Our portion in Exodus this week bears a close resemblance to its companion text in Judges in that both contain songs that are musts for your playlist.
First, we experience the Song of the Sea. This song, celebrating deliverance from the Egyptian army across the Sea of Reeds, is begun by Moses and the Israelites and concluded by Miriam and other women.
Then, we encounter the Song of Deborah, a victory hymn which she and Barak sing in the wake of the defeat of their Canaanite adversaries.
Okay, so they’re not your typical popular songs. But why does the Bible give us song? What do these two songs share? And what do they teach?
Much has been written throughout history about the purpose of song, yet we only have time here to try briefly to understand how song might enhance meaning in our texts. I will suggest a few ideas and invite yours.
Song generally can bring emotion to the fore better than mere prose. It tends more deeply to express aspects of powerful experiences. We may taste victory and joy or loss and sadness. We may celebrate achievement, acknowledge important turns in our lives, or mourn defeat or death. The stuff of song can be love, bonding, hope, despair, etc. And the goal of song may be mostly expressive or intended to move others, by inspiring, cheering, soothing, wooing, and the like.
Let’s look at our two songs to discern how they might fit these or other patterns and explore how they affect and instruct us.
But, before we do, let’s acknowledge one wonderful and important aspect of these songs. They are sung in significant part by and about women. There is a strong feminine feeling here that spans from pain and exile to endurance and victory. It is, also, the singing of two strong women – prophetesses, one a judge and warrior and the other a preserver of life and hope. The end of Deborah’s song pays tribute, too, to the remarkable courage and decisive action of another woman, Jael.
First, these songs express powerful emotions about the experience of rescue. And, important to people of faith then and now, they acclaim enthusiastically that it is God Who is the Rescuer.
The songs are intended not just for the celebrating community; they are to be music for the whole world, where the theme of God’s saving power will one day be recognized and sung ubiquitously.
It is not only a physical redemption that God effects for us. It is also our turning to ethical, Divine ways of being. In Exodus, “with your loving-kindness, you led the people you redeemed.” In Judges, “Instead of the noise of adversaries, between the places of drawing water, there they will tell the righteous acts of the Lord.”
Second, these songs acknowledge the importance both of the individual and the group, those who lead and those who follow, in the constitution of a good community. This was so in the achievement of past victories, as it will be in successfully handling future challenges. So, the songs are sung individually and collectively, as a means of both personal and shared expression.
The songs make us appreciate leaders who assist in Divine work. Whether it’s Deborah and Barak, Moses and Miriam, the tribes who have contributed, or the “lawgivers” and “the riders of white donkeys” – they’re all distinguished.
Third, there’s a strong sense of prayer in the songs – with a special joy, a deep gratitude, and hope for the future. It is especially important that we know always that there’s a path back to God when we stray. Singing makes our gratitude for this and indeed all these extraordinary blessings more poignant.
Exodus 15:1-21 and Judges 5:1-31 – these are the lyrics of the two songs. Read them as songs in your mind, heart, and soul, and see if all this is indeed so.