Exodus 15:1-27 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What do the children of Israel do when they stand safely on the other side of the Red Sea? See Exodus 15:1 (printed below)

Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to Jehovah: I will sing to Jehovah, for he has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea! (Exodus 15:1)

The children of Israel have passed safely through the parted waters of the Red Sea, they have arrived at the distant shore, and when the last one of them steps out of that dried seabed they hear behind them a mighty rumble. They turn around and behold the wall of seawater collapsing and crashing down upon Pharaoh’s army, swallowing them up. Then as they stand safely on the distant shore of the Red Sea they lift up a song of praise to the Lord for His victory over their enemies and former oppressors.

2. What are some of the elements in Israel’s song of praise? Note especially Exodus 15:2,13,17-18 (printed below)

Jehovah is my strength and song, and he has become my salvation! This is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him! …(13) By your lovingkindness you have led the people whom you redeemed; by your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling place…(17) You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, O Jehovah, you have made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands have established. (18) Jehovah shall reign forever and ever! (Exodus 15:2,13,17-18)

In their song of praise the Israelites profess their allegiance to the Lord (15:2). They go on to confess the Lord’s lovingkindness and faithfulness (15:13). They also express their confidence in the Lord (15:17). Finally, their song of praise closes with a shout of adoration for the Lord (15:18).

3. When the Israelites begin their journey to the Promised Land, where is their first stop and what do they find? See Exodus 15:22-23 (printed below)

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they came to the wilderness of Shur. For three days they traveled through the wilderness without finding water. (23) When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of that place, because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. (Exodus 15:22-23)

Some scholars believe that the place where Israel initially encamped after crossing the Red Sea is the place presently known as “The Springs of Moses;” it was the only green spot in this entire region, a place where fresh drinking water was readily available. But now, following the pillar of cloud and fire, the people must break camp and head out into the wilderness of Shur. They journey three days into this desolate wilderness without any sign of water. Things are getting serious; by now their water supply is just about used up and you cannot live very long in the desert without water. But by the conclusion of the third day’s travel they finally arrive at a place called Marah: here is a source of water. But the water proves to be so bitter that it is quite undrinkable.

4. How do the people of Israel respond to this turn of events? See Exodus 15:24 (printed below)

The people grumbled against Moses, asking, What shall we drink? (Exodus 15:24)

When the water at Marah proves to be so bitter that it is quite undrinkable, the people spit it out of their mouths in disgust and raise their voices in protest against Moses. In the first half of Exodus 15 we heard Israel lifting up their voice in praise to the Lord. Now in the second half of Exodus 15 we again hear Israel lifting up their voice, but this time it is not in praise, it is in protest; it is not exalting the Lord, it is murmuring against His servant, Moses. What happened to their hymn of praise, a hymn in which they confessed the Lord’s lovingkindness and faithfulness (15:13) and expressed their confidence in the Lord (15:17)?

5. What does the Lord do at Marah and then where does He lead His people? See Exodus 15:25-27 (printed below)

Moses cried out to Jehovah. Then Jehovah showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the waters and the waters became sweet. There at Marah Jehovah made a statute and a decree for them, and there he tested them. (26) He said, If you will diligently pay attention to the voice of Jehovah your God and do what is right in his sight and listen to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am Jehovah, who heals you. (27) Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there by the waters. (Exodus 15:25-27)

At Marah the Lord faithfully provided for His people by miraculously sweetening the water by means of a piece of dead wood (15:25). After the Lord miraculously sweetened the waters, the reason and meaning of this bitter experience is defined: “There at Marah Jehovah made a statute and a decree for them, and there he tested them” (15:25b). There at the waters of Marah the Lord presented to His people a divine principle, (“a statute”), teaching them how He would deal with them, and a divine right, (“a decree”), teaching them what they could expect and claim from the Lord their God. The Lord was saying to them, “Throughout your life I will lead you, I will direct your path. At times I will bring you into difficult situations that are beyond your control and ability, but I will always prove Myself to be your all-sufficient God: trust Me.” And there at the waters of Marah the Lord tested them: by means of this test the Lord was posing the question, “Will you still trust Me and love Me and serve Me, no matter where I put you and no matter what I see fit to bring into your life?” The experience at Marah was intended to test the genuineness of Israel’s words recorded in Exodus 15:2 and at the same time to demonstrate to Israel that they could sing those words with complete confidence. After Marah the Lord led His people to the refreshing oasis of Elim: there they found twelve springs of good water (one for each tribe) and 70 palm trees.