The song that celebrates God's victory over the Egyptians ends with the acclamation of God's eternal reign.
If readers did not read chapter 14 as a celebration of the significance of deliverance at the sea and instead primarily sought hard historical data, they will certainly need to shift gears in Exodus 15:1-18. Throwing chariots and armies into the sea, consuming adversaries likes stubble, blasts of divine nostrils-these phrases are not the stuff of historical description. They are the poetic language of song that moves beyond data and commences celebration. The song celebrates the kingship of God. Small wonder that Samuel would later question the need for a human king. God is your king! The language of the song reverberates in the royal psalms. The boastful who are about to devour their victims sink down. The song asks, "Who is like you, O LORD…?" (15:11). That question is echoed elsewhere in the Old Testament. Psalm 35:10 and 113:5-9 focus the incomparability of God in God's exaltation of the poor and lowly. Similar questions in Isaiah 40 direct God's incomparability to the reversal of the plight of exiles. This is sovereignty for a purpose, not for the sake of power itself. Exodus 15 is foundational to this theme of Scripture.
Interpreters have recognized archaic grammatical forms in Exodus 15 and have concluded that it is linguistically one of the oldest pieces of literature in the Old Testament. Others grant the archaic character of the language, but point to content, particularly in the latter portions of the song, that points to a less ancient dating. The reaction of Philistia, Moab, and others points to the conquest. The mention of God's mountain and sanctuary is seen as further evidence that the song in its present form was shaped from the point of view of being in the land.
The highly poetic tone used to celebrate God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt is extended elsewhere in the Old Testament. For example, in Psalm 114 the sea is taunted as if it were the enemy defeated in the exodus. The word for sea (yam) in Hebrew is the same as the word for a Canaanite god (Yamm). That god was one of the evil forces in the world. Leviathan is associated with this god; Rahab is also an associate. When God defeats Pharaoh-a force of chaos-at the sea, the Sea/Yamm is also defeated. This backdrop is part of the rhetorical effectiveness of Psalm 114. The connection is even more direct in Isaiah 51:9-11: cutting Rahab to pieces and piercing the dragon are coupled with drying up the sea to make a way for the redeemed. The song of Exodus 15 is part of the long tradition in Israel of recognizing that its release from slavery in Egypt was not merely a one-time datum from the past. It fundamentally altered how one viewed the world.
18 The Lord will reign for ever and ever.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011