Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Power of the Tongue (Proverbs 18:21)

Complete this Proverb: “Death and life are in the power of __________.” The tongue (Proverbs 18:21)

A well-known children’s verse asserts that “sticks and stones may break my bones/but names will never hurt me.” The book of Proverbs rejects this conventional wisdom, asserting that the tongue carries power, the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21).

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21 NASB)
The power of words is a common theme in the book of Proverbs. Kathleen A. Farmer (b. 1943) tracks:
A number of sayings (including several editorial clusters) are concerned with wise and foolish ways of using human powers of communication. Fully, a third of the sayings in chapters 10, 12, and 26 are related to this topic. The sayings acknowledge that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), that “a soft tongue will break a bone” (Proverbs 25:15), that “the lips of the wise will preserve them” (Proverbs 14:3), and that the speech of the “worthless” is “like a scorching fire” (Proverbs 16:27). Thus, the originators of these sayings endorse a viewpoint shared by many of their counterparts in other cultures. For instance in the Instruction of Ani an Egyptian sage says, “A man may fall to ruin because of his tongue” (vii.7-11; Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 420), and in the Elephantine texts the Assyrian scribe Ahiqar says, “More than all watchfulness watch thy mouth...For a word is a bird: once released no one can recapture it,” and “Soft is the tongue of a king, but it breaks a dragon’s ribs” (The Words of Ahiqar vii.98, 105b-106; Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 428-29). This same attitude is echoed in a later era by a New Testament author: “The tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small [tongue of] fire!”(James 3:5-8). (Farmer, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes: Who Knows What is Good? (International Theological Commentary), 84)
The potency of words is of particular interest in the book’s eighteenth chapter (Proverbs 18:1-24). Leo G. Perdue (b. 1946) explores:
Language is once again a common theme in this chapter of the second subdivision [Proverbs 18:1-24]. The recognition of the power of speech that creates and destroys life is reaffirmed: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). A proper answer following careful hearing and moral reflection is emphasized by the sages: “The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly” (Proverbs 18:23, see Proverbs 18:13, 15, 20). The depth of human speech that often escapes simple understanding is underscored in the saying “The words of the mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a gushing stream” (Proverbs 18:4). It is only through wisdom, as moral reflection and careful thought, that understanding is obtained. By contrast, fools misuse language to their and others’ detriment: “A fool’s lips bring strife, and a fool’s mouth invites a flogging” (Proverbs 18:6, see Proverbs 18:7, 13). The abuse of language in the words of a whisperer misshapes his or her character (Proverbs 18:8). (Perdue, Proverbs (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 183-84)
Christopher B. Ansberry (b. 1980) concurs:
The thematic movement between the sub-collections is also evident with respect to their treatment of communication. Solomon 1B [Proverbs 16:1-22:16] reinforces various dialogical principles presented in the Proverbs 10-15. Several aphorisms describe the individual and communal implications of proper and improper speech (e.g., Proverbs 16:28, 30, 17:20, 18:7; cf. Proverbs 10:11, 21, 11:19, 13:2, 14:3). Other sayings highlight the inherent power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21; cf. Proverbs 12:18, 25), the forensic significance of dishonest speech (Proverbs 19:5, 9, 28, 21:28; cf. Proverbs 12:17, 14:5, 25), the effects of descriptive discourse (Proverbs 17:4, 7, 19:22, 21:6; cf. Proverbs 10:18, 12:19, 14:5, 25), and the value of silence (Proverbs 17:27, 28, 21:23; cf. Proverbs 10:19, 11:12, 13:3). These principles receive comparable attention in each sub-collection. (Ansberry, Be Wise, My Son, and Make My Heart Glad: An Exploration of the Courtly Nature of the Book of Proverbs, 108-09)
Proverbs 18:21 and its predecessor (Proverbs 18:20) form a two-verse cluster. Dave Bland (b. 1953) connects:
This proverb pair [Proverbs 18:20-21] describes the power of the organs of speech: mouth, lips, and tongue (see Proverbs 10:18-21). (Bland, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs (College Press NIV Commentary), 172)
The aphorisms are joined by a thematic buzzword: fruit. Christine R. Yoder (b. 1968) bridges:
The word “fruit” frames the...two proverbs [Proverbs 18:20-21]; it is the first word of Proverbs 18:20 and the last of Proverbs 18:21. Just as gossip is like delicious morsels that descend into the body’s innermost parts (Proverbs 18:8), speech—whether positive or negative—is like fruit and harvest (“yield”) that fills the bellies of speaker and hearer alike. (Yoder, Proverbs (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries), 200)
Knut Martin Heim (b. 1963) contextualizes:
Proverbs 18:20-21 introduce[s] a new sub-unit on the use of speech. They may still relate to the legal context of the preceding unit, although their application is much broader. Special attention has been given to their composition, as the many linking features,...daring metaphors and the almost paradoxical imagery demonstrate. Together, they vigorously challenge the untutored to learn the proper use of his “tongue”, for this ability will bring him immense profit to the point that it can save his life and/or enhance his life-style, while lack of eloquence may actually be perilous. (Heim, Like Grapes of Gold Set in Silver: An Interpretation of Proverbial Clusters in Proverbs 10:1-22:16, 251)
Proverbs 18:21 is the lens through which Proverbs 18:20 is best interpreted. Derek Kidner (1913-2008) apprises:
The second of this pair of proverbs [Proverbs 18:20-21], with its warning to the talkative, throws a sobering light on the first. Both of them urge caution, for satisfied (Proverbs 18:20) can mean ‘sated’: the meaning, good or bad, will depend on the care taken. James Moffatt [1870-1944] paraphrases Proverbs 18:20 well, but one-sidedly: ‘A man must answer for his utterances, and take the consequences of his words.’ W.O.E. Oesterley [1860-1950] quotes the witty saying of Ahikar: “My son, sweeten thy tongue, and make savoury the opening of thy mouth; for the tail of a dog gives him bread, and his mouth gets him blows.’ (Kidner, Proverbs (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), 130)
The proverb’s first clause affirms the tongue’s power (Proverbs 18:21a). Bruce K. Waltke (b.1930) informs:
Of the tongue is another common metonymy for good or bad in this book (Proverbs 10:20, 12:18, 15:2, 4 versus Proverbs 12:19, 17:4, 20), complementing “mouth” and “lip” in the proverb pair. And adds the parallel that qualifies verset A. (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 86)
Riad Aziz Kassis expounds:
The tongue is viewed in Proverbs as the organ which expresses thoughts. A good tongue is regarded highly in Proverbs. The tongue is נבחר כםך (Proverbs 10:20) and as מרסא (Proverbs 12:18) and חיים (Proverbs 18:21; cf. Proverbs 15:4). Such descriptions suggest that speech does not consist of mere words spoken ‘in the air’, but has a powerful effect in life. Words are intended actions. The value of the tongue is seen in the fruits of good speech which bring satisfaction to both individual and community (Proverbs 12:14, 13:2, 18:20. (Kassis, The Book of Proverbs and Arabic Proverbial Works, 117)
Mark Driscoll (b. 1970) and Gerry Breshears (b. 1947) apply:
In many ways, the tongue is an indicator of the heart, because Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks [Matthew 12:34].” The disciple of Jesus learns to speak under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, who enables him or her to speak truthfully in love in a manner that is appropriate for both the hearer and for Jesus, who is listening to our words. The key is to get our time listening to God through his Word so that when we do speak, we echo Jesus with loving words. (Driscoll and Breshears, Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods, 202)
Death and life are in the “power” of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Though most translations render the Hebrew yâd with its figurative meaning “power” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV) or omit it (CEV, MSG, NLT), the word literally means “hand”.

Christine R. Yoder (b. 1968) clarifies:

Life and death are “in the hand of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21a); “hand” may refer to a person’s power, much as the English expression “The matter is in your hands” means you have control over it (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:36; Joshua 8:20). The tongue or speech one “loves” determines one’s fate, just as the choice between wisdom and folly has life and death consequences (Proverbs 1-9, see especially wisdom’s “fruit,” Proverbs 8:19; cf. Proverbs 31:31). (Yoder, Proverbs (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries), 200-01)
Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) relays:
“Are in the hand of the tongue.” James G. Williams [b. 1936] (1980:47) sees this as an allusion to Lady Wisdom: “The tongue is like a woman who offers fruit to her friends.” See the image in Proverbs 8:19. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (The Anchor Bible), 645)
Speech carries life and death implications. Similar consequences are relayed in Proverbs 13:3, 21:23. Roland Murphy (1917-2002) comments:
The significance of speech is intensified by the reference to death and life. Since these are particularly the domain of the Lord, there is a strong affirmation of “the power (literally ‘hand’) of the tongue.” Does this refer to the speaker or those he addresses? Perhaps both. There is a similar proverb in Sirach 37:18 concerning the power of the tongue over life and death. It is not clear what “it” in “love it” refers to. It seems to be the tongue and so would refer to the possibility of talking foolishly or wisely. This would seem to include the alternative of life/death. (Murphy, Proverbs (Word Biblical Commentary))
Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) affirms:
Speech has the power to give and preserve life and well-being and to bring death and destruction, both to the speaker (Proverbs 12:6b, 13a, 13:2a, 3, 18:7) and to others (Proverbs 10:11a, 11:9a, 12:6a, 13a, 18). Radaq [1160-1235] says that slander kills three people: its speaker, its listener, and its victim. Paired with Proverbs 19:29, however, Proverbs 18:21 concerns particularly its impact on the speaker. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (The Anchor Bible), 645)
Bruce K. Waltke (b.1930) bounds:
The merism death and life (see Proverbs 2:18, 19, 5;5, 6, 8:35, 36, 12:28, 13:14, 14:27, 16:14, 15) comprehends all manner of weal and woe. Speech effects more than clinical death and life. The merism speaks of relationship within community or the lack of it. The deadly tongue disrupts community and by its lethal power isolates its owner from community and kills him. The life-giving tongue creates community and by its vitality gives it possessor the full enjoyment of the abundant life within the community. (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 86)
Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) condenses:
Death is the end of the road for those who use their speech to hurt others. (Longman, How to Read Proverbs, 153)
While the proverb’s opening line is relatively straightforward, its second clause is problematic: “those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21 NASB). Among the challenges facing the interpreter are identifying the undefined “those”, “it” and “fruit”.

Allen P. Ross (b. 1943) theorizes:

The referent of “it” must be “the tongue,” i.e., what the tongue says. So those who enjoy talking, i.e. indulging in it, must bear its fruit. The Midrash mentions this point, showing one way it can cause death: “The evil tongue slays three, the slanderer, the slandered, and the listener” (Midrash Tehillim 52:2; see further James G. Williams [b. 1936], “The Power of Form: A Study of Biblical Proverbs,” Semeia 17 [1980]” 35-38). (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Proverbs~Isaiah (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 164)
Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) agrees:
Those tho love it [feminine]: Namely, the tongue. Those who cherish fine speech and hold it in respect will (as the preceding verse says) enjoy its fruit...Franz Delitzsch [1813-1890] wonders if the (feminine) antecedent of “it” refers to wisdom, which is the usual object of love in Proverbs, but the word is not available in the context. Since one does not actually love the tongue, Richard J. Clifford [b. 1934] identifies the antecedent of “it” (feminine singular) as “life” (masculine plural) or “death” (masculine singular) and translates “those who choose one shall eat its fruit.” But though it is true that a feminine singular pronoun can have a vague plurality as its antecedent, it cannot have a disjunctive antecedent (either-or), especially when neither of the antecedents agrees grammatically with the pronoun. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (The Anchor Bible), 645)
The use of “love” is also noteworthy. Robert Alter (b. 1935) interjects:
The choice of the verb “love” is revealing in regard to the underlying attitude toward language. A cultivated person delights in language and takes pleasure in its apt use, and this exercise of well-considered expression will redound to his profit. In this fashion, the ethic of articulate speech in Proverbs mirrors the form of the proverbs themselves, which, at least in intention, are finely honed articulations of wisdom, often exhibiting concise wit. (Alter, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary, 272)
Some have contended that “those who love it” refers to loquacious people (Proverbs 18:21). Bruce K. Waltke (b.1930) interprets:
Those who love it (i.e., “the tongue” [=speech]; see Proverbs 1:22) designates people who “are in love with language; they use it fastidiously, they search for chaste expression and precise meaning, and they have an end in view which they will reach because they know what language is for and how it can best be used to achieve its purpose.” Their objective may be good (i.e., producing life; cf. Proverbs 4:6, 8:17, 12:1, 13:24, 16:13, 22:11, 29:3) or bad (i.e., producing death; cf. Proverbs 1:11, 8:36, 17:19, 20:13, 21:17). (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 86)
Knut Martin Heim (b. 1963) educates:
The participle of אהב, “to love” denotes a continuous activity. The expression “to love the tongue” does not refer to someone who likes to talk a lot. Rather, it denotes the positive character who diligently improves his oral skills and knows how to employ them wisely, be it by saying the right thing at the right time or by remaining quiet when appropriate. (Heim, Like Grapes of Gold Set in Silver: An Interpretation of Proverbial Clusters in Proverbs 10:1-22:16, 251)
Another vague term which must be defined is “fruit”. Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) investigates:
Some scholars take “fruit” to refer to consequences, good or evil, that follow upon one’s words. An alternative view is that “fruit” here is good fruit as opposed to barrenness. The meaning would be that speech is powerful and the wise use it economically in order to achieve the intended result. Through the careful choice of words, their language is fruitful...In my view neither is satisfactory. On the one hand, the statement that people are satisfied with the fruit (Proverbs 18:20) excludes the view that good or bad consequences are in view. No one is satisfied with something that does not have its intended effect. On the other hand, not all fruit is good, as the text implies in speaking of tongues’ having the power of death, a destructive force (Proverbs 18:21)...Rather, Proverbs 18:20 asserts that people have a sense of self-satisfaction about their own words. To put it another way, they delight in airing their own opinions. And yet the tongue can be highly dangerous. The purpose of these verses is to warn against being too much in love with one’s own words. One should recognize the power of words and use them with restraint. Voicing one’s views, here ironically described as eating the fruit of the tongue, can be an addictive habit with dangerous results. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 166-67)
Bruce K. Waltke (b.1930) deciphers:
On its own this proverb could refer to eating (i.e., taking into one’s being) the speech of others, buts its close connection with Proverbs 18:20 suggests that it continues the oxymoron of eating the consequences in an exact correspondence to the way one speaks (cf. Proverbs 13:3, 15:23, 21:23). By placing in the outer core of its chiastic synthetic parallels word-initial “death and life” (Proverbs 18:21a) and word-final “fruit (Proverbs 18:21b), the proverb clarifies and intensifies the metaphor of “fruit” in Proverbs 18:20. Its inner core, matching “in the power of the tongue” with “those who love it,” clarifies that for the speech to effect life or death one must earnestly desire to speak, to pursue it, and to stick with it. This commitment to speech precedes the rewards of Proverbs 18:20, as eating precedes being filled. (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 86)
Some have inferred courtroom implications. Kathleen A. Farmer (b. 1943) envisions:
Perjury (giving a false testimony) under such a system brings about a failure in justice: “A worthless witness mocks at justice” (Proverbs 19:28). The story in I Kings 21:1-29 (about Naboth’s vineyard) illustrates the lethal power lying witnesses can have. The saying that attributes the power of life and death to the tongue (Proverbs 18:21) may be most appropriately quoted in this legal setting. (Farmer, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes: Who Knows What is Good? (International Theological Commentary), 86-87)
Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (1954) construe the aphorism in terms of advice:
Proper advice has a wide effect on the society and on the individual who offers it. The development of such advice takes discipline and devotion. One has to love it in order to do it. If one does it well, then one can do well and be successful. (Kravitz and Olitzky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 184)
Others have seen a spiritual principle involved: inner vows become reality or in the words of Michael Jackson (1958-2009), “the lie becomes the truth”. D.J. Jewels exemplifies:
What we say has everything to do with what comes about in our lives. If we constantly talk death, eventually that will happen and you stop any kind of life from enveloping your being. If we talk life, on the other hand, we will bring that life into our being...If we can get a real understanding of this concept, we will begin to use what we say to our advantage instead of disadvantage...You attract life when you speak life and living into your being and you attract death when you do not. (Jewels, God’s Original Law of Attraction)
In a more mainstream outlet, Joel Osteen (b. 1963) quotes Proverbs 18:21 three times in his book, Your Words Hold a Miracle. He implores:
You can change your world by changing your words, and specifically by agreeing with and speaking the Word of God. (Osteen , Your Words Hold a Miracle: The Power of Speaking God’s Word)
While the verse’s particulars are debated, its main thrust is not: Words are influential. John Chrystostom (347-407), whose eloquence garnered him his surname which means “Golden Mouth”, preaches:
Christ makes the same point when he says, “By your own words you will be condemned, and by your words you will be justified” [Matthew 12:37]...The tongue stands in the middle ready for either use; you are its master. So also does a sword lie in the middle; if you use it against the enemy, it becomes an instrument for your safety; if you use it to wound yourself, it is not the steel but your own transgression of the law that causes your death. Let us think of the tongue in the same way, as a sword lying in the middle. Sharpen it to accuse yourself of your own sins, but do not use it to wound your brother...Hence, God has surrounded the tongue with a double wall—with the barrier of the teeth and the fence of the lips—in order that it may not easily and heedlessly utter words it should not speak. BAPTISMAL INSTRUCTIONS 9.33-35. (J. Robert Wright [b. 1936], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 123)
Ellen F. Davis (b. 1950) considers:
The first verse [Proverbs 18:20], taken by itself, could be read as a purely utilitarian statement: a good command of words puts food on the table. So I recently heard a patent attorney comment that his business is “selling words.” Such a utilitarian view of speaking is very common among us; words are widely regarded as marketable commodities. Politicians and advertisers are eager to find words that will sell but rarely feel morally bound by what they have said. A presidential press secretary, confronted with a clear contradiction in his remarks, observed that the earlier statement was “inoperative.” It is telling that he chose a word that comes from the world of machinery. One might say that we have become a culture of “word processors.” We rapidly produce words and delete them, hoping they will disappear without a trace from human memory, as they do from a computer screen...But the second verse [Proverbs 18:21] shows how inadequate is that mechanistic understanding of speech. The fruit-bearing tongue is a living source of nourishment, delight, sustenance. “A healing tongue is a tree of life” (Proverbs 15:4)...But words can destroy as well as heal: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” [Proverbs 18:21] That proverb is the opposite pole from our own: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” On the contrary, the biblical perception is that words are powerful bearers of intention, for good and for ill. In speaking, we imitate God, who once spoke the world into being. Serving God requires that our words further the intentions first expressed in God’s own purposeful word (Isaiah 55:11)...The widespread degradation of words in our culture point to the need to highlight the clear biblical witness in this matter, if the church is itself to be a center of godly speech that gives life to its members. Within the New Testament, the letter of James, whose thought at many points echoes that of the sages, names an undisclosed tongue as “a fire...a world of iniquity” (James 3:6). One contemporary theologian issues a profound and imaginative challenge to the church: to recognize itself as a “guild of philogians,” literally “word-lovers.” He challenges us, not to be better Scrabble players, but to engage in “that word-caring, that meticulous and conscientious concern for the quality of conversation and the truthfulness of memory, which is the first casualty of sin” (Nicholas Lash [b. 1934], “Ministry of the Word,” 476). Truthful words, backed up with our lives, are all that we offer God in worship. Caring words are often all that we have to offer one another, the best salve that we have for healing wounds, the best mortar we have for building up the whole body of the church. (Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (Westminster Bible Companion), 112-13)
William Mouser (b. 1947) compresses:
Our words possess an awesome power for evil, but they also have an awesome power for good. For all that, words are not magic. Their power lies not so much in themselves as it does in the characters of those who speak them and those who hear them. (Mouser, Proverbs: Learning to Live Wisely, 36)
Actions may speak louder than words, but words are laced with power. All who have a tongue must remain aware of the power with which they are endowed. Like a puppy who must learn that its bite hurts, we must train ourselves in speech. Proverbs challenges us to hone these skills.

How would you restate Proverbs 18:21? Why is it true? Does the proverb take its own advice; are its word’s wisely chosen? How beneficial is being eloquent? Do you value words? What steps are you taking to improve your oratory skills? When have your words been used for good? For evil?

History is filled with examples which validate the proverb’s truth. Warren W. Wiersbe (b. 1929) notes:

Never underestimate the power of words. For every word in Adolf Hitler [1889-1945]’s book Mein Kampf, 125 people died in World War II. Solomon was right: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). No wonder James compared the tongue to a destroying fire, a dangerous beast, and a deadly poison (James 3:5-8). Speech is a matter of life or death. (Wiersbe, Proverbs, Be Skillful: God’s Guidebook to Wise Living, 133)
Woodrow Kroll (b. 1944) illustrates:
It’s naïve to think that our words don’t have an influence on others around us...Even offhand comments, like the one a reviewer made about “Richard’s chubby sister,” can have devastating results. When Richard’s sister, singer Karen Carpenter [1950-1983], heard this comment, she became so obsessed with losing weight that she soon became anorexic and died of heart failure when she was only 32...A story like that may be the exception rather than the rule, but we’ve all experienced the hurt that can come with someone else’s words. (Kroll, Proverbs: The Pursuit of God’s Wisdom, 83)
Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. (b. 1949) adds:
The tongue can kill—literally. I heard about a woman in Los Angeles who took her own life. All she wrote in her suicide note was this: “They said.” In his suicide note, Vince Foster [1945-1993] of the Clinton White House wrote of Washington, “Here ruining people is considered sport.” “Death [is]...in the power of the tongue.” That is why Jesus said, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). Words do not even have to be intentional to be deadly; they can be careless. (Ortlund, Proverbs: Wisdom that Works (Preaching the Word))
Our own tongues may not produce such dire consequences but they have great effect. The death blow our tongue deals is often to those closest to us. Chip Ingram (b. 1954) cautions:
Recognize the power of your words. The Scriptures say that there is life and death in the power of words (see Proverbs 18:21). What comes out of your mouth literally has the power to make or break a person’s day—or ruin his life. Especially if that person is younger. Especially if that person looks up to you. Especially if you are married to that person. (Ingram, The Miracle of Life Change: How God Transforms His Children, 226-27)
Given their significance, the sage’s words imply invoking caution before speaking. Knut Martin Heim (b. 1963) discerns:
The second saying presents him with a crucial choice: life or death [Proverbs 18:21]. By choosing to cultivate his eloquence through hard work, he will gain security and improve his standing...As Raymond C. Van Leeuwen [b. 1948] has observed, “Proverbs 18:21 plays on the feminine grammatical gender of ‘tongue’ to give the saying an erotic tinge...and to turn the hearer’s thought to the powerful ambiguity of love, either for wisdom and life, or folly and death. This connection with the themes of Proverbs 1-9 is heightened by the following saying, in which love of wife parallels love of Lady Wisdom.” (Heim, Like Grapes of Gold Set in Silver: An Interpretation of Proverbial Clusters in Proverbs 10:1-22:16, 251)
Thankfully, the tongue’s power can also be used for the ultimate good. J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988) formulates:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue”—think of that! Your tongue can be used to give out the gospel, and this will give life. It can also be used to say things that would drive people away from God which makes it an instrument of death. The little tongue is the most potent weapon in this world. (McGee, Proverbs (Thru the Bible Commentary Series), 161)
Charles R. Swindoll (b. 1934) assents:
Stop and consider this: “Faith comes from hearing” only when words have communicated the right message, the right way, at the right time (Romans 10:17). God gave humanity the responsibility to carry out His evangelistic, redemptive plan for the world, and we have a solemn responsibility to use words...to accomplish his great command. (Swindoll, Living the Proverbs: Insights for the Daily Grind, 25)
Words can be used for good or evil. The choice is ours.

Which is more powerful, the spoken or written word? Why? Do you exercise restraint in your speech? What is the most good your words have produced? What is the most harm? When have you used your tongue to share the gospel?

“The tongue like a sharp knife, kills without drawing blood.” - Chinese proverb commonly misattributed to the Buddha

Friday, December 20, 2013

Jesus of Nowhere (Luke 1:26)

Where were Joseph and Mary living when the Angel foretold Jesus’ birth? Nazareth

The Gospel of Luke records that the angel Gabriel has the honor of delivering Jesus’ birth announcement (Luke 1:26). Not surprisingly, the first human to receive the good news is the child’s mother, Mary (Luke 1:26-38). The location of the Annunciation, however, was likely shocking to Luke’s original audience. It happens in Nazareth.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27 NASB)
Jesus puts Nazareth on the map. At the time of his birth, the town was largely unknown and those who were familiar with it were not overly impressed (John 1:46). Prior to its association with Christ, Nazareth was nowhere. It was hardly the place one would expect an earthshattering announcement to be made.

Nazareth is situated in Galilee, a small region in northern Israel. It is a long way from Jerusalem, the nation’s religious epicenter. If an ancient traveler trekked at the standard pace of fifteen miles per day it would take four or five days to reach Jerusalem form Nazareth.

Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) introduces:

Nazareth was the village of Jesus’ youth in lower Galilee (Matthew 2:23; Luke 1:26, 2:4, 39), not far north of the Jezreel valley. It is about equidistant from the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean (only fifteen miles from the former). It is identified in the Gospels as the village of Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:39, 51), an identification few have disputed, since Nazareth is not a name one would pick out of the air to be the hometown of a messianic figure. Only four miles away was the capital city, rebuilt by Antipas [20 BCE-39 CE] in 4 B.C., Sepphoris, “the ornament of all Galilee” (Antiquities of the Jews 18.27), but a city predominantly Gentile in character, in a region ringed by Greek city-states (Tyre, Sidon, Scythopolis) and principalities (Gaulanitis and Samaria)...Nazareth seems to have been uninhabited after the Assyrian invasion in 733 B.C. until the second century B.C. It was during the rule of John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.) that the city was finally resettled by Jews, for the region of Galilee was reconquered by this Hasmonean ruler. (Witherington, New Testament History: A Narrative Account)
Though inconsequential, Nazareth is close enough to a major city to not be deemed backward or remote. Walter L. Liefeld (b. 1927) and David W. Pao (b. 1966) situate:
It was off, though not totally inaccessible from the main trade routes. Its close proximity...to the major city of Sepphoris...reminds us that Nazareth was not exactly isolated from the wider cultural world. Its relatively insignificant size contrasts with Jerusalem, where Gabriel’s previous appearance had taken place. (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Luke~Acts (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary))
The text describes Nazareth with the Greek pólis (Luke 1:26). This word is customarily translated as “city” (ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, RSV), “town” (CEV, HCSB, NIV, NRSV) or “village” (MSG, NLT). Though city is an accurate rendering of the Greek, Nazareth certainly does not comply with modern connotations of this term.

Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and, Richard L. Rohrbaugh (b. 1936) clarify:

The Greek word here translated “town” (polis) is the common Hellenistic term for “city.” Yet Nazareth in Jesus’ day could hardly be described in that way. It was a small village of a few hundred people, perhaps under the administrative control of the nearby city of Sepphoris. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 227)
John T. Carroll (b. 1954) comments:
Polis (city) in Greek...[is] perhaps reflecting Luke’s own social world more than the size of this small Galilean town. On Luke’s preference for the term polis, even for towns and villages such as Nazareth, Nain (Luke 7:11), and Bethsaida (Luke 9:10), see Richard L. Rohrbaugh [b. 1936], “The Pre-Industrial City in Luke-Acts: Urban Social Relations” 125-26; Douglas E. Oakman [b. 1953], “The Countryside in Luke-Acts” 170. Luke uses polis 39 times in the Gospel (cf. Mark’s 8 times) and kōmē (village) only 12 times (cf. 7 in Mark). (Carroll, Luke: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 38)
The city’s name has several variant spellings in the New Testament. Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) surveys:
The form of the name of the town varies much, between Nazareth, Nazaret, Nazara, and Nazarath. Karl Theodor Keim [1825-1878] has twice contended strongly for Nazara (Jesus of Nazara, English translation ii. p. 16, iv. p. 108); but he has not persuaded many of the correctness of his conclusions. Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901] and Fenton John Anthony Hort [1828-1892] consider that the evidence when tabulated presents little ambiguity (ii. App. p. 160). Ναζαράθ is found frequently (eight out of eleven times) in Codex Δ, but hardly anywhere else. Ναζαρά is used once by Matthew (Matthew 4:13), and perhaps once by Luke (Luke 4:16). Ναζαρέθ occurs once in Matthew (Matthew 21:11) and once in Acts (Acts 10:38). Everywhere else we have certainly or probably Ναζαρέτ. Thus Matthew uses the three possible forms equally; Luke all three with a decided preference for Nazaret; while Mark and John use Nazaret only. This appears to be fairly conclusive for Nazaret. Yet Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener [1831-1891] holds that “regarding the orthography of this word no reasonable certainty is to be attained” (A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, ii. p. 316); and Henry Alford [1810-1871] seems to be of a similar opinion (I. Prolegomena, p. 97). Bernhard Weiss [1827-1918] thinks that Nazara may have been the original form, but that it had already become unusual when the Gospels were written. (Plummer, St. Luke (International Critical Commentary), 21)
The name’s origin is also disputed. Charles R. Swindoll (b. 1934) speculates:
The name Nazareth most likely derives from one of two Hebrew terms. Netser is the Hebrew word for “branch” or “shoot,” which forms a wordplay for Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1) and Matthew (Matthew 2:23). Just as likely is the Hebrew word natsar, which means “to watch.” Nazareth rested in a bowl-shaped depression 1150 feet (350 meters) above sea level. This made it a perfect place to keep watch over the vast Jezreel Valley (a.k.a. the Plain of Esdraelon, the Valley of Megiddo, Armageddon), roughly one thousand feet below. (Swindoll, Insights on Luke, 43)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) relays:
It has been suggested by Paul Barnett [b. 1935] that the name Nazareth derives from the Hebrew word netzer (branch), indicating that it was resettled by those of Davidic ancestry (see Isaiah 11:1 about the branch and the root of Jesse). The connection between the word netzer and Nazareth seems apparent in texts like Mark 10:47 and Luke 18:37-38. Mary and Joseph, if of Davidic descent, may have found this a natural place to settle at some point. (Witherington, New Testament History: A Narrative Account)
What is not debated is Nazareth’s insignificance, which is apparent when Luke supplies the qualifying phrase “a city in Galilee called...” (Luke 1:26). Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) researches:
Called Nazareth [is]...literally, “the name of which was Nazareth.” Though this phrase is lacking in manuscripts D and the Vetus Latina, it is otherwise attested by the best Greek manuscripts. (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (The Anchor Bible), 343)

The narrator further identifies the locale with the descriptor “in Galilee”. I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) notes:

The description της Γαλιλαίας (Luke 4:31) is added for the benefit of non-Palestinian readers who would probably never have heard of so insignificant a village as Nazareth (Luke 2:4, 39, 51, 4:16, Acts 10:38). The name is variously spelled, modern editors preferring Ναζαρέθ (see Paul Winter [1904-1969], ‘“Nazareth” and “Jerusalem” in Luke chapters 1 and 2’, New Testament Studies 3, 1956-57, 136-42). The site of Nazareth in the Galileean hills has long been known, but only recently has inscriptional evidence been found (Jack Finegan [1908-2000], 27-33). (Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), 64)
The audience’s incomprehension is assumed. This is reasonable as there would be no cause for someone outside of the region to know of Nazareth. The obscure locale simply does not have much to commend it.

David A. Neale briefs:

Nazareth...is so obscure that it is never mentioned in the Old Testament, or in Josephus [37-100]’ list of fifty-six towns in the Galilee. Neither is Nazareth mentioned in the Talmud, which lists sixty-three towns there. “From Jewish literary texts, then, across almost one thousand five hundred years, nothing” (John Dominic Crossan [b. 1934] 1991, 15). This utter obscurity is in itself a literary motif; Jesus a “nobody” from a town no one notices, rises to prominence on the center stage with Jerusalem, albeit tragically so. (Neale, Luke 1-9: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (New Beacon Bible Commentary), 56)
Jonathan Marshall (b. 1978) explores:
Work on Nazareth tends to conclude that it was predominantly a peasant Jewish village with no political importance or conclusive evidence of Hellenization or Romanization before A.D. 40. Following the growing consensus ...on the ethnicity of Galileeans in general, Jonathan L. Reed [b. 1963] and John Dominic Crossan [b. 1934] argue that the people of Nazareth were most likely “Hasmonean colonizers or Jewish settlers” who had arrived within the last two centuries before the common era. Material evidence confirms the picture of a small, Jewish village of approximately 5 hectares and 400 persons. (Marshall, Jesus, Patrons, and Benefactors: Roman Palestine and the Gospel of Luke, 71)
David E. Garland (b. 1947) encapsulates:
The town of Nazareth receives no notice in Scripture, intertestamental literature, Josephus [37-100], or rabbinic literature. This means that the story moves from sacred temple space [Luke 1:8-25] and Judea to farflung nowheresville in Galilee. (Garland, Luke (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 78)
Nazareth is so insignificant that it took centuries to discover it in the archaeological record. Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) informs:
The existence of this insignificant Galileean hamlet is known...from a Hebrew inscription found in 1962 at Caesarea Maritima which, though now fragmentary, listed the twenty-four priestly courses...and the villages or towns where they were resident. It locates the eighteenth course, Happizzez (I Chronicles 24:15), at Nsrt, “Nazareth.” The inscription dates from the end of the third to the beginning of the fourth century A.D. See Michael Avi-Yonah [1900-1974], “A List of Priestly Courses from Caesarea,” Israel Exploration Journal 12 (1962) 137-139; “The Caesarea Inscription of the Twenty-Four Priestly Courses,” in The Teacher’s Yoke: Studies in Memory of Henry Trantham [1882-1962] (editors E. Jerry Vardaman [1927-2000] and James Leo Garrett, Jr. [b. 1925]; Waco, TX: Baylor University, 1964) 46-57. The later prominence of the town is the result of the Christian gospel tradition; for ancient descriptions of it, see Donato Baldi [1888-1965], Enchiridion Locorum Sanctorum § 1-42. (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (The Anchor Bible), 343)
Jonathan L. Reed (b. 1963) expounds:
Excavations under several churches have found dwellings dug into bedrock and around caves. Silos, olive and wine presses, as well as storage jar receptacles are indicative of the village’s agricultural base. Evidence for a necropolis helps determine the extent of the 1st-century ruins, which correlate to a population of well under 500...A 3rd-century C.E. synagogue mosaic inscription from Caesarea locates one of the Jewish priestly courses at Nazareth after the destruction of the temple. It is doubtful that a priestly connection can be retrojected into the 1st century, but it does indicate that Nazareth was acceptable for Jewish priests to settle. (David Noel Freedman [1922-2008], “Nazareth”, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 951)
The detour to Nazareth marks a major departure. Joel B. Green (b. 1956) tracks:
Zechariah’s encounter with Gabriel takes place at the center of the Jewish world, the Holy Place, only a veiled doorway from the presence of God’s glory [Luke 1:5-25]. But Gabriel travels to Mary, far away from the temple mount in Jerusalem, to Nazareth in Galilee — insignificant, despised unclean...The geographical focus has shifted north, from Jerusalem and the Judean hills, to Nazareth in Galilee. The narrative has departed the socio-religious culture center, the temple. Gabriel holds these scenes together as God’s spokesperson [Luke 1:19, 26]. (Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 84-85)
This geographical shift likely jolted Luke’s original audience. R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) characterizes:
The setting of the Annunciation drew amazement from first-century Jewish readers because Gabriel ignored Judea, the heartland of God’s work through the centuries, and came to Galilee, a land that was the subject of abiding Jewish contempt because of its mongrelized population. Even more, the angel not only bypassed Judea for Galilee, but the city of Jerusalem for the village of Nazareth. Nazareth was a “non-place.”...Nazareth, a shoddy, corrupt halfway stop between the port cities of Tyre and Sidon, was overrun by Gentiles and Roman soldiers. When guileless, straight-talking Nathaniel mentioned Nazareth, he said, “‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’” (John 1:46), implying that it was miserably corrupt. By consensus, Nazareth was not much. (Hughes, Luke, Volume One: That You May Know the Truth (Preaching the Word), 29)
Mary is not presented as being any more exceptional than her town of origin. F. Scott Spencer (b. 1956) observes:
Unlike Zechariah’s profile [Luke 1:5-7], Mary’s introduction elicits little expectation of spiritual acumen. She appears as an unremarkable young engaged woman, with the most common Jewish female name of the period, from a small, no-account Galilean village called Nazareth...Her husband-to-be comes from a promising lineage (“the house of David”), but is otherwise undistinguished. Gabriel pays Mary a special visit in her home hamlet, not in the Jerusalem temple, and there is no indication that she has been praying or seeking divine guidance. The angel’s appearance and annunciation are acts of pure grace. (Spencer, The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles (Interpreting Biblical Texts), 104)
Though Nazareth is insignificant, God’s use of it is very significant. God could have positioned Jesus anywhere and yet chooses to place him nowhere. This gives hope to all who stem from humble roots. Jesus’ rearing in Nazareth is a reminder that Christ did not come just for the rich, the religious and the important. As his name indicates, Jesus comes to save all.

Of all of the places in the world, why did God implant Jesus in Nazareth? How do you picture Nazareth? What contemporary location would you equate to ancient Nazareth? Who do you know of who came from nowhere? Who has put their hometown on the map?

Luke’s narrative will revisit Nazareth. Ju Hur notifies:

The geographical settings in the prologue anticipate those given in the rest of the Gospel: desert (Luke 1:80), Judea (Luke 1:39, 65, 2:4), Galilee or Nazareth (Luke 1:26, 2:4, 39, 51) and Jerusalem (Luke 2:22, 25, 38, 41, 45; cf. Bethlehem: Luke 2:4, 15). (Hur, A Dynamic Reading of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, 197)
Jesus will not only return to his hometown (Luke 4:16-30) but will forever be known as “Jesus of Nazareth” (Luke 4:34, 18:37; Acts 10:38, 26:9). Robert F. O’Toole (b. 1936) educates:
More than any other New Testament writer, Luke writes of Jesus’ being from Nazareth...Jesus grew up in Nazareth, and people later use the name of this town to identify him. The annunciation to Mary occurred in Nazareth (Luke 1:26); and since Jesus was from the house of David, Joseph and Mary leave from there to go to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4), but they return with Jesus to Nazareth (Luke 2:39; cf. Luke 2:51) to live...Even evil spirits address him as “Jesus of Nazareth” (Luke 4:34), and by the time of Acts 24:5 the Christians are described as the sect of the Nazarenes. The ordinary people (Luke 18:37) and the disciples refer to Jesus “of Nazareth” (Luke 24:19)...During his earthly life and after his resurrection, both friend and foe knew him as Jesus of Nazareth. (O’Toole, Luke’s Presentation of Jesus: A Christology, 8-9)
Jesus is still remembered as Jesus of Nazareth, a designation to which he never seems to object. Christ’s lowly origins serve as a constant reminder not to overlook anyone no matter how insignificant they may appear to be on the surface.

How do you think that being raised in Nazareth shaped Jesus? Do you think, in modern terms, that Jesus’ hometown represented a “p.r. nightmare”? Where are you from? How does the perception of your hometown shape your image?

“The person you consider ignorant and insignificant is the one who came from God, that he might learn bliss from grief and knowledge from gloom.” - Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Abra(ha)m the Hebrew (Genesis 14:14)

Who was the first Hebrew mentioned in the Bible? Abraham

Genesis 14 is distinct for several reasons. The chapter presents characters and geography unexplored in the rest of the book. Further, the unit’s literary features do not conform to any of the primary sources scholars attribute to Genesis. This episode also marks the first time that the Bible depicts war.

In this conflict, Lot, the nephew of Abram (later Abraham), is captured (Genesis 14:12). This draws the patriarch into the hostility as Abram springs into action to rescue Lot (Genesis 14:13-16). This account provides a rare glimpse of Abraham the warrior. It is in this context that the narrator refers to him by the unique moniker “Abram the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:13).

Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram. (Genesis 14:13 NASB)
The Hebrew term ‘ibrîy is transliterated in most English translations as the “Hebrew” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). The word appears six times in Genesis with every other occurrence coming within the Joseph narrative (Genesis 39:14, 17, 40:15, 41:12, 43:32). Though this is the first time that the term is used in the Bible, it is presented with no introduction.

Richard Elliott Friedman (b. 1946) introduces:

This is an unusual use of the word “Hebrew.” Elsewhere in biblical stories it is used to identify Israelites only when one is speaking among foreigners. It is not the standard term for the people, which is rather “Israelite” at first and “Jew” later. Perhaps it is used here because there are not yet any other Israelites around, and Abraham himself is the foreigner. (Freidman, Commentary on the Torah)
Only here is Abram given this epithet. The parallel passage in the Book of Jubilees (Jubilees 13:24) does not name Abram the Hebrew but neither does it give Aner, Eschol and Mamre their designations.

Claus Westermann (1909-2000) comments:

Abraham is introduced here as העברי. “The appendage, ‘the Hebrew,’ gives the impression that Abraham is named for the first time” (Heinrich Holzinger [1863-1944]; similarly John Skinner [1851-1925]); “the name of Abraham and the place where he lived are introduced anew” (Herman Gunkel [1862-1932]). When Abraham is described as a Hebrew (an anachronism in the patriarchal period), this may well be an addition by the compositor, giving his own viewpoint, who wants to introduce Abraham as a member of another people after the many names of peoples in the preceding passage, Genesis 14:1-11, just as Jonah describes himself as a Hebrew to the foreigners in Jonah 1:9 (Walther Zimmerli [1907-1983]; Moshe Greenberg [1928-2010], “Hab/Piru and Hebrews,” The World History of the Jewish People, II [1970] 197; Manfred Weippert [b. 1937], The Settlement of the Israelite Tribes in Palestine...Study in Bible Theology 21, 2nd Series [1967: English 1974]). Abraham was living by the terebinth of Mamre, the Amorite; this is an indication that he, in contrast to Lot who had become a city dweller, was still closer to the nomadic life style. (Westermann, Genesis 12-36: A Continental Commentary, 199-200)
Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) questions:
The narrator unexpectedly refers to Abram here as the Hebrew, and this is the only time he is so designated. Why in this one instance is this particular title applied to him? Elsewhere he interacts with peoples living outside the land of Palestine (e.g., Genesis 12:10-20 and Genesis 20:1-18), and yet this designation is not used in those contexts. (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 404)
Some have seen the qualifier “the Hebrew” as evidence of an outside source being interjected into the narrative. Joyce G. Baldwin (1921-1995) speculates:
The title Abram the Hebrew suggests an independent account, for it was a designation used by others and not by Israelites, except as an accommodation to other people’s usage, as in Genesis 40:15 (though see also Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12). It seems to have had a derogatory tone about it, and to have meant something like ‘the migrant’, implying that he did not really belong. Nevertheless he has been settled there long enough to have won the confidence of his neighbours Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner. (Baldwin, The Message of Genesis 12–50 (Bible Speaks Today), 46)
Meir Sternberg (b. 1944) expounds:
In scholarly ears, this first occurrence of “Hebrew” has long sounded outlandish, so much so as to betray a provenance outside the canon’s mainstream: a genesis either very later and nationalistic (Hebrew = Israelite) or very ancient and cosmopolitan-minded (Hebrew = Hab/piru)...The late dating (e.g., to an interfering postexilic writer or glossator) is widely surmised in an effort to explain why “Abram the Hebrew” eludes all the usual classifications. It falls out of the main clusters of Hebrewness: the Joseph tale, the Exodus ordeal, the slave law, the Philistine wars...Genuine or apparent, such breaches of canonical norm press for resolution, and late dating is not nearly enough to supply it. One variant of the theory, in fact, does not even make the attempt. Obviously, referring “Abram the Hebrew” to the common “national-religious self-designation of postexilic Judaism,” one which suits nobody better than the father of the nation (Oswald Loretz [b. 1928] 1984:179), amounts to ignoring those breaches by passing them off as observances. The patriarch’s grouping then merely follows the brand-new protocol of self-nomi-nation by the writer’s collective...The majority of late-dating geneticists plead the youth of the variant instead...Thereby, at least, the belated exception concerning Abra(ha)m gets marked off from the ancient Biblical rule of “Hebrew” usage: the alleged postexilic epigones would imitate this rule, but do so with more nationalist zest than literary insight and skill. The word must have reappeared “after the Exile, when it occurs once in the book of Jonah and in the late midrash of Genesis 14,” as a “deliberate archaism” (Roland de Vaux [1903-1971] 1978: 210, 216; also Claus Westermann [1909-2000] 1986:192-93, 199, 207). If the title here came latest in the genesis, then its coming out wrong (alone, prematurely, out of focus) in the received Genesis narrative should make sense...Checked against the set of questions posed by the narrative, however, this line of conjecture fails in turn: its explanatory weakness even reflects on its larger premises, methodological and classificatory. (Steinberg, Hebrews Between Cultures: Group Portraits and National Literature, 308-09)
The meaning of the term Hebrew in this setting is indeterminate. One Midrash contends it is used because Abram spoke the Hebrew language (Midrash HaGadol, Bereishit 14:13). The name has also been connected to Abram’s ancestor Eber (Genesis 10:21), the patriarch’s social standing and a group known as the Hapiru or Habiru.

Kenneth A. Mathews (b. 1950) examines:

Reference to Abram as “the Hebrew” distinguishes him from the person Mamre “the Amorite.” [Genesis 14:13] This is the first place in the Old Testament where “Hebrew” (‘ibrî) occurs, although “Eber” (‘ēber) whose name may be the source for the term, appears prominently in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10:21, 25) and Abram’s genealogy (Genesis 11:16; I Chronicles 1:18-19). Alternatively, “Hebrew” may have been related to -b-r, “to cross over (from the other side),” from which Eber may hay been connected (cf. ‘ēber, “the other side,” Joshua 24:3). The ethnic designation “Hebrew” occurs sparingly in the Old Testament, usually spoken by non-Israelites, such as the Egyptians (e.g., Genesis 39:14, 17; Exodus 1:15-16, 19) and the Philistines (e.g., I Samuel 4:9, 13:3, 19), to distinguish members of the nation of Israel. Joseph identified himself with his homeland, “the land of the Hebrews” (Genesis 40:15). Jonah identifies himself as a “Hebrew” primarily in terms of his religious affiliation (“and I worship Yahweh; Jonah 1:9); this is reminiscent of the appellative for Yahweh in Exodus who is frequently identified as “the God of the Hebrews” (Exodus 3:18, 7:16, 9:1, 13, 10:3). “Hebrew” as a language is equated with “Judahite,” the language of Jerusalem’s residents (II Kings 18:26; II Chronicles 32:18; Isaiah 36:11, 13). Paul, too, used “Hebrew” as an ethnic or language designation (Philippians 3:5). At times the term also had social implications, not solely ethnic usage (e.g., I Samuel 13:3, 6-7, 14:21, 29:3). (Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26 (New American Commentary), 146)
Some interpreters have seen the term Hebrew as indicative of Abram’s position in society; he is from the other side, an outsider. Hebrew is nomenclature used in mixed company to set those given this moniker apart from other people groups. The context supports this reading as this encounter is one of the few times Abram is depicted outside the confines of his own family much less within the broader context of international affairs.

John H. Walton (b. 1952), Victor H. Matthews (b. 1950) and Mark W. Chavalas (b. 1954) note:

Typically the designation “Hebrew” in early times was used only as a point of reference for foreigners. Besides the use here, it is used to identify Joseph in Egypt (e.g., Genesis 39:14-17), the Israelite slaves in reference to the Egyptian masters (Exodus 2:11), Jonah to the sailors (Jonah 1:9), the Israelites to the Philistines (I Samuel 4:6), and other such situations. (Walton, Matthews and Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, 46)
The Septuagint infers social status from the designation. E.A. Speiser (1902-1965) informs:
The Septuagint translates this occurrence alone as “the one from across,” in what is apparently an attempt to give an etymological rendering based on the Hebrew verb ‘br “to pass, cross”; elsewhere, the gentilic “Hebrew” is regularly employed. The social bearing of this one passage is thus clearly recognized by the Greek translation. (Speiser, Genesis (The Anchor Bible), 102-03)
The Septuagint actually invents vocabulary to translate the title. Robert J.V. Hiebert (b. 1951) apprises:
The word περάτης... occurs in the Septuagint only in Genesis 14:13 and is based on the adverb πέρα. This is an isolate rendering of the Hebrew gentilic עברי created by the Genesis translator presumably to establish a semantic connection between words in both languages with etymological links to verbs meaning ‘traverse’ and cognate forms with the connotation ‘on the other side.’ John A.L. Lee [b. 1942] calls περάτης a nonce-formation, “unlikely to occur again.” (Craig A. Evans [b. 1952], Joel N. Lohr [b. 1974] and David L. Petersen [b. 1943], “Textual Translation Issues in Greek Genesis”, The Book of Genesis: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation, 415)
Susan Brayford (b. 1950) expounds:
Abram, our ‘Hebrew’ (העברי) hero per the Masoretic Text, enters the story when one of the escapees tells him what has occurred [Genesis 14:13]. This appellation, an anachronism during the patriarchal period, perhaps was inserted to give Abram an ethnic identity distinct from those with the many kings (Claus Westermann [1909-2000] following Walther Zimmerli [1907-1983] and others, 1985, 199). The Septuagint, however, gives Abram a completely different designation, i.e. περάτης, i.e., an ‘emigrant’ or wanderer. As Marguerite Harl [b. 1919] notes, the Septuagint understood the root עבר to mean ‘pass by or cross over’ and created the neologism and hapax legomenon περάτης, based on πέρα, which means ‘beyond, further.’ Thus the word περάτης would mean ‘one who has come from beyond,’ in this case probably from beyond the Euphrates (1994, 159; see also John William Wevers [1919-2010] 1993, 193). In fact, περάτης is an apt description for Abram; he did emigrate from Mesopotamia and then wandered around between Egypt and Canaan and various places within Canaan. Because the word העברי appears several times later in Genesis (e.g., Genesis 39:14, 17, 40:15, 41:12; 43:32) where the Septuagint transliterated it as Εβραιον (i.e., ‘Hebrew’), the translator was likely familiar with the ethnic designation. However, he chose not to refer to Abram as a ‘Hebrew,’ but as an emigrant. (Brayford, Genesis (Septuagint Commentary Series), 294)
José E. Ramírez Kidd (b. 1956) interprets:
The understanding of Abraham as migrant and wanderer played a very important role in the Alexandrian tradition...The Septuagint translates the Hebrew noun העברי with the neologism περάτη (wanderer, emigrant), used only here in the Septuagint. Philo [20 BCE-50 CE] and Origen [184-253] give the same etymological explanation for this term. According to Philo the name Hebrew means “Migrant”. Origen accepts fully Philo’s etymological explanation of this term, and in his XIX Homily to the book of Numbers he states that the word “Hebrews” means travellers (transeuntes)...In his book “On the Migration of Abraham” (“Περί ἀποικίας”), Philo states that the first stage of the spiritual life is conversion. He takes Abraham as model of this and describes his conversion as a triple migration...In this way, the life of Abraham turned into pilgrimage and became the model for future pilgrims who descended from him. (Kidd, Alterity and Identity in Israel: The “ger” in the Old Testament, 124)
Whether or not “the Hebrew” is intended to identify the patriarch as an outsider, it cannot be denied that Abram is “not from around here”.

Given their national history, Abram’s progeny could likely identify with being perceived as wandering outsiders. So should Abraham’s spiritual descendants (Romans 4:16).

Miguel A. De La Torre (b. 1958) generalizes:

In a real sense, all who place their trust in Abram’s God are Hebrews, grafted onto the vine. To trust and follow God is to pass over into a new life of walking, by faith, in God’s way. Such ontological Hebrews are wanderers in this life, passing over and through a world where injustice reigns. They become the salt that reminds an unbelieving world, structured where the few exploit the many, of God’s liberation and salvation from disenfranchisement, dispossession, and displacement. (De La Torre, Genesis: Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible), 159)
Others have seen a connection to a group known as the Habiru or Hapiru. Sara R. Mandell (b. 1938) prefaces:
Various 2nd-millennium ancient Near Eastern texts refer to people classified as habîru/‘apîru, a term that some think denotes “Hebrews.” The habîru may be social outcasts, fugitives, refugees, or mercenary groups, but it is unlikely that they formed an ethnicity. Ancient Near Eastern references suggest that the habîru in Canaan, mentioned in the Amarna Letters, were not the Israelites. A relationship between the term habîru in the Nuzi servant contracts and the Hebrew slave of Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12 is unlikely in part because the Nuzi archives are from a different time than the biblical narrative. In the Nuzi texts habîru denotes a “foreign servant” who sold himself into slavery; in Deuteronomy 15:12 the Hebrew servant is called the “brother” of those being addressed. (David Noel Freedman [1922-2008],”Hebrew, Hebrews”, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 567)
Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) characterizes:
The Habiru appear in Near Eastern texts from the 20th to the 11th centuries B.C. They were a settled people rather than a nomadic or desert population, and comprised heterogeneous racial elements. They had great mobility, and consequently they were regarded as outsiders wherever they settled. They were often fugitives, uprooted and propertyless. In times of disorganization they played a large part as auxiliary soldiers in petty wars between rulers and towns. With the establishment of a relatively stable society at the end of the 2nd millennium B.C., they sank into insignificance and eventually disappeared. On account of their militaristic exploits, commentators have raised the question whether it is accidental that in the one place where Abram engages in military activity he is styled as a “Hebrew” (Habiru?)...More and more scholars are rejecting an equation of “Hebrew” and “Habiru” on both historical and philological grounds. (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 404)
E.A. Speiser (1902-1965) researches:
The question of possible connection between Hebrew ‘ibrî “Hebrew” and Cuneiform Hab/piru and its cognates or counterparts has been fully discussed in two recent monographs, one by Jean Bottéro [1914-2007], ed., Le problème des Habiru, and the other by Moshe Greenberg [1928-2010], The Hab/piru. The evidence remains ambiguous; and within the Bible itself, the matter is complicated by the legal phrase “Hebrew slave” (Exodus 21:2; cf. Deuteronomy 15:12). At any rate, the present instance accords more closely than any other with Cuneiform data on the Western Habiru; note especially the date formula in Alalakh Tablets 58 (eighteenth/seventeenth centuries), 28ff., which mentions a treaty with Habiru warriors; and the State of Idrimi (fifteenth century Alalakh), line 27, which tells how the royal fugitive found asylum among Habiru warriors. (Speiser, Genesis (The Anchor Bible), 103)
The militaristic nature of the Genesis account has been a major point of connection to the group. Henri Cazelles (1912-2009) connects:
This episode presents a warrior Abraham, with a rather different character from that in the other Genesis episodes...We have here what is really a typical hapiru of the Amarna type. (D.J. Wiseman [1918-2010], Peoples of Old Testament Times, 22)
Mary P. Gray supports:
[The patriarch] appears to travel a great deal with flocks and herds, living in a tent as a nomad. But it must be emphasized that Abraham is denoted as עבי [ibri] just that moment when he takes decisive military action...when his actions most closely resemble those of the Hâbirū. (Gray, “The Habiru-Hebrew Problem in Light of the Source Material Available at Present,” Hebrew Union College Annual 29, 1958: 176)
Others have seen the descriptor “the Hebrew” as connecting Abram to his ancestry. Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) deduces:
It is an ethnic term, connected with Eber, the last ancestor in the line of Shem before the earth is divided (Genesis 10:21-25)...based on the following: (1) The form (‘ibrî) consists of ‘ēber + a gentilic î, like Israeli or Israelite from Israel; (2) this form is appropriate with the proper name Eber, not with ‘apiru; (3) the term always occurs in opposition to other ethnic groups, especially the Egyptians and Philistines; (4) though landless, the other characteristics of Abraham do not fit the ‘apiru. The Bible ascribes the term only to Abraham and his descendants to show that they are the legitimate descendants of Shem through Eber. (Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 231)
Though theories on its etymological basis vary, the epithet “the Hebrew” certainly indicates Abram’s status as other (Genesis 14:13). The term fits the lyrics of Metallica: “Rover, wanderer, nomad, vagabond. Call me what you will.”

Unlike his peers, Abram is a man without a nation. He has a God but not a country. His allegiances are not political nor derived solely from self interest. This certainly makes him an outsider.

Why is Abram referred to as “the Hebrew” in this instance and only in this instance (Genesis 14:13)? What does this label add to the story? Does this term reflect how others perceive Abram; if so what does it indicate? What do you associate with the word “Hebrew”? How would you want to be identified to someone from a different nation? With what do you self identify more, God or country? If our spiritual ancestor Abraham lived on the fringes of society, what does this say about how we ought treat those living in the margins?

Even as a Hebrew, presumably an outsider by definition, Abram is connected to the world and not exempted from civic duty. J. Gerald Janzen (b. 1932) inspects:

When Abram “the Hebrew” is told what has happened (Genesis 14:13), he gathers his men to rescue Lot by force (Genesis 14:14-15). This seems a natural thing for anyone to do (like the common sense that led him to pass off Sarai as his sister in Egypt [Genesis 12:10-16]). Is it the right thing for Abram as recipient of the divine promise and in time the new name of human blessing? How does the narrative invite us to view his action? A number of clues may guide us. First, the narrative describes him as “Abram the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:13). In the Bible the term “Hebrew” is used to distinguish this people from other people sociologically. It does not draw attention to their inner identity or character as the people of Yahweh. So in Genesis 14:13 the narrative presents Abram to us, not as a bearer of divine promise, but simply as leader of one social group among many. Second, as such a leader he is presented as standing in a defensive alliance with a number of local Amorites, an alliance much like the alliance of the smaller states in Genesis 14:1-2. (Janzen, Genesis 12-50: Abraham and All the Families of the Earth (International Theological Commentary), 31-32)
John Goldingday (b. 1942) concludes:
Nobody in the world of power politics knew about Abraham and how significant he was. Yet this did not mean he had contracted out of the world. When a world crisis came to impinge on Lot, Abraham the Hebrew could not say it was not his business. (Goldingay, Genesis For Everyone, Part 1, 158)
Abram is blessed in order to bless others (Genesis 12:2). In order to fulfill this calling, he must interact with the world.

In what ways, if any, does the description “the Hebrew” speak to the efficacy of Abram’s actions? When should believers become involved in world affairs?

“You must get involved to have an impact. No one is impressed with the won-lost record of the referee.” - Napoleon Hill (1883-1970)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Timeless Songs (Revelation 15:2-4)

Which New Testament book contains the Song of Moses? Revelation 15:3, 4

The fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of Revelation form a self contained unit depicting God’s final judgment (Revelation 15:1-16:21). Seven angels unleash a series of seven plagues upon the earth. The first verse of chapter 15, Revelation’s shortest chapter, introduces the sequence with an announcement (Revelation 15:1).

Before developing this theme, the scene shifts to heaven to “something like a sea of glass mixed with fire” (Revelation 15:2 NASB). Around this landmark, an immense crowd of the redeemed sing a victory song (Revelation 15:2-3). This departure represents the calm before the storm. The foundational Exodus narrative is being reworked in reverse order as in Revelation, the religious community crosses the sea before the plagues descend.

Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) depicts:

John looks and perceives a sea of glass as before, but this time it is mixed with fire. As in Revelation 8:5, fire is a symbol of God’s holiness and wrath, which is hovering and about to be cast down, like fire on Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24]. By the sea John sees standing the conquerors with harps, those who triumphed over the Beast, and the number of his name...This worship scene is perhaps to remind us of the one in Revelation 4:1-5:14. (Witherington, Revelation (New Cambridge Bible Commentary), 205-06)
The people are praising God. Worship is one of Revelation’s major themes and the action believers are most frequently portrayed performing in the book.
And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy;
For all the nations will come and worship before You,
For Your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4 NASB)
Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) comments:
With their harps they were “singing the song of Moses” (Revelation 15:3). Christ had delivered them from the dragon with his blood (Revelation 12:11), and God had given them victory over the false trinity. Thus, like Moses after the exodus from Egypt, they sing a song of victory [Exodus 15:1-18]. (Osborne, Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 563)
Mark W. Wilson (b. 1949) compares:
Like the 144,000 who sing a new song before the heavenly throne (Revelation 14:1-3), the rest of the victors also sing a song of triumph. Their song imitates the heavenly song celebrating the triumph of the Lamb through his blood (cf. Revelation 5:5, 9-10). (Clinton E. Arnold [b. 1958], Revelation (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 94)
The song is introduced with a familiar verb. David L. Mathewson (b. 1963) notes:
In Revelation 5:9, 14:3, and Revelation 15:3 the present of ἄδω is used to introduce and highlight the new song sung by living creatures, the voice from the throne, and the Song of Moses sung by the victorious saints. (Mathewson, Verbal Aspect in the Book of Revelation: The Function of Greek Verb Tenses in John’s Apocalypse, 78)
The passage falls within a vision of angels discharging the last plagues (Revelation 15:1-8). Like the previous plagues, these are introduced through the lens of heavenly worship (Revelation 15:3-4). Like Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) interspersing comedy into his films to break up the suspense, Revelation frequently drifts to heaven so that the reader is not overwhelmed by horror.

Robert H. Smith (1932-2006) interprets:

Before the seer utters another word about the angels or their plagues, he lifts our eyes to the heavenly throne room. The vision of heavenly reality, as often before (Revelation 4:1-11, 8:2-5, 11:15-19, 14:1-5), interrupts scenes of otherwise unrelieved terror on earth. Heavenly visions offer a reading of events from God’s point of view and strengthen readers for the shocks to come. (Smith, The Apocalypse: A Commentary on Revelation in Words and Images, 78)
Jon Paulien (b. 1949) relates:
The sound of singing breaks into this scene completely unexpected, especially since rivers of blood anticipate even further plagues (Revelation 14:19-15:2). It would seem like a time to ban music and rejoicing. But sometimes the most powerful singing occurs when nobody plans on it. (Paulien, The Gospel from Patmos, Everyday Insights for Living from the Last Book of the Bible, 270)
The singing is accompanied by “harps of God” (Revelation 15:2). James L. Resseguie (b. 1945) analyzes:
The conquerors have in their hands harps or kitharas of God. The phrase “harps of God” is somewhat ambiguous. It could refer to harps given to the victors by God as symbols of their new status as members of the heavenly choir, like the twenty-four elders, who also have harps (Revelation 5:8). Or the phrase could indicate harps that are used for playing songs to God. It is doubtful that a choice needs to be made in this context: the harps are given by God and are to be played in praise of God. The harps identify the conquerors as the 144,000, for the Israel of God—represented by the symbolic number 144,000—also plays harps in Revelation 14:2. (Resseguie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary, 204-05)
The song’s intent is clear. Mike Tucker (b. 1952) pronounces:
This song of victory focuses entirely on God...and His glory and His worthiness. This is the essence of true worship. True worship always focuses on God. True worship always gives glory to God alone. Those who are faithful will worship Him exclusively, and nothing else. (Tucker, Meeting Jesus in the Book of Revelation, 123)
Revelation 15:3-4 is a redemption song. It wastes no energy gloating over fallen enemies, but instead accentuates the deliverance and exploits of God.

While the song’s meaning is clear its classification, ascription and sources are hot topics. The hymn may have been familiar to Revelation’s original audience. Robert H. Mounce (b. 1921) speculates:

The structure of the hymn suggests that it may have been used in the liturgy of the early church. The first four lines are a classic example of synonymous parallelism. (Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 285)
Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) classifies:
Heinrich Kraft [b. 1918] (1974:201) sees this as a baptismal hymn focused on the fact that both Moses and the Lamb have “led their people through water to a new life.” However, there is too little evidence of baptismal symbolism here. More viable is Wolfgang Fenske [b. 1956] (1999:255), who sees the Song of Moses stemming from Deuteronomy 32:4-5 and the Song of the Lamb stemming from Psalm 85:9-10 from the standpoint of the conquering Lamb. Therefore, it may be a Christian war scroll (so also J.A. du Rand [b.1954] (1995). (Osborne, Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 564)
The song is ascribed to “Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:2 NASB). This marks the 847th and final time that Moses’ name appears in the Bible and the only time it is referenced in Revelation. The infrequency of Moses’ name in Revelation is not surprising as the book typically alludes to the Old Testament rather than citing it.

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (b. 1938) informs:

Revelation never refers to the Old Testament as graphē (Scripture) and does not once introduce its Old Testament material through a formula quotation. We only find one explicit reference to the Old Testament: “They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God” (Revelation 15:3). Yet the song which follows is not connected in any literary way with the Song of Moses in Exodus 15:1-18 or Deuteronomy 32:1-43, but is an amalgamation of various Old Testament themes. Thus Revelation does not even once strictly quote the Old Testament. (Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment, 101-02)
Joseph L. Mangina (b. 1957) concurs:
The exodus forms a kind of subtext throughout the Apocalypse, present yet hidden under multiple figures, hints, and allusions. But now the theme is stated in an unambiguous way. The song sung by the sea, John tell us, is none other than “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” (Mangina, Revelation (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible))
John is making an intentional connection to the Old Testament. Robert W. Wall (b. 1947) explicates:
The phrase, song of Moses...and the song of the Lamb, prepares the reader for the hymn of praise which follows. Even though the hymn’s content derives from the biblical psalter, John’s reference to the song of Moses frames its theological importance. (Wall, Revelation (New International Biblical Commentary), 193)
Moses is designatd God’s doûlos, translated “servant” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) or “bond-servant” (NASB). John Christopher Thomas (b. 1954) asserts:
Mention of ‘the song of Moses the servant of God’ could not help but call attention to the place of Moses in Israel’s redemptive history, which is without parallel, for not only is the descriptive title ‘the servant of God’ one used for Moses on numerous occasions in the Old Testament (Exodus 14:31; Numbers 12:7; Deuteronomy 34:5; Joshua 1:1, 15, 8:32, 9:24; I Kings 8:53, 56; II Kings 18:12, 21:8; II Chronicles 24:9; Nehemiah 1:8; Psalm 105:26; Malachi 4:4), but it also makes clear the fact that Moses himself is a prophet of God (cf. Revelation 10:7), and a most important one at that! (Thomas, The Apocalypse: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 453)
Wilfrid J. Harrington (b. 1927) connects:
As in Hebrews 3:5, Moses is called God’s servant and is set in contrast to the Son: “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant...but Christ was faithful in all God’s house as a son.” (Harrington, Revelation (Sacra Pagina), 159)
The phrase also attaches Moses to believers in Revelation. Hanna Stenström (b. 1963) associates:
Christians are described as δούλοι του θεου in Revelation 2:20, 7:3, 19:2, 5, 22:3, 6. In some passages, a certain person is identified as a δούλος του θεου: Revelation 1:1 where the designation refers to John, and Revelation 15:3 where it refers to Moses. See also Revelation 10:7, 11:18 where the prophets are called δούλοι του θεου. On this theme in Revelation see Akira Satake [b.1929], Die Gemeindeordnung in der Johannesapokalypse, pp. 86-97. (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] and Maria Mayo Robbins [b. 1973], “They Have Not Defiled Themselves with Women...: Christian Identity According to the Book of Revelation”, A Feminist Companion to the Apocalypse of John, 48)
There has been considerable discussion as to what is meant by the song “of Moses” (Revelation 15:2). Robert L. Thomas (b. 1928) considers:
One way of understanding the genitives Μωϋσέως (Mōyseōs, “of Moses”) and του ἀρνίου (tou arniou, “of the Lamb”) is to take them both as objective genitives: “the song about Moses’ accomplishments with God’s help and the song about the Lamb’s accomplishment with God’s help” (James Moffatt [1870-1944], R.C.H. Lenski [1864-1936], Alan F. Johnson [b. 1933]). This hypothesis cannot explain why Moses and the Lamb are not mentioned in the songs (Isbon T. Beckwith [1843-1936]), however, neither does it agree with the clear fact that Moses was the composer and singer of his song. Another way of interpreting is to consider the former genitive as subjective and the latter as objective: “the song Moses sang and the song about the Lamb.” Yet the song does not mention the Lamb, so this proposal falters (Beckwith). The best analysis takes both genitives as subjective: “the song by Moses and the song for which the Lamb is responsible.” It is the Song of Moses because its thought and language came from Moses. It is the song of the Lamb because he composed it, not in words but in actions that are the essential focus of this whole revelation of last things (Beckwith). The actions of the Lamb have dominated throughout the process of deliverance that reached its climax at this point (cf. Revelation 5:5), so in that sense He is responsible for the overcomers’ ability to sing as they do. (Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary), 236)
Stephen S. Smalley (b. 1931) concurs:
It is not immediately clear how to construe the genitive in ‘the song of Moses’ (τὴν ὠδὴν Μωϋσέως, tēn ō[i]dēn Mōyseōs). However, it can scarcely be objective (‘a song to or about Moses’), since what follows is clearly addressed to God. It makes sense, therefore, to understand the genitive as subjective: this is a ‘song by Moses’. There are two such hymns recorded in the Old Testament: Exodus 15:1-18; and Deuteronomy 31:30-32:43 (David E. Aune [b. 1939] [872] includes Psalm 90:1-17, a ‘prayer of Moses’, as a third). In view of the Exodus motif which runs strongly through the theology of Revelation 15:1-8, it is likely that the allusion here is to the song of God’s victory which Moses recited with the Israelites (Exodus 15:1) after the Exodus. In itself, that event points to the triumphant and new Exodus achieved by the messianic Lamb in his cross and resurrection (Revelation 14:3-4; cf. John 16:33); see G.K. Beale [b. 1949] 792. (Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, 786)
Olutola K. Peters (b. 1952) deduces:
While it is true that the syntax of the text allows for both objective and subjective genitives, the historical background includes well-known “songs” of Moses (cf. Exodus 15:1-18; Deuteronomy 31:30-32:43); this would suggest a song by Moses (subjective genitive). For lack of a reference anywhere to a song sung by the Lamb, it would make more sense to regard “the song of the Lamb” as that which is about the Lamb (cf. Revelation 5:9-12). (Peters, The Mandate Of The Church In The Apocalypse Of John, 69)
As has been alluded, Revelation 15:3-4’s classification as a “song of Moses” is problematic. Moses is credited with two songs in the Pentateuch, one at the beginning of his career (Exodus 15:1-18) and the other near the end, his swan song (Deuteronomy 32:1-43). The words in Revelation’s “song of Moses” match neither.

Leonard L. Thompson (b. 1934) inspects:

Moses sang two songs, one after victory at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18) and one near the end of his life (Deuteronomy 32:1-43). The two are not always kept separate (see De Ebrietate 111). The primary reference here is to the song sung at the Red Sea (though compare the opening four lines to Deuteronomy 32:4). According to Philo [20 BCE-50 CE], the Therapeutai, a Jewish contemplative order, sang such a song at Passover (festival celebrating the exodus from Egypt), in imitation “of that one which, in old time, was established by the Red Sea, on account of the wondrous works which were displayed there” (cf. Vita Contemplativa 84-88). (Thompson, Revelation (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 150)
Connecting either of the songs credited to Moses in the Pentateuch to Revelation 15:3-4 involves a stretch. Brian K. Blount (b. 1955) introduces:
Calling this new song the song of Moses raises a problem: to what Old Testament song of Moses is John referring? Even though John envisions a similar context for the multitude’s song and the Song of Moses in Exodus 15:1-18, there are few grammatical and thematic parallels between the two. Many scholars have noted that a better thematic comparison exists between the multitude’s song and the one attributed to Moses and the Israelites in Deuteronomy 32:1-43. But even there the connections are quite general. (Blount, Revelation: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 286)

Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) surveys:

The Song of Moses itself is found in Exodus 15:1-19 or perhaps in Deuteronomy 31:30-32:43 (both are called the “song of Moses,” Exodus 15:1; Deuteronomy 31:30). Though it is commonly said that Exodus 15 is closer to the themes here, some (G.R. Beasley-Murray [1916-2000], Heinz Giesen [b. 1940], G.K. Beale [b. 1949]) have noted that both are reflected in this hymn. J.A. du Rand [b.1954] (1995:203-5) believes that Deuteronomy 32 is closer and sees the key terms “works/deeds,” “ways,” and “holy” drawn from there. The song combines the war tradition with the eschatological exodus tradition, possibly alluding also to the David and Goliath tradition (cf. Tosefta Targum on I Samuel 17) to portray the victory of the Lamb over the beast (du Rand 1995:207-8). Thus, liberation and restoration are the major themes as God’s people experience a new exodus (so also Donal A. McIlraith [b. 1945] 1999:522-23). The problem is that the wording of the song has little connection with either Exodus 15 or Deuteronomy 32. Therefore, many (e.g., G.B. Caird [1917-1984], Austin Farrer [1904-1968], Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza [b. 1938], Gerhard A. Krodel [1926-2005]) have noted that the song here is a concatenation of themes drawn from many places in the Old Testament. (Osborne, Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 563-64)
Some argue that the song of Moses in Revelation 15:3-4 correlates to Exodus 15:1-18 and Exodus certainly does inform the worldview of Revelation. Barbara R. Rossing (b. 1955) assesses:
The fundamental model for liberation in Revelation is the Book of Exodus, the story of the liberation of Israel from bondage in Egypt. As Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza [b. 1938] and other scholars have shown, the Book of Exodus furnishes the pattern for much of Revelation’s imagery, including Jesus as the Lamb who takes on the role of Moses. The entire Book of Revelation suggests a parallel between the Christians’ journey out of Rome and the Israelites’ journey out of Egypt. For example, the author of Revelation calls Christians to “come out” of Babylon (Revelation 18:4). The connection to Moses and the Exodus becomes explicit when God’s servants sing the “song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:3). As such, the Book of Revelation gives a “re-reading of the Exodus, now being experienced not in Egypt but in the heart of the Roman Empire.” (David Rhoads [b. 1941], “For the Healing of the World: Reading Revelation Ecologically”, From Every People and Nation: The Book of Revelation in Intercultural Perspective, 175)
More pointedly, some have seen reverberations of the song of Moses in Exodus 15:1-18 in Revelation. Margaret Barker (b. 1944) correlates:
There are many echoes of this song in the Book of Revelation: ‘Who is like thee?’ was said in irony of the beast [Revelation 13:4]; the earth also swallowed the river which came from the dragon’s mouth [Revelation 12:16]; the ‘redeemed’ are the kingdom of priests, the first born (Revelation 5:6, 14:4) who have been set free from Egypt [Revelation 11:8] and established on the holy mountain (Revelation 14:1-5). They are brought across a sea which has congealed to let them pass, the crystal sea of vision. (Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Which God Gave to Him to Show to His Servants What Must Soon Take Place (Revelation 1.1), 261)
The song of Moses in Exodus derives from Moses’ first triumph, crossing the Red Sea and evading Pharaoh’s forces (Exodus 15:1-18). Moses leads the Israelites in singing the composition and it is summarized antiphonally by Miriam (Exodus 15:21).

Robert H. Mounce (b. 1921) describes:

The deliverance of which Moses and the people sang in Exodus 15:1-18 prefigured the greater deliverance wrought by the Lamb...This song commemorating Israel’s greatest deliverance was sung on Sabbath evenings in the synagogue service. Its imagery was stamped on the consciousness of every pious Jew. The theme of victory in Exodus becomes the basis for praise and adoration in the song of the victors. God is worthy of glory and honor because his great and marvelous works are true and righteous. The song does not celebrate the judgment of God upon his enemies but the righteousness of his great redemptive acts. As Moses triumphed over Pharaoh, and as the risen Lord was victor over the world (John 16:33), so also the faithful have maintained their fidelity against all demand of the imperial cult. (Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 285-86)
The song of Moses in Exodus 15:1-18 may have held eschatological significance. G.K. Beale (b. 1949) briefs:
Other Jewish writings affirm that the song of Exodus 15:1 implies the resurrection of the Israelite singers to sing once again in the new age (b. Sanhedrin 19b; Mekilta de Ishmael, Shirata 1.1-10). This could be a hint suggesting that Revelation 15:2-3 is a resurrection scene. Similarly, Wisdom of Solomon 19:6-9 speaks of Israel’s passage through the sea as their new creation, for which they “praised” God...A resurrection is possible in Revelation 15:2, where the notion of resurrection is pointed to by the saints “standing” (ἑστωτας) on the glass sea, in striking similarity to the clear resurrection portrayal of the Lamb “standing” (ἑστηχός) by (or on) the glass sea (Revelation 5:6). The “conquering” of both the Lamb and the saints includes resurrection (cf. νιχάω in Revelation 5:5 and Revelation 15:2). (Beale, The Book of Revelation (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 792-93)
Alan F. Johnson (b. 1933) adds:
K. Boronicz (“‘Canticum Moysi et agni’—Apoc. 15:3,” Ruch Biblit 17 [1964]:81-87) argues that according to Jewish tradition the doctrine of resurrection is implicitly contained in the Law and is exemplified by the Canticle (Song) of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18). Revelation 15:3-4 has a prophetic and messianic sense and points to resurrection. In their prophetic symbolism, the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb are identical. Could this also be the reason why all early church liturgies included the Song of Moses somewhere in the Easter commemoration and some also included it on other Sundays (cf. Eric Werner [1901-1988], The Sacred Bridge: Liturgical Parallels in Synagogue and Early Church [New York: Schocken, 1970, 142)?...In the ancient synagogue, the Haftorah (prophetic reading) accompanying the Seder on Exodus 15:1-12 was Isaiah 26:1: “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah. We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts”; and Isaiah 65:24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” Both prophetic portions are part of texts called “Consolation of Israel” and emphasize the strengthening of the faith of Israel (cf. Jacob Mann [1888-1940], The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue [New York: Ktav, 1971], 1:431-32). The Song of Moses was apparently not so frequently used in the synagogue but principally in the temple services (cf. Werner, Sacred Bridge 141). (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Hebrews– Revelation (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 730)
There are many contextual similarities between the songs in Exodus 15:1-18 and Revelation 15:3-4. Young Mog Song (b. 1969) contends:
Many parallels between Exodus 15 and Revelation 15 are important: (1) the theme of victory in Exodus 15 becomes the basis for praise in Revelation 15:3-4 (Robert H. Mounce [b. 1921] 1983:287). (2) Several terms, e.g. ‘glory’, ‘victory’, and ‘tabernacle’, are common (cf. Exodus 15:11; Revelation 15:4). (3) The entire scene of Revelation 15:2 revives the Israelites standing on the shore of the Red Sea. (4) The seven plagues (Revelation 11:6, 15:8) recall the ten plagues om Egypt. And (5) the universal recognition of Jehovah as the one true God is a common theme of their praises (Exodus 15:14; Revelation 15:4; Mounce, 1983: 288). (Heerak Christian Kim [b. 1970], Journeys in Biblical Studies: Academic Papers from SBL International 2008, New Zealand, 65-66)
Thomas B. Slater (b. 1952) adds:
The song of Moses and the Lamb celebrates God’s eschatological exodus of his people. It is similar to the song of Moses in Exodus 15:1-18 in this regard. Both songs are sung along a seashore. The reference to the Lamb could remind the reader of the Passover Lamb of the Exodus tradition (Exodus 12:3, 4, 5, 21). However, unlike Exodus 15:1-18, which celebrates the deliverance of a single nation, the event in Revelation 15:3-4 celebrates the deliverance of a racially and culturally mixed Christian body (cf. Revelation 7:9-10). Finally, both Moses and the Lamb function as deliverers of a religious community. (Slater, Christ and Community: A Socio-Historical Study of the Christology of Revelation, 195)
Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (b. 1938) resolves:
The most influential text...seems to be Exodus 15:1-8. The Song of Moses has become in Revelation the Song of the Lamb, the “new song.” Both songs praise God’s redemptive activity in the deliverance and liberation of the people of God. In addition, the hymn functions also as a positive response to the eternal gospel because it announces that God’s justice will cause the nations of the earth to come and worship God. Here, like Caesar, God is called the king of the nations. The new song of Revelation announces liberation and salvation not only for the Christian community, but also for all nations which are now oppressed and longing for the experience of God’s justice. God’s judgments are just and true. Like the chorus in a Greek drama, this hymn interprets the meaning and intention of the preceding and following visions of cruel judgment. Their goal is justice and salvation. (Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Proclamation Commentaries), 92)
Frederick J. Murphy (1949-2011) interjects:
The hymn is the most explicit reference to the exodus in Revelation, and it alerts the reader to the exodus allusions in the bowls that follow in chapter 16 (Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza [b. 1938] 1991, 91). Exodus 15:1-21 and Revelation 15:3-4 are broadly similar in that both celebrate the awesome exhibition of God’s power on behalf of his people and his rescue of them. A difference is that the enemies in Exodus 15 are either destroyed (Egyptians) or in terror (inhabitants of Philistia, Edom, Moab, Canaan), and their conversion is not contemplated. Revelation 15:3-4 anticipates the acceptance by all nations of God’s sovereignty. This contrast must be qualified, however, for the nations’ fear in Exodus 15:14-16 is a recognition of God’s power, and non-Christians are not treated so benignly elsewhere in Revelation. (Murphy, Fallen Is Babylon: The Revelation to John, 330)
Jürgen Roloff (1930-2004) sees typological connections:
The reference to Moses certainly calls to mind the Red Sea tradition in Exodus 15:1-21...Because the hymn deviates greatly from the content of the Red Sea hymn, it cannot be the intention of the author to present it in its original form. The relationship between the hymn of praise of those who overcome and that of Moses, instead, is at the salvation-historical and typological levels. Just as in the exodus Israel was delivered from the Egyptians by Moses, so now will the salvation people of the end time be delivered from the evil powers that afflict them—in fact, by Jesus, the lamb, who purchased his own by his blood (cf. Revelation 5:9-10). The deliverance event of the end time corresponds, contrastingly and in heightened form, to that of primitive history. The idea that the exodus is a prototype of God’s end-time act of redemption toward his people was also active in Jewish tradition. Thus, one expected that Moses as the risen one would one day sing again with the risen community the song of the Red Sea (Mekilta Exodus 15:1). Moses and Jesus are compared here as the representatives of God’s saving activity in primitive times and at the end time, which becomes an occasion for the rescued to sing praise; thus, the designation of Jesus as lamb heightens the typology even more. (Roloff, Revelation (Continental Commentary Series), 183)
Joseph L. Mangina (b. 1957) sees another point of contact:
What joins the song in Exodus with the song of the Lamb is not just the theme of victory...but the importance that both songs accord to the name of God. Whether in the form of the Tetragrammaton YHWH, or the formula “who was and who is and who is to come,” or the name of Jesus, the name of God is a powerful indicator of his holiness. God is holy and singular, as well as gracious and loving. The life and death of the Lamb may be seen as the act in which God glorifies his own name, a kind of “yes” to himself, on the basis of which the nations are summoned to add their own “yes” in the form of an eternal sanctus. “For your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4). Once again we see the crucial role played by the first commandment in the Apocalypse [Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7]. This is yet another reason why the song of the Lamb does not render the song of Moses obsolete, but rather confirms it and intensifies it. (Mangina, Revelation (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible))
T.F. Glasson (1906-1998) contends:
The song of Moses...and the song of the Lamb are virtually the same song, celebrating divine deliverance...The words given here in Revelation 15:3-4 would be equally appropriate in the old Exodus and the new; in both events the same delivering mercy was revealed. (Glasson, The Revelation of John (The Cambridge Bible Commentary), 89)
While the context of both songs is a divinely orchestrated military victory, Revelation’s triumph is on a larger scale: In Exodus 15 a battle is won, in Revelation 15 a war. It is fitting that at the end of the war one of the opening victories is recalled.

Earl F. Palmer (b. 1931) studies:

The song of Moses is fulfilled in this chorale of Revelation 15:3-4. Moses and his army, like the army of the Lord in Revelation, have both won a victory, but Moses’ song primarily exalts the Lord for the defeat of the foe; whereas, in the song of Revelation 15, the exaltation is larger and more far-reaching. God is not only the victor over Pharaoh, but He is King of the ages. All nations shall come to Him in worship. His mighty will has been revealed, and the whole created order shall experience the result. (Palmer, 1,2,3, John & Revelation (Mastering the New Testament), 216)
G.K. Beale (b. 1949) juxtaposes:
Just as Israel praised God by the sea after he delivered them from Pharaoh, so the church praises God for defeating the beast on their behalf. Like God’s people of old, so God’s new covenant people praise him by singing “the song of Moses.” Their song is a hymn of deliverance and praise of God’s attributes like the song in Exodus 15:1-18. Though Moses is called a “servant of God” often throughout the Old Testament, the title here comes from Exodus 14:31, since there the title immediately precedes the song in Exodus 15:1-18. The song here is about the much greater deliverance accomplished through the Lamb’s work, so that it is called the Lamb’s song as well as Moses’. (Midrash Rabbah Exodus 24:3 says that “as soon as they [Israel] uttered the song, they were forgiven their sin at the sea.”) (Beale, The Book of Revelation (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 792)
Michael Wilcock (b. 1932) prioritizes:
It would be wrong to say that the exodus was the ‘real’ deliverance while the cross and resurrection were ‘only the spiritual’ one. It would be truer to say that the spiritual deliverance by Christ is the real one, while exodus was ‘only historical’. The latter was a representation of the former on the stage of history, rather as the player-king’s ‘crime’ in Hamlet was a dramatic representation—dramatic in both senses—of what King Claudius had actually done. (Wilcock, The Message of Revelation (Bible Speaks Today), 138)
Revelation 15:3-4 is also on a larger scale than the Exodus as the saved party enlarges from a nation to nations. Warren Carter (b. 1955) construes:
The recognition in worship of God’s superiority is a political statement. It contests Rome’s claims to be the supreme power that exercises rule over the world by asserting that God has all power and rules the nations. The vision of God’s empire outdoes Rome’s even while it imitates it! Unlike Rome’s empire that compromises only conquered or allied peoples, God’s reign embraces every nation. “All nations will come and worship before you” (Revelation 15:4; see also Revelation 5:13). (Carter, What Does Revelation Reveal?: Unlocking the Mystery)
Joseph L. Mangina (b. 1957) stresses:
While the church may and must sing this song, it is not the song sung by the conquerors at the sea of glass. A new exodus literally demands a new song, celebrating not just Israel’s deliverance from Egypt or even the resurrection, but the submission of the nations to God’s righteous rule...The twofold mention of ta ethnē [Revelation 15:4] in the present hymn serves as a reminder of Revelation’s catholic-cosmic trajectory, the divine action drawing people from all nations, tribes, and languages into the acknowledgment of God as Pantokratōr and Lord. (Mangina, Revelation (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible))
Notably, as part of his thesis that Revelation emphasizes universalism, Richard Bauckham (b. 1946) attaches:
The reference to the song of Moses has caused some difficulty and perplexity, since the words of the martyrs’ song are not those osf the song sung by Moses and the Israelites in Exodus 15:1-18...Thus Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza [b. 1938] sums up the consensus when she writes: ‘the song which follows [in Revelation 15:3-4] is not connected in any literary way with the song of Moses in Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 32, but is an amalgam of various Old Testament themes’. But this...is a mistaken verdict. It leaps from the correct observation that none of the words of the song in Revelation 15:3-4 derive from Exodus 15:1-18, to the claim that therefore there is no literary connexion between the two passages. The literary connexion...is made...beneath the surface of the text by John’s expert and subtle use of current Jewish exegetical method...The notion of referring to a psalm or hymn to be found in the historical books of the Old Testament and then giving, not the words of the Old Testament, but a new composition, is not unknown in the Jewish literature of the New Testament period...John writes a new version of the song of Moses in order to provide an interpretation of the deliverance at the Red Sea and its eschatological antitype. (Bauckham, Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation, 297-98)
David A. deSilva (b. 1967) summarizes:
While Revelation 15:3-4 contains no recontextualizations from Exodus 15:1-18, Richard Bauckham [b. 1946] argues that there is nevertheless a close literary connection. John follows an established tradition of reinventing a biblical song of deliverance, such as one finds in Pseudo-Philo (comparing the Song of Deborah in Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 32 with Judges 5:2-31) and Isaiah 12:1-6 (a reinvention of the song of deliverance by the sea using motifs found in Exodus 15:1-18). The Song of the Redeemed shares several points of interest with the Song of Moses: God’s mighty act of judgment of God’s enemies (Exodus 15:1-10, 12), which also revealed God’s superiority to the pagan gods (Exodus 15:11); God’s judgments resulting in awakening “fear” among the nations (Exodus 15:14-15); and the manifestation of God’s reign (Exodus 15:18)...John has created this new song, moreover, using phrases from biblical texts (e.g. Psalms 86:8-10; Jeremiah 10:6-7a) that themselves relate to Exodus 15 by gezera shawa, in particular to the declaration of God’s incomparable superiority over the gods of the nations (Exodus 15:11), a verse of particular significance for the question of whom to worship, so central in John’s setting. “Thus John’s version of the song takes as its starting point the key verse Exodus 15:11, which is taken for granted, without being quoted, because it is the common denominator which links the passages to which allusion is made (Jeremiah 10:6-7; Psalm 86:8-10, 98:1-2).” (deSilva, Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation, 151)
Richard Bauckham (b. 1946) pinpoints:
The words of the martyrs’ song are not...those of the song of Moses is Exodus 15:1-18; but nor are they simply another song, with which John has replaced the original song of Moses. Like the version of the song of Moses which Isaiah 12:1-6 predicts that Israel will sing at the new exodus, Revelation’s version is an interpretation of the song of Moses, which John has produced by typically skilful use of current Jewish exegetical methods. As he related the hymn of Exodus to the eschatological exodus, John evidently identified five points of significance...(1) God’s mighty act of judgment on his enemies, which was also the deliverance of his people. (Exodus 15:1-10, 12)...(2) God’s mighty act of judgment demonstrated God’s incomparable superiority to pagan gods...(Exodus 15:11)...(3) God’s mighty act of judgment filled the pagan nations with fear (Exodus 15:14-16)...(4) It brought his people into his temple (Exodus 15:13, 17)...(5) The song concludes: ‘The Lord shall reign forever and ever’. (Exodus 1518). (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 99)
Others have seen a closer relationship between Revelation 15:3-4 and Deuteronomy 32:1-43 than to Exodus 15:1-18. J. Massyngberde Ford (b. 1928) discusses:
Although their song is called the song of Moses, it is not one of triumph such as is found in Exodus 15:1-18; it is more like Deuteronomy 32:1-43, also called the Song of Moses. The hymn is not christological. It is addressed only to God and is woven out of Old Testament remembrances. (Ford, Revelation (The Anchor Bible), 257)
Ian Boxall (b. 1964) declares:
The actual content of Revelation’s song is closer to the second song of Moses, uttered prior to his death (Deuteronomy 32:1-43). There is a particularly close parallel between Deuteronomy 32:4 LXX, which speaks of God’s deeds as ‘true’ (ἀληθινὰ), ‘his ways’ (αἱ ὁδοὶ αὐτου) as judgements, and his character as ‘righteous and holy’ (δίκαιος καὶ ὅσιος). But the canticle John hears is no mere repetition of Deuteronomy 32:1-43, and commentators have detected a wide range of additional echoes of and allusions to Old Testament texts. (Boxall, The Revelation of Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 219)
G.K. Beale (b. 1949) scrutinizes:
Deuteronomy 32 is also called a “song of Moses” (Deuteronomy 31:19, 22, 30, 32:44) and is included in the allusion here to Exodus 15, since it also describes judgment. Wrath against apostate Israelites because of idolatry is the focus in Deuteronomy 32, as here judgment on apostate Christians together with the nations is in view. The song in Deuteronomy 32 concludes with the climactic thought that God will both punish the enemy nations who have persecuted Israel (Deuteronomy 32:43: “he will avenge the blood of his servants”) and “atone for his...people” (Deuteronomy 32:43; cf. Deuteronomy 32:41-43). The same idea is included in Revelation 15:2-4 (the vindication theme from Revelation 6:9-11 and Revelation 8:3-5 was just repeated in Revelation 14:18 and will be again in Revelation 15:7). The song is the same as the “new song” of Revelation 5:9ff and Revelation 14:3, where the singers likewise hold harps while lauding the Lamb for his work of redemption (cf. Revelation 5:8, 14:2). That the song in Revelation 15:3-4 is also a “new song” is evident because the saints sing not only the old “song of Moses” but also the “song of the Lamb,” which has hitherto not been sung. Therefore, the song is sung in praise, not only to God but also to the Lamb, since Revelation 5:9ff also lauds the Lamb for his redemptive work (so implicitly also Revelation 14:3). (Beale, The Book of Revelation (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 793)
While the text of Revelation 15:3-4 does not directly quote any extant song of Moses, it is replete with Old Testament terminology, a patchwork quilt of ancient worship phraseology. It is a pastiche. A modern equivalent might be Spyder Turner (b. 1947)’s 1967 rendition of “Stand by Me” (1967) in which Turner impersonates a string of famous R & B singers (Jackie Wilson [1934-1984], James Brown [1933-2006], Eddie Kendricks [1939-1992], Melvin Franklin [1942-1995], David Ruffin [1941-1991], Billy Stewart [1937-1970], Sam Cooke [1931-1964], Smokey Robinson [b. 1940] and Chuck Jackson [b. 1937]) to form a new composition.

Robert A. Lowery (1948-2011) apprises:

The actual contents of the song do not come from one primary source, either Exodus 15:1-18 or Deuteronomy 32:1-43. For example, we can compare Revelation 15:3b-4a with Jeremiah 10:7, 15:4 with Psalm 86:9-10, and Revelation 15:4c with Psalm 98:2. Over and over John creates visual and auditory collages by drawing together a variety of Old Testament passages to describe what he had seen and heard. (Lowery, Revelation’s Rhapsody: Listening to the Lyrics of the Lamb: How to Read the Book of Revelation, 91)
Robert H. Mounce (b. 1921) dissects:
Practically every phrase of the hymn is taken from the rich vocabulary of the Old Testament. For the first strophe cf. Psalm 111:3 (“Glorious and majestic are his deeds”); Amos 4:13 (“the Lord God Almighty is his name”); Deuteronomy 32:4 (“all his ways are just”); Jeremiah 10:7 (“O King of the nations”). In the Nestle-Aland text almost 80 percent of the words in the hymn (10 of 48) are italicized to show that they have been taken from the Old Testament. (Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 286)
In addition to the discussion centering on the song’s sources, there has also been debate as to whether the epithet “the song of Moses...and the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:2) represents one song or two. The song does divide naturally into two parts that follow the versification (Revelation 15:3-4).

James M. Hamilton, Jr. (b. 1974) delineates:

The first four lines are in the second half of Revelation 15:3, then there are five lines in Revelation 15:4. The first four lines at the end of Revelation 15:3 are made up of two couplets, or two two-line sets. Each consists of a statement about God in the first line, followed by an address to God using significant titles for him in the second...There are five lines in Revelation 15:4. The first two lines are parallel, and the next three lines give reasons for the statements in the first two. (Hamilton, Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Preaching the Word), 306)
Few have interpreted the passage as recording two songs. John F. Walvoord (1910-2002) exemplifies this minority opinion:
The fact that the word “song” (Greek, ōdēn) is repeated with a definite article in both cases would lead to the conclusion that two songs are in view rather than one, both being sung by the martyred throng. The former recounts the faithfulness of God to Israel as a nation in recognition that a large number of Israelites are among these martyred dead. The song of the Lamb speaks of redemption from sin made possible by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and would include all the believers in Christ. (Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 227-28)
If interpreted as two songs, the passage functions as a mash-up of sorts or like Queen’s “We are the Champions/We Will Rock You” (1977) in which two songs were released as single resulting in a top ten hit.

Most interpreters, however, view the song as a single piece. Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) examines:

The added καὶ τὴν ὠδὴν του ἀρνίου (kai tēn ōdēn tou arniou, literally, ‘and the song of the Lamb”) is somewhat difficult, for there is no hint that there are two songs here. Therefore the καὶ is most likely epexegetical (“that is”), and the genitive is the object. Thus, I translate, “the song of Moses, that is, the song about the Lamb.” This means that the victory being celebrated was won by the Lamb, in keeping with Revelation 12:11, “They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb.” The emphasis on the lamb highlights Jesus’ paschal sacrifice of his blood for the redemption of the nations. (Osborne, Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 564)
James L. Resseguie (b. 1945) agrees:
Although it may appear that these are two separate songs, the progression indicates that it is one and the same song. The first part draws attention to the exodus of the Israelites. After Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, they sang a song of deliverance (Exodus 15:1-18). In the same way the new Israel sings a hymn of deliverance at a heavenly sea mixed with fire. The second part elaborates the song’s content: praise for God’s deliverance by the Lamb. The canticle is tightly structured with three parts praising God’s “great and amazing” deeds (cf. Revelation 15:1, where the sign is “great and amazing”). In synonymous parallelism, part 1 extols the character of God. (Resseguie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary, 205-06)
George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982) determines:
Exegetes debate whether this means that the victors sing one song or two. Grammatically the language might seem to suggest two songs: one of Moses, and one of the Lamb. Contextually the idea is that the victors sing a song of triumph which both the saints of the Old Testament and the New Testament knew how to sing, because both sang of the deliverance of the one God. (Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 205)
Like selecting a hymn for an ecumenical service, the song is apropos because it is one to which all parties are familiar.

Grammatically, the ascription could indicate that the song is sung by Moses and the Lamb. If this is the case, John is describing the song as he does because he is seeing and hearing Moses and the Lamb perform the composition. This would comply with Revelation’s mode of revelation.

Steve Moyise traces:

Point of view is established by attending to a number of contrasts, such as hearing and seeing, above and below, outer and inner, and centre and perimeter. The first is established as a principle in the seven letters with the command to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. In Revelation 9:13-21, John sees a vision of horses with lions’ heads and hears their number, 200 million....In Revelation 12:1-17, John sees a heavenly battle between Michael and Satan but does not understand its meaning until he hears the heavenly voice. In Revelation 14:1-20, John sees the 144,000 and hears a multitude singing. In Revelation 15:1-8, John sees those who have conquered the beast and hears the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. In Revelation 21:1-27, John sees a new heaven and earth and hears about its meaning. Thus is established the principle that hearing interprets seeing. (Moyise, “Does the Lion Lie Down with the Lamb?”, Studies in the Book of Revelation, 188-89)
Moses and the Lamb could be performing a duet. If so, Moses would be releasing a posthumous album like many contemporary musicians (e.g., Tupac [1971-1996]). Ian Boxall (b. 1964) maintains:
This is not the ‘new song’ previously learned, for it has no explicitly christological content (unlike the ‘new song’ of Revelation 5:9-10). This suggests that the genitive in the additional phrase and the song of the Lamb should be understood, like the previous genitive ‘of Moses’, as a subjective genitive: both Moses and the Lamb sing this song. In this interpretation, perhaps Christ is being presented as a new Moses, who ‘leads’ his people to salvation (for the Lamb as leading, see Revelation 7:17; cf. Revelation 14:4). It is possible that here Christ is the leader of the heavenly choir (Jonathan Knight [b. 1959] 1999:108; see Ascension of Isaiah 9:1, 4, where an angel is set over the praises of the sixth heaven). Though not explicitly stated as being present, the Lamb may be implied as part of that group which is victorious over the monster. (Boxall, The Revelation of Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 218)
If the song is a duet between Moses and the Lamb, it is a beautiful picture of the old warrior joining with the long awaited savior, the Old Testament and the New Testament meeting in triumph.

How does John, the author of Revelation, know that what he is hearing is “the song of Moses” if its lyrics do not correlate to any known song of Moses? How is Revelation 15:2-4 connected to Exodus 15:1-18 and Deuteronomy 32:1-43? Have you ever sang these songs? When has a song perfectly captured the mood of an occasion? What is your favorite victory song? Do you praise God for your successes; what will you be singing when you are winning? What songs can you think of that relay the same meaning?

The song of Revelation 15:3-4 has been in use since its original composition. For instance, Judith Kovacs (b. 1945) and Christopher Rowland (b. 1947) document:

The song of Revelation 15:3-4 is quoted by John Milton [1608-1674] on several occasions: for example, in Samson Agonistes (1671) the chorus adds the words ‘Just are the ways of God’ to the memorial of God’s saving purposes and Israel’s willingness to enjoy ‘bondage with ease [rather] than strenuous liberty’ (line 293). In Paradise Lost x.644 it echoes in the heavenly host’s response, ‘as the sound of sea’, to the Almighty’s declaration of eschatological deliverance through the Son. (Kovacs and Rowland, Revelation (Blackwell Bible Commentaries), 169-70)
The song of Moses is timeless as it blends past, present and future worship. The allusion to Moses sets the piece in history while also seeing it as a continuation of an ancient story. In doing so, it adds a layer of meaning to both Exodus and Revelation.

J. Ramsey Michaels (b. 1931) characterizes:

Like the “eternal gospel” proclaimed from heaven (Revelation 14:6), the song is not distinctively Christian. It encompasses the worship of Jew and Christian, Hebrew and Greek, Moses and the Lamb alike. Indeed it sounds like a postscript to the “eternal gospel,” asking, Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy (Revelation 13:4). The song is Jewish to the core, yet comes to a focus in the expectation of Jew and Christian alike that all nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed (Revelation 13:4). (Michaels, Revelation (IVP New Testament Commentary), 183)
Brian K. Blount (b. 1955) evaluates:
In John’s liturgical hymns not only the boundaries between heaven and earth are broken down, but the ones that separate time as well...Revelation 15:3-4...about Moses’ past victory, which is simultaneously a pointer to God’s future victory, is a dramatic case in point; it has a real-time, present effect. Mitchell G. Reddish [b. 1953] makes an appropriate observation: “While in John’s vision it is an eschatological song, in the real world of John’s day this was a song that was already being sung. The victory that was in the future was being anticipated in the present.” (Blount, Can I Get a Witness?: Reading Revelation Through African American Culture, 110)
Hymns are often the most timeless of music because their audience and subject, God, is eternal. Revelation 15:3-4 is no different.

Do you see your story as a continuation of the biblical story? What songs do you know of that have staying power? What songs have come back into vogue years after their initial release? When will Revelation 15:3-4 be sung again?

“Soul music is timeless.” - Alicia Keys (b. 1981)