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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Deuteronomy

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Text Commentary side-by-side
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

31.30–32.44 :

The Song of Moses. The Song is a late insertion that reflects upon Israel's history and almost certainly presupposes the exile. The Song's literary form is a revised and expanded prophetic lawsuit (Isa. ch 1; Jer. ch 2; Mic. ch 6; Ps. 50 ). The basic structure is as follows: (1) Introduction, with summoning of witnesses (vv. 1–3 ); (2) Summary accusation of Israel's disloyalty (vv. 4–6 ); (3) Recital of God's loving actions on Israel's behalf as the basis for the charge (vv. 7–14 ); (4) Indictment of Israel as disloyal (vv. 15–18 ); (5) Declaration of the decision to punish Israel (vv. 19–25 ). At this very point, however, God interrupts His own judicial sentence to recognize a risk to His honor: other nations might conclude that Israel's God was weak should they see Israel destroyed (vv. 26–27 ). God reverses Himself, cancels the just‐pronounced punishment, and decides instead to punish Israel's enemies so as to vindicate Israel (vv. 28–42 ). The Song concludes with a call for the divine council to praise God for His actions; the call may originate from within the divine council itself (v. 43; similarly, Ps. 29.1 ). A prose frame links the Song to Deuteronomy by identifying Moses, otherwise unmentioned in the poem, as its speaker ( 31.30; 32.44 ).

2 :

The reference to discourse, and the criticism of Israel as “dull and witless” (v. 6 ) show how the original prophetic lawsuit has been combined with ideas taken from wisdom literature (Prov. 1.5; 4.2; 7.21 ).

4 :

Rock, more accurately, “Mountain,” a title applied to the high god of ancient Canaanite literature (see v. 8 n. ) and to the biblical God (vv. 15, 18, 30, 31, 37; Isa. 44.8; Ps. 78.35 ).

6 :

Created you, when God redeemed Israel from Egypt (Exod. 15.16 ).

8 :

Most High, or “‘Elyon,” is the formal title of El, the senior god who presided ov ear Eastern convention of a pantheon of gods ruled by the chief deity (Pss. 82.1;89.6–8 ). Israelite authors regularly applied El's title to Israel's God (Gen. 14.18–22; Num. 24.16; Pss. 46.5; 47.3 ). Even the precise parallelism “Rock” / “‘Elyon” (see v. 4; Ps. 78.35 ) reflects a conventional Ugaritic title for El. In relation to Israel's numbers is unintelligible as it stands. The variant attested by the Septuagint and at Qumran, “according to the sons of El” (cf. NRSV), which preserves the mythological reference to Most High (“‘Elyon”) earlier in the verse, makes much more sense. Here, the idea is that the chief god allocates the nations to lesser deities in the pantheon. (A postbiblical notion that seventy angels are in charge of the world's seventy nations echoes this idea.) Almost certainly, the unintelligible reading of the MT represents a “correction” of the original text (whereby God presides over other gods) to make it conform to the later standard of pure monotheism: There are no other gods! The polytheistic imagery of the divine council is also deleted at 32.43; 33.2–3, 7.

9 :

Portion: This and the following term reflect ancient estate law: Israel is God's special inheritance ( 4.20; cf. 7.6; 14.2; 26.18 ). Own allotment: NJPS has added own in order to avoid the impression that ʿElyon, as head of the pantheon, has assigned Israel to Yhvh, as merely a member of the pantheon. The translation suggests that Israel's God, here identified with Elyon, reserves Israel for Himself until the end. The Hebrew permits either reading.

10 :

Found (Hos. 9.10 ): Overlooking the traditions about the slavery in Egypt, the Song here traces the beginnings of Israel to the wilderness period, romanticizing its ideal purity (similarly, Hos. 15.2–15:2.14–15; Jer.2.2–3 ; contrast Deut. 9.6–7, 22–27; Ezek. ch 20 ).

11 :

God, as an eagle, tenderly bears Israel as a fledgling (see Exod. 19.4 ). Ironically, the dietary laws prohibit the eagle as ritually unclean ( 14.12 ).

13 :

Highlands, see Exod. 15.17.

14 :

Curd, symbolic of extravagant hospitality offered to special guests (Gen. 18.8; Judg. 5.25 ).

15 :

Jeshurun, probably meaning “upright,” a poetic term for Israel ( 33.5, 26; Isa. 44.2 ).

17 :

Demons, better, “protective spirits,” using a word borrowed from Akkadian (also Ps. 106.37 ). No‐gods: The language is intentionally sarcastic (see also v. 21 ).

18 :

The Rock that begot you…brought you forth: The Hebrew much more vividly presents God as going through childbirth: “The Rock who gave birth to you…who writhed in labor (to bear) you.” The same verb is elsewhere applied to Sarah, who “writhed in labor” to bring Israel forth (so Isa. 51.2, lit.). That God had to suffer labor pains to bear Israel only increases the injustice of Israel's forgetting its divine parent. For the metaphor of God panting as a woman in labor, seeIsa. 42.14. Such cases provide an important alternative to the normal masculine imagery associated with God.

21 :

Incensed refers to the covenant's demand for exclusive loyalty to God ( 5.8; 6.15; Num. 25.11 ). Accordingly, the punishment for breach of the covenant metes out precise talionic justice (see 19.19 n. ). Heb emphasizes the sarcasm: thus, with no‐gods and no‐folk. Their futilities, lit. “their vapors” or “their vanities,” even “their vapidities” (Jer. 8.19 , “futilities”; 10.15 , “delusion”; 16.19 , “delusions”; Eccl. 1.2 , “futility”).

22 :

Sheol, the underworld (Gen. 37.25; 1 Sam. 2.6; Ps. 139.8 ). The abode of all the dead, not a place of damnation like the later idea of hell.

23 :

My arrows, divine punishments (v. 42; Ezek. 5.16; Pss. 7.14; 18.15;38.3 ).


Ravaging plague reflects the name of the Ugaritic god of pestilence, thus better, “devoured by Plague.”

25 :

Youth…maiden, better, “young man…young woman,” to emphasize along with suckling…aged the double merism ( 28.3–6 n.), which symbolizes the totality of the slaughter.

26–27 :

The Song here pivots from judgment of Israel to her vindication at the expense of the foreign invaders.

27 :

For fear: God has feelings and vulnerabilities (as at Gen. 6.6 ). Our own hand has prevailed, lit., “our hand is held high” in victory (Num. 33.3 , “defiantly”; Ps. 89.14 ). 28–31 :God's soliloquy is interrupted by another voice that refers to God in the third person and speaks on behalf of Israel (vv. 30–31). The voice is contextually that of Moses (see translators' note a), but it is one that assumes the perspective of scribal wisdom. The section therefore seems to be an addition to the text, separating God's abrupt change of heart (vv. 25–27 ) from the explicit announcement of judgment upon the foreign nation (vv. 34–38 ).

28–29 :

The insertion here directs against the foreign nation the same critique already made of Israel: God's judgment is justified by the nation's lack of wisdom (vv. 6, 20 ).

30 :

A citation within a citation: The verse, attributed to Israel's enemy, in effect reproaches the foreign nation for failing to understand that it owes its triumph over Israel to God rather than force of arms. The imagery ironically inverts the holy war idea ( 3.22; 20.1 ), now turning it against Israel.

32 :

Sodom…Gomorrah, here symbolizing moral corruption more than ruinous devastation (cf. 29.22 n.).

34 :

It, the punishment of the foreign nation, which is about to be announced (vv. 35–42 ). Put away…sealed up refers to the formal legal procedures for rolling and then sealing a witnessed deed or contract with a wax seal, so that the unaltered document can subsequently be introduced into court as evidence (Isa. 8.16; Jer. 32.9–15 ).

35 :

Vengeance, better, “vindication,” since the idea is not revenge but justice.

36 :

Their might is gone, And neither bond nor free is left: God will act when no one sur‐ vives who can take charge or provide assistance (2 Kings 14.26; cf. 1 Kings 14.10; 21.21; 2 Kings 9.8 ).

37–38 :

Further sarcasm.

39 :

Similar to exilic Second Isaiah (Isa. 41.4; 43.10,13; 44.6; 45.6–7, 22; 48.12 ).

40 :

I raise my hand, elsewhere translated “I swear,” which clarifies the meaning here. God is represented anthropomorphically, as performing the physical gesture that marks a formal legal oath ( seeExod. 6.8 n.; Num. 14.30; Ezek. 20.5–6, 15,23, 28, 42; 36.7; 44.12; 47.14; Neh.9.15 ).

41 :

Wreak, lit. “return,” in talionic justice. Thus, because of the judicial connotation, vengeance gives the wrong idea (v. 35 n. ). Reject Me, treaty language that refers to disloyal action that violates the covenant.

43 :

As it stands, the Hebrew presents numerous difficulties. The opening vocative O nations is illogical in this context. The verse demands that the very nations judged guilty of spilling Israel's blood suddenly join in the chorus of those praising Israel—in the moment before their destruction! The expected poetic parallelism (AA'BB', as in v.2 ) is absent. Here the second line presents a completely different idea than the first line, rather than repeating it with a variation. The absence of parallelism is not simply a formal stylistic issue: It renders the climax of the poem unintelligible. The incoherence of v. 43 in its present form suggests that the original text has been disrupted. Alternative reflections of the text, as preserved by the LXX and by the Dead Sea Scrolls, restore the poem's lost coherence. A reconstruction of the original form of the verse is shown in the diagram below. The restoration opens up an entire world of meaning and provides the expected poetic parallelism for the first, second, and third pairs of lines, which is absent in the MT. In the ancient versions, it is logically the “heavens” who are addressed (as in v. 1 and Isa 1.2 ) and who rejoice with God. That makes more sense than requiring the nations illogically to praise Israel. The restoration also shows how the poem's conclusion, “heavens…land” (v. 43 ) forms an inclusio with its beginning, “heavens…earth” (v. 1 ). It also continues the mythological imagery of God presiding over the divine council and acting as Divine Warrior (see vv. 8–9 n.; vv. 41–42 ). Almost certainly, the challenge to monotheism in the original form of the verse is what triggered the attempts to purge the text of polytheistic elements, i.e. the shift from “heavens” to “nations” and the elision of the parallelism, with its reference to plural deities. Note the similar “correction” of the text at v. 8. Avenge the blood: These lines present God as divine blood‐avenger (cf. 19.6 ), who removes the stain of Israel's blood from the land by requiting the aggressor for having spilled it ( 19.11–13 ). Cleanse: The line makes sense as it stands; the textual emendation suggested by NJPS in translators' note a is neither necessary nor linguistically valid. The moral stain on the land can only be “wiped clean” (the word's literal meaning) with the blood of the murderer (Num. 35.33–34; cf. Deut. 21.8 ): here, the foreign nation. God's position is nonetheless morally ambiguous, since it was God who had sanctioned the foreign invasion as just punishment for Israel's wrongdoing 0(vv. 19–26 ).

32.44–47 :

Double conclusion to the Song. Two originally separate conclusions joined by Deuteronomy's editors.

44 :

All the words…frames the Song of Moses in a perfect inclusio (see 31.30 ), thus concluding that unit.

45–47 :

A separate section, the original continuation of 31.29 prior to the insertion of the Song.

46 :

All the words, specifically, the laws of Deuteronomy ( 31.24 ); now, following the insertion of the Song, reinterpreted to refer to both.

47 :

Not a trifling thing, using the same word as the Laws of Hammurabi: “My laws…are trifling only to the fool” (Epilogue).

32.48–52 :

Moses commanded to die. This section repeats the announcement of Moses' death (Num. 27.12–14 ) and thus joins it to its logical continuation, the narrative of that death (Deut. ch34 ). The original connection between these two Priestly sections was broken with Deuteronomy's in‐ sertion into the Torah.

49 :

These heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo, as in the Priestly narrative (Num.27.12; 33.47 ); but, according to the Deuteronomistic tradition, Pisgah ( 3.27 ). The two traditions are joined at 34.1 .

50 :

You shall die, lit. “Die…!” This unusual imperative establishes that Moses both lives and dies at God's command ( 34.5 n. ). Gathered to your kin refers specifically to burial in a family tomb, where the bones of the generations would be gathered together (2 Kings 8.24; 22.20; cf. 1 Kings 13.31 ). Here the phrase is used metaphorically, since Moses' burial place is unknown ( 34.6 ). Mount Hor, consistent with the Priestly tradition (Num. 20.22–29; 33.37–39 ); but, in the Deuteronomistic tradition, “Moserah” ( 10.6 ).

51 :

You both broke faith, see Num. 20.1–13.

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