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Exodus: Chapter 15

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Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD. They said:

I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea. 1 2The LORD a Heb. Yah. is my strength and might; b Others “song.” He is become my deliverance. This is my God and I will enshrine c Others “glorify.” Him; The God of my father, and I will exalt Him. 3The LORD, the Warrior— LORD is His name! 4Pharaoh's chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; And the pick of his officers Are drowned in the Sea of Reeds. 5‐The deeps covered them; They went down into the depths like a stone. 6Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the foe! 7In Your great triumph You break Your opponents; You send forth Your fury, it consumes them like straw. 8At the blast of Your nostrils the waters piled up, The floods stood straight like a wall; The deeps froze in the heart of the sea. 9The foe said, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall have its fill of them. I will bare my sword— My hand shall subdue them.” 10You made Your wind blow, the sea covered them; They sank like lead in the majestic waters. 11Who is like You, O LORD, among the celestials; a Others “mighty.” Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in splendor, working wonders! 12You put out Your right hand, The earth swallowed them. 13In Your love You lead the people You redeemed; In Your strength You guide them to Your holy abode. 14The peoples hear, they tremble; Agony grips the dwellers in Philistia. 15Now are the clans of Edom dismayed; The tribes of Moab—trembling grips them; All the dwellers in Canaan are aghast. 16Terror and dread descend upon them; Through the might of Your arm they are still as stone— Till Your people cross over, O LORD, Till Your people cross whom You have ransomed. 17You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain, The place You made to dwell in, O LORD, The sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands established. 18The LORD will reign for ever and ever!

19For the horses of Pharaoh, with his chariots and horsemen, went into the sea; and the LORD turned back on them the waters of the sea; but the Israelites marched on dry ground in the midst of the sea.

20Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. 21And Miriam chanted for them:

Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.

22Then Moses caused Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds. They went on into the wilderness of Shur; they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23They came to Marah, but they could not drink the waterof Marah because it was bitter; that is why it was named Marah. a I.e., “bitter.” 24And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet.

There He made for them a fixed rule, and there He put them to the test. 26He said, “If you will heed the LORD your God diligently, doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I the LORD am your healer.”

27And they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they encamped there beside the water.

Notes:

a Heb. Yah.

b Others “song.”

c Others “glorify.”

a Others “mighty.”

a I.e., “bitter.”

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

13.17–15.21 .

The crossing of the sea. The final episode of God's defeat of the Egyptians. God lures Egypt to a crushing blow so as to “gain glory through Pharaoh and all his host” and show them that “I am the LORD” ( 14.4, 18 ). The Sabbath on which this pericope is read in the annual Torah reading cycle is known as Shabbat Shirah, the “Sabbath of the Song,” referring to the poem of 15.1–18 . It is also read on the seventh day of Pesaḥ, when, according to tradition, the crossing of the sea took place. See also v. 18 n.

13.17 :

By way of the land of the Philistines, or “by The Way to the Land of the Philistines” (the name of the road)—in either case, the route leading from Egypt to Philistia in southern Canaan (see map, p. 130 ). This is presumably the route, called “The Ways of Horus” by the Egyptians, that ran parallel to the Mediterranean coast, from Zilu (Sile) to Gaza, and was the shortest route to Canaan (along it an army could reach Gaza in nine or ten days). If the exodus took place in the 13th century BCE, the reference to the Philistines is anachronistic, since the Philistines were among the “Sea Peoples” who migrated to the Levant from the Aegean region and did not settle in southern Canaan until the early 12th century. Have a change of heart, as they do in 14.11–12 . When they see war, either with the Canaanites in the promised land or the Egyptian forces stationed in Zilu (Sile) and the other fortresses Egypt maintained all along the Ways of Horus in the 13th century BCE to protect its access to Canaan. To avoid demoralization, God leads the Israelites via the difficult southerly route through the marshy lake‐ land of the eastern delta to Sukkot and thence to the wilderness.

18 :

By way of the wilderness, or, “by The Way to the Wilderness”—toward the Sinai wilderness. At the Sea of Reeds, Heb “yam suf,” an unidentified body of water, probably in the Isthmus of Suez, the strip of land, lakes, and marshes between the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean (the strip traversed by the Suez Canal today). See map, p. 130 . The same name is used for the Gulf of Eilat [ 23.31; Deut. 1.40; etc.], a branch of the Red Sea.

19 :

See Gen. 50.24–25 . According to Josh. 24.32 , Joshua buried Joseph in Shechem (modern Nablus; see Color Map 1).

20 :

Etham, an unidentified place, perhaps at the eastern end of the Wadi Tumilat, where the wadi meets the wilderness, near Lake Timsah (see map, p. 130 ). (Cf. Num. 33.8 , “the wilderness of Etham.”)

21 :

The Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud…and in a pillar of fire: The two pillars were probably one, a columnar cloud enveloping a fire that was visible through it only in the dark. Hence 14.24 refers to a single “pillar of fire and cloud” at daybreak, when the fire was still partly visible as the cloud gradually became opaque. Their role here may reflect the ancient practice of carrying a burning, smoking brazier at the head of an army or caravan to indicate the line of march by day and night. See further at 14.19 .

22 :

For an exception to this statement, see 14.19 . According to P, once the Tabernacle was erected, the pillar or cloud and fire remained above it even when directing the Israelites' march (Exod. 40.33–38; Num. 9.15–23; 10.11–12, 34 ). (For a reflection of this image in United States history, see the intro. to Exodus.)

15.1–21 :

The Song at the Sea, a lyric poem, sung as a hymn, celebrating God's defeat of Egypt at the sea. Rich in imagery, hyperbole, and poetic license, it expresses the unrestrained enthusiasm of the Israelites over their miraculous rescue from disaster. Formally it is divided into three sections, each ending with a simile followed by a bicolon addressed to God in which the opening phrase is repeated in the second colon (vv. 5b–6, 10b–11, 16a–b ), and a conclusion (vv. 17–18 ). In terms of content, however, the sections are an introduction (vv. 1–3 ), the defeat of Pharaoh's forces (vv. 4–12 ), God's guidance of Israel to the promised land and the Temple Mount and the terrified reaction of its inhabitants and neighbors (vv. 13–17 ), and a coda acclaiming His eternal rule (v. 18 ). The general plot of the poem—God's control of the sea followed by the building of His sanctuary and the acclamation of His kingship—and some of its vocabulary allude to passages in other biblical poems that tell of His primordial defeat of the sea and assumption of kingship (e.g., Pss. 74.12–16; 89.10–14; 93 ), which themselves hark back to ancient Near Eastern myths about the storm god's defeat of the sea god followed by the building of his palace/temple. The language and style of the poem are archaic and share many features with Ugaritic poetry of the Late Bronze Age, suggesting that it is one of the oldest poems in the Bible. On the other hand, the mention of Philistia (v. 14; see 13.22 n. ) and the Temple imply a date later than the putative date of the exodus, probably in the early monarchic period. In Jewish prayer, the entire poem is recited every morning in the preliminary prayers, and vv. 11 and 18 are recited following the Shema prayer morning and evening, as part of the daily acceptance of God's kingship, the Jewish declaration of allegiance to God.

2 :

The first half of this v. also appears in Isa. 12.2 and Ps. 118.14 , suggesting that it was a liturgical saying. I will enshrine Him, another interpretation of the enigmatic Heb verb is “glorify” or “beautify Him,” from which a midrash derived the duty of beautifying religious objects used in His worship, such as the sukkah, tallit, shofar, and Torah scroll; another midrash takes the verb as meaning “show His beauty” by imitating His compassion (Mek. Shirta, 3; b. Shab. 133b; Torah Temimah). The God of my father, see 3.6 .

3 :

The Lord, the Warrior, see 14.14, 25 . One of the various metaphors applied to God. The warrior metaphor was frequently applied to deities in the ancient world, reflecting the conviction that victory is in reality an achievement of God, not of human warriors. Cf. Deut. 20.4; 1 Sam. 17.47; Zech. 4.6 . Lord is His name: That is, YHVH (“’adonai”) is His name (see 3.15 ). This declaration reflects the further fulfillment of God's promises that all would come to know that “I am the LORD” (see 5.1–6 n., 6.2 n. ).

6 :

Your right hand: In this poem Moses' arm, so prominent in the prose narrative of ch 14 (vv. 16, 21, 26, 27 ), is not mentioned. Only God's role—the ultimate reality behind the event—is celebrated. In this respect the poem is a forerunner of the Haggadah, which mentions only God, never Moses.

7 :

It consumes them like straw: Although the Egyptians drowned, the image here is of fire burning them. In vv. 6b and 7a God “shatters” and “breaks” the enemy.

8 :

The blast of Your nostrils, a metaphor for the wind of 14.21 .

9 :

Desire, i.e., appetite.

10 :

After all the enemy's boasts, God sinks them in an instant.

11 :

Celestials, lit. “gods.” Exclamations of God's uniqueness among the “gods” (2 Sam.7.22; 1 Kings 8.23; Ps. 86.8 ) proclaim Him the greatest power in the universe. They go back to ancient Near Eastern polytheistic prototypes (cf. Jethro in 18.11 ). Later texts and interpretations retain the term “gods” vestigially to refer to the celestial or supernatural beings that surround God in the manner of a royal court—that is, the “host of heaven,” including the sun, moon, stars, spirits, winds, flames, seraphs, and angels (Deut. 4.35–39; Pss. 86.10; 96.4–5; 135.5, 15–17 ). The translation “celestials” invokes the latter concept so that the verse conforms more closely to the modern sense of monotheism, but whether this ancient poem is referring to angelic beings or actual gods is debated.

13 :

Love, Heb “ḥesed,” better rendered “faithfulness.” It refers to acts of kindness that are expected between parties in a relationship—husband and wife, parents and children, relatives, and allies— and to reciprocation of kindness (Gen. 40.14; Deut. 7.9; 1 Sam. 20.8; 2 Sam. 9.1; 10.2 ). Here, as frequently, it refers to God's covenantal faithfulness to Israel ( 2.24; 6.4–8; cf. 20.6; 34.6, 7 ). To Your holy abode, to the destination mentioned in v. 17 , the land of Israel (cf. the sequence of events in Ps. 78.53–55 ) and/or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15.25; Isa. 33.20 ); cf. Jer. 25.30; 31.23 .

14–16 :

Terrified by the power God exercised against Egypt on Israel's behalf, the Canaanites and neighboring nations are petrified at Israel's approach (cf. Josh. 2.9–11 ).

16 :

Still as stone, like the Egyptians, who sank “like a stone” (v. 5 ). Cross over: This refers either to Israel's passing these nations (excepting the Canaanites) on its way to Canaan (Deut. 2.8, 18 ) or crossing the Jordan into the land (Josh. 1.11; 4.1 ). Ransomed, i.e., redeemed.

17 :

Plant them, permanently settle them (Amos 9.15; Pss. 44.3; 80.9 ). In Your own mountain: “Mountain” refers to the promised land, which is mountainous (Deut. 3.25; Isa. 11.9; 57.13; Ps. 78.54 ), but “God's mountain” often refers to the Temple Mount as well (Isa. 2.3; Ezek. 20.40; Zech. 8.3; Ps. 24.3 ), and the following phrases the place You made to dwell in and the sanctuary… clearly refer to that. The v. blends the concepts of the promised land and the Temple Mount: The Israelites, settled throughout the land with the Temple in the center, are pictured as dwelling around the Temple in which God dwells in their midst (cf. Exod. 25.8; 29.45–46; 1 Kings 6.13; Ezek. 37.25–28 ). This climactic verse indicates that the conquest of the promised land will not be an end in itself. The redemption will culminate when the Temple is built and Israel dwells there in the presence of God. You made…Your hands established: As in the victory over Egypt and the conquest of the promised land (vv. 6, 16b–17a ), human agency in building the Temple (1 Kings chs 6–8, esp. 8.13 ) is ignored. In a theological sense it is God who will build the Temple (cf. Ps. 78.69 ).

18 :

God's kingship is acclaimed here because the Temple, as His palace (“heikhal,” 1 Kings 6.3, 5 , and elsewhere), symbolizes His kingship. This is the first explicit mention of the common biblical metaphor “God is king.”

20–21 :

In keeping with the custom of women celebrating the victor after a battle (Judg. 11.34; 1 Sam. 18.6 ), the women dance and play music, led by Miriam who summons them, or all the Israelites, to sing God's praises (either the hymn of vv. 1–18 or a refrain). Miriam the prophetess: This title could refer to Miriam's recitation of the hymn, or part of it (cf. 1 Chron. 25.1–3 ) or to her prophetic status mentioned in Num. 12.2 . The activities of Deborah the prophetess also include singing a hymn praising God for a victory (Judg. 4.4; 5 ), while Huldah delivers a prophetic oracle (2 Kings 22.14; cf. Ezek. 13.17; Joel 3.1; Neh. 6.14 ).

15.22–17.16 :

Challenges in the wilderness. Four episodes in which the Israelites face typical dangers of the wilderness: shortages of food and water and attack by marauders. In the face of the shortages the people grumble against Moses and Aaron. God responds to their complaints without anger or punishment, perhaps because they have not previously seen His ability to meet their material needs, or because these incidents occur before the covenant at Sinai at which God promised to meet such needs ( 23.25 ). Having seen God's ability to defeat armies ( 14.30–31 ), they do not complain (as in 14.10–12 ) when the Amalekites attack.

15.22–27 :

Complaints ( 14.11– 12 n. ) about food and water recur throughout the wilderness wanderings. See 16.2–3; 17.2–3; Num. 11.4–6; 16.13–14; 20.2–5; 21.4–5 .

22 :

The wilderness of Shur, east of the Isthmus of Suez, apparently named for the defensive wall (“shur”) that the Egyptians erected to prevent incursions from the east. Three days…no water: The midrash, which interprets “water” as Torah (since Torah is as essential for well‐being as water), infers that it was three days without Torah that made the people rebellious, and holds that the practice of reading the Torah in the synagogue every Sabbath, Monday, and Thursday was instituted so that three days would not pass without Torah (Mek. Beshallah, Vayassa‘, 1; b. B. K. 82a).

23 :

Marah, lit. “bitter.” Brackish pools and wells are common in deserts (cf. the “Bitter Lakes” in the Isthmus of Suez). Assuming that the Israelites are now heading south, the site could be Bir el‐Murrah, Arabic for “Bitter Well,” nine miles east of Suez, or the oasis Ein Hawarah, 75 km (47 mi) southeast of Suez, near Wadi Amarah which has a similar sounding name.

25 :

A piece of wood, or a branch with its foliage. Even today, Bedouin sweeten brackish water with shrubs that cause the salt to sink to the bottom. There He made for them a fixed rule, and there He put them to the test: The context suggests that this enigmatic sentence refers to the next v. and means that God told Israel the conditions of their future relationship, against which they will be tested (see 16.4; Deut. 8.2, 16 ). The promise in v. 26 , which also implies a warning, is prompted by Israel's grumbling against Moses, God's servant ( 14.31 ), which contained the seeds of rebellion against God Himself (cf. 16.8 ).

26 :

The diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, such as the sixth plague, skin inflammation ( 9.8–11 ). Healer: This quality of God, with its implicit warning of punishment by disease, is prompted by His purifying the water of its bitterness, which was regarded as “healing” the water (the same verb is translated “make wholesome” in 2 Kings 2.22; Ezek. 47.8, 9, 11 ).

27 :

Elim, possibly Wadi Gharandel, the best‐watered site in western Sinai, about 15 km (9 mi) south of Ein Hawarah, or Uyun Musa, 12 km (7.5 mi) southwest of Bir el‐Murrah, which has a palm grove and twelve springs even today.

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