WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
JANUARY 18–25, 2018
PRAYER / WORSHIP: Commentary on the Scriptural Text
Exodus 15:6 “Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power”
By Rev. Dr. Gerald F. Rafferty, S.T.D.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish
Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power (Exodus 15:6)
The theme for this years’ week of Christian Unity expresses praise and awe of God and specifically of His power. The first thing to note here is that the statement is addressed to the “LORD.” This is no vague reference. In most English language bibles, LORD in all capital letters means that the original Hebrew has the personal name of YHWH. The reference then is very specific and calls immediately to mind that the One at work is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who has been a part of this people’s life and who has invited them into an intimate relationship signified by His sharing of His name (cf. Ex 3:13-20).
Our theme is a poetic expression. In the Bible, poetry is the form used in order to express an experience. And Israel uses this form frequently in Psalms and prophetic utterances. Where mere narration is unable to capture the depth of Israel’s experience with God, they turn to poetry, for, more than just describing their experience, they literally invite the reader to share it. And poetry gives voice to a deeper meaning and understanding then narrative.
Ancient poetry and song go hand in hand. And as such the form is most often used in the context of communal celebrations including liturgical worship. This poetic line, extolling YHWH’s might, is part of a larger Hymn of praise in Ex 15:1-21. It appears after the children of Israel have witnessed the miracle of the Red Sea, in which God has caused the destruction of the army of Pharaoh and thus guaranteed that His people are now free from bondage and free to take up their call to worship Him and live as His people, in the land He has promised to their ancestors (see Genesis). With the army defeated, Israel can now fulfill its God-given destiny.
The Hymn is Israel’s response to God’s saving work. Israel’s song of praise to God for victory over the Egyptian army in Ex 15:1-21 is one of the more ancient hymns in the OT. Most believe that parts of the text can indeed be dated early in Israel’s life. But as we have it the Hymn has been enhanced.
The context for our thematic statement (Ex 15:6) is definitely in the form of a Hymn of praise, enhanced by the theme of Thanksgiving. This hymn has a narrative introduction in 15:1a and supplement in 15:19-20 which leads to the repetition of the call to praise in v. 21.
The Hymn found in Ex 15:1b-18 follows a pattern of a call to praise followed by a listing of reasons for this praise. In vv 3-10, the specific events at the Red Sea are recounted and extolled. Then, in vv. 11-16, the events of the conquest of the Promised Land are recalled. And finally, in v. 17, the hymn acknowledges the creation of the place of worship, the establishment of the Temple. And the hymn ends in v18 with a statement of trust and firm reliance on Israel’s true king. These last two reasons are anachronistic to the immediate context, but are an indication of the widespread use of this ancient hymn in the broader context of Israel’s life.
Typical of Hebrew poetry is the insight that what God has done for a particular specific need or situation is extended into a belief that God also acts in the same way always and on all levels. The historical experience of salvation from bondage in Egypt by the destruction of Pharaoh’s army suggests that God will also act to save in other contexts of Israel’s experience. As God has acted in the past, He continues to do so today and will do so in the future. Thus this hymn praising God’s miraculous work expressed in 15:1b and v 21, is how God acts in all situations and at all times to save his people.
Specifically, v. 6 begins the clear reasons for Israel’s praise of God. Vv.3-5 are the historical remembrance of His work (the destruction of Pharaoh’s army), but now the Hymn begins to extrapolate.
“You right hand” is an OT metaphor for power. But it must also be remembered that the right hand was the metaphor for relationship, hospitality, providence as well as power in battle. And so Israel recognizes all the gifts they receive from God.
And the God they recognize as we said above is the LORD (YHWH) the personal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their heirs. This is the God who has invited Israel into the intimacy of a covenant relationship with all its promises and its obligations.
And then the power of God, the providence of God, is esteemed praiseworthy (magnificent). And this implies that Israel recognizes God’s gifts. They acknowledge His work for them. And they recognize their need to respond to His work on their behalf.
And so, our theme this year calls us also to acknowledge Gods’ many gifts and works for us which are totally unlimited and powerful. The God whom we know intimately in our lives and in our covenanted relationship with Him has acted, is acting and will act for us. And so we are called to praise Him for all His work.
Fr. Gerard F. Rafferty is currently the Parochial Vicar of, Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Scarsdale NY Previously Fr. Rafferty served as Professor of Scared Scripture and Hebrew, St Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY