Imagine for a moment: you stand on the shore looking out over calm waters. You stare in near disbelief as someone starts to sing, “The Lord is my strength and my defense, he has become my salvation” (Ex. 15:2). Why are they singing? Less than a day before, you stood on the opposite shore. Not long before that you had been in Egypt, but the Lord had raised up Moses to lead you to the Promised Land. As Moses led on to the shoreline of the Red Sea, you noticed Pharaoh who had been so eager for you to leave his country approaching with his army to bring you slavery or death. You cry out to the Lord. You cry out to Moses. What does he say, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex. 14:14).
Then things start to happen. The angel of God and pillar of cloud move from leading the people, to following them in order to separate Israel from Egypt. Then the wind starts to blow; all through the night it howls. Soon a path of dry ground appears through the water. With water on the right and water on the left, you walk on dry ground through the sea with the rest of the people. But as Egypt begins to follow, it was clear to all: “The Lord is a warrior” (Ex. 15:3). For Egypt, “both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea” (Ex. 15:4). The waters came back together to swallow up the strength of Egypt. Where is the strength of Israel? “The Lord is my strength and my defense.” Moses leads them in singing, and this is their song.
But why sing? Is it just a response of praise? It certainly is that, but consider also this thought from Luther:
The devil, the creator of saddening cares and disquieting worries, takes flight at the sound of music almost as he takes flight at the word of theology. This is the reason why the prophets did not make use of any art except music; when setting forth their theology they did it not as geometry, not as arithmetic, not as astronomy, but as music, so that they held theology and music most tightly connected, and proclaimed truth through Psalms and songs. [LW 49:428]
The Lord had just delivered Israel from slavery and plagues in Egypt. But as soon as they see Pharaoh’s army, they tremble in mortal fear. Immediately after this account, they struggle to find water and grumble against the Lord. How quickly the enemies and hardships make them forget: “the Lord is a warrior…your strength and defense…the Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still!”
How often does the devil come at us in the same way? Adversaries, hardships, challenges confront us. We quickly gauge our own strength and resources, and we know they’re not enough. We worry and fret, complain and grumble, sometimes flat out lose it. In those moments, the last thing we’re thinking is “the Lord is a warrior…my strength and defense…the Lord will fight for me; I need only to be still!”
'The Lord is a warrior,' and that warrior is Jesus.
But that’s exactly what we need to hear! Just as Moses sings to Israel and with Israel, he invites us to sing too! Notice how Moses sings: he repeats the great works of the Lord’s deliverance to his people. The Lord delivered his people from slavery and from the army of Pharaoh. The Lord has led them through the waters. Who has ever done such a thing? “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Ex. 15:11) What people have ever seen such a thing? This miracle, which is referenced over and over again in the Old Testament, is the greatest act of deliverance of the Lord for his people.
At least it is the greatest act of deliverance until the Lord takes on human flesh to “become my salvation.” The Lord is the God who always keeps his promises, and the greatest promise he kept was Jesus. “The Lord is a warrior,” and that warrior is Jesus. He’s the one who separated our sins from us which is greater than separating the waters of the sea. He broke the power of Satan who is far greater than Pharaoh. He swallowed up death with all its might which is greater than horses and chariots. He freed us from hell which is worse than any slavery. Jesus won the victory at the cross; the proof is in the empty Easter tomb. Jesus is “the warrior…my strength and defense…he fights for me; I need only to be still!”
What greater reason can there be to sing! Sing of the Lord and his work for you; remember who is your strength! Sing of Jesus’ Easter victory for you, and watch Satan flee with his worries and cares! Sing, praise, proclaim: “The Lord is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation!”