What Is the Song of Moses in the Bible?
- Joel Ryan Contributing Writer
- 2021 31 May
Music has always been an integral part of church worship, the same way songs hold an esteemed place in the pages of Scripture. Though the Bible is not inherently a songbook, almost two hundred songs can be found in the chapters of both the Old and New Testaments. The Psalms are the best known of these. However, there are many dirges, hymns, prayers, poems, and even dedications of battles, births, and miracles we may not know about or think of as traditional songs.
Some of the Bible’s songs were written to music accompaniment; others were penned as chants or hymns to be sung in a choir or assembly. Then are those written more as personal poems and individual expressions of joy, grief, or thanksgiving. Solomon wrote an entire book of intimate love poetry to his wife (Song of Solomon). Jeremiah wrote five heartbreaking laments following the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of his people into Babylon (Lamentations).
When most people consider the actual songwriters of the Bible, they understandably turn to David, Solomon, Jeremiah, and perhaps even new moms like Hannah or Mary, who each celebrated the news of their pregnancy in some form of a song, though maybe not in the traditional sense. However, these figures were not the only ones to lift their voice or put pen to paper in such a lyrical way.
Bible readers may not know it, but Moses also had a hand in penning three of the Bible’s most profound songs. Though Moses is most commonly associated with the Ten Commandments and the exodus from Egypt, his songs written to commemorate God’s goodness and faithfulness are also worthy of our attention. But what do they mean and what do they have to say to us today?
What Is the Meaning of Moses' Song in Exodus 15?
If anyone had reason to sing songs of celebration following the exodus from Egypt, it was the Israelites. Not only had the children of Israel been delivered from slavery, but they had also seen God act on their behalf in spectacular fashion! From the ten plagues to the pillars of cloud and fire guiding them; the parting of the Red Sea to the ultimate destruction of Pharoah’s army, the Israelites were no strangers to the miracles of God. Perhaps this is why, once safely on the other side of the Red Sea with Egypt behind them, Moses lead the people in a song of praise and thanksgiving! It is the first song of its kind recorded in the Bible.
In a true moment of justified worship, Moses recounts the mighty deeds of the Lord in delivering them from the hand of Pharoah and his army (Exodus 15:4-10). He then exalts God to His rightful place of authority, singing words to commemorate the personal relationship he and his people shared with their Lord, who had been faithful to His promise of delivering them from bondage (Exodus 15:13).
After all they had seen and experienced, Moses could also affirm that there was truly no other god like the Lord.
“Who is like You among the gods, Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)
And as the people looked to the future beyond the rivers of Egypt and shores of the Red Sea, Moses put the nations of Canaan on alert. As God was with His people in Egypt, so He would be with them as they entered the Promised Land. Enemies of Israel beware! God would not hesitate to do to them as He had done to the Egyptians if they oppose or attempt to harass His beloved people.
“And in the greatness of Your excellence, You overthrow those who rise up against You; you send out Your burning anger, and it consumes them like chaff.” (Exodus 15:7)
“The people have heard, they tremble; anguish has gripped the inhabits of Philistia. Then the chiefs of Edom were terrified; the leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; all the inhabitants of Canaan have despaired. Terror and dread fall upon them; by the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone.” (Exodus 15:14-16)
The first Song of Moses concludes with Miriam, Moses’ sister, leading the people in the triumphant chorus.
“Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.” (Exodus 15:21)
What Is the Meaning of Moses' Song in Deuteronomy 32?
Unfortunately for the nation of Israel, the miracles of God, which they had seen with their own eyes, were often forgotten; and it didn’t take long for the people to turn a song of praise into a song of grumbling and complaint against the Lord and Moses. For this reason, the children of Israel would spend forty years wandering the desert as punishment for their disobedience. Only after the current generation had died off would Joshua and Caleb lead God’s people across the Jordan River and into the land of Canaan. Moses, however, would not travel with them.
As the new generation prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses again took to the pen to write one last song, recapping their experience in the desert and preparing them for the days ahead. In large part, this is the major theme of the book of Deuteronomy. It serves as both a song of the past and instruction for the future. Similar to his first song, in his second, Moses begins by praising the Lord and singing of His faithfulness.
“For I proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustices, righteous and just is He.” (Deuteronomy 32:3-4)
Moses also reminds the people that God is at the center of this relationship. It was God who found His people, claimed them, cared for them, delivered them, protected them, and provided for them every step of the way. His ways have are good and just, and His instructions, which Moses spent decades relaying to the people, were given for the benefit of His people (Deuteronomy 32:9-12). With God, there are blessings for obedience and consequences for disobedience. Unfortunately, Moses would intercede on behalf of his people for their disobedience, which they had demonstrated in the desert.
- “You forgot the Rock who fathered you, and forgot the God who gave you birth.” (Deuteronomy 32:18)
- “Then he abandoned God who made him, and rejected the Rock of his salvation.” (Deuteronomy 32:15)
- “For they are a perverse generation, Sons in whom there is no faithfulness.” (Deuteronomy 32:20)
Despite Israel’s sin and stubbornness, however, God never abandoned His promises or gave up on His people, which Moses also affirms.
“for the Lord will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone, and there none remaining, bond or free.” (Deuteronomy 32:36)
Deuteronomy 32 is, therefore, a song of commemoration as much as it is it was a warning to future generations that if they failed to put their trust in God, turned to other gods, or forgot God’s promises, miracles, and mercy, they too would stumble and fall like their ancestors. This is why Moses urges the Israelites to remember their history, and he delivers this song to Joshua for this very reason. It was meant to be shared, sung, and repeated.
“Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations. Ask your father and he will inform you, your elders, and they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7)
What Is the Meaning of Moses' Song in Psalm 90?
Nestled within the many Psalms of David we find Psalm 90, another of Moses’ songs. We know that Psalm 90 was written sometime between the Exodus of Egypt and Deuteronomy 32, and it was likely added to the collection of Psalms sometime much later. Where Exodus 15 can be viewed as a song of praise and Deuteronomy 32 a song of instruction, Psalm 90 is very much a song of prayer. In some translations, Psalm 90 is even subtitled “A Prayer of Moses.” In it, Moses sings of the eternal majesty of the Lord.
“For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by,” Moses writes (Psalms 90:4)
In God’s presence, Moses, like most, recognized the brevity of his own life. This is why he asks God to, “teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Psalms 90:12)
“Satisfy us in the morning with Your graciousness, that we may sing for joy and rejoice all our days. Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us, and the years we have seen evil.” (Psalm 90:14-15)
As Moses states at the beginning of his song/prayer, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalm 90:1). If Moses had learned anything from Israel’s tumultuous history, it was that it was better to reside in the presence of God and obey His commands than try and live out the brevity of life on one’s own. He had certainly seen the end result of both choices and knew that obedience and God’s favor were always preferable to the consequences of disobedience, stubbornness, and idolatry.
Why Are Songs Important in the Bible?
There are many types of songs included in the Bible. Many were written as songs of worship that the people could sing together. Others were written more as personal reflections on the wonders of God. There are songs written to commemorate major moments and milestones. There are laments, prayers, and hymns. There are instructions written for future generations to follow. In Moses’ own songs, for example, we discover a diversity of perspective, purpose, and experience. We find praise, instruction, and prayer.
The songs of the Bible were written for a multitude of different occasions and capture a myriad of emotions, and yet, they are as specific and timely as the words and metaphors they contain. Like any song, the songs of the Bible are often short, focused, and lyrical. They convey emotion, praise God, and help others understand, memorize, and absorb their words. Though the language, rhythm, instrumentation, and musicality of many of the Bible’s songs have been lost over time, their meaning is not. We may not sing these songs in the same way as Moses, or David or Jeremiah did, but by contemplating their lyrics, through study and prayer, we too can learn to worship God, who deserves to be praised!
Related: Listen to our podcast, How to Study the Bible! Available at LifeAudio.com. Listen to the first episode here:
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/doidam10
Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s author, artist, professor, and speaker who is passionate about helping young writers unleash their creativity and discover the wonders of their Creator through storytelling and art. In his blog, Perspectives off the Page, he discusses all things story and the creative process.