Lectionary Calendar
Monday, December 11th, 2023
the Second Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 32

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-52

Deuteronomy 32:1 . Give ear, oh ye heavens, and I will speak. This ode, which is full of rhythm, and of almost every poetic excellence and beauty, has been called the Swan song of Moses, who died singing sublime but mournful notes. The principal words have been much copied by future prophets. It is carmen seculare, a song to the age, of truth, not of flattery.

Deuteronomy 32:2 . My doctrine shall drop as the rain. In hieroglyphic writing, rain often designates knowledge and science, which revive and refresh nations, as rain revives the earth. The Messiah is said to sprinkle many nations, and to come down as rain on the mown grass. Psalms 72:6. Isaiah 52:14.

Deuteronomy 32:5 . Their spot is not the spot of his children. The order of the words being here inverted, hardly two versions read alike. The margin, which is mostly the best reading, is, “He hath corrupted to himself.” So “they are not his children; that is their blot.” Maimonides, “Did he do them any harm? No: his children are their own blot.” But Le Clerc prefers the Samaritan version, which reads, “The sons of pollution are not his children.” The meaning of the text obviously is, that the Israelites by idolatry and vice, caused themselves to be disowned as the children of God, which agrees with the reproaches in the next verse. The people of God are called to be without spot and blameless; to be holy as he is holy; to be pure in heart, and merciful, even as he is merciful. The English reading is at issue with all the ancient versions.

Deuteronomy 32:8 . When the most high divided to the nations. This was done at Babel, when the Lord divided the earth among seventy two nations. Genesis 10:5. Acts 17:26-27. Canaan being a descendant of Ham, Genesis 10:6, must have taken forcible possession of the land afterwards promised to Abraham, for Western Asia was most evidently given to the posterity of Shem. Hence the Lord in the partition of the earth, did very astonishingly reserve a happy portion for Israel, The LXX read, “He set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God.” Κατα αριθμον αγγελων Θεου ; that is, God appointed a prince or angel over every family. The gentiles, in their mythology, do the same. Pallas was the titular goddess of Athens, and Minerva had temples without number. We also, slow to renounce the superstitions of Rome, dedicate churches to the virgin, and to the apostles and martyrs.

Deuteronomy 32:11 . As the eagle. Israel may be said to have built their nests in Egypt, but durst not fly abroad till the Lord found them, or came opportunely to them in the desert; so the Lord bore them on his wings, and rejoiced to do them good.

Deuteronomy 32:15 . But Jeshurun waxed fat. The Samaritan reads, “But Jacob waxed fat.” Others contend that the meaning is, Israel ought to be Jeshurun, or upright, but he waxed fat as a bull in a rich pasture, till he became unruly.

Deuteronomy 32:16 . They provoked him to jealousy with strange… The word gods is omitted. He would not pollute his page by names so obscene. The like omission occurs in 2 Chronicles 14:3. Psalms 19:13.

Deuteronomy 32:21 . I will provoke them, as they have provoked me to anger and to jealousy, by giving all their regal wealth and national glory to my new people, the christian Israel. Isaiah 65:15.

Deuteronomy 32:30 . Their rock. As a rock is the firm support of a building, so the Lord supported his people; whereas their rock, the gods of the heathens, were no gods.

Deuteronomy 32:32 . The vine of Sodom. Israel was a choice vine of the Lord’s own planting; but alas, it bore apples of Sodom. Psalms 80:8-15. Isaiah 5:1-7. There was scarcely a righteous man in Jerusalem before the Chaldeans came; and in later times, the christians had fled before the Romans came to burn the city and temple.

Deuteronomy 32:33 . The poison of dragons. We read of the wailing of dragons, in Micah 1:8; and of the dragons of the wilderness in Malachi 1:3. The Hebrew tanim, rendered dragons by the LXX, was probably different from the nachish, a serpent; but critics have not known that distinction. This occasions many readings, as the alligator, leviathan, &c. Modern history commonly gives feet to the dragon. Jerome’s opinion is, that the elephant would pursue and crush the dragon, at which time he made a sibilant and wailing cry, to which Job compares his complaints: Job 30:28-29.

Deuteronomy 32:43 . Rejoice, oh ye nations, with his people. This is understood in unison with all the prophecies of the conversion of the gentiles. So St. Paul applies it in Romans 15:10; and when the Hebrews shall join the church, it will be life from the dead.

Deuteronomy 32:49 . Get thee up to Nebo. Moses from this mountain could see a part of the ranges of mount Lebanon; the snow on the summit would assist the sight. From Cader Idris, in North Wales, we can sometimes see objects at the distance of eighty miles. The Peak of Teneriffe can sometimes be seen from the deck of a ship, at the distance of a hundred and fifty miles.

Deuteronomy 32:50 . And be gathered to thy people; not in body, but in the happy society of the holy patriarchs, in whose line Moses was descended. There they talk of wisdom, and reign forever with the Lord.


This second ode, as before observed, celebrates the past history, and predicts the future degeneracy of Israel. The apostrophe, calling heaven and earth into audience, is bold, sublime and highly proper; for a nation selected from the gentiles and called to be a favourite people, is a subject which claims the attention of angels and men.

The prophet, acquainted with the past, and inspired with views of the future, felt more than a mortal could contain. His soul overflowed in all the ecstasy of vision, and uttered itself in the rapture of sacred song. His doctrine dropped as rain, his speech distilled as dew, as the small rain upon the herb, and as the showers upon the grass. In vision all is seen at once, but in discourse and song, words and ideas must follow in regular succession. The imagination of the poet, completely embracing his subject in the multiplicity of his ideas, resembles a crowd who would enter a narrow gate all at once; but they are obliged to do it in order. Moses, overpowered with ideas of providence and grace, resembles ministers overpowered with the fulness of the gospel, when they pray that utterance may be given them, to make known the mysteries of grace, and preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. The metaphors and similes here employed are rich, appropriate, and striking. The divine goodness towards a brutish and unwise people, is represented by a rock giving life to a whole nation expiring with thirst; and a rock impregnable as a defence. It is also expressed by all the endearing arts and joys of the eagle over her young; and more especially by the paternal goodness which found Jacob in the desert, in the waste howling wilderness of Zin; and led him to a land abounding with butter and milk, with wheat and the blood of grapes. So morally the Lord found us in a dry and desert land; he led us to all the blessings of the gospel, and the hopes of eternal joy. This song next paints the sin of Jeshurun: he waxed fat and kicked. He became unmindful of his rock; he forgot the Lord. Thus it was with the Christian Israel, when Constantine poured a flood of imperial prosperity on the church, So it is with this infidel age. The zeal of our reformers, the writings of their successors, and the revivals of religion which ensued, have very much contributed to make the morals and piety of this nation surpass those of France: but latterly, we seem as though we were resolved to surpass all nations in routes, in theatres, in splendour, dissipation and vice.

What will the consequences be? The same as in Israel. When the Lord saw it, he abhorred them: he was moved to jealousy, he heaped mischiefs upon them and scattered them; a fire kindled in his anger, which burnt to the lowest hell. Wounded with his arrows, their bodies perished, and their souls were hurled to the demons they adored.

But his judgments were mingled with mercy: Deuteronomy 32:35. To him belonged vengeance, but he repented himself for his people. He would not utterly consume them: and his government over the christian church has uniformly realized the same characters and grace.

Before he strikes the harder blows of vengeance, he expostulates. Do you thus requite the Lord, oh foolish and unwise people? He laments over their ignorance and vice. Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end. What their latter end was, you may read in 2 Chronicles 36:0, and in the Lamentations of Jeremiah. What their latter end was when the Messiah and his gospel were rejected, you may read in Josephus; or more briefly in one sentence of our blessed Lord. “In those days shall be tribulation such as was not since men were upon the earth.” Hence Jesus wept over Jerusalem exactly in the same spirit as Moses in this song. Let it also be said to the christian world, if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he spare not thee. Let us look at the latter end of wicked men and apostate nations. Let us look at that aged sinner, who has had the good fortune, as he says, to survive all his contemporaries. See at last the best of constitutions beginning to fail. Mark his gray hairs and feeble gait, attended with every indication of a worn-out frame. Now surely the age is come for repentance, and the long-promised reformation, when compounding with conscience in the delirium of dissipation. Ah, no: he is still the same man. The illusions of vice are all confirmed in their ascendency over his soul. Company and sensual indulgence he cannot enjoy; but he endeavours to console himself by tracing the ideas of past pleasures. Ah, these too escape him; and the recollection reproaches his folly, and presents new mortifications to his pride. If his family, on the ground of decency, urge upon him the duties of religion, these recal the insults he has offered to God, and open all the terrors of a future world with vengeance on his soul. The review of life presents nothing but a host of crimes marshalled against him; and on imploring mercy through constraint and meanness, rather than repentance, he sees all heaven shrouded with darkness, and the bodings of divine indignation. Thus heaven and earth conspire against him, and he drops into eternity a fearful monument of the final end of all ungodly men.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/deuteronomy-32.html. 1835.
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