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Deuteronomy: Chapter 32

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Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!

1 2May my discourse come down as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, Like showers on young growth, Like droplets on the grass. a I.e., may my words be received eagerly; cf. Job 29.22–23 . 3For the name of the LORD I proclaim; Give glory to our God! 4The Rock!—His deeds are perfect, Yea, all His ways are just; A faithful God, never false, True and upright is He. 5 a Meaning of Heb. uncertain. Children unworthy of Him— That crooked, perverse generation— Their baseness has played Him false. 6Do you thus requite the LORD, O dull and witless people? Is not He the Father who created you, Fashioned you and made you endure! 7Remember the days of old, Consider the years of ages past; Ask your father, he will inform you, Your elders, they will tell you: 8When the Most High gave nations their homes And set the divisions of man, He fixed the boundaries of peoples In relation to Israel's numbers. 9For the LORD's portion is His people, Jacob His own allotment. 10He found him in a desert region, In an empty howling waste. He engirded him, watched over him, Guarded him as the pupil of His eye. 11Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings, Gliding down to his young, So did He spread His wings and take him, Bear him along on His pinions; 12The LORD alone did guide him, No alien god at His side. 13He set him atop the highlands, To feast on the yield of the earth; He fed him honey from the crag, And oil from the flinty rock, 14Curd of kine and milk of flocks; With the best b Lit. “fat.” of lambs, And rams of Bashan, and he‐goats; With the c‐ “kidney fat of.” very finest ‐c “kidney fat of.” wheat— And foaming grape‐blood was your drink. 15So Jeshurun grew fat and kicked— You grew fat and gross and coarse a Meaning of Heb. uncertain. He forsook the God who made him And spurned the Rock of his support. 16They incensed Him with alien things, Vexed Him with abominations. 17They sacrificed to demons, no‐gods, Gods they had never known, New ones, who came but lately, b‐ Meaning of Heb. uncertain; Arabic sha'ara suggests the rendering “Whom your fathers did not know.” Who stirred not your fathers' fears. ‐b Meaning of Heb. uncertain; Arabic sha'ara suggests the rendering “Whom your fathers did not know.” 18You neglected the Rock that begot you, Forgot the God who brought you forth. 19The LORD saw and was vexed And spurned His sons and His daughters. 20He said: I will hide My countenance from them, And see how they fare in the end. For they are a treacherous breed, Children with no loyalty in them. 21They incensed Me with no‐gods, Vexed Me with their futilities; c I.e., idols. I'll incense them with a no‐folk, Vex them with a nation of fools. 22For a fire has flared in My wrath And burned to the bottom of Sheol, Has consumed the earth and its increase, Eaten down to the base of the hills. 23I will sweep a Meaning of Heb. uncertain. misfortunes on them, Use up My arrows on them: 24Wasting famine, ravaging plague, Deadly pestilence, and fanged beasts Will I let loose against them, With venomous creepers in dust. 25The sword shall deal death without, As shall the terror within, To youth and maiden alike, The suckling as well as the aged. 26 d‐ Lit. “I said, I will reduce…”; meaning of Heb.'aph'ehem uncertain. I might have reduced them to naught, ‐d Lit. “I said, I will reduce…”; meaning of Heb.'aph'ehem uncertain. Made their memory cease among men, 27But for fear of the taunts of the foe, Their enemies who might misjudge And say, “Our own hand has prevailed; None of this was wrought by the LORD!” 28 a Here, apparently, Moses is the speaker; God resumes in v. 32 . For they are a folk void of sense, Lacking in all discernment. 29Were they wise, they would think upon this, Gain insight into their future: 30“How could one have routed a thousand, Or two put ten thousand to flight, Unless their Rock had sold them, The LORD had given them up?” 31For their rock is not like our Rock, b‐ I.e., as everyone must admit. In our enemies' own c For Heb.pelilim see Exod. 21.22; cf. Gen. 48.11 . estimation. ‐b For Heb.pelilim see Exod. 21.22; cf. Gen. 48.11 . 32Ah! The vine for them is from Sodom, From the vineyards of Gomorrah; The grapes for them are poison, A bitter growth their clusters. 33Their wine is the venom of asps, The pitiless poison of vipers. 34Lo, I have it all put away, Sealed up in My storehouses, 35To be My vengeance and recompense, At the time that their foot falters. Yea, their day of disaster is near, And destiny rushes upon them. 36For the LORD will vindicate His people d‐ Cf. Isa. 1.24 . Others “and repent Himself concerning.” And take revenge for ‐d Cf. Isa. 1.24 . Others “and repent Himself concerning.” His servants, When He sees that their might is gone, And neither bond nor free is left. 37He will say: Where are their gods, The rock in whom they sought refuge, 38Who ate the fat of their offerings And drank their libation wine? Let them rise up to your help, And let them be a shield unto you! 39See, then, that I, I am He; There is no god beside Me. I deal death and give life; I wounded and I will heal: None can deliver from My hand. 40Lo, I raise My hand to heaven And say: As I live forever, 41When I whet My flashing blade And My hand lays hold on judgment, Vengeance will I wreak on My foes, Will I deal to those who reject Me. 42I will make My arrows drunk with blood— As My sword devours flesh— Blood of the slain and the captive From the long‐haired enemy chiefs. 43O nations, acclaim His people! For He'll avenge the blood of His servants, Wreak vengeance on His foes, And cleanse the land of His people. a Cf. Num. 35.33 . Meaning of Heb. uncertain; Ugaritic 'udm't “tears” suggests the rendering “And wipe away His people's tears.” Cf. Isa. 25.8 .

44Moses came, together with Hosea son of Nun, and recited all the words of this poem in the hearing of the people.

45And when Moses finished reciting all these words toall Israel, 46he said to them: Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day. Enjoin them upon your children, that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching. 47For this is not a trifling thing for you: it is your very life; through it you shall long endure on the land that you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan.

48That very day the LORD spoke to Moses: 49Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab facing Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving the Israelites as their holding. 50You shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your kin, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his kin; 51for you both broke faith with Me among the Israelite people, at the waters of Meribath‐kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people. 52You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it—the land that I am giving to the Israelite people.

Notes:

a I.e., may my words be received eagerly; cf. Job 29.22–23 .

a Meaning of Heb. uncertain.

b Lit. “fat.”

c‐c “kidney fat of.”

a Meaning of Heb. uncertain.

b‐b Meaning of Heb. uncertain; Arabic sha'ara suggests the rendering “Whom your fathers did not know.”

c I.e., idols.

d‐d Lit. “I said, I will reduce…”; meaning of Heb.'aph'ehem uncertain.

a Here, apparently, Moses is the speaker; God resumes in v. 32 .

b‐b I.e., as everyone must admit.

c For Heb.pelilim see Exod. 21.22; cf. Gen. 48.11 .

d‐d Cf. Isa. 1.24 . Others “and repent Himself concerning.”

a Cf. Num. 35.33 . Meaning of Heb. uncertain; Ugaritic 'udm't “tears” suggests the rendering “And wipe away His people's tears.” Cf. Isa. 25.8 .

Text Commentary view alone
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 ).

24

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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