The Exodus from Egypt was a defining moment for the children of Israel, marking their birth as a nation. The events were unprecedented, as the prophet Moses would observe forty years later (Dt 4:32-35). The Creator of the Universe intervened to rescue the Israelites from enslavement to the great Pharaoh of Egypt, bringing awesome judgments upon the Egyptians for their exploitation of his people. At the Red Sea, he parted the waters for the Israelites, then drowned the pursuing Egyptian army.
The Exodus proclaimed to the whole world God's power and grace. From then on, the Israelites knew him as the One who had freed them from bondage (Jdg 2:12; 1 Sa 12:6-8; 2 Sa 7:23), and God addressed them as their Deliverer (Jdg 2:1; 1 Sa 10:18; Am 2:10; 3:1). Because God had saved them, they were to serve him alone (Ex 20:1-3).
When Israelites were in trouble, they thought back on the mighty wonders of the Exodus and sought God confidently in prayer (Ps 77). Since God is faithful and his character is unchanging (Mal 3:6), his future works of salvation could be counted upon to resemble those from the past. The prophets pictured a coming restoration of Israel that would parallel, and even surpass, the original Exodus (Isa 43:16-21; 48:20-21; 49:8-12; 51:9-10; 52:1-12).
For those with eyes to see, the prophesied restoration began with the coming of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus' miracles identified him as a prophet like Moses (Dt 18:15-18; Jn 6:1-14) who was inaugurating a new Exodus. Witnesses of his resurrection announced this good news to the Greco-Roman world, beginning at Jerusalem (Ac 3:11-26).
As the Jesus movement spread, controversy followed. Christians refused to worship the many gods of Greco-Roman society (1 Co 8:6; Ac 19:23-29), including the Emperor, and faced persecution for their convictions.
To encourage persecuted believers, God gave special visions to the apostle John, who was in exile on the Mediterranean island of Patmos. John recorded those visions in the final book of the New Testament, the book of Revelation (Rev 1:9-11). The book promises that those who stand firm in loyalty to God will live forever and rule the earth with Jesus the Messiah (Rev 2:11, 26-27; 3:5,21; 5:10).
John's visions were full of imagery from the Exodus. Since the Exodus is such a powerful symbol of God's saving activity, this is not surprising. The Exodus imagery communicates that God would deliver his New Covenant people just as he had the Israelites in Egypt.
Exodus symbols are especially prominent in chapters 15 and 16, where the oppressors of God's people are judged with seven plagues analogous to the plagues and miracles of the Exodus (Rev 15:1, 7-8; 16:1-21). The plagues, contained in seven bowls, are poured out by angels. The first plague brings "harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image" (16:2), reminiscent of the sores and boils of the sixth Exodus plague (Ex 9:8-12).
The second and third plagues turn waters to blood, as in the first Exodus plague (16:3-5), symbolizing the fact that the persecutors have shed the blood of God's servants (v 6). A similar comment is made about the first Exodus plague in Wisdom 11:5-9 in the Apocrypha.
The fourth plague scorches people with fire (vv 8-9), an aspect of the seventh Exodus plague (Ex 9:23). With the fifth plague, the beast's kingdom "was plunged into darkness" (v 10), analogous to the ninth Exodus plague (Ex 10:21-23). The sixth plague dries up the Euphrates River (v 23), reminding us of miracles at the Red Sea and Jordan River. Finally, the seventh plague's hail, thunder, lightning, and earthquake (vv 17-21) parallel the seventh Exodus plague and God's appearance at Sinai.
While the persecutors are judged, the saints who refuse to submit to them are victorious. They are pictured "standing beside the sea of glass with harps in their hands," where "they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb" (Rev 15:2-3).
Three scriptural passages can be called a "song of Moses": Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32, and Psalm 90. Several factors point to Exodus 15 as the one in view in Revelation 15.(1) As with the Israelites who praise God in song in Exodus 15, these saints also praise God by the sea. The "sea of glass" in Revelation 15:2 refers to a Jewish tradition about the Red Sea miracle. Based on the description in Exodus 15:8 of the waters of the Red Sea being "congealed," that tradition pictures those waters hardening like glass (Midrash on Ps 136). Moreover, Moses is called the "servant of God" here, as in Exodus 14:31, the verse preceding Exodus 15.
While the song in Revelation 15:3-4 does not have words matching those of Exodus 15(2), it does summarize four main themes of Exodus 15. First, verse 3 praises the awesome deeds of God, as described in Exodus 15:4-7. Second, verse 3 also acknowledges God as "king of the nations," as in Exodus 15:18. Third, verse 4 speaks of the fear of God inspired by his mighty works, as in Exodus 15:14-16. Finally, verse 4 declares God's uniqueness, as proclaimed in Exodus 15:11.
The designation of the song in Revelation 15 as "the song of the Lamb," as well as the song of Moses, highlights the continuity of God's plan and the connection of New Testament saints with the children of Israel. As God delivered the Israelites from slavery and brought them to Sinai as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:6), Jesus "has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father" (Rev 1:5-6). Together with the people of Israel, Christians can join in praising God our Deliverer, singing the song of Moses, which is also the song of the Lamb.
(1) See HaYoung Son, Praising God Beside the Sea: An Intertextual Study of Revelation 15 and Exodus 15, Wipf & Stock, 2017.
(2) While Revelation is full of biblical allusions, it rarely quotes scripture directly.
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