Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you spontaneously just burst into song?
Maybe it was in the car as a song comes on the radio which has brilliant memories attached to it? Or perhaps it was at a football match – when your team scored to snatch an unlikely win? Or maybe in the shower as you wake up refreshed from sleep to a beautiful sunrise and you just feel so alive you can't help yourself?
I mean… we don't just sing about anything do we? You don't sing about going shopping or cooking dinner. I don't think I've ever burst through the door on my return home singing: 'Oh Fiona shall we put the dinner on?' At least I don't think I've ever done that!
I've got to say that as we look at Exodus 15 this morning – we find that God's people really did have something to sing about! Oh, boy did they have something to sing about!
So why don't you grab a Bible and flick back to Exodus 15. Let's just put yourself in their shoes for a minute. How would you feel if you were one of God's people at this point in Exodus?
- You've just been pursued by the ruthless, relentless army of an evil regime that had oppressed and enslaved you and your people for hundreds of years.
- And now you have escaped by the skin of your teeth as God made a way for you to pass through the waters of the Red Sea…
- … before sweeping your enemy away in your wake.
In fact, look at the last few verses of chapter 14 – the bodies of the dead Egyptian soldiers are being washed up onto the beach all around you. That could have been you! But for the saving hand of God – that would have been you!
But now you stand gasping for breath, but miraculously still breathing! What are you going to do with the breath in your lungs? Exodus 15.1: "Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord…" How do you respond to such an amazing rescue? You sing!
Folks, it's so tempting for us to think that singing is just what those who love a good tune or those who are good at it do – and that the rest of us don't need singing. But actually, we do. When we sing we acknowledge that there are things in life that cannot possibly have justice done to it just by talking or thinking about it. So what we have here in Exodus 15, is not Moses running a seminar on: 'What we've learnt about God so far." He's not stood there with a whiteboard… Moses is singing. And the response he wants isn't for everyone to jot down notes and take it all in. No, he is looking for is for everyone to join in… and raise their voices in song together. Because when you get to know God as the Israelites have – you realise he's the kind of God worth singing about.
Let me give you three things they sing about God – they're all in verse 2 actually – where Moses and God's people sing: "The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation…"
1. The Lord Is My Salvation
God's people can have no doubts about that! Because everything that has happened here wasn't because the Egyptians ran into a bit of bad luck – like the England football team do every time they crash out of a major tournament on penalties.
No, verse 6: "Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy."
God's hand has been directing all the events of their improbable rescue. As without him… they didn't stand a snowball's chance! The Egyptians were the most powerful, high-tech army of the day. While the Israelites were utterly ill-equipped for a fight. They'd marched out to the edge of the Red Sea and were sitting ducks – ready for the taking.
And so as the Egyptians close in they are saying to themselves: 'This is going to be hilarious. It's going to be a turkey shoot.'
Verse 9: "The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.'"
The Egyptians thought it was going to be no contest whatsoever.
And they were right, weren't they? It was no contest. For the Egyptians hadn't just picked a fight with God's people – in doing so they picked a fight with God himself.
And so verse 10: "You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters."
Go see one of the blockbuster movies this year, like the new "Avengers: End Game" movie or "Star Wars Episode 9". But whatever film it is, the unbreakable rule of the big blockbuster movie is that there's got to be some kind of down to the wire – as close as it can possibly get – climactic battle. You know the good guys are going to win, but it's got to feel like it could go either way – And so they try to ramp up the tension.
But here in Exodus 15 – the Egyptians are there, the Israelites are there – it's the big showdown! And Verse 10… All God had to do was blow with his breath and they were gone. You see folks – God is not just a shepherd and a Father to his people. God is a warrior. He fights for us!
So much of the language here in verses 1-10 sing of this – it's why verse 3 says: "God is a man of war; the Lord is his name."
But as we read that… I suspect many of us are a bit uncomfortable with the idea of God being "a man of war." I mean, doesn't it seem a bit gruesome that Moses and God's people are essentially singing a song celebrating fellow human beings drowning? But folks – this is why God can save his people. If God is not greater than his enemies, then he can't save us from them. If God doesn't deal with evil – then we can never be rescued from it.
He can be terribly nice and want the best for us. But unless he's more powerful than his enemies and he puts them in their place, then he's lovely… but utterly ineffectual – as evil reigns and ultimately evil wins.
No, to save his people – God must destroy evil. And if you still think this is all just a bit primitive, a bit Old Testamenty – then please see how the Lord Jesus Christ came as a warrior. He came to save his people by defeating his enemies.
So in Colossians 2.15, we see something of Christ the conqueror, Christ the victor – as we read there: "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."
When Paul says "powers and authorities" – he's not talking about the police and governments – he is talking about the spiritual powers that stand behind the world. Particularly demonic spiritual powers that are in opposition to God. And Paul is saying that through him, Jesus has taken away their big guns. He's disarmed these powers.
And the big question is – how? How has he done that? Well look at the end of Colossians 2.13: "He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross."
You see, the weapon of the devil – the weapon of those spiritual powers – is the fact that our sin condemns us. So that all we really deserve from God is judgement and death. But when Jesus stepped onto the cross and took that judgement of death on himself for us – he defeated and disarmed all those powers of evil. To save his people God must destroy evil. He must destroy his enemies.
I mean let's face it, barely a day goes by as we watch the news when we don't think: 'There is so much evil in this world.' But Colossians 2 reminds us that God is the one who will fully and finally defeat evil. He has already disarmed the powers of evil by the cross. It's only a matter of time before he finishes the job when Christ comes again.
So as we look back on the victory of Christ this Easter – we are to celebrate it, we are to savour it… and we are to sing of it. We are to sing of the devil being defeated, of the serpent being crushed, of the powers of evil been disarmed… through the cross of Jesus. We are to sing: "The Lord is my salvation."
And secondly, we are to sing…
2. The Lord Is My Strength
I mean look at how singing about what God has done affects his people by the time they reach verse 13: "You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode."
As we continue to hear God's people sing… do you see what they do? They move their gaze onto what God will do in the future – that he will take them home. I mean they're not exactly with him in his "holy abode" now are they?
They're standing on the edge of the Red Sea in the middle of nowhere – yet they speak of God's promise to take them home as if it had already happened. As if it were guaranteed. Why?
Well because God is not like us. With people – past track record is no guarantee for the future, is it?
When I was a lad growing up on the mean streets of Glasgow I was a mad keen Liverpool fan. Like most of my mates at school, we supported them because in those days almost half the team were Scottish… although I have to admit… it didn't hurt that they just couldn't stop winning also – they won the league 11 times during my childhood!
And though us Liverpool fans are getting hopefully again this year – it's been nearly 29 years since they last won the league.
Why is it that the past track record of Liverpool in the 1970s and 80s has been no guarantee for their future performance?
Well it's because their character is fundamentally different from God's, isn't it?
- The Liverpool team aren't all-powerful – as much as I'd like them to be.
- The Liverpool team aren't eternal.
- They aren't unchanging.
But those things are fabulously true about God. He is all-powerful. He is eternal. He is unchanging. And so… what he has done in the past is the thing that strengthens us by faith to face future.
That's what Moses and the people of God are doing in verses 13-18 – and these verses remind us that being rescued from Egypt is not the end of the story.
God's goal was not just to get them out of Egypt – God's goal is that they will come to live with him. And so in verse 17 Moses and the people sing: "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."
Which is kind of a gardening metaphor – God is going to take his people to his elevated allotment and plant them in a place where they will flourish and grow.
And folks, that is the goal for us as people who God has redeemed and rescued. His goal for us is not an easy life living for ourselves. His goal is that we would be taken home to the place that he has prepared for us.
And if you read on in the Exodus story and you will find that is not going to be an easy journey. It's going to be long. It's going to be hard. There are enemies in their way – real enemies, which we see something of in verses 14 and 15. But as powerful and intimidating as those obstacles and enemies look, if we remember what God has done we will know that they are no match for him no matter what happens next. Therefore God is our strength. We're not strong enough to make the journey on our own. But he is. Because his power is unbeatable – his promises are unbreakable. So we face the future with absolute confidence in him.
The Lord is my salvation. The Lord is my strength. And therefore we sing! Verse 2 again…
3. The Lord Is My Song
Because if you really get who God is – when you see that he's your salvation, that he's your strength – you will sing.
In our culture it's actually a bit weird what we've done this morning... we've all met together in the same room and sung a handful of songs together. If you're here for the first time maybe you found that a bit odd and uncomfortable. But it makes complete sense when you realise who God is to his people.
Throughout the Bible what we see time and time again God's people stopping to sing. In fact, one of the longest books in the Bible – The Book of Psalms – is essentially a book of songs.
And so as I finish I thought it would be really helpful for us to look at a few things in this song here in Exodus 15 to help us get a sense of how we should sing as a church.
So notice firstly that they…
i.) Sing About God. Moses and the people aren't singing about themselves. As they celebrate – they're not singing: "We are the Champions." or "I wanna dance with somebody." No – they are not singing primarily about their own experience or about how they feel. They are singing about who the Lord is and what he has done.
That's why we always try to sing songs here at church that are primarily about God and not about me. Because if they're about God and what he's done they are absolutely true for every one of us in this building. And they are still true on Monday morning and Tuesday evening as well. But if our songs are mainly about how I feel – well actually they are not true for everyone... all the time.
Now that's not to say that our singing shouldn't be emotional. There is definitely a danger that as we sing praises to God that we are so self-expressive that it becomes all about us and we forget about seeking to encourage those around us. But I think the greater danger for us here is in thinking that we mustn't express feelings or emotions as we sing.
We are all wired differently – Some of us are naturally very expressive. Others of us much less so. So I don't want for a minute to prescribe that we should sing in a certain way.
But as we sing in whatever way is natural to us – We should be seeking to express our joy in the Lord. Singing is meant to be emotional. Singing is a way of taking the truth we know and stirring it into our affections.
So Moses and the people not only sing about God. But they also …
ii.) Sing To God. As in verse 6, Moses actually starts addressing God in song.
It's as if Moses thinks, "I can't sing about God for too long before I sing to him."
And please see how very personal this is to Moses and the people – they sing: "The Lord is my song." They own the words they're singing.
And folks that should be a reminder to us that what we know about God must never be merely theoretical. God is not my area of expertise. He's not my chosen deity that I vote for. He's not just the one I give my allegiance to – No, God is my song.
Because God, above all else, is what makes my heart glad. God is what stirs me at the very deepest level. And therefore we sing of and celebrate Him.
Finally, note that this song is not simply sung as a solo by Moses. Do you notice who else sings in verse 1?
iii.) Everybody sings! Everyone is singing! And it underlines the importance that we don't just turn up at church on a Sunday and have someone sing to us. Or only sing when we feel like it. You and I have got work to do when we come to church on a Sunday!
Singing is one of the great tools which God has given us to strengthen our faith and encourage others in their faith too. So we need to be people who come to church each week thinking, 'I've got work to do, I've got a song to sing – because of what God has done. I've got a song to sing – to help you lot keep going for Christ and keep living for him.' That's why we sing!
So… what do you think we're going to do next? Sing? Yes, we are going to sing. And no pressure… but this better be good!
No – no, no, no… no pressure at all. We come not to be judged on our singing – Simon Cowell doesn't come to this church, even though he'd be most welcome.
We come to sing a joyful song… to glorify God… and encourage others.
It isn't easy being a Christian – but it is awesome. And so… as we commit ourselves to meeting with and encouraging each other by singing, I think we will find that:
- Our griefs will not consume us,
- Our anxieties will not overwhelm us,
- Our temptations will not captivate our hearts,
- The accusations of the devil will not condemn us,
- The pressure from the world will not derail us,
- Our faith will not fail,
- And our love will not wilt.
Because we are singing about God's unchanging character and the rescue that he has worked for us. And that will strengthen and uphold us for the journey ahead.