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,Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) comments:
“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)
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]  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 :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 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)