“Moses’ Song: A Love Song, Part 1” – Deuteronomy 31:30-32:21

May 13th,  2018

Dt. 31:30-32:21

“Moses’ Song:  A Love Song – Pt 1”

Aux Text: 1 John 5:1-5

Call to Worship: Psa 81


Service Orientation:  By 21st Century American cultural standards, Moses’ song is not a love song.  But God says it is.  What does that tell us about where we are as a culture and what it means to love?


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. — 1 Corinthians 13:6


In verses 5 and 6 the pictures of God as Rock and as Father are distinct.  In verse 18 they are dramatically combined into a single metaphor.  But the parent metaphor itself is extended to include both genders.  God is both the one who fathered Israel and the one who gave you birth; both father and mother of the people (cf. Nm 11:12).  The combination of roles makes the point even more strongly.  To dishonor or disobey one’s human father and mother was a covenant offense that carried the death penalty.  What then did Israel deserve for this treatment of the father-mother God?  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 301)


Background Information:

  • Though in form this is a lawsuit, the purpose of the song is didactic. It is described as teaching (v. 2) and its teaching nature has already been made clear in the prose introduction in chapter 30.  History itself may be a poor teacher, but history interpreted by the word of God is a fertile source of real learning.  Sadly, even with the prophets as additional teachers, Israel did not learn the lessons of this song.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 298)
  • Even more directly than Moses’ sermons, this is “the word of God.” (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 746)
  • God can do miracles, and he can accurately predict the future; it’s more faithful to the text to believe that the Spirit of God transported Moses to a later time, so he could write this song from a perspective that looks back on Israel’s history as something that’s already taken place. (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 303-4)
  • It should also be remembered that this song was to be repeated by the Israelites themselves both as a warning against disobedience and as a basis for hope when “their strength is gone” (v. 36). (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 199)

Whereas the Torah is cast as a series of addresses to be read privately by the king (17:18-20) and publicly at least every seven years (31:9-13), this song is by definition a poem, composed to be sung or recited in liturgical contexts and/or sung as the national anthem wherever the people live.  The embedding of the Song in Moses’ sermons is deliberate, reminding the reader in memorable lyric form of the gospel that he has been promulgating.  Far from functioning as a loosely connected appendix, this song rings in our ears as a glorious summary of Moses’ preaching.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 770)

  • (v. 1) The call to the heavens and the earth to listen is a figure for all sentient creation as an audience to hear the message to Israel–a poetic way of emphasizing the importance of the song’s themes. As in the treaty form, all creation is a witness to the covenant-treaty between the Lord and Israel.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 199)
  • (v. 1) When a vassal broke faith with his suzerain, the suzerain had two alternatives: he could declare war on his vassal, or he could issue an ultimatum just short of war.  The central form of either covenant lawsuit was the same: each began with an appeal to the accused to listen to the complaint, with heaven and earth as witnesses; then the suzerain questioned his vassal to expose his failure; next, the suzerain recited the good things he’d done for his vassal in the past, further revealing the vassal’s lack of gratitude; in some documents the suzerain added a warning that, at this point, it would be very foolish for the vassal to try to make a treaty with any other nation; finally came the declaration of guilt, in which the suzerain either warned the vassal of impending judgment or urged the vassal to change before it was too late.

Because he was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22), Moses was probably familiar with the pattern and force of a covenant lawsuit.  The Israelites were also more likely to grasp the importance of Moses’ song if it mirrored a legal form they were acquainted with.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 302-3)

(v. 2) By describing his words and his teaching as dew, showers, and abundant rain, Moses emphasized that the Lord’s word to Israel was completely undeserved (how does one live without the rainfall?).  Like dew, Moses wanted his words to restore life to a spiritually parched people, and like abundant rain and showers, he wanted what he was about to say to sink deep into people’s hearts.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 304-5)

  • (v. 2) Moses’ call to the heavens and earth to witness his words has echoes of both wisdom (cf. Ps 49:1-4 [2-5]; 78:1-4; Job 43:2) and prophecy (Isa 1:2). Witness is an indispensable part of any proof, and specifically of the lawsuit pattern that the Song reflects.  Here, the arena of witness is the whole created order.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 452)
  • (v. 7) To develop his accolade for the Lord and his indictment of Israel, Moses in the song begins a recital of historical episodes. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 202)
  • (v. 7) In the manner of 4:32 and Job 8:8, the people were urged to ask for information from their fathers and their elders (v. 7). These fathers and elders would “tell them” (i.e., explain to them) what had occurred.  Then, supposing the people had asked for this explanation, the song proceeds to give it.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 203)
  • (v. 7) Just as verses 7-14 expand the benevolence of God in verse 4, so verses 15-18 now expand the basic charge made against Israel in verse 5, with verse 18 also echoing verse 6. (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 300)
  • (v.7-9) The first step toward repentance would come when they remembered the days of old.  Israel’s possession of her inheritance was due to the boundaries Yahweh set up for the people.  He took such an interest in them because he chose them as his allotted inheritance.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 360)
  • (v. 8) The NIV translation conforms to how the Hebrew text has usually been understood: “[The LORD] set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.”  According to this translation, when God divided the world and assigned parts of it to the nations, he gave land to other nations in relation to what he gave to Israel.  That would suggest that the Lord treated Israel with special favor.  The NIV footnote proposes an alternate translation:  “[The LORD] set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.”  This way of translating suggests that the Lord used a supervising angel or angels to help him assign land to the nations.

Either way one translates it, Moses agreed with Job and with Paul:  “[God] makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them” (Job 12:23).  “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26).  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 308-9)

  • (v. 9) “Possession” usually refers to the land that Yahweh allots to Israel, but in 4:20 Moses spoke of Yahweh claiming his people themselves as his “possession.” Whereas the lore of other ancient peoples involving the origins of relationships between gods and their respective territories focused on the deities’ territorial holdings, like the rest of the OT, this text emphasizes the relationship between Yahweh and his people.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 753)
  • (v. 10) The Hebrew reads literally, “He kept them as the ‘little men’ of His eye.” How close do you have to get to another person before you see yourself reflected in that person’s eye?  God has gotten that close to Israel.  He knows His people face to face.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 315)
  • (v. 10) The “apple of his eye” (v. 10) is an English idiom for “anything held extremely dear” or “much cherished” and is a fitting translation for the Hebrew “the little man of his eye,” that is, the pupil. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 204)
  • (v. 13) Wild honey is plentiful in both Transjordan (2 Sm 17:29) and Canaan (Gn 43:11; Dt 8:8; 1 Kgs 14:3), where honeycombs exist even in fissures of rock (Ph 81:17 [16]). Akkadian sources mention “mountain honey” (Moran).  Sirach 39:26 lists honey as one of the necessities of life.  John the Baptist later existed on a diet of locusts and wild honey (Mk 1:6; Mt 3:4).  The land promised to Israel was to be one of “milk and honey” (Ex 3:8, 17; Nm 13:27; Dt 6:3; Jer 11:5).  Ezekiel recalls how Yahweh fed Israel early on with “honey and oil” (Ez 16:13).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 882)
  • (v. 13) The song views Israel as fed and nourished with the fruit of the fields (food, produce), honey from the rock, and olive oil from the trees in the flinty crags. Bees in Canaan often built their combs between the rocks.  Olive trees flourished and produced bountiful crops of olives in the unlikely limestone soil in rocky places.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 206)
  • (v. 14) Just as fat around kidneys was the most desirable product of rams (Lv 3:3-4; Isa 34:6), so “fat of the kidneys of wheat” (pers. trans.) refers to the highest quality wheat or flour.  The phrase “blood of grapes” refers either to common red or specialty wine.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 755)
  • (v. 15) Jeshurun is a rare name for Israel, which is portrayed in verse 15 like an overfed farm animal, which goes its own way without feeling the least gratitude towards the owner that feeds it and looks after it. It was a case of prosperity leading to contempt, and contempt to disloyalty–the disloyalty of false worship.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 181)
  • (v. 19-21) Applying the principle of talion, he will treat them as they have treated him. They have ignited his passion by substituting him for a “non-god;” he will ignite theirs by substituting them with a “non-people.”  They have provoked his ire with “futilities;” he will provoke their ire with a “nation that has no understanding.”  Yahweh will exchange his “smart” people for an “idiotic” nation.  In effect, barbarians have replaced a civilized people as the object of Yahweh’s affections.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 759)

Since a separate scroll apparently containing only Deuteronomy 32 has surfaced in Qumran (4QDeut), it seems this text was used separately either as part of a liturgy or for instructional purposes.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 773)

  • As noted earlier, we may only speculate on how the Song might have been used liturgically in early Israelite worship. Josephus offers interesting insight into an early Jewish tradition:

He [Moses] recited to them a poem in hexameter verse, which he has moreover bequeathed in a book preserved in the temple, containing a prediction of future events, in accordance with which all has come and is coming to pass, the seer having in no whit strayed from the truth.  All these books he consigned to the priests, together with the ark, in which he had deposited the Ten Words written on two tablets, and the tabernacle.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 772-3)

  • The influence of the Song is evident in the prophets, particularly Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. This is most striking in Ezek 16, which adapts and transforms the Song’s portrayal of the rise, demise, and ultimate restoration of Israel into a powerful oracle of grace, judgment, and hope.  Although Ezekiel’s primary concern in this chapter is Israel’s spiritual harlotry, by borrowing themes and vocabulary from Deuteronomy 32 and imitating the plot structure of the Song, he has confirmed its role as a “witness” for Yahweh and against Israel and transformed it into a powerful rhetorical device.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 772)


The Song of Moses was to be the Israeli National Anthem of the 14th century BC. 


The questions to be answered are . . . If the Song of Moses is a love song, why is it so harsh?  What can we learn from this part of Moses’ song?


Answer:  The Lover always wants what is best for the Beloved.  If the Lover sees the Beloved going in a direction that is harmful, destructive or degrading, the Lover will do all they can do to try and get the Beloved to come to their senses and repent.   God IS love.


The fundamental clashing questions of the song are thus starkly set out:  How can such a people escape judgment?  But how can such a Rock God abandon this purpose; how can such a Parent God sever this relationship?  The answers go deep into the divine cosmology and eschatology, and ultimately lead Paul in Rom 9-11, via this song, through Christocentric missiology back to doxology.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 299)


If what the Bible says about God’s commitment to our welfare and to truthfulness and to justice is true, then he must get angry when his people become faithless and choose one who is “no god” or “idols” (32:21).  Warren Wiersbe says, “God’s ‘jealousy’ is that of a loving faithful husband whose wife has betrayed him.  (This is the story in the Book of Hosea, and see Jer 2:25).”  Yet today many people are surprised when they read about God’s wrath.  It shows how culturally distant the religion of the Bible is even to Christians.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 660)


Although the NIV labels this chapter as “The Song of Moses,” it should really be called “The Song of Yahweh,” because Yahweh inspired it and dictated it to Joshua and Moses in the Tent of Meeting (31:14-21).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 746)


This song of Moses is amazing!  It condemns unfaithfulness.  People will sing the song while they are unfaithful, but the words will not sink in.  Only when they suffer from the consequences of unfaithfulness will that happen.  Such is the deceitfulness of the heart that has moved away from God.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 657)

The Word for the Day is . . . Love


God loves us; not because we are loveable but because He is love, not because he needs to receive but because He delights to give.  (C. S. Lewis; Letters of C. CS. Lewis, 231)


Love is a heart that moves…Love moves away from the self and toward the other. — Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III


The love of God, however, is not merely an attribute which He displays:  love is something God is.  The apostle John concludes that lovelessness on the part of the individual is an indication that one does not know God, “because God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Love, therefore, according the Carl Henry, “is not accidental or incidental to God; it is an essential revelation of the divine nature, a fundamental and eternal perfection.” (Carl F. H. Henry in  God, Revelation and Authority as quoted by C. Samuel Storms, The Grandeur of God, 129)


God is love.  God is love in the N.T. and God is Love in the O.T.  God never changes.  That means EVERYTHING that God does, is ultimately to be understood as an act of love.

If we look at God’s treatment of Egypt and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, and we do not see God’s love in those acts, we do not understand God’s loving motivation.

If we look at the conquest of Joshua and the eradication of the Canaanite peoples and do not see it ultimately as an act of love, it means we do not understand God’s loving motivation.

If we look at the cross of Christ, and the suffering, anguish, and punishment that He underwent, and do not see it as an act of love, it means we do not understand God’s loving motivation.

If we cannot understand an act God does and see it as love, then we are either ignorant of the circumstances and God’s loving motivation or we (more likely) do not understand what true love actually is. — Pastor Keith


What can we learn from this text?:

I-  God is love.  The best thing that can ever happen to you is to seek Him. (Dt 32:3-4, 7-15; see also: Bk of Dt; Ps 1; Rom 8:28-39; 1 Jn 4:8, 16)


God is described as the “Rock” five times in this song (32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31).  It points to God’s “utter reliability and unshakeable trustworthiness,” implying that those who go to him are safe and will be delivered from all attacks.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 647)


Anyone who’s seen the rugged hills of Palestine and the Sinai peninsula would add that the Lord is as dependable and immovable as those rocks.  We can count on him to be there for us, and never to change.  Add to that, the Lord is entirely just.  He rules the world with perfect justice, and he always does what he says he’ll do.  Human beings leave a trail of broken promises as they go through life; God never does.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 305)


The phrase “He made him draw honey from the rock” (v. 13) suggests that even the most barren places became fertile for Israel.  Their blessing was supernatural.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 315)


Now we come to a description of God as Father.  It begins with a statement of the utter folly of the people in rejecting their Father:  “Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people?  Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?”  Rejecting the one who has unfailingly cared for them in order to follow a path about which they know very little is sheer folly.  As their “father,” he shows genuine love for them; and as the one who “created” them, who “made” them, and who “established” them, he knows them better than they know themselves, and he knows what is best for them.  No wonder they are called “foolish and senseless.”  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 649)


The Lord exercised his loving care for Israel like an eagle caring for its young, especially as they are taught to fly (v. 11).  The eagle by stirring up the nest thrusts the eaglets out into the air to try their wings but does not leave them altogether on their own resources.  The parent eagle catches the fluttering little ones on its outspread wings and again deposits them in the nest.  Similarly the Lord took Israel out from Egypt into the deserts of Sinai but did not leave them without his help.  His widespread wings supported them throughout the learning years in Sinai.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 204-5)


Now, it is this acquaintance with God that brings us into the knowledge of his character as a holy, loving, and faithful God; and it is this knowledge of his character that begets love and confidence in the soul towards him.  The more we know of God, the more we love him; the more we try him, the more we confide in him.  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 98)


The Lord led Israel (3) as a shepherd leads and feeds his sheep.  The pictures in verses 13 and 14 describe the abundant care a good shepherd gives:  in the hot, dry summer, he locates grassy grazing lands in the hills; he finds beehives and wild olives in the clefts of rocks for a special treat for his flock; in rich pasturing areas like Bashan he brings them to grain and grapes.  David immortalized this picture in his shepherd psalm.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 310)


If a person is not loving, John says, he or she does not know God.  How will that individual become more loving, then?  Can we grow in love by trying to love more?  No, our attempts to love will only end in more frustration and less love.  The solution, John implies, is to know God better.  This is so simple that we miss it all the time:  our means for becoming more loving is to know God better.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 146)


God loves you as you are but He also loves you far too much to allow you to stay as you are.  — Tim Keller


“All that you love deeply becomes a part of you.”   — Helen Keller


Today we have many, many books, videos, and talks giving human-centered practical teaching about life.  They seem to be eminently practical and relevant to our needs.  But our greatest need is to know who God is.  The most effective practical teaching in the world is teaching that gives people a sense of who God is.  That will influence their life in the most important and helpful way possible.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 647)


The act of creation is also evoked in the image of the eagle “hovering” over its young, like the spirit of God (Gn 1:2).  The idea of birds caring for their young in wild places (10b-11) corresponds eloquently to the topic of protection in a dangerous place.  The “stirring up” of the nest perhaps refers to the mother eagle’s encouragement of the young to fly, along with her care that they do not fall.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 455)


You can never play off self-love against love to God when self-love is treated as our love for happiness.  Rather love to God is the form that self-love takes when God is discovered as the all-satisfying fountain of joy.  Norman Fiering catches the sense here perfectly when he sums up Edwards’ position like this:  “Disinterested love to God is impossible because the desire for happiness is intrinsic to all willing or loving whatsoever, and God is the necessary end of the search for happiness.  Logically one cannot be disinterested about the source or basis of all interest.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 392)


Olive trees grow in sandy and rocky soil, flourish on terraced, rocky hillsides, and can even be found protruding out of flinty rock if the latter contains water, which it often does (Dt 8:15; Ps 114:8; Job 29:6).  But the point here seems to be that in the good land oil flowed even in unpromising places.  The expression borders on hyperbole (cf. BDB, 321).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 882)


With artful parallelism he compares his words to “rain,” “dew,” “showers,” and “abundant rain.”  Linked to verse 1, the words for moisture are arranged in an ABBA order, with the first and last expressions suggesting rains that fall from the heavens, and the middle two referring to moisture that appears spontaneously from the earth (Gn 1:11-12; 2:5).  This verse suggests that the words of praise for Yahweh (cf. v. 3) will precipitate new productivity and fertility in the cosmos.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 750)


The animals too contributed to this good life, with curds and milk and the meat of the best of lambs and goats.  Curds might refer not only to the curds of cattle’s milk but also to cream (Job 29:6) and butter (Prv 30:33).  The fat of lambs describes not the fat itself as such but the best of lambs, which is the meaning of “fattened lambs and goats.”  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 206)


I can’t make myself love God, but I can come to know him better.  And because God is love, the more I come to know him, the more my love for him will grow.  Love is a by-product of knowing.  So I can spend this day loving God.  And tomorrow I can seek to love him a little more.  This is a life “rich toward God.”  (John Ortberg, When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box, 30)


I can’t brag about my love for God because I fail Him daily.   But I can brag about His love for me because it never fails.   I love God.   (Lacie Keef e-mail 3-3-14)


In a bold, dramatic way it is said that Israel was found “in a desert land” and “a barren, howling waste” (v. 10).  This cannot be Egypt as some suppose.  It is part of the moving description of how the Lord found Israel in a desolate and desperate–if not hopeless–plight in the Sinai Desert (like he found Hagar? [Gn 21:14-20]).  This figure is also used by Jeremiah (2:2) and Hosea (9:10).  By depicting this impressive scene, Moses did not denigrate the wonders of the Exodus; he simply focused on the people as largely an unorganized body in an inhospitable environment at the time God entered into the covenant-treaty with them and from this rude beginning brought them into national affluence.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 204)


“Fruit from rock” may be either honey or the juice of dates or grapes, thickened by cooking.  The latter makes a better parallelism with “(olive) oil from flinty rock”, each signifying the capacity of Israel’s land to produce richly from unlikely places.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 455)


There is an indivisible linkage between loving God with all your soul and loving God with all your mind.  Wonder and curiosity are spiritual cousins.  When the soul stops wondering, the mind stops learning.  And vice versa.  A lack of wonder breeds a lack of curiosity, and a lack of curiosity breeds a lack of wonder.  Either way, when you stop learning, you start dying intellectually.  But the spiritual implications are more profound than that.  When you stop learning, you stop loving.  Why?  Because loving is learning more and more about the one you love.  True love is never satisfied.  It always wants to know more about the object of its affection.  The more you love God, the more curious you become.  When it comes to loving God with all your mind, curiosity is both the cause and the effect.  (Mark Batterson, Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, 91-2)


We read of how the eagle handles its young, which chimes with what we know of mothers teaching their offspring to fly.  This is how they go about it:  the eaglets are nurtured in the comfortable nest to begin with, while the mother spends much of the time hovering above them so that the eaglets can see what is possible.  She progressively removes more and more of the fur and hair from the nest to make it less comfortable for the eaglet, encouraging it to leave the nest for good.  If the eaglet doesn’t voluntarily leave the nest, the mother eagle nudges it out of its comfort zone so it has to fly.  It free-falls a while before the mother swoops under it to pick it up on her wings.  This process is repeated until the eaglet learns to fly on its own.  Even then, the mother continues alongside the eaglet for a while until it has matured sufficiently to soar on its own.

It’s a beautiful picture of God’s love for us, both tough and tender at the same time.  Both are needed to get us to fly.  (Simon Guillebaud, Choose Life, 365 Readings for Radical Disciples, 5-25)


II-  God is love.  The worst thing that can happen to you is for you to reject Him.  (Dt 32:5-6, 15-21; see also: Bk of Dt; 1 Cor 12:3; 16:22; Gal 3:10 )


They reject the God who was like a Father to them and worship “strange gods.”  In God’s love for the people he responds to this disloyalty with holy jealousy at their rebellion, just as a loving and faithful husband would respond to his wife’s unfaithfulness.  This is a theme that has already occurred several times in Deuteronomy (4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 29:20) and will occur once more in this chapter (32:21).  We are made for loyal commitment to the God who created us, saved us, and made us his own.  When someone forfeits that through sin, the loving God is stirred to holy jealousy.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 652-3)


The anger of God is an awesome and terrible thing because it follows from a rejection of the equally pervasive love of God.  (P.C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 384)


But we don’t ponder how much his anger is also a function of his love and goodness.  The Bible tells us that God loves everything he has made.  That’s one of the reasons he’s angry at what’s going on in his creation; he is angry at anything or anyone that is destroying the people and world he loves.  His capacity for love is so much greater than ours–and the cumulative extent of evil in the world is so vast–that the word wrath doesn’t really do justice to how God rightly feels when he looks at the world.  So it makes no sense to say, “I don’t want a wrathful God, I want a loving God.”  If God is loving and good, he must be angry at evil–angry enough to do something about it.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 177)


Father Zossima, a character in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, comments, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared with love in dreams.”  The real thing wants the best for the beloved, and that may mean a mother denying her child’s insistent plea for more candy, or a social worker holding his client responsible for destructive behavior, or a wife demanding a change in the behavior of her abusive husband–or God damning to hell the sin that is destroying creation.  (Donald W. McCullough, The Trivialization of God, 94)


The covenant love of God demands exclusive loyalty and faithfulness on our part.  God promises that he will never leave us or forsake us (Dt 31:6, 8; Josh 1:5).  But when we become unfaithful, God’s anger is kindled, and he says, “I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be” (Dt 32:20a).  Why?  “For they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness” (32:20b).  Real love can never be satisfied with rejection.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 659-60)


32:19-21a.  Israel’s defection caused the Lord to act in justice toward his sons and daughters and to hide his face from them.  Because they proved to be a perverse generation (children who are unfaithful), he determined to detach himself and see what their end would be.  In violation of the covenant, Israel made Yahweh jealous by their devotion to worthless idols.  His jealousy stemmed not from the imagined virtues of pagan deities, but from his recognition that Israel’s actions insulted him and guaranteed that their lives would be filled with hardship.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 360)


Do we ever think of the sins of those who call themselves Christians as being a means of provoking God, of God burning with anger over them?  As this theme is repeated so many times in Deuteronomy and as it is an alien idea to even many Christians today, it merits another discussion by us in this book (see the discussion on 9:7, 8; 28:48-68; 32:16).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 659)


Yahweh is determined first to hide his face from a rebellious people, then be present to see where their actions have led them.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 887)


It’s easy to sit where we do in history and deplore Israel’s unfaithfulness.  But, as Paul concluded, “Are we any better?  Not at all!. . . Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (Rom 3:9).  God blesses us enormously.  “His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning” (Lam 3:22, 23).  Yet we go through life distrusting the way he guides our days, belittling all he’s done for us, complaining about the things he’s given others, but hasn’t given us.  Hardly the tune grateful sons and daughters have so many reasons to sing!  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 306)


O people foolish and unwise!  In biblical thought foolishness stands next to godlessness.  People are foolish when they deal corruptly with a good and righteous God.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 875)


As the Lord has been raised to jealousy and anger by Israel’s worship of worthless no-gods, so he will rouse Israel to jealousy and anger by humiliation by foolish, vile non-people.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 209)


There can be no greater contrast than that between verses 4 and 5.  Verse 4, lustily sung as a chorus, affirms the character of God in repetitive, overlapping parallelism.  As the Rock, God is utterly dependable, empty of any wrongdoing, the very foundation of all integrity and justice.  Verse 5, not so often sung at all, affirms the lamentable opposite in Israel’s case.  These people are corrupt, slippery, unstable, warped and crooked.  That would be bad enough, but the charge is aggravated by the reminder of what Israel owes to this God (v. 6).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 298-9)


If we set our desires on anything other than the true God, we will become like that thing.  Desire that is focused on the right object–the one true God–enables and grows a human being.  Desire set on the wrong thing corrupts and debases us.

If we worship money, in other words, we’ll become a greedy person.

If we worship sex, we’ll become a lustful person.

If we worship power, we’ll become a corrupt person.

If we worship accomplishment, we’ll become a restless, frantic person.

If we worship love and acceptance, we’ll become a slave to others.

If we worship external beauty, we’ll become shallow.

And worshiping anything other than the true God will make us something other than what he created us to be.  (Pete Wilson, Empty Promises, 158)


Again we see the folly of disobedience:  they have traded the God who has proved himself in history for an unknown god about whom they know nothing.  Yet that is the way those who have lost the security of living under God act.  They will go from place to place seeking refuge while continuing their disobedient lifestyle.  It is no surprise then that dishonest and violent people are some of the most generous donors to shrines, temples, and even churches.  They want to buy some protection from a god who will not challenge their lifestyle.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 651)


Therefore Paul can assure us in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Nothing, he works out in Romans 9-11, means nothing.  Even Israel’s unbelief cannot ultimately separate Israel from the love of God in Christ.  In fact, God is using this very situation to bring in the Gentiles and to make Israel jealous, so God will have both Israel and the Gentiles at the end (11:32).  (A. Katherine Grieb, The Story of Romans, 23)


Holy anger is the counterpart to love.  Both are part of the nature of God.  Jesus’ love for the man with the withered hand aroused His anger against those who would deny him healing.  Jesus’ love for God’s house made Him angry at the sellers and buyers who had turned the temple into a “den of robbers” (Mt 21:13).  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 69)


Of all the mysteries of God’s plans and purposes, none is more remarkable to me than his radical commitment to our freedom.  In the midst of all we do that is counter to God’s will, God does not strip us of the burden and challenge of freedom itself.  Why?  Because freedom is central to love.  And that means it is central to why and how we are created to live.

Love has been so sentimentalized in our culture that putting love and justice into the same sentence sounds as dissonant as joining worship and justice.  Yet all these things are intertwined in the character of God, none separable from the others.  They are qualities intrinsic to God’s being, and each one names God’s life in different ways.  None is to be present without the other.  (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 180-1)


Love begets love.  —Shirley Marsh


Moses’ recital of the Lord’s gracious acts for Israel was enough to expose Israel’s failure.  But Moses now brought a specific indictment.  He called Israel Jeshurun, meaning “the upright one,” perhaps originally a term of endearment, but, in view of Israel’s behavior, a sadly ironic name.  Israel’s great prosperity would lead them to grow smug and abandon God.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 310)


32:15-18.  And in response to Yahweh’s kindnesses, what did Israel do?  Jeshurun (an ironic title for Israel meaning “the upright one”) grew fat and kicked.  Instead of responding in love and gratitude, the nation abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior.  By their attachment to pagan gods they sacrificed to demons, deserted the God of their fathers, and forgot the God who had given them birth.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 360)


5-6.  The Lord’s governing of his people is on the highest moral and ethical level, but in contrast the Israelites “have acted corruptly” (v. 5).  Acting corruptly (as in 9:12) expresses that, while the Lord is always right in his handling of Israel, Israel has been wrong and devious in rejecting him.  The idolatry of the golden calf illustrates this corruption that broke their relationship to the Lord so that they were “no longer his children;” they were “no sons.”  This condition of being “no sons” was to their shame and disgrace.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 201)


They reject him as both provider and creator (“God who made them”); they have no faith in the Rock, the one who could be completely trusted.  They “scorned” him, literally “regarded him as foolish” (see the echo of this in v. 21).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 456)


Other gods are now exposed, in succession, as “demons” and no gods at all, gods they had not known (with all the implications of love, delight and care predicated of Yahweh in vv. 10-14), and as nouveaux, usurping Yahweh’s rights (17).  The stanza finishes (18) with sharp accusations of ingratitude, using birth images, and words for “forgetting” that have personal and moral overtones rather than suggesting mere neglect (cf. 8:11, 14).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 456)


God will judge, not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.  (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace, 298)


The last part of verse 15 is a sad commentary on the paradox of rebellion against God:   “he . . . scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.”  God is the rock of Israel’s salvation, but Israel forgot that.  They were now strong and prosperous.  They scoffed at the idea of having to depend on God for their existence.  They thought they were strong without God.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 652)


People can become so impressed by their success that they forget the God who gave them success.  I have seen people from economically poor backgrounds who, after becoming Christians, prospered and overcame their poverty.  Some of these people get proud and start comparing themselves with others who remain poor.  “If we could come out of this mess, why can’t they?” they say.  Their pride gradually leads them to act as if they, not God, were responsible for their success in life.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 652)


Martin Luther said, “A full stomach does not promote piety, for it stands secure and neglects God.”  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 316)


The word used here has the idea of the pains of childbirth.  On God’s side there has been costly, comprehensive commitment to his people.  Today we see that commitment in his giving his Son to die for us.  Two verbs–“were unmindful” and “forgot”–describe the people’s rebellion.  Both Hebrew words basically mean “to forget.”  In the time of temptation they forgot all that God had done for them.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 655)


The two clauses–“I will hide my face from them” and “I will . . . see what their end will be”–are explicitly parallel.  These two actions of the Lord follow from the condition of the people–from their being a perverse generation, unfaithful children.  Their perversity stems not only from believing what is perverse and from perverse behavior that is concurrent but in indulging in prevarication (Prv 2:12, 14).  Being children unfaithful to the Lord, they mouth lies.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 209)


Worship Point:  Once you connect the dots between God being a Lover and His love as exhibited in His Law and His providence, you will worship God Who alone knows how to really love.  (Gn 50:20; 1 Sa 2:7-8; 1 Chr 29:12-14; Rom 8:28)


In his book Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot, Richard Restak shares a profound truism:  learn more, see more.  He says, “The richer my knowledge of flora and fauna of the woods, the more I’ll be able to see.  Our perceptions take on richness and depth as a result of all the things that we learn.  What the eye sees is determined by what the brain has learned.

When astronomers look into the night sky, they have a greater appreciation for the constellations and stars and planets.  They see more because they know more.  When musicians listen to a symphony, they have a greater appreciation for the chords and melodies and instrumentation.  They hear more because they know more.  When sommeliers sample a wine, they have a greater appreciation for the flavor, texture, and origin.  They taste more because they know more.

Simply put:  the more you know, the more you appreciate.

So what?  Well, how much you know may have more to do with how much you love God than you think.  Consider what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well:  “You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship.”  Another translation says, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know.”  The Samaritans were worshiping God out of a lack of knowledge.  And when you worship out of ignorance, worship is empty.  God doesn’t just want you to worship Him; He wants you to know why you worship Him.  (Mark Batterson, Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, 102-3)


32:1-4.  Although the words of Moses in his song were designed to testify against Israel’s coming defections, the true subject of the song was the greatness of our God.  Once convicted of their sin, Israel would be brought back to God not by the failure of their idols but by the supreme faithfulness and beauty of the Rock of Israel, a God who does no wrong.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 360)


The song is bracketed (vv. 3f. And 43) with praise to Yahweh, the God whose glory will outshine all the failures of historical Israel and ultimately be acknowledged by all nations.  The mysterious ways of God with the nations ultimately find their only true response in doxology (cf. Rom 11:33-36).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 298)


For Paul, the amazing mystery of God’s purpose is that the very judgment of Israel for their unbelief will lead to the extension of salvation to the nations, which in turn will lead to the repentance and restoration of Israel.  It is a missiology with broad roots throughout the OT, and at least one of its roots lies here in Deuteronomy 32.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 301)


“What causes the weight lifter to grow stronger?  Resistance.  And what is it that makes you stronger in these things?  Resistance.  When you exercise the qualities of God against resistance, it causes you to grow stronger.”

“But with what weights?”

“The weights are whatever goes against the motion of what must grow stronger.  So that which goes against love is the weight, the resistance that enables love to grow stronger.  When it’s hardest to love, and you love regardless, your love grows stronger.  When your circumstances are not conducive to joy, but you rejoice anyway, your joy increases.  When it’s hardest to do what is right, but you do it anyway, when it’s hardest to hope, but you hope anyway, when it’s hardest to be holy, but you turn down what is not holy, when you feel like giving up, but you keep going, and when all hell comes against you but you shine with the light of heaven, that’s when you grow stronger in God and in all these things.  So don’t despise the resistance, but give thanks for it. . . and make the most of it.  Use every measure of resistance to exercise the good.  They are the weights of your training that you might become one of the mighty.”  (Jonathan Cahn, The Book of Mysteries, Day 212)


God is not only bigger than your thinking, He is bigger than you can think.  And if you’ve never stood before God and been totally confused; then you’re worshiping an idol. . . . If God doesn’t have anything to do with your broken heart then you’ve got a bigger problem than your broken heart. . . .  If God doesn’t have anything to do with your cancer then you’ve got a bigger problem than your cancer. . . . If God doesn’t have anything to do with the death of your loved one then you’ve got a bigger problem than the death of your love one. . . .  If God doesn’t have anything to do with your divorce then you’ve got a bigger problem than your divorce.  (Steve Brown; Who Is in Control, “1. A Solid Place to Stand”)


God, the rejected parent, declares the rejection of such perverse offspring.  There is anger in verses 19f., but also pain.  The God who sees (v. 19) cannot bear to see and so hides God’s face (v. 20).  The pain turns to bitter irony in the sarcastic wordplay of v. 21:  “They have made me jealous by a no-god; I will make them jealous by a no-people.”  Israel would suffer at the hands of a nation as worthless in their eyes as their gods were worthless in God’s eyes.  In this context, the verse simply reinforces the tragedy of Israel’s pathetic idolatry and the historical sovereignty of God over the nations as agents of judgment.  The idea, however, of God making Israel jealous by the nations kindles a flame of hope beyond the fire of judgment in the thinking of the Apostle Paul.  For God is in the business of turning “no-peoples” into God’s people (cf. Rom 9;24f., quoting Hos 2:23 and 1:10).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 301)


The weapons of the Church are the same as those of Christ:  truth and love.  It is to teach and love mankind into desiring and seeking the complete psychological and social harmony that only obedience to God and love of God can produce.  (Chad Walsh, Early Christians of the 21st Century, 179)


We have such smooth, almost secularized ways of talking people into the kingdom of God that we can no longer find men and women willing to seek God through the crisis of encounter.  When we bring them into our churches, they have no idea of what it means to love and worship God because, in the route through which we have brought them, there has been no personal encounter, no personal crisis, no need of repentance–only a Bible verse with a promise of forgiveness.  (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 118)


Gospel Application:  For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16; 2 Cor 5:21)


If you do not believe in a God of wrath, but only in a god of love; then what did it cost for your god of love to really love you?   When you understand the wrath of God, you better understand the love of God because you understand what God was willing to do for you because of Your Sin.  — Tim Keller


Love in response to goodness is not love, it is reward.  You don’t earn love.  If you earn it, it isn’t love.  So when the Bible talks about love and grace, it is always in the context of sin and rebellion.  The Prodigal Son is not the exception of love, but the very definition of it.  (Steve Brown, Born Free, 138)


Moody wrote, “It is a great mistake to give a man who has not been convicted of sin certain passages that were never meant for him.  The Law is what he needs. . . Do not offer the consolation of the gospel until he sees and knows he is guilty before God.”  Moody adds, “Many feel secure in their sins with no fear or worry of Judgment Day because ‘God is a God of Love and will overlook my sins.’  They forget the fact that love has no place in a courtroom.  The purpose of a court is to present evidence and determine guilt or innocence.”  (Simon Guillebaud, Choose Life, 365 Readings for Radical Disciples, 6-8)


Why did God create us and later redeem us at great cost even though he doesn’t need us?  He did it because he loves us.  His love is perfect love, radically vulnerable love.  And when you begin to get it, when you begin to experience it, the fakery and manipulativeness of your own love starts to wash away, and you’ve got the patience and security to reach out and start giving a truer love to other people.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 99-100)


“If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying! — Tim Keller


God saw Abraham’s sacrifice and said, “Now I know that you love me, because you did not withhold your only son from me.”  But how much more can we look at his sacrifice on the Cross, and say to God, “Now, we know that you love us.  For you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from us.”  When the magnitude of what he did dawns on us, it makes it possible finally to rest our hearts in him rather than in anything else.  (Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 18)


Here is found the pivotal truths about the waywardness of the human heart, the compassion of Jesus Christ, the atoning work of the cross, and God’s loving heart toward sinners.  Here the way of salvation and the keys to reclaiming a ruined life are revealed.  However, only those with a conviction that the Bible contains such treasures will engage in the search.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 359)


Spiritual Challenge:  Believers need to rest in the knowledge that God is sovereign and allows all that He does to redeem mankind so that no one need live without Him.  (2 Pt 3:9)


So What?:  You can’t really love, you won’t truly love; in fact, your love will be superficial, trivial and silly unless or until you are able to see the Song of Moses as a love song.


God loves you as are you are but He also loves you far too much to allow you to stay as you are.  —Tim Keller


We as Christians cannot regain tomorrow what we have lost through a brief moment of spiritual insanity or inattention today.  We have to face each spiritual choice with alertness and spiritual vigor, for in that choice may be our lives.  In the words of John Greenleaf Whittier, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been!”  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 363)


The problem is that if you want a loving God, you have to have an angry God.  Please think about it.  Loving people can get angry, not in spite of their love but because of it.  In fact, the more closely and deeply you love people in your life, the angrier you can get.  Have you noticed that?  When you see people who are harmed or abused, you get mad.  If you see people abusing themselves, you get mad at them, out of love.  Your senses of love and justice are activated together, not in opposition to each other.  If you see people destroying themselves or destroying other people and you don’t get mad, it’s because you don’t care.  You’re too absorbed in yourself, too cynical, too hard.  The more loving you are, the more ferociously angry you will be at whatever harms your beloved.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 176-77)


You can’t love until you’ve been loved and then you can only love to the degree to which you have been loved.  —Steve Brown


Nobody can give anyone else the kind or amount of love they’re starved for.  In the end we’re all alike, groping for true love and incapable of fully giving it.  What we need is someone to love us who doesn’t need us at all.  Someone who loves us radically, unconditionally, vulnerably.  Someone who loves us just for our sake.  If we received that kind of love, that would so assure us of our value, it would so fill us up, that maybe we could start to give love like that too.  Who can give love with no need?  Jesus.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 98-9)


Until you see you can’t really love you can’t really love.  You can only really love when you come to realize you can’t really love.  — Tim Keller


Many people have had to share Moses’ sorrow from atop Mount Nebo, wistfully contemplating how things might have turned out differently.  Moses forfeited the experience of entering the promised land because of a brief moment of anger.  He let down his guard, and sin robbed him of an experience that might have been his.

It is far better to recognize that all of life is sacred.  Now is the defining moment in every life.  Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi used to prepare his players for a game by telling them, “Every play is the football game.  One missed tackle, one missed block, one dropped pass, and we never know how things might have turned out differently.  You have to give effort on every play as though this one in particular will make all the difference.”  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 363)



God’s mercy comes to us without conditions, but does not proceed without our cooperation.  So too our aid must begin freely, regardless of the recipient’s merits.  But our mercy must increasingly demand change or it is not really love.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 93)


Quotes to Note:

Someone has said, “Let me write the music of a nation, and I do not care who writes the laws.”  In other words, the songs have more influence than do the laws!  If this is true, we today are in a sad predicament.  Modern music has sunk to a level that is absolutely frightening.  (J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: Dt, 195)






Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply