“I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.”
Tuesday, 21 July 2020
This opening line of Moses’ song of victory, echoed in verse 21 by the prophetess Miriam, is a song of triumph after the destruction of Pharaoh’s forces by God at the Red Sea. Instead of feigning ignorance at the Israelites’ escape. Pharaoh had chosen to pursue them. The consequences, according to this story, were disastrous for Pharaoh. But a great victory for the Israelites as they struggled for their freedom.
I say, according to the story, because we have yet to find a great horde of chariots at the bottom of the Red Sea. Or indeed a similar number in the marshland further to the north bordering on the Sinai Peninsula. There is, indeed, a debate among biblical scholars and archaeologists who debate what exactly happened in the Exodus. But for our purpose, let us focus on what this story says about the theme of freedom.
God intervenes to free the Israelites. That’s the take-home message. But I think we have to go deeper than that. The victory song of Moses and Miriam must be read very carefully. It is a song celebrating the destruction of enemies in the pursuit of freedom, but at the heart of it all, it must be read with ambivalence.
This ambivalence is echoed in many Passover Seders where the story is recounted. The assembly is reminded that the pursuit of freedom comes at a price. In this case, some of God’s people (the Egyptians) were destroyed.