The First Recorded Worship Set

Featuring John Telman Posted on October 30, 2008

Exodus 15:1-21 is an interesting study on a congregational worship event.  At first glance, one could say, "Wait, verse one calls this a song which Moses and the Israelites sang together".  True.  However, there is plenty of historical evidence that "songs" or "psalms" in Old Testament times were responsorial in nature.  (For more on this, see my article @ www.trulyworship.com/briefhistory.html.)  That means that a leader would sing one section and then the congregation would respond with another section and the pattern went back and forth.  So, it is reasonable to believe that this was the case in Exodus 15.  That could account for the changes in direction - horizontal and vertical - in what appears to be one song.

Reading the content carefully, the event actually began with the "Call to Worship" section found in verse 21.  Then, the remaining expressions come from verses 1-18.  If we break the thoughts down into separate "songs", we discover a very logical and effective song set.

Song #1 (again) was Miriam's Call to Worship, horizontal in nature. (verse 21)

Song #2 was a testimony song, horizontal in nature.  (verse 1-2)

Song #3 was a declaration song about who God is and what he has done, also horizontal in nature. (verses 3-5)

Song #4 was a worship song directed to God about what he has done, vertical in nature.  Some would call it "praise" because it is about God's actions rather than his character per se (verses 6-10)

Song #5 was also a worship song directed to God about who he is, vertical in nature.  (verses 11-12)

Song #6 was a proclamation song, vertical in nature.  The tone is prophetic and "preaches".  One could hear an option for a sermon at this point.  (verses 13-17).

Song #7 was a closing song, horizontal in nature (verse 18).  This is a logical choice.  A horizontal song has more of that "processional", "let's get ready to go back into the world" tone.  The focus on the character of God makes it declarative in nature.

Let me close with two additional comments about the worship event of Exodus 15.

1)  There is a clear thematic focus throughout.
2)  God was the subject and object of most of the content, with only three (3) "I will" phrases.

I hope this has sparked some re-assessing of the way we might be accustomed to organizing a worship set.  And beyond this focused study, I find myself uplifted as I also contemplate the wonders of the God of Israel, the God who had "become their salvation". (Exodus 15:2) 

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