It must have been terrifying for the people of Israel when they saw the army of the Egyptians racing to intercept them. The Israelites had no army, and they weren’t ready for war. God had said as much (Ex. 13:17). But there the people were, staring helplessly, as the greatest army of their time, angrily marched their direction. Israel was doomed to slaughter or oppressive enslavement.
They couldn’t run. For one, the Egyptians had chariots while the Israelites were on foot. But even if they had some way to outrun the chariots, there was no place to run. The wilderness had “shut them in” (Ex. 14:3). The word of God tells us that the people were frightened (Ex. 13:10). It isn’t hard to understand why.
There were only two things Israel could do at that moment. Complain and pray. They did both. They cried out to the Lord (Ex. 14:10). But also, they complained, saying, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?” (Ex. 14:11).
What they didn’t know was that they were about to witness one of the most impactful miracles of all time. We call it the crossing of the Red Sea. It resulted in Israel walking between walls of water, then shortly later, watching the Egyptian corpses washing up to the shore at their feet.
Imagine the relief that, if you’ll pardon the expression, washed over the Israelites when they had seen God’s ultimate victory over Egypt. The army was gone. The threat demolished. No one would be pursuing them. Truly, from that moment, the slaves were a free people. Their great fear had been transformed into even greater triumph and the inevitable joy that comes with it.
What did they do after witnessing such a deliverance? They sang (Ex. 15:1). All of them did. Moses sang. “The sons of Israel sang” (Ex. 15:1). The great multitude of people lifted up their voices and declared, “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted” (Ex. 15:1). Meanwhile, all the women, thousands upon thousands of them, danced and played their timbrels while Miriam, Moses’ sister, cried out, “Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted” (Ex. 15:21). Can you imagine what that was like? Do you think the people were focused on getting the notes just right? Were they thinking about how they sounded?
I don’t think so. When I read Exodus 15, I imagine two million Israelites with joy that overflowed in their hearts and saturated their song. I wonder if the earth trembled at their sound. How far away could they be heard?
Should this sort of singing be uniquely theirs? Hasn’t God brought us victory over sin and over death itself? Our victory is greater. So is the miracle it took to accomplish. Which is harder, holding back a wall of water or ripping a soul free from the grips of death?
We have even greater reason to sing, but do we sing like they did on that day? Some sing because they enjoy doing so. They find great joy in making beautiful harmonies. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but is that how you envision Israel on the shores of the Red Sea? Others sing only because God has commanded them to. That’s an admirable reason, but is that how you envision Israel’s song? Others still, perhaps because they are overly self-conscious of their own singing abilities, don’t sing at all. That’s certainly not what was happening in Exodus 15.
It’s one thing to sing, but the people freed from bondage and granted victory over their enemies should do something beyond singing. It should be pure, unadulterated worship. It should be a response to the gift given us.
There have been many times where I have heard of churches facing a great concern and so they called everyone together for a prayer meeting. What a great idea! But… what happens once the prayers are answered? When is the last time you heard of Christians calling a God-has-answered-our-prayers song service? We have singings, to be sure. But a deliberate outpouring of song over a specific circumstance is something beyond the ordinary. It’s something that God deserves from us.