Few among us have felt the weight of generations of slavery, made even heavier because their oppressors not only give cruel punishments and constant humiliation in exchange for free labor, but they actively seek the extermination of their people.
Few among us know the terror someone feels when an armed oppressor that has struck fear in her heart reaching back for generations races in pursuit of her to vent all of his wrath on her and has her cornered with her back to the sea. Few have experienced the sudden, shocking relief to see that armed oppressor overthrown in the moment of his greatest strength, when it appears that he is at the point of fulfilling his unrighteous desires.
Who knows how many Israelite mothers, when they saw the bodies of the Egyptian soldiers disappear between the waves, cried tears in recognition of Yahweh’s righteous judgment that avenged the babies that were stolen from their arms and thrown into the Nile River? Who knows how many of the elderly saw in the drowning of their oppressors Yahweh’s righteous judgment against the drowning of so many brothers, nephews, companions and even sons whom they never knew longer than a few days because their lives were taken by their Egyptian overlords?
Who can blame the Israelites for celebrating Yahweh’s decisive victory over their oppressors with great joy?
As they celebrate in song, they immediately praise the One who earned the victory: “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:1). They sing out the details of their rescue, and they praise Him for His power, righteousness, holiness and mercy that all shone forth when He did it. They joyfully declare their personal connection with His rescue: “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” (Exodus 15:2). And they look ahead to the future fulfillment of His promises: “The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the nations of Canaan have melted away” (Exodus 15:14-15). You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established” (Exodus 15:17). And at the very end, they praise Yahweh for His righteousness: “The LORD will reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18).
In response, Miriam and the women encourage the men to continue their praise when they respond in tambourine and dancing, underlining the salvation that they all enjoy now: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:21).
Here we have the first example of another theme that will appear throughout the Bible: praise and worship to Yahweh given in songs and poetic declarations in response to His wonderful salvation / rescue. We’ll see it after battles, like Deborah’s song in Judges 5; we’ll see it in response to individual acts of salvation like Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2. The incomparable Biblical example is the whole book of Psalms. And it will continue in the New Testament as God’s people celebrate salvation in Jesus Christ (for example, Luke 1:46-55, 67-79; Revelation 5:11-14).
Today the apostle Paul encourages us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). And if you attend a service at a Christian church, you normally will find a lot of time dedicated to singing to the Lord, celebrating like the Israelites His rescue from oppressive forces.
Our oppressors, even though they aren’t armed with swords and spears like Pharaoh’s soldiers, had reduced us to slavery. We’ve felt the weight of sin’s oppression for generations. We’ve felt the chains of slavery when we wanted to leave our sins and couldn’t. We’ve seen death pursue and reach one family member after another, robbing us of the ones we love most.
And then we heard the good news of God’s rescue / redemption / salvation in Jesus Christ. We see Him as our Redeemer from the slavery of sin by the blood that He shed on the cross as our Substitute sacrificed for our sins. He defeated death in His resurrection from the dead, and by faith we share in His victory through our promised future resurrection. And that’s why we sing and celebrate the defeat of our most vicious oppressors, sin and death, through the substitutionary death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like the Israelites, we celebrate Yahweh’s salvation with profound joy, amazement, relief and thankfulness because He has defeated our enemies decisively.