Bible Commentaries

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Deuteronomy 32



After the passage through the Red Sea Moses began the guidance of Israel through the wilderness with a triumphal song of praise and prophecy, (see Exodus 15:1-18,) commencing with, “I will sing unto Jehovah, for he hath triumphed gloriously,” and closing with, “Jehovah shall reign for ever and ever.” Now, at the close of the forty years’ wandering, in sight of the Promised Land, the great leader, who has almost finished his course, before he wholly lays aside the cares of office before he goes up into the mountain to see the goodly land and to die utters these words, ranging in thought through the entire future history of his people.

Commencing with a figure not uncommon to the Hebrew poets, heaven and earth are invoked. It is as though the universe of God should be interested in what follows. Comp. Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 31:28; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 2:12; Jeremiah 22:29.

“This song,” says Delitzsch, “is a compendious outline or draft, and also the common key to all prophecy, and bears the same fundamental relation to it as the Decalogue to all other laws and the Lord’s Prayer to all other prayers. The lawgiver summed up the whole prophetic contents of his last words (chaps. 27, 28, 29, 30) and threw them into the form of a song, that they might be perpetuated in the memories and mouths of the people. This song sets before the nation its entire history to the end of time. That history divides itself into four great periods: the creation and rise of Israel; the ingratitude and apostasy of Israel; the consequent surrender of Israel to the power of the heathen; and, finally, the restoration of Israel, sifted but not destroyed, and the unanimity of all nations in the praise of Jehovah, who reveals himself both in judgment and in mercy. This fourfold character is not only verified in every part of the history of Israel, but is also the seal of that history as a whole, even to its remotest end in New Testament times. In every age, therefore, this song has presented to Israel a mirror of its existing condition and future fate. And it was the task of the prophets to hold up this mirror to the people of their own times.” Isaiah, vol. i, p. 74.

The contents of this ode have been differently arranged by different commentators. The division of Kamphausen is the most satisfactory: Introduction, (Deuteronomy 32:1-3.) 1. The faithfulness of God and the faithlessness of Israel, (Deuteronomy 32:4-18.) 2. The chastisement, and the need of its infliction, (Deuteronomy 32:19-33.) 3 . Jehovah’s compassion on the depressed condition of his people, (Deuteronomy 32:34-42.) Conclusion, (Deuteronomy 32:43.)

Verse 2

2. My doctrine shall drop as the rain This may be rendered,

Let my doctrine drop as the rain,

And my words fall as the dew.

Verse 3

3. Because I will publish the name of the Lord Better, I will proclaim the name of Jehovah. The Hebrew word קרא , like the Greek κηρυσσω , means to make a proclamation as a herald or as a prophet. Moses proclaims Jehovah as the nation’s king.

Verse 4

4. He is the Rock, his work is perfect The Rock, perfect his work. In the Hebrew the position of the word translated Rock makes it very emphatic. The figure is a favourite one in Hebrew poetry. David, who in his wanderings had found the protection of Jehovah like the rocky fastnesses of Judea, says, in 2 Samuel 22:2, “The Lord is my rock.” While the figure is used for shelter and protection it is also employed to denote power, stability. Comp. Isaiah 26:4: “In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength,” which might more literally be rendered, “in the Lord Jehovah is the rock of ages.”

All his ways are judgment In all his dealings he is just.

Verse 5

5. They have corrupted themselves A striking contrast is now presented. Jehovah, their God, is perfect, is unchangeable. The nation for the prophet looks down the future and sees the rebellion and apostasy of Israel becomes corrupt.

Their spot is not the spot of his children It is not easy to render the Hebrew of this passage. Literally it is, not his children, their blemish. Instead of being Jehovah’s true children they are of such a character that they stain the family. Compare the figure used 2 Peter 2:13, where false teachers and false brethren are called “spots” and “blemishes” in the Church.

Verse 6

6. Is not he thy Father that hath bought thee The meaning is, that Jehovah is the one whose peculiar possession Israel had become. Jehovah had redeemed them from Egyptian bondage.

Verse 7

7. Remember the days of old In thought the speaker places himself in the midst of the moral degeneracy and apostasy of the people. He would have them from that point look back to their earliest history, and remember what Jehovah had done for them.

Verse 8

8. The Most High divided to the nations their inheritance Then Israel was in his thoughts. He selected Israel as his peculiar people.

Verse 10

10. Found him in a desert land This entire passage (10-14) is a highly poetical description of Jehovah’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage and of the divine care and guidance. He finds Israel as a man ready to perish. Egypt, though a land of fertility and wealth, was a desert to the toiling Hebrew serf. The harsh measure of the Egyptian king would have resulted, if not arrested, in the extirpation of the people. To heighten the figure and give it local colouring Moses brings out the desolateness of the Wilderness of Wandering, and the howling of the wild beasts that must at times have made the way terrible.

He kept him as the apple of his eye This figure denotes the tenderest care of Jehovah. Comp. Psalms 17:8: “Keep me as the apple of the eye;” also, Proverbs 7:2: “Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye.”

Verse 11

11. As an eagle stirreth up her nest This figure beautifully expresses the tender solicitude and watchful care of Jehovah. Compare Exodus 19:4.

Beareth them on her wings This should be read in connexion rather than with what follows. The whole passage may be rendered, So an eagle stirs up her nest, hovers over her young, spreads her wings, takes it up, bears it on her pinions.

Verse 12

12. So the Lord alone did lead him Omit so, and read Jehovah alone did lead him.

No strange god with him It was Jehovah who delivered. He is to be served, and he alone.

Verse 13

13. He made him ride on the high places He who possessed the high places had control. The figure is used to denote the subjugation of the land. Comp. Deuteronomy 33:29: “Them shalt tread upon their high places;” also, Psalms 18:33: “Setteth me upon my high places.”

Verse 14

14. Of the breed of Bashan בני בשׁן . This expression is used for the best kind. Bashan was celebrated not merely for its oxen, but for all other cattle used for food by the Hebrews. Comp. Ezekiel 39:18.

In Deuteronomy 32:15-18 Moses turns again to the time of the nation’s apostasy, when with base ingratitude they will forsake the worship of Jehovah and bow down to the gods of the nations.

Verse 15

15. Jeshurun This word is found elsewhere only in Deuteronomy 33:5; Deuteronomy 33:26, and Isaiah 44:2. It is considered by some a term of endearment. The Seventy render it “the beloved one.” But from its derivation we infer it was an honourable name given to Israel. This righteous nation becomes prosperous, and in its prosperity rebels against Jehovah. “The epithet righteous nation, as we may render Jeshurun, was intended to remind Israel of its calling, and involved the severest proof of its apostasy.” Keil.

Verse 16

16. Departing from God, they will give themselves up to the worship of idols. They provoked him to jealousy is a figure taken from the marriage relation. The intimate relation that Jehovah sustains to his people is expressed by this. Comp. Deuteronomy 31:16; Exodus 39:14; Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14.

Verse 17

17. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God The word rendered devils is destroyers; Sept. δαιμονια : wicked spirits, demons. The people of God will leave his service, and worship at the shrines of the gods of the heathen.

Verse 18

18. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee Moses emphasizes the ingratitude of the nation in that they forsake Him who has shown paternal and maternal love to them. Rock is put for the founder of the nation. Jehovah is Israel’s founder. “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn.” Isaiah 51:1.

Verse 19

19. The Lord… abhorred them And Jehovah saw it and rejected them, because he was angry with his sons and his daughters. Jehovah saw their idolatry. In the apostasy of Israel the women became luxurious and corrupt. See Isaiah 3:16, and the following verses; also Isaiah 32:9; Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:15.

Verse 20

20. Children in whom is no faith Sons in whom there is no faithfulness. Comp. Deuteronomy 31:17-18.

Verse 21

21. In strong terms Moses represents Jehovah as rejecting disobedient Israel, and bringing upon them terrible retribution. Israel is to be punished. Paul, Romans 10:19, quotes this verse to indicate the adoption of the Gentiles. In the Hebrew there is a striking antithesis. They have moved me to jealousy with a no god. I will therefore provoke them to jealousy with a no nation.

Verse 22

22. For a fire is kindled in mine anger A fire blazes up in my face. Comp. Psalms 18:8: “There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.” The figure of the anger of Jehovah consuming to the lowest depths is terrible in grandeur, and calculated to impress upon the Hebrews the peril of apostasy.

Verse 23

23. I will heap mischiefs upon them Here follows a dread array of disasters and judgments that will come upon the rebellious nation. Hunger, pestilence, plague, wild beasts, poisonous serpents, and war are to afflict them.

Verse 24

24. They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat Consumed with fever and dire pestilence with the poison of the crawlers of the dust.

Verse 26

26. I said, I would scatter them into corners The word which our translators render scatter into corners rather means, I will blow them away, so as to effectually disperse them.

Verse 27

27. Were it not that I feared The idea of the verse is, that Israel’s enemies might ascribe the nation’s destruction to their own power, whereas it would be the work of God. Comp. Exodus 32:12.

Verses 29-30

29, 30. O that they were wise Better, If they were wise, they would understand this. They would consider their future.

How should one chase a thousand How could one pursue a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight were it not that their Rock had sold them, and Jehovah had given them up?

Sold them Delivered them to their foes as one delivers what he has sold.

Verse 31

31. The false gods are set in contrast with Jehovah, the God of Israel.

For their rock is not as our Rock,… our enemies That is, the nations who have oppressed or been at war with Israel being judges. Comp. Exodus 14:25; Numbers 23:24, etc. That the heathen acknowledge the might of Jehovah heightens the guilt of the apostasy of Israel.

Verse 32

32. For their vine is of the vine of Sodom Israel is compared to a vine. For similar imagery comp. Psalms 80:8: “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt.” So in Isaiah, chap. v, the nation is compared to a vineyard of Jehovah’s planting. The vine of Sodom implies the utter depravity of the people. Comp. Isaiah 1:10, “rulers of Sodom,” applied to the wicked princes of Judah. Jeremiah 23:14: “They are all of them unto me as Sodom.”

Verse 33

33. Their wine is the poison of dragons The wine that this vine of Sodom bears is as the poison of deadly serpents. The figures employed suggest that the nation will become utterly corrupt. The chosen people of God will deserve to perish as the inhabitants of Sodom.

Verse 34

34. Is not this laid up in store with me The thought designed to be expressed is, that God’s time for punishment is decided upon, but not yet revealed. It is hidden in his treasure-chambers, for so the words translated treasures in our version might better be rendered.

Verse 35

35. To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time More literally, vengeance and retribution is mine when their foot shall shake. “The shaking of the foot is a figure representing the commencement of a fall or of stumbling.” Keil. Comp. Psalms 38:16; Psalms 94:18. The first part of this verse is quoted in Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30. It is to be impressed upon the nation that when disasters come to them they are not fortuitous, but inflicted by Jehovah as the punishment for their sins.

Verse 36

36. For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants Jehovah will judge will administer justice to his people and yet he will have compassion on them, for the expression rendered repent himself is better translated have compassion upon.

Verse 37

37. Where are their gods Here Jehovah is represented as showing his people the folly of idol-worship, the helplessness of the false gods.

Verse 38

38. Let them rise up Comp. Jeremiah 2:28: “But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? Let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of the trouble.” Men need divine protection. It is natural for them to look to those they have worshipped for help.

Verse 39

39. I,

even I, am he The original is very emphatic from its brevity I, I, he. Jehovah will reveal himself with power.

Verse 40

40. I live forever The formula of an oath was, “The Lord liveth.” Comp. Numbers 14:21; 1 Samuel 14:39; Jeremiah 5:2.

Verse 41

41. I will render vengeance As the divine Ruler Jehovah will administer justice. His enemies will be surely punished. Retribution will come upon the ungodly.

Verse 42

42. From the beginning of revenges upon the enemy The translation in our Authorized Version is manifestly incorrect. From the heads of the leaders of the enemy is a literal translation.

Verse 43

43. Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people Or, rather, Praise, O ye nations, his people. The English versions follow the reading of the Septuagint. And the passage is thus quoted in Romans 15:10.

Verses 44-47

44-47. Moses came… he, and Hoshea Moses and Joshua impress upon the people the commands of Jehovah.

Hoshea Comp. Numbers 13:8; Numbers 13:16.

Verse 48

48. That selfsame day What a close to a day so marked in the history of Israel! The echoes of this grand ode are dying away, the families of Israel are returning to their tents. To Moses, the great leader, comes the divine direction. He is now told, “Get thee up into this mountain;… behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession: and die in the mount.” Comp. Numbers 27:12-14.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.