The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses

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Author: Louis Ginzberg

The Song at the Sea

Mighty is faith, for the spirit of God came upon the Israelites as a reward for their trust in God, and in His servant Moses; and it was in this exaltation that they sang to the Lord a song [57] that moved Him to grant forgiveness for all their sins. [58] This song was the second of the nine songs that in the course of history of Israel sang to their God. They assembled to sing the first in Egypt, on the night when they were freed from captivity; their second was the song of triumph by the Red Sea; their third, when the well sprang up in the wilderness; Moses sang the fourth before his death; the fifth was Joshua’s song after his victory over the five Amorite Kings; Deborah and Barak sang the sixth when they conquered Sisera; the seventh was David’s psalm of thanksgiving to God for his deliverance out of the hand of all his enemies; the eighth was Solomon’s song at the dedication of the Temple; the ninth Jehoshaphat sang as, trusting in God, he went to battle against the Moabites and the Ammonites. The tenth and last song, however, will be that grand and mighty song, when Israel will raise their voice in triumph at their future deliverance, for that will be the final release of Israel for all time. [59]

When Israel prepared to sound their praises to God for delivering them from destruction in the Red Sea, God, to show His recognition of Israel’s fulfillment of the token of the Abrahamic covenant, bade the angels who came to intone their song, wait: "Let My children sing first," He said. This incident with the angels is like the story of the king who, upon returning from a victorious campaign, was told that his son and his servant were waiting with wreaths in their hands, and were asking who should first crown him. The king said, "O ye fools, to question if my servant should walk before my son! No, let my son come first!"

This was the second time the angels were obliged to retire before Israel. When Israel stood by the Red Sea, before them the rolling waters, and behind them the hosts of Egypt, then, too, the angels appeared, to sing their daily song of praise to the Lord, but God called to them, "Forbear! My children are in distress, and you would sing!"

But even after the men had completed their song, it was not yet given to the angels to raise their voices, for after the men followed the women of Israel, and only then came the turn of the angels. Then they began to murmur, and said, "Is it not enough that the men have preceded us? Shall the women come before us also?" But God replied, "As surely as ye live, so it is." [60]

At first Israel requested their leader Moses to begin the song, but he declined, saying, "No, ye shall begin it, for it is a greater mark of honor to be praised by the multitude than by a single one." At once the people sang: "We will glorify the Eternal, for He has shown us signs and tokens. When the Egyptians passed the decree against us, and said, ’Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river,’ our mothers went into the field, and Thou didst bid a sleep to fall upon them, and they bore us without any pain; and the angels descended from Heaven, washed and anointed us, and robed us in many-colored silken garments, and placed in our hands two lumps, one of butter and one of honey. When our mothers awoke and saw us washed, anointed, and clothed in silk, then they praised Thee, and said, ’Praise be God who has not turned His grace and His lasting love from the seed of our father Abraham; and now behold! they are in Thy hand, do with them as Thou wilt.’ And they departed. When the Egyptians saw us, they approached to kill us, but Thou in Thy great mercy didst bid the earth swallow us and set us in another place, where we were not seen by the Egyptians, and lo! in this way didst Thou save us from their hand. When we grew up, we wandered in troops to Egypt, where each recognized his parents and his family. All this hast Thou done for us, therefore will we sing of Thee."

Thereupon Moses said: "Ye have given thanks to the Holy One, blessed be He, and not I will praise His name, for to me also has He shown signs and tokens. The Lord is my strength and my song, and He is become my salvation; He is my God, and I will prepare Him and habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him." [61]

The song by the Red Sea was as much the song of Moses as of all Israel, for the great leader counted as not less than all the other Israelites together, and, besides, [62] he had composed a large portion of the song. In virtue of the spirit of God that possessed them while they sang, Moses and the people mutually supplemented each other, so that, as soon as Moses spoke half the verse, the people repeated it, and linked the second complementary part to it. So Moses began with the half verse, "I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously," whereupon the people answered, "The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea." And in this wise developed the whole song. [63]

But not alone the adults took part in this song, even the sucklings dropped their mothers’ breasts to join in singing; yea, even the embryos in the womb joined the melody, and the angels’ voices swelled the song. [64] God so distinguished Israel during the passage through the Red Sea, that even the children beheld His glory, yea, even the woman slave saw more of the presence of God by the Red Sea than the Prophet Ezekiel was ever permitted to behold. [65]

They closed the song with the words: "Let us set the crown of glory upon the head of our Deliverer, who suffers all things to perish, but does not Himself decay, who changes all things, but is Himself unchanged. His is the diadem of sovereignty, for He is the King of kings in this world, and His is the sovereignty of the world to come; it is His and will be His in all eternity." [66] Thereupon Moses spake to Israel, "Ye have seen all the signs, all miracles and works of glory that the Holy One, blessed be He, hath wrought for you, but even more will He do for you in the world to come; for not like unto this world is the world of the hereafter; for in this world war and suffering, evil inclination, Satan, and the Angel of Death hold sway; but in the future would, there will be neither suffering nor enmity, neither Satan nor the Angel of Death, neither groans nor oppression, nor evil inclination." [67]

As Moses and the race that wandered from Egypt with him sang a song to the Lord by the Red Sea, so shall they sing again in the world to come. In the world to come, all generations will pass before the Lord and will ask Him who should first intone the song of praise, whereupon He will reply: "In the past it was the generation of Moses that offered up to me a song of praise. Let them do it now once more, and as Moses conducted the song by the Red Sea, so shall he do in the world of the hereafter." [68]

In other respects, too, it shall be in the world to come as it was at the time of the song by the sea. For when Israel intoned the song of praise, God put on a festive robe, on which were embroidered all the promises for a happy future to Israel. Among them were written: "Then shall thy light break forth as the morning"; "Then said they among the heathen. ’The Lord hath done great things for them,’" and many similar promises. But when Israel sinned, God rent the festive robe, and He will not restore it, or put it on until the coming of the future world. [69]

After the men had completed the song, the women under the guidance of Miriam sang the same song to the accompaniment of music and dancing. The Israelites had had perfect faith, that God would perform for them miracles and deeds of glory, hence they had provided themselves with timbrels and with flutes, that they might have them at hand to glorify the anticipated miracles. [70] Then Miriam said to the women, "Let us sing unto the Lord, for strength and sublimity are His; He lords it over the lordly, and He resents presumption. He hurled Pharaoh’s horses and chariots into the sea, and drowned them, because wicked Pharaoh in his presumption pursued God’s people, Israel." [71]

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Chicago: Louis Ginzberg, "The Song at the Sea," The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, trans. Rodwell, J. M. in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses Original Sources, accessed July 5, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=NH6DHSEDCN2BUC6.

MLA: Ginzberg, Louis. "The Song at the Sea." The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, translted by Rodwell, J. M., in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, Original Sources. 5 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=NH6DHSEDCN2BUC6.

Harvard: Ginzberg, L, 'The Song at the Sea' in The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, trans. . cited in , The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses. Original Sources, retrieved 5 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=NH6DHSEDCN2BUC6.