The song of Moses for the deliverance of Israel. (1-21) The bitter waters at Marah, The Israelites come to Elim. (22-27)
Verses 1-21 This song is the most ancient we know of. It is a holy song, to the honour of God, to exalt his name, and celebrate his praise, and his only, not in the least to magnify any man. Holiness to the Lord is in every part of it. It may be considered as typical, and prophetical of the final destruction of the enemies of the church. Happy the people whose God is the Lord. They have work to do, temptations to grapple with, and afflictions to bear, and are weak in themselves; but his grace is their strength. They are often in sorrow, but in him they have comfort; he is their song. Sin, and death, and hell threaten them, but he is, and will be their salvation. The Lord is a God of almighty power, and woe to those that strive with their Maker! He is a God of matchless perfection; he is glorious in holiness; his holiness is his glory. His holiness appears in the hatred of sin, and his wrath against obstinate sinners. It appears in the deliverance of Israel, and his faithfulness to his own promise. He is fearful in praises; that which is matter of praise to the servants of God, is very dreadful to his enemies. He is doing wonders, things out of the common course of nature; wondrous to those in whose favour they are wrought, who are so unworthy, that they had no reason to expect them. There were wonders of power and wonders of grace; in both, God was to be humbly adored.
Verses 22-27 In the wilderness of Shur the Israelites had no water. At Marah they had water, but it was bitter; so that they could not drink it. God can make bitter to us that from which we promise ourselves most, and often does so in the wilderness of this world, that our wants, and disappointments in the creature, may drive us to the Creator, in whose favour alone true comfort is to be had. In this distress the people fretted, and quarrelled with Moses. Hypocrites may show high affections, and appear earnest in religious exercises, but in the time of temptation they fall away. Even true believers, in seasons of sharp trial, will be tempted to fret, distrust, and murmur. But in every trial we should cast our care upon the Lord, and pour out our hearts before him. We shall then find that a submissive will, a peaceful conscience, and the comforts of the Holy Ghost, will render the bitterest trial tolerable, yea, pleasant. Moses did what the people had neglected to do; he cried unto the Lord. And God provided graciously for them. He directed Moses to a tree which he cast into the waters, when, at once, they were made sweet. Some make this tree typical of the cross of Christ, which sweetens the bitter waters of affliction to all the faithful, and enables them to rejoice in tribulation. But a rebellious Israelite shall fare no better than a rebellious Egyptian. The threatening is implied only, the promise is expressed. God is the great Physician. If we are kept well, it is he that keeps us; if we are made well, it is he that recovers us. He is our life and the length of our days. Let us not forget that we are kept from destruction, and delivered from our enemies, to be the Lord's servants. At Elim they had good water, and enough of it. Though God may, for a time, order his people to encamp by the bitter waters of Marah, that shall not always be their lot. Let us not faint at tribulations.
Exodus 15:1-27 . SONG OF MOSES.
1. Then sang Moses and the children of Israel--The scene of this thanksgiving song is supposed to have been at the landing place on the eastern shore of the Red Sea, at Ayoun Musa, "the fountains of Moses." They are situated somewhat farther northward along the shore than the opposite point from which the Israelites set out. But the line of the people would be extended during the passage, and one extremity of it would reach as far north as these fountains, which would supply them with water on landing. The time when it was sung is supposed to have been the morning after the passage. This song is, by some hundred years, the oldest poem in the world. There is a sublimity and beauty in the language that is unexampled. But its unrivalled superiority arises not solely from the splendor of the diction. Its poetical excellencies have often drawn forth the admiration of the best judges, while the character of the event commemorated, and its being prompted by divine inspiration, contribute to give it an interest and sublimity peculiar to itself.
I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously--Considering the state of servitude in which they had been born and bred, and the rude features of character which their subsequent history often displays, it cannot be supposed that the children of Israel generally were qualified to commit to memory or to appreciate the beauties of this inimitable song. But they might perfectly understand its pervading strain of sentiment; and, with the view of suitably improving the occasion, it was thought necessary that all, old and young, should join their united voices in the rehearsal of its words. As every individual had cause, so every individual gave utterance to his feelings of gratitude.
20. Miriam the prophetess--so called from her receiving divine revelations ( Numbers 12:1 , Micah 6:4 ), but in this instance principally from her being eminently skilled in music, and in this sense the word "prophecy" is sometimes used in Scripture ( 1 Chronicles 25:1 , 1 Corinthians 11:5 ).
took a timbrel--or "tabret"--a musical instrument in the form of a hoop, edged round with rings or pieces of brass to make a jingling noise and covered over with tightened parchment like a drum. It was beat with the fingers, and corresponds to our tambourine.
all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances--We shall understand this by attending to the modern customs of the East, where the dance--a slow, grave, and solemn gesture, generally accompanied with singing and the sound of the timbrel, is still led by the principal female of the company, the rest imitating her movements and repeating the words of the song as they drop from her lips.
21. Miriam answered them--"them" in the Hebrew is masculine, so that Moses probably led the men and Miriam the women--the two bands responding alternately, and singing the first verse as a chorus.
22. wilderness of Shur--comprehending all the western part of Arabia-Petræa. The desert of Etham was a part of it, extending round the northern portion of the Red Sea, and a considerable distance along its eastern shore; whereas the "wilderness of Shur" (now Sudhr) was the designation of all the desert region of Arabia-Petræa that lay next to Palestine.
23. when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters--Following the general route of all travellers southward, between the sea and the tableland of the Tih ("valley of wandering"), Marah is almost universally believed to be what is now called Howarah, in Wady Amarah, about thirty miles from the place where the Israelites landed on the eastern shore of the Red Sea--a distance quite sufficient for their march of three days. There is no other perennial spring in the intermediate space. The water still retains its ancient character, and has a bad name among the Arabs, who seldom allow their camels to partake of it.
25. the Lord showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet--Some travellers have pronounced this to be the Elvah of the Arabs--a shrub in form and flower resembling our hawthorn; others, the berries of the Ghurkhud--a bush found growing around all brackish fountains. But neither of these shrubs are known by the natives to possess such natural virtues. It is far more likely that God miraculously endowed some tree with the property of purifying the bitter water--a tree employed as the medium, but the sweetening was not dependent upon the nature or quality of the tree, but the power of God (compare John 9:6 ). And hence the "statute and ordinance" that followed, which would have been singularly inopportune if no miracle had been wrought.
and there he proved them--God now brought the Israelites into circumstances which would put their faith and obedience to the test (compare Genesis 22:1 ).
27. they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water--supposed to be what is now called Wady-Ghurandel, the most extensive watercourse in the western desert--an oasis, adorned with a great variety of trees, among which the palm is still conspicuous, and fertilized by a copious stream. It is estimated to be a mile in breadth, but stretching out far to the northeast. After the weary travel through the desert, this must have appeared a most delightful encampment from its shade and verdure, as well as from its abundant supply of sweet water for the thirsty multitude. The palm is called "the tree of the desert," as its presence is always a sign of water. The palms in this spot are greatly increased in number, but the wells are diminished.