Structure

What is the structure of this song of Moses in Exodus 15? One suggested structure could be a chiastic structure, one that has reflected ideas around a central point, as follows:

V1 Introduction

A: v2-3  Desire of a personal relationship with God

B: v4-5        Description of the Egyptian outcome

C: v6-10          God’s right hand is acknowledged

D: v11                    Refrain of praise

C: v12-13         God’s right is acknowledged

B: v14-16a   Description of the outcome on other nations

A:v16b-18 Yahweh gives Israel an inheritance with Him reigning

The arrangement as a chiastic structure seems to highlight verse 11 as the central point. We will see the importance of verse 11 later, as we find that it encompasses a number of key points, but right now we can notice how that this verse, which appears central to the song, focuses our attention on the name and character of God. The flow of ideas throughout the song can be summarised as follows:

In verses 2-3 there is shown the desire of the personal relationship with God when it says that “the Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation”. In verse 3 there is a phrase mentioned: “the Lord is His name” – the purpose of His actions was to declare this.

In verses 4-5, we have a description of what happened to the Egyptians; how it was that Pharaoh and his army perished in one instance.

In verses 6-10, we see the right hand of the Lord being made powerful and acknowledged. Moses acknowledges and attributes this victory over their enemies, over their slave-master, to the God who made heaven and earth, utilising His creative power as He wills.

In verse 11, we almost have a refrain from the narrative as the singer reflects on the might of God.

In verses 12-13, we have another mention of God’s right hand (also twice in v6), being stretched out, and a mention of God guiding His people.

Now the song talks in the future tense. In verses 14-16a (the first half ), we see the fear of the other nations on seeing the mighty display of power.

In the latter half of verse 16b-18, we see Israel taking their inheritance, with Yahweh as king – surely something that will only truly happen in the kingdom age.

An alternative structure has also been suggested:

v1-5: Contrast: God has become Israel’s salvation but Egypt’s destruction

v6: Praise (past)

v7-10: Contrast: God created a wall of water to save Israel but collapsed the wall to destroy Pharaoh and his host

v11: Praise (present)

v12-17: Contrast: God guides and leads His people in mercy but the nations fear and tremble

v18: Praise (future)

This structure separates the song into three different sections, with praise forming a central focus. It is important to note the contrasts and tenses within this structure. Praise is mentioned as past, present, and future, showing the eternal nature of the One who is being praised. The contrasts are important too: what was salvation to Israel was destruction to the Egyptians. We saw that the cloud and the fire gave light to the Israelites, but it was dark for the Egyptians. We see the goodness and severity of God in the same action (cp Rom 11:22). We see this kind of change of perspective between two groups in the New Testament, where we have the preaching of the cross being foolishness to those who don’t believe, but to those who are saved it is the power of God. Likewise we have Christ as the chief cornerstone to believers, but to others he is a stumbling block and a rock of offence.

What else can we say about the structure of this song? There are five Hebraisms in this chapter which highlight a deliberate emphasis. When Hebrew words or phrases are repeated, then the Spirit is making a calculated point. Here are the repetitions:

  • v1: “triumphed gloriously” – Heb ga’ah ga’ah
  • v6: “thy right hand, O Lord” occurs twice
  • v11: “who is like thee” occurs twice
  • v16: “till thy people pass over” occurs twice
  • v21: “triumphed gloriously” – Heb ga’ah ga’ah

In verse 1 in the opening introduction of praise, the Hebrew is the same for “triumphed gloriously”, so we could render it “glorioused gloriously” or “triumphed triumphantly”! The emphasis is on the victory that God has wrought. In verse 6 we find another repeated phrase: “thy right hand, O Lord”. It is the right hand of God which has done this, and all praise is directly attributed to Him. In verse 11 we have: “Who is like (unto) thee”, once again, a two-fold repetition. Here we see that of all the many deities that people might want to worship, such as the gods that they left behind in Egypt, there is none like unto the Lord. He alone is the one to be praised. He alone is holy and doeth wonders. In verse 16 we have an emphasis on the people passing over, which we will consider in a future article. Lastly in verse 21, as Miriam takes up the song that Moses just sang, she uses the same Hebrew emphasis. It is significant to note that all three structures point to one key verse—verse 11.

Developing a personal relationship with Yahweh

We wrote that verses 2 and 3 of the song reveal the growing relationship with God of Moses and the people. They express a wonderful appreciation of His deliverance and power and a preparedness to recognise His strength in their lives. This had not been expressed before, even though they witnessed great wonders in Egypt. We see, too, that the memorial name of God is used in these verses— a name which was not previously known to the patriarchs. Verse 3 states: “The Lord [Yahweh] is His name”! Moses only really came to know Yahweh fully in chapters 3 and 6, where the angel of His presence appeared to him and spoke of national deliverance. Seven times the words “I will” are used to describe this proposed deliverance in which God would take the nation to Himself in covenant relationship (Exod 6:6-8). Before then Moses would have heard of God’s dealings with individuals from his parents and from Jethro. But in chapter 3 the angel of God’s presence unveiled the memorial name: “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God” (v6).

In Exodus 3 we have presented a remarkable blend of past, present and future. God introduces Himself as “I am” in verse 6, and “I will be” in verse 14 (the Hebrew “I am” in this verse should be translated “I will be”). Furthermore, the “I am” is associated with “thy father” and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here is a combination of the past (the God of the patriarchs), the present (I am come down to deliver) and the future (I will be whom I will be…this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations).

Note, too, that the expression, “God of thy father” is considered separately from the patriarchs. Why should God link His name with Amram, Moses’ father? The same honour is afforded Amran in Exodus 15:2 and this time by Moses: “The Lord is…my father’s God and I will exalt him.” The answer lies in the fact that God approved of his father’s unswerving faith and honoured him by joining his name with Abraham’s!

Moses gave that same recognition. Indeed, Paul writes of this in Hebrews 11:23, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment”.

Returning to the song of Moses, we find that when Moses says, “he is become my salvation”, that the word “to become” is hayah, which is part of the name of God, and therefore the verse could be rendered: “He has and will become my salvation”. Moses follows that by saying: “he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation”. We mentioned that Moses had learnt of the character of God, but now he expresses his knowledge of the purpose of God. The Lord will be his salvation because Moses was preparing a place for God to dwell in, a thought expressed later by him in Psalm 90:1, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations”. Likewise, we initially learn about God’s character – through books and Sunday School lessons when we hear that God is good, a God of love and mercy – and then later on we learn about His purpose, and how we are to be habitations for His holy name, manifesting His divine attributes.

We have seen some of the themes of the song, and have looked at the personal relationship of Moses with God, and the choice that he made. We each have the same choice: will the Lord be our strength and song, and will we prepare Him an habitation? Only then will He be our salvation, and will He be exalted.

(To be continued)