The song of Exodus 15 changes from past tense to future tense, indicating that the song contains prophecies about times to come. Some predictions were fulfilled within 100 years, and some are still waiting to be accomplished. The final fulfilment will come when another power like Pharaoh will attempt to destroy the people of Israel, but that, like Egypt in the past, will witness the mighty hand of God and in turn be vanquished.

The misplaced confidence of Egypt

It is in verses 4-9 we read that, despite the Egyptians’ trust and confidence in their own horses and chariots, they would not claim victory. We see that these are key words, because in chapters 14-15 there is a repeated emphasis on the “horses”, the “horsemen”, and the “chariots” of Egypt, emphasising their military might and confidence, which in the end could not save them.

In contrast, Moses and Israel had put their trust in the right hand of the Lord as mentioned twice in verse 6 and once in verse 12. A small flavour of a few passages will show the significance of God’s right hand. We find in Psalm 17:7 it is a symbol of God’s salvation. In Psalm 18:35 it represents protection and strength, whilst in Psalm 48:10 we are told that God’s right hand is full of righteousness. In Psalm 89:13 and Isaiah 48:13 it is a symbol of might and strength. When God’s right hand is lifted up, nothing can withstand the power of His will.

Continuing in verse 8 we see the source of Moses’ and Israel’s confidence: in God, the creator and destroyer of life. The word “blast” is ruach, as we have in Genesis 1:2, where the “spirit (ruach) of God moved upon the face of the waters.” As the spirit of God created in Genesis 1 and 2, it can just as easily destroy. We have this spirit again gathering together the waters as in Genesis 1, when God created the dry land. And just like in the Creation record, Exodus 15 emphasises the idea of separation – the separation of the children of Israel from the Egyptians, first by the fire and the cloud, and then, at the latter end, by water.

In verse 9 we see again the misplaced confidence of the Egyptian army. There is a repeated use of “I will”. These statements display the confidence of the Egyptians in their chariots and in their horsemen, for they said they will do all these things; they will take the spoil and will destroy Israel. Maybe they were so confident too because, in terms of strategy, they’d never had it so easy – they’d trapped Israel in the land, and there was nowhere for them to go. Yet Egypt was proud and haughty and we know the danger of pride as talked about in the Scriptures. They trusted in their own might, in the gods that they had fashioned by their own hands. Therefore Moses could say in the refrain that, compared to the gods of the nations – compared to the gods of Egypt, who Pharaoh thought would help them – there is none like the God of Israel! Their language is such a contrast to the meaning of God’s name (He will be whom He will be).

The “key verse”

We mentioned the importance of verse 11. At whichever structure of the song of Moses you look, praise is certainly the most dominant theme in the song. Other songs in Scripture have an emphasis on praise as well, particularly after God has performed a marvellous work in delivering His people. Some examples can be seen in the song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5, which begins with the words: “Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel”! There is the song of Hannah at the birth of her longed-for son in 1 Samuel 2, which begins: “My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord.” We may also think of the many psalms which praise the Almighty God; for instance, Psalm 145 entitled, David’s Psalm of praise, begins: “I will extol thee, my God, O King.” Crying unto God, being saved, and then having a response of praise is found in multiple places in Psalm 107. It is a recurring theme (v6-8, v13-15, v19-21, v28-31). All these people had learned to render praise to God in their lives when they saw His mighty hand at work. We find the same spirit of thankfulness in the New Testament in the rejoicing of Mary in Luke 1:46 when the Lord performs a marvellous work through her. Her song begins with: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” In Revelation too, we have the singing of those who have been victorious over the beast system (Rev 15:3-4; 18:20).

What a powerful lesson for us! Our personal relationship with God starts when we learn of God’s character. Then as we mature, we come to understand God’s plan and purpose, and through this maturing relationship, we learn to put our trust and our confidence in our gracious Father, the great God of Israel. When we experience God at work in our lives, responding to our trust, we are compelled to praise Him!

God’s renown amongst the nations

At the end of this song (v14-16) we see the impact that the Red Sea miracle had on the surrounding nations. They would be confronted with God’s wondrous work and would also know of the renown of His name. In contrast to confident Egypt, all confidence was going to melt away amongst these nations. Then they sang that the dukes of Edom shall be amazed – the Hebrew word for “amazed” is also translated “troubled” in Genesis 45:3, where it is used of Joseph’s brothers when they were “troubled” at Joseph’s presence. And so it came to pass that when the children of Israel met the Edomites in Numbers 20:14-21, Edom denied them passage through their land. Exodus 15:15 would suggest that the Edomites were probably afraid of what would happen to them.

In the song, Moab is described as “trembling” and in Numbers 21, Israel defeats Sihon and Og with God’s help – and then the record states: “And Moab was sore afraid of the people” (Num 22:3).

As for Philistia and Canaan, we find them afraid in Joshua 2:9-11. In the words of Rahab to the spies, “The inhabitants of the land faint because of you…and our hearts do melt.” We know that the Philistines lived on the western edge of the land, thus confirming that the words of Rahab applied to both the Canaanites and the Philistines as was prophesied in Exodus 15. Rahab also uses the name of Yahweh and vividly remembers the exodus which had occurred 40 years previously! She heard and believed (Josh 2:10; Rom 10:17) and even though she was raised in an idolatrous city she recognised the true and living God and His all-encompassing power.

In spirit, Moses already saw Israel “passing over” and firmly planted in the land (v16-17). He described God’s dwelling place and sanctuary centuries before the temple was built in the mountain of inheritance (v17). The Hebrew word for “passing over” can either mean to “cross over” (for example, a river: Deut 9:1) or to “pass through” (for example, Israel seeking to traverse the land of Moab: Num 21:22-23). The song was predicting that Israel’s enemies would be as still as a stone whilst they passed over Jordan and passed through the land. For those who had ears to hear, it was a welcome description of safety and protection.

Israel had been purchased, sings Moses in verse 16. They had been bought with a price and had changed owners. No longer were they servants to sin, but they had been purchased to become servants to righteousness – just as we have (Rom 6:11-14). They were a purchased people – just as we are, as Peter said, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet 2:9). The margin seems to be correct in saying a “purchased people”, echoing the words of the song in verse 16. We have been purchased to manifest, or show forth, the praises and virtues of our Father.

The final refrain of the song is glorious: “Yahweh shall reign for ever and ever” (v18). These words have never been fulfilled in their entirety. They speak of a coming king reigning in a kingdom forever and as such allow us to see the psalm in a future context. The sentiments of this last verse are echoed in Revelation 11:15, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” In our final article we will examine the song with this future background in mind.

(To be continued)