1. Songs in scripture…
I want to begin by reading some comments made on the back of a study of what is often called The Song of the Sea.
Singing has universal appeal. The Creator made us that way. We sing for different reasons. Sometimes we are happy, other times miserable. Sometimes we know why we sing, other times it just comes out. We sing to remember good times and to take our minds off bad times. Singing changes our moods as well as simply reflecting them. What we sing can have a tremendous influence in how we subsequently think or behave. Song can enter portals of our being that prose and logic cannot. The capacity to sing and to react to song is part of the human experience, so much so that without it, we would truly be less than human.”
[The songs of scripture] give us a glimpse of who God is and, therefore, what our proper stance toward him should be.
We do not sing in worship to reflect our moods any more than our sermons and Sunday school lessons should reflect our pet theories on the gospel. Rather, quite bluntly, we sing in an effort to take us away from what we think and draw us toward what we ought to think, feel, experience. We sing to create a mood more than to reflect one.
This is why the content of what we sing is so vital. Our songs are, like the songs of the Bible, reminders of who God is and what he has done. This is not to say that only one type of song fits this description; for example, the ‘classic’ hymns of the church. To argue as I have done is not to close off discussion on the subject because the issue is now settled. Rather, the discussion can truly be opened when we have all agreed at the outset that, like the biblical examples, who we sing to and what we sing about is a matter worthy of constant reflection and spiritual energy. (Peter Enns, Exodus, NIVAC)
The points being made there are extremely important and very helpfully put. The writer is not being small-minded but is genuinely concerned for the health of the church and the glory of God.
We need to take on board the sheer variety of songs that are found in the Bible – no one song will contain all the aspects noted. And so in a service, a wide variety of songs might be sung, in various forms.
But the point that the songs we sing don’t simply express our moods but help to shape them is of great significance. It’s what we see at Col. 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
The songs we sing teach and train us, they create and animate. Which means it is vital that we assess our songs in the light of the songs of scripture – and those songs, even where they focus on the status of the singer or the feelings of the congregation, do so in the context of speaking about the Lord – who he is, what he has done.
And that, of course, is just what we need. We need our songs not simply to express how we feel but to challenge and to shape our thinking so that our feelings are re-ordered and our emotions purified.
2. Focus of this song: the LORD is a warrior
Now, when we come to look at this song in all its detail, it is quite clear that its focus is resolutely set on the Lord and in particular on the Lord as a warrior (v.3).
Here is a theme that runs right throughout scripture, in both old and new testaments: God is a warrior and fights for his people and against his enemies. And as he does that, he gains a victory that is cosmic in its scope and that has implications for the whole creation.
i) He fights for his people The LORD takes absolute responsibility for his people and acts to rescue them. And, so, Moses and the people sing of him, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (v.2)
ii) He judges their enemies The Lord who fights for his people judges those who oppose him. And that judgement here means the death of the whole army in the waters of the Red Sea.
Now, scenes of judgement we expect to find in the Bible; God is not partial to sin, he stands against it, deliberately and resolutely. But having said that, it almost seems that there is delight in this song at the expense of the Egyptians. How can that be so?
I think it is only when we see sin and evil up close and get a sense of just how desperately wicked they are that we can understand the delight in their destruction. Pharaoh and his men had taken their stand against the Lord and so had taken their stand for sin and chaos, for evil and death. Their actions (whether consciously so or not) were set on robbing creation of its liberation from bondage and its people’s from the black night of sin. That cannot be allowed. And so the Lord acts.
iii) He gains a cosmic victory This is no local victory that the Lord wins. He is in it for the sake of the whole cosmos and so the song speaks in cosmic terms. Again we see nature working hand-in-hand with the Creator and doing his bidding. We also see a reference to the watery chaos of Gen 1:2, a deliberate link back to that beginning of creation to proclaim the cosmic dimension of what has just happened.
Israel may be a small nation and, in the grand scheme of things in the ANE world, quite insignificant. But the Lord was acting for them and against their enemies for the sake of the whole world. And as he does so, he reveals himself to be the supreme ruler of all – “Who among the gods is like you?”
In all these ways, the Lord is also with us as his people – acting to redeem us from our great foes – sin, evil and death. And he is acting in us for the sake of the whole creation. He is surely worthy of the highest and purest praise we can bring.
3. Prophetic victory
One of the questions raised about this song is when it was written. It seems to flow straight from the crossing of the sea yet the final section (from v.13) speaks of a victory over peoples yet to be encountered (the NIV’s future tense is not justified). So was the song written a long time after the event and conveniently slotted-in here?
I think what we have here is indeed a prophetic passage (as suggested by the NIV) but the form of that prophecy is indeed the past tense and for a very good reason.
Our hope as the Lord’s people is secure because of Jesus and what he has done. Similarly here, the future success of the people is certain because of what this song is all about (the LORD!) and so future victories can be spoken of as already in the past.
Our final destiny is so secure that the Bible can speak of us as already saved, even as it speaks of us being saved. There is no doubt that every Christian will arrive safely in glory because the LORD is a warrior, because Jesus died and rose again, because his love is stronger than death.
In his unfailing love, he has and does lead us as his people and leads us to “his holy dwelling” (v.13). That term is used elsewhere in the OT for the temple but even that is only an anticipation of the full reality, the Lord dwelling with his people for ever. Our place in his family and at his table is forever secured because the Lord is our strength and song and has become our salvation (v.2). It is assured because, in his death, Jesus “shattered the enemy” (v.6) and they “sank like lead in the mighty waters” (v.10). It is guaranteed because “the LORD reigns for ever and ever” (v.18).
We must sing this song and others like it. We must fill our hearts and our minds with the truth about God, about Jesus, about his Spirit, about ourselves and the world, about the present and the future. We read the truth and we must sing the truth.
In Zeph. 3:17 we’re told that the Lord “will rejoice over you with singing”; we need to ask him to catch us up into that song through his Word and by his Spirit, for his glory and our strengthening.