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).

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