On the inimitable excellence of this ode much has been written by commentators, critics, and poets - and it is allowed by the best judges to contain a specimen of almost every species of excellence in composition. It is so thoroughly poetic that even the dull Jews themselves found they could not write it in the prose form; and hence it is distinguished as poetry in every Hebrew Bible by being written in its own hemistichs or short half lines, which is the general form of the Hebrew poetry; and were it translated in the same way it would be more easily understood. The song itself has suffered both by transcribers and translators, the former having mistaken some letters in different places, and made wrong combinations of them in others. As to the translators, most of them have followed their own fancy, from good Mr. Ainsworth, who ruined it by the most inanimate rhyming version, to certain latter poets, who have cast it unhallowedly into a European mould. See the observations at the end of the chapter, Deuteronomy 32:52.
Give ear, O ye heavens - Let angels and men hear, and let this testimony of God be registered both in heaven and earth. Heaven and earth are appealed to as permanent witnesses.
Song of Moses
(1) Deuteronomy 32:4-18, the faithfulness of God, the faithlessness of Israel;
(2) Deuteronomy 32:19-33, the chastisement and the need of its infliction by God;
(3) Deuteronomy 32:34-42, God‘s compassion upon the low and humbled state of His people.
The Song differs signally in diction and idiom from the preceding chapters; just as a lyrical passage is conceived in modes of thought wholly unlike those which belong to narrative or exhortation, and is uttered in different phraseology.
There are, however, in the Song numerous coincidences both in thoughts and words with other parts of the Pentateuch, and especially with Deuteronomy; while the resemblances between it and Deuteronomy 28:15; Leviticus 26:14), and describe it in general terms. If once we admit the possibility that Moses might foresee the future apostasy of Israel, it is scarcely possible to conceive how such foresight could be turned to better account by him than by the writing of this Song. Exhibiting as it does God‘s preventing mercies, His people‘s faithlessness and ingratitude, God‘s consequent judgments, and the final and complete triumph of the divine counsels of grace, it forms the summary of all later Old Testament prophecies, and gives as it were the framework upon which they are laid out. Here as elsewhere the Pentateuch presents itself as the foundation of the religious life of Israel in after times. The currency of the Song would be a standing protest against apostasy; a protest which might well check waverers, and warn the faithful that the revolt of others was neither unforeseen nor unprovided for by Him in whom they trusted.
That this Ode must on every ground take the very first rank in Hebrew poetry is universally allowed.
Introduction. Heaven and earth are here invoked, as elsewhere (see the marginal references), in order to impress on the hearers the importance of what is to follow.
He is the Rock, his work is perfect - Rather, the Rock, perfect is his work. This epithet, repeated no less than five times in the Song Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:30-31, represents those attributes of God which Moses is seeking to enforce, immutability and impregnable strength. Compare the expression “the stone of Israel” in Genesis 49:24; and see 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 18:2; Matthew 16:18; John 1:42. Zur, the original of “Rock,” enters frequently into the composition of proper names of the Mosaic time, e. g., Numbers 1:5-6, Numbers 1:10; Numbers 2:12; Numbers 3:35, etc. Our translators have elsewhere rendered it according to the sense “everlasting strength” Isaiah 26:4, “the Mighty One” Isaiah 30:29; in this chapter they have rightly adhered to the letter throughout.
Render: “It” (i. e. “the perverse and crooked generation”) “hath corrupted itself before Him (compare Isaiah 1:4); they are not His children, but their blemish:” i. e., the generation of evil-doers cannot be styled God‘s children, but rather the shame and disgrace of God‘s children. The other side of the picture is thus brought forward with a brevity and abruptness which strikingly enforces the contrast.
Hath bought thee - Rather perhaps, “hath acquired thee for His own,” or “possessed thee:” compare the expression “a peculiar people,” margin “a purchased people,” in 1 Peter 2:9.
That is, while nations were being constituted under God‘s providence, and the bounds of their habitation determined under His government (compare Acts 17:26), He had even then in view the interests of His elect, and reserved a fitting inheritance “according to the number of the children of Israel;” i. e., proportionate to the wants of their population. Some texts of the Greek version have “according to the number of the Angels of God;” following apparently not a different reading, but the Jewish notion that the nations of the earth are seventy in number (compare Genesis 10:1 note), and that each has its own guardian Angel (compare Deuteronomy 32:9-14
These verses set forth in figurative language the helpless and hopeless state of the nation when God took pity on it, and the love and care which He bestowed on it.
In the waste howling wilderness - literally, “in a waste, the howling of a wilderness,” i. e., a wilderness in which wild beasts howl. The word for “waste” is that used in Genesis 1:2, and there rendered “without form.”
Compare Exodus 19:4. The “so,” which the King James Version supplies in the next verse, should he inserted before “spreadeth,” and omitted from Deuteronomy 32:12. The sense is, “so He spread out His wings, took them up,” etc.
With him - i. e., with God. The Lord alone delivered Israel; Israel therefore ought to have served none other but Him.
i. e., God gave Israel possession of those commanding positions which carry with them dominion over the whole land (compare Deuteronomy 33:29), and enabled him to draw the richest provision out of spots naturally unproductive.
Fat of kidneys of wheat - i. e., the finest and most nutritious wheat. The fat of the kidneys was regarded as being the finest and tenderest, and was therefore specified as a part of the sacrificial animals which was to be offered to the Lord: compare Exodus 29:13, etc.
The pure blood of the qrape - Render, the blood of the grape, even wine. The Hebrew word seems (compare Isaiah 27:2) a poetical term for wine.
Jesbarun - This word, found again only in Deuteronomy 33:5, Deuteronomy 33:26, and Isaiah 44:2, is not a diminutive but an appellative (containing an allusion to the root, “to be righteous”); and describes not the character which belonged to Israel in fact, but that to which Israel was called. Compare Numbers 23:21. The prefixing of this epithet to the description of Israel‘s apostasy contained in the words next following is full of keen reproof.
They provoked him to jealousy - The language is borrowed from the matrimonial relationship, as in Deuteronomy 31:16.
Devils - Render, destroyers. The application of the word to the false gods points to the trait so deeply graven in all pagan worship, that of regarding the deities as malignant, and needing to be propitiated by human sufferings.
The anger of God at the apostasy of His people is stated in general terms in this verse; and the results of it are described, in words as of God Himself, in the next and following verses. These results consisted negatively in the withdrawal of God‘s favor Deuteronomy 32:20, and positively in the infliction of a righteous retribution.
I will see what their end shall be - Compare the similar expression in Genesis 37:20.
God would mete out to them the same measure as they had done to Him. Through chosen by the one God to be His own, they had preferred idols, which were no gods. So therefore would He prefer to His people that which was no people. As they had angered Him with their vanities, so would He provoke them by adopting in their stead those whom they counted as nothing. The terms, “not a people,” and “a foolish nation,” mean such a people as, not being God‘s, would not be accounted a people at all (compare Ephesians 2:12; 1 Peter 2:10), and such a nation as is destitute of that which alone can make a really “wise and understanding people” Deuteronomy 4:6, namely, the knowledge of the revealed word and will of God (compare 1 Corinthians 1:18-28).
Deuteronomy 32:26, Deuteronomy 32:27
Rather, I would utterly disperse them, etc., were it not that I apprehended the provocation of the enemy, i. e., that I should be provoked to wrath when the enemy ascribed the overthrow of Israel to his own prowess and not to my judgments. Compare Deuteronomy 9:28-29; Ezekiel 20:9, Ezekiel 20:14, Ezekiel 20:22.
Behave themselves strangely - Rather, misunderstand it, i. e., mistake the cause of Israel‘s ruin.
The defeat of Israel would be due to the fact that God, their strength, had abandoned them because of their apostasy.
Our enemies - i. e., the enemies of Moses and the faithful Israelites; the pagan, more especially those with whom Israel was brought into collision, whom Israel was commissioned to “chase,” but to whom, as a punishment for faithlessness, Israel was “sold,” Deuteronomy 32:30. Moses leaves the decision, whether “their rock” (i. e. the false gods of the pagan to which the apostate Israelites had fallen away) or “our Rock” is superior, to be determined by the unbelievers themselves. For example, see Exodus 14:25; Joshua 2:9 ff; 1 Samuel 4:8; 1 Samuel 5:7 ff; 1 Kings 20:28. That the pagan should thus be constrained to bear witness to the supremacy of Israel‘s God heightened the folly of Israel‘s apostasy.
Gall - Compare Deuteronomy 29:18 note.
Rather: “Vengeance is mine and recompence, at the time when their foot slideth.
Repent himself for - Rather, have compassion upon. The verse declares that God‘s judgment of His people would issue at once in the punishment of the wicked, and in the comfort of the righteous.
None shut up, or left - A proverbial phrase (compare 1 Kings 14:10) meaning perhaps “married and single,” or “guarded and forsaken,” but signifying generally “all men of all sorts.”
Render: For I lift up my hand to heaven and say, As I live forever, if I whet, etc. On Deuteronomy 32:40, in which God is described as swearing by Himself, compare Isaiah 45:23; Jeremiah 22:5; Hebrews 6:17. The lifting up of the hand was a gesture used in making oath (compare Genesis 14:22; Revelation 10:5).
From the beginning of revenges upon the enemy - Render, (drunk with blood) from the head (i. e. the chief) of the princes of the enemy.
“Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak;
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
My doctrine shall drop as the rain,
My speech shall distill as the dew,
As the small rain upon the tender herb,
And as the showers upon the grass:
Because I will publish the name of the Lord:
Ascribe ye greatness unto our God.
He is the Rock, His work is perfect:
For all His ways are judgment:
A God of truth and without iniquity,
Just and right is He.” PK 394.1
Deuteronomy 32:1-4. PK 394
“Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of many generations:
Ask thy father, and he will show thee;
Thy elders, and they will tell thee.
When the Most High divided to the nations their
When He separated the sons of Adam,
He set the bounds of the people
According to the number of the children of Israel.
For the Lord's portion is His people;
Jacob is the lot of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land,
And in the waste howling wilderness;
He led him about, He instructed him,
He kept him as the apple of His eye.” PK 394.2
I will thank the Lord my God for His great goodness and mercy and love expressed to the human family. I am impressed we should cultivate cheerfulness; and what does this do? It reveals to the world the peace and comfort that it is our privilege to claim. It is not honoring our Lord and Saviour to carry a shade of gloom. Many do this.... TMK 127.2
“Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass; because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children” (Deuteronomy 32:1-5). TMK 127.3
“Not the spot of his children.” They do not possess the character of the sons and daughters of God; do not in spirit, in words, in actions, appear as the people who love God and keep His commandments. “Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?” “For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (verses 6, 9, 10). TMK 127.4
The tenderness of God to His people, His unceasing care for them, the riches of the wisdom of the methods He has taken to lead them to Himself, demand our gratitude offerings expressed in most earnest devotion to serve Him with all humility of mind and contrition of soul. The Lord is gracious, and He would have His people represent His loving-kindness by acknowledgment in cheerful thanksgiving to God. All who appreciate the favors of God will be a happy people.1 TMK 127.5Read in context »
A Soul-saving Instrumentality—The melody of song, poured forth from many hearts in clear, distinct utterance, is one of God's instrumentalities in the work of saving souls.—Testimonies For The Church 5:493 (1889). Ev 496.1
The Power of Song—As the children of Israel, journeying through the wilderness, cheered their way by the music of sacred song, so God bids His children today gladden their pilgrim life. There are few means more effective for fixing His words in the memory than repeating them in song. And such song has wonderful power. It has power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures; power to quicken thought and to awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of action, and to banish the gloom and foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort. Ev 496.2
It is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth. How often to the soul hard-pressed and ready to despair, memory recalls some word of God's—the long forgotten burden of a childhood song—and temptations lose their power, life takes on new meaning and new purpose, and courage and gladness are imparted to other souls!—Education, 167, 168 (1903). Ev 496.3
A Continual Sermon—These words [song of Moses] were repeated unto all Israel, and formed a song which was often sung, poured forth in exalted strains of melody. This was the wisdom of Moses to present the truth to them in song, that in strains of melody they should become familiar with them, and be impressed upon the minds of the whole nation, young and old. It was important for the children to learn the song; for this would speak to them, to warn, to restrain, to reprove, and encourage. It was a continual sermon.—Manuscript 71, 1897. Ev 496.4Read in context »
Moses instructed the children of Israel in an earnest, impressive manner. He knew that it was his last opportunity to address them. He then finished writing in a book all the laws, judgments and statutes which God had given him; also, the various regulations respecting sacrificial offerings. He placed the book in the hands of men in the sacred office, and requested that for safe keeping it should be put in the side of the ark, for God's care was continually upon that sacred chest. This book of Moses was to be preserved, that the judges of Israel might refer to it if any case should come up to make it necessary. An erring people often understand God's requirements to suit their own case, therefore the book of Moses was preserved in a most sacred place, for future reference. 4aSG 55.1
Moses closed his last instructions to the people by a most powerful, prophetic address. It was pathetic and eloquent. By inspiration of God he blessed separately the tribes of Israel. In his closing words, he dwelt largely upon the majesty of God, and the excellency of Israel, which would ever continue if they would obey God, and take hold of his strength. He said to them, “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee, and shall say, Destroy them. Israel, then, shall dwell in safety alone. The fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also, his heavens shall drop down dew. Happy art thou, O Israel. Who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the word of thy excellency? And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places.” 4aSG 55.2Read in context »