Exodus 15:1-19 - Homilies By D. Young
The song of triumph-God exalted in the lips of the people.
This song we may take as being in some measure the result and expression of the state of feeling mentioned in Exodus 14:31 . People who feared Jehovah and believed in him were very likely, in such a rush of feeling, to sing as did the Israelites here: at the same time we must be careful not to rest content with attributing this song merely to natural causes . There is no need to deny the presence of genius; if only we bear in mind at the same time, that it is genius elevated and sanctified by the inspiration which Jehovah alone can give. Who else than God himself can lead into a true acquaintance with him? and if they who thus know him would speak of him and sing of him, it must he with such an arrangement of thoughts and choice of expressions as he alone can supply. The history of hymnology makes it very evident that genius is not enough for distinction in this sacred service. Poems full of genius, and almost faultless in form, are yet worthless for praise. For in this as other matters God has taken the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty, lie puts the holy and eternal fire on lips that the world despises. They who have made the praises of the Church have not been the writers of epics; they are not found among the poets-laureate; and so here we must look for the power of God as much in the construction of this song, as in the production of the events it celebrates. We are called on to observe him who somehow makes men to utter even more than they know. It may be needful at the proper time to consider this as a contribution to Hebrew poetry; it is better still ever to remember it as a contribution to the worthy praise of God, that praise which while it celebrates him, instructs and ennobles the man who renders it. The question of authorship here, bear in mind, is not to be settled right off by saying that Moses composed it. He and the people sang it, but who composed it is quite another question. And that this point is left undetermined only throws us back more on the thought of God as the great agent in bringing this song into existence. As to the topics treated of in the song , the very fact that there have been so many different ways of dividing it, makes one more disposed to consider it in its unity, without any attempt to divide it into sections at all. Thus then let us notice in succession the dominant truths and convictions which run through the song. The first point is the exaltation of God amongst his people. This is the word with which the song begins. " I will sing unto Jehovah, for he is highly exalted."
I. NOTICE THE FACT THAT THERE IS EXALTATION OF GOD . God, in ruling the composition of this song, takes care of this most important point. It was the very point that needed to be brought out in all its prominence, so that no man should be exalted instead of God. Men exalt one another. They are constituted so as to admire that which is great and powerful, and when they are not men of faith, able to comprehend the greatness of the invisible God, their admiration must needs expend itself on the visible man. All temptation of this kind is here kept out of the way. The feeling that Jehovah is exalted runs all through the song. Everything is ascribed to him. Moses himself makes no claim, expects no praise. The people do not gather round him and hail him as deliverer. The tone of the praise is thus in perfect harmony with the deed that has been done. God becomes practically everything and man nothing. For what had Israel done here ? They had indeed walked down to the Red Sea, through it, and on to the other side, but no one who regards the proprieties of language would speak of this as contributing to their salvation. We do not praise a man for availing himself of the conditions of safety. Thus we have a type of the way in which God is exalted and glorified in spiritual salvation. When we consider what has to be done in saving a man from his sins; and when we consider also the manifestations, so abundant, so transcendent, of God's power in doing so, then how plainly incongruous it is to begin praising man for that simple act of faith by which he avails himself of God's goodness in Christ. The more we consider, the more we shall feel that whatever praise man may deserve is better left to God to express. By all means let us have brotherly appreciation for brotherly kindness; brotherly gratitude encouraging brotherly love. But God only can praise rightly. Though nothing is said of Moses in this song, God took ample care of the fame and reward of his faithful servant. We had better keep to that which God requires from us, namely, praise to himself. As he requires it, so we inky be sure he will fit us to render it.
II. THE EXALTATION OF JEHOVAH IS AN EXALTATION TO SUPREMACY . He is supreme over physical force in one of its most imposing forms. "The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea." Perhaps those who have had to meet a charge of cavalry in the battle-field can best appreciate this expression. Jehovah is a man of war, and he goes out with strange weapons against great kings and their chosen captains; weapons which they cannot understand and cannot meet. He does not meet sword with sword, and chariot with chariot; the elements of nature are at his instant and entire command. In his hand the mightiest are as nothing . What is the excellency of Pharaoh, even though he be king of Egypt, before the greatness of the excellency of Jehovah? The answer is that as stubble before the fire, so is opposing man before Almighty God. "What a wind that must be, that strong east wind which raises waters, even from the deep, and keeps them when they are raised!" So we imagine man speaking in his inevitable submission to the powers of nature when they are roused. But when God has to speak of the east wind, it is as of something which comes as easily as a blast from the nostrils. True, this expression is chiefly used to indicate his wrath; but it also indicates the ease—if ease be a fitting word to use of Jehovah—with which his work is done. In Exodus 14:9 , man is represented as resolving and rushing forth in the utmost confidence; anticipating the end from the beginning; certain of his resources and certain of the result, and then as he advances in all his pride and ostentation, God meets him in equal simplicity and sublimity. " Thou didst blow with thy breath , the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters." One breath from God, and the mightiest fabric goes down like a house of cards! Man accumulates his resources, he strains with prodigious efforts, he gathers his forces without mercy and without scruple; and then when all is in array, God calmly lifts his right hand, and the earth swallows the preparation and the pride of years.
III. THERE IS THE EXALTATION OF GOD ABOVE ALL OTHER DEITIES WORSHIPPED BY MEN . "Who is like unto thee, O Jehovah, among the gods?" This, of course, is also an illustration of Jehovah's exaltation to supremacy. Moses and the Israelites had not attained the feeling that all other deities than Jehovah were but empty and delusive names. That discovery was reserved in the wisdom of God for later and prepared generations. The feeling that the gods of the nations were real beings with terrible power, was very potent in the breasts of the Israelites, as was evidenced by their frequent and facile lapses into idolatry. Therefore this uplifting of Jehovah above the gods was most appropriate praise to put into the lips of Israel at this time. The gods of Egypt represented the strength of Egypt; the gods of Philistia the strength of Philistia; the gods of every country the strength of every country where they were worshipped. When the strength of a land was broken, it was like writing Ichabod on the statue of its presiding deity.
IV. THIS WAS AN EXALTATION IN SUPREMACY WHICH EXTENDED TO THE FUTURE . God, shown supreme in the midst of his people and over their enemies, will maintain and manifest that supremacy in all the time to come. The calamities of Egypt travelling, as it had done, in the path of ten humiliations, and now utterly overthrown, are to be made known in Philistia, in Edom, in Moab, and all through Canaan. Here we flint some explanation of the apprehension with which the progress of Israel was afterwards viewed, as by the Edomites and Balak. The Israelites came to be looked on to some extent as a peculiar foe. The utter destruction of a whole army in the Red Sea was not an event which could be kept in a corner. God had now done something for Israel which enemies might notice as a measure and an index of what would yet be done. Then from the mention of these typical enemies. Philistia, Moab, etc; we are led to consider the abiding enemies of God ' s abiding people , those invisible ones who are fully known only to God himself. They have some sense that what has been done by Jesus against them is the measure of what will yet be done. Just as the Philistines felt the sound of Pharaoh's destruction echoing against their fastnesses, and even in the very echo, shaking them, so we may be sure the principalities and powers of evil felt the greatness of what had been achieved when Christ was raised from the dead. That great act of Jehovah has been far more appreciated in the invisible world, among the powers of evil, than it is among us. They cannot but feel what the end will be. What forgetting fools the Israelites were in after ages, to act in contradiction to this exultant song of praise, trembling and fleeing before the nations that were round about.— Y .
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