Sing to the Lord

By Peter Robinson

Today we sing Moses’ and Miriam’s song of praise, a song of deliverance.

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.”

The people of Israel have finally been given permission to leave Egypt. Pharoah, faced with the final plague, the death of the first born, relinquishes his grip and allows them to go.

They pack quickly and flee, but it isn’t long before Pharoah changes his mind and the people of Israel see the powerful Egyptian army pursuing them. It is a terrifying image — newly minted refugees fleeing for their lives, carrying their small children, weighed down with their belongings, and behind them a dreadful army mounted in chariots approaching at speed. Death is stalking them — there is no escape. But somehow, miraculously, God delivers them. How could they not break out in song and dancing, praising God that he has delivered them, that he has set them free?

I will sing to the Lord for his glorious triumph;
The horse and rider he has hurled into the sea. …
Your right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power;
Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.

They have been saved. But their journey into the wilderness is only just beginning.

Three days later, they arrive at Marah parched and tired; the only water they can find is undrinkable. Exhaustion and despair take over again, fear grips their hearts, and their song of praise turns to grumbling and resentment: Moses, where is your God? It is not just the water that is bitter; it is the people themselves: Your God has abandoned us.

But God once again delivers them. Moses throws a piece of wood on the water and it turns sweet. And as they quench their thirst you can almost hear the refrain beginning to swell again: “I will sing to the Lord.” Indeed, it is not hard to imagine that the people of Israel sing this song again and again in their journey to Mount Sinai, in the wilderness, in their entry into the Promised Land and in the life that follows after.

They are learning to worship God, to respond to him for what he has done and who he is. We catch riffs from this song again and again as it echoes through this story of God at work with his people. Perhaps, particularly in the psalms: “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods, / Holy, awesome, worker of wonders?”

The Song of Moses and Miriam is more than just a song of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance from Egypt. It is the appropriate worship of this God who, over and over again, is revealed as faithful and true, as the one God. The song climaxes in verses 16-18. God has formed this people, brought them into his presence, and established that he alone is Lord, Lord over all, forever.

In the Exodus, the people of Israel begin to glimpse the truth of who God is, and in this song they begin to give voice to that truth as their truth, as the truth. We can almost hear this song of praise growing richer and deeper as the acts of God’s deliverance and provision pile up one upon another.

All of which makes their repeated grumbling, resentment, and rejection of God so unacceptable. When they are overwhelmed by the situations they find themselves in, and fear and despair cause them to cry out in bitterness and anger rather than praise, they are not just being churlish; refusing to do the right thing and acknowledge God, they are letting go of what is good and beautiful and true. Their inability to continue to sing in praise and worship of God is not just a failure in their duty; it is allowing fear to lead them in a descent into disorder and chaos. The joyful chorus breaks down into shouts of acrimony and anger, noisy gongs and clanging cymbals: it all begins to fall apart.

It is easy to sit in judgment of the Israelites for their constant doubting and whining. It seems as though they turn away from God mere moments after he has delivered them from yet another enemy or generously provided for their needs. It is easy to judge, except this is our own experience as well. As great as the delivery out of Egypt was, it is a mere shadow of our delivery from the power of sin and death.

Yet, faced with difficulty, with loss, with illness, we too can be quickly overwhelmed with despair. In the midst of chaos, what threatens us can easily appear more powerful than God. All too quickly, our praise turns into bitterness. Perhaps what is most sobering is that here in North America we often stop singing or forget to sing God’s praise; not because we are threatened, but because we are simply too busy.

This is all further complicated in that God’s intention was to show who he was to the whole world through the people of Israel, just as he wants to show himself to the world through us. “When your people, O Lord, passed by, the nations trembled.” When Israel stopped singing or when we stop singing the whole world grows more discordant, and dissonant, it turns from melody to noise. Singing God’s praise is not simply a duty or an appropriate response to God for what he has done. It is that the worship of God is at the center of the coherence of this world — when the trees of the field are able to clap their hands with God’s people, in praise of the Lord, all things hold together.

How do we keep on singing?

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods,

Holy, awesome, worker of wonders?”

In Revelation 15, we hear an echo from this song again, but now it is not just the song of Moses but the song of the Lamb, for he is the one did not stop singing even in the face of betrayal, loss and death. Indeed, this has been God’s song all along. While Moses may have been the first to sing this song, it was never about him; it was always about God, and now God sings it for us.

The right hand of God, majestic in power, is also the Lamb who shatters the enemy in a way we could not expect: By standing for us when we were unable to stand and singing the praise and wonder and truth of God, that God is Lord over all, he overcomes fear and death. He sang this song in a life of obedience, even to the point of death on the cross.

Seated at the right hand of the Father, he now leads us in our song of praise and worship. And we hear the promise first hinted at in Moses’ song that all nations, all peoples, will finally worship God, because of the Lamb. He sings for us, even when we are unable to sing. And because he sings this song, it will never be silenced. And because he sings, we too must sing.

So, I will sing to the Lord, for he has and he will triumph gloriously.

The Rev. Peter Robinson is professor of proclamation, worship, and ministry at Wycliffe College, Toronto.


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