Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
In the song of praise which Moses and the children of Israel sang at the Red Sea, in celebration of the wonderful works of Jehovah, the congregation of Israel commemorated the fact of its deliverance and its exaltation into the nation of God. By their glorious deliverance from the slave-house of Egypt, Jehovah had practically exalted the seed of Abraham into His own nation; and in the destruction of Pharaoh and his host, He had glorified Himself as God of the gods and King of the heathen, whom no power on earth could defy with impunity. As the fact of Israel's deliverance from the power of its oppressors is of everlasting importance to the Church of the Lord in its conflict with the ungodly powers of the world, in which the Lord continually overthrows the enemies of His kingdom, as He overthrew Pharaoh and his horsemen in the depths of the sea: so Moses' song at the Red Sea furnishes the Church of the Lord with the materials for its songs of praise in all the great conflicts which it has to sustain, during its onward course, with the powers of the world. Hence not only does the key-note of this song resound through all Israel's songs, in praise of the glorious works of Jehovah for the good of His people (see especially Isa 12:1-6), but the song of Moses the servant of God will also be sung, along with the song of the Lamb, by the conquerors who stand upon the "sea of glass," and have gained the victory over the beast and his image (Rev 15:3).
The substance of this song, which is entirely devoted to the praise and adoration of Jehovah, is the judgment inflicted upon the heathen power of the world in the fall of Pharaoh, and the salvation which flowed from this judgment to Israel. Although Moses is not expressly mentioned as the author of the song, its authenticity, or Mosaic authorship, is placed beyond all doubt by both the contents and the form. The song is composed of three gradually increasing strophes, each of which commences with the praise of Jehovah, and ends with a description of the overthrow of the Egyptian host (Exo 15:2-5, Exo 15:6-10, Exo 15:11-18). The theme announced in the introduction in Exo 15:1 is thus treated in three different ways; and whilst the omnipotence of God, displayed in the destruction of the enemy, is the prominent topic in the first two strophes, the third depicts with prophetic confidence the fruit of this glorious event in the establishment of Israel, as a kingdom of Jehovah, in the promised inheritance. Modern criticism, it is true, has taken offence at this prophetic insight into the future, and rejected the song of Moses, just because the wonders of God are carried forward in Exo 15:16, Exo 15:17, beyond the Mosaic times. But it was so natural a thing that, after the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, they should turn their eyes to Canaan, and, looking forward with certainty to the possession of the promised land, should anticipate with believing confidence the foundation of a sanctuary there, in which their God would dwell with them, that none but those who altogether reject the divine mission of Moses, and set down the mighty works of God in Egypt as myths, could ever deny to Moses this anticipation and prospect. Even Ewald admits that this grand song of praise "was probably the immediate effect of first enthusiasm in the Mosaic age," though he also ignores the prophetic character of the song, and denies the reality of any of the supernatural wonders of the Old Testament. There is nothing to prevent our understanding words, "then sang Moses," as meaning that Moses not only sang this song with the Israelites, but composed it for the congregation to the praise of Jehovah.
Introduction and first strophe. - The introduction, which contains the theme of the song, "Sing will I to the Lord, for highly exalted is He, horse and his rider He hath thrown into the sea," was repeated, when sung, as an anti-strophe by a chorus of women, with Miriam at their head (cf. Exo 15:20, Exo 15:21); whether after every verse, or only at the close of the longer strophes, cannot be determined. גּאה to arise, to grow up, trop. to show oneself exalted; connected with an inf. abs. to give still further emphasis. Jehovah had displayed His superiority to all earthly power by casting horses and riders, the proud army of the haughty Pharaoh, into the sea. This had filled His people with rejoicing: (Exo 15:2), "My strength and song is Jah, He became my salvation; He is my God, whom I extol, my father's God, whom I exalt." עז strength, might, not praise or glory, even in Psa 8:2. זמרת, an old poetic form for זמרה, from זמר, primarily to hum; thence זמּר רב́ככוים, to play music, or sing with a musical accompaniment. Jah, the concentration of Jehovah, the God of salvation ruling the course of history with absolute freedom, has passed from this song into the Psalms, but is restricted to the higher style of poetry. "For He became salvation to me, granted me deliverance and salvation:" on the use of vav consec. in explanatory clauses, see Gen 26:12. This clause is taken from our song, and introduced in Isa 12:2; Psa 118:14. אלי זה: this Jah, such an one is my God. אנוהוּ: Hiphil of נוה, related to נאה, נאוה, to be lovely, delightful, Hiph. to extol, to praise, δοξάσω, glorificabo (lxx, Vulg.). "The God of my father:" i.e., of Abraham as the ancestor of Israel, or, as in Exo 3:6, of the three patriarchs combined. What He promised them (Gen 15:14; Gen 46:3-4) He had now fulfilled.
"Jehovah is a man of war:" one who knows how to make war, and possesses the power to destroy His foes. "Jehovah is His name:" i.e., He has just proved Himself to be the God who rules with unlimited might. For (Exo 15:4) "Pharaoh's chariots and his might (his military force) He cast into the sea, and the choice (the chosen ones) of his knights (shelishim, see Exo 14:7) were drowned in the Red Sea."
"Floods cover them (יכסימוּ, defectively written for יכסיוּ = יכסּוּ, and the suffix מוּ for מו, only used here); they go down into the deep like stone," which never appears again.
Jehovah had not only proved Himself to be a true man of war in destroying the Egyptians, but also as the glorious and strong one, who overthrows His enemies at the very moment when they think they are able to destroy His people.
"Thy right hand, Jehovah, glorified in power (gloriously equipped with power: on the Yod in נאדּרי, see Gen 31:39; the form is masc., and ימין, which is of common gender, is first of all construed as a masculine, as in Pro 27:16, and then as a feminine), "Thy right hand dashes in pieces the enemy." רעץ = רצץ: only used here, and in Jdg 10:8. The thought it quite a general one: the right hand of Jehovah smites every foe. This thought is deduced from the proof just seen of the power of God, and is still further expanded in Exo 15:7, "In the fulness of Thy majesty Thou pullest down Thine opponents." הרס generally applied to the pulling down of buildings; then used figuratively for the destruction of foes, who seek to destroy the building (the work) of God; in this sense here and Psa 28:5. קמים: those that rise up in hostility against a man (Deu 33:11; Psa 18:40, etc.). "Thou lettest out Thy burning heat, it devours them like stubble." חרן, the burning breath of the wrath of God, which Jehovah causes to stream out like fire (Eze 7:3), was probably a play upon the fiery look cast upon the Egyptians from the pillar of cloud (cf. Isa 9:18; Isa 10:17; and on the last words, Isa 5:24; Nah 1:10).
Thus had Jehovah annihilated the Egyptians. "And by the breath of Thy nostrils (i.e., the strong east wind sent by God, which is described as the blast of the breath of His nostrils; cf. Psa 18:16) the waters heaped themselves up (piled themselves up, so that it was possible to go between them like walls); the flowing ones stood like a heap" (נד cumulus; it occurs in Jos 3:13, Jos 3:16, and Psa 33:7; Psa 78:13, where it is borrowed from this passage. מזלים: the running, flowing ones; a poetic epithet applied to waves, rivers, or brooks, Psa 78:16, Psa 78:44; Isa 44:3). "The waves congealed in the heart of the sea:" a poetical description of the piling up of the waves like solid masses.
"The enemy said: I pursue, overtake, divide spoil, my soul becomes full of them; I draw my sword, my hand will root them out." By these short clauses following one another without any copula, the confidence of the Egyptian as he pursued them breathing vengeance is very strikingly depicted. נפשׁ: the soul as the seat of desire, i.e., of fury, which sought to take vengeance on the enemy, "to cool itself on them." הורישׁ: to drive from their possession, to exterminate (cf. Num 14:12).
"Thou didst blow with Thy breath: the sea covered them, they sank as lead in the mighty waters." One breath of God was sufficient to sink the proud foe in the waves of the sea. The waters are called אדּרים, because of the mighty proof of the Creator's glory which is furnished by the waves as they rush majestically along.
Third strophe. On the ground of this glorious act of God, the song rises in the third strophe into firm assurance, that in His incomparable exaltation above all gods Jehovah will finish the word of salvation, already begun, fill all the enemies of Israel with terror at the greatness of His arm, bring His people to His holy dwelling-place, and plant them on the mountain of His inheritance. What the Lord had done thus far, the singer regarded as a pledge of the future.
"Who is like unto Thee among the gods, O Jehovah (אלים: not strong ones, but gods, Elohim, Psa 86:8, because none of the many so-called gods could perform such deeds), who is like unto Thee, glorified in holiness?" God had glorified Himself in holiness through the redemption of His people and the destruction of His foes; so that Asaph could sing, "Thy way, O God, is in holiness" (Psa 78:13). קדשׁ, holiness, is the sublime and incomparable majesty of God, exalted above all the imperfections and blemishes of the finite creature (vid., Exo 19:6). "Fearful for praises, doing wonders." The bold expression תהלּת נורא conveys more than summe venerandus, s. colendus laudibus, and signifies terrible to praise, terribilis laudibus. As His rule among men is fearful (Psa 66:5), because He performs fearful miracles, so it is only with fear and trembling that man can sing songs of praise worthy of His wondrous works. Omnium enim laudantium vires, linguas et mentes superant ideoque magno cum timore et tremore eum laudant omnes angeli et sancti (C. a Lap.). "Thou stretchest out Thy hand, the earth swallows them." With these words the singer passes in survey all the mighty acts of the Lord, which were wrapt up in this miraculous overthrow of the Egyptians. The words no longer refer to the destruction of Pharaoh and his host. What Egypt had experienced would come upon all the enemies of the Lord and His people. Neither the idea of the earth swallowing them, nor the use of the imperfect, is applicable to the destruction of the Egyptians (see Exo 15:1, Exo 15:4, Exo 15:5, Exo 15:10, Exo 15:19, where the perfect is applied to it as already accomplished).
"Thou leadest through Thy mercy the people whom Thou redeemest; Thou guidest them through Thy might to Thy holy habitation." The deliverance from Egypt and guidance through the Red Sea were a pledge to the redeemed people of their entrance into the promised land. The holy habitation of God was Canaan (Psa 78:54), which had been consecrated as a sacred abode for Jehovah in the midst of His people by the revelations made to the patriarchs there, and especially by the appearance of God at Bethel (Gen 28:16., Exo 31:13; Exo 35:7).
"People hear, they are afraid; trembling seizes the inhabitants of Philistia."
"Then are the princes (alluphim, see Gen 36:15) of Edom confounded; the mighty men of Moab, trembling seizes them; all the inhabitants of Canaan despair." אלים, like אוּלים in Kg2 24:15, scriptio plena for אלים, strong, powerful ones. As soon as these nations should hear of the miraculous guidance of Israel through the Red Sea, and Pharaoh's destruction, they would be thrown into despair from anxiety and alarm, and would not oppose the march of Israel through their land.
"Fear and dread fall upon them; for the greatness of Thine arm (the adjective גּדול placed as a substantive before the noun) they are dumb (ידּמוּ from דּמם) as stones, till Thy people pass through, Jehovah, till the people which Thou hast purchased pass through." Israel was still on its march to Canaan, an evident proof that Exo 15:13-15 do not describe what was past, but that future events were foreseen in spirit, and are represented by the use of perfects as being quite as certain as if they had already happened. The singer mentions not only Edom and Moab, but Philistia also, and the inhabitants of Canaan, as enemies who are so paralyzed with terror, as to offer no resistance to the passage of Israel through their territory; whereas the history shows that Edom did oppose their passing through its land, and they were obliged to go round in consequence (Num 20:18.; Deu 2:3, Deu 2:8), whilst Moab attempted to destroy them through the power of Balaam's curse (Num 22:2.); and what the inhabitants of Philistia and Canaan had to fear, was not their passing through, but their conquest of the land.
(Note: The fact that the inhabitants of Philistia and Canaan are described in the same terms as Edom and Moab, is an unquestionable proof that this song was composed at a time when the command to exterminate the Canaanites had not yet been given, and the boundary of the territory to be captured by the Israelites was not yet fixed; in other words, that it was sung by Moses and the Israelites after the passage through the Red Sea. In the words יעבר עד in Exo 15:16, there is by no means the allusion to, or play upon, the passage through the Jordan, which Knobel introduces.)
We learn, however, from Jos 2:9-10 and Jos 9:9, that the report of Israel's miraculous passage through the Red Sea had reached to Canaan, and filled its inhabitants with terror.
"Thou wilt bring and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, the place which Thou hast made for Thy dwelling-place, Jehovah, for the sanctuary, Lord, which Thy hands prepared." On the dagesh dirim. in מקּדשׁ, see Exo 2:3. The futures are not to be taken as expressive of wishes, but as simple predictions, and are not to be twisted into preterites, as they have been by Knobel. The "mountain of Jehovah's inheritance" was not the hill country of Canaan (Deu 3:25), but the mountain which Jehovah had prepared for a sanctuary (Psa 78:54), and chosen as a dwelling-place through the sacrifice of Isaac. The planting of Israel upon this mountain does not signify the introduction of the Israelites into the promised land, but the planting of the people of God in the house of the Lord (Psa 92:14), in the future sanctuary, where Jehovah would perfect His fellowship with His people, and where the people would show themselves by their sacrifices to be the "people of possession," and would serve Him for ever as their King. This was the goal, to which the redemption from Egypt pointed, and to which the prophetic foresight of Moses raised both himself and his people in this song, as he beholds in spirit and ardently desires the kingdom of Jehovah in its ultimate completion.
(Note: Auberlen's remarks in the Jahrb.f. d. Theol. iii. p. 793, are quite to the point: "In spirit Moses already saw the people brought to Canaan, which Jehovah had described, in the promise given to the fathers and repeated to him, as His own dwelling-place where He would abide in the midst of His people in holy separation from the nations of the world. When the first stage had been so gloriously finished, he could already see the termination of the journey."..."The nation was so entirely devoted to Jehovah, that its own dwelling-place fell into the shade beside that of its God, and assumed the appearance of a sojourning around the sanctuary of Jehovah, for God went up before the people in the pillar of cloud and fire. The fact that a mountain is mentioned in Exo 15:17 as the dwelling-place of Jehovah is no proof of a vaticinium post eventum, but is a true prophecy, having its natural side, however, in the fact that mountains were generally the sites chosen for divine worship and for temples; a fact with which Moses was already acquainted (Gen 22:2; Exo 3:1, Exo 3:12; compare such passages as Num 22:41; Num 33:52; Mic 4:1-2). In the actual fulfilment its was Mount Zion upon which Jehovah was enthroned as King in the midst of his People.)
The song closes in Exo 15:18 with an inspiring prospect of the time, when "Jehovah will be King (of His people) for ever and ever;" and in Exo 15:19, it is dovetailed into the historical narrative by the repetition of the fact to which it owed its origin, and by the explanatory "for," which points back to the opening verse.
In the words "Pharaoh's horse, with his chariots and horsemen," Pharaoh, riding upon his horse as the leader of the army, is placed at the head of the enemies destroyed by Jehovah. In Exo 15:20, Miriam is called "the prophetess," not ob poeticam et musicam facultatem (Ros.), but because of her prophetic gift, which may serve to explain her subsequent opposition to Moses (Num 11:1, Num 11:6); and "the sister of Aaron," though she was Moses' sister as well, and had been his deliverer in his infancy, not "because Aaron had his own independent spiritual standing by the side of Moses" (Baumg.), but to point out the position which she was afterwards to occupy in the congregation of Israel, namely, as ranking, not with Moses, but with Aaron, and like him subordinate to Moses, who had been placed at the head of Israel as the mediator of the Old Covenant, and as such was Aaron's god (Exo 4:16, Kurtz). As prophetess and sister of Aaron she led the chorus of women, who replied to the male chorus with timbrels and dancing, and by taking up the first strophe of the song, and in this way took part in the festival; a custom that was kept up in after times in the celebration of victories (Jdg 11:34; Sa1 18:6-7; Sa1 21:12; Sa1 29:5), possibly in imitation of an Egyptian model (see my Archologie, 137, note 8).
Leaving the Red Sea, they went into the desert of Shur. This name is given to the tract of desert which separates Egypt from Palestine, and also from the more elevated parts of the desert of Arabia, and stretches from the Mediterranean to the head of the Arabian Gulf or Red Sea, and thence along the eastern shore of the sea to the neighbourhood of the Wady Gharandel. In Num 33:8 it is called the desert of Etham, from the town of Etham, which stood upon the border (see Exo 13:20). The spot where the Israelites encamped after crossing the sea, and sang praises to the Lord for their gracious deliverance, is supposed to have been the present Ayun Musa (the springs of Moses), the only green spot in the northern part of this desolate tract of desert, where water could be obtained. At the present time there are several springs there, which yield a dark, brackish, though drinkable water, and a few stunted palms; and even till a very recent date country houses have been built and gardens laid out there by the richer inhabitants of Suez. From this point the Israelites went three days without finding water, till they came to Marah, where there was water, but so bitter that they could not drink it. The first spot on the road from Ayun Musa to Sinai where water can be found, is in the well of Howra, 33 English miles from the former. It is now a basin of 6 or 8 feet in diameter, with two feet of water in it, but so disagreeably bitter and salt, that the Bedouins consider it the worst water in the whole neighbourhood (Robinson, i. 96). The distance from Ayun Musa and the quality of the water both favour the identity of Howra and Marah. A whole people, travelling with children, cattle, and baggage, could not accomplish the distance in less than three days, and there is no other water on the road from Ayum Musa to Howra. Hence, from the time of Burckhardt, who was the first to rediscover the well, Howra has been regarded as the Marah of the Israelites. In the Wady Amara, a barren valley two hours to the north of Howra, where Ewald looked for it, there is not water to be found; and in the Wady Gharandel, two hours to the south, to which Lepsius assigned it, the quality of the water does not agree with our account.
(Note: The small quantity of water at Howra, "which is hardly sufficient for a few hundred men, to say nothing of so large an army as the Israelites formed" (Seetzen), is no proof that Howra and Marah are not identical. For the spring, which is now sanded up, may have flowed more copiously at one time, when it was kept in better order. Its present neglected state is the cause of the scarcity.)
It is true that no trace of the name has been preserved; but it seems to have been given to the place by the Israelites simply on account of the bitterness of the water. This furnished the people with an inducement to murmur against Moses (Exo 15:24). They had probably taken a supply of water from Ayum Musa for the three days' march into the desert. But this store was now exhausted; and, as Luther says, "when the supply fails, our faith is soon gone." Thus even Israel forgot the many proofs of the grace of God, which it had received already.
When Moses cried to the Lord in consequence, He showed him some wood which, when thrown into the water, took away its bitterness. The Bedouins, who know the neighbourhood, are not acquainted with such a tree, or with any other means of making bitter water sweet; and this power was hardly inherent in the tree itself, though it is ascribed to it in Ecclus. 38:5, but was imparted to it through the word and power of God. We cannot assign any reason for the choice of this particular earthly means, as the Scripture says nothing about any "evident and intentional contrast to the change in the Nile by which the sweet and pleasant water was rendered unfit for use" (Kurtz). The word עץ "wood" (see only Num 19:6), alone, without anything in the context to explain it, does not point to a "living tree" in contrast to the "dead stick." And if any contrast had been intended to be shown between the punishment of the Egyptians and the training of the Israelites, this intention would certainly have been more visibly and surely accomplished by using the staff with which Moses not only brought the plagues upon Egypt, but afterwards brought water out of the rock. If by עץ we understand a tree, with which ויּשׁלך, however, hardly agrees, it would be much more natural to suppose that there was an allusion to the tree of life, especially if we compare Gen 2:9 and Gen 3:22 with Rev 22:2, "the leaves of the tree of life were for the healing of the nations," though we cannot regard this reference as established. All that is clear and undoubted is, that by employing these means, Jehovah made Himself known to the people of Israel as their Physician, and for this purpose appointed the wood for the healing of the bitter water, which threatened Israel with disease and death (Kg2 4:40).
By this event Jehovah accomplished two things: (a) "there He put (made) for it (the nation) an ordinance and a right," and (b) "there He proved it." The ordinance and right which Jehovah made for Israel did not consist in the words of God quoted in Exo 15:26, for they merely give an explanation of the law and right, but in the divine act itself. The leading of Israel to bitter water, which their nature could not drink, and then the sweetening or curing of this water, were to be a חק for Israel, i.e., an institution or law by which God would always guide and govern His people, and a משׁפּט or right, inasmuch as Israel could always reckon upon the help of God, and deliverance from every trouble. But as Israel had not yet true confidence in the Lord, this was also a trial, serving to manifest its natural heart, and, through the relief of its distress on the part of God, to refine and strengthen its faith. The practical proof which was given of Jehovah's presence was intended to impress this truth upon the Israelites, that Jehovah as their Physician would save them from all the diseases which He had sent upon Egypt, if they would hear His voice, do what was right in His eyes, and keep all His commandments.
Elim, the next place of encampment, has been sought from olden time in the Wady Gharandel, about six miles south of Howra; inasmuch as this spot, with its plentiful supply of comparatively good water, and its luxuriance of palms, tamarisks, acacias, and tall grass, which cause it to be selected even now as one of the principal halting-places between Suez and Sinai, quite answers to Elim, with its twelve wells of water and seventy palm-trees (cf. Rob. i. pp. 100, 101, 105). It is true the distance from Howra is short, but the encampments of such a procession as that of the Israelites are always regulated by the supply of water. Both Baumgarten and Kurtz have found in Elim a place expressly prepared for Israel, from its bearing the stamp of the nation in the number of its wells and palms: a well for every tribe, and the shade of a palm-tree for the tent of each of the elders. But although the number of the wells corresponded to the twelve tribes of Israel, the number of the elders was much larger than that of the palms (Exo 29:9). One fact alone is beyond all doubt, namely, that at Elim, this lovely oasis in the barren desert, Israel was to learn how the Lord could make His people lie down in the green pastures, and lead them beside still waters, even in the barren desert of this life (Psa 23:2).