Thomas E. Tyson
The theme of our 1997 Thank Offering is "Praise Him for His mighty acts" (Ps. 150:2 NKJV).
This command is indeed laid upon the church of the ages, but it came first to God's elect nation Israel. She was called to extol the Lord for the deeds of power by which he separated her from the nations and saved her as the apple of his eye.
In obeying this exhortation, no Israelite would have failed to think of one event in particular, namely, the incident at the Red Sea. For it was on that occasion that the Lord dealt a crushing blow to the Egyptian oppressors of Israel and poured out his grace upon that unlikely, but greatly blessed people whom he had chosen to be his own.
What the Lord did for his people was not lost on them, for we read: "Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: 'I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea' " (Ex. 15:1).
With these words, Moses and the Israelites, and in particular Miriam "and all the women ... with tambourines and dancing" (vs. 20), praised God for his miraculous and gracious deliverance of Israel. Pharaoh and his army had found the pursuit of their runaway slaves to be a deadly enterprise as they rushed headlong into the watery cul-de-sac designed by Almighty God for their destruction. "But the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground" (vs. 19).
Our praise to God today can be enhanced by a study of the song of Moses, for it is our song too. The hymn has two perspectives, looking backwards and forwards, with effects upon the present. It extols, in both praiseful and hopeful song, God's victory over his and Israel's enemy at the Red Sea.
But the song is not the exclusive property of that ancient portion of God's church, for the last book of the Bible presents us with the whole host of God's victorious church, standing beside another sea, singing "the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: 'Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty....' " (Rev. 15:3). Israel's song is ours, and ours is theirs! The choir of twenty-four elders (twelve tribes and twelve apostles?) knows well its theme song. Falling before the Lamb, they sing "a new song: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation....' " (5:9).
Moses and the Israelites sang praise to God for his greatness and power: "In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you" (Ex. 15:7). In metaphor they rehearsed the Lord's victory at the sea: "a warrior ... your right hand ... the blast of your nostrils ... the power of your arm." Concrete elements of that victory were recounted: "the horse and its rider ... chariots ... sank to the depths like a stone ... like lead ... the earth swallowed them."
The people of Israel extolled God as the sole agent of their deliverance: "your right hand ... your breath ... your nostrils ... your unfailing love ... your arm/strength." Israel did not lift a finger in her own defense. Even Moses' leadership is not mentioned in the song. The Lord alone brings about the wondrous salvation of his people.
But notice that the victory was not only in the past. In addition to the threat from Egypt, there were also dangers posed by nations yet to be faced: Philistia, Edom, Moab, and the people of Canaan (compare. vss. 14-15). But God can be trusted to deliver his cherished ones from them all. Is it true that the Egyptians "sank to the depths like a stone" (vs. 5)? Well then, don't be surprised when those other nations yet on the horizon become "as still as a stone" (vs. 16)! The song of remembrance is at the same time a song of hope.
That great Red Sea event needs to be understood.
First, for the Israelites, it was a door leading to their eventual possession of Canaan, the land of promise (Ex. 15:17), which is itself a picture of the rest that remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:9). That display of strength at the sea had as its goal the revelation of God's person (Ex. 15:11), the redemption of a people for himself, and their sanctification (vs. 13).
Second, by that mighty act, the glory of Israel's covenant-keeping God was displayed before the nations (vs. 14) as unopposable (vs. 16) and as timeless (vs. 18).
Israel was encouraged to know that the Lord is no local deity. He is the Creator of the ends of the earth! And when he stoops to attend to the desperate need of sinners whom he loves, the entire world simply must take notice:
"Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth" (Ps. 96:7-9).
The church's praise of her God for his mighty acts is not faceless; it has certain very definite features.
First, it is centered on God. We bring our Thank Offering not primarily to further the work of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in missions and Christian education, important though that is. We bring it to praise God for his mighty acts! For we, too, at the end of the second millennium, join our voices with those of the twenty-four elders: "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty." Here we find the song of the people of God, the song of Moses and the Lamb, sung by the whole church of Christ now and at the consummation of his kingdom.
The great deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians pictured the deliverance of God's people in all ages from sin and death. Those Israelites, standing and singing at the Red Sea, were a prophecy of those who would be victorious over Satan and who in the age of fulfillment would sing the song of redemption through Jesus Christ. For us today the song resounds with all the meaning and power of Calvary and with the victory over Satan granted there to Christ's people.
Second, the church's praise is corporate. The offering, like the song, is that of a people, not of so many individual persons. So often our praise is too individualistic, focusing on "I" and "me." It should be related to the church of the ages and sung in harmony with the twenty-four elders. It should include a sense that we are joining with the Israelites at the Red Sea!
Third, our praise is joyful. Singing or giving, we should exultwe should leap for joy! The recounting and remembrance of the grace of God displayed in Jesus Christ, who delivers us from all his and our enemies, should result in nothing less. But this is no syrupy pietism; it is objective, God-centered, united, and enthusiastic praise that is filled with God's justice as well as his love. Our song and our offering must be directed to the nature of God and his works and dedicated to revel in his glory. Our consuming passion must be to know and praise him in the fullness of the glory that belongs to him. "Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted!"
We need to rediscover the place of a somewhat old-fashioned, but very biblical word: consecration. It means "setting apart, devotion." That concept had real relevance for the Israelites, you can be sure of that! For them, the Red Sea spoke of consecrationof being separated from Egypt, to whom they formerly belonged, and set apart for the Lord, to whom they now belonged and owed wholehearted and joyful devotion.
That same consecration needs to characterize the New Testament church. God's stunning victory over Satan at Christ's Calvary should evoke our response in song and in worship. With the Israelites, we need to watch the bodies of Egyptians float to the shore, and realize that that could have been us. And then we need to break forth into a paean of praise for God's victory:
"The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea."
Mr. Tyson is the general secretary for the Committee on Christian Education. Reprinted from New Horizons, November 1997.