1 The Reason for the Song
1 Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and said,
“I will sing to the LORD,
For He is highly exalted;
The horse and its rider
He has hurled into the sea.
For the first time in the Bible we hear of a song. This is sung by a people who have been redeemed from Egypt and have safely reached the other side of the Red Sea, while the power of the enemy has been broken. This song is also sung in the end times. Then it sounds from the mouth of the victors over the beast: “And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his picture and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! (Rev 15:2-3). This is the last time that the Bible talks about a song.
In the life of the believer, the first reason to sing to the glory of God and the Lord Jesus is the awareness that he is a child of God who is redeemed from his sins and freed from the power of sin. He will sing this song forever as the song of the Lamb. By the Lamb the Israelites are redeemed; by the Lamb all believers are redeemed in all times.
2 - 3 Who the LORD Is
2 “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.
3 “The LORD is a warrior;
The LORD is His name.
The people sing not of themselves, but of the LORD. He did it, He completed the work that led to salvation. Here it is the personal expression of gratitude for the salvation obtained. Yet it is about Him. The emphasis is on Who the LORD is.
There is also the desire to make a home for Him. The redeemed one does not live alone with God, but with all the redeemed; the whole people may live with Him (verse 13). Not only the living, but also the fathers who have already fallen asleep, will share in the results of God’s liberating action. Living with God is the wish of every soul that fears God (Psa 27:4).
The Name of God is expressed in His deeds. The first thing that a redeemed person learns to know from God are the deeds he has done for his redemption. That is why the redeemed sings the praises of those deeds.
4 - 12 The LORD Deals with the Enemies
4 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
He has cast into the sea;
And the choicest of his officers
Are drowned in the Red Sea.
5 “The deeps cover them;
They went down into the depths like a stone.
6 “Your right hand, O LORD,
Is majestic in power,
Your right hand, O LORD,
Shatters the enemy.
7 “And in the greatness of Your excellence You overthrow those who rise up against You;
You send forth Your burning anger,
[And] it consumes them as chaff.
8 “At the blast of Your nostrils
The waters were piled up,
The flowing waters stood up like a heap;
The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.
9 “The enemy said,
‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil;
My desire shall be gratified against them;
I will draw out my sword,
My hand will destroy them.’
10 “You blew with Your wind,
The sea covered them;
They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
11 “Who is like You
Among the gods, O LORD?
Who is like You,
Majestic in holiness,
Awesome in praises,
12 “You stretched out Your right hand,
The earth swallowed them.
In his song, the redeemed describes precisely how the LORD has dealt with the enemies. He sings of how the LORD hath cast the enemy into the sea, drowned them, and thereby completely destroyed them. He glorifies the right hand (verses 6,12) of the LORD. The right hand symbolizes power. He is impressed by the great majesty and the wrath of the LORD. The enemy is as worthless to the LORD as stubbles which are abandoned to the fire.
The blast of the LORD hath made the waters a dam, so that his people could go to the other side dry footed. That same breath has blown again at the moment the enemy in haughtiness has gone the same way and the waters have covered him. Overwhelming the enemy costs him nothing more than breathing out, so to speak (cf. 2Thes 2:8).
Today the believer may express something like that in his praise. Scripture speaks of the power of the enemy, but which has been destroyed by the overwhelming power of the Lord Jesus (Heb 2:14). The victory that He gained over the enemy by His death on the cross, gives eternal cause to sing of Him. Every redeemed person will long to see more and more by studying the Scriptures Who He is Who has redeemed him and what He has done to realize it. Every new aspect he discovers is a reason to praise Him.
The exclamation “Who is like You?” is understandable (verse 11). Egypt has many gods. Behind these idols are demons. What have they been able to do against Him? They have been nowhere to be seen. God has glorified Himself in power and He has glorified Himself in holiness. With His power He has wiped out His enemies, and in His holiness He has paved the way to have a people who can live with Him, and where He can live.
13 The Direct Consequence for His People
13 “In Your lovingkindness You have led
The people whom You have redeemed;
In Your strength You have guided [them]
to Your holy habitation.
God has redeemed the people by His mercy, and guided them by His power. The verse stands in the past present tense, as if God had both redeemed the people and brought them to His holy home. In this verse we listen to the language of faith of a redeemed people (cf. Rom 8:30). As a direct consequence of salvation, the people have a great perspective for the future. In faith it sees itself already arriving at the place God has devised for it.
God does not deliver His people to leave them to their own devices. He frees his people, and then brings them to His dwelling place, the tabernacle in the wilderness. That is what the second part of this book is about. The redemption and liberation of the sinner are not an end in themselves. They are the necessary means to become the dwelling place of God. The church is now the dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph 2:22; 1Tim 3:15).
14 - 16 The Impact on Other Peoples
14 “The peoples have heard, they tremble;
Anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia.
15 “Then the chiefs of Edom
The leaders of Moab,
Trembling grips them;
All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
16 “Terror and dread
Fall upon them;
By the greatness of Your arm
They are motionless as stone;
Until Your people pass over, O LORD,
Until the people pass over whom You have purchased.
It is as if Moses in this song is now in the spirit moved to the moment that God’s dwelling place in the midst of the people is erected. The enemies see that God has achieved His goal with His people. All the actions of God for the benefit of His people make a great impression on the bitter enemies of God’s people.
In our lives as believers the enemy will be frightened if we make true in faith that we live with God. If God is our home, and if we are a home for Him as a church, it will frighten the enemy.
17 The Purpose of His Actions
17 “You will bring them and plant them
In the mountain of Your inheritance,
The place, O LORD,
Which You have made for Your dwelling,
The sanctuary, O Lord,
Which Your hands have established.
In verse 13 Moses speaks of God’s dwelling in the wilderness. Now it is about God’s dwelling in the country. There is mentioned “the mountain of Your inheritance”. The inheritance is always connected to the land. It is also “Your inheritance”, the inheritance of God. God will take possession of His inheritance by letting His people take possession of it. Once there, He will establish there a permanent “dwelling”, a “sanctuary”, the temple. The redeemed also sees this place ahead in faith, for he speaks of it as a finished thing: “Which Your hands have established.”
The people of God, the church, may live with Him. The temple is also a picture of the Father’s house (Jn 14:2). The church will be there forever. Until then, the temple, like the tabernacle, represents the church as the dwelling place of God on earth.
The temple belongs to a people in the land and is a permanent dwelling. The tabernacle belongs to a people in the wilderness and is a mobile dwelling. Both aspects are present in the church. The church is a heavenly thing. This is how she is presented in the letter to the Ephesians. At the same time, she is still on earth, travelling through the wilderness of this world. In that way, for example, she is presented in the Corinthians in the first letter.
18 The LORD Reigns Forever
18 “The LORD shall reign forever and ever.”
The whole plan of God with His people, whether it concerns His earthly people Israel or His heavenly people the church, will be perfectly executed by Him. To this end, He lets everything work together, and to this end He directs everything.
This is also a great encouragement for the believer’s personal life. Nothing runs out of God’s hand. He has with everything His purpose, that He also attains. No enemy can hinder Him in this. On the contrary, He knows how to use the enemy to fulfil His plans!
19 - 21 The Song of Miriam
19 For the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea on them, but the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea.
20 Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing.
21 Miriam answered them,
“Sing to the LORD,
For He is highly exalted;
The horse and his rider
He has hurled into the sea.”
After the song the gaze is once again turned to what the LORD has done with Pharaoh and his army and how the Israelites have gone through the midst of the sea on the dry land.
Then we hear Miriam. The prophet Micah refers not only to Moses and Aaron but also to her as someone who the LORD has sent out for His people (Mic 6:4). We do not read that Miriam has taken charge in any action. Moses and Aaron are the captains appointed by the LORD, the leaders. In Miriam we see the spirit of prophecy. She leads the people in a song that is an answer to the song of Moses and the Israelites.
Moses says, I will sing for the LORD. With all the women in her retinue Miriam calls for singing for the LORD. She uses the same words as Moses (verse 1), repeating what he sang. With this she says, as it were, ‘amen’ to the song of Moses.
Thus we can agree with a brother who, in his thanksgiving, makes the Lord great by saying “amen” to his thanksgiving. Then indeed the thanksgiving must have found a connection in the feelings of our heart.
22 - 26 Mara
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw [it] into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them. 26 And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.”
The song is sung. The journey begins. Three days into the wilderness and then a feast for the LORD, that is God’s purpose (Exo 7:16; 8:27-28). But that’s not how it goes. It does not become a feast, it becomes a trial. That is exactly why God lets His people go through the wilderness: they get to know themselves there, what is in their hearts, and they get to know God there (Deu 8:2). Even today, after conversion, the believer only gets to know himself well through the situations of everyday life.
Perhaps we could ask ourselves how it is possible for Israel to grumble so soon after that great salvation. If so, we probably know ourselves badly. Did it never happen to us that at a certain moment we are very impressed by God’s goodness, while at the next moment we thought God has forsaken us?
The first experience the people gain in the wilderness is that there is no water. When they reach a place where there is water, the water turns out to be bitter. Mara means ‘bitterness’ (cf. Ru 1:20). The water is not drinkable. The wilderness is the land of death. The lesson to be learned is that the world has nothing that can refresh the believer. The sources of the world are bitter. They always disappoint after we have been pleased. God wants us to know His power not only in salvation, but in all circumstances of life.
This setback brings to light what is in the heart of the people. It starts grumbling. Grumble is a great evil. In Paul’s exhortations in 1 Corinthians 10 it is the last one in a list of five serious deviations from Israel on the journey through the wilderness: “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1Cor 10:10).
In the book of Numbers God will punish this evil of grumbling. That is because the people then stand on the basis of the law. Here God does not punish, but acts in grace. He does not take away the trial, but wants, in picture, to introduce Christ into the trial. We see that in His instruction to take a piece of wood. In this wood we may see:
1. Christ Himself (cf. Lk 23:31);
2. Christ’s work on the wood (Gal 3:13; 1Pet 2:24a).
The Person of Christ and His accomplished work on the cross of Calvary is the remedy against every ailment, against every plague. Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the remedy for the bad situation in which the Corinthians find themselves and also for the error to which the Galatians have surrendered. In both letters the believers are called to turn to Him again; they must be brought back into a living connection with Him.
Where Christ is introduced into the trial, the trial becomes a blessing. The water becomes fresh. To this event God connects a statute: He commits Himself to help the people. He gives the people the right to remind Him of this. He has tried the people and shown how His heart goes out to them in goodness in that trial.
But God’s blessing can never come without obedience on the part of the people. God expects them to give heed to His voice and keep His commandments. In this way they will be free from all the diseases that He has brought about Egypt. The LORD links His name as Healer to their obedience.
27 Then they came to Elim where there [were] twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.
After the experience they gained in Mara, the people come to the peace and rest of the oasis Elim. There is no Elim without Mara. In Elim – that means ‘trees’; oak or palm trees can be meant by this – Israel drinks plenty of the water of life. Here the flock of God is led to “quiet waters” and made lie down “in green pastures” (Psa 23:2). Elim – this oasis in the wilderness – is as it were a foretaste of the promised land, the heavenly peace and forms a great contrast with Mara. Here are only found blessing:
1. twelve springs of water to drink from, for each tribe a spring.
2. the shadow, the protection of seventy palm trees against the heat.
3. a safe camp on the water.
The numbers twelve and seventy we find in connection both with Israel and with the church. Just as there are twelve ancestors for Israel, there are also twelve apostles for the church. The latter have laid the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20).
There are seventy elders who occupy a prominent place in Israel (Exo 24:1). Compare the later Sanhedrin, which consists of seventy members plus the high priest. In the New Testament we find not only twelve apostles who are sent out by the Lord Jesus, but later also the sending out of the seventy (Lk 10:1).
We still stand on the foundation laid by the apostles. We still linger on the sources they left us in the inspired Word of God. We also still rest in the shade, the safe protection of the “seventy palm trees” that we can see as a picture of the many gifts that the glorified Lord gives us out of His fullness (Eph 4:7-8,11).