Remember Miriam Part 5 – God-Centered Worship by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Leslie Basham: After crossing the Red Sea, the children of Israel witnessed the destruction of their enemies, and then they sang, worshiping God, as Nancy Leigh DeMoss explains.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: He has triumphed gloriously. It’s not the work of our hands. It’s not our efforts. It’s not our plans. It’s God’s power and God’s alone that is to account for the judgment of His enemies and the redemption of His people.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Tuesday, August 26.

Miriam is a biblical character who usually doesn’t get much attention, but her life has a lot to teach you and me about trust and worship. That’s what we’ve been discovering in a series called Remember Miriam. Nancy is here to tell us more.

Nancy: In 1869 there was an event held for five days in Boston that was called The National Peace Jubilee. It was actually in commemoration four years later of the ending of the Civil War. This was a musical extravaganza, and it was the brain child of a particular musician, a music director. He assembled a choir of 10,000 voices that was accompanied by an orchestra that had one thousand musicians in it.

The whole five-day event opened with an ear-splitting rendition of Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The climax of each day of the five days of the convention was a performance of Verdes Anvil Chorus, which featured one hundred Boston firemen with blacksmith’s hammers who were banging on anvils that were on the stage—a hundred anvils on the stage and they were banging with these hammers, creating lots of noise and showers of sparks—while the thousand-member orchestra was playing and the ten-thousand-member choir was singing. Then added to that, bells from every church tower in Boston chimed in. There were cannons outside the building that were fired in time to the music by a push from a button next to the conductor’s music stand.

It was quite an event. One report on this event said, “The throbbing audience of 40,000 jumped up and down, madly waving programs, flags, fans, handkerchiefs.” Some reported later that they thought they had gone to heaven. “The effect was over-powering,” this report said. One man rushed from the audience and telegraphed his wife, “Come immediately. Will sacrifice anything to have you here. Nothing like it in a lifetime.”1

Today we’re going to look at another musical celebration that took place many years earlier, and those who were there would say, “Nothing like it in a lifetime.”

Let me back up and give us some setting here. We’re looking in this series at the life of Miriam, although we’ve been taking some detours to look at some other related incidences in and around the life of this woman. We saw in the last few sessions the events surrounding the birth of Moses in Exodus 1 and 2, and realized that Miriam was one of five women who risked their lives to defy the king’s edict to destroy all the baby boys. And you remember that Moses’ life was saved as a result of the courage, the bravery of these women.

He was then adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, and that whole scene in Exodus 1 and 2 is the first of three major scenes that we have in the Scripture that reference the life of Miriam. That first scene was when she was a child around the birth of her little brother Moses.

Over the next few days we want to look at the second scene in the life of Miriam, and it takes place in Exodus chapter 15. If you have your Bible, let me encourage you to be turning to Exodus 15, but before I dive into that passage, I want today to give us some setting and some background on that scene. In order to do that, I want to give you a real quick overview of what happens between Exodus 2, where we left off last time, and Exodus 15, where we’re picking up this time.

You remember that Moses grows up in Pharaoh’s palace in Egypt, and at the age of 40 he is forced to flee from the land of Egypt because he kills an Egyptian that he sees mistreating one of his fellow Hebrews. He flees to Midian where he spends another 40 years in the desert, shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law.

Moses is gone 40 years and meanwhile, back in Egypt, the Hebrews have been slaves, not just for 40 years, but for 400 years, and they are being horribly mistreated. They finally get to a place of desperation, and the Scripture tells us that they cry out for help. Then we see that God hears their groanings, and He remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God says, “I’m going to do something about the desperation of My people. I’m going to deliver them.”

So God, the God of providence, for whom geography is no issue, having seen the desperation of His people in Egypt, appears to Moses in the Midianite desert in the burning bush. After no small exchange, God says to Moses, “I’m going to send you to Egypt, and you’re going to confront Pharaoh, and you’re going to deliver My people out of Egypt.”

Moses goes back to Egypt. He confronts Pharaoh and says, “Let my people go.” Pharaoh gets angry and things get worse for the Hebrews. You have this whole series of the ten plagues, culminating in the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt, the Passover. God passes over the homes of His people who have the blood sprinkled outside their homes, and God does not kill their firstborn.

The children of Israel are set free. Pharaoh says, “Get out of here.” They do. They escape, the exodus. That’s where the book, Exodus, comes from. The children exit out of Egypt where they’ve been slaves 400 years. They are free at last, except in a very short period of time, they come to the Red Sea, and that brings us up to Exodus chapter 14.

They come to the Red Sea. The Red Sea is in front of them, and then they look behind and realize that the Egyptians have changed their minds, and the Egyptian army, which I read numbered maybe 250,000 soldiers, is breathing down their necks in hot pursuit of the Hebrews. So they are hemmed in.

We’ve heard the story so many times, but I hope you never get tired of hearing the stories of God’s redemptive acts.

So the people are caught here. They’re terrified. They’re in a panic. They know they have no chance. There is nowhere to go. You know the story of how God tells Moses, “Lift up the staff.” God parts the waters. He drives the sea back so that the waters form a great big wall on either side, to the right and to the left, and parts the way so the two million Hebrews can walk through the Red Sea on dry ground.

After the Israelites get through, the Egyptians follow into the Red Sea, hard on the heels of the Israelites, and God throws the Egyptians into confusion; you’ve heard the story before. He causes the chariot wheels to get stuck—some translations even say the chariot wheels fell off. Whatever happened, they ended up in great confusion, and it’s clear that it is God who is doing that. Then, Exodus 14, verses 26-27:

The LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea.

The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses (verses 26-31).

This was a huge event in Israel’s history. The combination of the exodus out of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea were stories that were referred to over and over again in the Old Testament and in the New. One generation told another. They kept harkening back to what God had done in redeeming and rescuing and delivering His people.

Now we come to chapter 15, having just read this amazing, extraordinary story of the display of God’s power over His enemies. You have two million Israelites standing on the other side of the Red Sea, looking back on what has just taken place. What do they do? How do they respond? How do you top this? What do you do next?

Chapter 15 tells us what they did next, and that’s a chapter we want to spend the next several days looking at from various angles, but let’s begin by reading the passage, Exodus 15, verse 1: Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD.” The very next thing they do, after all this account we just read—they sing a song. They break out into singing. Spontaneous, exuberant, heartfelt praise, and most of the rest of the chapter tells us what they sang. It gives us the words of this song.

I was thinking about this before I came to the studio this morning and thinking, “Wouldn’t you have loved to have heard what it sounded like?” I mean, were they all singing? It says Moses and the children of Israel sang this song. How did they know what tune to sing, or did they all just make up their own tune and sing? I don’t know.

Was it chaotic sounding? Was it disorderly sounding? Was it organized? They probably weren’t singing in the four-part harmony that some of us grew up singing, but what did it sound like? Whatever it was, it was magnificent, because this is a song that is being poured forth out of redeemed hearts, out of grateful hearts, out of worshiping hearts. This is no staid worship service. This is an exuberant, passionate celebration.

In verses 1 through 12 of this song, they look back on what has just happened, and they tell how God has destroyed their enemies. They realize that it is God who has done this. No one else can take credit, including Moses. Humanly speaking, the temptation would be to say, “Moses, what an incredible leader you are. Man, you put your rod over the river, and the waters parted.”

We would be tempted today to give human, natural explanations for what had happened, but they were there. They knew that there was no natural explanation for what had happened. There was no explanation but God. So verses 1 through 12, they’re looking back and they’re celebrating the overthrow of their enemies. Let’s read it:

I will sing to the LORD for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war; The LORD is his name (Exodus 15:1-3).

This is in contrast, by the way, to Pharaoh who had said, “Who is the Lord, and what is His name?” Pharaoh didn’t know who God was, but these people knew who God was.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his hosts he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, Oh LORD, shatters the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty, you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up. [The blast of Your nostrils. I mean, how much energy can that have? Unless it’s God.] At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, “I will pursue. I will overtake. I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.”

That’s what the enemy said. That’s what the Egyptians said. They were proud. They were confident. They were sure they were going to win, but they were no match for God. Amen?

You blew with Your wind. [God blew, the blast of His nostrils, the breath of His mouth.] You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. [He merely blew, and they were overcome by the sea.]

Who is like you, Oh LORD, among the gods[The Egyptians were famous for worshiping many gods, but the Hebrews said, “There is one God. There is no god like You.”] Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders. You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them (verses 4-12).

So they celebrate the power of God in overcoming His enemies. They knew who had won this battle, and they worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for bringing judgment to bear on those who were not just the enemies of the Israelites, but they rejoiced in God’s judgment over His enemies.

Now, in verses 13 through 18 we have the second stanza, so to speak, of this great hymn. Not only had God destroyed the Egyptian army, but God had delivered and redeemed His people from the hands of their enemies. In this stanza, we read that God has guided His people thus far, and they are confident He will continue to guide them in the days ahead. Let me read, beginning in verse 13:

You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

Now, as they go into verse 14, they realize there are still some enemies yet to be faced, the Egyptians aren’t the only enemies they will face before they get to the Promised Land, but having just seen what they’ve just seen, they are now confident that these other enemies will be no match for God either. In fact, look at verses 14-16:

The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them.

Remember this is true when the two spies went into the Promised Land, into Canaan, and they met Rahab and she said, “We’ve heard the stories what God did at the Red Sea years earlier.” This was true. The news went ahead, and the other pagan nations became terrified of what this God, this unseen God, could do in delivering His people and judging His enemies.

Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are as still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased.

Those are two special designations given to God’s people in this stanza: Your people whom You have redeemed, and Your people whom You have purchased. They’re saying, “God, we are Yours, and You have defended Your property. You have rescued, You have preserved Your property. We are Yours, and You have saved us from the hand of the enemy.”

Then in verse 17, they look ahead, and they anticipate with confidence the day when they would be safely at home in the Promised Land. Verse 17:

You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O LORD, which your hands have established.

And here’s the bottom line of the whole thing, verse 18: “The Lord will reign forever and ever.”

The Lord reigns. That’s the theme of this hymn. As we read that great hymn of faith, we see that God is the hero. Not Moses. Not the Israelites. It’s God. There are at least 45 references to God in those 18 verses. He has triumphed gloriously. It’s not the work of our hands. It’s not our efforts. It’s not our plans. It’s God’s power and God’s alone that is to account for the judgment of His enemies and the redemption of His people. The focus is on God’s works; His power; His redemption. Not on us, or our actions, or our feelings, or even how this really affects us. It’s all centered on God.

I think we need to ask ourselves about our own worship. Is our worship sufficiently God-centered? As you think about the things that we say and sing in our private worship and in our public worship, and of course this was a public worship service, are our thoughts and our words and our songs centered on God, or do they tend to be more us-centered, me-centered?

Look at the pronouns the next time you’re in a worship service and the choruses. It’s not to say there’s something wrong with singing songs like I Love You, Lord and songs that have “I” and “me” and “us.” But if there’s more of those than there are ones that have “You, Lord,” then maybe our worship is not completely balanced.

We want to be God-centered in our worship, and we want to make sure our worship does what this song did, and that is to rehearse and celebrate the story of redemption. What we’re singing, what we’re saying, what we’re worshiping God for is the fact that yes, our enemies are powerful, but God is more powerful than all our enemies. Does our worship highlight the themes of the redemptive story as this song does?

We have a lot more knowledge of the redemptive story than Moses and the children of Israel had in that day. We know how God has not only delivered His people out of Egypt, but God has delivered His people from the power of sin and Satan and self, by the power of the cross.

  • We know the New Testament.
  • We know about the saving works of God.
  • We know about the triumph of God over death and sin and Satan.
  • We know about the salvation of God’s chosen ones.
  • We know about His divine intervention and His rescue operation, saving us from ourselves and from Satan.

We have something to celebrate. Our worship ought to highlight, ought to spotlight the great redemptive story and the themes of redemption.

The themes of redemption, basically, are that God judges the wicked and God saves those that He makes righteous, the redeeming work of God towards His people, and the judgment of God. More than half of this hymn is on God’s judgment over His enemies. That may not be a theme we love to sing about, but it’s an important theme because it highlights the holiness of God and the righteousness of God.

When we realize that those who are unrepentant sinners will experience the wrath of God and that Satan, who is the ultimate unrepentant one, has been rendered powerless by what Jesus Christ did at the cross.

All these themes of redemption are so great. It’s the story of the Bible. Micah 7, verse 19, “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” What happened at the Red Sea is a picture of how our sins have been forgiven, cast into the depths of the sea.

We read in Colossians chapter 2 how God has raised us with Christ from the dead. That He has caused our sins to be taken from us, to be forgiven. He has cancelled that record of debt against us, and then at the cross how He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in Christ.

The Red Sea is just an early picture of a whole triumphant work of God’s salvation that we read about throughout the Scripture. We will make it to the Promised Land. We will make it to Heaven.

‘Tis grace has brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”

Does your worship reflect those great themes of redemption?

Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts.

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