Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Song of Moses
If Deu 32:1-3 be regarded as the introduction, and Deu 32:43 as the conclusion, the main contents of the song may be grouped under three heads, namely,
(1) Deu 32:4-18, the faithfulness of God, the faithlessness of Israel;
(2) Deu 32:19-33, the chastisement and the need of its infliction by God;
(3) Deu 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 Ps. 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. Deu 28:15; Lev 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.
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 Deu 32:15, Deu 32:18, Deu 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 Gen 49:24; and see Sa1 2:2; Psa 18:2; Mat 16:18; Joh 1:42. Zur, the original of "Rock," enters frequently into the composition of proper names of the Mosaic time, e. g., Num 1:5-6, Num 1:10; Num 2:12; Num 3:35, etc. Our translators have elsewhere rendered it according to the sense "everlasting strength" Isa 26:4, "the Mighty One" Isa 30:29; in this chapter they have rightly adhered to the letter throughout.
Render: "It" (i. e. "the perverse and crooked generation") "hath corrupted itself before Him (compare Isa 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.
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 Pe1 2:9.
That is, while nations were being constituted under God's providence, and the bounds of their habitation determined under His government (compare Act 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 Gen 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.
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.
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 Gen 1:2, and there rendered "without form."
Compare Exo 19:4. The "so," which the King James Version supplies in the next verse, should he inserted before "spreadeth," and omitted from Deu 32:12. The sense is, "so He spread out His wings, took them up," etc.
With him - i. e., with God. The Lord alone delivered Israel; Israel therefore ought to have served none other but Him.
i. e., God gave Israel possession of those commanding positions which carry with them dominion over the whole land (compare Deu 33:29), and enabled him to draw the richest provision out of spots naturally unproductive.
Breed of Bashan - Bashan was famous for its cattle. Compare Psa 22:12; Eze 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 Exo 29:13, etc.
The pure blood of the qrape - Render, the blood of the grape, even wine. The Hebrew word seems (compare Isa 27:2) a poetical term for wine.
Jesbarun - This word, found again only in Deu 33:5, Deu 33:26, and Isa 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 Num 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.
They provoked him to jealousy - The language is borrowed from the matrimonial relationship, as in Deu 31:16.
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 Deu 32:21. Compare Deu 13:7; Deu 29:25.
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 Deu 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 Isa 3:16 ff; Isa 32:9 ff; Jer 7:18; Jer 44:15 ff.
I will see what their end shall be - Compare the similar expression in Gen 37:20.
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 Eph 2:12; Pe1 2:10), and such a nation as is destitute of that which alone can make a really "wise and understanding people" Deu 4:6, namely, the knowledge of the revealed word and will of God (compare Co1 1:18-28).
Burning heat - i. e., the fear of a pestilential disease. On the "four sore judgments," famine, plague, noisome beasts, the sword, compare Lev 26:22; Jer 15:2; Eze 5:17; Eze 14:21.
Deu 32:26, Deu 32:27
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 Deu 9:28-29; Eze 20:9, Eze 20:14, Eze 20:22.
Behave themselves strangely - Rather, misunderstand it, i. e., mistake the cause of Israel's ruin.
The defeat of Israel would be due to the fact that God, their strength, had abandoned them because of their apostasy.
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," Deu 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 Exo 14:25; Num. 23; 24; Jos 2:9 ff; Sa1 4:8; Sa1 5:7 ff; Kg1 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.
Their vine - i. e., the nature and character of Israel: compare for similar expressions Psa 80:8, Psa 80:14; Jer 2:21; Hos 10:1.
Sodom ... Gomorrah - Here, as elsewhere, and often in the prophets, emblems of utter depravity: compare Isa 1:10; Jer 23:14,
Gall - Compare Deu 29:18 note.
Rather: "Vengeance is mine and recompence, at the time when their foot slideth.
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 Kg1 14:10) meaning perhaps "married and single," or "guarded and forsaken," but signifying generally "all men of all sorts."
Render: For I lift up my hand to heaven and say, As I live forever, if I whet, etc. On Deu 32:40, in which God is described as swearing by Himself, compare Isa 45:23; Jer 22:5; Heb 6:17. The lifting up of the hand was a gesture used in making oath (compare Gen 14:22; Rev 10:5).
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.
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 Rom 11:25-36).
The Song closes as it began Deu 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.
These verses were, no doubt, added by the author of the supplement to Deuteronomy. For the statements contained in them, consult the marginal references.