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Deuteronomy 31:19-30; 32:1-43 – The Song of Moses

Summary

Moses' last words appear this time in the form of a song that summarizes the story of Israel's election, apostasy, punishment, and, in the end, God's gracious vindication.

Analysis

The Song of Moses (despite the note in 31:30 and 32:1 that Moses is speaking) functions as a justification of God's ways with Israel. The date is disputed, ranging from the eleventh to the sixth century, though there is consensus that it is a later addition to the text of Deuteronomy. Verse 7 speaks of the exodus as taking place in "the days of old," and verses 15-26 depict an Israel already in the land of Canaan, while recounting the unfaithfulness that brought them to the brink of exile. While some think it is cast in the form of a hymn because of the calls to praise that frame the song in verses 3 and 43, most continue to see, lying behind the poem, a framework known as the prophetic lawsuit (rib), in which God brings charges against Israel. Thus, the case for God's gracious care of Israel and an accusation of Israel's covenantal neglect is brought to the court of "heaven and earth." For exilic readers, the destruction of Jerusalem and their subsequent deportation to Babylon are understandable consequences of Israel's lack of faithful obedience. The argument can be outlined as follows:

A. Introduction, calling on heaven and earth to serve as witnesses (vv. 1-3)
B. History of God's relationship to Israel (vv. 4-18)
1. Accusation: God's faithfulness and Israel's apostasy (vv. 4-6)
2. Recital of God's care for Israel (vv. 7-14)
3. Indictment of Israel's apostasy (vv. 15-18)
C. God's decisions (vv. 19-42)
1. To punish Israel (vv. 19-25)
2. To deliver Israel and punish the enemy (vv. 26-42)
a. God's punishment of Israel might be misunderstood by the enemy as weakness on God's part (vv. 26-27)
b. God relents and punishes the enemy (vv. 28-42)
D. Summons for the heavenly council to praise God (v. 43)

Most important is the dramatic reversal beginning in verse 26, where God decides the punishment of Israel could be misunderstood as weakness in God (v. 27a) or, worse, victory due to the enemy's own might (v. 27b). Therefore, God decides to punish the enemy and deliver Israel as a graphic illustration of divine sovereignty (vv. 36-42).

The traditional Easter Vigil, originally a time for baptism, selects snippets from this magnificent poem and its introduction in chapter 31 to remind those about to be baptized of the serious nature of their covenantal commitment. The first four verses of the Song urge them to experience the power of God's word in their life and to praise God (v. 43a) for his vindication (v. 36a).

Deuteronomy 31:19-30; 32:1-43

19Now therefore write this song, and teach it to the Israelites; put it in their mouths, in order that this song may be a witness for me against the Israelites. 20For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I promised on oath to their ancestors, and they have eaten their fill and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, despising me and breaking my covenant. 21And when many terrible troubles come upon them, this song will confront them as a witness, because it will not be lost from the mouths of their descendants. For I know what they are inclined to do even now, before I have brought them into the land that I promised them on oath.’ 22That very day Moses wrote this song and taught it to the Israelites.

23 Then the Lord commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, ‘Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be with you.’

24 When Moses had finished writing down in a book the words of this law to the very end, 25Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, 26‘Take this book of the law and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God; let it remain there as a witness against you. 27For I know well how rebellious and stubborn you are. If you already have been so rebellious towards the Lord while I am still alive among you, how much more after my death! 28Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, so that I may recite these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly, turning aside from the way that I have commanded you. In time to come trouble will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.’

The Song of Moses

30 Then Moses recited the words of this song, to the very end, in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:

32Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
   let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
2 May my teaching drop like the rain,
   my speech condense like the dew;
like gentle rain on grass,
   like showers on new growth.
3 For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
   ascribe greatness to our God!


4 The Rock, his work is perfect,
   and all his ways are just.
A faithful God, without deceit,
   just and upright is he;
5 yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him,*
   a perverse and crooked generation.
6 Do you thus repay the Lord,
   O foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
   who made you and established you?
7 Remember the days of old,
   consider the years long past;
ask your father, and he will inform you;
   your elders, and they will tell you.
8 When the Most High* apportioned the nations,
   when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
   according to the number of the gods;*
9 the Lord’s own portion was his people,
   Jacob his allotted share.


10 He sustained* him in a desert land,
   in a howling wilderness waste;
he shielded him, cared for him,
   guarded him as the apple of his eye.
11 As an eagle stirs up its nest,
   and hovers over its young;
as it spreads its wings, takes them up,
   and bears them aloft on its pinions,
12 the Lord alone guided him;
   no foreign god was with him.
13 He set him upon the heights of the land,
   and fed him with* produce of the field;
he nursed him with honey from the crags,
   with oil from flinty rock;
14 curds from the herd, and milk from the flock,
   with fat of lambs and rams;
Bashan bulls and goats,
   together with the choicest wheat—
   you drank fine wine from the blood of grapes.
15 Jacob ate his fill;*
   Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked.
   You grew fat, bloated, and gorged!
He abandoned God who made him,
   and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
16 They made him jealous with strange gods,
   with abhorrent things they provoked him.
17 They sacrificed to demons, not God,
   to deities they had never known,
to new ones recently arrived,
   whom your ancestors had not feared.
18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you;*
   you forgot the God who gave you birth.


19 The Lord saw it, and was jealous;*
   he spurned* his sons and daughters.
20 He said: I will hide my face from them,
   I will see what their end will be;
for they are a perverse generation,
   children in whom there is no faithfulness.
21 They made me jealous with what is no god,
   provoked me with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with what is no people,
   provoke them with a foolish nation.
22 For a fire is kindled by my anger,
   and burns to the depths of Sheol;
it devours the earth and its increase,
   and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.
23 I will heap disasters upon them,
   spend my arrows against them:
24 wasting hunger,
   burning consumption,
   bitter pestilence.
The teeth of beasts I will send against them,
   with venom of things crawling in the dust.
25 In the street the sword shall bereave,
   and in the chambers terror,
for young man and woman alike,
   nursing child and old grey head.
26 I thought to scatter them*
   and blot out the memory of them from humankind;
27 but I feared provocation by the enemy,
   for their adversaries might misunderstand
and say, ‘Our hand is triumphant;
   it was not the Lord who did all this.’


28 They are a nation void of sense;
   there is no understanding in them.
29 If they were wise, they would understand this;
   they would discern what the end would be.
30 How could one have routed a thousand,
   and two put a myriad to flight,
unless their Rock had sold them,
   the Lord had given them up?
31 Indeed their rock is not like our Rock;
   our enemies are fools.*
32 Their vine comes from the vine-stock of Sodom,
   from the vineyards of Gomorrah;
their grapes are grapes of poison,
   their clusters are bitter;
33 their wine is the poison of serpents,
   the cruel venom of asps.


34 Is not this laid up in store with me,
   sealed up in my treasuries?
35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
   for the time when their foot shall slip;
because the day of their calamity is at hand,
   their doom comes swiftly.


36 Indeed the Lord will vindicate his people,
   have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone,
   neither bond nor free remaining.
37 Then he will say: Where are their gods,
   the rock in which they took refuge,
38 who ate the fat of their sacrifices,
   and drank the wine of their libations?
Let them rise up and help you,
   let them be your protection!


39 See now that I, even I, am he;
   there is no god besides me.
I kill and I make alive;
   I wound and I heal;
   and no one can deliver from my hand.
40 For I lift up my hand to heaven,
   and swear: As I live for ever,
41 when I whet my flashing sword,
   and my hand takes hold on judgement;
I will take vengeance on my adversaries,
   and will repay those who hate me.
42 I will make my arrows drunk with blood,
   and my sword shall devour flesh—
with the blood of the slain and the captives,
   from the long-haired enemy.


43 Praise, O heavens,* his people,
   worship him, all you gods!*
For he will avenge the blood of his children,*
   and take vengeance on his adversaries;
he will repay those who hate him,*
   and cleanse the land for his people.*

oremus Bible Browser
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v 2.2.7
10 February 2011

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