A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on June 3, 2018.
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)
Through a series of plagues Egypt was devastated, and God delivered Israel from slavery. Upon Israel’s absence, Pharaoh and his government realized their loss and ordered the assembly of an army of “six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them” (Ex. 14:7). The charge was led not by a commanding officer but by Pharaoh himself. The pursuit was effective as “all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army” over took Israel encamped by the Red Sea (Ex. 14:9).
At the intimidating sight of the approaching army, Israel cried out to God in fear, presuming their former slavery was better than the wrath of Pharaoh. But Moses calmed the people commanding them, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Ex. 14:13-14).
God instructed Moses to lift up his staff and stretch out his hand over the Red Sea, and with this sign the waters were parted. Israel crossed through the Red Sea miraculously walking on dry ground to the other side. Simultaneously, God established a cloud barrier between Israel and Egypt such that Pharaoh and his army could not reach Israel as they walked through the sea. Finally, as the Egyptian army reached the sea in pursuit of Israel, the mighty walls of water that stood as a corridor for Israel released, crashing into a maelstrom of militaristic impotence. Mighty Pharaoh and his army were crushed by the waters of the sea. Indeed, Moses’ words to Israel were true: There was no need to fear but to only stand firm in the Lord’s provision; the Lord fought for and saved His people. They had only to be silent.
Indeed, there is a time for silence, a lacking virtue in a noisy world. As God’s covenant people, there are precious times when we need to be silent, to be reverent, and to watch and listen to the Lord’s provision. But there are also times to respond to what we have seen and heard, to express a jubilation of the Lord’s salvation. So it was for Israel. Having witnessed the Lord’s salvation, Moses and the people of Israel began to sing! They sang a victory song of glorious testimony, religious confession, and victorious praise. In beautiful poetic expression, they sang a victory song to the Lord.
Israel’s song is not a testimony of what they have done but of what God has done on their behalf. It is the Lord, not man, who has triumphed gloriously. (How else could our glorious God triumph?) How has the Lord triumphed gloriously? Israel sings of a recurring detail of their salvation: “the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” Israel witnessed the Egyptian army’s pursuit; they witnessed the intervention of the glory cloud; they watched the destruction of the sea; they saw the dead bodies on the seashore. So, they could sing of what they had seen, what they had experienced.
Therefore, their song praises God intimately, personally. The LORD doesn’t just give me strength; He is my strength. The LORD doesn’t just give me a song; He is my song. The LORD doesn’t just save me; He is my salvation. This is healthy guidance. The LORD is not a God who is “upstairs” or “out there.” No, it’s a personal testimony: “this is my God, and I will praise him.” He is not an unknown God who I simply discovered. He is a covenant-keeping God, who is my God and “my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”
So, Israel sings a glorious testimony of their Covenant God, including His attributes and actions. As evidenced in His glorious triumph, the LORD is described as a man of war. While this politically-incorrect statement may trouble modern ears, it is the testimony of Scripture: Yahweh is a Divine Warrior! In graphic detail the prophet Isaiah describes God as putting on “righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak” (Isa. 59:17). It is the LORD who cast Pharaoh’s chariots and his host into the sea, not Israel. Because He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, even the winds and the water obey His command. As a man of war, the Lord’s power is displayed in the shattering of the Egyptian army. But this is not an isolated example. The Lord is King over all and as such His adversaries receive His fury. They are like stubble in the wind. In anthropomorphic language the Lord’s right hand is gloriously powerful and even the blast of His nostril yields His power, piling a heap of water, unharnessing the power of the heart of the sea.
Do you recall how modern technology withstood the force of hurricane Katrina? Do you remember how the most powerful military in the world contained Katrina’s power? You do not recall. You do not remember. The force of nature can be devastating. In Proverbs, Azur son of Jakeh asks, “Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know!” (Prov. 30:4). The rhetorical question deserves only this response: “the LORD is his name.” Israel sang a glorious testimony of the Lord’s salvation, and they also sang of contrasting religious confessions.
Within this song we witness two religious confessions: one of the false religion of man and the other of the true religion of God. Having witnessed the devastating signs and wonders of the Lord, Pharaoh’s hardened heart still boldly declared, “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.” “I…I…I…my…I…my…” If your testimony of the revelation of God is about you, about what you have done, and about what you are going to do, you have found religion! But not the true religion of God.
Just as Pharaoh’s ignorant and impotent boasts were silenced under the crushing force of the sea, so will every word of false religion be silenced on Judgment Day. “The LORD is a man of war” and Judgment Day is coming. In that day “they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives” (Isa. 59:19). In that day there will be no atheist, there will no agnostic, there will be no assortment of so-called world religions. When the Judge enters the courtroom of heaven and earth, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess to God (Rom. 14:11). There are no hardened hearts in heaven.
Israel sings of the false religion of man but also of a second religious confession; not a hardened heart confession about what I have done, nor a faith in false gods. Israel confesses, “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.” True religion is based not on the works of man but God’s provision. God displays His covenant love not for everyone but for the people of His own possession. God does not save Pharaoh and his army. He saves His chosen people, a people He redeemed from slavery. And God not only saves Israel from slavery, and from the imminent danger of an advancing army, but He also guides and strengthens them on their journey to the Promised Land.
The salvation of God’s people is not a matter of silent religion. It is a testimony to the world. Having heard of Egypt’s destruction and Israel’s salvation, the people of the surrounding nations trembled, fear seized them. Whether inhabitants, chiefs, or leaders, terror and dread fell upon them. While Israel had just exited Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, having witnessed the Lord’s miraculous work in their redemption, they could look past their enemies and look to the Promised Land. In fact, they saw their dwelling upon Zion as a dwelling place with God, a godly abode, a sanctuary. They saw their redemption and destiny as more than temporal, as the Lord’s salvation is always about more than our immediate situation. They longed to be brought and planted upon the Lord’s mountain, place, abode, and sanctuary, where the Lord will reign forever and ever.
Israel celebrated salvation from their enemy with a victory song, and in it we hear the beautiful lyrics of the gospel. In Christ alone, we too can sing, “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.” “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). As such, in Christ “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Therefore, we are “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10), longing for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:6). The victory song of ancient Israel is a victory song for Israel, Christ’s Church, today. Our song is one of victorious praise.
Having concluded their corporate song, Miriam led the women in the congregation with tambourine in hand, singing, “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” Miriam praises the Lord in song (again) summarizing what the congregation had sung. While the pragmatist may think this redundant and unnecessary, this is a beautiful picture of victorious praise: Our victorious praise may vary in mode but never in substance. May we never tire of singing of our redemption in Christ. May we never grow weary of celebrating the glorious triumph of Christ’s death and resurrection. Why? Because God has redeemed us in Christ from slavery to sin, saved us from our enemy death, sustains us through this earthly wilderness, and takes us to His sanctuary, where the Lord will reign forever and ever.
Let us celebrate the gospel, a victory song, with glorious testimony, religious confession, and victorious praise.