Exodus 15

The Song of Triumph

15:1  Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD. They said,
“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously,
the horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea.
15:2 The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.
This is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
15:3 The LORD is a warrior,
the LORD is his name.
15:4 The chariots of Pharaoh and his army he has thrown into the sea,
and his chosen officers were drowned in the Red Sea.
15:5 The depths have covered them,
they went down to the bottom like a stone.
15:6 Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power,
your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.
15:7 In the abundance of your majesty you have overthrown
those who rise up against you.
You sent forth your wrath;
it consumed them like stubble.
15:8 By the blast of your nostrils the waters were piled up,
the flowing water stood upright like a heap,
and the deep waters were solidified in the heart of the sea.
15:9 The enemy said, ‘I will chase, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil;
my desire will be satisfied on them.
I will draw my sword, my hand will destroy them.’
15:10 But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
15:11 Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you?—majestic in holiness, fearful in praises, working wonders?
15:12 You stretched out your right hand,
the earth swallowed them.
15:13 By your loyal love you will lead the people whom you have redeemed;
you will guide them by your strength to your holy dwelling place.
15:14 The nations will hear and tremble;
anguish will seize the inhabitants of Philistia.
15:15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
trembling will seize the leaders of Moab,
and the inhabitants of Canaan will shake.
15:16 Fear and dread will fall on them;
by the greatness of your arm they will be as still as stone
until your people pass by, O LORD,
until the people whom you have bought pass by.
15:17 You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance,
in the place you made for your residence, O Lord,
the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.
15:18 The LORD will reign forever and ever!
15:19 For the horses of Pharaoh came with his chariots and his footmen into the sea,
and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea on them,
but the Israelites walked on dry land in the middle of the sea.”
15:20 Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a hand-drum in her hand, and all the women went out after her with hand-drums and with dances. 15:21 Miriam sang in response to them, “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea.”

The Bitter Water

Here begins a major section, extending to the end of chapter 17, and which records the journey to Sinai.  There are repeated concerns (and ‘grumbling’) about lack of food and water.  Each of these represents an opportunity for the Lord to ‘train’ his people to trust him.  Even though Moses became impatient with them, the Lord did not, although he did so later (as recorded in Numbers), when they should be then have learned their lesson.

‘Yahweh sweetens the waters of “Bitterness” (Heb. mara), showing himself to be Israel’s “healer” and promising to afflict Israel with none of the plagues of Egypt. He turned the waters of the Nile to blood, but he makes the waters of Marah sweet. He destroyed the grain crops of Egypt with hail, but he will rain bread on the Israelites (Ex 16:4). He sent a wind filled with locusts into Egypt, but his wind will bring quail in Num. 11:31.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

15:22  Then Moses led Israel to journey away from the Red Sea. They went out to the Desert of Shur, walked for three days into the desert, and found no water. 15:23 Then they came to Marah, but they were not able to drink the waters of Marah, because they were bitter. (That is why its name was Marah.)
15:24 So the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What can we drink?” 15:25 He cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When Moses threw it into the water, the water became safe to drink. There the Lord made for them a binding ordinance, and there he tested them. 15:26 He said, “If you will diligently obey the LORD your God, and do what is right in his sight, and pay attention to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, then all the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians I will not bring on you, for I, the LORD, am your healer.”

The Lord showed him a tree – Cole points out that the word translated ‘showed’ is related to the word for ‘Torah’, instruction.

‘Tree’ is translated ‘piece of wood’ in NAB, NIV, NRSV, TEV, CEV.  Stuart and others support the translation of ‘tree’.

Cole conjectures that this was an aromatic shrub, whose flavour would cover the bitterness caused by the minerals in the water.

Stuart, on the other hand, thinks that the episode is wholly supernatural, and that any speculation about natural means is ‘fruitless’.  Enns is similarly sceptical about ‘natural’ explanations, but for possibly different reasons.

Durham’s comments seems wise: ‘Whether the tree is to be thought of as purifying the water by a chemical reaction, or as a symbol, such as the staff of Moses, of the active power of Yahweh at hand, the text does not make plain. That Yahweh is the source of the miracle of the changed water, there can be no doubt, as the next lines, including a statement of Yahweh, indicate.’

15:27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there by the water.