Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song - Poetry has been cultivated in all ages and among all people, from the most refined to the most barbarous; and to it principally, under the kind providence of God, we are indebted for most of the original accounts we have of the ancient nations of the universe. Equally measured lines, with a harmonious collocation of expressive, sonorous, and sometimes highly metaphorical terms, the alternate lines either answering to each other in sense, or ending with similar sounds, were easily committed to memory, and easily retained. As these were often accompanied with a pleasing air or tune, the subject being a concatenation of striking and interesting events, histories formed thus became the amusement of youth, the softeners of the tedium of labor, and even the solace of age. In such a way the histories of most nations have been preserved. The interesting events celebrated, the rhythm or metre, and the accompanying tune or recitativo air, rendered them easily transmissible to posterity; and by means of tradition they passed safely from father to son through the times of comparative darkness, till they arrived at those ages in which the pen and the press have given them a sort of deathless duration and permanent stability, by multiplying the copies. Many of the ancient historic and heroic British tales are continued by tradition among the aboriginal inhabitants of Ireland to the present day; and the repetition of them constitutes the chief amusement of the winter evenings. Even the prose histories, which were written on the ground of the poetic, copied closely their exemplars, and the historians themselves were obliged to study all the beauties and ornaments of style, that their works might become popular; and to this circumstance we owe not a small measure of what is termed refinement of language. How observable is this in the history of Herodotus, who appears to have closely copied the ancient poetic records in his inimitable and harmonious prose; and, that his books might bear as near a resemblance as possible to the ancient and popular originals, he divided them into nine, and dedicated each to one of the muses! His work therefore seems to occupy the same place between the ancient poetic compositions and mere prosaic histories, as the polype does between plants and animals. Much even of our sacred records is written in poetry, which God has thus consecrated to be the faithful transmitter of remote and important events; and of this the song before the reader is a proof in point. Though this is not the first specimen of poetry we have met with in the Pentateuch, (see Lamech's speech to his wives, Genesis 4:23, Genesis 4:24; Noah's prophecy concerning his sons, Genesis 9:25-27; and Jacob's blessing to the twelve patriarchs, Genesis 49:2-27 (note)), yet it is the first regular ode of any considerable length, having but one subject; and it is all written in hemistichs, or half lines, the usual form in Hebrew poetry; and though this form frequently occurs, it is not attended to in our common printed Hebrew Bibles, except in this and three other places, (Deuteronomy 32, Judges 5, and 2 Samuel 22)., all of which shall be noticed as they occur. But in Dr. Kennicott's edition of the Hebrew Bible, all the poetry, wheresoever it occurs, is printed in its own hemistich form.
After what has been said it is perhaps scarcely necessary to observe, that as such ancient poetic histories commemorated great and extraordinary displays of providence, courage, strength, fidelity, heroism, and piety; hence the origin of Epic poems, of which the song in this chapter is the earliest specimen. And on the principle of preserving the memory of such events, most nations have had their epic poets, who have generally taken for their subject the most splendid or most remote events of their country's history, which either referred to the formation or extension of their empire, the exploits of their ancestors, or the establishment of their religion. Hence the ancient Hebrews had their Shir Mosheh, the piece in question: the Greeks, their Ilias; the Hindoos, their Mahabarat; the Romans, their Aeneid; the Norwegians, their Edda; the Irish and Scotch, their Fingal and Chronological poems; the Welsh, their Taliessin and his Triads; the Arabs, their Nebiun-Nameh (exploits of Mohammed) and Hamleh Heedry, (exploits of Aly); the Persians, their Shah Nameh, (book of kings); the Italians, their Gerusalemme Liberata; the Portuguese, their Lusiad; the English, their Paradise Lost; and, in humble imitation of all the rest, (etsi non passibus aequis), the French, their Henriade.
The song of Moses has been in the highest repute in the Church of God from the beginning; the author of the Book of The Wisdom of Solomon attributes it in a particular manner to the wisdom of God, and says that on this occasion God opened the mouth of the dumb, and made the tongues of infants eloquent; The Wisdom of Solomon 10:21. As if he had said, Every person felt an interest in the great events which had taken place, and all labored to give Jehovah that praise which was due to his name. "With this song of victory over Pharaoh," says Mr. Ainsworth, "the Holy Ghost compares the song of those who have gotten the victory over the spiritual Pharaoh, the beast, (Antichrist), when they stand by the sea of glass mingled with fire, (as Israel stood here by the Red Sea), having the harps of God, (as the women here had timbrels, Exodus 15:20;), and they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, the Son of God," Revelation 15:2-4.
I will sing unto the Lord - Moses begins the song, and in the two first hemistichs states the subject of it; and these two first lines became the grand chorus of the piece, as we may learn from Exodus 15:21. See Dr. Kennicott's arrangement and translation of this piece at the end of this chapter. See Clarke's note on Exodus 15:26.
Triumphed gloriously - גאה גאה כי ki gaoh gaah, he is exceedingly exalted, rendered by the Septuagint, Ενδοξως γαρ δεδοξασται, He is gloriously glorified; and surely this was one of the most signal displays of the glorious majesty of God ever exhibited since the creation of the world. And when it is considered that the whole of this transaction shadowed out the redemption of the human race from the thraldom and power of sin and iniquity by the Lord Jesus, and the final triumph of the Church of God over all its enemies, we may also join in the song, and celebrate Him who has triumphed so gloriously, having conquered death, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.