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Deuteronomy 32:20

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Children in whom is no faith - בם אמן לא lo emon bam, "There is no steadfastness in them," they can never be depended on. They are fickle, because they are faithless.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 1-42

Song of Moses

If Deuteronomy 32:1-3 be regarded as the introduction, and Deuteronomy 32:43 as the conclusion, the main contents of the song may be grouped under three heads, namely,

(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.

Deuteronomy 32:1-3

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.

Deuteronomy 32:4

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.

Deuteronomy 32:5

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.

Deuteronomy 32:6

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.

Deuteronomy 32:8

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.

Deuteronomy 32:10

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.”

Deuteronomy 32:11

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.

Deuteronomy 32:12

With him - i. e., with God. The Lord alone delivered Israel; Israel therefore ought to have served none other but Him.

Deuteronomy 32:13

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.

Deuteronomy 32:14

Breed of Bashan - Bashan was famous for its cattle. Compare Psalm 22:12; Ezekiel 39:18.

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.

Deuteronomy 32:15

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.

Deuteronomy 32:16

They provoked him to jealousy - The language is borrowed from the matrimonial relationship, as in Deuteronomy 31:16.

Deuteronomy 32:17

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.

Not to God - Rather, “not God,” i. e., which were not God; see the margin and Deuteronomy 32:21. Compare Deuteronomy 13:7; Deuteronomy 29:25.

Deuteronomy 32:19

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.

Daughters - The women had their full share in the sins of the people. Compare Isaiah 3:16 ff; Isaiah 32:9 ff; Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:15 ff.

Deuteronomy 32:20

I will see what their end shall be - Compare the similar expression in Genesis 37:20.

Deuteronomy 32:21

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 32:24

Burning heat - i. e., the fear of a pestilential disease. On the “four sore judgments,” famine, plague, noisome beasts, the sword, compare Leviticus 26:22; Jeremiah 15:2; Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 14:21.

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.

Deuteronomy 32:30

The defeat of Israel would be due to the fact that God, their strength, had abandoned them because of their apostasy.

Deuteronomy 32:31

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.

Deuteronomy 32:32

Their vine - i. e., the nature and character of Israel: compare for similar expressions Psalm 80:8, Psalm 80:14; Jeremiah 2:21; Hosea 10:1.

Sodom … Gomorrah - Here, as elsewhere, and often in the prophets, emblems of utter depravity: compare Isaiah 1:10; Jeremiah 23:14,

Gall - Compare Deuteronomy 29:18 note.

Deuteronomy 32:35

Rather: “Vengeance is mine and recompence, at the time when their foot slideth.

Deuteronomy 32:36

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.”

Deuteronomy 32:40-42

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).

Deuteronomy 32:42

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.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The revolt of Israel was described in the foregoing verses, and here follow the resolves of Divine justice as to them. We deceive ourselves, if we think that God will be mocked by a faithless people. Sin makes us hateful in the sight of the holy God. See what mischief sin does, and reckon those to be fools that mock at it.
Ellen G. White
Prophets and Kings, 395

But Israel “forsook God which made him,
And lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods,
With abominations provoked they Him to anger.
They sacrificed unto devils, not to God;
To gods whom they knew not,
To new gods that came newly up,
Whom your fathers feared not.
Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful,
And hast forgotten God that formed thee.
PK 395.1

“And when the Lord saw it, He abhorred them,
Because of the provoking of His sons, and of
His daughters.
And He said, I will hide My face from them,
I will see what their end shall be:
For they are a very froward generation,
Children in whom is no faith.
They have moved Me to jealousy with that which
is not God;
They have provoked Me to anger with their vanities:
And I will move them to jealousy with those which
are not a people;
I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”
PK 395.2

“I will heap mischiefs upon them;
I will spend Mine arrows upon them.
They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with
burning heat,
And with bitter destruction.”
PK 395.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 280-1

2 Chronicles 36:14-16: “Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which He had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy.” 1T 280.1

Leviticus 18:26, 27: “Ye shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (for all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled).” 1T 280.2

Deuteronomy 32:16-22: “They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they Him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. And when the Lord saw it, He abhorred them, because of the provoking of His sons, and of His daughters. And He said, I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. They have moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. For a fire is kindled in Mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.” 1T 280.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 364

The spirits sometimes give these leading men an account of events to transpire in battles in which they are about to engage, and of individuals who will fall in the battle. Sometimes it is found to be as these spirits foretold, and this strengthens the faith of the believers in spiritual manifestations. And again it is found that correct information has not been given, but the deceiving spirits make some explanation, which is received. The deception upon minds is so great that many fail to perceive the lying spirits which are leading them on to certain destruction. 1T 364.1

The great leading rebel general, Satan, is acquainted with the transactions of this war, and he directs his angels to assume the form of dead generals, to imitate their manners, and exhibit their peculiar traits of character. And leaders in the army really believe that the spirits of their friends and of dead warriors, the fathers of the Revolutionary War, are guiding them. If they were not under the strongest fascinating deception, they would begin to think that the warriors in heaven (?) did not manifest good and successful generalship, or had forgotten their famed earthly skill. 1T 364.2

Instead of the leading men in this war trusting in the God of Israel, and directing their armies to trust in the only One who can deliver them from their enemies, the majority inquire of the prince of devils and trust in him. Deuteronomy 32:16-22. Said the angel: “How can God prosper such a people? If they would look to and trust in Him; if they would only come where He could help them, according to His own glory, He would readily do it.” 1T 364.3

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Ellen G. White
Evangelism, 496-7

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 496.4

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