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Victory at Sea: Prose and Poetry in Exodus 14-15


the Lord's role in the great victory over the Egyptians.39 Thus it reinforces the prose narrative's central theme, which revolves around the Lord's instructions to Moses and His intentions to de- liver the people whom He had redeemed out of Egypt (14:1-4, 15-18, 26).

This feature of praising God for the defeat of the enemy is typical of ancient victory songs.40 As in the case of the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5), God's people were in desperate circumstances.41 In Deborah's case a generation of Canaanite oppression had left Israel so weakened that its very existence was at stake. In Israel's experience at the sea, there was the real possibility of extinction at the hands of the mighty Egyptian military force. In both cases only God could overcome the enemy, and He did. Therefore He was to be thanked, praised, and trusted.

Sixth, the high exaltation of God in Moses' song draws atten- tion to the sharp contrast between the Israelites' attitude after the crossing of the sea and their changed outlook in the adventures that took place before their arrival at Mount Sinai. The thankful people returned to being a group of perpetual complainers (15:24; 16:1-3; 17:1-2).42 This had already been seen in the narrative ac- count of the adventure at the sea (14:11-12). "The great disparity between God and people is emphasized not only by exalting God but also by exposing the unworthiness of the Israelites. The latter are depicted as chronic complainers."43 The poetry of 15:1-18 thus serves as a transitional piece. Moses' rehearsal of God's great tri- umph over the Egyptians (vv. 1-12) and his singing of God's inten- tions to provide full guidance for the journey to the Promised Land (vv. 13-18) call attention to (a) the renewal of the prose account

39 See also David M. Howard Jr., An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago: Moody, 1993), 27; and Kaiser, "Exodus," 392.

40 For the genre of victory song see Craigie, "The Song of Deborah and the Epic of Tukulti-Ninurta," 253-65; Edgerton and Wilson, Historical Records of Ramses III, 111-12; Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 2:35-39; and Patterson, "The Song of Deborah," 142.

41 A number of similarities exist between Moses' song and Deborah's song. Both begin with an opening exordium to God (Exod. 15:1-2; Judg. 5:2-3); both emphasize the intervention and power of Israel's God (Exod. 15:1, 3-8, 10-12; Judg. 5:4-5); both tell of the arrogance and evil intentions of the enemy (Exod. 15:9; Judg. 5:19); and both divinely engineered victories took place in connection with water that in- undated the enemy (Exod. 15:1, 4, 8, 10; Judg. 5:20-21), turning the enemy's supe- rior chariot force into a liability (Exod. 15:2; Judg. 5:22; cf. Exod. 14:24-25).

42 As in the case of Moses' song, so Deborah's great song of praise is followed by an account of the people's backsliding (Judg. 6:1-6).


Leland Ryken, Words of Delight (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 134.

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