“It is not the sound of the cry [עֲנוֹת] of triumph;
Nor is it the sound of the cry [עֲנוֹת] of defeat;
But the sound of singing [עַנּוֹת] I hear.”
The emotion in this poem is communicated through sound and sense rather than images. The repetition of similar sounds, the Hebrew words in brackets, draws attention strongly to the last line demanding further contemplation of the word for “singing.” Singing reflects an emotional response, and in this case it is a musical response to something very bad. Sometimes things are not as they seem.
The ironic sense of the poem relates primarily to the word singing. Word-play is involved as evidenced by noting once again the Hebrew italicized terms in the above translation. The third word (עַנּוֹת) differs from the preceding two words by the presence of a dagesh (sound-hardening point). This same spelling, dagesh included, reflects two different words: singing and affliction (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 776-777). Here is the irony: The people are singing enthusiastically in a fog of spiritual affliction. Having made a “god” to lead them back to Egypt, they rejoiced thinking that a problem had been resolved. In reality they had entered the spiritual darkness of idolatry. Moses’ response can be paraphrased thus:
“This is not a sound in response to victory in war;
And this is not a sound in response to defeat in war;
This is a sound of enthusiastic singing by a spiritually afflicted people that I am hearing.”
But again, sometimes things are not as they seem. In the context of Israel, the irony clearly applies. They sang while sinning. They experienced an illusion of spiritual victory. In the context of Christianity, the irony may also apply. Have we ever sung, “All to Jesus I Surrender,” without having the slightest intention of doing so? How much of our worship is illusion? We must constantly evaluate our spiritual lives so that when it comes to worship things really are as they seem.