by Lien-yueh Wei
Sermon on Exodus 15: 1-24
Singing the Forgotten Song of the Sea
Exodus 15: 1-24 is made up of two parts: verse 1-21 is the Israelite song at the sea and verse 22-24 is the Israelites grumbling at the water.
Regarding the song, the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has indicated its significance. He says, “The song is rooted in the exodus experience, preserved in exodus liturgy, and taken up for the canonical telling of the biblical story.”
This song is constituted by three sections. The first section, v. 1 to18, is a long song sung by Moses and the Israelite. The second section, v. 19, is a prose comment that gives closure to the entire unit of the Exodus narrative. The last section of the song, v. 20-21, is a short song sung by Miriam and all the women. In a word, all the Israelites were singing to God at the sea; and the core theme of the song is that people shall sing to the LORD for the LORD has overthrown Israelite enemies.
part of this text, verse 22-24 is the Israelite grumbling that
closely follows the Israelite song.
Now, before we try to find the message from the text we read, let me first explain to you why I see the text, verse 1 to 24, is a coherent narrative even though it seems to be two narratives. It is because there are some explicit comparisons between these two narratives. If we read these two narratives closely, we find that the author wants to make parallels between the praising song and the grumbling word, and between the salty, victory sea and the plain, bitter water.
Thus, from a micro perspective, the message in these two parallels is that singing to the LORD will lead our lives to salty and victorious lives.
However, I believe that the author wants us to sing praise to God not only just for this simple reason. But where can we find another more significant reason?
We, the divinity school students, do not forget that although the author may express a significant message through a single verse or chapter, the author will normally express it through an integral story. Hence, we should always try to find the central message through a macro perspective.
Now, let me briefly describe the integral story which is relevant with the text we read. At first, Israel was suffering in Egypt, and God promised to bring them up out of Egypt into a promised land. After God’s powerful intervening, Israel had finally crossed the sea. Then, Israel sang the song of the sea to God. But soon after they left the sea, when they confronted a problem, they forgot the events of experiencing God’s promise, presence, and power so that they were grumbling to God’s servant. As Psalm 106: 10 to 13 describes, “He saved them from the hand of the enemy. The waters covered their adversaries. Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done.”
Here, we find a theological formula in the integral story. This formula has four steps: First) Israelite suffering, Second) God’s promise and intervention, Third) Israelite singing or praising, and Fourth) Israelite forgetting what God had done and Israelite grumbling.
In fact, this formula or tragic circle not only happens in the narratives of the entire Exodus story and throughout almost all the narratives in the Hebrew Bible, but also happens in many of God’s people’s lives.
The text we read has revealed how we can cease this tragic circle in our lives. The text implies that to stop this tragic circle is to stop forgetting and grumbling because it is the fourth step that make this circle move back again to the first step. If we take the fourth step away, then, the tragic circle may be collapsed.
But how can
we take the fourth step, forgetting and grumbling, away? As we all
know, forgetfulness has always been a bad human characteristic from
the ancient Israelites to the believers in present times. Therefore
how can we easily overcome this bad habit? Indeed, we so easily to
forget what God has done for us that we almost forget God when we
The text we
read has provided us a clue to solving this problem. The message in
the text suggests that we shall always sing to God. It means that we
shall always stay in the third step. Actually, singing is a very
effective way to take forgetfulness away because singing combines
music, the praising words, and the emotion all together so that it
can help us to recall, remain, and strengthen our memories. In fact,
in ancient China, teachers would ask students to memorize things
they should remember by singing those things. Some modern scholars
find that this is a best way to help people remember something that
are easy to forget. You mat also find that you have remembered a lot
of hymns while you just can remember few pericopea in the Bible.
Indeed, singing to God can help us to recall, remain, and strengthen
the memories of what God has done for us. In short, we shall always
sing to God in order to stay in this the third step and to collapse
the tragic circle in our lives. I believe that this is another more
significant reason why we should sing the praise to God.
When we take the fourth step away, we will find only two steps left: the promise and intervention of God and the singing of God’s people. But where is the first step or the suffering of God’s people? Now, the suffering will either be substituted by the singing or coexist with our praising. It is at this point that the fourth-step tragic formula becomes a two-step blessing circle. In this circle, singing praise to God will be our life style and habit from the beginning of a day to the end. Our lives, then, will be salty and victorious.
This message is very important for us. We always sing. We sing when we are happy or sad, in good mood or bad, lonely or with friends, whether we like or dislike our neighbors, and when we are watching games played by our favorite team. However, we do not always sing for God and to God. Many people sing to God only in church. Sometimes, many people who sing in church do not even sing for God, but sing for following ritual, music, or the lyric on projector screen, or for the people around them. They do not always sing for God. Sooner or later, they may forget what God has done for them or grumble at God or God’s servants. Then, the four-step tragic circle may slip back into their lives.
Today’s message has reminded us that singing to God will not only help us recall and remember what God has done for us, but also help us overcome our forgetfulness, grumbling, and the four-step tragic circle of our lives. Ephesians 5:19 says, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord;” and Isaiah 12:5, “Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.” When singing to God becomes our life style, our lives will be salty and victorious.
Finally, because the text we read is about a song at the sea and today’s message is that singing to God will help us to overcome the tragic circle in our lives and should be our daily life style, we cannot end this sermon without singing prasie to God. Therefore, let us use verse 11, the core of the song, to sing a song as a response to God and to God’s message for us today.