Israel’s Song, pt. 1
by Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
1Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and spoke, saying: “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! 2The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.”
Exodus 15 contains the first song recorded in Scripture. Well has it been said, “It is presumably the oldest poem in the world, and in sublimity of conception and grandeur of expression, it is unsurpassed by anything that has been written since. It might almost be said that poetry here sprang full-grown from the heart of Moses, even as heathen mythology fables Minerva come full-armed from the brain of Jupiter. Long before the ballads of Homer were sung through the streets of the Grecian cities, or the foundation of the Seven-hilled metropolis of the ancient world was laid by the banks of the Tiber, this matchless ode, in comparison with which Pindar is tame, was chanted by the leader of the emancipated Hebrews on the Red Sea shore; and yet we have in it no polytheism, no foolish mythological story concerning gods and goddesses, no gilding of immorality, no glorification of mere force; but, instead, the firmest recognition of the personality, the supremacy, the holiness, the retributive rectitude of God. How shall we account for all of this? If we admit the Divine legation and inspiration of Moses, all is plain; if we deny that, we have in the very existence of this Song, a hopeless and insoluble enigma. Here is a literary miracle, as great as the physical sign of the parting of the Sea. When you see a boulder of immense size, and of a different sort of stone from those surrounding it, lying in a valley, you immediately conclude that it has been brought hither by glacier action many, many ages ago. But here is a boulder-stone of poetry, standing all alone in the Egyptian age, and differing entirely in its character from the sacred hymns either of Egypt or of India. Where did it come from? Let the rationalist furnish his reply; for me it is a boulder from the Horeb height whereon Moses communed with the great I AM — when he saw the bush that burned but yet was not consumed — and left here as at once a witness to his inspiration, and the nations’ gratitude” (W. M. Taylor, “Moses the Law-giver”).
This first Song of Scripture has been rightly designated the Song of Redemption, for it proceeded from the hearts of a redeemed people. Now there are two great elements in redemption, two parts to it. We may say: redemption is by purchase and by power. Redemption therefore differs from ransoming, though they are frequently confounded. Ransoming is but a part of redemption. The two are clearly distinguished in Scripture. Thus, in Hosea 13:14, the Lord Jesus by the Spirit of Prophecy declares, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.” And again we read, “For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he” (Jeremiah 31:11). So in Ephesians 1:14 we read, “which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” Ransoming is the payment of the price; redemption, in the full sense, is the deliverance of the persons for whom the price was paid. It is the latter which is the all-important item. Of what use is the ransom if the captive be not released? Without actual emancipation there will be no song of praise. Who would ever thank a ransomer that left him in bondage? The Greek word for “redemption” is rendered “deliverance” in Hebrews 11:35 — “And others were tortured not accepting deliverance.” “Not accepting deliverance” means release from their affliction, i.e., not accepting it on the terms of their persecutors, namely, upon condition of apostasy. The twofold nature of redemption is the key to that wondrous and glorious vision described in Revelation 5. The “book” there, is the Redeemer’s title deeds to the earth. Hence His dual character; “Lamb” — the Purchaser; “Lion” — the powerful Emancipator.
On the Passover-night, Israel was secured from the doom of the Egyptians; at the Red Sea they were delivered from the power of the Egyptians. Thus delivered (“redeemed”), they sang. It is only a redeemed people, conscious of their deliverance that can really praise Jehovah, the Deliverer. Not only is worship impossible for those yet dead in trespasses and sins, but intelligent worship cannot be rendered by professing Christians who are in doubt as to their standing before God. And necessarily so. Praise and joy are essential elements of worship; but how can those who question their acceptance in the Beloved, who are not certain whether they would go to heaven or hell should they die this moment, — how could such be joyful and thankful? Impossible! Uncertainty and doubt beget fear and distrust, and not gladness and adoration. There is a very striking word in Psalm 106:12 which throws light on Exodus 15:1 — “Then believed they His words; they sang His praise.”
“Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord” (15:1). “Then.” When? When “the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore” (14:30). A close parallel is met with in the book of Judges. At the close of the 4th chapter we read, “So God subdued on that day Jabin the King of Canaan before the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan” (vv. 23, 24). What is the immediate sequel to this deliverance of Israel from Jabin? This: “then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying, Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel” (5:1). An even more blessed example is furnished in Isaiah. The 53rd chapter of this prophecy (in its dispensational application) contains the confession of the Jewish remnant at the close of the Tribulation period. Then will their eyes be opened to see that the One whom their nation “despised and rejected” was, in truth, the Sin-Bearer, the Savior. Once their faith lays hold of this, once they have come under the virtue of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, everything is altered. The very first word of Isaiah 54 is, “Sing O barren thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing.”
“Then sang Moses and the children of Israel” (vs. 1). What a contrast is this from what was before us in the earlier chapters! While in the house of bondage no joyful strains were upon the lips of the Hebrews. Instead, we read that they “sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried.... and God heard their groaning” (Ex. 2:23). But now their sighing gives place to singing; their groans to praising. They are occupied no longer with themselves, but with the Lord. And what had produced this startling change? Two things: the blood of the Lamb, and the power of the Lord. It is highly significant, and in full accord with what we have said above, that we never read in Scripture of angels “singing.” In Job 38:7 they are presented as “shouting,” and in Luke 2:13 they are seen “praising” God, while in Revelation 5:11, 12 we hear them saying, “Worthy is the Lamb.” Only the redeemed “sing!” “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord.” And what did they sing about? Their song was entirely about Jehovah. They not only sang unto the Lord, but they sang about Him! It was all concerning Himself, and nothing about themselves. The word “Lord” occurs no less than twelve times within eighteen verses! The pronouns “He,” “Him,” “Thy,” “Thou,” and “Thee” are found thirty-three times!! How significant and how searching is this! How entirely different from modern hymnology! So many hymns today (if “hymns” they deserve to be called) are full of maudlin sentimentality, instead of Divine adoration. They announce our love to God instead of His for us. They recount our experiences, instead of His mercies. They tell more of human attainments, instead of Christ’s Atonement. ’Tis a sad index of our low state of spirituality! Different far was this Song of Moses and Israel: “I will exalt Him” (v. 3), sums it all up. “I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea” (v. 1).
How many there are who imagine that the first thing for which we should praise God is our own blessing, what He has done for us! But while that is indeed the natural order, it is not the supernatural. Where the Spirit of God is fully in control, He always draws out the heart unto God. It was so here. So much was self forgotten, the Deliverer alone was seen. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34), and where the heart is really occupied with the Lord, the mouth will tell forth His praises. “The Lord is my strength and song.” Beautiful and blessed was this first note struck by God’s redeemed. O that our hearts were so set upon things above that He might be the constant theme of our praise — “singing and making melody in your hearts unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). “I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” The theme of this song is what the Lord had done: He had delivered His people and destroyed their enemies. Israel began by magnifying the Lord, because in overthrowing the strength of Egypt, He had glorified Himself. This is repeated in various forms: “Thy right hand O Lord, is become glorious in power: Thy right hand, O Lord, bath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of Thine excellency Thou hast overthrown them that rose up against Thee” (vv. 6, 7). Joy is the spontaneous overflowing of a heart which is occupied with the person and work of the Lord, it ought to be a continuous thing — “Rejoice in the Lord always” — in the Lord, not in your experiences nor circumstances; “and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
“The Lord is my strength and song” (v. 2). The connecting of these two things is significant. Divine strength and spiritual song are inseparable. Said Nehemiah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). Just as assurance leads to rejoicing, so rejoicing is essential for practical holiness. Just in proportion as we are rejoicing in the Lord shall we have power for our walk.
“And He is become my salvation” (v. 2). Not until now could Israel, really, say this. Not until they had been brought right out of the Enemy’s land and their foes had been rendered powerless by death, could Israel sing of salvation. It is a very striking thing that never once is a believer found saying this in the book of Genesis. Not that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, were not saved; truly they were, but the Holy Spirit designedly reserved this confession for the book which treats of “Redemption.” And even here we do not find it until the Red Sea is reached. In 14:13 Moses said, “Fear ye not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you today.” And now Jehovah had “shown” it to them, and they can exclaim, “The Lord is become my salvation.” “He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation” (v. 2). Beautiful is this. A spirit of true devotion is here expressed. An “habitation” is a dwelling-place. It was Jehovah’s presence in their midst that their hearts desired. And is it not ever thus with the Lord’s redeemed — to enjoy fellowship with the One who has saved us! True, it is our happy privilege to enjoy communion with the Lord even now, but nevertheless the soul pants for the time when everything that hinders and spoils our fellowship will be forever removed — “Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Blessed beyond words will be the full realization of our hope. Then shall it be said, “Behold the Tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them. and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:3, 4).
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