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THE SONG OF REDEMPTION
RICHARD D. PATTERSON
One of the loveliest songs in the corpus
outlined as follows:
I. Prelude (lb-2)
A. Exordium (1b)
B. Opening confession/praise (2)
II. Singing the Song (3-16)
A. First movement: The victory at the Re(e)d Sea (3-5)
**Hinging refrain--in praise of Yahweh's invincibility (6)
B. Second movement: The vindication of God's sovereignty (7-10)
1. Over his enemy (7)
2. Over the enemy's plans (8-10)
**Hinging refrain-in praise of Yahweh's incomparability (11)
C. Third movement: The vigor of God's activity (12-16a)
1. As a powerful God of redemption (12-13)
2. As a fearsome God of rebuke (14-16a)
**Hinging refrain-in praise of Yahweh's intervention (16b)
III. Postlude (17-18)
A. Promise: God will return his people to his land and theirs (17)
B. Praise: May God (God will) reign forever (18)
The text is located within the narrative
before the waters' return to destroy the pursuing Egyptians. The smooth
flow of the prose narrative from 14:31 to 15:19-21 favors the suggestion that
the poetic piece in 15:1-18 has been inserted into the text to commemorate
the grand event.
The embedded poetry takes its theme from Miriam's song sung with the
women who customarily lead with singing and dancing at such happy
occasions (e.g., Judges 5; 2 Sam 1:20; 6:5, 14-16, 20-22, etc.). The final
placement of the poetic text allows the initial thematic exordium of Moses'
song of the sea (15:1) to form an inclusio with the words of Miriam's joyful
song (15:21), the double expression of the theme thus serving as a book-
ending device to the whole rehearsal of the passing through the waters.1
Moses' song has been extensively studied and with many varying results.2
As for genre, Childs remarks: "The Song has been characterized as a hymn
(Fohrer), enthronement psalm (Mowinckel), litany (Beer, Muilenburg),
victory psalm (Cross-Freedman), hymn and thanksgiving psalm (Noth)."3
Structurally it has been declared to have four (Kaiser), three (Cassuto,
Freedman, Muilenburg), or two (Childs, Howell) stanzas. This study will
treat the poem as a unified victory song consisting of three stanzas (vv. 3-5,
7-10, 12-16a), each followed by a refrain composed in staircase parallelism
(vv. 6, 11, 16b), the whole poem being enclosed by introductory and closing
material (vv. 1b-2, 17-18).5 Having considered these data, the study will
conclude with an examination of the poem's continuing importance in the
preservation of the Exodus theme.
I. Structure and Literary Features
Applying the commonly employed Semitic compositional techniques of
bracketing, hinging, and stitching,6 Muilenburg's structural analysis of the
1 So also D. N. Freedman, "Strophe and Meter in Exodus 15," in Pottery, Poetry, and
Prophecy (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1980) 194-95.
2 See for example, J. J. Burden, "A Stylistic Analysis of Exodus 15:1-21: Theory and
Practice," in Exodus 1-15: Text and Context (ed. J. J. Burden; OTSSA/OTWSA 29 ;
Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967) 172-82; B. S. Childs, The
Book of Exodus (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974) 240-53; G. W. Coats, "The Traditio-Historical
1-17; F: M. Cross, Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (
versity, 1950) 83-127; D. N. Freedman, "The Song of the Sea," in Pottery, Poetry, and Prophecy
(Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1980) 179-84; id., "Strophe," 187-227; M. Howell, "Exodus
15,lb-18: A Poetic Analysis," ETL 65 (1989) 5-42; J. Muilenburg, "A Liturgy on the Tri-
umphs of Yahweh," in Studio biblica et semitica (Wageningen: H. Veenman and Zonen, N. V:,
233-51; H. Strauss, "Das Meerlied des Mose-ein 'Siegeslied'
103-9; J. P. van der Westhuizen, "Literary Device in Exodus 15:1-18 and Deut 32:1-43 as a
Criterion for determining their Literary Standards," in Studies in the Pentateuch (ed. W. C. van
3 Childs, Exodus, 213.
4 W. C. Kaiser, Jr.,
"Exodus," in Expositor's Bible Commentary (12 vols.;
Zondervan, 1990) 2.391-7.
5 Many have found extensive
reflections of the mythic literature of earlier
poem. While common phraseology with such literary sources can be noted here (and even
more extensively elsewhere in the OT; see e.g., Ps 74:13-14; Isa 27:1), even Cassuto, who
champions such relationships (see, e.g., "Biblical and Canaanite Literature," in Biblical and
accept anything of the content of the legends pertaining to the revolt of the sea and its helpers"
(Cassuto, Exodus, 180). The indebtedness is therefore allusive rather than substantive. In any
case, Moses' literary dependence is not under consideration in this study.
6 See further R. D. Patterson, "Of Bookends, Hinges, and Hooks: Literary Clues to the
Arrangement of Jeremiah's Prophecies," WTJ 51 (1989) 109-31.
THE SONG OF REDEMPTION 455
poem7 appears to be vindicated at every turn. Thus, the threefold use of
staircase parallelism immediately arrests the reader's attention. Such poetic
structures are formed by repeating the first poetic line in the third to form
the pattern ab/cd, ab/ef:
Your right hand, 0 Yahweh,
Is fearful in strength;
Your right hand, 0 Yahweh,
Shatters the enemy. (v. 6)
Who is like you
Among the gods, Yahweh?
Who is like you
Glorious in holiness,
Awesome in deeds,
Working wonders? (v. 11)
Until there passed over
Your people, 0 Yahweh;
Until there passed over
The people you possess. (v. 16b)
Watson points out that this type of poetry is often used as a variant refrain
and gives Exodus 15 as a classic example.8 The correctness of this conclusion
is underscored by noting that each refrain is preceded by the appearance
of a stanza-closing simile: "like a stone" (vv. 5, 16a), "like lead" (v. 10).
The structural contours of the poem therefore seem clearly established.
It may be added that each refrain proceeds not only on the basis of the
prior stanza but points to the one that follows. Thus, Yahweh's great
strength (v. 6) displayed in the sending of Pharaoh's forces to the watery
depths is sung in both surrounding stanzas. Likewise, Yahweh's incompa-
rable power and holiness (v. 11) find reflection in the surrounding material,
as does Yahweh's intervention on behalf of his people (v. 16b) so as to lead
them to the place of his holy habitation (vv. 13, 17). Accordingly, the
refrains do double duty as hinging devices.
Having established the stanza divisions, one can discern further strophic
subdivisions. Within the second stanza (vv. 7-10), each strophe is intro-
duced by the familiar coordinator plus prepositional phrase: "And in the
abundance of your majesty" (v. 7); "And by the breath of your nostrils"
(v. 8). Each strophe also features a simile: "Like stubble" (v. 7); "Like a
wall" (v. 8). The second strophe is marked by a simile in its first and last
quatrains ("like a wall," v. 8; "like lead," v. 10) and by the repetition of
the word breath (vv. 8, 10) so as to form a tight inclusio. The third stanza
(vv. 12-16a) is also made up of two strophes, the first dominated by the
employment of the letter 3 with the primary verbs (vv. 12-13), the second
the subject of the terror of the nations in and around
7 Muilenburg, "Liturgy," 237-8; see also D. N, Freedman, "Strophe," 188-91.
8 W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT, 1986) 154.
Stitching forms a further compositional technique. For example, the di-
vine name Yahweh is threaded through the entire poem. The motif of the
sea/waters, found in v. 1, reappears in the first two stanzas (vv. 4, 5, 8, 10);
the motif of the right hand/arm of God provides stitching for the second
and third stanzas (vv. 6, 12, 16a) as well as the closing promise (v. 17); the
theme of holiness, featured in the second refrain (v. 11), is utilized in the
third stanza (v. 13) and the closing promise; and the attention to God's
people stitches together the two strophes of the third stanza (vv. 13, 16).
Other literary features abound in this short poetic piece. Alliteration and
assonance are frequent, with certain letters being especially common (e.g.,
b, k, and x). In addition to several similes, a metaphor occurs in v. 15
(v. 2, "my strength and defense" = my strong defense; v. 4, "the chariots
of Pharaoh and his army" = Pharaoh's chariot forces; v. 14, "the peoples
heard, they trembled" = the peoples' fearful hearing; v. 16, "terror and
dread" = dreadful terror), synecdoche (v. 1, "horse and its rider" = Pha-
raoh's military forces; v. 6, Yahweh's right hand = Yahweh himself; v. 16,
"by the greatness of your arm" = Yahweh's mighty power; cf. vv. 8, 10,
Yahweh's breath), dramatic irony (v. 9), and rhetorical question (v. 11) may
be noted, as well as a possible instance of merismus (v. 4, chariots and army
= Pharaoh's entire army).9 Paronomasia is often attested, whether in plays"
on roots. (e.g., v. 2, hxg hxg, "highly exalted"; v. 7, jnvxg, "your majesty")
or individual words (e.g., v. 10, Myrydx Mymb, In the mighty waters; v. 11,
wdqb rdxn, "glorious/mighty in holiness").
II. Genre Analysis
On the basis of similar biblical (e.g., "The Song of Deborah," Judges 5)
and extrabiblical material, Moses' poem is best read as a victory song10
celebrating Yahweh's deliverance of his people through the Re(e)d Sea
and from the pursuing Egyptians.11 The poet begins by taking Miriam's
9 So van der Westhuizen, "Literary Device," 61, although this is properly denied by
Howell, "Poetic Analysis," 21.
10 For the genre victory song,
see Ancient Records of Egypt (ed. J.
Russell and Russell, 1962) 13.94; P. C. Craigie, "The Song of Deborah and the Epic of
Tukulti-Ninurta," JBL 88 (1969) 253-65; W. E Edgerton and J. A. Wilson, Historical Records
of Ramses III (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1936) 111-12; M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian
Literature (Berkeley: University of California, 1976) 2.35-39, 43-48; R. D. Patterson, "The ,
Song of Deborah," in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg (eds.
Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg;
11 For discussion of the relationship between Hebrew Jvs "reed" and Egyptian twf(y) (or
W. E Albright, The Vocalization of the Egyptian Syllabic Orthography [
American Oriental Society, 1966] 65) "papyrus (reed)," see TWOT 2.620; T. O. Lambdin, 1
Loan Words in the Old Testament," JAOS 73 (1953) 153; B.
Sea: Requiescat in Pace," JBL 102 (1983) 27-35.
THE SONG OF REDEMPTION 457
spontaneous song (Exod 15:21) as his theme.12 Following the exordium
(v. 1),13 the author moves to an opening confession and praise of God as
God has become his salvation. He announces his intention to sing God's
praises in what follows (v. 2). That Yahweh is a primary focus of attention
throughout the song is clear in the repeated use of the divine name.
The main body of the song then begins, its first stanza comprising vv. 3-5.
Like many an ancient victory song, it features both a war cry, "Yahweh is
a man of war" (v. 3), and an exulting in the coming of divine aid during
the battle (vv. 4-5).14 God has defeated Pharaoh's troops by sinking them
in the waters of the Re(e)d Sea like a stone.15 Accordingly, utilizing some
dramatic staircase parallelism (v. 6) and a well-designed synecdoche, he
sings of God's mighty "right hand," the symbol of his strength, which has
shattered the enemy forces.
In the second stanza, the poet returns to his earlier theme of God's
exaltation (vv. 1, 2) by praising God's majesty in his mighty fury against
freely upon the use of simile, describing Pharaoh's forces as crushed and
consumed like stubble (v. 7).16 In a second strophe (vv. 8-10), the poet
employs several well-known victory themes. (1) He rehearses the setting of
the crucial contest: the Hebrews are faced with the prospect of deep waters
before them and a mighty Egyptian contingent behind them. (2) Divine aid
comes so that the waters are made to congeal and stand up like a wall, thus
securing safe passage for God's people. (3) Using the ancient taunt song, he
tells of the boastful words from the Egyptians' mouths: they would destroy
and despoil their intended prey. Quite the contrary, a mere puff of the
12 Ancient victory songs frequently featured the role of women. For details as to Deborah's
song, see P. C. Craigie, "Deborah and Anat: A Study of Poetic Imagery (Judges 5)," ZAW 90
(1978) 374-81; for a comparison of Exodus 15 and Judges 5, see A. J. Hauser, "Two Songs of
Victory: A Comparison of Exodus 15 and Judges 5," in Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry (ed.
13 Cassuto notes that beginning poetry with an expression like "I will sing" is "a common
feature both of Eastern and Western poesy" (Exodus, 174). See further Deut 32:1-2; Judg. 5:3;
cf. Ps 45:1(2) and my remarks in "A Multiplex Approach to Psalm 45," GTJ 6 (1985) 35-36.
See also B. Childs, who notes that "Then sang Moses. . . saying. . . " is a traditional means
for setting a poem within a narrative (Exodus, 248; cf. Deut 31:30; Judg 5:1; I Sam 2:1).
14 Craigie, “Song of Deborah," 256-58.
15 The parallelism and paronomasia in v. 4 are striking, the poet beginning the first and
third lines with words whose initial letter is D, and ending the second and fourth lines with
references to the sea:
markebot par'oh wehelo [Pharaoh's chariot forces]
yara bayyam [He hurled into the sea;]
umibhar salisayw [Even his choicest troops]
tubbe'u beyam-sup [Are drowned in the Re(e)d Sea.]
16 Paronomasia is again evident. Earlier (v. 1) the poet had praised God with the phrase
hxg hxg, "He is highly exalted"; here he speaks of the jnvxg br, "the abundance of your
divine breath had been sufficient to sink them like lead in the mighty
waters.17 The sarcasm is evident.18 No wonder the poet can burst forth in
Iexultation formed of staccato-like phrases in rhetorical questions, "Who is
holiness, awesome in deeds, and a worker of wonders (v. 11)
Building on this refrain, the author moves to a third stanza, once again
falling into two strophes. The first (vv. 12-13) is built purposely around
three verbs beginning with the letter n: tyFn, tyHn, tlhn--"You stretch out"
(your right hand; cf. v. 6), "You lead" (in your lovingkindness), and "You
(them by your strength), The emphasis is threefold: (1)
is a powerful God; (2) he is one who treats his redeemed people as family;
and (3) he is the One who firmly guides them to his "holy [cf. v. 11]
The second strophe (signaled by opening 3/3 meter) advances the
thought to post-battle details. Moving past Sinai, the author considers the
wilderness experience (vv. 14-16). Once again potential enemies are carica-
shaking, seized by anguish and horror, and so afraid that they melt away
because of the dreadful fear (v. 16a) that falls upon them so greatly that they
are rendered incapacitated--"dumb as stone."
The following refrain sings of the peculiar
with its God. His divine aid had come because, as his redeemed people,
they are those whom he has taken possession of for himself (v. 16b). Hence,
journey through the wilderness.
As the third transitional refrain blends into final postlude, the poet con-
cludes with a promise (v. 17) and a praise (v. 18). In so doing he changes
from using past-tense verbs to a future one: "You will bring them." The
God who had
redeemed his people out of
them through the Re( e)d Sea and from enemies during the wilderness trek,
could be counted on to lead them into the land of promise. As he had
17 Moses literary abilities may be seen in his use of "breath," "waters," an "sea" so as
to yield a chiastic effect in vv. 8-10. He also employs paronomasia with great effectiveness, the
root utilized to describe God's mighty right hand in v. 6 being used in v. 10 of the mighty
waters. He will call upon it again in v. 11 in speaking of God's glorious holiness.
18 M. Howell sees in the recording of the enemy's intentions a touch of dramatic irony--the
reader already knows the failed outcome of the Egyptians' efforts ("Poetic Analysis," 28).
19 Placing the terror of the Philistines in juxtaposition with that of the Transjordanian
nations reinforces the fear that gripped the whole region, as expressed in the last line of v. 15.
The Scriptures (particularly the prophets) characteristically pronounced the fate of the foreign
nations in some sort of geographic pattern that crisscrossed the land/country/city that was the
focus of the denunciation, See my remarks in "Old Testament Prophecy," in A Complete
Literary Guide to the Bible (eds. Leland Ryken and Tremper Longman III; Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1993) 296-309.
THE SONG OF REDEMPTION 459
brought them to his holy habitation20 on Sinai (v. 13), he will yet bring
them to his intended holy sanctuary and their dwelling place. Accordingly,
Yahweh can duly be praised.
III. Transmission of the Song
The victory at the Re(e)d Sea, together with the following movements
culminated in the conquest, remained indelibly written in
memory. The song itself was reechoed by many writers in subsequent genera-
tions. The opening praise of v. 2 is repeated by the psalmist (Ps 118:14) and
Isaiah (12:2). The song's phraseology and/or imagery is often drawn upon
by others. Thus, David in Psalm 18 speaks of God as "my strength" (v. 1),
"my fortress" (v. 2), and "my salvation" (v. 46; cf. Hab 3:18), all drawn
from Exod 15:2, while “the breath of his nostrils" (Exod 15:8) is found in
v. 15. The kindling fire of v. 8 may also stem from Exod 15:7. Psalm 77
appears indebted to Exodus 15, employing the imagery of the right hand,
the way through the waters, and the divine guiding of God's people (vv. 17,
19, 20). Further allusions may be found in God's "holy dwelling" (Exod 15:13)
in Ps 68:6 (cf. Ps 114:2; Obad 16; Hab 2:20; Zeph 3:11), as well as the use
of the "trembling earth" of Exod 15:7-8 in Ps 114:7; Judg 5:4-5.21 Isaiah
seems to have drawn upon Exod 15:1-18 in many places (e.g., cf. v. 2 with
Isa 12:2; v. 8 with Isa 43:16; v. 9 with Isa 9:3; v. 10 with Isa. 11:4; 30:33; 40:7;
v. 11 with Isa 6:3, 35:2; 40:5; 46:5, v. 17 with Isa 5:2; 60:21). The memory
of the safe passage through the waters, so important to Exodus 15,22 is often
rehearsed (e.g., Deut 11:4; Josh 2:10; 4:23; 24:6; Ps 66:6; 77:16,19; 106:7-9,
22; 114:3, 5; 136:13, 15; Jer 49:4), as is the subsequent wilderness experience
(e.g., Ps 78:52; 107:33-38; Jer 2:2-6; Ezek 20:10; Hos 2:15; Amos 2:10).
Some evidence exists that the Exodus may have also been commemorated
in epic fashion. That story can be sketched at least preliminarily not only
in several of the above mentioned texts (e.g., Ps 18:8-16; 68:8-9; 77:17-20;
114) but also by comparing Exod 15:1-18 with Hab 3:3-7, 8-15.23 Like the
epics of the
nations round about her,
focused on a central hero, God himself.24 Other epic elements include:
20 Paronomasiacan also be felt here. He who was glorious in holiness (v. 11) and had guided
to his holy habitation on
his holy sanctuary in the promised land of inheritance.
21 For interesting studies of these verses, see A Globe, "The Text and Literary Structure
of Judges 5, 4-5," Bib 55 (1974) 168-79; E. Lipinski, "Judges 5,4-5 et Psaume 68,8-11," Bib
48 (1967) 185-206.
22 See Hauser, "Two Songs," 270-73.
23 See R. D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Chicago: Moody, 1991) 267-72.
24 L. Ryken, however, terms
this an "anti-epic note" (Words of Delight [
Baker, 1987] 133).
account of a perilous journey--from
viving of a critical contest-the Re(e)d Sea; (3) the hero's great personal
qualities such as magnificence and grandeur, awe-inspiring might, and
munificence and concern for others; and (4) the stylistic employment of
such literary features as static epithets, set parallel terms, and a lofty tone.25
Whether or not
the Exodus was often retold. Indeed, the poetry of the Exodus cycle was to
form the basic twofold confession of national consciousness: Yahweh "brought
The whole story formed one grand event through which a redeemed people
was to realize life's full potential and finest blessing.27 Indeed, the Exodus
the spiritual basis for all of
nationally and individually. As such it is cited or alluded to throughout
the pages of the OT (e.g., Josh 3:5; 4:14, 18-24; 5:10-18; I Sam 12:6;
Ps 105:26-45; 106:7-12;Jer 11:7; etc.), the traditional account often being
of his people so as to bring them once again to the land of blessing (e.g.,
Isa 11:11-16; 51:9-11; Jer 16:14-15; 23:7-8; Mic 7:14-15). The Exodus
theme also is found in such intertestamental pieces as 3 Maccabees (2:6-8;
6:4), 1 Enoch (89:10-27), and Jubilees (chap. 49), and in many NT contexts,
especially the book of Revelation (e.g., 15:3-4), where the traditional Exo-
dus material is often drawn upon to picture coming apocalyptic events.28
25 For the features of epic genre see C. M. Ing, "Epic," in Cassell's Encyclopaedia of Literature
(ed. S. H.
world, see my remarks in "The Song of Habakkuk," GTJ 8 (1987) 178-85.
26 B. W.
Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry (ed. Elaine R. Follis;
27 E. A. Martens, God's Design (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981) 96.
28 F. F. Bruce appropriately remarks, "The presentation of the redemptive work of Christ
in terms of the Exodus motif in so many strands of New Testament teaching shows how
primitive was the Christian use of this motif-going back, quite probably, to the period of
Jesus' ministry". Jesus' contemporaries freely identified Him as a second Moses--the expecta-
tion of a second Moses played an important part in popular eschatology at the time--and with
the expectation of a second Moses went very naturally the expectation of a second Exodus"
(The New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968] 49).
Tremper Longman III mentions the pervasive presence of the divine warrior motif in
the book of Revelation ("The Divine Warrior: The New Testament Use of an Old Testament
Motif," WTJ 44  297 -302). This motif may be particularly apropos for Revelation due
to the pervasive presence of the Exodus motif, particularly as centered in the theme of a new
Exodus. Thus, with regard to the great Te Deum of 19:1-10, G. R. Beasley-Murray remarks,
gives praise to God for the deliverance from the oppressor tyrant of
contemporary 'Pharaoh'--and the saints give praise for the inheritance of the kingdom, and
for that special fulfillment of the passover and the Christian eucharist in the marriage-supper
of the Lamb" (The Book of Revelation [NCBC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981] 271). For the
warrior motif itself, see E M. Cross, Jr., "The Divine Warrior in
Motifs (ed. Alexander Altmann;
Tremper Longman III, "Psalm 98: A Divine Warrior Victory Song," JETS 27 (1984) 267-74.
THE SONG OF REDEMPTION 461
Both in its original setting and in its oft retelling, Moses' great victory
song of redemption continues to be felt in the lives of today's redeemed as
well as those of yesteryear. Habakkuk's reaction to the contemplation of
that grand event can perhaps give assurance and direction to us all; come
what may, "Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior,
the Sovereign LORD is my strength" (Hab 3:18-19).
For the importance of the use of the Exodus motif as a basis of future hope, note the comments
of W. A. VanGemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) 276:
"Just as the restoration from exile was like a second Exodus, so the coming of Christ is like a
third Exodus because he has come to lead sinners--Jews and Gentiles--into the full experience
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