we fail to view our problems as an occasion for faith is that we have become accustomed to living by scientific principles rather than spiritual principles. The scientific method is a good method—for matters of science. But it is incompatible when it comes to matters of faith. Here, the scientific method must be set aside (not scrapped, but set aside). Scientific principles are essential for scientific purposes. One does not, for example, design an airplane, load it full of people, and hope that it flies. It must pass a rigorous series of tests and be proven functional and reliable.
The scientific method requires that every scientific fact be proven, being performed under controlled conditions, having hard empirical evidence, and being repeatable, time after time. In order for one to accept the account of the Red Sea on scientific grounds, the depth of the sea would have had to have been measured, the velocity of the winds calculated, and all other variables considered. In order to prove that this was something scientifically verifiable, the parting of the sea would have to be repeated time after time. And after being scientifically proven, one could only predict that the event would happen again if it were repeated under identical conditions. Any change in any variable would cause the scientist to question the possibility of repeating the phenomenon under different conditions.
The spiritual method is different. The spiritual method observes what God has done, accepting the event on face value, governed and qualified by the divine revelation which accompanies the phenomenon. The spiritual method then views the event as a manifestation of the character of God. On the basis of God’s character (as consistent with biblical descriptions of His character elsewhere), the Christian then looks at any future circumstance as an opportunity for God to act in such a way as to achieve His purposes by overcoming both obstacles (like the Red Sea, or the hardness of men’s hearts) and opponents (like Satan, the antichrist, or the armies of men who have been deceived and used by Satan). Variations in conditions do not change the character of God, nor do they pose a problem to the God who is all-powerful.
The reason why we fail to see many circumstances as occasions that require a spiritual solution (and therefore require faith as well) is because we are using the scientific method of reasoning, rather than the spiritual method of reasoning, which reasons according to God’s revealed will and in accordance with the character of God, as demonstrated in history.
As we come to the conclusion of the message, let me attempt to apply this text to a current problem, which I shall call the “charismatic problem.” Many contemporary charismatics are inclined to think and to teach that life can and will be lived on the spiritual mountain tops. Thus, we should expect the Israelites to continually experience the euphoria and optimism of the “Song of the Sea.” Such is not the case, however. God did not allow the Israelites to stay by the sea, singing their glorious song. He did not keep them on the mountain. Instead, God led the Israelites into the desert, allowed them to be thirsty, and gave them bitter water. This adverse situation tested the faith and endurance of the Israelites, and provided the occasion for God to teach His people an important lesson. Expecting to live the Christian life on a continuous high is not only unrealistic, it is unbiblical. Thank God for the times of victory and elation, but do not expect things to stay this way forever.
Now a word to my non-charismatic reader. While we often accuse our charismatic brethren of expecting the miraculous and the ecstatic to be the norm, we often have become content to expect that things will always happen according to natural laws and practices, so that we expect miracles not to happen. God is not obliged to work a miracle for our benefit, but He is able to do so, and He sometimes does do so. The Israelites saw the miraculous hand of God at work in their passing through the Red Sea, and they expected His hand to work mightily and miraculously as they entered into the land of Canaan to possess it. We, on the other hand, have convinced ourselves that we ought not expect the miraculous.
The conversion of souls is a miracle. If we do not look for God to work in miraculous ways, we may as well stop witnessing and trying to evangelize the lost. The process of sanctification as well as the manifestation of the Spirit in the lives of the saints for ministry is a miracle, and we dare not seek to serve the Lord without asking for His miraculous power to do so.
Frankly, I do not know which is worse—thinking miracles should be the rule, or thinking that miracles have been ruled out—but there must be a balance. The exodus event is a manifestation of God’s miraculous might, employed to achieve His purposes and to fulfill His promises. The Israelites saw the miracle of God accomplished in the past as a guarantee of His intervention in the future. May God give us the faith to look for (but not demand) the miraculous in our lives, when it is required to accomplish the purposes and promises of God.
If you have not personally come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, then you have not experienced the miracle of being born again, of having your sins forgiven, your guilt removed, and of the joy of fellowship with God and the hope of heaven. It is only when you experience this miracle of conversion that you will look for the miraculous hand of God to work in your life in the future.
155 The reason for the difference between the 400 years given in Genesis 15 and the 430 years given in Exodus 12 is easily explained. God spoke of 400 years of oppression in Genesis 15. During the lifetime of Joseph, the Israelites were not persecuted, and thus Moses writes in Exodus that Israel departed from Egypt 430 years after they had arrived. The difference of 30 years is therefore the time which Israel spent in Egypt in the favor of the Pharaoh who exalted Joseph (cf. Exod. 1:8-9).
156 I have worded this statement carefully because there is no clear statement that Moses actually wrote this song. It is, however, rather strongly implied. Moses and Miriam are the two prominent leaders in Israel’s worship. Both Moses and Miriam are prophets of God, who can give inspired utterance (Exod. 15:20; Num. 12:6-8). This song is sung by the victorious tribulation saints in Revelation 15, where it is called the “song of Moses” (Rev. 15:3). We can, I believe, safely infer that Moses is the author of this song. The motivation for rejecting the Mosaic authorship of the “Song of the Sea” is the belief that some, if not all, of this song was written considerably later than the time of the exodus. The primary reason appears to be the “prophecies” of verses 13 and following, which they choose to view as history, described after the event.
157 It is interesting that Miriam is referred to as “Aaron’s sister” (v. 20), and not as the sister of Moses. On the basis of this statement, some have suggested that Aaron and Miriam had the same father as Moses, but that Moses was the child of another wife. Others, perhaps more reasonably, have understood that this choice of words emphasized the prominence and position of Moses, even though he was the youngest of the three.
158 Davis reminds us that the description of the waters of the Red Sea is not consistent with the drying up of any shallow body of water: “The poetic description of Pharaoh’s defeat further substantiates the concept of a crossing where the water was relatively deep. In verse 5 it speaks of the ‘depths’ having covered the Egyptian army. The Hebrew word for depths … usually carries the sense of oceanic depths, the sea, or an abyss.” John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971), p. 174.
159 This is done even when the verb is actually a past tense. The reason for this is that the past tense is often used to describe a future event, which is certain due to the promise or prophecy of God (this is called, by the grammarians, a “prophetic perfect”). The future is so certain it can be described as already having occurred. In our idiom we would say, “It is as good as done.”
161 It is evident that the utter terror of Israel’s foes, which will cause them to “melt away in terror and dread” (15:15) is not as complete as is here envisioned. That the enemies of Israel did fear is clear from the words of Rahab to the Israeli spies in Joshua 2:9-11 (cf. also Josh. 2:24; 5:1; Deut. 2:25). Nevertheless, the Canaanites did resist Israel, in a way that seems inconsistent with the optimism of this song (cf. Num. 14:14-21; 20:18ff.; 21:4; 22:2ff.; Deut. 2:1, 3, 8). There are at least two possible explanations. First, the text of the song does not speak of immediate and total defeat, but of the fear of Israel which the exodus produced. The fierce resistance of the Canaanites was motivated, no doubt, by this fear. Secondly, Israel’s delay in entering the land would tend to minimize the impact of the Red Sea event. Had Israel attempted to take the land sooner, the defeat of the Egyptians would have had a greater psychological effect on Israel’s enemies.
162 Gispen supplies us with this list of citations from the “Song of the Sea” in the Psalms: “v. 1, cf. Pss. 66:6; 68:18; 106:12; v. 2, cf. Ps. 118:14, 21, 28; v. 3, cf. Ps. 24:8; v. 4, cf. Ps. 136:15; vv. 5-17, cf. Ps. 78:52-54; vv. 5-13, cf. Ps. 77:14-21; vv. 5-10, cf. Ps. 106:11; v. 7, cf. Ps. 78:49; v. 8, cf. Ps. 78:13; v. 11, cf. Pss. 66:3, 5; 78:4, 12; 86:8; vv. 13-17, cf. Pss. 44:2, 4; 74:2; v. 17, cf. Ps. 80:9, 16; v. 18, cf. Ps. 146:10.” W. H. Gispen, Exodus, trans. by Ed van der Maas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), p. 146.
163 The following are just a few of the passages in Isaiah and other prophets which are dependent upon the exodus account or exodus terminology: Isa. 12 (compare v. 2 with Exodus 15:2); Isa. 43:1-3a, 14-21; 44:24-28; 50:2-3; 51:9-11; 52:3-6, 11-12; Jer. 16:14f.; 23:7f. Hosea (takes up on the theme of Egypt) 7:16; 8:13; 9:3, 6; 11:5, 11.