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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Exodus 15

CHAP. XV.

Moses and the Israelites, praise the Lord in a triumphal song: they advance into the wilderness of Shur; where, being in want of water, the waters of Marah are made sweet by casting wood into them: thence they march to Elim.

Before Christ 1491.

Verse 1

Exodus 15:1. Then sang Moses This is supposed to be the most ancient piece of genuine poetry extant in the world, if, perhaps, we except the Book of Job. The words of Lamech to his wives; the prophecy of Noah concerning his sons; the blessing of Jacob upon the twelve patriarchs, are all, as some learned writers have shewn, composed in regular metre; and therefore may so far be called more ancient pieces of poetry than the present. But this song of Moses has many other characteristics of poetry than mere metre: it abounds with sublime sentiments, lofty and nervous expressions; and, no doubt, was adapted to that sacred music which Miriam and the women sung to it. It is also applied to the true and original end of poetry; the praise of God, and this marvellous doings. There have been various conjectures concerning the metre of this song, but this is not a place to enter into the discussion of that subject. Adopting the ingenious opinions of Bishop Lowth, we refer the reader to his learned Prelections, p. 269, and elsewhere: a work which does honour to our nation, and in which will be found some fine and just criticisms on this song of Moses. We may observe, that, as an allusion is made, in the Book of Revelation, to the plagues of Egypt, in describing the prophetic plagues on the church; so those, who have gotten the victory over the beast, are represented as standing on a sea of glass, with harps in their hands, and singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and of the lamb. Revelation 15:2-3.

I will sing unto the Lord This was the grand chorus of the song, which was sung by the men and women, (see Exodus 15:21.) and is, as it were, the great theme and subject of it. The song, I apprehend, like many other pieces of sacred poetry, was sung alternately: and it is observable throughout, that the latter clause is exegetical of the former. As, for instance, in this chorus:

I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

Verse 2

Exodus 15:2. The Lord is my strength and song; And he is become my salvation: He is my God; and I will prepare him an habitation: My father's God; and I will exalt him.

This holds throughout, as the attentive reader may observe; except that, in one or two verses, it seems as if the two choirs sung their parts, and then united together in one strain; as, Exodus 15:15.

1st Choir. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed: 2nd Choir. The mighty men of Moab, Trembling shall take hold upon them: All. All the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.

Of this alternate method of singing among the Hebrews, we shall have occasion to speak often, especially in the Psalms, and in the Prophets: and an attention to it will serve to explain many passages.

Exodus 15:2. I will prepare him an habitation If the remark we have made on the former verse be just, that the latter clause throughout this song is exegetical of the preceding; then they are right in their version, who render this, and I will honour or praise him. The LXX have it δοξασω, and the Vulgate, glorificabo, I will glorify: agreeably with whom, Houbigant renders it laudabo, I will praise. Those who conceive our version to be right suppose that reference is here made to the tabernacle speedily to be built by Moses in the wilderness, an opinion which they support by the words of the 13th verse. Houbigant would render my father's God,—my God is my father; for the ancient Hebrews, says he, never say the God of my father, in the singular, but the God of my fathers.

The Lord is a man of war It is unquestionable, that, throughout this chapter, Jehovah should have been uniformly preserved in the version. Houbigant renders it bellator fortis, Jehovah is a strong warrior. The next verse expresses the conquest gained by this Almighty Warrior. See 1 Samuel 16:18; 1 Samuel 17:33. The word ירה iarah, rendered cast in the 4th verse, is explanatory of רמה ramah, which we render thrown in the 1st verse; and seems to give us the image of an arrow shot from the bow; as if Jehovah had launched them forth into the deep, as easily as an archer shoots an arrow from his bow.

Verse 5

Exodus 15:5. They sank into the bottom as a stone A poetical expression, to set forth their profound and utter destruction. See Jeremiah 51:63.Revelation 18:21; Revelation 18:21.

Verse 7

Exodus 15:7. In the greatness of thine excellency In the brightness of thy glory, Calmet: referring to ch. Exo 14:24 when the light from the pillar of fire burst forth upon the Egyptians. Agreeably to this remark, thy wrath might be rendered thy fiery heat, or burning indignation. The expletives in this song, which our translation uses, often spoil its energy, as is the case with the which in this place: it should be rendered, thou sentest forth thy wrath: it consumed them as stubble.

Verse 8

Exodus 15:8. And with the blast of thy nostrils This is commonly supposed to refer to the wind mentioned in the 21st verse of the preceding chapter, which was the instrument of gathering the waters together. But, as the heat of the nostrils, all through the Scripture, is used to express wrath, one would rather conceive, that the expression refers to that fiery indignation of the Lord, mentioned in the foregoing verse. See, in particular, Job 4:9. The expletive and, again, in this verse, destroys much of its sublimity. Nothing can be conceived more grand and expressive, than this clause, the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea. Depths,—congealed, or condensed, and heart, are all peculiarly expressive.

Verses 9-10

Exodus 15:9-10. The enemy said, &c.— No reader can be insensible to the striking beauty in these verses: the exultation of the enemy is so finely expressed in the one, and their sudden destruction so emphatically in the other: thou didst blow with thy wind, &c. There is a similar beauty in the song of Deborah: see Judges 5:29-31.

Verse 11

Exodus 15:11. Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? The sacred Writer here refers to those gods of Egypt, over whom Jehovah had now so gloriously triumphed; and one of the great ends of whose miracles in Egypt was, doubtless, to assert his Supremacy, and to shew his superiority over all local and false deities. See Bishop Sherlock's Discourses, vol. 1: dis. 10: p. 280, &c.

Fearful in praises That is, (say some,) "who cannot, and who ought not, to be praised without religious awe:" or, (as others,) "fearful in, or by, the most excellent and praise-worthy actions;" the abstract bring used for the concrete. So, Php 4:8 if there be any praise; i.e. any thing praise-worthy.

Verse 12

Exodus 15:12. The earth swallowed them That is, says Ainsworth, the bottom of the sea, the abyss which the sea covers; as in Jonah 2:6.— ארצ aretz, rendered earth, sometimes signifies, the lowest part of the earth: pars infima cujuscunque rei, the lowest part of any thing, says Calasio: the lowest part of the earth devoured them.

Verse 13

Exodus 15:13. Thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation There is in this song so great a variety in the tenses, as they are at present fixed by grammarians, that there can be no impropriety in giving to this passage such a version as makes it conformable with the fact. In agreement with Houbigant, therefore, we would render this verse, Thou, in thy mercy, leadest forth the people, whom thou hast redeemed: thou, in thy strength, leadest them forth to thy holy habitation: which holy habitation may either signify the land of Canaan, or the tabernacle of holiness, which God inhabited among them in the wilderness. The Hebrew word, which we render to lead, presents to us the idea of God peaceably conducting his flock like a shepherd.

Verses 14-16

Exodus 15:14-16. The people shall hear, &c.— The sublimity of this passage would appear much more striking if it were rendered, agreeably to the Hebrew, The people hear, they tremble: sorrow takes hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. Straight (אז * az) the dukes of Edom are amazed: the mighty men of Moab, trembling takes hold upon them: all the inhabitants of Canaan melt away. Terror falls upon them: and fear, from the greatness of thine arm. They shall be dumb as a stone; till thy people pass over, O Lord, &c. Every reader of taste must discern the sublimity and energy which is given to this passage, by reading the verbs throughout in the present tense. See this prophetical passage verified, Joshua 2:10; Joshua 5:1; Joshua 9:9.

*See Noldius on this particle, 4.

Verse 17

Exodus 15:17. And plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, &c.— As this verse undoubtedly refers to Jerusalem and Mount Sion, it is reasonable to think, that the holy habitation, Exo 15:13 refers to the same. The phrase of planting, expresses their fixed establishment: and the same idea is used in Psalms 44:2. This verse might be tendered, Thou bringest them in, and plantest them in the mountain of thine inheritance: in the place, O JEHOVAH! prepared for thee to dwell in; in the sanctuary, O GOD! which thy hands prepare.

Verse 18

Exodus 15:18. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever An exulting strain; expressing the absolute sovereignty of Jehovah, which he had demonstrated by this signal overthrow of the Egyptians, as the next verse declares; where the reason is given for this triumphant assertion; for the horse of Pharaoh, &c. This 19th verse contains what the Greeks call the epiphonema of the song, which includes the whole subject of it, like the first chorus; as we have remarked upon the place. The conclusion being simple, and less figurative than the former part of the song, has led some writers to suppose, that the poetical part ends at the 18th verse: but this is a mistake; as the 19th verse is, in the Hebrew, no less metrical than the others.

Verse 20

Exodus 15:20. Miriam the prophetess Μαριαμ in the Greek, in the Latin Maria, from the Hebrew word מרה marah, bitterness. She was so called, say some, from the times of affliction and bitterness, (Exodus 1:14.) in which she was born. In the note on Gen 20:7 we have given the true explanation of the word prophet; which signifies a person who speaks something in an eminent and extraordinary manner: and, in this view, the ancients called their poets by the name of prophets, vates. St. Paul himself calls a heathen poet by the name of prophet, Tit 1:12 and, indeed, there was good reason for this appellation, as poetry was at first dedicated solely to sacred and religious subjects; the first poets, most probably, being priests, who composed and sung hymns in honour of the Deity: and very respectable is the character which Horace gives of this first order of poets; see Ars Poet. ver. 396, &c. Happy would it have been, if this divine art had never been desecrated by improper subjects.

Music, in general, was in so great esteem among the ancients, that they, in some degree, confounded musicians, poets, and sages, as if they were the same order of persons. (See Quintil. lib. i. c. 10.) Miriam, most probably, is called a prophetess in this sense. In 1Sa 10:5-6 the name of prophets is given to those who sing the praises of God, and compose hymns to his glory: and, in 1Ch 25:1-3 the name is applied to the musicians appointed by king David; who prophesied with a harp, to give thanks, and to praise the Lord. And so, in the New Testament, the words prophets, prophecy, &c. are applied to those who preached the word of God, without any respect to the prediction of future events. See 1Co 12:28; 1 Corinthians 3:23.

Ephesians 4:11. 1 Thessalonians 5:20. It is possible, however that Miriam might merit this title in a more eminent sense, as having been peculiarly favoured with Divine inspiration: see Num 12:2 and Mich. Exo 6:4 from which last passage one would conclude, that Miriam was inspired for the instruction of the women, as Moses and Aaron were for that of the men. She is called the sister of Aaron, probably, because Moses, being the writer, chose rather, agreeable to his usual modesty, to distinguish her thus, than to speak of himself.

A timbrel The same original word is used, Genesis 31:27. ףּת top, and is there translated tabret: it signifies a musical instrument played on by beating; the word ףּתפ tapap, signifying to smite repeatedly, to beat. The word, which we render dances, some render flutes, or pipes: but ours seems the more true and proper interpretation. The ancient heathen nations imitated this custom of singing and dancing in the worship of their gods. Bishop Huet is of opinion, that the dances in honour of Diana, mentioned in the hymn of Callimachus to her, alludes to this part of the sacred history.

REFLECTIONS.—Prayer and praise usually go together: the mercies that we have in faith desired, we shall in song acknowledge; and a noble and enlivening part is this of Divine worship. Nothing is a surer proof of a dead heart, a dead congregation, and a dead church, than negligence and carelessness in singing the praises of God.

1. Moses opens with the triumphs of Jehovah, whose right hand had saved them. He proclaims his honour, as the God of sovereign power, grace, and love; the Saviour of his people, and the avenger of his enemies: he mentions with exultation the late display of his mighty arm, and bursts into a question of expressive wonder, Who is like unto thee? Note; (1.) We cannot, in our praises, enough exalt the great and glorious name of our God. (2.) We should ever profess our dependence upon him; and past experience should confirm our present confidence.

2. The victory is described with the most sublime expressions: the vain confidence of the Egyptians in their pursuit, and their cruelty in the threatened destruction: but how unequal in the contest, when all creation rises at God's command; and they sink as lead in the mighty waters? Note; (1.) The surer the self-deceiver thinks himself of heaven, the more terrible will be his disappointment when he sinks down to hell. (2.) They who are most exposed for the Gospel's sake, will by and by remember their difficulties with the greatest delight, as making their deliverance more illustrious, and their obligations the greater to the God of their salvation.

3. Observe the encouragement that Moses draws from it. Their enemies would hear and tremble: dispirited by their fears, they would fall an easy prey, as was the case: and this beginning of mercy ensured the perfection of it, in the promised land. For Jehovah their God for ever reigns, and reigns to protect and bless his favoured people. Well may every humble believer rejoice in this consideration, His God is not only a present Saviour, but will be the Author of his eternal salvation.
4. The solemn manner of performing this anthem of praise. Though the women cannot wield the sword, they can rejoice in the song, and join in alternate responses. Moses led the way, and Miriam answered. They who are the first in leading God's people to victory, should be the first in exciting them to gratitude, and the leaders of the song of thanksgiving.

Verse 23

Exodus 15:23. When they came to Marah Moses tells us, in the close of the verse, that the place was called Marah, from the bitterness of the waters there. "In travelling from Sdur, Or Shur," says Dr. Shaw, "towards Mount Sinai, we came into the desert, as it is still called, of Marah, where the Israelites met with the bitter waters of Marah. As this circumstance did not happen till after they had wandered three days in the wilderness, Exo 15:22 we may probably fix these waters at Corondel, where there is still a small rill, which, unless it be diluted by the dews and rain, still continues to be brackish. Near this place the sea forms itself into a large bay, called Berk el Coronarel, i.e. the lake of Corondel; which is remarkable from a strong current which sets into it from the northward, particularly at the recess of the tide. The Arabs, agreeably to the interpretation of Kolzum, their name for this sea, preserve a tradition, that a numerous host was formerly drowned at this place; occasioned, no doubt, by what is related, ch. Exo 14:30 that the Israelites saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore; i.e. all along, as we may presume, from Sdur to Colondel; and at Corondel, especially, from the assistance and termination of the current." Several heathen writers agree, that there were bitter waters in the parts where the Israelites were now travelling, which is supposed by many to have been owing to the saline and nitrous particles wherewith the soil thereabout is strongly impregnated.

Verse 25

Exodus 15:25. And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, &c.— As soon as the Israelites felt the least inconvenience, they shewed that murmuring and discontented disposition, which so strongly marks their character. Their murmurs against Moses, Exo 15:24 were, in reality, murmurs against GOD. Moses, however, was more wise; and, in fervent prayer, applied to Jehovah, who alone can help in the hour of distress. The Lord heard his prayer, and pointed out to him a particular tree, which was probably of such natural efficacy, as to produce the end desired; sweetening these bitter waters. It is, I believe, impossible to tell of what species this tree was; and therefore conjectures are vain. Pliny (lib. xiv. c. 2.) and other naturalists inform us, that there is wood which will work this effect: the miracle, therefore, probably, consisted in Jehovah's pointing out to Moses this particular species of wood. In this view the author of Ecclesiasticus considers it: Was not the water, says he, made sweet with wood, that the virtue thereof might be known? ch. Exodus 38:5. See 2 Kings 2:21-22; 2 Kings 4:41. Demetrius, a heathen writer, quoted by Eusebius, (Praep. Evan. lib. ix. c. 29.) reports this fact in the same manner as Moses. Some are of opinion, that Jehovah sweetened these waters by his own immediate power; and that the tree, or wood, which was cast into them, was only an external sign, and not the means of the miracle which was wrought on this occasion. See Shuckford's Connection, vol. iii. p. 7. The fathers have made some ingenious comparisons between this wood and the cross of Christ. See Parker's Bibliothec. &c. on the place.

There he made—a statute and an ordinance, &c.— It seems most natural to understand these words as addressed by Jehovah to Moses; for, he proved them, should certainly be rendered, he proved him, agreeably to the next verse: and Moses may be considered here, as the representative of all the people. See ch. Exodus 16:28-29. The Lord having proved or tried him, by this circumstance of the tree, and having found him faithful, here lays it down, as his fixed statute and determined ordinance, that if he, and the people committed to his charge, would continue faithful to his commands, he would deliver them from every evil disease and every calamity; and preserve them in health, as he was well able to do, being the Lord of health: for I am the Lord, that gives thee health; alluding to that health or sweetness, which he had just given, by his Divine interposition, to the bitter waters. The health of the Israelites was so remarkable at this time, that the Psalmist tells us, there was not one feeble person among them, Psalms 105:37. Junius translates this, I am God thy Saviour. See Jeremiah 7:22-23. 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; and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you: a passage, which would induce one to believe, that this was the original statute and ordinance, which GOD designed for his people; and that, had they been less discontented and refractory, they would not have been loaded with so burdensome a yoke of ceremonies: indeed we are told that this was laid upon them for the hardness of their hearts. Houbigant translates this verse, Moses prayed unto the Lord, who shewed him a tree; which being cast into the water, the water was made sweet. And there, after he had proved him, he made with him the following covenant, that it might be observed: Exodus 15:26. If thou wilt, &c. See ch. Exodus 16:4.

Verse 27

Exodus 15:27. And they came to Elim Elim was situated upon the northern skirts of the desert of Sin, two leagues from Tor, and near thirty from Corondel. I saw, says Dr. Shaw, no more than nine of the twelve wells which are mentioned by Moses, the other three being filled up by those drifts of sand which are common in Arabia. Yet, this loss is amply made up by the great increase in the palm-trees, the seventy having propagated themselves into more than two thousand. Under the shade of these trees is the hammam Mousa, or bath of Moses, particularly so called; which the inhabitants of Tor have in great esteem and veneration; acquainting us, that it was here where the household of Moses was encamped. The Israelites, it is supposed, staid but one day at Marah; and, on the 25th of Nisan, came to Elim: a word, which, according to some, signifies rams, from its good pasturage for sheep: according to others, plains, from that part of the wilderness, where there were large and spacious plains.

REFLECTIONS.—They who would go to heaven, must expect crosses in the way. The Israelites no sooner begin their journey, than, 1. They are in want of water; and to a marching army what more dangerous? Nor was their condition much mended at Marah, where, though there was plenty, it was bitter, or brackish, and not fit for drink. Our expected comforts are thus in the possession often embittered, in order to lead us to the Fountain of living waters. 2. Their impatience is immediately discovered. They who live by sense, not by faith, will not long continue in a cheerful frame: every new difficulty will deject them. 3. Observe the supply which is granted at Moses's prayer. There is not an useful plant for food or physic, but we should read in it the wisdom and goodness of God. 4. The charge given them. Twice they had begun to shew their murmuring spirit: God now expects their confidence, and promises them his blessing, and freedom from the plagues of Egypt, if they be obedient; and therein intimates, that if they should join with Egypt in rebellion, they would share with it in suffering. Note; God is no respecter of persons; if his own people sin, they must suffer for it. 5. Another march brings them to Elim, where they have water in abundance and shady palms to cover them. Note; (1.) If our comforts be delayed, yet we should possess our souls in patience. (2.) God is usually better to us than our wishes. (3.) When we are most prosperous, we should remember that we are marching to the grave; that we may sit as loose to our comforts, as content under our crosses.

A review of the deliverance of the Israelites.

Having thus far seen the redemption of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage perfected, let us pause a little; and, with due reverence, contemplate these mighty works of Jehovah. Convinced of the truth of these striking facts, are can want no further proof of the interposing Providence and irresistible Power of the Lord of the whole earth. And while we observe his signal and fatherly distinction of his people; his separation of them from those terrible evils which he inflicted on incorrigible sinners; his attention to their cries, and his relief of all their necessities; we cannot fail to rejoice with full resignation of heart, when we consider ourselves as the creatures and subjects of such a GOD.
The miracles displayed in Egypt, are incontestible proofs of his Omnipotence: and, though his judgments were administered with every circumstance of terror, the humble soul can find no cause to remonstrate or complain; for it perceives strict justice waving the tremendous sword of destruction, while tender mercy long struggles to prevent its execution; and, in the midst of punishment, shews, that this is the strange work of the Lord, and that goodness and salvation are his glory and delight.

The joyful strains of Moses and the people must fill every pious heart with rapture: for what so amiable, what so excellent, as gratitude to the Supreme Benefactor! We seem to join with them in the triumphant eulogy; when, with united voices they sing, Who is like unto thee, O JEHOVAH! who is like unto Thee? glorious in holiness; fearful in praises; doing wonders! Happy we, if, like them, with zealous and thankful praises, we magnify the Lord our Deliverer for his manifold favours to us; but, more especially, for his mercy and power manifested in the work of our redemption, by CHRIST JESUS our Lord!

After such a display of miracles on their behalf; after such particular distinction made for their preservation; after a song of praise, so full of just and elevated devotion; who could have thought that these Israelites would, in a little time, murmur and grow discontented; and distrust that Providence, which had interposed so remarkably for their salvation? Yet,—too striking example of the infidelity and ingratitude of our nature,—such was the case. But condemn not, O man! these murmurers too hastily: consult thy own breast, and thou wilt find a strong picture of them there. How many mercies and favours has the free bounty of God conferred upon thee? and what power and goodness has he displayed in thy creation, continual preservation, and, above all, in the redemption of thy soul? Indeed what hadst thou, which thou didst not receive; yet how much hast thou forgotten the Divine Source of all thy blessings? How seldom hast thou shewed thyself sufficiently thankful, while falling into impatience and discontent on the smallest disappointments, and becoming ungrateful to thy God for all he has given, because he has thought fit to withhold, and that, perhaps, for thy truest good, something which thy fond heart too blindly and vehemently wished.
But observe we, that, while the conduct of the Israelites paints, in expressive colours, the too general disposition of mankind; the forbearance and lenity which the great Father of the Universe shewed towards them, affords the believing soul the most pleasing foundation for comfort and hope. Long-suffering towards them, he heard and condescended to relieve their complaints. Unworthy though they were, he gave them fresh proofs of his love, and granted them new favours; studious, as it were, to gain their affection, and to lead them to true happiness. Thus, thou blessed Source of unexhausted good! thus dost thou continue to deal, abundant in mercy and truth, with us thy frail and offending creatures. Knowing our weakness, thou art slow to punish. Though we sin, thou forbearest: and, by heaping new blessings upon us, thou dost graciously endeavour to awaken us to an ingenuous shame, and a conscious acknowledgment of our offences against thee. Attentive to our true welfare, thy chastisements, no less than thy blessings, are graciously intended to accomplish it. Teach us to receive each, with the spirit of faith, humility, and love: to discern thy hand pointing to our felicity, whether it bestow good or evil. And give us wisdom, implicitly and with childlike obedience to follow thy sacred guidance: that so, delivered from the bondage, and all the sufferings, of this world of trial; conducted by thy spirit, and saved by the blood of thy son, we may pass triumphant through the waves of death; and, safely landed on the blessed shore, may unite with those who have gotten the victory; and who, having the harps of GOD, sing the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, LORD GOD ALMIGHTY: just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord! and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: all nations shall come and worship before thee: for thy judgments are made manifest. Salvation to our GOD who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 15". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/exodus-15.html. 1801-1803.