Emancipation – “The freeing of someone from slavery” – became law in the 19th century, when all slavery was abolished in the then British Empire, and when the slaves heard about the coming declaration they gathered together the night before to celebrate and offer thanksgiving for their freedom, and throughout the Caribbean and the United States the celebration began and still continues today in most locations.
“On midnight of July 31, 1838 it was reported with great pride that many slaves journeyed to the hilltops to greet the sunrise of Friday, August 1, 1838 that symbolized a new beginning in their lives. When morning broke, large congregations joined in thanksgiving services held in several chapels and churches across the island.” [How We Celebrate Emancipation Day – Government of Jamaica]. “The tradition of marking the end of slavery with Emancipation Day celebrations began in South Carolina on January 1, 1863–the day the Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln declared three million slaves in the Confederate states to be “thenceforward, and forever free.” Since then, African Americans in South Carolina have gathered annually on New Year’s Day to commemorate the “Day of Jubilee” with food, song, dance, and prayer.” [scencyclopedia.org]. “Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs” [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia].
And so it began, as recorded in Exodus 15, after the Israelites were set free by God from their years of slavery in Egypt; “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” <Ex.15:1-2 (NIV)>. The song begins with a reminder of God’s proclamation <see Ex.6:6-8>, God had become their salvation; as they all stood on the shore of the Red sea while the enemy approached, they were terrified, but Moses stated God’s promise; “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still” <Ex.14:14 (NIV)>. Similarly, God made a promise to all mankind, He promised to send a Saviour to free us from the slavery of sin because there was nothing that we could do to free ourselves <see Gen.3:15; Rom.16:20; Isa.9:6-7; Lk.2:11; 19:10>; and Christ accomplished our salvation over sin and eternal death through the Cross <1 Cor.15:55-56; Rom.5:8-9; 1 Pet.1:3-5, 18-19; cf Ex.15:3-10>. The enemy (Egyptians) boasted and pursued in an attempt to overtake the Israelites <Ex.15:9>; God completed the Israelite’s salvation by destroying their enemy, and Christ accomplished this for all mankind by providing our salvation <see Eph.6:12; Col.2:13-16>, by which our greatest enemy, eternal death, was, and will be forever destroyed <1 Cor.15:25-26, 55-57; Heb.2:14-15>.
This song celebrates their freedom as they witnessed the victory over their enemy <Ex.14:30-31> and they could only express it in the terms of God’s holiness, glory and power; “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed them.” <Ex.15:11-12 (NIV)>, and thus God calls all who follow Him to be holy (separated) and to worship Him in the mindset of holiness <Lev.19:2; 1 Sam.2:2; 1 Chron.16:29>. The song also acknowledges God’s unfailing love to them, a love that they had not fully comprehended at that point in time, for as they continued through their wilderness journey they would experience God’s unfailing love every day of their lives as God led them through the good and bad times of their long trek; “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” <Ex.15:13 (NIV); cf Ex.13:21-22; Psa.77:19-20>.
The song not only commemorated their existing circumstances, it also looked to the future promises God had made to Abraham and the Israelites <see Ge.13:15; Ex.6:8>; as they sang about their redemption, the reality that God was leading them to their possession, and the truth that God will reign eternally over His Kingdom; “You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance — the place, O Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established. The Lord will reign for ever and ever.” <Ex.15:17-18 (NIV)>. This is also true for all who follow Christ, He has promised to lead and guide us through our earthly (wilderness) journey until He brings us safely into His eternal dwelling place <Jn.14:1-3>.
So it is with all of us today who are followers of Christ; we can sing His praise for all He has done, is doing, and will continue to do for us; in similarity to the Israelites, we too will experience great difficulties in our life journey, but as we consider all the blessings God has showered upon us we too can sing our songs of praise. But what about those who have not experienced God’s redemption, His emancipation from a life of sinful desires and activities; how can such people sing the Song of Redemption? So often we hear the song “Amazing Grace” (by John Newton, “who himself was a slave during his lifetime and was later rescued. He later worked on slave ships for many years. He later experienced conversion to Christianity, becoming an evangelical clergyman and a prominent supporter of abolitionism.” [source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]) being sung for various occasions and reasons; but is this being sung through the experience of a real redemption from a life of sin, or is it just because the tune is captivating. Only a real experience of redemption from sin can be expressed by such terms as: “He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” Can you do so?