There is an old poem in the 15th chapter of the book of Exodus. I sing it every day. My wife and daughter like to sing it with me, in Hebrew no less, whenever the Spirit demands. The Hebrew goes like this:
Ashira L’adonoa, ki ga-oh ga-ah.
Mi kamocha baelim Adonai?
Mi kamocha ne’dar baqqodesh?
Nachita v’ches’d-cha am zu ga-al-ta.
Here’s what it means.
I will sing unto the Lord who has triumphed triumphantly!
Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?
Who is like you, most holy?
In your steadfast love, you have lead the people to redemption.
This song is often credited to Moses’ sister, Miriam, and is sung by the Hebrew people after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It is regarded as one of the oldest Hebrew writings in existence! Jewish children learn the song to this day (it is a rather catchy tune and was included in the 1999 film, The Prince of Egypt). When they sing the song, it is as though they are saying to anyone who listens, “Remember when? Remember when God came down and met Moses on the mountain? Remember when God broke our yoke of slavery? Remember when God delivered us through the sea, the wilderness, to a ‘promised land’? Remember when?”
It seems that we need a better memory these days. Political seasons can have that effect on us. From silly hats that mythologize a fantasized American greatness of the past, to sparring debaters unable to remember what they said just a few moments ago, we the people are dragged through a confusing landscape of social memory that seems to capitalize on our differences, and keep the things that we share hidden from view.
Perhaps this is why I found myself in tears the other night while I sang this very old Hebrew song. It is in essence a political song (just ask the Egyptians). But more than that, it is a song that generations and generations of people have sung to remember their shared past as a people. When their kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians, the Hebrew children sang, “Sing to the Lord who has triumphed triumphantly!” When they were cast into exile in Babylon and forced to worship idols, the children sang, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?” When they returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple, the little ones sang, “Who is like you, most holy?” And when they were rounded up for the fires of a freely elected totalitarian monster, they prayed, “In your steadfast love, you have lead the people to redemption.”
Today is October 6, 2020 and it is a dangerous thing to sing this year. I urge you. Sing on. But let your song be about what God has done. Let it be about God’s steadfast love. Let it be about the God who has divided the sea. If God can do that, surely God can do this. It helps to pause, and remember when.