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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
Song of Moses
If Deuteronomy 32:1-3 be regarded as the introduction, and Deuteronomy 32:43 as the conclusion, the main contents of the song may be grouped under three heads, namely,
-1Deu 32:4-18, the faithfulness of God, the faithlessness of Israel;
-2Deu 32:19-33, the chastisement and the need of its infliction by God;
-3Deu 32:34-42, God's compassion upon the low and humbled state of His people.
The Song differs signally in diction and idiom from the preceding chapters; just as a lyrical passage is conceived in modes of thought wholly unlike those which belong to narrative or exhortation, and is uttered in different phraseology.
There are, however, in the Song numerous coincidences both in thoughts and words with other parts of the Pentateuch, and especially with Deuteronomy; while the resemblances between it and Psalm 90:"A Prayer of Moses," have been rightly regarded as important.
The Song has reference to a state of things which did not ensue until long after the days of Moses. In this it resembles other parts of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch which no less distinctly contemplate an apostasy (e. g. Deuteronomy 28:15; Leviticus 26:14), and describe it in general terms. If once we admit the possibility that Moses might foresee the future apostasy of Israel, it is scarcely possible to conceive how such foresight could be turned to better account by him than by the writing of this Song. Exhibiting as it does God's preventing mercies, His people's faithlessness and ingratitude, God's consequent judgments, and the final and complete triumph of the divine counsels of grace, it forms the summary of all later Old Testament prophecies, and gives as it were the framework upon which they are laid out. Here as elsewhere the Pentateuch presents itself as the foundation of the religious life of Israel in after times. The currency of the Song would be a standing protest against apostasy; a protest which might well check waverers, and warn the faithful that the revolt of others was neither unforeseen nor unprovided for by Him in whom they trusted.
That this Ode must on every ground take the very first rank in Hebrew poetry is universally allowed.
Introduction. Heaven and earth are here invoked, as elsewhere (see the marginal references), in order to impress on the hearers the importance of what is to follow.
2My 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:
I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed - (See Isaiah 59:21). This is in accordance with the promises everywhere made in he Bible to the people of God (see Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:7-8; Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 89:4; Isaiah 43:5). It may be regarded, first, as a promise of the richest blessings to them as parents - since there is to a parent's heart no prospect so consoling as that which relates to his offspring; and, secondly, as an assurance of the perpetuity of their religion; of their return from captivity, and their restoration to their own land.
3Because I will publish the name of the LORD: ascribe ye greatness unto our God.
4He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
He is the Rock, his work is perfect - Rather, the Rock, perfect is his work. This epithet, repeated no less than five times in the Song Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:30-31, represents those attributes of God which Moses is seeking to enforce, immutability and impregnable strength. Compare the expression "the stone of Israel" in Genesis 49:24; and see 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 18:2; Matthew 16:18; John 1:42. Zur, the original of "Rock," enters frequently into the composition of proper names of the Mosaic time, e. g., Numbers 1:5-6, Numbers 1:10; Numbers 2:12; Numbers 3:35, etc. Our translators have elsewhere rendered it according to the sense "everlasting strength" Isaiah 26:4, "the Mighty One" Isaiah 30:29; in this chapter they have rightly adhered to the letter throughout.
5They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation.
Render: "It" (i. e. "the perverse and crooked generation") "hath corrupted itself before Him (compare Isaiah 1:4); they are not His children, but their blemish:" i. e., the generation of evil-doers cannot be styled God's children, but rather the shame and disgrace of God's children. The other side of the picture is thus brought forward with a brevity and abruptness which strikingly enforces the contrast.
6Do ye thus requite the LORD, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?
Hath bought thee - Rather perhaps, "hath acquired thee for His own," or "possessed thee:" compare the expression "a peculiar people," margin "a purchased people," in 1 Peter 2:9.
7Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.
8When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
That is, while nations were being constituted under God's providence, and the bounds of their habitation determined under His government (compare Acts 17:26), He had even then in view the interests of His elect, and reserved a fitting inheritance "according to the number of the children of Israel;" i. e., proportionate to the wants of their population. Some texts of the Greek version have "according to the number of the Angels of God;" following apparently not a different reading, but the Jewish notion that the nations of the earth are seventy in number (compare Genesis 10:1 note), and that each has its own guardian Angel (compare Ecclus. 17:17). This was possibly suggested by an apprehension that the literal rendering might prove invidious to the many Gentiles who would read the Greek version.
9For the LORD'S portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
These verses set forth in figurative language the helpless and hopeless state of the nation when God took pity on it, and the love and care which He bestowed on it.
10He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
In the waste howling wilderness - literally, "in a waste, the howling of a wilderness," i. e., a wilderness in which wild beasts howl. The word for "waste" is that used in Genesis 1:2, and there rendered "without form."
11As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:
Compare Exodus 19:4. The "so," which the King James Version supplies in the next verse, should he inserted before "spreadeth," and omitted from Deuteronomy 32:12. The sense is, "so He spread out His wings, took them up," etc.
12So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.
With him - i. e., with God. The Lord alone delivered Israel; Israel therefore ought to have served none other but Him.
13He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock;
i. e., God gave Israel possession of those commanding positions which carry with them dominion over the whole land (compare Deuteronomy 33:29), and enabled him to draw the richest provision out of spots naturally unproductive.
14Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape.
Breed of Bashan - Bashan was famous for its cattle. Compare Psalm 22:12; Ezekiel 39:18.
Fat of kidneys of wheat - i. e., the finest and most nutritious wheat. The fat of the kidneys was regarded as being the finest and tenderest, and was therefore specified as a part of the sacrificial animals which was to be offered to the Lord: compare Exodus 29:13, etc.
The pure blood of the qrape - Render, the blood of the grape, even wine. The Hebrew word seems (compare Isaiah 27:2) a poetical term for wine.
15But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
Jesbarun - This word, found again only in Deuteronomy 33:5, Deuteronomy 33:26, and Isaiah 44:2, is not a diminutive but an appellative (containing an allusion to the root, "to be righteous"); and describes not the character which belonged to Israel in fact, but that to which Israel was called. Compare Numbers 23:21. The prefixing of this epithet to the description of Israel's apostasy contained in the words next following is full of keen reproof.
16They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger.
They provoked him to jealousy - The language is borrowed from the matrimonial relationship, as in Deuteronomy 31:16.
17They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
Devils - Render, destroyers. The application of the word to the false gods points to the trait so deeply graven in all pagan worship, that of regarding the deities as malignant, and needing to be propitiated by human sufferings.
Not to God - Rather, "not God," i. e., which were not God; see the margin and Deuteronomy 32:21. Compare Deuteronomy 13:7; Deuteronomy 29:25.
18Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.
19And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.
The anger of God at the apostasy of His people is stated in general terms in this verse; and the results of it are described, in words as of God Himself, in the next and following verses. These results consisted negatively in the withdrawal of God's favor Deuteronomy 32:20, and positively in the infliction of a righteous retribution.
Daughters - The women had their full share in the sins of the people. Compare Isaiah 3:16 ff; Isaiah 32:9 ff; Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:15 ff.
20And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.
I will see what their end shall be - Compare the similar expression in Genesis 37:20.
21They 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 which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
God would mete out to them the same measure as they had done to Him. Through chosen by the one God to be His own, they had preferred idols, which were no gods. So therefore would He prefer to His people that which was no people. As they had angered Him with their vanities, so would He provoke them by adopting in their stead those whom they counted as nothing. The terms, "not a people," and "a foolish nation," mean such a people as, not being God's, would not be accounted a people at all (compare Ephesians 2:12; 1 Peter 2:10), and such a nation as is destitute of that which alone can make a really "wise and understanding people" Deuteronomy 4:6, namely, the knowledge of the revealed word and will of God (compare 1 Corinthians 1:18-28).
22For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
23I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them.
24They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust.
Burning heat - i. e., the fear of a pestilential disease. On the "four sore judgments," famine, plague, noisome beasts, the sword, compare Leviticus 26:22; Jeremiah 15:2; Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 14:21.
25The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs.
26I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men:
Rather, I would utterly disperse them, etc., were it not that I apprehended the provocation of the enemy, i. e., that I should be provoked to wrath when the enemy ascribed the overthrow of Israel to his own prowess and not to my judgments. Compare Deuteronomy 9:28-29; Ezekiel 20:9, Ezekiel 20:14, Ezekiel 20:22.
Behave themselves strangely - Rather, misunderstand it, i. e., mistake the cause of Israel's ruin.
27Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the LORD hath not done all this.
28For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them.
29O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!
30How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?
The defeat of Israel would be due to the fact that God, their strength, had abandoned them because of their apostasy.
31For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.
Our enemies - i. e., the enemies of Moses and the faithful Israelites; the pagan, more especially those with whom Israel was brought into collision, whom Israel was commissioned to "chase," but to whom, as a punishment for faithlessness, Israel was "sold," Deuteronomy 32:30. Moses leaves the decision, whether "their rock" (i. e. the false gods of the pagan to which the apostate Israelites had fallen away) or "our Rock" is superior, to be determined by the unbelievers themselves. For example, see Exodus 14:25; Numbers 23; 24; Joshua 2:9 ff; 1 Samuel 4:8; 1 Samuel 5:7 ff; 1 Kings 20:28. That the pagan should thus be constrained to bear witness to the supremacy of Israel's God heightened the folly of Israel's apostasy.
32For 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 vine - i. e., the nature and character of Israel: compare for similar expressions Psalm 80:8, Psalm 80:14; Jeremiah 2:21; Hosea 10:1.
Sodom ... Gomorrah - Here, as elsewhere, and often in the prophets, emblems of utter depravity: compare Isaiah 1:10; Jeremiah 23:14,
Gall - Compare Deuteronomy 29:18 note.
33Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
34Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures?
35To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.
Rather: "Vengeance is mine and recompence, at the time when their foot slideth.
36For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.
Repent himself for - Rather, have compassion upon. The verse declares that God's judgment of His people would issue at once in the punishment of the wicked, and in the comfort of the righteous.
None shut up, or left - A proverbial phrase (compare 1 Kings 14:10) meaning perhaps "married and single," or "guarded and forsaken," but signifying generally "all men of all sorts."
37And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted,
38Which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offerings? let them rise up and help you, and be your protection.
39See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.
40For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.
Render: For I lift up my hand to heaven and say, As I live forever, if I whet, etc. On Deuteronomy 32:40, in which God is described as swearing by Himself, compare Isaiah 45:23; Jeremiah 22:5; Hebrews 6:17. The lifting up of the hand was a gesture used in making oath (compare Genesis 14:22; Revelation 10:5).
41If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.
42I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy.
From the beginning of revenges upon the enemy - Render, (drunk with blood) from the head (i. e. the chief) of the princes of the enemy.
43Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
Rejoice, O ye nations, with His people - Some prefer the marginal rendering.
In this profound passage, there is shadowed forth the purpose of God to overrule:
(1) the unbelief of the Jews to the bringing in of the Gentiles; and
(2) the mercy shown to the Gentries to the eventual restoration of the Jews (compare Romans 11:25-36).
The Song closes as it began Deuteronomy 32:1-3, with an invitation to praise. It has reached, through a long series of divine interpositions, its grandest theme in this call to the Gentiles, now pagan no more, to rejoice over God's restored people, the Jews.
44And Moses came and spake all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hoshea the son of Nun.
These verses were, no doubt, added by the author of the supplement to Deuteronomy. For the statements contained in them, consult the marginal references.
45And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel:
46And he said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law.
47For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.
48And the LORD spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying,
49Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession:
50And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
51Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of MeribahKadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.
52Yet thou shalt see the land before thee; but thou shalt not go thither unto the land which I give the children of Israel.