Rev.15:3 and Deuteronomy 32
Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, because in them the wrath of God has been completed.
And I saw something like a glassy sea having been mixed with fire, and those who prevailed over the Beast, and over his image, and over the number of his name, standing on the glassy sea, having the harps of God.
And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Righteous and true are Your ways, O King of the nations! Rev. 15:1-3
Look at your study Bible at this passage and you will most likely be given Exodus 15 as a cross-reference, not Deuteronomy 32. Most commentaries likewise follow suit. Just to give one instance, John Gill says this (emphasis mine):
“Revelation15:3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God,…. Not that in Deuteronomy 32:1 but that in Exodus 15:1 and the sense is,either that they observed the law of Moses, which he as a servant in the Lord’s house faithfully delivered, and kept it distinct from the Gospel, and did not blend them together, as in the times before; or rather, that they sung a song like that of Moses, and on a like occasion. Pharaoh was the very picture of the pope of Rome; his oppression and cruel usage of the Israelites represent the tyranny and cruelty of the Romish antichrist;”
I use Gill as a convenient example because he is a usually astute Biblical scholar in my opinion, and he quite clearly shows here the reasoning here why he – and the vast majority of other commentators – opt for Exodus 15 as the basis for Revelation’s “Song of Moses”.
What is the reasoning? Futurism. Even John Gill falls into this futurist a priori assumption. Overlooking the possibility that Revelation foretold the redemption of spiritual Israel and a first-century judgment of carnal Israel (the “adulterous generation” of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels) Gill and many others look to a different application. And,following the lead of Luther, Calvin, and most of the Reformers, the majority view now is a futurist one. This view has two parts:
1.An assumption that the judgment is worldwide, not primarily centered on Israel.
2.An assumption that the enemy here of God’s people is the Roman Catholic Church,not carnal, unrepentant Israel.
But Scripture testifies contrary to both of these assumptions. What is the evidence for this assertion? Let’s look to the Bible, not to our inherited eschatology. Comparing the two Old Testament passages is the first step in making our case. Exodus15:1-19, the passage assumed to be the Song of Moses referred to in Rev. 15, is a recounting of the Israelites’ victory over the pursuing Egyptians. The Israelites had just passed safely through the Red Sea and Pharaoh and his armies, following hard after them, were drowned to the last man. The song is a commemoration of Israel’s victory of faith in God, despite the circumstances. The emphasis is not on the faith of Israel however, nor on Moses, but on the faithfulness and power of Israel’s God.
Aside from the presupposition of editors and commentators, there is absolutely nothing in this passage that specifically connects with Revelation 15. The only thing that links the two passages in the minds of commentators is tradition and necessity.
Tradition: Christendom, having long since overlooked the possibility of a 1st-century fulfillment for the Book of Revelation – according to the Book itself – has for many years now seen the prophecies in that book as far in the future from the time of the original writing. The two most influential schools of thought have been prophetic Historicism (Adam Clarke, Newton) or some form of Dispensational Futurism (Darby, Scofield, Lindsey).
Necessity: Either way 1st-century Israel is discounted as a setting for the fulfillment of this book, and as recipients of the judgments in the book. And, because of this, all the identifications of Israel in this book – and they are numerous and unmistakeable – are re-applied to some other persons. Historically, the convenient application has been on the Roman Catholic Church.
So much for the first Old Testament passage. Now let’s look at passage number two, Deuteronomy 32:1-43. Actually, to get the background for this Song we need to backtrack to Deut. 31:24. This passage is much more somber than the one in Exodus, dealing as it does with the judgment of Israel herself.Moses was given this song, not as a celebration of recent victory, but a sonorous forewarning of a future catastrophe to a backsliding Israel. It is addressed to those who claim to be God’s but have hardened their hearts. The passage goes on to enumerate the ways that this disobedient Israel will fail. Because they forgot God and brought in foreign gods God will hide His face from them. And He will heap upon them disaster after disaster.
There are many parallels between this passage and the book of Revelation,convincing me that this is the real Song of Moses. Compare Deut. 32:23-24 with Rev. 6:2-8. We find here God’s four special judgments for His people. See also Ezekiel 14. In both Rev. 6 and Ezek. we have the four special judgments brought on by obdurate resistance to God’s Word (Rev. 6:9, Ezek. 12:2).
Most convincing is the close correlation of Deut. 32:3-4 with Revelation 15:3-4. One is clearly a reference to the other.
Consider first the passages around Revelation 15. Not to get into too much detail (that I will be unable to finish up on) just look at the verses just before Rev. 15.
“And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God. And the wine-press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine-press, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.” Rev. 14:19-20
The 1600 furlongs converts to about 184 miles long (according to my Thomas Nelson Bible. There are slight differences in other versions). This is basically the distance of Israel from north to south.
Rev. 16:14 and 16
“For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth (lit. γῆ = “land”. That is, “land of Israel”) and of the whole world (lit. οἰκουμένη = “inhabited world”. Very often in Scripture this is the Roman Empire), to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. … And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”
This, then, is not some future worldwide showdown involving all nations. But it is the long-heralded awesome Day of Judgment against long-disobedient Israel, the people of God’s Covenant. The human instruments of this judgment are not the imagined minions of a fictional Antichrist. They are the mighty forces of the Romans, along with the various auxiliary legions, especially those from the east (the “kings of the East”). The confirmatory proof for all of these identifications, apart from Scripture itself, can easily be found in Josephus, Tacitus, Gibbons, and many others.
Other details that point to 1st century Israel as the setting for Revelation are found also in other details:
The city divided in three parts, Rev. 16:19. This should familiar to anyone who has read Josephus’ accounts of the days leading up to Jerusalem’s demise. The city did indeed break up into three warring factions, those in the Temple (the most belligerent), those manning the walls and outer defenses, and the unfortunate majority caught in-between.
The city is full of the blood of the saints, Rev. 16:6; 17:6. Christ said that “it cannot be that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem.” Luke 13:33
The city is destroyed by stones of one talent, Rev. 16:21. This is exactly the weight referred to by Josephus.
The city is stoned, which is the punishment of a harlot. Israel, throughout the Old Testament is spoken of as a harlot. A harlot is one who repudiates their vow of faithfulness. A judgment on the whole world – many who never made any such vow – would not fit that description. A judgment on Israel would.
The city is dressed up in purple, scarlet, gold, and precious stones, Rev. 17:3-5, just like the priests of the Old Covenant.
The city, just like the priests of the Old Covenant, have a name written on the forehead. In the case of Aaron and the other priests it was “Holiness to the Lord”, Exodus 28:38. In the case of 1st-century Israel we have startling contrast,
“MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH”
Having become harlots, professing faith and love toward God, in their actions they deny Him. This picture in Revelation was already predicted in Jeremiah:
“Lift up your eyes to the high places, and see. Where have you not been lain with? By the highways you have sat for them, like the Arabian in the wilderness; and you have defiled the land with your fornications and with your wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withheld, and there has been no latter rain; and you had a harlot’s forehead, you refused to be ashamed.” Jer. 3:2-3
Application. Why is this important?
The identification of the Song of Moses, aside from being a litmus test of one’s eschatology, has one very important application. It shows once again that the judgments of God fall first and foremost on the house of God, on those who profess in words and lie in actions.
Preterism does not change any of this. God did not stop hating sin in 70 AD. We must all, at the end of this life, meet God. Understanding that Revelation prophesied a judgment on those who claimed to be closest to Him should be sobering for all Christians – certainly for those who, in their consciences, have the flimsiest claim to the name of Christian.
Having a clear picture of God’s judgment of others presses us toward earnest self-examination and cleansing. If we judge our selves we would not be judged. The Word of God is a two-edged sword, always achieving its most blessed results in our own lives. But rather than this self-cleansing, we focus rather on the outward edge. God’s victory over those heathen armies of Pharaoh, rather than His wrath against His own covenant-claiming children.