You could scarcely believe your eyes. One minute, death is hurtling towards you in the form of a thousand Egyptian chariots; in the next, they vanish beneath the waters of the Red Sea. If it weren’t for the roar of crashing waves still ringing in your ears, you wouldn’t have believed it.
Suddenly, a new sound emerges. A song of praise and wonder and pure joy is bursting from the crowd! Exuberant, you lift your voice, too, unable to keep silent!
. . . .
I wish I could have been an Israelite on the shores of the Red Sea! After 480 years of ruthless oppression, the time had finally come; God led them through the desert, carved a path through the sea, and destroyed Israel’s enemies. (Exodus 13:17-14:31)
Exodus 15 records the song of praise following this incredible salvation. In our Bibles it is titled, “The Song of Moses” but to the Jewish people, it is known as the “Song of the Sea”*.
Today, we’ll see this song of salvation is also the song of Christ and His Kingdom to come. We’ll learn from an incredible woman named Miriam, who took up the mantle of this song and led her people in unprecedented corporate worship.
But Miriam’s story begins long before the Red Sea.
Miriam the Prophetess
We first meet young Miriam as her mother floats baby Moses down the Nile River, hoping to save his life in the face of Pharaoh’s commanded infanticide. Miriam stays close, hiding until an Egyptian princess rescues Moses. With bravery and wit, Miriam approaches the princess and reunites her family. (Exodus 2:1-10)
In this story, we see Miriam’s boldness and faith. She believed God would save her brother, and she was prepared to act when He did. It’s this same faith and boldness we see 80 years later, when she stands on the water’s edge once again and watches God save her people. And once again, she acts.
While Moses is rightly identified as the leader of Israel, Micah 6:4 affirms the role Miriam played under his leadership. Numbers 12:1-2 tells us God spoke through Miriam as a prophetess, though her messages are largely lost to history. But we are given a brief periscope in Exodus, where we witness her faith and leadership.
In Exodus 15:19, just after the Song, the biblical author seems to rewind the story, hit the highlights, and zoom in on the scene from an entirely different angle. In this brief retelling we see Miriam at the forefront, leading the women of Israel in worship.
Miriam’s refrain is an echo of the first stanza in Moses’ song. Packed in these two lines are not only a celebration of the current victory, but also a prophecy of a second victory still to come.
Finding Jesus in the Song of the Sea
Miriam’s refrain begins:
“Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously;”
(Exodus 15:21, ESV)
In the original Hebrew, both “triumphed” and “gloriously” are the same word: “gā’â”, which can mean both “glorious” and “triumph.” Typically, however, when a Hebrew word is repeated, it’s meant to have a multiplying effect. In other words, God has triumphed triumphantly– or completely, resolutely.
The Lord’s victory over Egypt was total and complete. Never again would His people be enslaved by the Egyptians. Similarly, Christ’s work on the cross is complete. Through His substitutionary death and resurrection, He broke chains of sin and death; they will never enslave us again.
The next phrase in Miriam’s refrain reads,
“He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea.”
The image of a “horse and his rider” encapsulates Egypt’s total military power and national strength. Despite their might, however, God hurled them into the sea, language which is later echoed in Micah 7:19 to describe how God (through the Messiah) will deal with our sin, “cast[ing] them into the depths of the seas.”
Jesus can be found in the final stanza of Miriam’s song, as well:
“You will bring [Your people] in and plant them
On the mountain of your possession;
LORD, you have prepared a place
for your dwelling[. . .]
The LORD will reign forever.”
As Christians, we share Israel’s longing to dwell with God, looking forward to His return. The eternal city He establishes will be the glorious dwelling place promised for God and His people to live together forever. (Revelation 21:1-4; Revelation 22:1-5)
The Song of Moses & The Song of the Lamb
Incredibly, the Song of Moses is not is not only the first song recorded in the Bible, it is also the last. We see this ancient song resurface in Revelation 15:2-5, describing a triumphant people standing on a sea of glass, singing “The Song of Moses, the Song of the Lamb.”
As I marvel at the scope of this song, I’m amazed God chose to highlight Miriam’s act of worship. I believe He did so as a reminder that in the light of the saving grace of God, in the wake of His incredible mercy and power, our only possible response is worship.
Miriam embodies this all-encompassing worship. As women, we are invited to follow in her footsteps, telling the story of God’s victories in our own lives, adding our voices to the Song of the Lamb.
The Song of the Sea is still recited during the Jewish people’s daily prayers. It is also commemorated annually during a special Shabbat called Shabbat Shiraz (or Sabbath of the Song). While we don’t often hear the songs or psalms of the Bible sung, this is one song we can hear, as it’s been passed down through generations. Below are two YouTube links: the first is a traditional rendition of the song, sung by a Jewish rabbi and the second is a dramatization honoring Miriam’s celebration and her leading the women in the Song of the Sea. Enjoy!
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