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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 15

Verses 1-21

Exodus 15:0 The Aftermath of the Battle Between Yahweh and Pharaoh’s Army.

As a result of Egypt’s defeat a song was composed. There is no good reason for denying that it was written at the time. Songs of a similar genre were found at Ugarit, where some of the ideas are also paralleled, although not with the same significance. Such were no doubt familiar to the patriarchal tribes as they moved around Canaan and in Aram. It may have been written by Moses (who wrote a song (see Deuteronomy 31:22) in one day, the song being found in Deuteronomy 32:0), by Miriam, or by some unknown songwriter.

While the second part looks with triumph towards the successful defeat of their future enemies and their settlement in the land this simply expresses the confidence and belief that has filled their hearts. It is in a sense seen as already accomplished now that they have crossed out of Egypt into Yahweh’s territory. The singer can now see that triumph is assured, and so speaks of it as already theirs.

The Worship of Moses and of the Children of Israel, and the Song of Miriam (Exodus 15:1-21 ).

Exodus 15:1 a

‘Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song to Yahweh, and spoke saying.’

It was quite normal for a great victory to be celebrated in verse, and as happens with poetry it is in picturesque language not always to be taken literally. We are not told who wrote it (it is not described as ‘the Song of Moses, although he sang it), and here it was put to music to enhance the people’s worship. This song must therefore be seen as later sung at a great gathering of worship after it had been composed shortly after the victory and as becoming part of the regular worship of the children of Israel.

Its finalisation may have awaited Mount Sinai (Exodus 15:13) although it could well be that the wilderness as a whole, which they have now reached, was seen as ‘Yahweh’s abode’. That is where He had met Moses and that is where they had previously stated their intention of going to worship Him.

Reference to the inhabitants of Philistia, Edom, Moab and the inhabitants of Canaan as future foes (Exodus 15:14-15) confirm its early date. He sees them as quivering at the approach of people for whom Yahweh has done such great things, for what has happened in Egypt would not have passed unnoticed. When the reality occurred they were not quivering because too much time had passed due to Israel’s disobedience. They certainly did not stand there petrified like stone. No later writer would quite have written like this. It evidenced early faith.

Reference to Philistia may be an updating by a later scribe, but its inhabitants are spoken of as separate from the inhabitants of Canaan. The name or its equivalent was applied to and known in the area around Gerar in the time of Abraham, Genesis claims (compare Genesis 21:32-34; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 26:8; Genesis 26:14-15). Thus it may be these trading cities that are in mind rather than there being an updating to take into account the later Philistines. The song in fact suggests that the inhabitants of Philistia are seen as separate from the inhabitants of Canaan and are nearer to them.

Note the parallelism in the song, the second line of each sentence either carrying forward the idea of the first, or repeating it in a slightly different way. This is a characteristic of Hebrew poetry.

Exodus 15:1-2 (1b-2)

“I will sing to Yahweh, for he has triumphed gloriously (or is highly exalted),

The horse and his rider (or ‘driver’) he has thrown into the sea.

Yah is my strength and song,

And he has become my deliverance.

This is my God and I will praise him,

My father’s God and I will exalt him.

The song is a celebration of Yahweh’s great victory at the sea of reeds. He has gloriously defeated the Egyptians and destroyed their elite chariot force. Thus the One Who has been, and still is, their strength, and the One they sing about, (how differently they see Yahweh now), has also become their Deliverer, and the result is their praise and worship. He is their God and their father’s God. Note the suggestion of looking back to the promises made to ‘their father’.

“Yah.” A shortened form of Yahweh. (Compare ‘hallelu Yah’ - ‘praise Yah’ - the opening to Psalms 146-150). Yah is also used in Exodus 17:16

“My father” s God.’ Probably looking back to Jacob. Each ‘child of Israel’ would see Jacob as a father, and himself as within the covenant God made with Jacob.

Exodus 15:3-7

“Yahweh is a man of war,

Yahweh is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he has cast into the sea.

And his chosen captains are sunk in the sea of reeds.

The deeps cover them,

They went down into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, Oh Yahweh, is glorious in power,

Your right hand, Oh Yahweh, dashes the enemy in pieces.

And in the greatness of your excellency you overthrow those who rise up against you,

You send out your wrath, it consumes them as stubble.”

The song declares Yahweh to be a competent soldier, revealed by nature as ‘The One Who is there to act’. Now they know indeed that His name is Yahweh. His excellency is revealed in what He has done to Pharaoh’s chariots, (the ‘host’ probably refers to the six hundred strong force), and to his commanders by drowning them in the sea. So has He demonstrated the victorious power of His right hand, and shown that He is able to deal with all Who rise against Him. When His anger is roused they are consumed like stubble burnt in the fields.

“Yahweh is a man of war.” Compare Psalms 24:8; Isaiah 42:13. The man of war was needed for protection from one’s enemies.

“Yahweh is His name.” This is what He is and has revealed Himself to be, ‘the One Who is there to act.’ They have seen the fullness of His name in what He has done.

“His chosen captains.” The same word for ‘captains’ is as in Exodus 14:7 (stressing the unity of the narrative). They are more than just captains, they are his champions and commanders.

“They went down into the depths like a stone.” Poetic licence. While the sea was deep enough to drown them it would probably not have been all that deep. But in their chariot armour, bronze plates sewn on a linen base, they would certainly sink like a stone. The vivid description suggests an eyewitness.

“Your right hand.” The main fighting hand.

“You send out Your wrath.” Having passed His judgment on sin and wrongdoing He exacts the penalty.

“It consumes them as stubble.” A vivid picture taken from agriculture of the burning of stubble in the fields once its usefulness was over.

Exodus 15:8-11

“And with the blast of your nostrils the waters were piled up,

The floods stood upright as a heap, the deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue,

I will overtake, I will divide the spoil,

My bloodlust will be satisfied on them,

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

You blew with your wind, the sea covered them,

They sank as lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, Oh Yahweh, among the gods?

Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”

Yahweh had blown with His east wind, ‘the blast of His nostrils’, on the waters and prepared a pathway for the children of Israel. Then the enemy, filled with bloodlust, boasted about what they would do to them (their nostrils were blasting too). So Yahweh blew again and they were destroyed in the waters. Thus was He revealed as superior to all ‘elohim’ (here the poetic form ‘elim’), to all that is supernatural.

“With the blast of your nostrils.” A vivid connecting of the strong east wind (Exodus 14:21) with Yahweh.

“The floods stood upright as a heap.” Poetic licence demonstrating Yahweh’s power. The waters obeyed His will. It is not necessarily a literal description but taking up the metaphor of the seas as a wall (Exodus 14:29).

“The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.” Again poetic licence. The idea would seem to be that they became solid so that the children of Israel could walk on them, or alternately that they became thickened and stopped flowing.

“The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my bloodlust will be satisfied on them, I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.” This is a vivid picture of soldiers fired up with bloodlust and greed for spoil as they career towards the enemy. The people who were before them were an easy target.

“You blew with your wind, the sea covered them. They sank as lead in the mighty waters.” Here was the magnificent anticlimax. Even while they yelled their war-cries the bloodthirsty warriors were blown away by Yahweh’s wind and waves, by His mighty breath, and sank like lead into the waters.

“Who is like you among the gods.” Yahweh is superior to all supernatural beings. He is unique and incomparable. In a vague way they recognised that in men’s eyes there was a world of gods (they were not philosophers) but those gods were helpless and powerless and as nothing before Yahweh. Yahweh was far above all. He stood alone and none compared with Him.

“Glorious in holiness.” Holiness is that which sets God off as apart from man, and from any other ‘gods’, His purity and ‘otherness’ (unlikeness to anything earthly). He is unique and different in nature. Thus when anything on earth is made holy it shares that uniqueness and is untouchable except by what is holy.

“Fearful in praises, doing wonders.” What Yahweh has done in the face of the gods of Egypt is clearly in mind. By His wonders He has demonstrated that they are helpless and powerless. Here He is seen as praised for His fearsome acts.

Exodus 15:13

“You in your mercy have led your people whom you have redeemed.

You have guided them in your strength to your holy habitation.”

The idea here may well be that having passed through the waters on the border of Egypt they have reached the wilderness where they were to serve Yahweh. This in itself was to them a major achievement. They have crossed the sea and are, as it were, in Yahweh’s domain, where they are to worship Him at His mountain, His holy habitation, away from Egypt. Reaching the wilderness to worship Yahweh had constantly been their aim.

“Whom you have redeemed.” Deliverance by the payment of a price. The deliverance is not seen as without cost to Yahweh. He has expended His power in bringing it about.

“Your holy habitation.” Initially the wilderness where Moses met Him, and where they were to serve Him. Then it could apply to Mount Sinai where He would reveal Himself in fire and make His covenant with them. Then it applied to the land. And finally it would apply to the Tabernacle wherever it was set up, and the Temple. Each generation would interpret it differently according to their conditions and their experience of God.

Exodus 15:14-16 a

“The peoples have heard, they tremble,

Pangs have taken hold of the inhabitants of Philistia,

Then were the chiefs of Edom amazed,

Trembling takes hold of the mighty men of Moab,

All the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away.

Terror and dread falls on them,

By the greatness of your arm they are as still as a stone.”

The song now looks forward to what lies ahead and depicts the future foes as waiting in terror. The children of Israel know now that they need not fear, for what God has done in Egypt will have petrified them and they will be still as a stone. This is again poetic licence.

The possible prominent foes are mentioned. Note that the inhabitants of Philistia come before Edom, Moab and the Canaanites. This may suggest that they are seen as the nearest, the first to be tackled, which would confirm that a smallish grouping in the South are in mind rather than the later Philistia. The name Philistia may be an updating, but archaeology may one day prove otherwise. If they were a smallish trading group in the South as in Genesis 21:32-34; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 26:8; Genesis 26:14-15, but still fierce, they would not tend to come to the notice of the great nations, but would be among the first to be reached by a traveller from Egypt.

We must recognise that the writer has no maps of what lies to the North. He speaks of the peoples he has heard about, starting with the nearest. Little was he to know how they would affect the progress of the children of Israel. (That they were not later quite so terrified when approached is evidence of the early date of the song).

“The mighty men of Moab.” Literally ‘the rams of Moab’. The men of Moab are seen in terms of powerful rams. Compare Isaiah 14:9 where the chief ones are described as ‘he-goats’.

“By the greatness of your arm they are still as stone.” As they consider the powerful arm of Yahweh these people freeze and become, as it were, literally petrified.

Exodus 15:16-18 (16b-18)

“Until your people pass through, Oh Yahweh,

Until the people pass through whom you have obtained.

You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance,

The place, Oh Yahweh, which you have made for yourself to dwell in,

The sanctuary, Oh Lord, which your hands have established.

Yahweh shall reign for ever and ever.”

The other peoples will be terror-stricken and petrified until the children of Israel have passed through, something still in the future. And then they, the people whom God had ‘obtained’, will arrive at and be planted in ‘the mountain of your inheritance’. A similar phrase is used of Baal’s dwelling-place in Ugaritic literature (16th century BC). Thus this refers to Yahweh’s dwelling place. But as it is the place where the people are to ‘be planted’ this probably refers to the whole promised land, along with its mountains, seen as ‘the mountain of God’, the dwelling place of God, a special land prepared for His people through whom the whole world will be blessed. It is a visionary picture of a hoped for ideal, the new Eden, where God will dwell with His people.

It is in other words God’s inheritance to His people (see Exodus 6:6-8), the place which God has made for Himself to dwell in and the sanctuary which He has established, seen as the whole promised land (Psalms 114:2). It is the prospective kingdom of God.

“You have obtained.” That is, obtained by redemption.

“Plant them.” The word is usually used of planting vegetation and trees. But compare 2 Samuel 7:10: ‘I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them that they may dwell in their own place’ (see also 1 Chronicles 17:9; Psalms 80:8; Psalms 80:15; Jeremiah 24:6). So the idea is of the people being permanently established in their own land.

“The mountain of your inheritance.” This probably refers to the whole of the mountain ranges together with the rest of the promised land seen as one. They are all seen as ‘God’s mountain’. This is His dwelling-place, given as an inheritance to His people (compare Exodus 6:6-8 - although a different word for inheritance is used). For Yahweh dwells among His people and ‘His mountain’ is where they are planted.

Alternately it has been seen as meaning ‘the mountain that is Yours’, with the emphasis on the place where God dwells and God’s central sanctuary. Certainly mountains and hills were seen as symbols of eternal continuance and stability (Deuteronomy 33:15; Habakkuk 3:6; Isaiah 54:10), so that worship was regularly offered on mountains (Genesis 22:2; Exodus 18:20; 1 Kings 18:19; Mark 9:2). And it is true that the gods were often connected with mountains.

But if this be so the thought is not of any particular mountain. It is whichever particular hill or mountain God chooses to set His name on (Deuteronomy 12:5) at any particular time. It would be assumed that the sanctuary of God would be on such a raised place (contrast Deuteronomy 12:2). Thus it could be applied to any of the places where the worship of Yahweh would be centralised (e.g. Shechem (Joshua 24:1 with 15:26), Shiloh (Joshua 18:1 and often), and later Jerusalem), and around which His people would live (be planted). But note that if this be so the central emphasis is not on the hill or mountain as such, but on the setting up of the dwelling place of God among His people (compare Genesis 28:16-17 with Genesis 35:7). There His altar would be erected, and around it His people would be united (see Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26; Deuteronomy 12:5).

However, as the hope of the people is set at this stage on a future land where Yahweh will rule, given as a heritage to His people (Exodus 6:6-8; Exodus 3:8; Exodus 13:5), rather than on the specific establishing of a sanctuary for God, and they are to be ‘planted’ there, it is probably the wider view that should be taken. The whole land where He has ‘planted’ His people is seen as ‘God’s mountain’ and God’s dwelling-place. It is His sanctuary.

“The sanctuary, Oh Lord, which your hands have established.” Psalms 114:2 understands this of the land of Judah, and by inference (through parallelism) Israel. There it reads, “When Israel went forth out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became His sanctuary, Israel His dominion.” Compare also Isaiah 8:14. Furthermore Zechariah also looks forward to when the whole land will be a sanctuary (Zechariah 14:20-21). This would seem to confirm that ‘the sanctuary’ and ‘the mountain’ and ‘the place’ all refer to the whole land.

“Yahweh will reign for ever and ever.” This is a declaration of the everlasting rule of Yahweh. The gods of Egypt have been shown to be as nothing. Yahweh is over all. The world lies at His feet. In the context the thought may well be that from His land, through His people, all the nations of the world will be blessed (compare ‘Yahweh reigns’ (Psalms 97:1; Psalms 99:1)). Here already is the idea of the everlasting kingdom.

Exodus 15:19

“For the horses of Pharaoh went in with his chariots,

And with his horsemen (drivers) into the sea,

And Yahweh brought again the waters of the sea on them,

But the children of Israel walked on dry land in the middle of the sea.”

This is a summary note added to confirm the application of the song. This is why they sang, because of what God had done for the children of Israel in destroying the elite of the Egyptian army and providing a passage for the children of Israel through the sea. (Notice again how the suggestion that Pharaoh himself went in is avoided).

The Song of Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21 ).

Exodus 15:20

‘And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.

“The prophetess.” There are few mentions of prophetesses in the Old Testament but one or two made a significant contribution. Deborah was a tribal leader, ‘a judge’ (Judges 4:4), and she strengthened the hand of the war leader Barak. She too sang a song of victory (5:1). Huldah was consulted by important men to find the word of Yahweh (2 Kings 22:14). Noadiah was unhelpful to Nehemiah when, along with some prophets, she tried to influence him wrongly (Nehemiah 6:14). A prophetess was married to Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3). It is therefore clear that except when there were exceptional women like Deborah and Huldah they played a minor role, possibly mainly with women and in prophetic song.

“The sister of Aaron.” Aaron was the eldest son and probably head of the family. Thus Miriam would be known as the sister of Aaron. The description also kept her on the same level with Aaron and therefore inferior to Moses before God. It was possibly, but not necessarily, Miriam who had watched over the baby in the ark, and fetched his mother for the daughter of Pharaoh. If so she was very old.

“Timbrels.” These were kinds of tambourines held and struck with the hand. They appear to be used for worship and for joyous occasions and often to be associated with dancing (Psalms 149:3; Psalms 150:4).

“With dances.” Dancing was a common method of expressing joy, and praise and thanks (compare 2 Samuel 6:14; Psalms 149:3; Psalms 150:4).

Exodus 15:21

‘And Miriam answered them, “Sing you to Yahweh, for he has triumphed gloriously (or ‘is highly exalted’). The horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea.’

This is expressed as a reply to the song sung by Moses and the children of Israel. It is like a chorus, repeating the first refrain. The two songs would be sung together, the latter following the former.

This song is of great importance. Its early provenance is accepted by most scholars, and it contains within it much of the theology of Israel. It acknowledges the uniqueness of Yahweh (Exodus 15:11), it stresses that Israel are the people whom He has redeemed (Exodus 15:13; Exodus 15:16), it declares that Yahweh is bringing them to His land (‘the mountain of Your inheritance’) which He has set apart for them as His Sanctuary (Exodus 15:17), it clearly recognises the Holy War ahead (Exodus 15:14-16), and it proclaims that Yahweh will be King over them ‘for ever’ (Exodus 15:18). Note that here their father’s God is specifically said to be Yahweh (Exodus 15:2) not El Shaddai.

Verses 22-27

The Beginning of the Long March: Water Shortage Followed By Provision (Exodus 15:22-27 ).

a Moses leads Israel forward into the wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:22 a).

b They went three days in the wilderness and found no water (Exodus 15:22 b).

c Arriving in Marah they could not drink the waters of Marah because they were bitter (Exodus 15:23).

d The people murmur as to what they are to drink (Exodus 15:24).

e Moses cries to Yahweh and He shows him a tree which will make the water sweet (Exodus 15:25 a).

e There Yahweh made for them a statute and an ordinance (Exodus 15:25 b).

d And there He proved them (Exodus 15:25 c).

c They are promised that if they will fully obey Him they will not suffer any of the diseases that come on the Egyptians because He is ‘Yahweh Who heals them’ (Exodus 15:26).

b They come to Elim where there is food and water aplenty (Exodus 15:27).

a They take their journey and come to the Wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:1).

Note the interesting parallels. In ‘a’ they leave the wilderness of Shur and in the parallel arrive at the Wilderness of Sin. In ‘b’ they find no water in the parallel they find abundance of water. In ‘c’ the waters of Marah were bitter, and in the parallel Yahweh promises that if they obey Him life will not be bitter through diseases. In ‘d’ the people murmur as to what they are to drink, and in the parallel Yahweh ‘proves them’. In ‘e’ Yahweh makes provision for them by making the water sweet and in the parallel He makes provision for them by giving them statutes and ordinances which will make life sweet

Exodus 15:22

‘And Moses led Israel onward from the sea of reeds and they went out into the wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.’

It was now that they begin to learn the hardships of the way. Taking a wilderness route through the wilderness of Shur they travelled for three days through the hot sun and found no water. They had their first lesson that things would not be easy even though they were free.

“The wilderness.” The term wilderness can cover a number of types of ground from desert, to scrub land, to reasonable pasturage, and in many parts of the Sinai peninsula the water table is not far below the ground. Furthermore sheep and goats that have been well pastured can provide milk for some considerable time. So the children of Israel on their journey would pass over many types of ground and would usually be able to feed their cattle and flocks and to find water, substituting it where necessary with milk. But this area was clearly particularly difficult.

“The wilderness of Shur.” Passing through the wilderness of Shur, which stretched eastward from the coast, was ‘the way of the land of the Philistines’, guarded by a chain of Egyptian forts, which led northward along the coast, and the ‘way of the wilderness of Shur’ which led northward to Kadesh. This wilderness was the starting point as you leave Egypt. But ‘the way of the land of the Philistines’ was forbidden to the children of Israel, and they were in any case concerned to keep away from routes where they might be followed. They thus took another route which would lead them into the wilderness of Sinai, probably the road used by the Egyptians to the copper and turquoise mines of Sinai, which they worked mainly during January to March when Egyptian troops would be there. But by this time (early April) they would be absent. This led along by the Gulf of Suez. But one problem with this route was the shortage of water for the cattle and flocks.

An interesting discovery at these turquoise mines were the "proto- Sinaitic" inscriptions of the early 15th century B.C. which were just informal dedications, worknotes and brief epitaphs (for offerings) by Semitic captives from the Egyptian East Delta (or Memphis settlements) employed in the mines. They illustrate free use of that script by Semites under Egyptian rule before the time of Moses.

“Three days.” Possibly meaning ‘a few days’. During this period all attempts to find water failed.

Exodus 15:23-25 a

‘And when they came to Marah they could not drink of the waters of Marah because they were bitter. That is why the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to Yahweh, and Yahweh showed him a tree and he cast it into the waters and the waters were made sweet.’

After the period without water they came to the oasis at Marah, but the waters were too bitter to drink. Marah may well be the modern ‘Ayin Hawarah. This is a solitary spring of bitter water which now has stunted palm trees growing near it, although the quality of the water varies from time to time. When they saw water the children of Israel were no doubt ecstatic, but the desert waters were bitter compared with the sweet waters of the Nile valley and while their cattle and flocks may well have drunk of it the people themselves found that they could not stomach it. Their joy turning to disappointment they immediately turned on Moses. This led him to pray to Yahweh who directed him to a bush which was probably a kind of barberry, which is known to have the qualities described. And when this was thrown into the waters it was made sweet, that is, the bitterness was softened.

It may be that from his life in the wilderness with the Midianites he had learned the usefulness and effectiveness of this bush on such occasions, and that his prayer to Yahweh was for help in finding such bushes, a cry which was rewarded by Him showing him where he could indeed find some.

Note the contrast between Egypt with the sweet-water Nile made bitter, and the bitter water here made sweet. He Who had brought judgment on Egypt could in a similar way bring provision to Israel. And in the next verse this provision will include His statutes and His ordinances.

This the first of many times that we are told that the people murmured. We see immediately their slave conditioning. A few days before they had beheld a deliverance that would be remembered for generations to come, but now because of shortage of water they have already forgotten it. While it would certainly be hot, and the journey difficult, there had not really been time for the position to become desperate. The fact was that they had expected to find water, but had not. They were not used to not having water at hand. The Nile had always been near. They were not yet aware of what could be expected in wilderness conditions, and of trek discipline, and had been caught out. And immediately their buoyant spirits slumped.

The emphasis on the water shortage is a sign of genuineness. This above all would be what such a large group would immediately notice in the wilderness. The provision by natural means is also a sign of genuineness, and reminds us that God keeps his miracles (and Moses’ staff) for important occasions.

Exodus 15:25 b

‘There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them. And he said, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, and will do what is right in his eyes, and will give ear to what he commands, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians, for I am Yahweh your healer.” ’

“There he made for them a statute and an ordinance.” Here also is an attempt to make life sweet. We may see in this the first attempt of Moses, at the command of Yahweh, to lay down some pattern of behaviour by which the conglomerate peoples now making up ‘the children of Israel’ could be governed on their wilderness journey. The accompaniment by the mixed multitude had been an unexpected event and clearly some kind of agreement had to be reached about behaviour now that they were part of the children of Israel, so that all could be aware of their responsibilities and what was expected of them. They would not have the same customs as the original children of Israel. It was therefore necessary to lay down certain laws to be observed by all. This would enable the smooth running of the camp.

Humanly speaking these would be taken from his own experiences, his knowledge of Egyptian and Midianite laws, and the customs of his own people formulated under the wise guidance of the fathers. They would be written down to form a guide and pattern. This is then confirmed by Yahweh with the promise that obedience will result in good health. Such an attempt would be required in view of the inexperience of the people in living under such conditions and their wide differences in customs (the mixed multitude). The corollary is that if they did not obey they would come under judgment.

From Moses later behaviour we can presume that these also were put down in writing and read out to the people. They were a primitive beginning to the later laws. They were then no doubt put into the primitive Tent of Meeting as part of ‘the Testimony’ (see on 16:34).

“There he proved them.” This is Moses’ response to their murmuring. The verb was used of the testing of Abraham (Genesis 22:1). This may refer to the testing of the people by the bitter waters, a test which they failed. Or it may refer to the fact that He laid down these regulations described above through Moses and ‘proved’ them by seeing whether they were willing to respond to them by accepting them as the binding requirements of Yahweh. In view of the words that followed the latter seems more likely, although there may be a play on the two situations. It should be noted that Yahweh is said to ‘prove’ His people three times, here, in Exodus 16:4 and in Exodus 20:20. He is building up to Sinai.

However, in view of the words that follow where the second part at least is in the words of Yahweh, we may take the ‘He made for them’ and ‘He proved them’ words speaking about Yahweh. He had made the waters sweet, now He provided the guidance and laws which would enable life to go on sweetly. And He did it to test out whether, in spite of their murmurings, they were ready to be faithful to Him.

“If you will diligently hear and obey the voice of Yahweh your God, and will do what is right in his eyes --- I will --.” These are the direct words of Yahweh through Moses. The change from the third person to the first person occurs on a number of occasions in the Old Testament in words of Yahweh, reflecting the composite nature of God. The reward for obedience will be good health. Instead of bitterness there will be sweetness. He had healed the waters and he would heal them. The corollary was that flagrant disobedience would lead precisely to such diseases. It is in fact unquestionable that some of the provisions of the Law would enhance their physical wellbeing.

“Diseases.” They were to be kept from the diseases common in Egypt such as ophthalmia, dysentery, and a variety of skin diseases (see Deuteronomy 28:27). In the context this mention of diseases links with the bitterness of the water. If Israel are obedient they will be delivered from diseases, if they are not they will drink bitter water.

Exodus 15:27

‘And they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees and they encamped there by the waters.’

Their reward for their response was to arrive at an abundant oasis, a sign of Yahweh’s pleasure in it. ‘Twelve’ and ‘seventy’ are probably not to be taken literally. They probably indicate sufficiency, the ‘twelve’ springs of water indicating ample sufficiency of water for the twelve sub-tribes, and the ‘seventy’ palm trees indicating the divine sufficiency of the provision of palm trees with their fruits and shelter (what are a literal seventy palm trees among so many?), or even sufficiency for the clans of the seventy elders.

As with all the stops on the journey identification is uncertain but the Wadi Gharandel, a well-known watering place complete with tamarisks and palms, has been suggested.

The whole area is a comparatively fertile one, and contains three fertile wadis which have water most of the year, and many springs of water. The pasturage is fairly good, sometimes rich and luxuriant and there are an abundance of tamarisks, and a number of palm trees. After the dryness of the way it must have been a joy to behold, and they would be able to spread out to the other wadis and ensure that their flocks and herds were able to make up for the hard times that they had experienced.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 15". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/exodus-15.html. 2013.