Rev. 15:3 – They sang the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb: Great and awe-inspiring are Your works, Lord God the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the Nations. 4 Lord, who will not fear and glorify Your name? Because You alone are holy, for all the nations will come and worship before You because Your righteous acts have been revealed. (HCSB)
They sang the song
Those who have won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name now sing the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb (vv. 3-4). It appears these are two songs with a common theme. They show the unity of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in redemption. The song of Moses alludes to Ex. 15:1-19, where Moses thanks God for deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea. However, it’s possible that John has Deuteronomy 32 in mind because the first phrase – “Great and awe-inspiring are Your works, Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the Nations” – may be drawn from Deut. 32:3-4.
The song of the Lamb may be what John hears in Rev. 5:9:
You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals;
because You were slaughtered,
and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth.
My strength and my song
Place yourself in history for a moment. Consider first of all the Israelites, standing on the shore of the Red Sea, with the pursuing Egyptians vanquished by the mighty hand of God. The blood of the Passover Lamb has spared the Israelites divine retribution. The power of the one true and living God, visible in the pillar of cloud and fire, has delivered the Israelites from bondage. They pause and raise their voices in the song of Moses: “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. This is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him” (Ex. 15:1-2).
Centuries later, when Judah has forgotten God and is about to go into captivity, Isaiah assures them they will sing this song again: “On that day you will say: ‘I will praise You, Lord, although You were angry with me. Your anger has turned away, and You have had compassion on me. Indeed, God is my salvation; I will trust Him and not be afraid, for ‘Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation’” (Isa. 12:1-2).
After Judah returns from captivity in Babylon, restores temple worship and reestablishes its government, the people sing a similar refrain at the dedication services: “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation” (Ps. 118:14).
Now, in John’s first-century vision, the overcomers stand in the very presence of God and sing the song of Moses. But they also sing the song of the Lamb. They know full well that the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt spared believing Israel’s first-born males as the angel of death smites the Egyptians and at long last prompts pharaoh to let the people go. In similar but more significant fashion, the blood of the Lamb spares Jewish and Gentile believers alike from the consequences of their sins, cleansing them from all unrighteousness and washing their robes white. So they stand on the shore of the sea of glass mingled with fire, having come through earthly travails, and sing the song of the Lamb. No doubt, these two songs magnify the redemption of the Lord – redemption from physical bondage in Egypt, and redemption from spiritual bondage in the kingdom of darkness.
With respect to the overcomers standing on the sea of glass, it’s important to note that God’s deliverance is His sovereign prerogative. Sometimes He delivers from trials – that is, before evil touches us. Sometimes He delivers in trials – rescuing His children in the midst of persecution or hardship. And sometimes He delivers through trials – walking with us, empathizing with us, comforting us, but allowing the trials to run their course, sometimes to the point of death. The victorious ones around the throne have been delivered in one way or another and now look back through the fire-tinged sea of glass, waiting and watching for God’s wrath to fall upon the world’s wicked.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown have an interesting perspective on this: “The Churches of the Old and New Testaments are essentially one in their conflicts and triumphs…. The passage through the Red Sea under the pillar of cloud was Israel’s baptism, to which the believer’s baptism in trials corresponds. The elect after their trials (especially those arising from the beast) shall be taken up before the vials of wrath be poured on the beast and his kingdom. So Noah and his family were taken out of the doomed world before the deluge; Lot was taken out of Sodom before its destruction; the Christians escaped by a special interposition of Providence to Pella before the destruction of Jerusalem. As the pillar of cloud and fire interposed between Israel and the Egyptian foe, so that Israel was safely landed on the opposite shore before the Egyptians were destroyed; so the Lord, coming with clouds and in flaming fire, shall first catch up His elect people ‘in the clouds to meet Him in the air,’ and then shall with fire destroy the enemy” (R. Jamieson, A.R.Fausset, D. Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Rev. 15:3).
W.A. Criswell notes, “It is a strange coincidence that the first recorded song in the Word of God is in chapter 15 of Exodus, the song of Moses, and that the last recorded song in the Bible is in chapter 15 of the Revelation, the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 4, p. 172).
While most commentators identify the singers as the overcomers gathered around the throne, David H. Stern sees it differently:
The song of the Lamb … is not sung to or about the Lamb, but by the Lamb to God – just as the Song of Moses was sung by Moses and not to him. Just as the victorious Jewish people learned and sang the song which Moses sang (Exodus 15:1), so the victorious believers in heaven learn and sing the song which the Lamb sings. Like the Song of Moses the Song of the Lamb exults in the just ways of God, using the language of the Tanakh as found in Jeremiah 10:7; Amos 3:13, 4:13; Malachi 1:11; Psalms 86:9-10, 92:6(5), 98:1, 111:2, 139:14, 145:17; 1 Chronicles 16:9, 12. But unlike the Song of Moses it also brings out that in the final judgment God is revealed as king of the nations, king of the whole world, as prophesied in Zechariah 14:9, so that all nations will come and worship before him – as predicted in the continuation of that passage (Zechariah 14:16-20) (Jewish New Testament Commentary, pp. 832-33).
The words that John hears are a wonderful summary of the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb:
- “Great and awe-inspiring are Your works, Lord God, the Almighty.” This is an allusion to the three most-used Old Testament titles for God. “Lord” refers to Yahweh, the Savior, Redeemer, and Covenant God. “God” refers to Elohim, the Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of all life on earth. And the “Almighty” refers to El Shaddai, the patriarchal name for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- “[R]ighteous and true are Your ways, King of the Nations.” In redemption and in wrath, God’s ways are lofty, perfect, and justified. The Lord is sovereign over all people and all nations.
- “Lord, who will not fear and glorify Your name?” While the fool may declare, “There is no God” (Ps. 53:1), and the beast may exalt himself above the Lord of heaven, the day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11).
- “Because You alone are holy, because all the nations will come and worship before You, because Your righteous acts have been revealed.” God has revealed Himself in creation, conscience and Christ so that everyone will stand before Him one day without excuse – literally, without an apologia or defense (Rom. 1:20).
What marvelous theological truths are captured in the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.
Next: The heavenly sanctuary was opened – Revelation 15:5