This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
15 Then Moshe and the people of Isra’el sang this song to Adonai:
“I will sing to Adonai, for he is highly exalted:
the horse and its rider he threw in the sea.
Yah is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.
This is my God: I will glorify him;
my father’s God: I will exalt him.
Adonai is a warrior;
Adonai is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he hurled into the sea.
His elite commanders
were drowned in the Sea of Suf.
The deep waters covered them;
they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Adonai, is sublimely powerful;
your right hand, Adonai, shatters the foe.
With a blast from your nostrils the waters piled up —
the waters stood up like a wall,
the depths of the sea became firm ground.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue and overtake,
divide the spoil and gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword; my hand will destroy them.’
You blew with your wind, the sea covered them,
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
Who is like you, Adonai, among the mighty?
Who is like you, sublime in holiness,
awesome in praises, working wonders?
You reached out with your right hand:
the earth swallowed them.
In your love, you led the people you redeemed;
in your strength, you guided them to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard, and they tremble;
anguish takes hold of those living in P’leshet;
then the chiefs of Edom are dismayed;
trepidation seizes the heads of Mo’av;
all those living in Kena‘an are melted away.
Terror and dread fall on them;
by the might of your arm they are still as stone
until your people pass over, Adonai,
till the people you purchased pass over.
You will bring them in and plant them
on the mountain which is your heritage,
the place, Adonai, that you made your abode,
the sanctuary, Adonai, which your hands established.
Adonai will reign forever and ever.
For the horses of Pharaoh went with his chariots
and with his cavalry into the sea,
but Adonai brought the sea waters back upon them,
while the people of Isra’el walked on dry land
in the midst of the sea!”
20 Also Miryam the prophet, sister of Aharon, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing, 21 as Miryam sang to them:
Possibly the chant of Miriam the Prophet is the oldest element in this ancient psalm. Indeed it may be the germ of the whole narrative of the Reed Sea Crossing. The later elements of the psalm use the incident as typifying the mighty power of Jahwe who gives victory to his chosen people over the imperial power of Egypt and the neighbouring nations of Canaan. The power of Adonai, the Lord is vividly portrayed, and no credit for victory is given to the people. God delivers the people from oppression and death.
The psalm also emphasises the “abode” of the Lord, which later readers would interpret as Jerusalem. The psalm seems to reflect a tradition according to which the Lord led the people directly from the Sea of Reeds to his “holy mountain” which may be a way of referring to the whole land. IN this version of the settlement, there is no resistance from the native nations of Canaan.
It is a robust celebration of rescue and victory against the odds. There’s a certain innocent savagery to it, which belongs only to people who have undergone oppression and found liberation. Only the desperate resistance of 1940-41 can provide any equivalent in UK history. Certainly my parents would have found the language of this psalm expressive of their relief at the failure of Hitler’s plans to invade. But if we attribute our rescue to God, to whom will we attribute our defeats and oppression? The prophets of Israel were not slow to see national defeat as the judgement of God on the people and its rulers. The resulting scheme of historical interpretation that we can see throughout the Jewish Bible is pretty basic: If the nation keeps its covenant with God it will prosper; if it does not, it will suffer disaster.
Israel may never have intended this interpretation of events to apply to any nation but their own. Even for them however, it became difficult to see the amount of suffering they underwent as justifiable punishment. Isaiah speaks of “double for all our sins”. A competing interpretation of Israel’s suffering as redemptive for other nations is expressed in chapters 40-55 of Isaiah.
For myself I cannot accept any theological justification of suffering. Suffering is where one starts in any honest view of the world. It happens a) by chance and b) by human wickedness. I see no evidence that God intervenes to protect anyone, anywhere, any time. Faith in God, on the other hand, may give courage, hope, endurance and readiness for sacrifice. The loving creator God in whom I believe has given a terrible autonomy to his creation, just as a parent gives autonomy to her adult children. God, like the parent suffers when her children suffer but knows she cannot live their lives for them.
I guess I’m saying that I don’t believe in the God of this splendid psalm.