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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 15

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-21


"The story of the first half of Exodus, in broad summary, is Rescue. The story of the second half, in equally broad summary, is Response, both immediate response and continuing response. And binding together and undergirding both Rescue and Response is Presence, the Presence of Yahweh from whom both Rescue and Response ultimately derive." [Note: Durham, p. xxiii.]

A. God’s preparation of Israel and Moses chs. 1-4

Verses 17-21

D. God’s completion of Israel’s liberation 13:17-15:21

The Israelites now began their migration from Goshen to Canaan.

Verses 1-21

3. Israel’s song of deliverance 15:1-21

"The song is composed of three gradually increasing strophes, each of which commences with the praise of Jehovah, and ends with a description of the overthrow of the Egyptian host (Exodus 15:2-18). The theme announced in the introduction in Exodus 15:1 is thus treated in three different ways; and whilst the omnipotence of God, displayed in the destruction of the enemy, is the prominent topic in the first two strophes, the third depicts with prophetic confidence the fruit of this glorious event in the establishment of Israel, as a kingdom of Jehovah, in the promised inheritance." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:50.]

Cassuto divided the strophes better, I believe, as Exodus 15:1-6, Exodus 15:7-11, and Exodus 15:12-16, with an epilogue in Exodus 15:17-18. [Note: Cassuto, 173. See also Jasper J. Burden, "A Stylistic Analysis of Exodus 15:1-21 : Theory and Practice," OTWSA 29 (1986):34-70.] Kaiser proposed a similar division: Exodus 15:1-5, Exodus 15:6-10, Exodus 15:11-16 a, and Exodus 15:16-18. [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 393-96.]

"It is not comparable to any one psalm, or song or hymn, or liturgy known to us anywhere else in the OT or in ANE [ancient Near Eastern] literature." [Note: Durham, p. 203.]

"Yahweh is both the subject and the object of this psalm; the hymn is about him and to him, both here and in the similar usage of Judges 5:3 . . ." [Note: Ibid., p. 205.]

It is interesting that Moses described the Egyptian pursuers as being thrown into the sea (Exodus 15:4) and sinking like a stone (Exodus 15:5) and lead (Exodus 15:10). The same image describes Pharaoh’s earlier order to throw the Hebrew babies into the Nile River (Exodus 1:22). God did to the Egyptians what they had done to the Israelites. [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 271.]

This hymn is a fitting climax to all God’s miracles on behalf of the Israelites in leading them out of Egypt. [Note: See Richard D. Patterson, "Victory at Sea: Prose and Poetry in Exodus 14-15," Bibliotheca Sacra 161:641 (January-March 2004):42-54.] It is a song of praise that focuses on God Himself and attributes to Him the superiority over all other gods that He had demonstrated (cf. Exodus 15:11). Undoubtedly the Israelites sang this inspired song many times during their wilderness wanderings and for generations from then on. [Note: See Jeffrey E. MacLurg, "An Ode to Joy: The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-21)," Exegesis and Exposition 1:1 (Fall 1986):43-54.] The first part of the song (Exodus 15:1-12) looks back on God’s destruction of the Egyptian soldiers, and the second part (Exodus 15:13-18) predicts Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. The divine name appears ten times.

"The event at the Red Sea, when the Egyptian army was drowned, was celebrated as a great military victory achieved by God (Exodus 15:1-12). It was that event, wherein a new dimension of the nature of God was discovered by the Hebrews (the new understanding is expressed forcefully by the explanation ’the Lord is a man in battle’ [Exodus 15:3]), that opened to their understanding the real possibility, if not necessity, of taking possession of the promised land by means of military conquest (Exodus 15:13-18)." [Note: Peter Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament, p. 67.]

"The Exodus was one of the foundational events of Israel’s religion. It marked the liberation from Egyptian slavery, which in turn made possible the formation of a relationship of covenant between Israel and God. And nowhere is the Exodus given more powerful expression than in the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18), a great victory hymn celebrating God’s triumph over Egypt at the sea. To this day, the ancient hymn continues to be employed in the synagogue worship of Judaism. Its continued use reflects the centrality of its theme, that of God’s control over the forces of both nature and history in the redemption of his people.

"When one reads the Song of the Sea, one immediately gains an impression of the joy and exhilaration expressed by those who first used its words in worship. But what is not immediately evident to the modern reader is the subtle manner in which the poet has given force to his themes by the adaptation of Canaanite mythology. Underlying the words and structure of the Hebrew hymn are the motifs of the central mythology of Baal; only when one understands the fashion in which that mythology has been transformed can one go on to perceive the extraordinary significance which the poet attributed to the Exodus from Egypt.

"The poet has applied some of the most central motifs of the myth of Baal. These motifs may be summarized in certain key terms: conflict, order, kingship, and palace-construction. Taking the cycle of Baal texts as a whole (see further Chapter IV), the narrative begins with conflict between Baal and Yamm (’Sea’); Baal, representing order, is threatened by the chaotic Yamm. Baal’s conquest of Yamm marks one of the steps in the process of creation; order is established, and chaos is subdued. Baal’s victory over Yamm is also the key to his kingship, and to symbolize the order and consolidate the kingship, Baal initiates the construction of his palace. And then, in the course of the myth, conflict breaks out again, this time between Baal and Mot. Baal is eventually victorious in this conflict, establishing once again his kingship and the rule of order. It is important to note not only the centrality of these motifs in the Baal myth, but also their significance; the motifs as a whole establish a cosmological framework within which to interpret the Baal myth. It is, above all, a cosmology, developing the origins and permanent establishment of order in the world, as understood and believed by the Canaanites. Its central celebration is that of creation.

"In the Song of the Sea, the poet has developed the same central motifs in the structure of his song. The song begins with conflict between God and Egypt (Exodus 15:1-12), but the way in which the poet has transformed the ancient motifs is instructive. ’Sea’ is no longer the adversary of order, but God uses the sea (Hebrew yam) as an instrument in the conquest of chaos. After the conquest, God is victorious and establishes order; his kingship is proclaimed in a statement of his incomparability (Exodus 15:11). But then the theme of conflict is resumed again, as future enemies are anticipated (Exodus 15:14-16). They, too, would be conquered, and eventually God’s palace and throne would be established as a symbol of the order achieved in his victory (Exodus 15:17). Finally, God’s kingship would be openly declared, as a consequence of his victories: ’the Lord shall reign for ever and ever’ (Exodus 15:18). The Hebrew expression for this statement of kingship is yhwh ymlk, directly analogous to the celebration of Baal’s kingship in the Ugaritic texts: b’l ymlk.

"It is one thing to trace the motifs of the Baal myth in the Song of the Sea; it is another to grasp their significance. The primary significance lies in the cosmological meaning of the motifs; the Hebrew poet has taken the symbolic language of creation and adapted it to give expression to his understanding of the meaning of the Exodus. At one level, the Exodus was simply the escape of Hebrews from Egyptian slavery; at another level, it marked a new act of divine creation. Just as Genesis 1 celebrates the creation of the world, so too Exodus 15 celebrates the creation of a new people, Israel. And when one perceives this underlying significance of the poetic language employed in the Song of the Sea, one is then in a position to understand better another portion of the biblical text, namely, the reasons given for the observation of the sabbath day." [Note: Idem, Ugarit and the Old Testament, pp. 88-89. See also Frank M. Cross Jr., "The Song of the Sea and Canaanite Myth," in God and Christ: Existence and Province, pp. 1-25.]

"Throughout the poem, however, the picture of God’s great deeds foreshadows most closely that of David, who defeated the chiefs of Edom, Philistia, and Canaan and made Mount Zion the eternal home for the Lord’s sanctuary (Exodus 15:17)." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 272.]

"The poem of Exodus 15 celebrates Yahweh present with his people and doing for them as no other god anywhere and at any time can be present to do. As such, it is a kind of summary of the theological base of the whole of the Book of Exodus." [Note: Durham, p. 210.]

Worship was the result of redemption. The people looked back at their deliverance and forward to God’s Promised Land. At this point their joy was due to their freedom from slavery. However the desert lay ahead. The family of Abraham had become a nation, and God was dwelling among them in the cloud. God’s presence with the nation introduced the need for holiness in Israel. The emphasis on holiness begins with God’s dwelling among His people in the cloud. It increased when God descended on the tabernacle and ark of the covenant.

The parallel that exists between Abraham’s experiences and Israel’s is also significant. God first called Abram out of pagan Ur. Then He blessed him with a covenant after the patriarch obeyed God and went where Yahweh led him. God did the same thing with Israel. This similarity suggests that God’s dealings with both Abram and Israel may be programmatic and indicative of His method of dealing with His elect generally.

Verses 22-26

The wilderness of Shur was a section of semi-desert to the east of Egypt’s border. It occupied the northwestern part of the Sinai Peninsula, and it separated Egypt from Palestine (Exodus 15:22).

". . . wilderness does not imply a waste of sand, but a broad open expanse, which affords pasture enough for a nomad tribe wandering with their flocks. Waste and desolate so far as human habitations are concerned, the traveller [sic] will only encounter a few Bedouins. But everywhere the earth is clothed with a thin vegetation, scorched in summer drought, but brightening up, as at the kiss of the Creator, into fair and beautiful pastures, at the rainy season and in the neighbourhood of a spring." [Note: Meyer, p. 178.]

This area has not changed much over the years.

Moses had asked Pharaoh’s permission for the Israelites to go a three-day journey into the wilderness (Exodus 3:18; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 8:27), but now, having gone three days, the people found no water suitable for drinking. The water at the oasis later called Marah was brackish (Exodus 15:23-24). This condition made the people complain again (cf. Exodus 14:11-12). In three days they had forgotten God’s miracles at the Red Sea, much less the plagues. This should prove that miracles do not result in great faith. Rather great faith comes from a settled conviction that God is trustworthy.

"When the supply fails, our faith is soon gone." [Note: Martin Luther, quoted by Keil and Delitzsch, 2:58.]

". . . we may in our journey have reached the pools that promised us satisfaction, only to find them brackish. That marriage, that friendship, that new home, that partnership, that fresh avenue of pleasure, which promised so well turns out to be absolutely disappointing. Who has not muttered ’Marah’ over some desert well which he strained every nerve to reach, but when reached, it disappointed him!" [Note: Meyer, p. 181.]

Some commentators have seen the tree cast into the water as a type of the cross of Christ or Christ Himself that, applied to the bitter experiences of life, makes them sweet. What is definitely clear is that by using God’s specified means and obeying His word the Israelites learned that God would heal them (Exodus 15:25). Throwing the wood into the water did not magically change it. This was a symbolic act, similar to Moses lifting his staff over the sea (Exodus 14:16). God changed the water. He is able to turn bitter water into sweet water for His people.

The "statute and regulation" that God made for Israel were that He would deliver them from all their troubles. Therefore they could always count on His help. God’s test involved seeing whether they would rely on Him or not (cf. James 1).

The words of God in Exodus 15:26 explain the statute and regulation just given. The Israelites would not suffer the diseases God had sent on the Egyptians (i.e., experience His discipline) if they obeyed His word as they had just done. They had just cast the tree into the pool.

God was teaching His people that He was responsible for their physical as well as their spiritual wellbeing. While doctors diagnose and prescribe, only God can heal. [Note: See Jay D. Fawver and R. Larry Overstreet, "Moses and Preventive Medicine," Bibliotheca Sacra 147:587 (July-September):285.]

"We do not find Him [God] giving Himself a new name at Elim, but at Marah. The happy experiences of life fail to reveal all the new truth and blessing that await us in God [cf. Genesis 15:1; Exodus 17:15]." [Note: Meyer, pp. 183-84.]

This is one of the verses in Scripture that advocates of the "prosperity gospel" like. They use it to prove their contention that it is never God’s will for anyone to be sick (along with Exodus 23:25; Psalms 103:3; Proverbs 4:20-22; Isaiah 33:24; Jeremiah 30:17; Matthew 4:23; Matthew 10:1; Mark 16:16-18; Luke 6:17-19; Acts 5:16; Acts 10:38). One advocate of this position wrote as follows.

"Don’t ever tell anyone sickness is the will of God for us. It isn’t! Healing and health are the will of God for mankind. If sickness were the will of God, heaven would be filled with sickness and disease." [Note: Kenneth Hagin, Redeemed from Poverty, Sickness and Death, p. 16. For a critique of this view, see Ken L. Sarles, "A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 143:572 (October-December 1986):329-52.]

Verses 22-27

1. Events in the wilderness of Shur 15:22-27

Verses 22-27

A. God’s preparatory instruction of Israel 15:22-18:27

The events in this section of the text record God’s preparation of His people for the revelation of His gracious will for them at Mt. Sinai.

Verses 22-38


The second major section of Exodus records the events associated with God’s adoption of Israel as His chosen people. Having redeemed Israel out of slavery in Egypt He now made the nation His privileged son. Redemption is the end of one journey but the beginning of another.

Verse 27

At Elim Israel learned something else about God. Not only would He deliver them (Exodus 15:3) and heal them (Exodus 15:26), but He would also provide refreshing drink and nourishing food for them as their Shepherd (cf. Psalms 23:2).

A method of God’s dealing with the Israelites as His people that He frequently employed stands out clearly in these incidents. God did not lead the Israelites around every difficulty. Instead He led them into many difficulties, but He also provided deliverance for them in their difficulties. This caused the Israelites to learn to look to Him for the supply of their needs. He still deals with His children the same way. [Note: See Allen P. Ross, "When God Gives His People Bitter Water (Exodus 15:22-27)," Exegesis and Exposition 1:1 (Fall 1986):55-66.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 15". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-15.html. 2012.
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