Adam Clarke Commentary
Moses and the Israelites sing a song of praise to God for their late deliverance, in which they celebrate the power of God, gloriously manifested in the destruction of Pharaoh and his host, Exodus 15:1; express their confidence in him as their strength and protector, Exodus 15:2, Exodus 15:3; detail the chief circumstances in the overthrow of the Egyptians, Exodus 15:4-8; and relate the purposes they had formed for the destruction of God‘s people, Exodus 15:9, and how he destroyed them in the imaginations of their hearts, Exodus 15:10. Jehovah is celebrated for the perfections of his nature and his wondrous works, Exodus 15:11-13. A prediction of the effect which the account of the destruction of the Egyptians should have on the Edomites, Moabites, and Canaanites, Exodus 15:14-16. A prediction of the establishment of Israel in the promised land, Exodus 15:17. The full chorus of praise, Exodus 15:18. Recapitulation of the destruction of the Egyptians, and the deliverance of Israel, Exodus 15:19. Miriam and the women join in and prolong the chorus, Exodus 15:20, Exodus 15:21. The people travel three days in the wilderness of Shur, and find no water, Exodus 15:22. Coming to Marah, and finding bitter waters, they murmur against Moses, Exodus 15:23, Exodus 15:24. In answer to the prayer of Moses, God shows him a tree by which the waters are sweetened, Exodus 15:25. God gives them statutes and gracious promises, Exodus 15:26. They come to Elim, where they find twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees, and there they encamp, Exodus 15:27.
Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song - Poetry has been cultivated in all ages and among all people, from the most refined to the most barbarous; and to it principally, under the kind providence of God, we are indebted for most of the original accounts we have of the ancient nations of the universe. Equally measured lines, with a harmonious collocation of expressive, sonorous, and sometimes highly metaphorical terms, the alternate lines either answering to each other in sense, or ending with similar sounds, were easily committed to memory, and easily retained. As these were often accompanied with a pleasing air or tune, the subject being a concatenation of striking and interesting events, histories formed thus became the amusement of youth, the softeners of the tedium of labor, and even the solace of age. In such a way the histories of most nations have been preserved. The interesting events celebrated, the rhythm or metre, and the accompanying tune or recitativo air, rendered them easily transmissible to posterity; and by means of tradition they passed safely from father to son through the times of comparative darkness, till they arrived at those ages in which the pen and the press have given them a sort of deathless duration and permanent stability, by multiplying the copies. Many of the ancient historic and heroic British tales are continued by tradition among the aboriginal inhabitants of Ireland to the present day; and the repetition of them constitutes the chief amusement of the winter evenings. Even the prose histories, which were written on the ground of the poetic, copied closely their exemplars, and the historians themselves were obliged to study all the beauties and ornaments of style, that their works might become popular; and to this circumstance we owe not a small measure of what is termed refinement of language. How observable is this in the history of Herodotus, who appears to have closely copied the ancient poetic records in his inimitable and harmonious prose; and, that his books might bear as near a resemblance as possible to the ancient and popular originals, he divided them into nine, and dedicated each to one of the muses! His work therefore seems to occupy the same place between the ancient poetic compositions and mere prosaic histories, as the polype does between plants and animals. Much even of our sacred records is written in poetry, which God has thus consecrated to be the faithful transmitter of remote and important events; and of this the song before the reader is a proof in point. Though this is not the first specimen of poetry we have met with in the Pentateuch, (see Lamech‘s speech to his wives, Genesis 4:23, Genesis 4:24; Noah‘s prophecy concerning his sons, Genesis 9:25-27; and Jacob‘s blessing to the twelve patriarchs, Genesis 49:2-27 (note)), yet it is the first regular ode of any considerable length, having but one subject; and it is all written in hemistichs, or half lines, the usual form in Hebrew poetry; and though this form frequently occurs, it is not attended to in our common printed Hebrew Bibles, except in this and three other places, (Deuteronomy 32, Judges 5, and 2 Samuel 22)., all of which shall be noticed as they occur. But in Dr. Kennicott‘s edition of the Hebrew Bible, all the poetry, wheresoever it occurs, is printed in its own hemistich form.
I will sing unto the Lord - Moses begins the song, and in the two first hemistichs states the subject of it; and these two first lines became the grand chorus of the piece, as we may learn from Exodus 15:21. See Dr. Kennicott‘s arrangement and translation of this piece at the end of this chapter. See Clarke‘s note on Exodus 15:26.
Triumphed gloriously - כי גאה גאה (ki gaoh gaah), he is exceedingly exalted, rendered by the Septuagint, Ενδοξως γαρ δεδοξασται , He is gloriously glorified; and surely this was one of the most signal displays of the glorious majesty of God ever exhibited since the creation of the world. And when it is considered that the whole of this transaction shadowed out the redemption of the human race from the thraldom and power of sin and iniquity by the Lord Jesus, and the final triumph of the Church of God over all its enemies, we may also join in the song, and celebrate Him who has triumphed so gloriously, having conquered death, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
The Lord is my strength and song - How judiciously are the members of this sentence arranged! He who has God for his strength, will have him for his song; and he to whom Jehovah is become salvation, will exalt his name. Miserably and untunably, in the ears of God, does that man sing praises, who is not saved by the grace of Christ, nor strengthened by the power of his might.
I will prepare him a habitation - ואנוהו (veanvehu). It has been supposed that Moses, by this expression, intended the building of the tabernacle; but it seems to come in very strangely in this place. Most of the ancient versions understood the original in a very different sense. The Vulgate has et glorificabo eum; the Septuagint δοξασω αυτον , I will Glorify him; with which the Syriac, Coptic, the Targum of Jonathan, and the Jerusalem Targum, agree. From the Targum of Onkelos the present translation seems to have been originally derived; he has translated the place ואבני לה מקדש (veebnei leh makdash), “And I will build him a sanctuary,” which not one of the other versions, the Persian excepted, acknowledges. Our own old translations are generally different from the present: Coverdale, “This my God, I will magnify him;” Matthew‘s, Cranmer‘s, and the Bishops‘ Bible, render it glorify, and the sense of the place seems to require it. Calmet, Houbigant, Kennicott, and other critics, contend for this translation.
My father‘s God - I believe Houbigant to be right, who translates the original, אלהי אבי (Elohey abi), Deus meus, pater meus est, “My God is my Father.” Every man may call the Divine Being his God; but only those who are his children by adoption through grace can call him their Father. This is a privilege which God has given to none but his children. See Galatians 4:6.
The Lord is a man of war - Perhaps it would be better to translate the words, Jehovah is the man or hero of the battle. As we scarcely ever apply the term to any thing but first-rate armed vessels, the change of the translation seems indispensable, though the common rendering is literal enough. Besides, the object of Moses was to show that man had no part in this victory, but that the whole was wrought by the miraculous power of God, and that therefore he alone should have all the glory.
The Lord is his name - That is, Jehovah. He has now, as the name implies, given complete existence to all his promises. See Clarke on Genesis 2:4 (note), and Exodus 6:3 (note).
Pharaoh‘s chariots - his host - his chosen captains - On such an expedition it is likely that the principal Egyptian nobility accompanied their king, and that the overthrow they met with here had reduced Egypt to the lowest extremity. Had the Israelites been intent on plunder, or had Moses been influenced by a spirit of ambition, how easily might both have gratified themselves, as, had they returned, they might have soon overrun and subjugated the whole land.
Thy right hand - Thy omnipotence, manifested in a most extraordinary way.
In the greatness of thine excellency - To this wonderful deliverance the Prophet Isaiah refers, Isaiah 63:11-14: “Then he remembered the days of old, Moses and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he that put his Holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name? That led them through the deep, as a horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest; so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.”
The depths were congealed - The strong east wind (Exodus 14:21) employed to dry the bottom of the sea, is here represented as the blast of God‘s nostrils that had congealed or frozen the waters, so that they stood in heaps like a wall on the right hand and on the left.
The enemy said - As this song was composed by Divine inspiration, we may rest assured that these words were spoken by Pharaoh and his captains, and the passions they describe felt, in their utmost sway, in their hearts; but how soon was their boasting confounded? “Thou didst blow with thy wind, and the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters!”
Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? - We have already seen that all the Egyptian gods, or the objects of the Egyptians‘ idolatry, were confounded, and rendered completely despicable, by the ten plagues, which appear to have been directed principally against them. Here the people of God exult over them afresh: Who among these gods is like unto Thee? They can neither save nor destroy; Thou dost both in the most signal manner.
Glorious in holiness - Infinitely resplendent in this attribute, essential to the perfection of the Divine nature.
Fearful in praises - Such glorious holiness cannot be approached without the deepest reverence and fear, even by angels, who veil their faces before the majesty of God. How then should man, who is only sin and dust, approach the presence of his Maker!
Doing wonders? - Every part of the work of God is wonderful; not only miracles, which imply an inversion or suspension of the laws of nature, but every part of nature itself. Who can conceive how a single blade of grass is formed; or how earth, air, and water become consolidated in the body of the oak? And who can comprehend how the different tribes of plants and animals are preserved, in all the distinctive characteristics of their respective natures? And who can conceive how the human being is formed, nourished, and its different parts developed? What is the true cause of the circulation of the blood? or, how different ailments produce the solids and fluids of the animal machine? What is life, sleep, death? And how an impure and unholy soul is regenerated, purified, refined, and made like unto its great Creator? These are wonders which God alone works, and to himself only are they fully known.
The earth swallowed them - It is very likely there was also an earthquake on this occasion, and that chasms were made in the bottom of the sea, by which many of them were swallowed up, though multitudes were overwhelmed by the waters, whose dead bodies were afterward thrown ashore. The psalmist strongly intimates that there was an earthquake on this occasion: The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven; the lightnings lightened the world; the Earth Trembled and Shook; Psalm 77:18.
Thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation - As this ode was dictated by the Spirit of God, It is most natural to understand this and the following verses, to the end of the 18th, as containing a prediction of what God would do for this people which he had so miraculously redeemed. On this mode of interpretation it would be better to read several of the verbs in the future tense.
The dukes of Edom - Idumea was governed at this time by those called אלפים (alluphim), heads, chiefs, or captains. See Clarke‘s note on Genesis 36:15.
Till thy people pass over - Not over the Red Sea, for that event had been already celebrated; but over the desert and Jordan, in order to be brought into the promised land.
Thou shalt bring them in - By thy strength and mercy alone shall they get the promised inheritance.
And plant them - Give them a fixed habitation in Canaan, after their unsettled wandering life in the wilderness.
In the mountain - Meaning Canaan, which was a very mountainous country, Deuteronomy 11:11; or probably Mount Zion, on which the temple was built. Where the pure worship of God was established, there the people might expect both rest and safety. Wherever the purity of religion is established and preserved, and the high and the low endeavor to regulate their lives according to its precepts, the government of that country is likely to be permanent.
The Lord shall reign for ever and ever - This is properly the grand chorus in which all the people joined. The words are expressive of God‘s everlasting dominion, not only in the world, but in the Church; not only under the law, but also under the Gospel; not only in time, but through eternity. The original לעלם ועד (leolam vaed) may be translated, for ever and onward; or, by our very expressive compound term, for Evermore, i.e. for ever and more - not only through time, but also through all duration. His dominion shall be ever the same, active and infinitely extending. With this verse the song seems to end, as with it the hemistichs or poetic lines terminate. The 20th and beginning of the 21st are in plain prose, but the latter part of the 21st is in (hemistichs), as it contains the response made by Miriam and the Israelitish women at different intervals during the song. See Dr. Kennicott‘s arrangement of the parts at the end of this chapter.
And Miriam the prophetess - We have already seen that Miriam was older than either Moses or Aaron: for when Moses was exposed on the Nile, she was a young girl capable of managing the stratagem used for the preservation of his life; and then Aaron was only three years and three months old, for he was fourscore and three years old when Moses was but fourscore, (see Exodus 7:7); so that Aaron was older than Moses, and Miriam considerably older than either, not less probably than nine or ten years of age. See Clarke‘s notes on Exodus 2:2. There is great diversity of opinion on the origin of the name of Miriam, which is the same with the Greek Μαριαμ , the Latin Maria, and the English Mary. Some suppose it to be compounded of מר (mar), a drop, (Isaiah 40:15), and ים (yam), the sea, and that from this etymology the heathens formed their Venus, whom they feign to have sprung from the sea. St. Jerome gives several etymologies for the name, which at once show how difficult it is to ascertain it: she who enlightens me, or she who enlightens them, or the star of the sea. Others, the lady of the sea, the bitterness of the sea, etc. It is probable that the first or the last is the true one, but it is a matter of little importance, as we have not the circumstance marked, as in the case of Moses and many others, that gave rise to the name.
The prophetess - הנביאה (hannebiah). For the meaning of the word prophet, נביא (nabi), see the note on Genesis 20:7. It is very likely that Miriam was inspired by the Spirit of God to instruct the Hebrew women, as Moses and Aaron were to instruct the men; and when she and her brother Aaron sought to share in the government of the people with Moses, we find her laying claim to the prophetic influence, Numbers 12:2: Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath he not Spoken Also By Us? And that she was constituted joint leader of the people with her two brothers, we have the express word of God by the Prophet Micah, Micah 6:4: For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt - and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Hence it is very likely that she was the instructress of the women, and regulated the times, places, etc., of their devotional acts; for it appears that from the beginning to the present day the Jewish women all worshipped apart.
A timbrel - תף (toph), the same word which is translated tabret, Genesis 31:27, on which the reader is desired to consult the note. See Clarke‘s note on Genesis 31:27.
And with dances - מחלת (mecholoth). Many learned men suppose that this word means some instruments of wind music, because the word comes from the root חלל (chalal), the ideal meaning of which is to perforate, penetrate, pierce, stab, and hence to wound. Pipes or hollow tubes, such as flutes, hautboys, and the like, may be intended. Both the Arabic and Persian understand it as meaning instruments of music of the pipe, drum, or sistrum kind; and this seems to comport better with the scope and design of the place than the term dances. It must however be allowed that religious dances have been in use from the remotest times; and yet in most of the places where the term occurs in our translation, an instrument of music bids as fair to be its meaning as a dance of any kind. Miriam is the first prophetess on record, and by this we find that God not only poured out his Spirit upon men, but upon women also; and we learn also that Miriam was not only a prophetess, but a poetess also, and must have had considerable skill in music to have been able to conduct her part of these solemnities. It may appear strange that during so long an oppression in Egypt, the Israelites were able to cultivate the fine arts; but that they did so there is the utmost evidence from the Pentateuch. Not only architecture, weaving, and such necessary arts, were well known among them, but also the arts that are called ornamental, such as those of the goldsmith, lapidary, embroiderer, furrier, etc., of which we have ample proof in the construction of the tabernacle and its utensils. However ungrateful, rebellious, etc., the Jews may have been, the praise of industry and economy can never be denied them. In former ages, and in all places even of their dispersions, they appear to have been frugal and industrious, and capable of great proficiency in the most elegant and curious arts; but they are now greatly degenerated.
The wilderness of Shur - This was on the coast of the Red Sea on their road to Mount Sinai. See the map.
Marah - So called from the bitter waters found there. Dr. Shaw conjectures that this place is the same as that now called Corondel, where there is still a small rill which, if not diluted with dews or rain, continues brackish. See his account at the end of Exodus (Exodus 40:38 (note)).
The people murmured - They were in a state of great mental degradation, owing to their long and oppressive vassalage, and had no firmness of character. See Clarke‘s note on Exodus 13:17.
He cried unto the Lord - Moses was not only their leader, but also their mediator. Of prayer and dependence on the Almighty, the great mass of the Israelites appear to have had little knowledge at this time. Moses, therefore, had much to bear from their weakness, and the merciful Lord was long-suffering.
The Lord showed him a tree - What this tree was we know not: some think that the tree was extremely bitter itself, such as the quassia; and that God acted in this as he generally does, correcting contraries by contraries, which, among the ancient physicians, was a favourite maxim, Clavus clavo expellitur. The Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem say that, when Moses prayed, “the Word of the Lord showed him the tree ארדפני (ardiphney), on which he wrote the great and precious name of (Jehovah), and then threw it into the waters, and the waters thereby became sweet” But what the tree ardiphney was we are not informed.
There he made for them - Though it is probable that the Israelites are here intended, yet the word לו (lo) should not be translated for them, but to him, for these statutes were given to Moses that he might deliver them to the people.
There he proved them - נסהו (nissahu), he proved Him. By this murmuring of the people he proved Moses, to see, speaking after the manner of men, whether he would be faithful, and, in the midst of the trials to which he was likely to be exposed, whether he would continue to trust in the Lord, and seek all his help from him.
If thou wilt diligently hearken - What is contained in this verse appears to be what is intended by the statute and ordinance mentioned in the preceding: If thou wilt diligently hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, etc. This statute and ordinance implied the three following particulars:
1.That they should acknowledge Jehovah for their God, and thus avoid all idolatry.
2.That they should receive his word and testimony as a Divine revelation, binding on their hearts and lives, and thus be saved from profligacy of every kind, and from acknowledging the maxims or adopting the customs of the neighboring nations.
3.That they should continue to do so, and adorn their profession with a holy life. T
hese things being attended to, then the promise of God was, that they should have none of the diseases of the Egyptians put on them; that they should be kept in a state of health of body and peace of mind; and if at any time they should be afflicted, on application to God the evil should be removed, because he was their healer or physician - I am the Lord that healeth thee. That the Israelites had in general a very good state of health, their history warrants us to believe; and when they were afflicted, as in the case of the fiery serpents, on application to God they were all healed. The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel states that the statutes which Moses received at this time were commandments concerning the observance of the Sabbath, duty to parents, the ordinances concerning wounds and bruises, and the penalties which sinners should incur by transgressing them. But it appears that the general ordinances already mentioned are those which are intended here, and this seems to be proved beyond dispute by Jeremiah 7:22, Jeremiah 7:23: “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices: but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.”
They came to Elim - This was in the desert of Sin, and, according to Dr. Shaw, about two leagues from Tor, and thirty from Marah or Corondel.
Twelve wells of water - One for each of the tribes of Israel, say the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem.
And threescore and ten palm trees - One for each of the seventy elders - Ibid.
Moses. Part I
1.I will sing to Jehovah, for he hath triumphed gloriously;
2.My strength and my song is Jehovah;
3.(Perhaps a chorus sung by the men)
Moses. Part II
4.Pharaoh‘s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea;
5.The depths have covered them, they went down;
8.Even at the blast of thy displeasure the waters are gathered together;
Moses. Part III
9.The enemy said: ‹I will pursue, I shall overtake;
10.Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them;
13.Thou in thy mercy leadest the people whom thou hast redeemed;
Moses. Part IV
14.The nations have heard, and are afraid;
15.Already are the dukes of Edom in consternation,
18.Thou shalt bring them and plant them in the mount of thine inheritance:
Grand Chorus by All.
Jehovah for ever and ever shall reign.”
1.When poetry is consecrated to the service of God, and employed as above to commemorate his marvellous acts, it then becomes a very useful handmaid to piety, and God is honored by his gifts. God inspired the song of Moses, and perhaps from this very circumstance it has passed for current among the most polished of the heathen nations, that a poet is a person Divinely inspired; and hence the epithet of προφητης , prophet, and vates, of the same import, was given them among the Greeks and Romans.
2.The song of Moses is a proof of the miraculous passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea. There has been no period since the Hebrew nation left Egypt in which this song was not found among them, as composed on that occasion, and to commemorate that event. It may be therefore considered as completely authentic as any living witness could be who had himself passed through the Red Sea, and whose life had been protracted through all the intervening ages to the present day.
3.We have already seen that it is a song of triumph for the deliverance of the people of God, and that it was intended to point out the final salvation and triumph of the whole Church of Christ; so that in the heaven of heavens the redeemed of the Lord, both among the Jews and the Gentiles, shall unite together to sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. See Revelation 15:2-4. Reader, implore the mercy of God to enable thee to make thy calling and election sure, that thou mayest bear thy part in this glorious and eternal triumph.
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