Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 28th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 32

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 30-44

B. The Song of Moses 31:30-32:44

This is the song that Moses left with the people.



Having completed the major addresses to the Israelites recorded to this point in Deuteronomy, Moses needed only to make a few final arrangements before Israel was ready to enter the land. The record of these events concludes the book. Chapters 31-34 constitute several appendices to the main body of Deuteronomy (cf. Judges 17-21; 2 Samuel 21-24).

"This final section of the covenant document has as its unifying theme the perpetuation of the covenant relationship. Of special importance is the subject of the royal succession, which is also prominent in the extra-biblical suzerainty treaties . . . This succession is provided for by the appointment and commissioning of Joshua as dynastic heir to Moses in the office of mediatorial representative of the Lord (ch. 31). The testamentary assignment of kingdom inheritance to the several tribes of Israel (ch. 33) reckons with the status of all God’s people as royal heirs. Included also are two other standard elements in the international treaties. One is the invocation of covenant witnesses, here represented chiefly by the Song of Witness (ch. 32). The other is the directions for the disposition of the treaty document after the ceremony (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). By way of notarizing the document, an account of the death of Moses is affixed at the end (ch. 34)." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 197.]

Verses 1-4

Moses called on the whole earth to listen to what follows (Deuteronomy 32:1-2). The subject of this song would be God. The "name" of God is the expression of His character as He revealed this. The purpose of the song is that everyone would recognize God as the great God He is and that His people would respond to Him appropriately. By comparing his teaching to rain and dew, Moses was saying it would be a life-giving blessing to the Israelites. Rain and dew were major sources of blessing in the Promised Land, and their absence created serious problems for the inhabitants. The description of God as the Rock (Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18; Deuteronomy 32:30-31) occurs first here in Scripture, but it appears many times later. This metaphor pictures God as a reliable refuge for His people on whom they could build and who had been solidly faithful to them.

Verses 1-43

2. The song itself 32:1-43

One Old Testament scholar called the Song of Moses "one of the most impressive religious poems in the entire Old Testament." [Note: W. F. Albright, "Some Remarks on the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy XXXII," Vetus Testamentum 9 (1959):339-46.] It contrasts the faithfulness and loyal love of God with the unfaithfulness and perversity of His people. As other important poems in the Pentateuch (e.g., Genesis 49; Exodus 15; Numbers 24), it also teaches major themes.

"The song embraces the whole of the future history of Israel, and bears all the marks of a prophetic testimony from the mouth of Moses, in the perfectly ideal picture which it draws, on the one hand, of the benefits and blessings conferred by the Lord upon His people; and on the other hand, of the ingratitude with which Israel repaid its God for them all." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:464.]

Moses set this song in the form of a lawsuit in which Yahweh leveled a charge against Israel. This form is very common in many of the writing prophets’ oracles. [Note: See G. Ernest Wright, "The Lawsuit of God: A Form-Critical Study of Deuteronomy 32," in Israel’s Prophetic Heritage, pp. 26-67.] Its central theme is "Israel’s apostasy and God’s threatening judgment." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 475. For more information on the text of chapter 32, see Patrick W. Skehan, "The Structure of the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:1-43)," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 13:2 (April 1951):153-63. James R. Boston argued for the origination of this song in the time of Hezekiah or Josiah, as have many other critical scholars, in "The Wisdom Influence upon the Song of Moses," Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1968):198-202.]

Verses 5-6

Israel, on the other hand, was "perverse and crooked" (Deuteronomy 32:5). Moses also called God the Father of the Israelites (Deuteronomy 32:6) whom His people had repaid with corrupt behavior for His many gifts. Such a response was despicable in the ancient East.

Verses 7-14

The writer graphically described God’s choice and care of Israel in these verses. [Note: See David E. Stevens, "Does Deuteronomy 32:8 Refer to ’Sons of God’ or ’Sons of Israel’?" Bibliotheca Sacra 154:614 (April-June 1997):131-41, for a discussion of this textual problem. He concluded that "sons of Israel" is the preferred reading. Michael S. Heiser argued for "Sons of God" in "Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:629 (January-March 2001):52-74. I prefer the "Sons of Israel" reading.] Of all the nations of the earth Israel had experienced the greatest blessing. This is the last of 16 times Moses challenged the Israelites to remember in Deuteronomy, beginning in Deuteronomy 4:10. The desert place where Yahweh found Israel was Egypt (Deuteronomy 32:10). The pupil of the eye (lit. the little man of the eye, Deuteronomy 32:10) is the part a person protects most carefully (cf. Psalms 17:8; Proverbs 7:2). The "apple of the eye" is an English idiom meaning anything that one holds very dear or cherishes greatly.

Verses 15-18

Israel’s rebellion against her Father stands in stark contrast to God’s gracious care. "Jeshurun" (Deuteronomy 32:5; cf. Deuteronomy 33:26; Numbers 23:10) means "upright one" or "righteous nation." This pet name reminded Israel of her holy calling. As an ox, Jeshurun had become unresponsive due to the fatness she had gained as a result of God’s blessings.

"The chiastic structure by which Deuteronomy 32:4-14 match Deuteronomy 32:15-18 in reverse suggests the reversal of Israel’s pledges of covenant commitment to the Lord." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 416.]

Verses 19-25

"The ’jealousy’ of God [Deuteronomy 32:21] is not a spirit of pettiness prompted by his insecurity, but righteous indignation caused by the disloyalty of his people to his covenant grace . . . The jealousy of Israel, however (see next line), will be envy because of God’s lavish attention to another nation [cf. Romans 11:11]." [Note: The NET Bible note on 32:21.]

God would discipline Israel because of her rebellion. He would make the punishment fit the crime (Deuteronomy 32:21). The nations referred to as being "not a people" (Deuteronomy 32:21) are those that had no divine calling as a people as Israel did. There is no other nation like Israel in the sense that it is the people of God. Fire (Deuteronomy 32:22) is the symbol of God’s wrath and judgment (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24; Exodus 3:2; Hebrews 12:29).

Verses 26-38

Israel’s unfaithfulness would not thwart God’s purposes for her, however. God would use other nations to discipline His people, but He would judge them too (cf. Habakkuk 1-2). The Old Testament writers compared Israel to Sodom and Gomorrah many times (Deuteronomy 32:32), but they never compared the heathen nations to those wicked cities.

"One of the well-known sermons in American history was preached by Jonathan Edwards in 1741 from this verse [Deuteronomy 32:35] and particularly from this clause: ’In due time their foot will slip.’ The sermon subject was ’Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.’ Edwards thought that the verse was directed at the unbelieving Israelites, but his application of it reached to all wicked people." [Note: Kalland, p. 212.]

Verses 39-43

The biblical writers also represented God frequently as a warrior hero who engaged in battle for Israel against her enemies (Deuteronomy 32:41-42; cf. Psalms 7:13). Loving God indicates faithful covenant obedience (cf. Deuteronomy 5:10; Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:1; Deuteronomy 11:13; Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 13:3; Deuteronomy 19:9; Deuteronomy 30:6; Deuteronomy 30:16; Deuteronomy 30:20). Hating Him describes those who either have no covenant relationship with Him or who live in rebellion against Him (cf. Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 7:10; 2 Chronicles 19:2; Psalms 81:15; Psalms 139:20-21).

"Again it can be seen that the text portrays the Torah as God’s gift of life to his people in much the same way as the Tree of Life was put into the midst of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8-17). Just as obedience to the Lord’s command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the key to their access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 2:16-17), so obedience to the Lord’s command in the Torah was to be the key to Israel’s ’living long in the land’ that God had prepared for them." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 476.]

This song was one more instrument God used to teach His people to obey Him along with Moses’ sermons, the rituals, the monuments, etc. (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).

"It will . . . act as a mnemonic, an aid to memory, because during the intervening period it will have lived unforgotten in the mouth of the reader or hearer, ready to come to mind when the troubles arrive. Poetry is thus a kind of time bomb; it awaits its hour and then springs forward into harsh remembrance. . . . It will live in their minds and mouths, bringing them back, whether they like it or not, to the harsh memory of the desert sojourn. Once learned it will not easily be forgotten. The words will stick, they will be importunate, they will not let us alone." [Note: Harold Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose: Biblical Poetics and Interpretation, p. 51.]

The lesson this song teaches is that when God’s people forget His gracious goodness to them and turn away from Him to follow idols, they can expect discipline. When God appears to withdraw His blessings we should not question His ability or motives but examine the state of our relationship with Him.

Verse 44

3. The conclusion to the song 32:44

This verse is the closing bracket that surrounds the song in the text (cf. Deuteronomy 31:30). It probably does not indicate a second recital of the song. Both the introductory and concluding verses simply state the circumstances in which Moses and Joshua communicated the song to the nation.

Verses 45-47

1. Moses’ exhortation to obedience 32:45-47

Moses addressed the Israelites again after he had taught them his song. He urged them to take to heart not only the words of the song but all the words of the law, namely, the entire covenant text of Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 17:19; Deuteronomy 27:3; Deuteronomy 27:8; Deuteronomy 27:26; Deuteronomy 28:58; Deuteronomy 29:29; Deuteronomy 31:12; Deuteronomy 31:24). He pointed out that these words were not flippant or offhanded matters of human opinion (Deuteronomy 32:47) but words that would lead to their living (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3; Deuteronomy 30:20).

Verses 45-52

C. Narrative interlude 32:45-52

This narrative section of Deuteronomy relates a final exhortation that Moses gave the Israelites and an announcement of his death that he received from the Lord.

Verses 48-52

2. The announcement of Moses’ death 32:48-52

The same day Moses gave his song to the Israelites God directed him to prepare for his death (Deuteronomy 32:48; cf. Numbers 27:12-14). Mt. Nebo is one of the peaks in the Abarim range that stands to the east of the Arabah northeast of the Dead Sea. This mountain range runs generally from north to south. People in that culture associated heights with nearness to deity, so perhaps both Aaron and Moses died and were buried on mountains to symbolize their nearness to God. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 430.]

God permitted Moses to see the whole land of Canaan even though his sin at Kadesh prevented him from entering it.

"The Lord had told him to speak to the rock (Numbers 20:8), the mere act of speaking being designed to demonstrate the power of God who creates by the spoken word. To strike the rock was to introduce an interruptive element and thus to diminish the significance of the powerful word. By doing this, Moses betrayed not only anger and disobedience but he correspondingly reflected on the God whom he served by implying that God could not bring forth water by the divine word alone." [Note: Ibid., p. 429.]

Moses’ sin lay in his failure to honor God as He deserved. This is essentially the warning of the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-43). Moses had failed God as Israel had failed Him. Moses warned Israel about failing Him again in the future.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-32.html. 2012.
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