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Exodus 15:14–15

“The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.”

Moses changes in the middle of his song from singing about the Lord’s past act of deliverance at the Red Sea to looking forward to what lay ahead for Israel. As we saw in our last study, Exodus 15:13 features Moses leading the Israelites in looking forward to their eventual settling in Canaan. In today’s passage, Moses continues to speak of things that were yet to come for the exodus generation, focusing on the response of the nations that Israel was to encounter on the journey to Canaan.

The function of the lyrics in the original context was to encourage the Israelites to press on when they encountered difficulties, knowing that the Lord would turn their enemies aside. Philistia, in particular, was more advanced militarily than Israel, so the Philistines would cause great fear in the Israelites if God’s people were to face them alone. But God promised through the Song of Moses that Philistia would be paralyzed by pangs of terror (v. 14), and the earlier confessions of the Lord’s matchless strength meant that Israel would succeed against the Philistines if they were to strengthen themselves in God (see 1 Sam. 30:6). John Calvin comments on the encouraging nature of this portion of Moses’ song: “Lest, then, [Israel’s] numerous difficulties should dishearten them, Moses declares that, although many powerful enemies should endeavor to oppose them, terror shall possess them all from heaven, so that, in their confusion and astonishment, they shall have no power of resistance.”

Philistia is mentioned first in the song because it would have been the first people group the Israelites encountered when taking the shortest route from the Red Sea to the promised land. As we know, however, Israel would sin in the wilderness and then wander for forty years for believing the bad report of the faithless spies regarding the might of Canaan (Num. 14:20–35). Edom and Moab appear next in the song because they were the nations that Israel actually encountered in the wilderness wanderings (Ex. 15:15; see Num. 20:14–21; 22). Moses refers last to Canaan, for it was the many peoples of that land that the Israelites would eventually dispossess (Ex. 15:15; see the book of Joshua). Interestingly, fear would not come upon Philistia, Moab, and Edom immediately, and these nations would be thorns in Israel’s side for many centuries after the people settled in Canaan. But these nations would come to fear Israel as Saul, David, and others defeated them, for God always keeps His promises.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

It took time for Philistia, Moab, Edom, and Canaan to fear the Lord, and it may take time for the enemies of God in our day to fear God. But we can be sure that this terror will come, just as it did for those nations, if they do not repent. We can trust that all God’s enemies will one day be judged and God will reign in perfect peace (Rev. 20–21).

For Further Study
  • 1 Samuel 14:47–48
  • 2 Samuel 5:17–25
  • Obadiah
  • Revelation 12:12