This verse comes in the middle of a song which Moses taught to Israel after their miraculous escape from Egypt. In her crossing of the Red Sea, the Egyptian army was destroyed and Pharaoh died. It was the culmination of a war between the gods of Egypt and the One True and Living God – Jehovah. In his praise, using a rhetorical question, Moses accurately described the Lord “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
At this time of the year, there is a great deal of talk about Jesus, the son of Mary. Sadly, so much of it is out of the context of the only true revelation that we have about the incarnation. There is much talk about “Jesus the son of MARY.” While this is accurate, it is often hides the more important reality – “Jesus Christ is the Son of GOD.” And who is that God? What can we say about Him? Many people picture Him as the benevolent man up-stairs who kindly sent His son to Bethlehem as the offspring of Mary – honoring her. Millions of cards have been mailed with quotations from the early chapters of Matthew and Luke. But I guarantee that there has never been a Christmas card, Easter card or any kind of greeting card with the words of Exodus 15:11 printed in it. How does the Lord want us to picture Him? This is His revelation.
Moses mentions several specifics, creating a concise three point message. Before we get to that revelation, let’s eliminate the competition. “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods?” The Hebrew word “gods” is “el” which is the root word for “Elohim,” one of the names of Jehovah. Many times that word is used, referring to Jehovah. But sixteen times “el” speaks of idol gods, false gods, beings which are not God. Psalm 44:21-22 – “If we have forgotten the name of our God (Elohim), or stretched out our hands to a strange god (“el”); Shall not (Elohim) search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.” “El” is also used to speak of mighty or powerful MEN, who sometimes behave as if they were little gods. Psalm 29:1-2 – “Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty (“el”), give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”
As I said, Moses’ song was passed on to Israel immediately after her deliverance from Egypt. It came after the ten plagues– some of which displayed unbelievable power – miracles. And as I just said, the exodus and that deliverance were not about Moses and Pharaoh; they were not about Israel and Egypt. The exodus was all about “Elohim” versus “el” – Jehovah versus the false gods of the Egyptians. And of course the LORD Jehovah, Elohim won. It is THIS God whom Moses describes in his rhetorical question. “Who is like unto thee, O Jehovah, among the els? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
The God whom we should worship is GLORIOUS IN HOLINESS.
The holiness of God stands above all the other perfections of the Lord, and it should in our hearts and minds. It is the only attribute called out in Heaven by angels – “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” – Isaiah 6:3. And by the way, that is repeated in Revelation – “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” HOLINESS is God’s glory and beauty – NOT the Bethlehem manger or the face of Mary. Holiness is God’s very life, for He swears both by His life and by His holiness. Holiness is the crown and beauty of all His other attributes. His power is holy power; His wisdom is holy wisdom. Without holiness His patience would be indulgence, His power would be tyranny, and His wisdom mere subtlety. “Holy is his name“ – Luke 1:49. “The Lord is holy in all his works“ – Psalm 145:17.
As a general definition, holiness is a perfect and unpolluted freedom from all evil. Elohim and evil are mutually exclusive – where one exists the other cannot be. Holiness is essential to God’s nature. Apart from holiness He would not be God. And the Lord didn’t choose to be holy, because if that we true, He might have chosen NOT to be holy. But it is not a matter of God’s choice, because it is a part of His being. Furthermore, the Lord alone is holy. No one else is holy in the same way. “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glory thy name? For thou only art holy.” Those who are singing the words of Revelation 15:4 are saints who came out of the Tribulation. And I find it interesting that “they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, Saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” They are singing a new version of Moses’ song from here in Exodus 15. “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glory thy name? For thou only art holy.”
Since evil – sin – is the opposite of holiness, the holy God must of necessity hate it. And what if he didn’t? If He didn’t hate evil, He would become an enemy to His own nature. So by His nature He hates the workers of iniquity because of their sinful natures – Psalm 5:5. But how can this possibly meld with God’s declared love for the workers of iniquity whom He saves? It is almost universally declared that God loves even the most wicked people on earth. He is depicted as casting the really, really bad people into Hell with tears pouring down His face. That may be the depiction of the liberal theologian, but it’s not a picture we find in the Bible. “The wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth” – Psalm 10:3. “Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.” – Leviticus 20:23.
How can the holy God hate wickedness and the wicked man who commits it, and still love those whom He redeems? The answer is – “Miraculously and graciously.” He must maintain His absolute holiness, while accomplishing the unthinkable. And it is explained in verse after verse which are so commonly quoted we miss the miracle. Romans 5:8 – “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The only way the holy God could love wicked sinners like us, was to pour out His wrath against our wickedness upon Himself – upon His Son. Ephesians 2 – “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins… and were by nature the children of wrath… But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;).” The only way grace could pass the test of God’s holiness is through the sacrifice of Christ. That is how infinitely holy God is. “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
God – Jehovah – Elohim – is also FEARFUL IN PRAISES.
I have to be honest; over the past month, many times my head has started to spin as I have contemplated and meditated on the person of our God. Some of the Lord’s attributes are crystal clear – like holiness, but they are so powerful they knock me down. And other things are so infinite or so complicated that the higher I rise in them the oxygen gets so thin that I begin to swoon.
For example, what is the meaning of “fearful in praises?” This is the first time in the Bible that the word “praises” is used and all 57 times it is “praise” or “praises.” I think we should have a basic understanding of that word. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him all creatures here below.” “Praise him above, ye heav’nly host;. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” The Hebrew word “fearful” is common – used in the Bible slightly more than 300 times. About 250 times it is translated “fear,” “fearful,” and “afraid,” meaning just what you’d expect. But several times it is translated “terrible” and “dreadful.” And then 3 times it has a another special use which I’ll get to in a moment. What if we insert some of those other words into this verse? “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, glorious in holiness, TERRIBLE in praises.” “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, who is like thee, DREADFUL in praises.”
How is it that Jehovah God is fearful in PRAISES? The reality is that even in our sincere praise we fall infinitely short of His perfections and holiness. Picture those famous angels who are around the throne of God in Isaiah 6. They are themselves holy, but not so holy as to be compared to the Lord. They cry out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is fully of His glory.” And what is their posture before God? Humility and modesty. They use their beautiful and glorious wings, to cover their faces and feet before the Lord. Even in their most perfect praise they are humble, if not actually fearful.
I don’t often use the word “awesome” because it is overused and misused so much today. But it is a good word when employed in its proper context. And the only context we have it in the Word of God is before the throne of God – as were those angels. “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him” – Psalm 33:8.
Another way in which Elohim is fearful in praises involves the REASON for our praises. Like Moses’ song, Psalm 106 is another song of praise to God based on the history of Israel. “Praise ye the LORD. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who can utter the mighty acts of the LORD? who can shew forth all his praise? Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies, but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red Sea. And he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. Then believed they his words; they sang his praise. (But) they soon forgat his works… but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness and tempted God… They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt. Wondrous works in the land of Ham and TERRIBLE things by the Red Sea.” In the midst of his praise to God, the Psalmist uses the same Hebrew word Moses used – “terrible.”
In many of the things for which God should be praised, some are so awesome that the word “terrible” becomes appropriate. As you look at the Grand Canyon, or the slopes of Mt. St. Helens, try to picture what the flood was like. It saved Noah and his family, meaning God should be praised, but it destroyed the rest of humanity. The holiness of God displayed itself in a fearful, dreadful way. Consider Elijah on the plateau peak of Mt. Carmel, tinkering with God’s altar, pouring barrels of water over the sacrifice before calling down fire from heaven. Many of the people of Israel went away that day thinking, “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
A few minutes ago, I said that the Hebrew word “fearful” is translated in another special way. It is used 3 times in this way, but I’ll just point you to one of them. It’s in the scripture which we read during our song service – Psalm 89. “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. The heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints. For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in REVERENCE of all them that are about him.” In this case our word “fearful” is rendered as “reverence.” The praises of the holy God must be rendered to Him in reverence.
“Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
Moses’ last point was “Who is like our God in DOING WONDERS.“
Like “praises,” this is again the first time the word “wonders” is used in the Bible. So this is an unusual and important verse. Here and everywhere else, it refers to works of God so spectacular that they draw our wonder – our amazement. It is one of the synonyms for “miracles.”
And remember that Moses was thinking back to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. He said, “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation. The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea… The depths have covered them; they sank into the bottom as a stone.” Moses didn’t stop there in his hymn; he spoke of additional deliverances, from Edom and Moab. And his last verse looked to the miraculous future – “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.”
Moses personally witnessed a handful of great miracles, beginning with the burning bush and running through the ten plagues. Perhaps he might even have spoken of his own birth, education and deliverance before he turned 40. But many of the Lord’s greatest wonders were yet to come, and Moses knew nothing of these. He had not yet seen lepers healed, but he would – even his own sister. He had not yet seen the multiplication of bread and fish, but soon he’d witness the equivalent. He had not witnessed the resurrection of the dead. So far he had only a small taste of the wonders of God. But still his mouth was full of the Lord’s praise in that regard. “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
What do you suppose Moses would have said was the greatest of all God’s wonders? I suppose that it would be pointless to speculate. But what, from your perspective, would you say is the greatest of all God’s miracles? A great many semi-religious “Christians” on this particular day, might point to the birth of Christ. Admittedly the incarnation of the Son of God was an important and powerful event requiring a miracle of the highest order. “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
But in truth, the end of the earthly life of Christ, involves miracles infinitely greater than what took place at its commencement. As I explained earlier, the holiness of God, was a part of that miracle. And as expressed over the last couple of weeks, the justice of God and several other divine attributes were miraculously incorporated into the gospel of our salvation. That the holy God should love a single sinner among us – even the very best of us – is almost inexplicable. That the perfect justice of God could be so manipulated so as allow even one of us to escape Hell, required the highest of all miracles. I’m speaking of the substitutionary sacrifice of the Son of God for the likes of us – wretched sinners. In Christ, God was both just and still the justifier of those to whom He gave faith to believe.
You do have faith don’t you? I’m not talking about the birth of the baby Jesus – yes, I assume that you believe that. I’m talking about the death of the man Jesus – the Son of Man, the Son of God. Christ did not die to provide the possibility and hope that you’d one day be saved. Christ died on the cross to give His life as a ransom for many. For you?
“Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”