In the kingdom age, we hope to sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb—“Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints” (Rev 15:3). These words are just a brief selection from an earlier song of victory found in Exodus 15 when God achieved a wonderful victory over Pharaoh. In other words, the lyrics we hope to sing have been written for us already, in Exodus 15 and possibly in Deuteronomy 32. So, this begs the question: Why the song of Moses? Why not that of the triumphant Deborah and Barak, why not that of faithful Hannah, and why not the songs of the servant in Isaiah? Why is it that the song of Moses is particularly mentioned rather than another song?

It is interesting to note too, the first mention of mortal voices singing praise to God is in Exodus 15. The last time singing is mentioned in Scripture is in Revelation 15:3, where the same sentiments are being sung again.

Context – Israel coming out of captivity

First we must consider the context of this song in the Old Testament; we must consider why it is that God brought Israel out of Egypt and through the Red sea. Israel had to learn about the Lord God whom they served, about His way, His name, and His character – just as we do. Through the first few chapters of the book of Exodus, we see this great development of Moses’ appreciation of his God, and of Israel’s God.

We see this illustrated in Exodus 6:2-3,7—“And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am Yahweh: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Yahweh was I not known to them… And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am Yahweh your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians”.

God was now to be revealed as a national Saviour. He was to make Himself an everlasting name, as we learn from the following quotations:

“He…That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?” (Isa 63:11-12);

“O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown” (Dan 9:15);

“And shewedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst thou get thee a name, as it is this day. And thou didst divide the sea before them” (Neh 9:10-11).

The children of Israel did not know the name of God fully. But now, through the actions of God in bringing out His people from Egypt, they were to know that He was the Lord; He was Yahweh – He will be whom He will be – and He will be manifested in a multitude of mighty ones; such a multitude as the children of Israel had become.

Exodus 15 is the first song of Moses. This is the impromptu song of celebration that Moses and the children of Israel sang after they had passed through the Red sea, witnessing the destruction of the Egyptians. We have an extremely notable song of praise here, but why here? Why not after they left Egypt straightaway?

The story of the children of Israel in Egypt is one of rising tension and suspense. It is a narrative describing a nation which suffered terribly; one whose hope was little more than a flickering finger of flame in a black Egyptian night. We can see this rising tension in the sequence of the story:

  1. A new king arose who knew not Joseph (Exod 1:7-8);
  2. The Hebrews were put to work with rigour, with hard task masters over them (1:11,13-14);
  3. Pharaoh issues a decree to murder all the baby boys (1:22);
  4. Israel becomes distressed (2:23);
  5. Plagues are unleashed on Israel and Egypt (7–ch 8:23);
  6. Plagues intensify on Egypt (8:22–ch 12);
  7. Instructions for the Passover are given and Israel readies itself for departure (12:1-28);
  8. Israel leaves Egypt with a sense of desperation and urgency (12:31-39);
  9. Pharaoh pursues after them and all hope of survival vanishes (14:10-12)

What happened then? God stepped in and worked a great miracle by the hand of Moses (Exod 14:26-31). The army of the Egyptians was completely overwhelmed and God, once again, demonstrated His power in the destruction of the enemy and the deliverance of His people from their hand.

Exodus 14:31 encapsulates the thoughts of the camp of Israel: “And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses”. For one brief moment we see Israel, united in faith in Yahweh, and also in His servant Moses. Hebrews 11:29 states: “By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned”. God was faithful in bringing His people out of Egypt, through the Red sea, and preserving them, but Paul highlights the faith of Israel as they pressed forward in full confidence in the power of that deliverance.

In the record we can almost hear an audible sigh of relief. They had been oppressed for 430 years, in bondage to Egypt; they had left Egypt, but had been pursued. They had been entrapped by the land, but God had delivered them. And now they turn and see the Egyptians dead, their oppressors vanquished, no more able to beat them or cause them anguish. Great relief and joy are felt throughout all the camp of Israel; that is the context of our song.

Through His actions, God had made a name for Himself and gotten Him renown, and this song is that outpouring of appreciation for the name of God. A brother made the point that the works of God were shown to Israel, so that He may teach them of His ways. As Psalm 103:7 says, “He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel”. Through the plagues and this Red sea miracle, He was to be known as Yahweh Elohim of Israel. But how brief this pinnacle of faith was going to be! Soon after the last strains of the song had concluded, we hear a different tune—that of murmuring and complaint (Exod 15:24).

United in praise

Exodus 15:1 states that Moses AND the children of Israel sang. From the personal pronouns of verses 1-18, you might assume that this was the rendition that Moses gave of the song; but each Israelite was personally singing these words—“I will sing unto Yahweh”. Everyone had been deeply affected by this deliverance, particularly Miriam who took up a timbrel in verses 20-21 and led the women in a further chorus of praise. Rarely do you get the whole congregation of the children of Israel singing praise to God. Their faith, together with their singing, is so remarkable that they are highlighted in Psalm 106:7-12:

“Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea. Nevertheless he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known. He rebuked the Red sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths, as through the wilderness. And he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left. Then believed they his words; they sang his praise.”

In this Psalm of the rebellions of Israel there is a brief point of belief and recognition of the hand of the Almighty in the nation’s salvation. God wanted them to recognise Him, to worship Him, and to be His people. He wanted them to understand His wonders in Egypt; He wanted them to know about His mighty power and you can feel the frustration of the psalmist as he points out their general failure to do so.

(To be continued)