CDPCKL · The Song Beside the Sea (Exodus 15:1-21)

The Song Beside the Sea (Exodus 15:1-21)

Well, here we are, in a season of rest between crises. The Covid pandemic is over, the Ukraine situation has not yet turned into World War III, and so, you know: things right now are actually pretty good — especially compared with last year at this time. And maybe they are pretty good compared to what will be happening next year at this time — who knows, right? 

I don’t know how it is for you, but I often do not appreciate the better times until they are past. Often the journey of life feels like nothing but lessons in crisis management. If I am not in a crisis now, then I am either recovering from the last crisis or preparing for the next one. First there is the slavery of high-school, but once you graduate do you get a chance to rest? No, off we go to college, then uni. Then there’s supposed to be a career, right? Not to mention marriage, which is one kind of crisis, followed by children, which are a series of crises all by themselves. And by the time you’ve more or less got your kids sorted out, your parents are old enough to be like children again — does it never end? 

We live lives without rest — and in our modern world we live lives that are increasingly without a rhythm of any kind. In centuries past, when 99% of people were farmers or shepherds, life was really hard work! but at least there were seasons to the year: times of intense labor followed by seasons of waiting. And those seasons of waiting were often times of celebration. 

We modern people do not do this very well anymore. For us there is no time to waste; we have got to seize the next opportunity, and the next, and the next, so we don’t get left behind and miss out on preparing ourselves for the next crisis, whatever that is going to be — 

So today we are going to pause in our headlong rush through the Book of Exodus, and join the people of Israel as they stop to rest and enjoy this moment of peace between crises. They do not know what is going to happen next, but they do know what just happened! 

And it was amazing! After generations of slavery, and then after watching months of economic and ecological disasters grind the Egyptian empire down into dust, now they have escaped, well and truly — and in the process they have just seen the greatest army in the world utterly destroyed. 

And if it was us, we would already be rushing off into the wilderness. We would watch the waters close, we would see the corpses washing up dead on the shore, maybe we might have a moment of silence…and then, “Welp, this economy is not going to drive itself! Come on, everybody: back to work!” Right? 

But instead of doing that, Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: 

I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. 

[2] “The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. [3] The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. [4] Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. [5] The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. [6] Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy. 

[7] “In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you. You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble. [8] By the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up. The surging waters stood up like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea. [9] The enemy boasted, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them. I will divide the spoils; I will gorge myself on them. I will draw my sword and my hand will destroy them.’ [10] But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters. [11] Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? [12] You stretch out your right hand, and the earth swallows your enemies.” 

Now, this is a song. This is poetry. And a song, a poem, is a bit like a joke: it is meant to be experienced. It is meant to result in an emotional reaction. If I have to explain a joke to you, it means the joke did not work; explaining a joke usually ruins the joke, unless the explanation itself manages to be funny. Poetry — especially musical poetry — works the same way. If you don’t “get” it, you don’t get it, and trying to explain the song may actually kill it completely. 

If there does need to be an explanation — because a song is so ancient and so far away from our situation — then that explanation really needs to contain the same emotion as the song, providing just enough background information to help the listener experience the song as it was meant to be. 

But here I think we already have all the background information we need. If you have been reading with us through the Book of Exodus over the last weeks then you know what just happened, and this needs no explanation! It is all right here: The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” 

Brothers and sisters, have you ever experienced that? Have you ever been delivered from a darkness so complete that you had given up all hope? Has your team ever won against incredible odds? Have you ever seen the glorious dawn after the longest night of your life — a sunrise so beautiful that you had to stop and just worship? 

I hope so. Because if you have not, then you will not “get” this song, no matter how thoroughly it is explained. 

This is a song of victory. This is a song about how God transforms unbelief into disbelief, how we go from, “I do not believe it can happen,” to, “I cannot believe that just happened!” 

But Moses’ song here does not just look back at what just happened; it also looks forward to what is going to happen: 

[13] “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. [14] The nations will hear and tremble; anguish will grip the people of Philistia. [15] The chiefs of Edom will be terrified, the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling, the people of Canaan will melt away; [16] terror and dread will fall on them. By the power of your arm they will be as still as a stone—until your people pass by, Lord, until the people you bought pass by. 

[17] “You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established. 

[18] “The Lord reigns for ever and ever.” 

And what more can we say about this that we have not already said? The Book of Exodus is all about the journey of God’s people from the land of rivers, through the sea, across the wilderness to the garden on the mountain of the Lord. 

But we often forget this, don’t we? When we think about the Exodus, our automatic focus is on the exodus from slavery — but that is just the first 15 chapters of the book! We still have 25 more chapters to go. What are the 25 chapters about? They are all about the exodus to the mountain of worship. 

Only the first third of this book is about the exodus from slavery; most of it is about the exodus to the mountain. 

So another purpose of this song beside the sea here is to turn our eyes away from Egypt and forward to the promised mountain: we are now ready for the rest of the story. Parts 1 and 2 are now closed; it is time to move on to Parts 3 and 4. 

But before we do that, Moses closes with a little summary: 

[19] When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. [20] Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. [21] Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” 

And that’s it, really; all the first 14 chapters of Exodus summarized in a single sentence: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” 

There is a sense in which, after a crisis is resolved, the details fade away and all we remember is that it ended. In another place, scripture talks about how a woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. And let me ask you: how well do you remember the details of the pandemic? What did we do with all the endless hours of lockdown? I can remember, but also: I can’t really remember. In the years to come, when the next generations ask us what was the pandemic like, all we’ll be able to say is, “It was bad. But it’s over now.” 

In the same way, these closing sentences are Moses’ summary of 400 years of slavery, at least two generations of attempted genocide, and months of economic and ecological judgements: in the end, a song is all that remains of that darkness. 


And now it is time for us to ask: what are we supposed to learn from this? How are we to apply this Song Beside the Sea to our lives? Is this relevant to us? 

Well, the best way to answer that question is by going back and summarizing the Book of Exodus for ourselves. 

So: if you recall, Part 1 of Exodus began with a genealogy, and it ended with a genealogy. And from this we learned that Identity is a major theme of Part 1. Part 1 asked the questions: who is God? And who are God’s people? 

Then Part 2 began with God’s staff turning into a giant serpent and swallowing up all of the bomoh’s staves, which they had turned into serpents. And we realized then that this strange miracle was actually a prophecy about how the God who once brought creation out of chaos in the beginning was going to bring a new creation out of Egypt. So we knew right at the beginning of Part 2 that New Creation was going to be a major theme of the section. 

Well, Part 2 has just ended with the Sea swallowing up all of Pharaoh’s army. Moses makes his point explicitly right here in verse 12: “You stretch out your right hand, and the earth swallows your enemies.” In the whole Book of Exodus, Moses only uses the word “swallow” two times: once when Aaron’s staff swallows the bomohs’, and here. So we are supposed to connect the two passages and realize that this moment is the fulfillment of God’s prophecy back in Chapter 7 — and that this moment is also a prophecy that it is going to happen again: one day there will be another judgement in which the earth will swallow up the enemies of God, while God’s children are led through the valley of death to become a completely new creation. 

And we have also discovered, as we read together through Part 2, that even as Part 2 focused on an un-creation leading to a re-creation, Part 2 was also beginning to answer the questions asked by Part 1: who is God? And who are God’s people? Now, as Part 2 comes to a close, we know that God is the Covenant-Keeping Lord who will surely judge everyone who rejects him, but will deliver everyone who cries out to him for mercy. And now we know that God’s people are all those who have chosen to be baptized into God’s Messiah by following him through the waters of death to new life. 

But, of course, for those of us who want to become God’s people, these discoveries raised an important question: who is God’s Messiah for us? Moses is long since dead; we are not Israelites. How can we, who are foreigners to the covenants of the promise, join God’s people? 

Well, fairly early on in Part 1, we realized that the moments of Moses’ life were actually laying down a pattern — a “groove” (to use a musical term univerally favoured by drummers and bassists) — Moses’ life was laying down the groove that would allow us to recognize the rhythm of God’s final Messiah when he arrived. 

Moses’ life began with a faithful woman who submitted to God’s will: she preserved the life of her son at great cost to herself. In the process, Moses was given back into the hands of God, symbolically baptized in the waters of the Nile river: the waters of death, from which God redeemed him. After that proto-baptism, Moses was driven into the wilderness where he was tested for 40 years. After his testing, he returned to his people and performed mighty acts of judgement and mercy, making a distinction between those who were destined to be his people and those who were not. And now he has just led his people through a real baptism, the final passage through death that the proto-baptism was pointing forward to. And God has redeemed him from that death — and all who followed him — thus proving that Moses really is God’s chosen messiah, destined to lead God’s chosen people through the wilderness to the mountain on the other side. 

And if you have been travelling with us through the Book of Exodus from those earliest days, then you already know that that pattern of Moses’ life was perfected and completed in the pattern of Jesus’ life: 

Jesus’ earthly life also began with a faithful woman who submitted to God’s will: she preserved the life of her son at great cost to herself, since she was an unmarried virgin at the time. And just like Moses’ mother, Jesus’ mother Mary also gave him back to God when he was an infant, circumcising him on the eighth day according to the ancient law. And that circumcision was also a kind of proto-baptism pointing forward to the greater baptism to come: the day when the prophet John anointed Jesus king and Messiah by pouring clean water on him from the Jordan river, just as the prophet Samuel once anointed David king and messiah by pouring oil on him. After that proto-baptism in the river Jordan, Jesus was driven into the wilderness where he was tested for 40 days. After his testing, he returned to his people and performed mighty acts of judgement and mercy, making a distinction between those who were destined to be his people and those who were not. And then he entered into the real baptism, the final passage through death that his proto-baptism had also been pointing forward to. But God resurrected him from that death — along with everyone who chooses to follow him into that baptism — thus proving that Jesus really is God’s chosen Messiah, destined to lead God’s chosen people through the wilderness of this world to the mountain that stands at the end of the earth. 

So we find that our very important question has been answered: Jesus is God’s Messiah for us. We who are foreigners to the covenants of the promise get to join God’s people by joining Jesus in his baptism. And we talked about this in detail last week. 

So as we ask ourselves how to apply this Song Beside the Sea to our lives, it is helpful to realize that, in a sense, these first 15 chapters of Exodus are the entire story of the Gospels as they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you go online, you’ll see that the title of our first sermon in Exodus is “The Gospel According to St. Moses”, and this is why: the plot of the Book of Exodus so far is a preview of the plot of the Gospels in the New Testament. Exodus begins with the genealogy of the messiah, the birth of the messiah, the testing of the messiah, and ends here with the death and resurrection of the messiah and the birth of the Church, just like the four New Testament gospels. Which suggests that the rest of Exodus will be like the Book of Acts: it will tell the story of how the Church begins its journey across the wilderness of the world, maturing as she goes. 

In which case, we could see this song here as a preview of the quiet moments between Jesus’ resurrection at the end of the Gospels and the beginning of Acts. For instance, Luke — at the very end of his book — tells us that when the disciples first saw Jesus alive again, they could not believe it because of joy and amazement. And on the day he was taken up into heaven, we are told that they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. 

So, if you are here today and you do not yet belong to God’s people, then know for certain that you are a slave to the tyrants of this world, bound in the darkness of their serpentine media blackout that keeps turning you the wrong way in your search for freedom. But know also that the Heavenly Father who created you has broken through that blackout: there is a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. That light is Jesus Christ, and he stands ready to lead you out of crisis and give you rest. And all you have to do is believe in Jesus’ name, repent of the sins you have committed in your slavery, and be baptized. 

Now, if you are new here you might be wondering: what does it mean to ”believe in Jesus’ name?” 

Basically, to “believe in Jesus’ name” means to believe in Jesus’ reputation, to believe in his character. He has promised that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. The only question we have to answer is this: do I believe Jesus is a liar? Or do I believe he is telling the truth? 

And we actually answer these sorts of faith-based questions every day. When my friend says, “Take a seat!” I am not conscious of it, but really I am asking myself, “Do I believe in my friend’s good character? When I sit down will the chair hold me up, or has he set me up with a weak chair as a prank?” In the same way, when we were children and mom called us to dinner, before we ate really we were asking, “Do I believe my mom loves me? If I eat, will I be poisoned, or will I be nourished?” And how we answer these questions is revealed in how we respond. If I don’t trust my mom, I don’t eat. If I do trust my friend, I sit down. 

It is the same way with our belief in Jesus’ name. He said he will forgive our sins if we ask him to. All you have to do is decide whether you believe him. And if you do, then: act by repenting, confessing, asking for forgiveness, and following Jesus through the waters of baptism. 

But now what about the rest of us who are baptized? How are we to apply this Song to our lives? 

Well, for one thing, we can pause…and rest in the reality of this peace we enjoy here in the wilderness, between the two great crises at the beginning and the end of our age: 

Jesus passed through the waters of death almost 2000 years ago, and for those of us who are baptized into Christ, that closed the road behind us. We have nothing to fear: the great serpentine dragon that once enslaved us has been fatally wounded and cast into the abyss, he is not going to catch up to us and enslave us again. 

That was the crisis that began this age we live in now, and it is right for us to join Moses’ song in looking back in celebration of our deliverance. 

But there is also a crisis to come, a crisis that will bring an end to this age and launch the final, eternal age of heaven and earth. And the Book of Revelation — the last book of our bible — describes that last crisis as another, greater exodus, with even greater acts of God’s judgement, and the final greatest crossing of the sea when Jesus’ Church descends all together into the valley of the shadow of death and rises triumphant on the other side. And John, the writer of Revelation, makes this connection explicit when he says this: “Then I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb.” 

So what this means is that, when we pause so we can join in singing this Song Beside the Sea, we are not just pointing backwards to Jesus’ victory over Satan on the cross 2000 years ago, we are also acting out a preview of the day when we will stand on the shores between the sea and the mountain and sing God’s completed victory. Just as Egypt was swallowed in Moses’ exodus, so also one day all the rebellious nations of the earth will be swallowed in Jesus’ exodus — and after that there will no longer be any sea, but only a mountain that will fill the earth with peace. 

It is common for us, as Christians, to focus a lot of attention on what our Saviour has delivered us from: slavery and sin and death. And we are right to do so. But we must not lose sight of what Jesus is delivering us to. When we think about Jesus’ great exodus, our automatic focus is on the exodus from slavery — but that is just the first four books of the New Testament, the four gospels! There are 23 more books that follow. What are those 23 books about? They are all about the Church’s exodus to the mountain of worship. 

So it is helpful for us to realize that the first 15 Chapters of Exodus preview and contain the story of the four gospels. But we also need to realize that the first 15 chapters also preview and contain the rest of the history of our age, right up to our resurrection. These Israelites singing beside the sea are just a shadowy preview of the joy we will experience in the moments after we find ourselves made whole for the first and last time. 

And that is when these words of Moses’ song will be fulfilled: “In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” The sea will give up the dead that are in it, and death and Hades will give up the dead that are in them; all the rebellious dead of all the rebellious nations will be brought before God’s judgement throne; we will see them standing like the living dead on the shore of the sea of fire. And then, as Moses’ song says: the nations will hear us coming and tremble; anguish will grip them, terror and dread will fall on them. By the power of Jesus’ arm they will be as still as a stone—until we have passed by, until the people Jesus bought have passed by on our way to our eternal home. 

Brothers and sisters, in a very real way our age is the age of rest between crises. The lesser sea is closed behind us; a greater sea lies ready to be opened ahead, and so really all we ought to do in these moments is stand and sing this Song Beside the Sea. 

In light of this truth, then, this really is our application for today: we need to pause and rest more often. We need to slow down, celebrate what is past, and rejoice in what is still to come. 

And that is what we are doing here, isn’t it! This is our seven-day rhythm of rest, the one sacred rhythm ordained by the Heavenly Father who made us, where once a week we come together to stand and sing and declare once again who we are and where we are going. 

So let’s close with a song now. 

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