Click to donate today!
The prophetical and historical song of Moses, concerning the benefits conferred upon Israel by God, the ungrateful and rebellious disposition of that people, and the vengeance hereafter to be taken upon them: God commands Moses to go up into mount Nebo, that he may die there.
Before Christ 1451.
Ver. 1. Give ear, O ye heavens— Nothing can be more elegant and magnificent than the exordium of this divine ode: its whole disposition and form is regular, easy, and accommodated to the nature of the argument, in an order nearly historical. It contains a great variety of important matter: the truth and justice of God; his paternal love, and most propense benignity to his peculiar people: and, on the other hand, the ungrateful and rebellious temper of this people; then the ardour of the divine indignation; and the most alarming menaces, delivered under a fine prosopopoeia, than which nothing more sublime is extant in the choicest treasures of poetry. Yet those tides of indignation are, at the same time, tempered with compassion and lenity; and the song concludes, at length, with promises and consolations. Not to speak of the sublimity of the ideas, and the force of the diction and figures, we may observe, that the nature of the argument is such, that the style and manner of the prophetic poetry is greatly imitated; so that to all the strength and glowing spirit of the ode are added the variety and grandeur of images peculiar to that kind of poetry, concerning which we shall speak more when we come to the prophets. See Lowth, Praelec. Poet. 18, &c. It is not possible for us here to enter into a discussion of the metre of the Hebrew poetry in general, or of this ode in particular. Upon this head we beg leave to refer our readers, for full satisfaction, to Dr. Lowth's third Praelection: observing only, as we have frequently done heretofore, that each succeeding clause corresponds to the preceding one; which the attentive reader will particularly remember, as it will serve greatly, not only in this, but in all writings of the same kind, to make them much more clear and intelligible. The three first verses should be read thus:
Ver. 1. Give ear, O ye heavens! and I will speak, And hear, O earth! the words of my mouth. Ver. 2. 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. Ver. 3. Because I will publish the name of the Lord; Ascribe ye greatness unto our God.
See the notes on Genesis 49:0 and Numbers 23:24 :
Ver. 2. My doctrine shall drop as the rain— That is, As the rain which falls upon the earth is ordained to fertilize and nourish the plants and animals, so the heavenly doctrine, proceeding from God himself, is proper to open the understanding, soften the heart, and produce the most happy fruits. This metaphor is frequently used in Scripture, as well as in prophane authors. See Job 29:22.Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 55:10-11. Pro 25:14 and Homer, Iliad. 3: ver. 222. The corresponding clause is, my speech should distil as the dew, which is considered as the especial cause of fertility, or of the perfection of the fruits of the earth. Nor is this a merely popular opinion. Dew, is not simple and crude water; it is water which has circulated through the tubes of plants, and which is itself impregnated with those most pure and subtile nutritive particles, which have evaporated through the pores of plants. This is Mr. Scheuchzer's observation. One would wonder that any commentators should so little feel the poetic energy of this passage, as to assert, that it should be rendered, let my doctrine drop as the rain; as if it were a prayer, not a beautiful and emphatical assertion, worthy the fine apostrophe in the 1st verse.
Ver. 3. Because I will publish the name of the Lord— Houbigant renders it, Whilst I shall celebrate the name of the Lord; which seems to be right. Moses's subject is the celebration of the great Jehovah; and to this great subject he calls the heavens and the earth to be attentive: at the same time exhorting the people to join with him in the exalted theme, and to celebrate the infinite power and supreme dominion of the great object of their adoration.
Ascribe ye greatness unto our God— The word, which we render ascribe, imports the abundance and earnestness of praise, according to Vitringa and Venema. See Vitringa's Comment on this chapter, published by Herman Venema, Harling. 1734. 4to.
REFLECTIONS.—Moses opens his important Song of Song of Solomon 1:0. With a solemn appeal to heaven and earth for the truth of his word, and the justice of the divine procedure; or, as if, more attentive than this stupid people, they would sooner hear and obey him. His doctrine is described as dropping as the rain, even as the gentle showers to refresh the parched ground; and the influence of it like the small rain on the tender grass, descending softly, and sweetly insinuating into the affections. Such is the Gospel of Jesus, cooling the parched conscience burnt up with the wrath of God, causing the heart to yield its fruit, and where-ever received making the inward man to flourish as a green field. 2. The reason is given for the audience and attention he demands, because of the greatness and glory of that God whose name he was about to proclaim. Note; The higher thoughts we entertain of God, the more shall we be afraid to sin, and the readier to submit to every providence, and to own the justice of every afflictive dispensation.
Ver. 4. He is the rock— Houbigant translates thus: Creatoris perfecta sunt opera; the Creator's work is perfect. We interpret הצור hatzur, says he, of the Creator: for the word is derived in this place from צור tzur, to form, to effect; as פעלו paalo, his work, demonstrates; not from צור tzur, a rock: for this appellation of God is then used, when God is considered as a refuge for salvation, or, a rock of salvation; or when at any time allusion is made to a similitude drawn from a rock: but no such similitude is found in this place. In other parts of this song, הצור is applied to GOD, (and in our version rendered rock,) when there is nothing in the sentence which coincides with this or that similitude.—All his ways are judgment, Houbigant renders, omnis hujus viae sunt ordinatae, all his ways are regular, well ordered, or conducted: משׁפט mishpat, denotes whatever is done in a certain way and method, by an appointed manner and judgment. The words which follow, God is faithful, and not given to change, strengthen the sentence: not given to change, (which is a meaning the original word will bear,) very aptly agrees with faithful, which it follows, and whose force it sustains and augments: so afterwards, He is just, and also constant, corresponds, agreeably to the method of this metrical composition, with the preceding clause. Moses uses this preface, asserting that God is faithful and constant to the promises he has given, in opposition to the infidelity and inconstancy of Israel, which he mentions afterwards; and saying, almost with St. Paul, shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? See Romans 3:3. This verse, according to Houbigant, should be read thus:
The works of the Creator are perfect: For all his ways are regularly established. He is a faithful God, and immutable: He is just, and also unchangeable.
We would just observe, respecting the version of הצור hatzur, for rock, that the Vulgate, the LXX, the Samaritan, Arabic, and Syriac, all agree in rendering it GOD; neither is there a hint in any as if the word signified rock, or that it should be made a distinct sentence with He is put before it, according to our version, for which words there is nothing in the Hebrew.
Ver. 5. They have corrupted themselves, &c.— Is there corruption in Him? no: but of his children the spot is theirs. Dr. Waterland. Houbigant renders it:
They are corrupt: they are not his children: They are blotted: a wicked, and perverse generation.
In which version he follows the Samaritan and several others. Dr. Lowth, though he gives, as we shall soon see, a different interpretation, and as good a one, perhaps, as can be offered of the Hebrew text, yet rather agrees with Houbigant in approving the Samaritan. "There are one or two particulars," says this elegant writer, "in this remarkable poem, which, being frequent in Scripture, and sometimes difficult to be explained, require an attentive disquisition. The first thing to be observed, in general, taking the present passage for an example, is, the sudden and frequent change of persons, and that in addresses. Moses having proclaimed, in the beginning of this song, the most inviolable truth and justice of GOD, thence takes occasion, on a sudden, to inveigh against the perfidy and wickedness of the ungrateful people." He first speaks of them as if absent:
Their wickedness hath corrupted the children for Him, Now no longer His.
Corrupit illi filios non jam suos ipsorum pravitas:
And then immediately he addresses them,
Perverse and crooked generation! Do ye thus requite the Lord, O perverse and foolish generation! Is He not thy Father and Redeemer? Hath He not made thee, and established thee?
Afterwards his indignation, in some measure, cooling, and tracing the subject higher, he beautifully amplifies the indulgence of God towards the Israelites, and his more than paternal affection perpetually declared towards them; and all this in words not directed to the Israelites: thence he wonderfully exaggerates the stupidity of this ungrateful and impious people; which again raising his indignation, he thus breaks forth:
Ver. 15. But Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked: Thou art waxen fat, grown thick, covered with fatness. And he forsook his Creator, And lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation:
Where, in one short sentence, the discourse, abruptly turned to the Israelites, and then immediately from them, has great force. It is fervid, vehement, pointed, and full of indignation. That fine passage of Virgil, though less glowing, is however very grand; but especially the fine apostrophe, in which the traitor is reproached for his crime, and the king vindicated from the charge of cruelty:
Haud procul inde citae Metium in diversa quadrigae Distulerant, (at tu dictis, Albane, maneres,) Raptabatque viri mendacis viscera Tullus Per silvam, et sparsi rorabant sanguine vepres. AEn. viii. l. 642.
Not far from thence the rapid chariots driv'n, Flew diverse, and the traitor Metius tore; (Thou, Alban, should'st have kept thy plighted faith:) Him Tullus thro' the woods rent piecemeal dragg'd, The sprinkled bramble, dropping with his blood. TRAPP.
The Hebrew poetry, which is animated, bold, and rapid, abounds with frequent instances of this sudden change of the persons, which often adds great beauty, and is always carefully to be observed.
A second thing to be remarked in this poem, is the change of the tenses, very different frequently from the common mode: the design of this, for the most part, is the more evident representation of things in narrations or descriptions; therefore, in all languages, both in poetry and prose, the announcing of things, either past or future, in the present tense is common; by which means, what is explained in words, is placed, as it were, before the view; nor is there need so much to look back to the past, or forward to the future, as to behold what is placed before our eyes: but in this particular, the manner of the Hebrew language is peculiar; for the Hebrew verbs have no form by which the present imperfect, or an action now instant, can be expressed. This is done only by a participle, or by the substantive verb understood: the neuter of which, in these places, is commonly used, or may always properly be admitted: they attain, therefore, the same end another way, frequently expressing future things, for the sake of illustration, in the form of the past tense, or rather the present perfect; as if those things had been already fulfilled and completed. On the other hand, they express things past in the future, as if they were now to be done, and were hastening to their event. Of the former construction, namely, where things future are expressed in the form of the present tense, an example will best shew us the manner and effect. Moses, by the divine inspiration, perceiving that nefarious dereliction of the divine worship into which the perverse nation of Israel would hereafter fall, speaks of their crimes in such a manner as if they were committed in his own sight and presence:
Their wickedness hath corrupted the children for Him, Now no longer His.
He speaks as if he himself were witness of their impiety, and present at those infamous rites by which they were hereafter to corrupt the religion divinely instituted by him. Nothing can be more efficacious than this anticipation, to shew things clearly and evidently, and almost to bring them to immediate view; and therefore, in the prophetic poetry, the use is most frequent. As in all other things, so in this, Isaiah is admirable. See particularly ch. Isaiah 10:28-30; see also Joel 1:6-10. Lowth. Praelect. Poet. 15 and the note on ver. 10.
REFLECTIONS.—The greatness of God is here enlarged upon, and several particulars of his glorious character opened, to awaken our reverence, fear, and love.
1. He is a rock, He is God, strong to support the hopes of all who trust in him; an everlasting foundation that cannot be moved. Such is Jesus to the sinner who flies to him. His work is perfect, whether of creation, or providence, and especially his work of redemption. Nothing is wanting for the complete and eternal salvation of the faithful. All his ways are judgment, planned with infinite wisdom, and so executed as to make the most glorious displays of his righteousness. He is a God of truth, faithful to all his promises, who neither has failed, nor can fail those who trust him. Without iniquity, whom none can complain of as deceiving or injuring them. Just and right is he in his rewards and punishments, giving to every man according as his work is. A glorious character, most deserving of our regard, and demanding our devotion and service.
2. The character of Israel is sadly the reverse. They have corrupted themselves, in opposition to all his warnings and mercies; he is just, but they are altogether become abominable, and can blame none for their ruin but themselves. Their spot is not the spot of children; it was wilful deliberate sin, which they chose, delighted in, and did not repent of. They are a perverse and crooked generation, disposed to evil, and impatient of restraint, who will neither be influenced by love, nor deterred by fear.
3. Moses expostulates with them on their folly and wickedness. What obligations were they not under? How had God regarded them as the tenderest father, and bought them at the price of Egypt's plagues? How ungrateful then to forget and forsake such a God! yea, how unwise to provoke him, whose judgments are as awful as his mercies are great! Note; (1.) Sin is the basest ingratitude to our father, as well as insolent disobedience to our Lord and master. (2.) None will appear such egregious fools at the judgment day, as those who have forsaken God for the sake of divers lusts and pleasures. (3.) If Jewish ingratitude for temporal mercies deserved such rebuke, of how much sorer condemnation shall he be thought worthy who rejects redeeming love, and basely sins against that Saviour who bought us with his blood?
Ver. 8, 9. When the Most High divided, &c.— Bochart gives the words this simple meaning: "God so distributed the bounds and settlements of the several people and nations, as to reserve in his counsel such a part of the earth for the Israelites, as he knew would be a sufficient inheritance, a commodious habitation for so numerous a race;" which sense cannot be better expressed than in the words of St. Paul, Acts 17:26. God hath made of one blood all nations of men, to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. As to the version which the LXX have given of this place, according to the number of the angels of God, it seems merely rabbinical, if not adapted to pagan sentiments. I should apprehend, that the passage may be very probably and easily understood, if read thus, by a slight alteration of our version:
When the most high divided to the nations their inheritance. When he separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people for the number of the children of Israel: Because the Lord's portion is his people, &c.
Jacob is said to be the lot (in the Hebrew, cord,) of his inheritance, as it was usual to measure land by a cord or line, whence the metaphor is taken. See Psalms 16:6.
Ver. 10. He found him in a desart land, &c. He led him about, &c.— He sustained him, &c. He compassed him about, &c. Houbigant renders this, after the Samaritan:
He sustain'd them in a desart land: He made him fat in a dry and sandy place: He was present with him; he took care of him: He kept him as the apple of his eye.
See his note on the place. It highly amplifies the divine power and goodness, to recollect the place in which God thus sustained and preserved his people: a place where, according to credible travellers, there was nothing but sands and rocky mountains; and for many days' journey together, scarcely any green thing to be seen, neither beast nor fowl to be heard, nothing but sand and stones:—neither plough-land nor meadow, tree nor bush, leaf nor grass, nor path to go in. The verbs here rendered in the perfect, are in the Hebrew all in the future sense. We observed from Dr. Lowth on ver. 5 that the Hebrews frequently use the past for the future, and the future for the past tense. An instance of the former was given in that note: we have here an example of the latter; a practice, as that able writer observes, very different from that of other writers, and of a difficult nature; for a solution of which, we shall consult in vain the grammarians and interpreters. But, that all these things have their due force and propriety, cannot be doubted; any more than it is to be wondered, that in a language of such great antiquity as the Hebrew, there are many things obscure and difficult; upon which, however, much light might possibly be thrown, if we diligently considered in what disposition of mind the writer was when he delivered such and such things, and what images might then be rising before him. The present passage affords us a remarkable example of this construction. Moses, having mentioned the divine decree by which the Israelites were chosen to be the peculiar people of God, goes on to set forth with what love God had embraced them, even from the time when he delivered them from Egypt; how he had fed them in the wilderness, led them through it by his hand, and, as it were, carried them in his bosom; all which, though manifestly past, is expressed in the future tense:
He will find him in a desart land, And in the waste, howling wilderness; He will encompass him; he will instruct him; He will keep him as the apple of his eye.
May not this well be explained, that Moses imagines himself to be present at the immediate transaction, when God now, as it were, separated his people from the other nations; and thence contemplates, as if from some elevated point of view, what was then immediately to follow from that divine purpose? This seems to be the case in some places, particularly in Psa 78:38-40 and the whole 104th Psalm affords us an elegant example of this construction. Though these, and several other passages of this kind, may be happily enough elucidated in this manner; yet there are many which cannot, and in which the situation and disposition of the writer's mind is not so much to be considered, as the peculiar nature and genius of the language itself; for the Hebrews seem often to use the form of the future tense, so as not so much to regard the speaker, as the thing of which he has just spoken; therefore, an action which is connected with or consequent to another action, or which follows itself, that is, which is repeated or continued, which a person does, and goes on to do, which he does frequently, assiduously, and diligently; that they express as if it was future; for which cause the grammarians call this form עתיד atid, that is to say, prompt, expedite, imminent. Many examples hereof may easily be produced: we shall only mention that most elegant prosopopoeia of the mother of Sisera, Jdg 5:29 the allegory of the vine brought out of Egypt, Psalms 80:9; Psa 80:19 and the comparison in the following verse, taken from the paternal love and solicitude of the eagle; the force of all which, I am persuaded, the attentive reader will feel, but the most diligent interpreter will not easily express. We refer for more on this subject to Dr. Lowth's 15th Praelection. See Zachar. Deuteronomy 2:10.
Ver. 11, 12. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, &c.— Moses, in this and the following verse, elegantly describes the paternal tenderness of God towards the Israelites: Like an eagle, which stirreth up her nest; for so it is in the original, where, by a figure usual in all languages, the nest is put for that which it contains, namely, for the brood; like an eagle, which excites and animates her young to fly, who fluttereth over them, stirs them on, and, to encourage them, spreadeth abroad her wings to receive them, in case that, attempting to fly, they are unable to keep up; and taketh them upon her wings, receiveth them upon her back, and thus beareth them, sustaining them from time to time, till she hath brought them where she wanted: so God signalized his love to the Israelites, forming them by his continual care, covering them with his cloud, supporting them by his providence, and at length bringing them, weak as they were, into that good land which he had promised to their fathers. See Schultens's Animad. Philol. in loc. Bochart. Hieroz. pars 2: lib. 2 cap. 3. & Voss. de Idolol. lib. 3: cap. 77. Houbigant reads יער iair, here, after the Samaritan, which he says, should be rendered evacuates, or proposes to leave, her nest; elegantly expressing God's raising the Israelites from Egypt, as from a nest. By the clause, there was no strange God with him, is meant, that it was the single and sole power of Jehovah which preserved and protected Israel; so that they could have no motive to revolt from their God to the worship of false deities, as his power had proved itself sufficient to deliver, sustain, and defend them in this greatest crisis of their affairs.
Ver. 13. He made him ride on the high places of the earth— We may observe, that the verbs in this, as well as in the preceding verses, are all in the future. The meaning of the clause,
He will make him ride on the high places of the land, is fully explained by that which follows in apposition with it;
He will give him to eat the increase of the fields:
Thus expressing God's donation to the Israelites of a noble and fertile country, full of lofty and fruitful mountains, and therefore called the high places of the land. There he made them to ride, i.e. to live deliciously. So to ride signifies, Hosea 10:11. I will make Ephraim to ride: Judah shall plough; i.e. the people of Israel shall live in pleasure, when Judah shall live laboriously. He made him to suck honey out of the rock, &c. is a high, poetical expression, for a most rich and abundant country. Virgil's description of the fruitfulness of the earth in the golden age is not unlike this:
Incultisque rubens pendebit sentibus uva, Et durae quercus sudabunt roscida mella.
Then clustering grapes on forest thorns shall grow; Swains without culture golden harvests reap, And knotted oaks shall showers of honey weep.
Ver. 14. And goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat— And goats, with the fat of kidneys, and with wheat. Waterland and Le Clerc. Houbigant renders it, and goats with the marrow of the seed of wheat; deriving the word כליות kelaioth, from the Arabic כלאר kelar, to germinate; a germ or seed: and he observes, that all the nouns in this verse may very properly depend upon the verb, he made him to suck, וינקהו vaianikehu, in the former verse. But it is probable (and Scheuchzer seems to prove that the metaphor is founded in the nature of things,) that our's is the proper translation. The Hebrews called the best of every thing by the name of fat; and the kidneys of wheat signify large and plump corn, affording plenty of flour; so that the fat of kidneys of wheat, means no more than wheat resembling the kidneys of animals in fatness, shape, and size. So, Psalms 81:16. The finest of the wheat is, in the Hebrew, the fat of the wheat: and it appears to me that the pure blood of the grape, in the next clause, immediately and properly corresponds to the fat of the kidneys of wheat in this.
Ver. 15. But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked— See the note on ver. 5. Israel is called Jeshurun both here and in chap. Deuteronomy 33:5; Deu 33:26 and Isaiah 15:2. The word may be derived either from jeshur, righteousness, because they were a people professing righteousness, or governed by righteous laws; or from shur to see, because they were favoured with divine manifestations. See Ainsworth. Vitringa and Venema prefer the first sense. The metaphor is taken from a pampered horse, which grows wanton and vicious with kindness and good keeping. The reader is to consider Moses as here speaking, as a prophet, of things future as if they were past; which Venema thinks have a particular reference to the rebellion and ingratitude of the Israelites from the time of Solomon down to the coming of our Saviour. Concerning the word rock, see on ver. 4. Vitringa well observes, that the Jews never so much dishonoured the rock of their salvation, as when rejecting Jesus Christ.
Ver. 17. They sacrificed unto devils— The original word rendered devils, is שׁדים shedim, concerning the import of which etymologists are much divided. Some think it imports destroyers, as the devil is called a destroyer, Revelation 9:11. Others think it is of the same import with Sirim; see Lev 17:7 and there are many critics who derive it from שׁדי shaddi, one of the names given in Scripture for Jehovah. Parkhurst has embraced this opinion, and observes, that, as Shedi, one of the divine names, signifies the pourer or shedder forth, i.e. of blessings, both temporal and spiritual; (see Genesis 49:25.) so shedim, in the plural, imports the same, and is applied to objects of idolatrous worship here, and Psa 106:37 from which passage it appears, that these Shedim were worshipped by the Canaanites, and from them the valley of Siddim, of which we read, Gen 8:10 so early as the time of Abraham, was probably denominated. So it is emphatically observed by the sacred writer, Gen 14:3 that this place, which had been thus idolatrously dedicated to pretended genial powers of nature, was changed into the Salt sea, barren and waste. He adds from Hutchinson, (with what probability we leave the reader to judge,) that by the Shedim, it is highly probable the idolaters meant the great agents of nature, or the heavens, considered as giving rain, causing the earth to send forth springs and shed forth her increase, vegetables to yield and nourish their fruit, and animals to abound with milk for the subsistence of their young. To these refer the multimammiae, or many-breasted idols, which were worshipped among the heathens, and of which sort in particular was the Diana of the Ephesians, mentioned Acts 19:0.
Ver. 18. Of the Rock that begat thee— Who is not immediately sensible of the impropriety of this allusion? All the other versions agree with Houbigant in reading, Of the God, or Creator, who begat thee.
Ver. 19. When the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, &c.— This might be rendered more emphatically and nearer to the Hebrew, and the Lord saw, and through indignation rejected his sons and daughters. Moses still speaks in the prophetic style: the daughters are here particularly mentioned, because the women were notoriously guilty of provoking God by their idolatry: in proof of which, see Jeremiah 7:8; Jeremiah 44:15.Ezekiel 8:14; Ezekiel 8:14.
Ver. 20. I will see what their end shall be— See on ver. 29. Houbigant renders it, and I will see what shall happen to them. When the Lord says, they are children in whom is no faith, it is meant, that they had so often provoked God by breaking his covenant, that they were not to be confided in when making profession of repentance: and to the truth of this their whole history bears testimony.
Ver. 21. I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people— Nothing can be more glowing and alarming than the terrible denunciations delivered in the subsequent verses against the rebellious and idolatrous Israelites. God threatens to repay their frequent revolts from him in their own coin, in a way most mortifying to their proud spirits, by causing the very Gentile nations whom they so much despised, not only to become their masters and conquerors, but also to be taken into his covenant, while they themselves were excluded from it. See Matthew 21:43-44.Romans 10:19; Romans 10:19. We agree with Vitringa, in understanding by those who are not a people, such as were not a people of God in the sense that Israel was; in a word, the barbarous and idolatrous Gentiles, whom the Jews looked upon with the greatest contempt.
Ver. 22. For a fire is kindled in mine anger— For a fire will break forth through my nostrils. Schult. 56. 59. It might be rendered Certainly a fire, &c. These strong and figurative expressions announce the dreadful calamities which Providence would inflict upon the land of Judea, and seem to import the total consumption of it. See Ezekiel 30:8. Amos 2:5. What we render, shall burn unto the lowest hell (i.e. to the lowest parts of the earth, as the word hell signifies, Numbers 30:16; Numbers 30:16.) Houbigant renders more properly, shall burn to the lowest foundations. Shall consume the earth, in the next clause, should be rendered, shall consume the land; shall make it utterly desolate. Isaiah 1:7. And set on fire the foundations of the mountains, signifies, literally, shall subvert their strongest fortresses; which was eminently fulfilled in the last destruction of Jerusalem: for Titus himself, as Josephus tells us, observing the vast height of the walls, the bigness of every stone, and the exact order wherein they were laid and compacted, cried out, "God was with us in this war: it was He who drove the Jews from these munitions: for what could the hands of men or machines avail against such towers!" Which brings to mind what is related by Ammianus Marcellinas, that when the emperor Julian ordered the temple of Jerusalem to be rebuilt, terrible globes of fire burst out near the foundations, which overturned all, burnt the workmen, and made the place so inaccessible that they desisted from the attempt. But we cannot wish our readers greater improvement or satisfaction than they will find in reading Bishop Warburton's incomparable book on this subject, entitled Julian.
Ver. 23-25. I will spend mine arrows upon them— The judgments of God, enumerated in these verses, are often compared to arrows. Job 6:4.Psalms 38:2; Psalms 38:2; Psalms 91:5. So Homer describes the pestilence in the Grecian camp, under the image of a deadly arrow, shot at the Greeks by Apollo; Iliad 1: ver. 51. The first of these arrows or plagues, is famine, (ver. 24.) with which they are threatened to be burnt or consumed: this was dreadfully fulfilled in their destruction by the Chaldeans, when they were so burnt with famine, that their visages were black as a coal, and their skin withered like a stick. Lamentations 4:8. What we render burning heat, is in the Margin of our Bibles, burning coals; or, as some, a burning carbuncle; a fiery, pestilential ulcer in the body. See Habakkuk 3:5. Venema inclines to their opinion, who would render it, they shall be consumed by lightning, which the original signifies in many places. Psalms 76:4; Psalms 78:48. Job 5:7. It seems to me most probable, that this first clause of the 24th verse denounces upon them the plagues of famine and its certain concomitants, pestilence and death. In the next clause, wild beasts and poisonous serpents are threatened to destroy and devour them; and, to complete their desolation, the unrelenting sword, ver. 25 is commissioned to make fearful havoc amongst them. Thus God here threatens his four sore judgments, as in Ezekiel 14:21. The sword and the famine, evil beasts, and the pestilence: See Revelation 6:8. We refer to the commentary on chap. 28: for the completion of these terrible denunciations.
REFLECTIONS.—It is the folly of sinners, that they often say, Tush, God shall not see: but his eyes run to and fro in the earth, and there is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where any of the workers of iniquity can hide themselves. We hear, therefore, the wrath of God denounced upon them, 1. In his abhorrence of them. They had once borne the character of children in profession at least; now that they act so undutifully, it is but justice to disinherit them. Note; Sin makes us odious in the sight of divine purity, and no sin can be so offensive as theirs, who make profession of religion. 2. In his hiding his face from them: not that he ceased to minute their iniquities, but he withdrew every token of his favour from them, to try whether they would seek after him; but they continued perverse and obstinate, and faithless to all their vows and engagements. Note; Their sin is greatly aggravated, who not only transgress the law they are under, but violate the covenant they once entered into. 3. As they had treated God with such contempt, he will punish them in kind, making them a prey to blind and idolatrous nations, and obliging them to serve those whom they regarded as vile and despicable: such were the Babylonians and Romans, who subdued them; and such were all those Gentiles, who, on their rejection of Christ and his gospel, were admitted into covenant with God, from which by their wickedness they were excluded. 4. Their terrible end is foretold. The fire of God shall burn up their pleasant land and goodly cities; God's bow shall be bent, and his quiver emptied with repeated strokes of judgment; the famine shall devour, the pestilence consume them; the beasts of the field and poisonous serpents shall fix their envenomed fangs upon them, whilst the sword of the enemy, merciless and drenched in blood, shall spare neither young nor old, till they are destroyed. Note; God's plagues will overtake the sinner sooner or later; at least, if not before, in the everlasting burnings of hell.
Ver. 27. Were it not that I feared, &c— Houbigant observes, that the original word גור gur, does not so properly denote fear, as caution; for the meaning is, were it not that I took care lest: and therefore I render it, says he, sed deterrent me hostes ipsorum; but their enemies deter, or prevent me; for certainly it is improper to introduce God saying that He feared. The next words, rendered the wrath of the enemy, refer to God's indignation, not that of the adversary; and the whole should be rendered, but that indignation for the adversary deters me, lest their enemies should be alienated, and say, The strength of our hands, and not of the Lord, hath done this. The argument here used, is pretty nearly similar to that which Moses urges, Exodus 32:12.Numbers 14:13; Numbers 14:13.Deuteronomy 9:28; Deuteronomy 9:28.
Ver. 28. For they are a nation void of counsel— This verse connects very properly with the 26th, and the meaning is, I said I would scatter them, &c. were it not for the sake of mine honour; for they justly deserve such a punishment, as they are a nation void of counsel, &c. To have a clear idea of the discourse thus far explained, nothing appears more simple and more proper than the supposition of Mr. Venema, namely, that all that has been said, from the 22nd verse to the present passage, principally regards the times preceding the Babylonish captivity, and, if we may so say, the prelude of the terrible judgment which is threatened in the 20th and 21st verses, and which was executed against the Jews by the Romans.
Ver. 29. O that they were wise—that they would consider their latter end!— The word for their latter end, is the same here as in the 20th verse; אחריתם acharitam, very properly rendered by Houbigant, novissima sua; their latter times, in which sense the other versions agree. The meaning is, "Oh! that they would duly feel these chastisements and this destruction which are denounced against them." It has nothing to do with death, or a consideration thereof, as our translation leads us to believe, and as the passage seems to be generally understood.
Ver. 30-33. How should one chase a thousand— i.e. Would they but wisely reflect, and be moved by the terror of these punishments upon their posterity, to a different conduct, how flourishing should be their estate at home, how victorious their arms abroad! The sacred writer adds, how certainly should they do this, if their Rock had not sold them; i.e. entirely given them up, and quitted his protection of them! For their god is not as our God, &c. Their god, or rock, means here the idol gods, the dependance of the rebellious Israelites; (see ver. 37.) which idols, Moses asserts, even their very enemies being judges, were not to be compared with the God of Israel; for those enemies were often forced to acknowledge the over-ruling power of Jehovah, controuling all their designs, and all the efforts of their gods, though they considered him only as the local tutelary God of the Jews. See Exodus 8:19; Exodus 14:25.Numbers 23:23; Numbers 23:23. 1 Samuel 4:7-8. Daniel 3:29. Perhaps the reader will think this whole clause from ver. 28 not improperly connected thus: Having in ver. 28 declared them to be a nation void of counsel and understanding, the sacred writer, in the 29th verse, bursts forth into a pathetic wish, saying, "O that they were wise! then they would understand this: they would understand what would happen to them hereafter; how one should chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight; if it was not because their Creator had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up. For, not as our God is their god, even our enemies being judges: for of the vine of Sodom is their vine, and of the fields of Gomorrah are their grapes; grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter." So the 32nd verse should be translated. It is observed, that the soil about Sodom and Gomorrah produced nothing but blasted fruits of a black hue, without substance; and so dry and sapless, that when pressed they would crumble as it were into ashes! Acra & inania velut in cinerem vanescunt, says Tacitus, Hist. lib. 5: cap. 6. In allusion hereto, the vine of Sodom became a metaphorical expression for depraved works; and this allusion is carried on in the next clause, as well as in the 33rd verse; where, when it is said their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter, it is meant, that their actions or fruits are most wicked and distasteful. See Isa 5:4 compared with the 7th verse; and so Josephus describes them before their last destruction, saying remarkably in the sixth Book of his Jewish War, that their city was so wicked, that if the Romans had not fallen upon them, he verily believes the earth would have opened its mouth and swallowed them up; or thunder and lightning from heaven must have destroyed them, as it did Sodom and Gomorrah; for they were a more atheistical nation than those who suffered such things. The corresponding clause to this in the 33rd verse, their wine is the poison of dragons, &c. is of the same import; signifying their fruits or works to be most pernicious and depraved, and so resembling the poison of dragons; Revelation 17:2. The Hebrew word תנים tanim, rendered dragons, signifies a kind of large serpents, which make a doleful and horrid noise and hissing. This property of theirs is observed by AElian; and to this Job alludes, chap. Job 30:29 and Micah 1:8. See Boch. vol. 3: p. 437. Lucan, lib. 9: ver. 727 and Parkhurst on the word. The poison of asps is called cruel, because it is accounted the subtilest of all, penetrating instantly into the vital parts. Hence the proverb δηγμα ασπιδων, the biting of asps, for an incurable wound. See Scheuchzer on the place.
Ver. 34. Is not this laid up in store with me— We have here a remarkable instance of that change of persons of which we spoke in the note on ver. 5. From the 29th to the 33rd verse, Moses speaks in his own person: here again the Lord is introduced as speaking; and this and the next verse contain the second reason of the final punishment of the Jews, a reason taken from the decrees of God, as the first was taken from their extreme depravity, figuratively expressed in the 32nd and 33rd verses. "This," says God, (by which we are to understand, as the learned Cocceius has well observed, not what precedes but what follows,) "This my vengeance, the time destined for the overthrow of a republic whose citizens are so depraved; this time, is it not laid up in store with me? Let not, therefore, these obstinate Jews think that my justice will suffer them to pass unpunished, and that, because the sentence against their iniquities is deferred, therefore it never will be executed." The phrase, sealed up among my treasures, is an allusion to deeds which are signed and sealed, though not immediately executed, but kept safely and secretly in a cabinet. See Job 14:17 and the meaning is, that the time of God's future vengeance, though fixed and determined in his own mind, is yet preserved with him as a profound secret known only to himself.
Ver. 36. For the Lord shall judge his people— Houbigant renders this verse, For the Lord will give judgment to his people, and in his servants he will comfort himself; words, says he, which cannot belong to the Jewish nation, concerning whom it was just said, that the day of their ruin is at hand; wherefore, those servants, and that people of the Lord, are to be understood, who were to become such at that crisis when the Jewish nation and republic was to perish; namely, the servants of God, who were to be, by faith, the sons of Abraham, and who were to be made the people of God, instead of the Jews. Concerning this people of God, it is said, that their hands shall be weak, and there shall be none shut up or left; i.e. there shall be nothing safe for the servants of God against their oppressors; no refuge to which they may fly; no help to be expected from man. A similar expression is found, 2 Kings 14:26. In the next verse, (37.) the idolatrous Jews are addressed, and not their enemies; for all the menaces in this song are against the Jews. Those, however, who may not choose to rely on Houbigant's interpretation, and who rather believe that the same people are spoken of in this as in the 35th and 37th verses, may understand the verse as declaring, that when God shall find his people greatly reduced, sensible of their own weakness and of his power, he will plead their cause, and deliver them from the oppression of their enemies; Psa 10:18 and repent himself for his servants: i.e. will revisit them with mercy. So the phrase signifies, Psalms 90:13; Psalms 135:14.
Ver. 39. See now that I, even I, am he— As the great design of the separation of the Israelites from the rest of the world was, to preserve the knowledge of the true God; so, the end of all the divine chastisements upon Israel was, to shew them the folly and wickedness of idolatry, and to convince them that Jehovah alone was God: When this end was answered, the divine chastisements naturally ceased, and the Lord revisited his servants with mercy. When it is said, I kill, and I make alive, &c. the meaning is, I am to be acknowledged the author of life and death, the dispenser of prosperity and adversity, and especially the author of national changes and revolutions, whether in a way of mercy or of judgment. See 1 Samuel 2:6. Job 5:18. Hosea 6:1.Isaiah 45:7; Isaiah 45:7.
Ver. 40. For I lift up my hand to heaven, &c.— If this verse is to be understood in connection with the foregoing, the meaning is, "For it is mine, and mine alone, (contrary to all those base idols, and false gods, whose vanity you approve,) to lift up my hand to heaven, i.e. in the most solemn manner to attest, that I live for ever, am the only self-existent and eternal God." If the words are to be taken in connection with the next verse, the meaning is, "If I lift up my hand to heaven and say, I live for ever; i.e. if I solemnly swear by myself, and by my own existence, to this purpose, that if I whet my glittering sword, &c. then I will render vengeance to mine enemies; no power shall be able to stop my proceedings. אם im, rendered if, If I whet, &c, may be rendered when." See Noldius. What we render glittering sword, is in the Hebrew the lightning of my sword, which expresses the swiftness, power, and terror of God's judgments. Zechariah 9:14.Ezekiel 21:10; Ezekiel 21:10. See Lowth, Prael. 17: p. 110.
Ver. 42. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, &c.— Houbigant very justly observes, that the order is here transposed. He translates it, my sword shall devour flesh: I will make mine arrows drunk with blood; with the blood of the slain and of the captives, with the flesh of the impious and the enemy. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, is a strong poetical figure, implying the abundance of blood which should be shed. Le Clerc translates it thus, they shall be captives from the head of the enemies' domination; i.e. from him who is invested with the supreme dominion; to make sense of which, to men of the lowest rank must be understood. This interpretation is in agreement with that of the LXX. It would be endless to recount the variety of conjectures on this text. Patrick, Jackson, Martin, Vitringa, Venema, Schultens, have all a different exposition. That given by Parkhurst, in his Lexicon, seems to us as probable as any. פרעות peraot, says he, the word here used, signifies locks of hair growing freely, without being cut or shaved; Eze 44:20 as in this place; I will make mine arrows drunk with blood—with the blood of the slain and captives, (with blood coming) מראשׁ פרעות peraot merosh, from the hairy head, (or, as we say, from the head of hair,) of the enemy. Schultens in his Animad. Philolog. gives nearly the same interpretation.
Ver. 43. Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people— St. Paul, in quoting this passage, Rom 15:10 agrees with the LXX in adding the word with, which is not in the Hebrew; and from that quotation we are directed to consider this passage as a prediction of the bringing in of the Gentiles to share the privileges of the Gospel, and to become one church and people of God, in conjunction with the true believers among the Israelites. The Hebrew, however, may be rendered agreeably enough to this sense. Rejoice, O ye nations, or Gentiles, his people; i.e. being now become his people. See note on ver. 36. Houbigant renders the last clause, instead of and will be merciful, &c.—and will expiate the land of this people. This last verse is a triumphant conclusion, wherein Moses, after having predicted the terrible devastations which should fall upon the Jewish nation for their idolatry and apostacy, pronounces that, amidst all this judgment, God would remember mercy, and that the defection of the Jews should be the riches of the Gentile world. For he will avenge the blood of his servants, Venema, and many others, understand of the blood of the apostles and martyrs. See Matthew 23:35.Revelation 19:1-2; Revelation 19:1-2. Consequently, their enemies, in the next clause, must mean the persecutors of the Church. By being merciful to the land of his people, some suppose that a reference is had to the grand expiation by the sacrifice of Christ, whom God ordained from the beginning as a propitiation through faith in his blood. But Venema's exposition seems more simple and natural. He thinks that God will expiate or purify the land, in the same sense that it is said, Num 35:33 that the earth is purified of a voluntary homicide, by shedding the blood of the murderer; which is as much as to say, that God will purify the land of Canaan, by destroying the murderers of his servants; by causing to cease the voice of their blood, which crieth for vengeance to heaven, and by thus satisfying his own justice. We merely add, that the correspondence of the clauses seems to justify this sense.
REFLECTIONS.—The song concludes, 1. With a proclamation of God's glory and greatness, as it began. I, even I am he, the self-existent and the only God. There is none with me equal in glory, none beside me. I kill, and I make alive; dominion and power are all lodged in my hand, the death of my enemies is determined, the life of my faithful people is secured: or, if I smite them so that they seem dead, I, who wounded, can heal them. Neither is there any who can deliver out of my hand; none who dare interpose to rescue my enemies from destruction. Note; All these things are expressly ascribed to our Jesus, and in a more eminent manner have been, and continue to be fulfilled, both respecting his spiritual Israel, and his spiritual enemies. 2. With a solemn oath of God, who, because he can swear by no greater, swears by himself, to shew the immutability of his counsels, (1.) In his enemies' destruction. The glittering sword is unsheathed; it is whetted with fury; it descends upon the necks of his enemies, wielded by the arm of Omnipotence, and therefore the desolation cannot but be terrible, when God awakes to vengeance, and drenches his arrows in the blood of the slain. Note; It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; and yet, unless sinners repent, they must infallibly perish, without mercy or remedy. (2.) For his faithful people's comfort. They shall see the vengeance executed on their enemies, and rejoice in God's glory therein manifested; they shall triumph in their great salvation: they shall see the vast increase of his church, when the nations shall flow into it, and all the faithful come at last to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads. Note; (1.) Whatever trials the faithful may be exposed to, or whatever sufferings for their sins they may undergo, peace and joy shall be their everlasting portion. (2.) The people of God should be always comforted, nor amidst their days of heaviness, through manifold temptation, intermit their rejoicing in hope. (3.) Let the enemies of God's church and people know, that their day is coming; and when the smoke of their torment ascendeth for ever and ever, the saints in glory shall shout Hallelujah.
Ver. 46. And he said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words— Having concluded his prophetical ode, Moses addresses himself anew to the Israelites in a pathetic exhortation, to weigh and remember well the contents of that divine speech, and to improve it by carefully and sincerely observing the laws which he had given them, and training up their children in a habit of the same obedience; assuring them, that this was not a vain thing for them; ver. 47 that they would not employ their diligence in an unprofitable matter; for this reason, because, it would be their life; i.e. the way to make them a wise and happy people. Much higher is the life whereof our Saviour speaks, when he says, this is life eternal; to know thee, the only true God, &c. John 17:3.
Ver. 48. And the Lord spake unto Moses, &c.— Concerning the death of Moses, see chap. 34:
REFLECTIONS.—Moses and Joshua, in different congregations of the people, solemnly rehearse the words of this song: as Joshua is shortly to supply Moses's place, they must bear the same word, and witness the same truth. Note; There is but one truth in the Scripture, one faith, one hope, one gospel. Moses, after the delivery of this Song of Song of Solomon 1:0. Adds his earnest charge to them, to set their hearts to obey all these commands of God, and not only to be themselves exemplary, but seek to transmit their religion to the succeeding generations, by training up their children in the way which they should go; for it is not a vain thing, an inconsiderable matter; their life depended on it, their comfortable life in Canaan, their eternal life in heaven. Note; Religion is our highest interest, as well as our bounden duty: happy, were we all more deeply convinced thereof! 2. God informs Moses that he must die. The very day on which his work is completed, he is ordered up to mount Nebo. Note; When God has accomplished all his will in us upon earth, he will not fail that same hour to take us to himself. He reminds him of his sin which prevented his passing over Jordan. Humble reflections upon past misconduct become us even in our dying moments. He mentions Aaron's death before him, as a comfortable support against his own. Moses had seen him die in peace, and was now to go to him. It is a comfort, in dying seasons, to think of those who have gone before, and whom we shall so shortly meet in glory, especially our Divine Redeemer, the High-Priest of our profession. Yet he may see the land, though he must not enter it. God is pleased to shew him this favour, as a token of his reconciliation to him, and in full view of it he may die content. Note; (1.) On this side of the grave, we can only by faith see the fulfilment of the promises afar off; we must cross the stream of death, and then we shall receive them in all their fulness. (2.) Though on a dying bed we may have much to lament, it is enough if Jesus stands by to say that our iniquity is pardoned, and holds out eternal life, as the gift of God to us, through his obedience unto death in our behalf.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter