Kevin DeYoung / May 8, 2016 / Exodus 15:1-21
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Our Father in Heaven, we pray that you would give us more grace. I ask for grace to preach your word in, truth, power, and sincerity of spirit. Give us all grace to listen, believe, receive, and obey. We pray, for Jesus’ sake, in his name. Amen.
The crossing of the Red Sea was such a monumental event in the history of Israel that we have two recountings of it—first in prose, and now in poetry in the Song of Moses:
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying,
“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name.
“Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them.
“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased. You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. The LORD will reign forever and ever.”
For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” Exodus 15:1-21
I began last week’s sermon by talking a little bit about the American Civil War. I want to stick with the theme of American history and refresh your memory about a lesser-known war: the War of 1812. If we did a little survey on what we know about the War of 1812, the first and last thing might be that it happened in 1812. That’s when it began, at least. Congress declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812 because of Britain’s interference with American international trade. By 1814, Napoleon’s army had been defeated, and Britain decided that they could fully turn their attention to this war in the United States.
On August 24, 1814, British troops marched into Washington D.C. They set ablaze the Capitol building and the White House. As you can imagine, this was quite a shock to the young American nation. They began to fear what would happen. The British next set their sights on Baltimore, a vital sea port. On September 13, 1814, British warships began the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the Baltimore harbor. The bombardment continued for 25 hours (through the night) while the nation anxiously awaited to see what would become of Fort McHenry and Baltimore.
On September 14, 1814, an amateur poet (Francis Scott Key) was aboard a ship that was a few miles off in the distance (out of harm’s way), but nevertheless watching what was happening: the rockets’ red glare throughout the night. As the new morning came, he could make out the American flag still waving over Fort McHenry by the dawn’s early light. As you probably know by now, he was the one who penned what would later become the national anthem of the United States: the Star Spangled Banner. He scribbled the initial verse of his song on the back of a letter. Apparently, that’s where you wrote your famous things in the 19th century. You just grabbed the back of a letter. Didn’t Abraham Lincoln do the same?
You’re probably somewhat familiar with the first verse:
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? “The Star-Spangled Banner”
It’s good. You probably didn’t know that there are four verse to this song. It would be something if you heard someone singing verse 4 before the next baseball game:
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Throughout the 19th century, it became one of the most beloved patriotic songs. The military began using it for official ceremonies, but it wasn’t until 1931 that The Star-Spangled Banner became the national anthem. When we come to the Olympics, I hope that we hear it a few times.
Great victories demand great songs. If it’s true in the War of 1812, and true after your team wins a great football or baseball game, how much more is it true when it comes to God’s victory over sin and Satan, and the conquest of his enemies? Moses and the people sang this song in Exodus 15. It’s called “The Song of Moses” (sometimes called “The Song by the Sea”). We can think of it as “The Song of the Redeemed”.
You see Moses and the people of Israel sang it—or it may be the case that Moses and the men initially sang it. It seems that there was some kind of antiphonal call and response, whether line by line or the whole song, because when we get to the end of the reading, we see that Miriam led the women with the tambourine and dancing in singing the song.
Miriam the prophetess. Deborah, Huldah, Isaiah’s wife, and Anna were also given such designation in Scripture. This was a woman who declared the mighty deeds of the Lord. We see here that her ministry is directed toward other women, as she leads them out in singing. Someone asked me beforehand, “Are you going to say anything about Mother’s Day?” Well, here you go! I love moms. Miriam was probably a mom. Go moms! Go women! Miriam singing the song, leading them out in jubilant praise!
I’d bet that some of the two million Israelites could not sing very well, but they still sang. How could they not sing? All God’s people must sing because all God’s people have been saved. Men, women, and children were singing the song of the redeemed.
If you have your Bible open, you may notice that in that the ESV puts line breaks between certain verses. This song is broken into four stanzas: verses 1-3, verses 4-10, verses 11-12, and verses 13-18. I want us to look at each of these stanzas. I’ve given each stanza a title from a hymn that will be familiar to many of us.
“Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah!”
We see a familiar pattern in the Bible here: God saves and his people sing. If you’ve been around the church for a long time, you may no longer realize how strange it is that we come together and spend 10-20 minutes just singing. Sure, people sing along with their car radio or their iPhone on a run, or they may sing the victory song, alma mater, or fight song at a game. But there are not many occasions in our world where hundreds of people gather together to sing—not at a concert where some musician performs for them and some of them sing along, but where they come together to sing.
But it is so with God’s people. God saves; his people sing. We have songs by Moses, Miriam, Deborah, Barak, David, and Hannah, not to mention 150 songs in the Psalter.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing… Isaiah 51:11a
In the New Testament, there are hymns to Christ in John, Romans, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Hebrews. There are doxologies scattered throughout the Bible. There are songs in Revelation 1, 4, 5, 7, 11, 14. There are more songs in the Bible than you realize. Why do Moses and the people sing praise to God? Verse 1: “…he has triumphed gloriously…” He has thrown Pharaoh’s charioteers, the horse and the rider, into the sea. “[He] is a man of war.” Or, as other translations have it, “The Lord is a warrior.”
There are many things that you can say about the God of the Bible. He is called a King, a Father, a Shepherd, and a Husband. There are other images that emphasize his tenderness and compassion. We need all of those images, names, and analogies. We also need this one. The Lord is a warrior. A colossal theology mess could be exposed by simply asking some Christians in some churches: “Is your God a warrior?” That’s not all we’re saying about him. You could make that lopsided if that’s the only thing you have. But if you answer that negatively, you set yourself on a trajectory with a cross that doesn’t have the wrath of God or a propitiatory sacrifice, and a misunderstanding of Heaven, Hell, and God’s justice. We need this account. In verse 3, he is praised as a man of war. “The Lord is his name.”
Notice the personal pronouns. Sometimes songs get a bad rap because they’re full of personal pronouns. That is a danger, I suppose, in some songs. You could just talk about how “I feel this” and “I feel that”. But look! Let’s not be smarter than the Bible. Read through the Psalms. There’s a lot of ‘I’s and ‘me’s and ‘my’s when we sing Psalms. So there is here. It’s not just a hymn of praise to the God of the universe. That would certainly be appropriate. But even more so, Moses declares this God to be his God.
…this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. Exodus 15:2b
“I will sing. I’m not just talking about a God who is distant and abstract. I’m talking about the Lord, who is my God and my strength. I will sing to him.” This great God is his God. Each of the millions of Israelite voices are declaring the same thing: “My God! I will praise him. The Lord has triumphed gloriously. Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah!”
I want to do something a little different. I’ve given each stanza the title of a hymn. Since this is a song of the redeemed, I thought it would be appropriate for us to sing it after each stanza in response to what we read here.
Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,
O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises
Of my God through all my days.
Put no confidence in princes,
Nor for help on man depend;
He shall die, to dust returning,
And his purposes shall end.
Happy is the man that chooses
Israel’s God to be his aid;
He is blessed whose hope of blessing
On the Lord his God is stayed.
Heav’n and earth the Lord created,
Seas and all that they contain;
He delivers from oppression,
Righteousness he will maintain. Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, O My Soul
“How Great Thou Art”
What we have in verses 4-10 is a further recounting of the Red Sea miracle. Notice again the emphasis on Pharaoh’s best officers. How many times have we read “his chariots and his host” or “his chosen officers”. The horse and riders are not just the regular footmen—the infantry and the army. These are the Special Ops—the SEALs—the best of the best. God has defeated the best men of the best army of the most dynamic, widespread empire of the age.
Do you see what he does to them? The chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. This should put to rest any notion that the Israelites crossed over some marshy, swampy bog in water up to their knees. Verse 4 says that the Egyptians were sunk. In verse 5, “They went down into the depths like a stone.” Verse 10: “They sank like lead in the mighty waters…” It’s hard to sink very far if you’re in a bathtub. No, they walked through the Red Sea, and the sea swallowed up the best of Pharaoh’s army.
In verses 6-7 that God is praised for his wrath. He shatters his enemy. He overthrows his adversaries. He sends out his fury and consumes them like stubble. Sometimes people try to make distinctions without a difference. “God is love, but his wrath is what he has.” Well, that doesn’t work on a philosophical level—let alone if you look in the Scriptures. There are four times that it says God is something besides the ones here: God is love, God is light, God is Spirit, and Hebrews says that God is a consuming fire. It won’t do to simply separate wrath out as simply the underside of it. YHWH is praised for his wrath.
It’s not wrath as you may know it. It’s not peevish or temperamental. God doesn’t lose his temper or fly off the handle. After all, he was patient with Egypt for 400 years. He warned them with 10 plagues. It’s not like the Egyptians messed up once and then God buried them in the ocean of the Red Sea. So Moses and the people praised God for pouring out his wrath upon his enemies.
It’s amazing how so many people today love to talk about justice, but don’t like the idea of God’s wrath. What is the wrath of God except his justice realized in real life? God cannot let sin go unpunished. To turn a blind eye to sin would be to deny his very nature. So many of us have no problem wanting swift and severe justice when it comes to criminals, bad referees, or people who hurt us or make our lives difficult. We want to scream out to someone in control. We want to yell, “Don’t you see what’s happening?! You can’t just let that go. You have to do something.” How much more so with God as he looks down from Heaven upon all the sin, wickedness, and unrighteousness on the earth. If we have a problem with the wrath of God, it is because we have underestimated God’s majesty and overestimated our goodness. We think that the supreme God of Heaven would have no reason to be angry with the sons of men, and that he would not execute justice and judgment on the earth.
What we have in these stanzas is a further reflection of the power of our God. Compare verse 9 to verse 8—the confidence of the enemy with the ease with which the Lord dispatches them. It’s striking—almost humorous. In verse 9: “The enemy said, [maybe singing their own song.] ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’”
What is it that the Psalmist says in Psalm 2?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, Psalm 2:2
“Surely God will not find out. Surely there is nothing this God can do. Surely these Christians are easy picking. Surely these Israelites will be overcome by our might.” But what does God do? Look at verse 8: “At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.” The supreme confidence of the Egyptian army versus the Lord’s sneeze—the blast of his nostrils—was not a fair fight.
Have you ever tried to blow out birthday candles with your nose? Don’t do it. But it is interesting. It’s hard to get a steady airflow coming out of your nose to blast birthday candles, let alone to blow open the waters of the Red Sea. The Lord sneezes, and the Egyptians perish. The enemies of God ought to fear the very breath and exhalation of the Lord’s nose, such is his great power and might. How great thou art!
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed:
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art! How Great Thou Art
“Holy, Holy, Holy!”
Do you see the question in verse 11? Recall what Moses was asking in chapter 3: “Who should I say has sent me to you?” Then, in chapter 5, Pharaoh asks the question, “Who is the Lord?” Now we have the proper question: “Who is like you?” Not “Who are you?” That has been displayed for Moses, Pharaoh, and all of Israel to see. You could think of the plagues and the miracle of the Red Sea as God’s way of answering that. “You don’t know who I am. I will show you. I will explain what it means that your God is YHWH.” By the time they have seen his power unleashed, the people of God are asking a different question: “Who is like you among all the gods?” This is just a way of saying that there is no one like YHWH—not among the angels, kings, rulers of this earth, Supreme Court justices, presidents, candidates, or prime ministers; not among all of the supposed gods and goddesses of the nations. “Who is like you?” Answer: No one.
As I was reading and praying through this this week, I wrote down one of my very first thoughts on my notepad: “Certainly, our God is too small.” Let me clarify. Our perception of God is too small. Everyone in this room, myself included, thinks of a God who is too small. No matter how exalted he is, or how many good confessions, catechisms, and great big God theology books you’ve read, your view is undoubtedly too small. No one will stand before God now or in eternity and come to the conclusion, “Eh”. No one will ever think, “Well, that was a little disappointing. That wasn’t quite what I thought.” All throughout Scripture, when someone comes face to face with God, they immediately come face to face with the ground. There’s fear and awe.
You might wonder why verse 11 says, “Who is like you, majestic in holiness”. Shouldn’t it say, “sovereign in power and mighty in strength”? That’s what we’re talking about. Well, that’s true, but what is holiness? To be holy is, by definition, to be set apart. It means to be fundamentally unique. God stretched out his right hand, through Moses’ hand, and the earth swallowed up the Egyptians. I don’t know of a god like this. There’s no other god who saves his people like this. No god of all the earth is like this. He is majestic in holiness because there is none like him.
He saved his people at the dawn’s early light. Did you notice that in Exodus 14:27? Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and it returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. Early in the morning we shall sing our praise to thee. Holy, holy, holy.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity! Holy, Holy, Holy
“All Praise to God Who Reigns Above”
We have seen testimony of his wrath and holiness. Now we see his steadfast love toward the redeemed. When something is redeemed, its ownership changes. They went from being slaves of the Egyptian tyrant to fully realized servants of the living God. They were slaves no more. “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!” Do you understand, Christian? Your ownership has changed.
My six-year-old has been playing this game. I don’t know how he decided to start playing it, but he’ll ask me “Would you rather” questions. About two weeks ago, he said, “Would you rather be the richest person in the world or be a dad?” And I thought, “Oh, that’s very sweet.” “Son, they’re the same thing. But I’d rather be a dad.” But then he said, “Well, would you rather be the richest person in the world or have 100 massage chairs?” And then yesterday he asked—and I don’t really understand it—“Would you rather be a slave or live in the church?” I thought, “Well, I almost live in the church already. I think I’d rather live in the church.” My other son said, “The church! It’s huge! We could play hide-and-seek. Of course you’d live in the church. You don’t want to be a slave. Who wants to be a slave?”
Do you remember when you were a slave to sin? Perhaps you’ve known Christ ever since you can remember. Even so, there was a time when God worked sovereignly to regenerate your heart. Apart from that working of the Spirit, each of us would be slaves to sin in ever-increasing wickedness. But we have been redeemed. This fourth stanza goes on to recount all that God will do.
There is a translation issue in verses 13-18. In the ESV, the verbs are rendered past perfect: ‘have led’, ‘have guided’, ‘have heard’, ‘have seized’. If you read the NIV, it renders them in the future tense: ‘will guide’, ‘will hear’, ‘will grip’. Grammatically, the ESV is right, but the NIV is trying to show that the things being talked about are future occurrences. They reference when God will bring his people into the Promised Land.
This way of speaking is sometimes called the prophetic perfect, because it uses past tense verbs to describe what is yet to take place. It’s spoken from the perspective of the future that the prophet knows will happen. Moses, inspired by God, can look back at the nations and their fear and trembling as the Israelites had to pass by them into the Promised Land and dwell there in God’s house. Our God talks about things that will happen as if they have already happened, because that’s how certain it is that they are going to happen. Such is his great power. He will give his people a home. He will dwell with them as his people. He will forever reign with and over his people. This will make all the other peoples of the earth tremble.
We actually have the third passover here. Did you notice the language in verse 16? The first Passover, of course, is the tenth plague in Exodus 12. Isaiah 51:10 says that the Red Sea was the passing over of the redeemed. Now, in verse 16, there’s a third Passover: they will enter the Promised Land having passed over their enemies. It’s not because they are mighty, but because their God is mighty to save. The song ends: “The Lord will reign forever and ever.”
The eternal reign of our God is great news for us and bad news for all the would-be Pharaohs of the world. All the presidents, Prime Ministers, and potentates of time who think that they can elevate themselves above this God of the universe—their reign is limited. Four years. Eight years. Perhaps a lifetime. But our God reigns forever and ever.
All praise to God, who reigns above,
The God of all creation,
The God of wonders, power, and love,
The God of our salvation!
With healing balm my soul He fills,
The God who every sorrow stills—
To God all praise and glory!
The Lord forsaketh not His flock,
His chosen generation;
He is their Refuge and their Rock,
Their Peace and their Salvation.
As with a mother’s tender hand He leads
His own, His chosen band—
To God all praise and glory! To God All Praise and Glory
I mentioned some of the many songs in the Bible. One I didn’t mention is in Revelation 15.
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” Revelation 15:2-4
The Bible has a lot of different people singing different things—but in another sense, there is really only one song. The Song of Moses is called the Song of the Lamb. They are one and the same. Both praise God for his great acts of judgment, his fearful holiness, his righteousness revealed, and the salvation he works on behalf of his redeemed people at the Red Sea. There was singing in heaven, by the glassy sea, at creation. The Lord tells Job that when he laid the foundations of the earth, the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy. All the angels sang for joy at the birth of Jesus. We have songs from Simeon, Zechariah, and Mary. Now we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to one another. The drama of redemptive history is actually a musical.
Will you join the chorus? Will you sing the song of the redeemed? Notice what Moses said in verse 2: “The Lord is my strength and my song…” What are you singing about these days? I’m not shaming you for having non-Christian music on your iPhone. I have those too. But what do you sing about when you’re free to sing about whatever you want to? You may know the national anthem. What is your personal anthem? Sing about the Red Sea. Sing about the glassy sea. Sing about God’s justice. Sing about his power, might, and salvation. Sing about the cross and the empty tomb. Sing now. Sing on Sunday. Sing later. Never stop singing. Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty. That is something to sing about.
Let’s pray. O Father in heaven, we will respond in song in a few moments, but first it is appropriate that we respond by coming to the table where you sing over us. O Lord, thank you for your great acts of redemption. Thank you for all you have done for your people. Give us strength, faith, and a voice to sing. In Jesus’ name, amen.