Our strength and our song – Exodus 15:1-18

What is your favourite song? It’s a commonly asked question, and one which most people could confidently answer fairly quickly. We all have favourites for various reasons; a song may remind us of an event, a person or a specific period of our lives. The lyrics may mean something profound to us, even beyond their original meanings. It may be that we just like the tune.

Personally, my favourite is A Day In The Life, the last track for the Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not only do I love its complexity and composition, and it’s contrast between down to earth and abstract lyrics, but it also brings me back to listening to it during my student days.

Songs are an evocative, powerful way to convey emotions, ideas and messages for a number of reasons, not least of which is the flexibility of language we have in song lyrics. Many songs are also some of our greatest poetic works, inspiring people to action, to love or just to have fun.

That’s why the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 is so special. We do not know what tune Moses will have sang it to, but we do know that scholars accept that this song has at least a claim on being one of the the oldest known song lyrics in the world. It’s generally accepted to have been written between the 10th Century and 8th Century BC; that makes this song between 3,000 and 3,200 years old!

You don’t need to have read the context of the song to see when it was sung; a quick view of the lyrics will show you that the Israelites are singing this having just crossed the Red Sea and seen their captors of many generations, the Egyptians, decimated by the inrushing waves. This is a song of victory, of liberation, of salvation and, most importantly of all, it is a song of praise and worship to the God who has saved them. And it is in verse 2 that we get a feel for how the Israelites view God following this miraculous escape,

The Lord is my strong defender;
he is the one who has saved me.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will sing about his greatness.

Now, who fancies going back to school and learning a little Hebrew? Here we go…

The second half of this verse is as follows.

זֶ֤ה אֵלִי֙ וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ אֱלֹהֵ֥י אָבִ֖י וַאֲרֹמְמֶֽנְהוּ׃

zeh ’ê-lî wə-’an-wê-hū, ’ĕ-lō-hê ’ā-ḇî wa-’ă-rō-mə-men-hū.

The important part here is ’ê-lî (my God) and ’ĕ-lō-hê (his [my father’s] God), both of which are versions of the old Semitic word EL.
EL literally means “god”, but its root is in the word for “strong”, “mighty”, “powerful”. When Moses uses it here he is saying that the LORD, Yahweh, is his strong, mighty, powerful God. It is the God of Israel’s strength which has saved His people. It is the God of Israel’s Might which has defeated the greatest army in the world. It is the power of the God of Israel which is over Moses and his race.

And it is this strength which will continue to see Israel flourish against all odds. Despite the many powerful war-like tribes in the promised land, all with their own gods, Israel has the one true God, the one who, in verse 11, is more powerful than any other (in fact, Moses uses another version on EL, bā-êlim, in this verse).

The use of EL to describe God isn’t limited to this passage. There are over 200 uses of it in the Old Testament, including Numbers 23:22,

God has brought them out of Egypt; He fights for them like a wild ox. (or Unicorn if you read the KJV!!)

And Deuteronomy 7:9,

Remember that the Lord your God is the only God and that he is faithful. He will keep his covenant and show his constant love to a thousand generations of those who love him and obey his commands.

In both of these, and many of the others, the saving power and grace of God are the major theme the writer is trying to get across. By using EL rather than any other form of the word God they are saying that our God’s strength is so great that whatever position we find ourselves in, whatever troubles or evils have come into our lives or the lives of His people as a whole, if we just trust in Him, cry out to Him in love, he will hear us and he will rescue us.

Nowhere in all of Scripture is this more evident that the one New Testament example we see of the name EL. You may already have cast your minds back just 2 weeks when you may well have heard these words in Mark’s gospel read out,

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

“My God, my God, why did you abandon me?”

You see, EL, The Strong One, is there to rescue his people throughout history. Just as he rescued Israel and took them out of slavery in Egypt, so he looked down on his people, still in slavery, but to sin and death, and rescued them once more. As Jesus cried out to His Father, His God, God was at work in all of it, lifting his people out of the pit of sin and rescuing us for all of eternity. It took strength that we did not possess in ourselves to do this, to pay the price for all sin and to save all those who love him, as those words in Deuteronomy say,

Remember that the Lord your God is the only God and that he is faithful. He will keep his covenant and show his constant love to a thousand generations of those who love him and obey his commands.

It is by His strength Israel were saved. It is by His strength the victory over Egypt was won.

It is by His strength we are saved. It is by His strength the victory over sin and death are won.

And it is by His strength that the final battle over all evil and all the forces of darkness will finally be won. And even this victory is echoed in Moses’ song, for we hear of the song once more, during that final battle in Revelation 15:3,

They [the seven angels] were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Lord God Almighty,
how great and wonderful are your deeds!
King of the nations,
how right and true are your ways!”

His saving strength, power and might are at work throughout eternity. They are limitless, but they are freely given to all those who call on His name. We need to remember that at all times. No matter where we find ourselves, what is going on in our lives, what trials, troubles or temptations we have to face, it doesn’t matter if we don’t have the strength to get through it. It doesn’t matter if we simply aren’t able to go on alone. If our God, EL, can defeat the mightiest army to save Israel, if He can defeat sin and death to save everyone, and if He can defeat all evil and darkness in the cosmos to save the whole of His creation, if He can do all that then He can, and will take our hand and walk us through the storms of life. Times will get tough and unbearable at times, but the incredible strength of God will see us through anything.

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