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Revelation 5:1 & Exodus 15:1-21 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:43 mins 59 secs

Corporate Worship: The First Hymn Rev. 5:11; Exodus 15:1-21


We have referred to Psalm 96:1, 2 where the opening line says, "Sing to the Lord a new song." The idea of singing a new song means to sing a song, right write a new song, as a result of new or recent activities of God in history. Unfortunately it has been taken and abused in the contemporary worship scene to think that every generation needs to wrote new kinds of music consistent with whatever the music is that is popular among that generation. That is bad exegesis and poor application. The idea through Scripture, whenever there is this phraseology "sing a new song"—and there is also the use of that phraseology in Revelation—is because God continues doing acts in people's lives in history. So singing a song is a response to the fact that God has acted in history. It is bad, though, to reflect upon the fact that today we have little solid, sound, appropriate music written churches in this vein. When we talk about music, so often the issue that is raised is old versus new. It is not really old versus new, that is not the issue; it is a matter of content and quality of the music.


The first hymn that we have in the Bible is in Exodus chapter fifteen, a song of praise written in response to God's deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea. As we go through Exodus we see that there are two different aspects to worship developed. One is the ritual aspect. It is very well defined, God reveals it in specific detail exactly how everything was to be built, the exact dimensions of every article of furniture, He imbued certain craftsmen with His Holy Spirit who guided them in the creation of these things so that they would be precisely according to God's standards. What we see in this is that God is a God of decision, a God who is concerned with detail. We often run foul of that in our contemporary culture where we just want to accept generalities and vague statements and just be happy and comfortable with that. God is very specific as to how we should worship and how we should not. He is specific about how we should live the Christian life; He is very specific about salvation: that it is only by faith in Jesus Christ alone. When Jesus Christ came in the first advent He fulfilled specific prophecies in detail. God is a God of precision, and so when we study worship we need to understand that there are absolutes and within the framework of those absolutes there is a realm for human creativity in response to God. That is what we see in the Psalms and what we see in music. We don't see anywhere in Scripture specific revealed guidelines on the writing of songs. What we see in examples like the song of Moses, the song of Miriam, the song of Deborah, and the prayer of Hannah are models that give us the framework. They are not prescriptive in the sense that we have to follow these in precisely this order but it gives these patterns and models that we are to use. Even though we don't have specific revelation on how to write songs and how to write hymns we have these examples.


We also know that as God revealed the specific details and the blueprint for the temple that Solomon was to build we are not told what that revelation was. We are just told that he did. Solomon believed that God revealed certain principles and patterns to Moses, as well as to David, and they exemplified these principles but did not reveal those principles. So we have to think through what is going on in the Scripture. We have to recognise that singing is a very important and significant part of the life of the believer. Martin Luther in preface to his hymnal in 1544, just before he died, wrote: "For God has cheered our hearts and minds through His dear Son, whom He gave for us to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. He who believes this honestly cannot be quiet about it." When we understand what God has done for us then it is a natural and a good response to sing in praise to God. This is exactly what we see in Exodus chapter 15—a song of praise and celebration. Celebration is an aspect or dimension of worship where we are celebrating what God has done in history.


Exodus 15:1 NASB "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.'" They didn't just sing it; somebody had to first write it. Not only did someone first write it but they had to somehow distribute it. Somehow these 2-million people had to learn the content of this so that they could sing it corporately. There is another dimension to this as well. As we read through this song, it appears that there are basically three parts: an introductory section in vv. 1-3, another from 4-10, and then another from 11-17. It appears that at the end of each of these sections that the women sang responsively to the men singing the main part. The women sang antiphonally as a chorus to what the men have been saying, and what they sing is recorded in verse 21. This suggests as well that there is some sort of rehearsal and order to this and that they are not just singing spontaneously in some kind of ad hoc manner. There is planning, organization, structure, and perhaps even rehearsal.


The song begins with the first person singular pronoun because this reflects the writer himself. This is common in numerous hymns in the Scripture, but just because it begins with "I" doesn't mean it is a self-absorbed reflection on someone's experience with God. There are numerous hymns—Deborah's hymn, Judges 5:1; the hymn that is a meditation on the Davidic covenant, Psalm 89:1; Psalm 101:1—which all began with "I" because the writer is expressing his praise to God. As we read through them we realise that even though they begin with a first person pronoun it is not me-centred or subjectively-centred; it is centred on what God has done objectively in history.


In Exodus 15:1 the emphasis immediately shifts to God: "I will sing to Yahweh." This is in a causal form in the Hebrew expressing the reason or the basis for seeing, "because God has triumphed gloriously" or "God is gloriously exalted." In fact the Hebrew is a phrase of emphasis, a phrase where there is a repetition of the verb in a structure that emphasises the certainty or is used for emphasis. Then it is specific: "The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea," not just that He won the battle. So the opening verse is a summary but nevertheless it has specificity to it.


In verses 2  & 3 we see that he adds an admission or confession, a detailed expression of what has happened. It begins with God as the focus: NASB "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." God is our strength and is the cause of our rejoicing by songs. This is not a sing about justification salvation, it is a song about the physical military deliverance of the Israelites as they have escaped from the oppression of the Egyptians. God has delivered them from slavery. Of course, that has become the picture later on in Scripture of our salvation. For just as the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt every human being is enslaved in sin, and just as it was necessary for God to work on His own without any human effort to redeem or purchase or deliver Israel from slavery, God and God alone has performed what is necessary to deliver us from slavery to sin. That occurred at the cross. So this is a type or picture of what God does for everybody in salvation at the cross. When we trust in Christ for salvation then we realise that deliverance. It is a deliverance from the penalty of sin as we are justified and regenerated. The statement of purpose in the song is to extol God; it is to talk about who God is and what God has done. Then in verse 3 it focuses on the fact that the Lord is a "man of war," a literal translation, but really should be understood as an idiom for warrior: "The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name." God is not a pacifist.


The next division beginning in verse 4 focuses again on what God has done and the details are more fully developed. NASB "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." Then verse 6 focuses on God. Ex 15:6 "Your right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy." The "hand" is an anthropomorphism which stands for the ability of God to do something. It is with the hand that we accomplish things and the hand of a picture of His omnipotence. So the words focus on the power of God. In the core of the Psalms and hymns in Scripture there is a reflection on the essence of God. [7] "And in the greatness [abundance/immensity] of Your excellence You overthrow those who rise up against You; You send forth Your burning anger, {and} it consumes them as chaff." Pharaoh is viewed as the one who rose against God—man apart from God is viewed as a rebel. [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." This is an interesting picture of how the waters seemed to just solidity on either side. Then the enemies ideas are picture. [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.'" The enemy thinks he will destroy God's plan, yet God responded by covering them with the sea.


Verse 11 begins to reflect upon who God is. NASB "Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?" The word "Awesome" should be understood as "honoured"—"honoured in praises." The word "majestic" is the idea of being magnified, glorified. [12] "You stretched out Your right hand, The earth swallowed them." A picture of power. [13] "In Your lovingkindness You have led the people whom You have redeemed; In Your strength You have guided {them} to Your holy habitation." This is what is behind God's work: He is mercy.


Exodus 15:14 NASB "The peoples have heard, they tremble; Anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia." What he means by "the peoples" here is the Gentiles, the Canaanites. They were headed to the land where the Canaanites exist and who will hear of this and will be afraid. So there is a focus in vv. 14-16 of this future application of the principle already explained in the hymn in the first 15 verses.


Exodus 15:17 NASB "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." This is looking forward to a permanent dwelling of God in their midst. Then the eventual manifestation and presence of God: [18] "The LORD shall reign forever and ever." 


So this gives us a sample of the kind of lyrics that should be in a song. It is theocentric, God-centric; it focuses on His character. And then there is even application of what he has in the past to what He can do in the future. The sense is that it is a reminder to people of who God is, what He has done, so that in future similar events they have strength and confidence in God.


In verse 19 there is a historical note added about how God did destroy the forces of Pharaoh: NASB "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."


Verses  20, 21 give for us a recognition of a level of complexity in this; that there was some antiphonal singing. The men sang one part; the women sang another part that was like a summary or a chorus. "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." The word "prophetess" is an interesting word. There are several women in Scripture who are mentioned as prophetesses, and it is an interesting use of the word because in several cases—Deborah, Judges chapter five, also 2 Kings 22:14; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36—there is no mention of singing or of what they did either. There is a somewhat interesting verse (1 Chronicles 25:3) that is associated with music and the singing of hymns. NASB "Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun with the harp, who prophesied in giving thanks and praising the LORD." In this verse the word "prophesy" is associated with the writing and singing of hymns. So we need to think that perhaps this concept of prophesying isn't what we think of in terms of what we think of in either revelatory or foretelling but it has another meaning which is related to the singing of praise to God in the Old Testament. We praise God for who he is and what he did in redemption. He paid the price for our sins, so that singing and worship when a body of believers comes together is a response, a reflection of who God is and what He did. That means that when we sing, the kinds of words that we sing, the content of what we do in worship always needs to drive our attention back to God and the cross. Even if it starts with man and his experiences, as the Psalms do at times, it always ends up glorifying God because it is all about Him and not about us.