The Song Line of Moses

“ Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song”… What follows in Exodus 15 is more than just a celebration of the victory of Yahweh over the Egyptians. It carries the reader forward to a time when Yahweh will reign from His sanctuary in Jerusalem forever and ever. For the present, however, the point is to reflect on the use of song and poetry in the Book of Moses. In Australian Aboriginal culture the words of songs are apparently used to remind their people of directions through the desert via landmarks and so on. Some have referred to this as a ‘song line’. How accurate this fact is we cannot be sure. What we can be sure of is that there is a ‘song line’ in the Book of Moses that gives a very clear direction to the faithful point- ing them toward salvation.That Israel should record their history and hope in song was not of their own choosing; they were instructed to do so by God (Deut 31:19). Songs and poems are effective ways of helping people remember important information. Many of the prophets recorded their message in poem and song. The following is recorded of the people in the wilderness as the water burst forth from the well of Beer: “Then Israel sang this song, “Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it” (Num 21:17). One can imagine the resonance from the surrounding hills as several hundred thousand voices spontaneously rejoiced as the water poured forth.

So songs are important! To trace the ‘song line’ of Moses, we need to go back to Genesis 1.

To discover the poems of the Bible you need to consult various translations, for although the translators of the King James Version of the Bible were well aware of the poems embedded in the text, they chose not to distinguish them from the rest of the text. However, if you consult the New King James Version, you can see the poems distinguished from the narrative by the way the poems are indented. We also need to point out that translations differ among themselves about specific verses and their poetic structure. If you struggle to see ‘poetry’ in the verses that follow, try to accept that they are poetic on the authority of the translators. Appreciating biblical poetry is different from our normal understanding of rhyme. Hebrew poetry is more about rhythm. The chart at the end of this section lists the majority of the poems of the Book of Moses as revealed in four translations.

It should be noted that poetic forms of speech do not invalidate the literal intent and message behind the poem. What they do is enhance the significance of the event by allowing the mind to retain the information more readily than in straight prose.

So to return to Genesis 1, note that verse 27 is a poem: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them”. What significance does the poetic structure give to the understanding of this chapter? Let’s suspend judgment on that point till we have considered a few others. The next poem as the list shows is Genesis 2:23; “And Adam said, this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man”.

So we notice that the first two poems are about man, his relationship to God as his creator and his relationship to his wife. Let’s add two more before we draw a conclusion. The next poem is Genesis 3:14-19 which is the curse of God upon mankind as a result of sin. It is remarkable that such a tragic section of scripture should be put to song, or is at least a poem; however as an aid to memory, songs are very useful. This is particularly true for teaching children the origins of mankind and his relationship to his creator. The fourth poem is well known to us in Genesis 4:23-24, “And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.” This poem, which we might call Lamech’s Song of Revenge, is the one which scholars often use to illustrate Bible poetry and song.

Let us now work backwards to uncover the significance of the poems compared to the narrative in which they are found. To do so, we simply ask “What is each chapter about?” Chapter four is about violence, hatred, jealousy and the death of Abel; it is also about the establishment of cities and the beginning of separation from God. Basically it is about the will of the flesh against the Spirit. The poem captures the worldliness of Genesis 4, while in chapter 3 the narrative is about man’s transgression and subsequent alienation from God. The poem again captures the most important message of the chapter, not just man’s condemnation but the seeds of his hope of ultimate salvation. Chapter 2 is about the creation of woman, so the poem captures the supreme joy of this wonderful part of God’s creation.

Finally, back to Genesis 1; no grander chapter is found in the Book of Moses than the record of the creation of the world and life thereon. Genesis 1 has many layers and many secrets; however the poem clearly directs us to the most important part—the creation of mankind. It is mankind made in the image of God that is the focus of creation; it is mankind and the relationship God looks to have with mankind that provokes the song. Surely no stretch of the imagination is required to see the point! Surely we can say with some confidence that the poems of the first four chapters of Genesis capture the key message of each chapter. In committing the poems to memory, the Israelite could recall the content of the whole chapter.

Poems of the Book of Moses

The Song Line of Moses
1:27God’s purpose with manYesNoYesYes
2:23The bond of man & womanYesYesYesYes
3:14-19God’s plan of salvationYesYesYesYes
4:23-24Man’s vengeful natureYesYesYesYes
8:22God’s promise for the earthNoYesYesYes
9:6-7Man’s responsibilityYes v6YesYes v6Yes v6
9:13The rainbowNoNoNoYes
9:25-27The nationsYesYesYesYes
12:2-3God’s purpose re-establishedNoYes v1-3Yes v2-3Yes v3
14:19-20Abram blessedYesYesYesYes
15:01God’s commitment to AbrahamNoNoYesNo
16:11-12Promise of IshmaelYesYesYesYes
24:60Rebekah blessedYesYesYesYes
25:23Rebekah’s children foretoldYesYesYesYes
27:27-29Jacob blessedYesYesYesYes v28+
27:39-40Esau blessedYesYesYesYes
28:3-4Isaac blesses Jacob – regarding a wifeNoYesNoNo
35-11Declaration of God – be fruitfulNoNoNoYes
48:15-16Joseph blessedYesYesYesYes
48:20Ephraim and Manessah blessedYesNoYesYes
49:2-27The children of Jacob blessedYesYesYesYes
15:1-18Song of Moses – future kingdomYesYesYesYes
15:21Song of MiriamYesYesYesYes
20:2-17The Ten CommandmentsNoYesYes?
32:18The worship of the golden calfNoYesYesYes
10:03“I will be sanctified”NoYesYesYes
6:24-26Blessings on the nation – travellingYesYesYesYes
10:35-36Blessings as the Ark was movedNoYesYesYes
12:6-8Moses’s faithfulness celebratedNoYesYesYes
21:14-15The book of warsYesYesYesYes
21:17-18The song of the wellYesYesYesYes
21:27-30The destruction of MoabYesYesYesYes
23:7-10The words of BalaamYesYesYesYes
23:18-24The words of BalaamYesYesYesYes
24:3-9Balaam blesses IsraelYesYesYesYes
24:15-24Balaam’s prophecies of IsraelYesYesYesYes
7:10Vengence on those who hate GodNoYesNoNo
32:1-43God remonstrated with IsraelYesYesYesYes
33:2-29The Blessings on the tribes of IsraelYesYesYesYes
OSB = The Oxford Study Bible

see, as the poems are revealed, how consistent this structure is throughout the Book of Moses: notice, for example, how the book of Leviticus has only one poem. That poem reads, “Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace” (Lev 10:3). This poem was spoken by God in the midst of tragedy as Aaron saw his two sons consumed by fire before his eyes, because they had offered “strange fire” to Yahweh. The poem captures the essence of Leviticus—“I will be sanctified”—only one poem in the whole book and this is it! So what is the ‘song line’ of Moses about? Well, if you were to cut out all the poems and join them together, you would have the gospel of the kingdom; the promise of the Messiah to come and the essential teachings necessary to look with confidence and faith to the kingdom of God to be established on the earth.

Note that in Genesis 12:2-3 the promises to Abraham are part of the poetic structure of the book. This writer claims to have no expertise in understanding Hebrew poetry nor is every single poem clearly related to the “things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”. However, we feel sure that any fair-minded person would agree that there is a message for us in the poems. The Song Line of Moses diagram helps to focus on some of the key poems. Notice that there are four large poems that tie together the Book of Moses, maintaining the compositional strategy with some very significant prophetic detail. These are Genesis 49; Exodus 15; Numbers 23–24 and Deuteronomy 32–33. Although none of the translations support Genesis 5:29, some scholars consider the promise of Noah a poem. The ‘song line’ of Moses leads us through the wilderness of life to the kingdom of God.