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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 32

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

Verses 1-3

Witnesses Are Called On To Bear Witness To His Words (Deuteronomy 32:1-3 ).

Deuteronomy 32:1-3

“Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak;

And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.

My teaching will drop like the rain;

My speech will distil like the dew,

As the raindrops on the fresh grass,

And as the showers on the vegetation.

For I will proclaim the name of Yahweh,

Ascribe you (ye) greatness to our God.”

First heaven and earth are called on to witness to what Moses will speak (compare Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 31:28), such is the solemnity of his words. These are world fashioning events. Heaven and earth were in fact regular treaty witnesses among other nations (compare Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 30:19).

Then the nature of his teaching is described. It is like the rain and the dew falling and bringing forth lush vegetation, bringing life and fruitfulness. His words should come as words of refreshing to their hearts. And the reason that it is like this is because He is proclaiming the name of Yahweh. They are therefore to ascribe greatness to ‘our God’.

In this teaching we have the germ of the later teaching about God’s word bringing forth new life and about the Holy Spirit as being like rain (Isaiah 55:10-11; Isaiah 44:3-5 compare Isaiah 45:8), and the basis of the teaching of John the Baptiser where he spoke of fruitfulness, and of the new birth of water and Spirit in the teaching of Jesus Himself. Here it is connected with ‘the name’, that is with the nature of, Yahweh. Yahweh is the living God, the life-giver.

This last is the teaching that is available to us. But we must ask ourselves the question, are we open to His divine influence on us?

“Proclaim the name of Yahweh.” This may have in mind Deuteronomy 6:4-5, ‘Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one’ and ‘Yahweh our God’, His name as the covenant God.

“Ascribe you greatness to our God.” Compare Deuteronomy 3:24; Deuteronomy 5:21; Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 11:2; Numbers 14:19; Psalms 79:11; Psalms 150:2). This word for God’s ‘greatness’ is mainly limited to the Pentateuch.

Verses 1-52

Chapter 32 The Song of Moses.

Having written the Complaint Document as a song to be sung by the children of Israel until its words were fulfilled and it could be called on as a witness against them, and also be seen as a promise of hope, Moses read out the song to the people.


a And Moses spoke in the ears of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were finished (Deuteronomy 31:30).

b The Song of Complaint and Promise (Deuteronomy 32:1-43).

a And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hoshea the son of Nun, and Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel (Deuteronomy 32:44-45).

Verse 4

The Character of the Overlord Is Described (Deuteronomy 32:4 ).

Deuteronomy 32:4

“The Rock, his work is perfect;

For all his ways are justice.

A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,

Just and right is he.”

The reason that God can be ascribed as great is now expanded on. It is because He is the Rock, He is what alone is firm and sure in the midst of uncertainty (Psalms 31:2-3; Psalms 40:2; Psalms 62:2; Psalms 62:6-7; Psalms 94:22), He alone provides shelter from the burning heat (Isaiah 32:2), and water for the thirsty (Deuteronomy 8:15 compare Deuteronomy 32:13; Psalms 78:20; Psalms 105:41; Psalms 114:8; Isaiah 48:21). For His work is perfect and without fault or failure, His ways are totally just and right, and He is totally faithful and without any trace within of bentness or wrongdoing or inbred sin. The fact that false gods can also later be likened to a rock (Deuteronomy 32:31) suggests that the first picture is what is mainly in mind.

Verse 5

The Charge Is Made Against the Covenant Breakers (Deuteronomy 32:5 ).

Deuteronomy 32:5

“They have dealt corruptly with him,

Not his children,

The result of their blemish;

A perverse and crooked generation.”

In contrast with Yahweh’s faithfulness and reliability are His people. They have dealt corruptly with him, being deceitful, unreliable and untrustworthy. They are ‘not His children’ (compare Hosea 1:10; Hosea 2:23), that is, not behaving like Him or revealing Him in their lives. As a result of their blemish, which is in contrast with His perfection, they are a perverse and crooked generation, unreliable and twisted, not fit to be seen as His children. For ‘blemish’ (disfiguring spot) compare Job 11:15; Job 31:7; Proverbs 9:7.

Verse 6

A Series of Questions Is Then Put To Them (Deuteronomy 32:6 ).

Deuteronomy 32:6

“Do you (ye) thus requite Yahweh,

O foolish people and unwise?

Is not he your (thy) father who has bought you (thee)?

He has made you (thee), and established you (thee).”

He then faces the people up with their folly and lack of wisdom. Is this really the way that they repay Yahweh for all He has done for them? Do they not recognise that He is their Father (Deuteronomy 14:1 compare Exodus 4:22) Who has redeemed them (from bondage in Egypt - Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 15:15; Deuteronomy 24:18), and has brought them through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:31), and has made them into a fruitful and abundant nation, and has shaped them and established them so that they are there ready to possess God’s land and live in it securely?

These are questions that we should put to ourselves. So often we forget that He is our Father, and that what He does is for our good. That is why we so often take little notice of Him and what He requires from our lives.

Verses 7-14

The Beneficence Towards Them of Their Overlord Is Outlined (Deuteronomy 32:7-14 ).

Deuteronomy 32:7-9

“Remember the days of old,

Consider the years of many generations,

Ask your (thy) father, and he will show you (thee),

Your (thy) elders, and they will tell you (thee).

“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,

When he separated the children of men,

He set the bounds of the peoples,

According to the number of the sons of Israel.

‘For Yahweh's portion is his people,

Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.”

So he now tells them to consider what Yahweh has done for them. Let them look back over the generations and remember what Yahweh did from the beginning. They only have to ask their fathers, or their elders to discover it. Because they were Yahweh’s inheritance and His people, when He divided up the world He remembered them, and how many of them there would be, so that he allocated portions to other nations accordingly. He ensured that a broad and wide land was available for them which would be more than sufficient to accommodate their numbers. Other nations were thus restricted accordingly.

“The Most High.” (Elyon). Compare Genesis 14:18; Numbers 24:16, both cases where connection with Gentile nations is emphasised. Israel appear to have taken the title over, assimilating it to Yahweh as Abraham had himself done (Genesis 14:22) for use when speaking of His dealings with Gentile nations.

“According to the number of the sons of Israel.” Some have seen here a connection between the seventy members of Jacob’s household who went down into Egypt and the seventy nations in Genesis 10:0, but in view of the lack of mention of seventy here and in Genesis 10:0 that seems a little far fetched. LXX and a Hebrew fragment at Qumran have ‘sons of God’ instead of ‘sons of Israel’. That might signify that the numbers of the nations were determined by the number of angelic powers who could have charge of them, but that seems to be irrelevant to the context. But it would appear to have arisen from the belief in guardian angels for different nations. As MT makes excellent sense in context we would suggest its retention. It simply mans that when allocating land to the nations He remembered how many Israelites there would be and allocated accordingly.

Deuteronomy 32:10

“He found him in a desert land,

And in the waste, a howling wilderness,

He surrounded him, he cared for him,

He kept him as the little one (ishon, diminutive of ish = man) of his eye.”

He had found Israel in the desert land, in the waste land, in the howling wilderness, (the threefoldness emphasising its wild nature). The idea is of someone who has been found wandering in the desert almost near death, helpless and hopeless, saved by the skin of their teeth. We can compare for this picture of being ‘found’ Hosea 9:10, where we have the same picture indicating that they were ‘found’. Hosea makes it clear that this was after they left Egypt following God’s call (Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1). Israel had left Egypt but had then turned away from Him (e.g. Exodus 16:3). They were thus helpless until He found them again. Then Yahweh had surrounded them with His love, caring for them and protecting them as His babes over whom He kept watch.

The purpose of this picture is to bring out their helplessness. The point here is that they were not then to be seen as the people of the covenant, safe in their Overlord’s hand, for they had forfeited that (Exodus 32:10; Exodus 32:30-35; Numbers 14:11-12; Numbers 14:35), and had become ‘lost’, a whole generation dying in the wilderness (Numbers 14:35). They had become like a party of people who had wandered in the desert and were lost and thirsty, and terrified of the howling creatures around. But Yahweh had found them and taken them under His protection.

In view of the redemption mentioned in Deuteronomy 31:6, and this mention of being preserved in the wilderness, there is a clear connection with the Exodus, confirmed by the references in Hosea, but with a recognising of how much they had forfeited of Yahweh’s favour. They had been finally delivered as an undeserving people lost in the wilderness.

All of us without exception have at some time or other to travel ‘in the wilderness’. But the value of that experience will be determined by how we respond. If we look off to Him in confidence and trust it will be the making of us. But if we murmur and grumble and complain it will do us no good.

Deuteronomy 32:11-12

‘As an eagle which stirs up her nest,

Who flutters over her young,

He spread abroad his wings, he took them,

He bore them on his pinions.

Yahweh alone did lead him,

And there was no foreign god with him.’

Like the mother eagle He alone cared for them. None other was with Him. Like her he took them on his wings and bore them safely. The picture is that of an eagle teaching her eaglets to fly and ensuring their safety. In the same way Yahweh alone led His people. No foreign god was concerned. There was little competition to Yahweh in the wilderness.

This illustration aptly pictures the children of those who had failed and been doomed to die in the wilderness, being taken up by a gracious God so that he could teach them to ‘fly’. He did not forsake them but tenderly took note of their needs (compare Isaiah 40:11).

Deuteronomy 32:13

“He made him ride on the high places of the earth,

And he did eat the increase of the field,

And he made him to suck honey out of the rock,

And oil out of the flinty rock,”

The poem now moves on into the future. He will make them ride on the high places of the earth (having taught them to fly like the eagle), like some great all-conquering potentate (compare Isaiah 58:14). The one who conquers the heights, conquers the land. Or the thought may be of their settlement on the mountains of Canaan having conquered all enemies, something now seen in the poem as accomplished. They will eat the ample increase of the fields, they will suck honey from a rock, they will even obtain oil from a flinty rock. Honey and oil were symbols of luxury and plenty. Obtaining honey and oil from a flinty rock is a considerable step up from obtaining water. The wild bees would nest in the rocks producing their honey, and their olive trees would flourish in rocky soil, seeming to come from the flinty rock. Even the barren places would be fruitful.

Deuteronomy 32:14

“Butter of the herd, and milk of the flock,

With fat of lambs,

And rams of the breed of Bashan,

And he-goats,

With the finest of the wheat;

And of the blood of the grape you (thou) drank wine.”

They would have the best of everything, butter from the herd and milk from the flock, fat and strong rams from Bashan (compare Amos 4:1), similarly fat he-goats, the finest of the wheat and abundance of wine from the red grape juice which flows like blood. They would never have had it so good before.

Verses 15-18

The Treacherous Nature of Their Behaviour Is Described (Deuteronomy 32:15-18 ).

Deuteronomy 32:15-16

‘But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked,

You are waxed fat, you are grown thick, you are become sleek,

Then he forsook God who made him,

And lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.

They moved him to jealousy with what was strange,

With abominations they provoked him to anger.’

But His ‘righteous one’ (Jeshurun) grew fat, and kicked out, they got fatter and fatter and grew sleek and well groomed and untrustworthy. Thus they forgot the One to Whom they owed it all. They ceased to be His righteous one. They forsook the God Who made them, they esteemed lightly the Rock on Whom their deliverance was built, the Rock which was their security. They made Him jealous (compare Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 6:15; Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14) with what was foreign, seeking to false gods and false religion, they provoked Him to anger with their idolatrous ways and behaviour.

For ‘abominations’ see Deuteronomy 7:25; Deuteronomy 27:15; 2 Kings 23:13.

It is a sad fact that when God prospers men they soon forget Him. It only takes a little wealth and the opportunity for pleasure for our consecration to go out of the window.

Deuteronomy 32:17-18

They sacrificed unto demons, which were no God,

To gods that they knew not,

To new gods that came up of late,

Which your fathers dreaded not.

Of the Rock which begat you (thee) you are unmindful,

And have forgotten God that gave you (thee) birth in pain.’

In preference to God they turned to demons (compare Psalms 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20) which were no god, they sacrificed to them, and to gods that they had never had anything to do with, to new fangled gods who were not even ancient, gods that their fathers had never feared, and they forgot their God from of old Who had brought them into being, Who had begotten them and Who had borne them in pain (He had been both father and mother). They dallied with novelties and with the occult. The begetting and bringing forth in pain may refer to the deliverance from Egypt.

We may not dally with these. But we dally with our idols in music and sport, in travel and entertainment, and we forget our responsibility towards the One Who was crucified for us.

Verses 19-25

The Overlord’s Verdict Is Pronounced (Deuteronomy 32:19-25 ).

Deuteronomy 32:19-20

‘And Yahweh saw, and abhorred,

Because of the provocation of his sons and 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 perverse generation,

Children in whom is no faithfulness.’

Yahweh’s response was horror at what they were doing and hatred of what they were doing it with. His very children were provoking Him with their behaviour, and He declared His determination to hide His face from them and watch over them no more. Then He would see what their end would be (compare Psalms 73:17). They were like unruly children who were perverse and totally lacking in loyalty.

There is nothing more sad than a people forsaken because of their own folly. Can we not remember our first love when all that we desired was to please Him? But now like the Laodiceans many of us have grown lukewarm. And thus God has become very distant.

Deuteronomy 32:21

“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 that are not a people,

I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”

Indeed with their ‘no gods’ they had made Him intolerant of their disloyalty, and they had provoked Him to anger with the vain things that they had to do with. Thus He will bring against them another people, an unchosen people, a no-people, and He will favour those people and make His people jealous of them and angry in their hearts. There are probably no particular people in mind here. The point is simply that for a while He will favour their enemies, who are not a chosen people.

But in the end it would result in the responsive among the no-people, the Gentiles, being united with the faithful in Israel in forming the new Israel, the true church of God, which would indeed make unfaithful Israel jealous (compare 1 Peter 2:10).

For the provocation see Deuteronomy 29:22-28. For the contrast between no-gods and no-people compare Hosea 1:9; Hosea 2:23.

Deuteronomy 32:22

“For a fire is kindled in my anger,

And burns to the lowest Sheol,

And devours the earth with its increase,

And sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.”

Few will escape. This introduction of a ‘favoured’ enemy will be like a fire kindled by Yahweh (compare Deuteronomy 4:24) which will even burn their dead, (for even they will not escape), will destroy their crops and trees and the land (compare Judges 6:4-5), and set on fire the lower parts of the mountains. The picture is one of ultimate devastation.

Deuteronomy 32:23-24

“I will heap evils upon them,

I will spend mine arrows on them,

Wasted with hunger, and devoured

With burning heat and bitter destruction,

And the teeth of beasts will I send on them,

With the poison of crawling things of the dust.”

So will He heap evil circumstances on His people and strike them with His arrows, wasting them with hunger, striking them with plague and pestilence (‘burning heat’, compare Deuteronomy 28:22), letting them endure the burning and destruction of their land, its devastation by wild beasts and its being overcome with poisonous crawling things. All the curses of Deuteronomy 28:0 will come on them.

When we have backslidden we too experience the awfulness of His seeming abandonment. And then what is important is that we respond immediately, otherwise it will only get worse. For whom God loves, He chastens.

Deuteronomy 32:25

“Outside will the sword bereave,

And in the chambers terror,

For both the young man and the maiden,

For the suckling with the man of grey hairs.”

When they dare to go outside the sword will slay them and bereave their families, and if they hide within their dwellings terror will enter both for young men and maidens, for grandfathers and grandchildren. None will be safe.

The verdict having been given at this point, the likeness to the treaty indictment ceases, for having obtained his vengeance the ordinary overlord would pass on having destroyed his enemies, while Yahweh cannot do so. For He is faithful even to those who are unfaithful.

Verses 26-27

His Verdict Is Withdrawn For The Sake of His Name (Deuteronomy 32:26-27 ).

Yahweh is now seen as hesitating at the thought of destroying His people completely. Not because they do not deserve it but lest their enemies think that they have defeated them rather than it being due to His activity.

Deuteronomy 32:26-27

“I said, I would cut them in pieces,

I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men,

Were it not that I feared the provocation of the enemy,

Lest their adversaries should judge amiss,

Lest they should say, Our hand is exalted,

And Yahweh has not done all this.”

He had determined to destroy them, to cut them in pieces, to so deal with them that they vanished for ever from people’s memories. The only thing that prevented Him was that their enemies would take the credit for themselves. Instead of recognising that it was Yahweh’s work they would claim that they had done it themselves, and would preen themselves (compare Deuteronomy 9:28). They would put it down to their own doing.

Verses 28-30

He Declares Their Hopeless State Without Him (Deuteronomy 32:28-30 ).

Deuteronomy 32:28-29

“For they are a nation void of counsel,

And there is no understanding in them.

Oh that they were wise, that they understood this,

That they would consider their latter end!’

He declares Israel’s folly. They lack wise guidance, and are lacking in understanding. They are ignoring the lessons of history which might turn them back to Him, and they were forgetting His Instruction (contrast Deuteronomy 4:6). He longs that they might just be sensible and consider where what they were doing would take them in the end (compare Deuteronomy 4:6 where such wisdom would come from considering his God-given words).

Of how many of us can it be said that we are without understanding? If we had even a glimmer of the truth about life and about eternity what different people we would be.

Deuteronomy 32:30

How should one chase a thousand,

And two put ten thousand to flight,

Except their Rock had sold them,

And Yahweh had delivered them up?’

How was it that they could not even stand up against the weakest of their enemies? How was it that a single soldier of their enemies could put a whole regiment of them to flight, and two could put a brigade to flight (contrast Leviticus 26:8; Isaiah 30:17). It was because they had become weak and unable to defend themselves. This could only be because He, their Rock, had sold them (contrast Deuteronomy 32:6, where their Father had bought them, and Deuteronomy 32:18 where their Rock had begotten them), because He, Yahweh, had delivered them up. It was because He no longer treated them as His redeemed people.

How often we have to look around and see that all that is spiritual is dying around us. We have no impact because we have gone so far from God. Our only hope too is to return to Him with strong crying and tears, but we do not do so because we have grown complacent.

Verses 31-33

Judgment Is Passed By Moses And Faithful Israel On Faithless Israel (Deuteronomy 32:31-33 ).

Deuteronomy 32:31-33

For their rock is not as our Rock,

Even our enemies themselves being judges.

For their vine is of the vine of Sodom,

And of the fields of Gomorrah.

Their grapes are grapes of gall,

Their clusters are bitter.

Their wine is the poison of serpents,

And the cruel venom of asps.’

Here there is a brief interlude where the singer, and the author Moses, have their word. The enemy who are being so successful do not have a Rock like Yahweh. Their rock cannot even compare. Yet they trust in it. Thereby do they act as judges of Israel who have turned away from their so great a Rock (compare Deuteronomy 29:24-27).

How ashamed we should be that other people whose hopes are in something transient and passing will often reveal more dedication to it than we do to God. Many a football supporter shows more dedication to his team, than Christians do to Christ.

For Israel’s vines and fields have also been destroyed just like those of Sodom and Gomorrah. Their grapes have become wild grapes and taste bitter, their clusters of grapes are inedible. Their very wine, that which should make glad the heart of man, is like poison and venom. And it is because they have forsaken God.

Alternately, and possibly more likely, the thought may more be moral, that these products are the product of sin and corruption like that of Sodom and Gomorrah producing its bitter fruit in them. The picture of a degenerate vine became a regular one among the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 5:2; Jeremiah 2:21; Hosea 10:1; Psalms 80:9).

It should be noted in this regard that throughout the Old Testament it is the moral corruption and ungodliness of the Israelites, and never the vices of the nations, which are compared with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Israelites who were forsaken by Yahweh, were designated by Isaiah as a people of Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10), and their rulers as rulers of Sodom (compare Isaiah 3:9); the inhabitants of Jerusalem were all of them like Sodom and Gomorrah (Jeremiah 23:14); and the sin of Jerusalem was greater than that of Sodom (Ezekiel 16:46).

Some relate the ideas in Deuteronomy 32:32-33 to the enemies, seeing the mention of Sodom and Gomorrah as signifying that they are the product of corruption, and what follows as a description either of the fact that in spite of their success the fruits of it are bitter and poisonous to them, or refer to their poisonous effect on Israel.

Verses 34-36

Rather Than Seeking Vengeance Yahweh Will Have Mercy On Them (Deuteronomy 32:34-36 ).

Deuteronomy 32:34-35

“Is not this stored up with me,

Sealed up among my treasures?

Vengeance is mine, and recompense,

At the time when their foot shall slip.

For the day of their calamity is at hand,

And the things that are to come on them will do so speedily.”

Yahweh again takes up the narrative. The wicked will not finally triumph, whether they be the unfaithful in Israel or their adversaries. Within His treasure house Yahweh has stored up what the wicked are and what they have done, and will take vengeance on His enemies (compare Deuteronomy 32:42-43). For ‘Vengeance is His’, and He will recompense. This is a general statement applied to this particular situation. One day their foot will slip and calamity will come on them, and what is to come on them will come on them speedily. While He may for a time make use of peoples who are equally sinful, yet in the end they too must face judgment (compare Isaiah 10:5-12). Note that vengeance is connected with recompense. It is not arbitrary vengeance, but vengeance on those deserving of it.

Paul reminds us that God is not mocked. He may nor reveal His anger immediately but we can be sure that those who sow to the flesh will reap corruption Galatians 6:7-8). What we set our hearts on will determine our future.

Deuteronomy 32:36

“For Yahweh will judge (or ‘vindicate’) his people,

And repent himself for his servants,

When he sees that their strength is gone,

And there is none, whether prisoner or free.”

Once again the narrative is taken up by the singer. The parallel shows that the judging here is positive, as with the judges in Judges. It signifies ruling over them as righteous Overlord. Because Yahweh sees that the strength of His people has gone, and that all whether prisoner or free are weak and helpless, He will step in on their behalf and act as their vindicator. He will pass a right judgment concerning them, having a change of mind on their behalf. He will again be their Overlord.

What a good thing it is for us that God is so merciful. For even when we have failed Him so badly He comes to seek to restore us to what we should be.

Verses 37-40

Yahweh Compares Himself With The Gods That They Have Worshipped (Deuteronomy 32:37-40 ).

Deuteronomy 32:37-38

“And he will say, Where are their gods,

The rock in which they took refuge,

Which ate the fat of their sacrifices,

Drank the wine of their drink-offering?

Let them rise up and help you,

Let them be your protection.”

But first He will face them up to what these gods in whom they had trusted were like. He asks them, where are they now? They had taken refuge in them, and these gods had been given the fat of their sacrifices as food, and had drunk their drink offerings. Why then did these gods not rise up and help them? Why were they therefore not their protection? If they were able, let them see to their situation, and help them and protect them. So Israel must see that unless they turned from these gods there was no help for them. Deliverance could only be for those who truly sought Him.

Note the sarcastic description. These gods could supposedly eat the fat of the sacrifices and drink the wine of drink offerings. Was it not strange that they could do nothing else?

The point for us is that anything that we trust in other than Christ will finally let us down. There is no one and nothing else which is totally dependable.

Deuteronomy 32:39-40

“See now that I, even I, am he,

And there is no god with me,

I kill, and make alive; I wound, and heal,

And there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

For I lift up my hand to heaven,

And say, As I live for ever.”

Yahweh provides His own answer to His question about these gods. It is because they are powerless. He alone can do these things. He alone can protect His people. He is the great “I am”, the One Who is, besides Whom no other can compare. He alone has the power of life and death. He alone performs His own will, wounding and healing as He will, with none being able to deliver from His hand. For He raises His hand to heaven with the purpose of making an oath, and can only swear by Himself, for there is none other. Thus He declares, ‘As I live for ever’.

The greeting to great kings was, ‘may the king live for ever’. But Yahweh declares this of Himself, for He, and He alone, is truly the Everlasting One. In the same vein a common oath was, ‘As Yahweh lives’, and we may see here Yahweh taking the idea to Himself because there is no other to swear by.

In these verses the greatness of Yahweh is emphasised. He is ‘the One Who is’, the only One, with power of life and death, and sickness and health, the One so supreme that there is none greater to swear by than Himself as the living God (compare Isaiah 45:23; Jeremiah 22:5; Hebrews 6:17).

Verses 41-42

He Threatens Judgment On His Enemies (Deuteronomy 32:41-42 ).

Deuteronomy 32:41-42

“If I whet my glittering (lightning) sword,

And my hand takes hold on judgment,

I will render vengeance to mine adversaries,

And will recompense them that hate me.

I will make my arrows drunk with blood,

And my sword will devour flesh,

With the blood of the slain and the captives,

From the head of the long haired ones of the enemy.”

When He wills He can take vengeance on His enemies. He has but to sharpen His sword which is like lightning, and take in His hand the means of judgment, and then He can render vengeance on all of them, whether the unfaithful of Israel or their enemies. He can recompense all of them for their hatred of Him. His arrows will slay innumerable foes, and His sword will devour their flesh. It will be covered with the blood of the slain and the blood of captives, and blood will flow from the long haired ones of the enemy. The long haired ones were probably the elite troops who let their hair grow long in order to give them extra power in battle (compare Judges 5:2 in a literal rendering)

Yahweh is here pictured as a mighty Conqueror and Judge whom none can resist, for He is invincible and can do whatever He will, and brings His judgment on all alike Who resist His will.

Verse 43

Yahweh Will Deliver His People And Restore Them (Deuteronomy 32:43 ).

Deuteronomy 32:43

“Praise, O nations, his people,

For he will avenge the blood of his servants,

And will render vengeance to his adversaries,

And will make expiation for his land, for his people.”

For in the end He will deliver His people. And the nations, who had previously looked on His people with scant respect, were now called on to praise them for what they have now become, for He will have avenged the blood of His servants, and rendered vengeance on His enemies, and provided a ‘covering for sin' (making atonement) for His land and people. Thus in the end will Yahweh triumph. Justice will have been exacted and the sins of His people atoned for.

The cry of triumph and praise is echoed throughout Scripture by the true people of God. For He is always faithful to His people, and in the end sees them through all their troubles.


It will be noted that there is no mention in the song of exile or of a king. It was clearly written before either came to prominence. Its unspecific content is precisely what we would expect before any particular enemies came into prospect.

(End of note.)

Verses 44-45

The Song Is Finished (Deuteronomy 32:44-45 ).

Deuteronomy 32:44

And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hoshea the son of Nun.’

Compare Deuteronomy 31:30. That is repeated here with the addition of the presence of Joshua. Joshua is now no longer Moses servant but the Leader-elect, and his connection with the song is again emphasised (compare Deuteronomy 31:19), although Moses is its prime source (Deuteronomy 31:22). And the song was given to the people that they might take it to their hearts ready for the time when it was needed.

Deuteronomy 32:45

And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel.’

This is probably to be seen as referring to all his words in the song (see analysis), but some see it as referring to all his words in Deuteronomy. Now his final great task of preparing the people for his death and for the entry into the land was accomplished. It was all over. There remained but the final exhortation.

Verses 46-47

A Summary Of Moses’ Final Activity (Deuteronomy 32:46-47 ).

A summary is now given of what was in fact Moses’ final activity before his death. The song being completed Moses, together with Joshua (Hoshea is Joshua with the Yah element removed), having proclaimed the words of the song to the people, followed it up with an exhortation to keep the whole Instruction that he had given to them.

Analysis using the words of Moses:

a ‘And he said to them, Set your heart to all the words which I testify to you this day (Deuteronomy 32:46 a).

b Which you shall command your children to observe to do, even all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 32:46 b).

b For it is no vain thing for you, because it is your life (Deuteronomy 32:47 a).

a And through this thing you will prolong your days in the land, to which you go over the Jordan to possess it (Deuteronomy 32:47 b).

Note in ‘a’ that they are to set their hearts to the words he has spoken that day, for in the parallel it is through those words that they will prolong their days in the land which they are going over Jordan to possess (Moses thoughts are fixed firmly on this triumph which he will never see. All his thoughts are for his people). In ‘b’ they are to command their children to observe them, for they are no vain thing for them, they are life itself,

Deuteronomy 32:46-47

And he said to them, Set your (of ye) heart to all the words which I testify to you this day, which you (ye) shall command your children to observe to do, even all the words of this law. For it is no vain thing for you, because it is your life, and through this thing you (ye) will prolong your days in the land, to which you (ye) go over the Jordan to possess it.’

In his final moments with them he calls on them to set their hearts on all the words which he has testified to them ‘this yom’. This probably means ‘at this time’ rather than literally ‘this very day’ (‘yom’ is a time word which can refer to a period of time rather than always signifying ‘a day’). While it is possible that all this from Deuteronomy 5:1 onwards, including his speech, his secret meeting with Yahweh, and the writing of the song, had all taken place in one day, a very crowded day, especially for an old man, it is improbable. The point is rather that it was all part of his final time connected with preparing for his departure.

He stresses that they must teach these words to their children with the command that they obey them, for it is through observing these words that both they and their children will have true life, and a life that is prolonged in the land which they will shortly be crossing Jordan to possess. Compare for these words Deuteronomy 30:19-20. His final thought is that they face up to the issues of life.

Verses 48-52

Yahweh’s Final Words to Moses (Deuteronomy 32:48-52 ).

a And Yahweh spoke to Moses that selfsame day, saying, “Get you up into this mountain of Abarim, to mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho, and behold the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel for a possession” (deu 48-49).

b “And die in the mount to which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered to his people” (deu 50).

b “Because you trespassed against me in the midst of the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah of Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not sanctify me in the midst of the children of Israel” (deu 51).

a “For you will see the land before you, but you will not go there into the land which I give the children of Israel” (deu 52).

Note that in ‘a’ he is to see the land of Canaan which Yahweh is giving to the children of Israel for a possession. and in the parallel he will see the land before him, but he will not enter it. In ‘b’ he will die there and be gathered to his people, and in the parallel it is because of his trespass at the waters of Meribah when he failed to set apart Yahweh as holy in the eyes of His people.

Deuteronomy 32:48

And Yahweh spoke to Moses that selfsame day, saying,’

Moses having given his final exhortation to the people, on that very same day Yahweh calls him up to a mountain to have one last look at the land to which he has safely brought his people before he dies, explaining that he will then die on that mountain. Although his punishment must be carried out he is given special treatment as the favoured servant of Yahweh.

Deuteronomy 32:49

Get you up into this mountain of Abarim, to mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho, and behold the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel for a possession,’

He is to climb Mount Nebo, in the mountains at Abarim, in the land of Moab, which is over against Jericho, and there behold the land of Canaan which Yahweh is giving to the children of Israel for a possession. Thus His final assurance to His servant is as to the success of his venture. They will go over and possess it.

This would be one of the mountain peaks to the north end of the Dead Sea. It may or may not be the peak called Mount Nebo today, but if it was it provides a wonderful view of the Jordan Valley. Jericho was regularly used as an indicator of the area in the final chapter of Numbers. It was probably the one walled city in the area, and would already have attracted attention, on its mound. It was the first obstacle to entry into the land, for it guarded the pass through the hills.

Deuteronomy 32:50-51

And die in the mount to which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered to his people, because you (ye) trespassed against me in the midst of the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah of Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you (ye) did not sanctify me in the midst of the children of Israel.’

Once he has had this one last look Moses will die in the mountain to which he has climbed. Just as Aaron died on Mount Hor (Numbers 20:22-29; Numbers 33:37-39) and was gathered to his people, so will Moses die on Mount Nebo and be gathered to his people. And he too was dying because of the trespass at Meribah when both of them were involved in defaming Yahweh in the eyes of the people. They had failed to ‘sanctify Him’, set Him apart in His uniqueness and compassion and power, among the people (see Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 3:26; Deuteronomy 4:21; Numbers 20:10-12; Numbers 27:14) because of their own perverseness.

Dying in a mountain to which he was called by God appears to indicate a glorious death, a death near to heaven. He had to be punished but God still cherished His faithful servant, as He had Aaron.

Deuteronomy 32:52

For you will see the land before you, but you will not go there into the land which I give the children of Israel.’

Yahweh’s concession was for him to see the land, but he was not to have any false hopes of entering it. This embargo was not only to be seen as a lesson for him, but as a lesson for the whole of Israel. That is why it was publicised by the one to whom Moses communicated what he had been told before he went up into the mountain. It could have been Eliezar, as High Priest, but Joshua seems the likely contender.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/deuteronomy-32.html. 2013.
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