With the end of the Egyptian bondage over the awesome nature of the catastrophic victory dawned on the Hebrews. The author records an eyewitness detail that grips the imagination. “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” (Exodus 14:30) The first reaction of the Hebrews was of awe. Not only did they see the dead Egyptians but they realized the nature of the event that had brought it to pass. The Hebrews saw the great work that the Lord had done. The Hebrews stood in holy terror before the mighty power of their God. God had done what He had promised. Out of this their faith grew in His redemptive power, for they “they believed in the LORD.” As a part of their faith in God, a new trust was placed in the man whom God had sent. As the awe and terror of this experience began to wear off it was replaced with overwhelming joy. At last they were free. The gratitude they felt for their mighty God caused them to burst forth in song. The song they sang was of great poetry toward their mighty God. The overwhelming victory they had just witnessed produced great emotions, and great emotions produce great poetry. As we read the introductory words of the song of Miriam, there was an impression that this was the first song to be sung. The song of Miriam accompanied by dancing, led the people in an exuberant celebration “Sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted”
More stately but no less joyous was the song of Moses. Beginning with the same words as Miriam’s song, it proceeds with a theological statement of Gods nature “The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will extol Him. The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name,” continues through a recounting of the great deliverance, (Verses 4-10) restates God’s unique nature, (Verses 11-12) moves to a statement of God’s future acts, (Verses 13-17) and concludes with a final affirmation of faith. (Verse 18)
There are three major ideas that stand out in this majestic hymn of victory. First, there was the realization and affirmation that the deliverance over Pharaoh was the result of God’s act. The wind may have accomplished it, but it was God who did it. Israel looked at the event at the sea and did not attempt to explain it away by appeals to secondary causes; they simply saw God at work.
Second, they now had a magnificent hope for the future. Building on the acts of God in the past, they placed their faith in Him to complete His purposes to bring them in and plant them in the place that He had promised. We will see that their faith and confidence will not always be strong. But at this moment of God’s victory, they could look forward confidently to future victories.
Third, the ideas of God’s nature are most profound in the hymn. (Verses 2-3, 11-12, 18) The hymn is bold in its statement that God was the source of strength, song, and salvation in this context referred to a military and physical deliverance. The Bible soon enlarges this idea to include spiritual deliverance as well. The hymn also lays claim to the faith that the God of their heritage, “My father’s God,” had become real to them, “This is my God.” Men do not come to believe God through argument but through historical experiences. We must meet Him to believe Him. One dimension we sometimes miss is God is “The LORD is a warrior.” In the ancient times people saw God’s visible power in the conquest of His enemies. Not until later did they realize that the greatest enemy was sin and that the greatest power was love.
“Who is like You among the gods, O LORD?” We have a warning here not to read all of our New Testament faith back into the Old Testament. In this time of Israel’s pilgrimage of faith, they did not believe in monotheism (one God only) but in monolatry (only one God for them). The ancient peoples of their day worshiped many gods. Israel had not yet followed far enough in their faith experience to cast away the concept of other gods. For them it was a major step forward to believe that their God was different from all the others and that He was the only one for them.
The most profound statement of faith in this hymn is in the concluding verse. “The LORD shall reign forever and ever.” The use of the word reign clearly indicates recognition that Yahweh was king. Egypt had their Pharaoh. Israel had Yahweh. Further this admission of His kingship was an acknowledgement of submission to His kingly authority. This glorious shout of faith and confidence serves as the foundation of Israel’s highest faith throughout her history. This was also picked up by the author of Revelation, in his triumphant cry: “Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15) This song of victory has become the foundation of confidant faith.
We cannot be exactly sure of the route that the Hebrews took in the wilderness. There are some suggested locations of the wilderness of Shur and the oases of Marah and of Elim. The route the Hebrews took likely lay somewhere along the western edge of the Sinai Peninsula.
The Hebrew’s were traveling with their flocks and herds, as well as with their children. A journey of three days would probably been between thirty and forty-five miles. It may be significant that Moses had said they wanted to go a three days journey to serve God. In actual fact, when they had covered this distance they turned against Moses. Such is the way of human faith.
The word “Marah” means bitter and was descriptive of the water there. Desert oasis was often named for the springs or wells that were there, as the water was the central feature. The Israelites seeking for an abundant water supply quickly turned against Moses. Moses took his difficulties to God and God “showed him a tree” which was able to make the bitter water sweet. It is a possibility that Moses having spent a large portion of his life shepherding the flock of Jethro in similar situations, was familiar with a variety of tree that had such qualities. Modern Arabs say there are such trees. If this is the case, the significant event here would be that God caused Moses to find the necessary tree. It is also possible that here was some form of supernatural event. Either way, Moses and Israel were sure that God had delivered them.
This was an opportunity for proving or testing Israel. Their grumbling was a clear indication of just how badly they had failed the test. The divine response to this experience was “a statute and an ordinance” commanding Israel to truest and obey. The message from God was that if Israel would remain loyal and faithful they would not suffer the plagues that Egypt suffered. Furthermore, they would discover that God was their healer. When difficulties came they would find health from God.
God dealt gently with the Israelites in this first crisis in the wilderness. They failed their test but were mercifully delivered. The “twelve springs of water and seventy date palms” at Elim showed that following God’s deliverance, they found an abundant supply of life’s necessities.