Old Testament Exodus From Sea to Song

From Sea to Song

The worship wars. A term that has been used to describe the historical divide that caused great discussion and often divide within the modern church. They speak of what people labeled contemporary and traditional music and styles in the church. Discussions focused on the role of evangelism and what has been called ‘seeker sensitive services.’ A great book which looks at the historical development of this is called “Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship,” by Lester Ruth and Lim Swee Hong. However, we must realize that worship is at the heart of humanity. That ever since the fall humanity has had ‘worship wars.’ Cain and Able was not about sibling favoritism, but how they worshipped God. Worship is what we do because it is what we are made to do. Paul writes in Romans one that everybody worships, but instead of worshiping God as creator man has exchanged the truth about God as a lie and worships the creation rather than the creator (Rom 1:18-23). Sadly, we have moved in our arguments and disagreements away from asking one of the most important questions, what does the Bible say? Again, we often think the problems or questions that we face are brand new and therefore need a new solution. However, worship is not new. Worship is throughout the Bible, both good and bad. You might even argue that worship is one of the most central themes in the Bible, that Adam and Eve are made to worship God and yet they fall. Worship is the pinnacle in the book of Revelation with the elect singing and glorifying God throughout the book. Even as we have seen in the Book of Kings that the sins of the people is not loving their neighbor (although they do not do that) the major sin is a worship problem, particularly the violation of the second commandment. So why bring this up? Because throughout the Bible see principles of worship that help us with these questions that come up today. So today we will be only looking at the first few verses of Exodus 15, but as we will see these short verses can teach us a lot about worship.

The People sang to the LORD

Although there is a divide in our Bibles with a heading and a big number, we cannot separate what has gone before and specifically what is written just moments ago. That the People of God had seen a great work of salvation and deliverance as they saw the great power of the Lord and the dead bodies of their enemies upon the shore. Over the course of the night, they went from petrified people to praising people. They went from stuck to saved. From distressed to delivered. Their response is to fear the Lord, believe in him. So, what happens next, it is not a by chance that we have the people’s response to this salvation and deliverance. The people sang. This principle is foundational to the Bible, that salvation leads to singing. It is not then by chance that singing has been a vital part of God’s people, not only in Exodus 15 but time and time again this is the response God’s people have, to praise him, but specifically to Praise him through song. It is not a few times but many times. Just to name a few when Deborah and Barak save God’s people from their enemies, they respond in song in Judges 5. Psalm 104:33 says, “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” This is not only an Old Testament Practice. Jesus sang psalms/hymns with his disciples (Matt 26:30, Mark 14:26). In Luke chapter 24 after Jesus gives the great teaching lesson of the suffering servant in the Old Testament, he blesses the disciples and ascends to heaven the Disciples response is to worship him Luke 24:50-53. It would be a great survey to see the response in the whole Bible but I will send with the Book of Revelation that throughout the book of Revelation are these five songs.

Believers are and will be singing people. This is not something new the church recently came up with but has been true throughout the Old and New Testament. We are given the direct command in Scripture we are to sing (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16). We are commanded to sing and address one another with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs singing and making melody to the Lord with our heart. Why do we sing in church, because the church has always sung, and we will sing in heaven. In the opening section of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal is a great note to members in the congregation about congregational singing. The eight point is great exhortation,

“Finally, don’t worry about what others may think of your singing. Whether you are classically trained or consider yourself monotone, God wants you to sing. Your voice will blend with all the voices now and through eternity to bring praise to our God. Singing is one of our few corporate activities during worship. And remember that our singing here on earth is a rehearsal of what we will be doing in heaven forever!”

But we also need to notice something very important in this passage. The passage does not only say the People sung, but they sang to the Lord. As Paul points out in Ephesians 5:19, not only we address one another but sing to the Lord. Our singing has an object, a direction, the Lord. When God’s people worship, they praise and adoration focuses on God, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who has saved our very souls. We encourage and address one another as our praises go onward and upward to God almighty. Just as our prayers ascend to the throne of grace so to do our praises. Notice this principle at work when Paul and Silas are in the prison in Philippi in the middle of the night as Paul and Silas are in the dark prison cell they are praying and singing hymns to God. We are told that other prisoners were listening to them, but the aim of their prayers and singing was directed to God. How often do we think of this when we gather to sing? We do not merely gather to hear the preacher and the early church said, we need something for the people to do to feel included. The whole worship service from call to worship to benediction is active participation from the members in the pews, from praying, hearing, giving, and singing. When God’s people gather, and they lift their voices in praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and devotion to the one who established the earth and her foundation and saved our very souls. Again this principle is often gets diluted, not abandoned, but even designing services around seeker sensitive places someone else in the middle. Well intended thoughts often lead to bad practices.  The Westminster Divines explained it this way, “Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to Him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone (WCF 21.2). To God alone through Christ alone.

One other factor I need to mention, but not unpack is the fact that God specifically saves his people to serve and worship him. We will see this clearly later in Exodus but we must at least mention this here, it is not only they worship because they are saved but they are specifically are saved to worship.

The People sang about the LORD

Not only we sing to the LORD, but the contents of our songs need to be Biblical. What I mean by that is not only the words come from the Bible, but also emphasize what the Bible emphasizes. When we look at the praises of God and the songs in the Bible there is one great and overarching theme and focus. Not only at the songs sung to God but they are about God. We will look at this more in the coming weeks as we start to see of what the people know and sing about God. However, we must understand this important principle, we should sing more about God than ourselves. Now that does not mean that we cannot sing, “create in me a clean heart” as David sang in Psalm 51. Although the Psalms do sing of life, and the believer they focus around who God is and what he has done. This can be an issue when selecting hymns, hence why we often have additional hymns or psalms in our bulletins. Not because I, as I select hymns, think of your suffering but that our hymns should be mainly about God, his character, attributes, and his salvation. In the hymnal in your pews a large portion of hymns speak of the believer (not a bad thing) compared to ones which the table of contents label “Worship: Praise and Adoration.” I believe the church in previous centuries did well that has been lost in the last 150 years. As we will see in the Psalm of Exodus our singing must not be directed to God but about God as well.

More specifically that as the people sing this Psalm of Exodus to the God of the Bible. The Lord of the Covenant. Ten times in these 18 verses the Covenant name of God, Yahweh, appears. Shown in our bibles with capital letters, LORD or GOD. Worship is not to be made to another other. Christian’s worship who we know, the LORD. We do not worship a god we hope to exist, but the God who made the heavens and the earth as Paul explains to those in the Areopagus, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:23–25). We do not worship a god, but the God. The God who has made himself known to his people and made a covenant with them. The covenant keeping God, whom is called YAHWEH. Our songs and hymns need to not only speaking of a god but the God who has revealed himself to his people through his word.

The People sang to their LORD

Now it might seem this seem contradictory to the previous point, but it is not. The singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord does not forbid the use of personal pronouns, but it does seek that the personal pronouns are not the focus. We see that clearly this truth in verse two. Notice that although the people are singing to the LORD, they still are able to use the word ‘my’. There is a corporate aspect to worship that we should not neglect (Heb 10:24). However, worship carries with it a individual aspect. As we sing to God together, each of us is worshipping our God. In this passage that begins by explaining the people sang to the Lord, it speaks of ‘my strength, my song, my salvation; my God, my father’s God’ each of these are found in the singular use. As the whole congregation sings these words, they carry personal meaning to each individual. They can realize that although they walked through the great walls of redemption in the Red Sea, they sing that God saved them, not only the whole people but they are able to cry out, God saved me from Pharaoh. God is my strength. God is my salvation, and he is mine. That we can sing corporately a hymn like Amazing Grace, we need to be able to say, “That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost; I once was blind but now I see.” Martin Luther explains these words in the Bible should be written in gold, “Read with great emphasis these words, “me,” “for me,” and accustom yourself to accept and apply to yourself this “me” with certain faith. The words OUR, US, FOR US, ought to be written in golden letters — the man who does not believe them is not a Christian.”[1]

Worship is corporate and individual. And each of us should seek to come prepared in heart to stand before our great and glorious God that we worship. When we come together on the Lord’s Day both morning and evening, we do not merely sing songs, making notes come from our mouths, we carry out one of the key practices of believers throughout all of history. God’s people sing to their Lord, they sing about their Lord and they, everyone, sings to their personal saving God.

In closing, let us remember that the worship wars, though they may manifest in various forms throughout history, ultimately reflect humanity’s innate desire to honor and glorify God. As we navigate the complexities of worship in our modern context, let us remain anchored in the timeless truths revealed in Scripture.

May we continue to sing to the LORD with hearts full of gratitude and adoration, lifting our voices in unity as a redeemed community. May our songs be saturated with the truths of God’s Word, declaring His greatness and majesty to a watching world.

And may each of us approach worship with a deep sense of personal reverence, acknowledging the intimate relationship we have with our Savior and King. As we depart from this gathering, let us carry the spirit of worship into every aspect of our lives, living as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.

May the LORD be exalted in our worship.


[1] Luther’s Works, 26.179

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