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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Miriam's Victory Song
Text:Exodus 15:20-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 35:1,4                                                                                            

Ps 81:7,8,9

Reading – Exodus 15; Revelation 15

Ps 68:1,4,10

Sermon – Exodus 15:20-21

Hy 27:1,3,5,6

Ps 150:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, sometimes there’s a reality so rich and so deep we can use many different words to describe it. It’s beauty and power can’t be captured by just one term. That’s the case when talking about what God has given us through our Lord Jesus. We might call it salvation. Or redemption. But it’s also forgiveness. Atonement. Justification. Or again, what we have in Christ is deliverance. It’s rescue and release!

To that long list we could add another word, perhaps less likely word. And that is “exodus.” What’s an exodus? It’s an evacuation, a flight from trouble. Like the refugees that you see on news reports, running away from a country that’s been torn apart. And that’s the kind of event described throughout the second book of the Bible. Exodus recounts the Old Testament story of redemption, the exodus of God’s people from the land of Egypt. And this was no panicky rush for the emergency exits. This was the divine rescue plan: God was bringing his people away from oppression and towards peace.           

And so the exodus became “the” moment in Israel’s history. Even many hundreds of years after it happened, any deliverance was compared to what had happened in Egypt. Remember the exodus! With his mighty hand and outstretched arm, God had saved them! So this event too, points us to Christ our Saviour, to his work of leading us out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light.

Today we focus on just one moment in Israel’s exodus—the song of Miriam and the women of Israel, “Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” (v 21). I preach God’s Word to you,

Miriam and the women of Israel sing of the LORD’s deliverance:

  1. Egypt’s violent pursuit
  2. God’s glorious triumph
  3. Israel’s festive response


1. the violent pursuit: Let’s re-cap the events that lead up to our text. The people of God were in Egypt. They ended up settling there because of Joseph; he had entered the country as a slave, and then risen to a high position in the Egyptian government. Under God’s blessing, the people had not only been preserved there, but had greatly prospered. Problems begin when, perhaps a century later, there’s a new pharaoh in the land—a pharaoh who doesn’t remember Joseph and all the good that he did for Egypt. Instead, this pharaoh comes to see the Israelites as a possible threat. So to keep them under his thumb, he subjects the Israelites as his slaves. He lays ever-heavier burdens on them, and even begins to exterminate them, throwing their babies into the Nile.

That’s a shocking hostility from unbelievers, yet it’s familiar. Ever since Genesis 3, this has been happening, as the devil and his armies do battle with the LORD and his people. It’s still happening today. Here it is in Exodus: an attempt to wipe out the church, and the family of the Saviour, long before He can appear.

So for something like three hundred years, the Israelites suffered in slavery: a hard and hurtful existence, with the constant threat of death. But in the midst of their misery, a saviour is born: Moses, the man of God. No one notices him at first—and for the first eighty years of his life, he doesn’t do much to help. But God is preparing him. For we’re told near the beginning of this book that God is aware of the suffering of his people in Egypt: “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Ex 2:24).

And because our God doesn’t forget, because our God always “remembers” his covenant, we know that something great is about to unfold. Sure enough, the LORD appears to Moses, and sends him back into Egypt as Israel’s great Deliverer. There God performs great signs and wonders, and He inflicts terrible ten plagues on the land, in order to break Pharaoh’s stubborn will. Finally, after one last plague—the death of Egypt’s firstborn—Pharaoh relents, and the people of Israel are allowed to leave. They’re on their way, at last en route to the Promised Land… until Pharaoh comes to his “senses.” He’s standing idly by, while his vast company of free labour heads for the desert!

And so the chase is on. In the song of Moses, we hear an echo of Pharaoh’s cruel intentions, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them” (15:9). If Pharaoh couldn’t bring them back, then he’d kill them out there in the wilderness. 

Pharaoh’s determination can serve as a warning to us—it’s a warning that our enemy Satan never gives up easily. He doesn’t go quietly. Be careful, for even after losing ground to God, Satan will always hope to inflict some damage on his way out. And watching Pharaoh run after his slaves, this might even turn out better than Satan intended! For instead of methodically destroying Israel through centuries of slavery, there might be a bloodbath on the shores of the Red Sea—quick and easy.

The need for deliverance is rarely seen more sharply than this. On the one side, “the horse and its rider,” says Miriam (15:20). The nation of Egypt was known for its military might, for powerful breeds of horses and heavy chariots of war. We would say that they had the best armoured vehicles and most advanced attack helicopters. And on the other side, the people of Israel: a straggling column of hundreds of thousands of refugees, men and women and children, toting baggage and herding animals, and now looking behind them with nervous glances. What could a helpless group do against their enemy?

Things looked pretty grim—as they often can, from the human perspective. Israel looks hemmed in: the pursuing Egyptians behind, the forbidding Red Sea ahead. And this is when the worriers and the complainers begin their chorus of grumbling. In chapter 14 we can read that already they started to doubt God’s power, and wished out loud that they were back in Egypt. It’s a well-known pattern: we see it throughout Exodus, and all Scripture. When trouble looms, the complaining starts.

And it’s a pattern we see close to home too—in ourselves! A new uncertainty looms in our life. A conflict with someone. Anxiety for tomorrow. Concerns about the economy. Or one of Satan’s temptations gets hold of us. How soon we’re ready to conclude that all is lost, and it’s maybe time to give up. We act like it’s suddenly uncertain what Almighty God can do. The way that we’re so anxious, you’d think that we were beyond the Father’s reach. This time there’s no grace for sin. This time is different, and God won’t give strength for the fight.

But listen to 14:13-14. These are words to fix in our minds, to remember each day. It’s what God says to us trembling people of little faith, who are always ready to run: “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today.” There’s no need for fear, because “the horse and its rider” are about to meet their end. God’s glorious triumph remains our hope. In every trouble and hardship, in our sin and guilt, we need to stand still and see the salvation of the LORD!


2.   the glorious triumph: So the sea opened up, and the Israelites passed through. The Egyptians were nothing if not determined, and kept up their pursuit, until the LORD opened the floodgates. Chapter 15:19 gives a matter-of-fact summary of the event, “For the horses of Pharaoh went with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them. But the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea.” It is a matter of fact. And it’s also cause for celebration. Three great things happen here. First is the total destruction of Israel’s enemy. In Pharaoh’s rage, he had called up all his horses and chariots, his horsemen, the entire army. And every last one of them was destroyed! This was a complete victory, which means they’d never trouble Israel again. Sure, there’d be other adversaries to face—but none like the Egyptians. God severed once and for all this deadly threat.

A second truth that’s seen so beautifully is God’s preservation of the saints. He had done everything to save them, then shielded them from danger. He’d done it so that He could bring them to the land of promise! This is why God had “led his people out,” so He could “lead them back in,” into his holy presence.

So when Moses sings, he doesn’t only celebrate the past, he looks forward. Forward to Canaan and their new home: “You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which you have made for your own dwelling” (v 17). This deliverance was one more step along the way, another step towards that place where God can again dwell among his people—even like He once did in the Garden of Eden. That’s what God is working on, so be sure that He’ll bring us there, even if He has to carry us the whole way. He’ll finish in us what He started.

There’s a third thing about this event at the Red Sea, and that’s how it puts the LORD on display. Earlier in Exodus, at the burning bush, the LORD spoke to Moses of his eternity and faithfulness: “I am who I am” (3:14). And this deliverance too, shines the spotlight on the God we worship. That’s what all of Scripture is: one, long, unveiling of who God is, in all his glory and truth and grace and power. For that’s the thing we need to know, more than anything else: Who is God? What can He do? And why can we trust him? Because his works are great!

Moses goes with that theme in his song: “Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power” (v 6). God promised to fight for them, and He had. So Moses sings, “The LORD is a man of war” (v 3). That’s not often an image we associate with God: the LORD as a warrior, God as a soldier: armoured and ready for battle. But how much we need God to be this! If you’re going to fight off the devil’s attacks, if you’re going to turn aside his daily assault, God will be a warrior beside you in the trenches, and with you on the front lines.

After this, Moses’ question in verse 11 makes sense: “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” For if God could do this—if He could slide the Red Sea open, if He could lead his people through, all at the same time as trouncing his enemies—if He can do all this, what can He not do? For the rest of their history, Israel celebrated this moment. Because it told them everything they needed to know about God. That there’s no God like the LORD. He’s a God who saves, who keeps his Word, who remembers his covenant forever.

And that good news points us unmistakably to Christ our Saviour. If you think about it, Jesus’ victory is so much greater than what happened at the Red Sea. For we were stuck in our sin, we were slaves to Satan, held captive by our fear of death. There was no way out—no way we could ever fight to freedom. But Christ, by his cross, and his resurrection, released us from our chains. He freed us from all the power of the devil, and brought us away from hell. Now He’s carrying us through the desert, towards our everlasting home. He has triumphed gloriously, and all the blessings of his victory belong to us!

Like Paul would say, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). More than conquerors—that’s what those weak-kneed, weak-willed, weak-minded people of Israel became, standing at the Red Sea. And that’s what we’ve become in Christ Jesus: more than conquerors.


3. the festive response: No wonder Israel sang! No wonder Miriam sang! Because what would you do if you were delivered from the grip of death? And you were promised a glorious future, a future that gets closer with every step? What should you do? Praise God! Give thanks in prayer. Tell someone about it. Sing about it! What can’t happen is that it doesn’t move us, doesn’t change us. If we’ve seen some of the works of God, if we know about the LORD’s power and faithfulness, we don’t dare to be unimpressed. Don’t shrug, or yawn, or change the channel. If you understand what salvation is, if you’ve experienced what it is to be rescued, then remember to stand in awe of God. That’s what Miriam and the women of Israel do: they give a response of worship and praise, singing of God our Saviour! “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously!”

Moses, and “the children of Israel” with him (15:1), had sung already. Imagine that scene for a moment, how striking it was: even as the bodies of the Egyptians are washing up on the shore of the Red Sea, the Israelites worship. They don’t delay their thanksgiving for one minute—they drop everything, and sing. Then after the Israelites have sung, its Miriam’s turn, with the other women. Someone might ask, “So why does Miriam need to sing too? Wasn’t she included with the rest of them? And how is what she says any different from Moses?”

It’s probably not a separate song that she sings. Compare how Moses began his song (15:1), with Miriam’s words (15:20): they’re almost exactly the same. This could mean that these two songs should be taken together. That is to say, there was probably just one song in Exodus 15; it was a song of stanzas and refrain, sung in turn by the men and then by the women. So Miriam’s words probably form a kind of chorus for the song, her words something like what’s repeated often in Psalm 136, “For his steadfast love is sure, it shall evermore endure.” Imagine that victorious refrain, echoing again and again over the waters filled with drowned Egyptians, “Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” She and women sing it with the rest of God’s people.

Miriam here is called a prophetess (v 20). Other women are described like this, such as Deborah, and Huldah, and Isaiah’s wife—and in the New Testament, we think of the prophetess Anna, and Philip’s four daughters. We don’t know what Miriam did as prophetess, outside of this one event. But a prophet is someone who speaks God’s Word to his people. And that’s exactly what Miriam is doing: she is proclaiming his Word, to his glory.While it’s not clear exactly what kind of role she had in Israel, Miriam did have an important place. Listen to what God said through Micah, in chapter 6:4, “I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” Miriam was counted among the leaders of God’s people! So on this day of victory Miriam the prophetess will lift up her voice, and lead the nation in worship.

She combines her “prophesying” with music—which was not that unusual in Israel. Think of King Saul, when he met that band of prophets, “coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and harp… [and] prophesying” (1 Sam 10:5). Music has always had a great power. Today it still has a strong effect of putting one in the spirit of praising God, glorifying his Name.

Miriam “took a timbrel.” This was a simple instrument, probably constructed of a wooden hoop. Over that hoop there would be stretched an animal skin, sort of like the head of a drum. This was something that you could beat with your hand or fingers. Sometimes little pieces of brass were attached to it, to make a jingling noise, like a tambourine. With timbrel in hand, she takes the lead in the chorus, and all “all the women” join her (v 20). Moses and the men will sing, Miriam and the women will sing, and you can be sure that all the children sang too. What beauty there is when a congregation sings to the LORD together! No one should keep his mouth shut and silent when God delivers us.

And as the women sing, joy overcomes them from head to toe, for they go forth with “dances” (v 20). As we get older, we get a bit more restrained, but sometimes you see children doing this when they’re really excited about something: they just have to leap, move around, jump for joy. That’s what these women do, because their joy just can’t be contained. They’re so impressed by God’s works, it flows out of them. All in all, the scene’s a lot like Psalm 150: “Praise Him for his mighty acts;” it says there, “praise Him according to his excellent greatness... Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance” (vv 2-3). Exodus 15 is just such an exuberant, festive, awe-struck response to God’s mighty works.

It’s a nice picture, but don’t we find it hard to relate? Isn’t there a big distance between then and now, a distance between the Israelites at the Red Sea and us in our ordinary life and regular church? What I mean is, we’ve got no timbrels in worship, we’ve got no lutes and harps. Today we shy away from breaking out with dance—to say nothing of including it in worship! But this text points us to the heart behind the song. Get back to the spirit behind the dance. Remember what this is: a joyous celebration of God’s goodness! Remember what this is, and see if its heart has changed. “Sing to the LORD!” (v 20), Miriam says. That’s a word for us too, as God’s covenant people: Sing! Give thanks! Rejoice in the Lord! Even if you can’t sing, even if you don’t like to sing, give your praise to the LORD.

For in this New Testament age, we should sing more, and not less! Psalms of Christ, and hymns of Christ! Paul writes in Ephesians, “Sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (5:19-20). So sing with your family, around the dinner table. Sing with your friends. Sing in church. Have a song of  praise in your heart all week long. Because if anyone has a reason to sing, we do!

If you listen to the radio, or if you watch the latest music videos, you’ll know that so many songs today are mindless. They so often celebrate things that are cheap and foolish and godless. But our songs can be different. Not because we’re better people, but because we have a better reason to sing. “Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously!” God’s great works give his people cause for joy and celebration. And that’s what the rest of Scripture shows: God’s people are a singing people. The saints so often lift up their voices in praise. They do, for the same reason that Miriam gives: because our God is glorious, and because He alone does wondrous things. It’s right that we sing, it’s necessary that we sing, for in Christ there’s a new exodus and a new inheritance. Christ delivers us from the evil one, and his victory is sure!

Even when we get to the last book of the Bible, the people of God are singing. One of the many songs in Revelation is found in chapter 15. And notice what it’s called: “The Song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.” It’s sung by the great multitude of believers, and they’re holding harps. They’re not standing at the Red Sea, but at the sea of glass. They weren’t saved from Pharaoh, but from the cruel power of the beast. And together they sing, “Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name?” (v 3).

That’s the keynote theme, of Scripture, and of our lives: the great and marvelous works of our God, who in Christ has redeemed us from sin and death. So let that be your chorus and your refrain, each and every day. Rejoice in the Lord! Sing to the LORD! In everything, offer yourself to God in thankful praise!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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