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Exodus 15:1-19 - Homilies By J. Orr

Moses' Song.

The sublimity of this noble ode is universally admitted. It brings Moses before us in the new character of "poet." Moses does not seem to have devoted himself largely to this species of composition; but the three specimens of his work which remain to us—this ode, his "Song" and "Blessing" in Deuteronomy, and Psalms 90:1-17 .—show him to have possessed a poetical genius of the very highest order; to have been as great as poet, as we know him to have been as warrior, leader, statesman, legislator, historian, patriot, and saint. The grandest features of poetry belong to the thrilling piece before us. It is the magnificent outburst of the feeling of uncontrollable triumph, awakened by the sight of the overthrow of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, and by the sense of deliverance and safety thence resulting. The language quakes and thunders in keeping with the grandeur of the theme. The presentation of the ideas is in the highest degree picturesque. The strokes of imagery are masterpieces—the whole scene of defeat and disaster being repeatedly revealed, as by lurid lightning-flashes, in single sentences, and even single words. The movement is rapid, rhythmical, inspiring. The art displayed in the minutiae of literary construction is very great, while in all, and through all, pervading, as its energising soul, every syllable and stanza of the composition, is the spirit of adoring awe and wonder, blending with gratitude, which ascribes all the greatness, and honour, and renown, of the victory to Jehovah. We have to touch at present, however, less on the literary beauties than on the religious teaching of the ode; and the nature of this, after what has been said on Psalms 14:1-7 ; admits of being briefly indicated.

I. THE TRIUMPH CELEBRATED ( Psalms 14:1 , Psalms 14:2 ). This celebration of the deliverance at the Red Sea was—

1 . Natural. Adoring and exultant feeling naturally passes into song. It seeks expression. It tends to become rhythmical. It unites itself with music. Like mountain torrents, tearing down to the plain, and cutting their channels as they flow, pent-up emotion of this kind will not be denied utterance, and if suitable channels of rhythmical expression are not provided for it, will cut out channels for itself.

2 . Appropriate. It was right that, having experienced this great deliverance, the children of Israel should give utterance, in strains of praise, to the feelings of wonder, gratitude, and adoration with which it inspired them. It was due to God, and it would be beneficial in its reactive effects upon themselves. The duty of praise for benefits received is one to which no religious mind can be indifferent. If God has gifted us with the faculty of song, it is right that the first use we make of it should be to extol his goodness. See the Psalms ( Psalms 92:1 ; Psalms 98:1 ; Psalms 105:1 , Psalms 105:2 ; Psalms 111:1 ; etc.).

3 . Elevating. The faculty of song is not merely one of the faculties of our nature. It is connected with that which is deepest in us. When the Psalmist bids his faculty of song awake, he speaks of it as his "glory."—"Awake up, my glory" ( Psalms 57:8 ; cf. Psalms 16:9 ; Psalms 30:12 ). It is Carlyle who says—"All deep things are musical." Song, in its higher reaches, unites all the faculties of the soul in consentaneous exercise—heart, intellect, conscience, the religious nature, imagination, the artistic and tuneful sentiments, the social feelings. It arouses, elevates, fructifies, enkindles. It awakens the spirit to the sense of its own infinitude; fills it with scorn of what is base; attunes and harmonises it to what is noble. We do well, therefore, to cultivate the faculty of song; to exercise it in public and in private worship; to make it the daily vehicle of the expression of our religious feelings. "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns," etc. ( Ephesians 5:19 ). See that the melody is from the heart, yet with the understanding also ( 1 Corinthians 14:15 ).

II. THE TRIUMPH DESCRIBED (verses 3-13). The quick, abrupt, vivid language of the ode brings the whole scene of Pharaoh's pursuit and destruction before us, almost as if it were transacting in our sight. The hot, breathless, intensely eager pursuit is depicted in verse 9, but it is chiefly the destruction that is dwelt on, and dwelt on in such terms, with the use of such similes, and in such relations of contrast to the proud monarch's insolence and boasting, as limns it with photographic distinctness on the mental vision. The design in the description being to exalt and glorify God's power in the overthrow, the points chiefly exhibited are these—

1 . The ease of this destruction. It is done in an instant, and without effort. In striking contrast with Pharaoh's paraphernalia of war, with his savage exertions in pursuit, and with his elaborate drawing out of his purposes in verse 9—" I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil," etc.—God simply blows with his wind, and the enemy is annihilated. "Thou didst blow with thy wind; the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters" (verse 10). A movement of his hand, a blast of his nostrils, a solitary waft from the heat of his anger, suffices to destroy them.

2 . The swiftness of it. This, which was a most impressive feature of the overthrow, is brought out in various images. "The depths have covered them; they sank to the bottom as a stone , they sank as lead in the mighty waters" (verses 5-10).

3 . The fatality of it. The destruction was complete. There was no recovery from it. Horse and chariot and charioteer; the chosen captains; the whole array of Pharaoh's military strength—all went down in one swift, fell swoop, to the sea-bottom. "Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy " (verse 6). Pondering these images, we cannot but be impressed by the folly, the insanity, as well as the futility, of all attempts at contending with the Almighty.

III. THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD AS REVEALED IN THE TRIUMPH . These, naturally, are made conspicuous in the ode. It was Jehovah, not Israel, who had achieved the triumph; and to Jehovah, accordingly, was all the praise due. Further, the design in the transaction had been precisely this: to display the character of God as Jehovah, and give a new demonstration of his possession of the attributes denoted by the name Jah (verses 2, 3). The attributes of Jehovah specially extolled are—

1 . Power . "Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power" (verse 6). The greatness of this power is seen by its being measured against the military might of Pharaoh, which thereby becomes a foil to it: another measure being found in the might and fury of the elements which it controls—winds, mighty waters, etc. Its resistlessness is seen in the suddenness and decisiveness of the overthrow.

2 . Supremacy (verses 11-18). This attribute, which is of the very essence of the Jehovah conception, was signally illustrated in the Red Sea catastrophe ( Psalms 135:6 ). Not only was God therein revealed as absolute Ruler in the domain of nature, but it was shown how Pharaoh himself, pursuing his own end, was yet bent to be an instrument in accomplishing God's; how, when he thought he was freest, and most certain of victory, God had the hook in his jaws, and was leading all his host straight into the grave prepared for him; how, accordingly, God is Supreme Ruler in the moral as well as in the natural world, in the region of human wills as well as in that of natural causation.

3 . Holiness . The holiness of God, burning like fire among stubble, and utterly consuming the hosts of the enemy, is justly celebrated in these verses (verse 7). God was revealed as "glorious in holiness" (verse 13); and because he was so, Israel was filled with awe in his presence (verse 13), and his habitation is spoken of as an "holy habitation" (verse 13), a sanctuary (verse 17).

4 . Mercy . This is the other side of the transaction of the Red Sea—the side of deliverance, as the former was of judgment, and mention is made of it in verses 2, 13. Here, then, is a wonderful constellation of Divine attributes—exhibited, too, not in word, but in suitable action, in deeds which gave them embodiment, and impressive manifestation. They are the same attributes which have been at work all down history, operating for the good of the Church, and for the overthrow of evil.

IV. THE EFFECTS OF THE TRIUMPH (verses 13-18). It is viewed—

1 . As inspiring fear in the surrounding nations, in Edom, in Moab, among the Philistines, and other inhabitants of Canaan. Every powerful manifestation of God's attributes is fitted to awaken terror among his enemies, and actually does so. Results similar to those here described will follow the great predicted judgments on the last representatives of Anti-christianism ( Revelation 11:13 ). The nations who heard of Israel's deliverance would have reason to fear, for their position exposed them to risk of attack, and Canaan was actually the destination of the tribes. This may suggest to us that if Israel had gone up to conquer these tribes, at the time when God wished them, they would not have found the conquest so hard as their fears represented. The Philistines and Canaanites were "melted" with terror: they were paralysed by their fears, and "still as a stone" (verses 15, 16). Yet, through the unbelief and cowardice of the attacking force, this great opportunity was missed.

2 . As a pledge that God would complete the work he had begun, and would ultimately "plant them in the mountain of his inheritance" (verses 13-17). In several of the expressions, the tenses are past, as though the thing prophesied were already as good as done. This also is an apostle's mode of arguing—God who has done the greater, will not now fail to do the less, and perfect the work he has begun ( Romans 5:9 , Romans 5:10 ; Romans 8:32 ; Philippians 1:6 ). Mark in this ode the designation of Israel as a redeemed, a purchased people (verse 13)—the Red Sea deliverance being viewed as a second purchasing of Israel by God to himself.— J . O .

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