August 25: Exodus 15:15-16

Exodus 15:15-16

The remaining two stanzas of the second half of the Song (vv. 15-16, 17) expound the themes stated in the first (cf. the previous note on vv. 13-14). These express the effect (and result) of the miracle at the Sea—on Israel and the surrounding nations, respectively. The couplets of the first stanza refer to the effect on Israel (as God’s people), emphasizing YHWH’s goodness and loyalty to them, in fulfillment of the covenant bond; this loyalty is demonstrated in the way that He leads/guides them on their way to the promised land (in Canaan). This theme will be developed in the third (and final) stanza (discussed in the next daily note). Here, in the second stanza, it is the effect of the miracle on the nations that is in view. Specifically, the focus is on those nations dwelling in the land of Canaan/Palestine (Edom, Moab), anticipating the Israelite conquest/settlement of the Transjordan regions. This reaction of the peoples of Canaan was introduced in the prior antiphon-response of verse 14 (discussed in the previous note).

Stanza (v. 15):

“So (also) they were terrified,
(the) chieftains of Edôm;
(the) strong (one)s of Mô’ab,
trembling takes hold of them—
they melted (away) completely,
(all those) sitting (in) Kena’an!
(Indeed) there fell upon them
(sudden) dread and terror;
at (the) greatness of your arm
they became silent like a stone!”

As in stanzas 3 and 4 of the first part of the Song (vv. 6-8, 9-10), this stanzas contains five couplets, following the same 2-beat (2+2) meter used throughout. The focus is on those “sitting (in) Canaan” —that is, all the inhabitants of the land, though the verb bv^y` could perhaps be taken (in the more literal sense) of those sitting in the seats of power (i.e. the rulers/leaders). Certainly it is the leaders of Edom and Moab who are in view, with the use of the noun [WLa^, the precise derivation of which remains uncertain but which here seems to refer to the leader of a clan or tribe (i.e. chieftain). Similarly, the noun ly]a^ applies to the leaders of the people; having the fundamental meaning of strength, it can refer specifically to a ram, and, as such, used as an honorific for men of power (nobles, warriors, etc).

Even these great leaders, when they hear of what the God of Israel did at the Sea, are left frightened and terrified, to the point that they “melt away” (vb gWm) completely. It is perhaps best to take lk here in an adverbial sense (i.e., “complete[ly]”); cf. Cross, p. 130. The last two couplets make clear that it is the miraculous nature of the event at the Sea, performed by YHWH’s outstretched arm (“right hand” in vv. 6, 12), which brings about this sudden and complete sense of terror and dread. Faced with the prospect of the power of the God of Israel, they are left silent (vb <m^D*) and unable to boast any longer of their own strength, nor the strength of the deities they worship (cp. the antiphon-response of v. 11).

Response (v. 16):

“Until your people passed over, YHWH,
until your people whom you created passed over.”

In the immediate context of the Song, the reference here is to Israel passing across the Sea, made possible (or at least easier) by the divine wind/breath that blew back the waters. However, it is also clear that the focus in the second half of the Song is on the people being led/guided to the promised land of Canaan; therefore, the use of the verb rb^u* (“cross over”) in this couplet carries a double meaning. This is also true for the adverbial particle/preposition du^ (“until”). The fear/dread that grips the peoples of Canaan will last until Israel crosses over into the land, parallel to the nature-miracle that left the Egyptians stymied and allowed the Israelites ‘cross over’ the Sea. The ancient tradition itself clearly recognized the parallel, with the Jordan river serving as a symbol for the Sea (Joshua 3).

The meaning of the verb hn`q* in the second line remains uncertain, due to the fact that early Hebrew seems to preserve more than one hnq root. It particular, we should distinguish between the root denoting “acquire, purchase” and a more primitive (?) root meaning “make, create” which is less common in the Old Testament. Both root meanings for hnq are attested in Ugaritic, as well as in Hebrew. As it happens, both of these root meanings are also appropriate here in the Song, and it is difficult to decide between the two. On the one hand, the idea that YHWH created Israel (i.e. as His people) is part of the early tradition (cf. Deut 32:6), and would be fitting for the context here. At the same, the emphasis at the beginning of the second half of the Song (v. 13) is on Israel being “redeemed” (vb la^g`)—that is, purchased out of bondage and servitude (in Egypt). I have tentatively opted for the meaning “create”, which seems to more properly reflect the use of hnq in the early tradition (Gen 14:19, 22; Deut 32:6, etc). For other occurrences in a theological context, cf. Gen 4:1; Prov 8:22; in the 8th century Phoenician inscription from Karatepe, Il (= °E~l) is called “creator of (the) earth” (qn °rƒ) just as in Gen 14:19, 22.

References marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).

August 24: Exodus 15:13-14

Exodus 15:13-14

This is the first stanza of the second half of the Song of the Sea. If the subject of the first half of the Song was the event at the Sea itself, the theme of the second is the effect of the miraculous event—both on the people of Israel and on the surrounding nations. These stanzas follow the same pattern as in the first part, with a series of two-beat (2+2) couplets followed by a three-beat (3+3, or 3+3+3) response.

Stanza (v. 13):

“In your loyal kindness you led
(the) people whom you redeemed;
in your strength you carried (them)
to (the) pasture-land of your holiness.”

The nature-miracle at the Sea demonstrated not only the power of YHWH (as Creator), but His concern for His people (Israel). The noun ds#j# here, as frequently in the Old Testament, is specifically related to the idea of the covenant bond. The basic meaning may be “goodness, kindness”, but this must be understood in the sense of the kindness shown to someone in fulfillment of the covenant bond. In such instances it connotes the idea of faithfulness and loyalty. YHWH’s protection and guidance of Israel is part of the binding agreement (tyr!B=, covenant) established with Abraham and his descendants. It is a covenant that will be reaffirmed and re-established when the people reach mount Sinai (chaps. 19-24).

Two verbs are used to express the guidance of YHWH for His people. The first (in line 1) is hj*n` (“lead, guide”) and can be used in the context of a shepherd guiding his flock, while the second (in line 2) is lh^n`, which more properly refers to the idea of shepherding, of leading the animals to water. Thus the motif is that of God as a shepherd for his people—a familiar image in the ancient Near East and the Old Testament, expressed most famously (and beautifully) in Psalm 23 (cf. my earlier study on the Psalm). Similarly, the noun hw#n` refers primarily to the specific pasture land where a flock can graze safely—sometimes to an actual sheep-fold itself, and thus in the more generalized (figurative) sense of an abode/dwelling for people. It must be taken here as a reference to Canaan as the land promised to Abraham and his descendants as part of the covenant agreement.

This land is associated here with the “holiness” (vd#q)) of YHWH, implying that it is the place where God will dwell along with His people. Continuing with the pastoral imagery, it may be likened to a shepherd’s encampment as he tends/guides the flock.

Response (v. 14):

“The peoples hear (of it) and quiver (with fear),
writhing takes hold of (those) sitting [i.e. dwelling] in Pelešet.”

While the event at the Sea results in the people of Israel being guided to their promised land, a blessing due to the covenant bond with YHWH, for the surrounding nations it is a cause for fear. In particular, the peoples of Canaan/Palestine, once they hear of what the God of Israel has done for His people, will shudder (vb zg~r*) with fear and twist/writhe (lyj) in anguish. Clearly this reaction anticipates the Israelite settlement of the land, involving a number of military encounters in which, according to the Israelite tradition (and the Scriptural account), YHWH effectively fought on behalf of His people.

The term tv#l#P= (P®leše¾) is normally understood as a reference to the Philistines and their territory along the coastal plain of Canaan/Palestine. It was the region of Canaan closest to the northeastern border of Egypt, and was notable for its prominent location along the Mediterranean. The expression “way of land of (the) Philistines” was used earlier at 13:17, in reference to the most direct route from northern Egypt (i.e. the Delta region) to Canaan. The Philistines are usually regarded as among the “sea peoples” who invaded Egypt in the early-mid 12th century (during the reign of Rameses III), subsequently settling along the coastal plain of Canaan in the south. There is some evidence for migration and settlement of these “sea peoples” even earlier in the 13th century (in the reigns of Rameses II and Merneptah, cf. Cross, p. 124), so it is conceivable that a reference to “Philistia” could be part of the authentic tradition (deriving from the time of Moses) that underlies the Song.

The reaction of the peoples of Canaan will feature more prominently in the next stanza (to be discussed in the next daily note).