The book has a beautiful ending. It ends with an impressive song and a great blessing. The song culminates in a jubilation, because God ultimately gives restoration above prayer and thinking. In this song, which is an education song, we learn two things we have often come across: who we ourselves are and Who God is. We need to learn that deeper and deeper. For this education, the teaching field at the end of the wilderness journey in the plains of Moab and at the border of the land is an ideal terrain.
In this song Moses describes the whole history of Israel including the future: their origin, building and acceptance by the LORD, their ungratefulness and apostacy, their surrender to the Gentiles, their re-acceptance by the LORD and the ultimate blessing and glorification of the people in the realm of peace.
1 Call to Give Ear
1 “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak;
And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
Heaven and earth are involved in this song (cf. Isa 1:2a; Mic 1:2), because the teaching that Moses brings concerns the whole universe. The final result will show that the Lord Jesus will rule over all that is in heaven and on earth (Eph 1:10). That’s where the song works toward. It is the area where His righteousness will be revealed.
2 Teaching as Rain
2 “Let my teaching drop as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
As the droplets on the fresh grass
And as the showers on the herb.
The song has the character of “rain”, “dew”, “droplets” and “showers”. That speaks of refreshment, fertilization and life. It is Moses’ desire that this will be the effect of his song on the hearts of the Israelites. His teaching comes first as drops, drop after drop, very gradually. It is for ear and heart soft and lovely like dew. Then they become droplets that cause a soft rain, finally causing the water as showers that stream down.
The education of God’s Word, the teaching, is in many ways a refreshment, which is experienced in obeying the admonition. The Lord Jesus gives several teachers, who all have their own distinctive way of teaching. He wants to use them all to refresh. What at first does not seem like refreshment, such as pointing out man’s unfaithfulness, becomes refreshment as soon as man recognizes the admonition. Consent to God’s truth about who man is, enlightens the conscience directly and invigorates the mind. It is the rain of heaven, the rain of blessing (Deu 11:11).
3 - 4 God’s Greatness
3 “For I proclaim the name of the LORD;
Ascribe greatness to our God!
4 “The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He.
Moses receives the words of this song from the LORD. He stands as it were beside the LORD. He sees Him and sees man’s actions with the eyes of the LORD. When Moses is so close to Him, he must necessarily first describe the greatness of the LORD (Psa 150:2) in His glorious attributes. It only increases the contrast between the LORD and man in favor of the majesty of God, both in His Being and in His actions.
Moses is deeply impressed by the LORD. He proclaims His Name. That is not a vain use, but a proclamation of that Name. The Name contains everything that God is. Surely, nothing can be added to that, can it? Yet Moses proclaims that Name and calls to ascribe greatness to “our God”. This is similar to what John says in his relationship to the Lord Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). We can’t add anything to God’s greatness, but we can get an ever deeper impression of His greatness and tell Him so.
God is the rock, we are dust. All our actions do not change the stability of God and His throne. That is the peace of God. He is the rock and His work is perfect, there is nothing missing, as the Preacher discovered: “I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it” (Ecc 3:14a). All his ways are just (Hos 14:9). Every injustice is strange to Him (Psa 92:15).
He is “righteous” in making His promises and “upright” in fulfilling them. Both features can be seen on the cross, where Christ has fulfilled God’s righteous demands and thereby paved the way for a true fulfillment of all God’s promises. Therefore in Christ all the promises of God are yes and amen (2Cor 1:20).
5 - 14 God’s Care for His People
5 “They have acted corruptly toward Him,
[They are] not His children, because of their defect;
[But are] a perverse and crooked generation.
6 “Do you thus repay the LORD,
O foolish and unwise people?
Is not He your Father who has bought you?
He has made you and established you.
7 “Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of all generations.
Ask your father, and he will inform you,
Your elders, and they will tell you.
8 “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
When He separated the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples
According to the number of the sons of Israel.
9 “For the LORD’s portion is His people;
Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.
10 “He found him in a desert land,
And in the howling waste of a wilderness;
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.
11 “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.
12 “The LORD alone guided him,
And there was no foreign god with him.
13 “He made him ride on the high places of the earth,
And he ate the produce of the field;
And He made him suck honey from the rock,
And oil from the flinty rock,
14 Curds of cows, and milk of the flock,
With fat of lambs,
And rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats,
With the finest of the wheat—
And of the blood of grapes you drank wine.
The attitude of the people is one of the greatest folly. In this attitude God cannot acknowledge them as His sons (cf. Deu 14:1). A good son is just like his father, but in this people God does not recognize anything of Himself. He calls His people “a perverse and crooked generation” (verse 5). Paul uses these same words when he speaks of the world (Phil 2:15). This indicates that God’s people have become equal to the world.
The same we see in Christianity. Being conformed to this world is the major evil we suffer. This is reflected in the way we talk and interact with each other and the things we strive for. If we behave in this way, God cannot recognize us as His children (2Cor 6:17-18).
God’s indictment of His people is presented as a question. This must appeal to their conscience and lead them to think about it. For that purpose, God more often asks questions to man (Gen 3:9; 4:9) or to His people (Mic 6:3-4).
Verse 6 speaks of God as Father. This happens only a few times in the Old Testament (Isa 63:16; 64:8; Mal 2:10). It is always about the relationship with His people as a whole, of which He is presented as the Creator, the origin. He formed that people. From the foundation of the world He has been dealing with that people.
That is a big difference with God as Father in the New Testament for the believers of the church. There it is emphatically about the personal relationship of the believer to God. We may address Him as ‘Abba, Father’. This is unthinkable for the individual Israelite. This has only become possible after the death, resurrection and return of the Lord Jesus to heaven, after which the Spirit of sonship has come to earth (Jn 20:17; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5).
The people are called to think back to the past, to what God did for His people. They just have to ask their father and their elders. They will be able to testify of God’s mighty deeds in Egypt and His care for them in the wilderness.
They are already in God’s thoughts when He, through the confusion of tongues at Babylon, expels the peoples to their own territory. He has set the limits of each people (Acts 17:26) and has done so as Moses says here “according to the number of the sons of Israel” (verse 8). There is no question of that people at the time of the confusion of language, but it already exists in God’s counsel. And what exists in God’s counsel is as true to God as if the people already exist in reality.
In His wonderful election and grace the LORD has chosen this people for His own inheritance (Psa 33:12). To Him belongs “the world …, and all it contains” (Psa 50:12b), but Israel is His property in a special way. That people are His “garden locked” (Song 4:12) to which He has given His love in a special way and from which He may expect a special love. This election originates exclusively from Himself. There is nothing in that people that has given Him an additional incentive to do so (Deu 7:7). And He knows what He has begun.
God in Christ has this special bond in this time with the church. He has chosen the members of the church with an election that is from “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4; 3:9). He saved them “from the domain of darkness, and transferred” them “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).
To fulfill His purpose, His election, the LORD has delivered them from Egypt. Then He took care of them in the wilderness. He taught them how to behave in all kinds of circumstances (Hos 11:1-4). For this He has given them His good statutes. They are to Him as the most sore and sensitive “pupil of the eye” (verse 10; Zec 2:8; Psa 17:8), whom He will protect from every painful touch. Every time they threaten to stumble, He is with them to catch them like an eagle protects his young when they learn to fly (verse 11; cf. Exo 19:4).
God is not dependent on the help of anyone else for this protection and preservation. He has all the possibilities in Himself to express His love and care for His people. Thus He has acted completely independent and in His own power. This is also an argument to keep Israel from resorting to other gods.
Then Moses places himself in the spirit behind the entering into the land and looks back on God’s actions. He recounts how the LORD has made the people to ride at their heights, that is to say has made them to overcome mighty enemies. Furthermore, they enjoy an abundance of blessings. Their part is the very best that soil, cattle and land can produce.
The richest fruit, honey and oil, comes as proof of God’s working of the most barren soil that is impossible for man to cultivate. The cattle are healthy and produce the best milk, from which the purest curds can be made. The cattle also provide the best meat. The wheat is of the finest and most nutritious kind, every year the wine is of the best quality. It is all evidence of God’s goodness that is given to them by grace. What is their answer?
The same applies to the church, which may also enjoy abundantly the spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. The most glorious blessings are for them. Their blessings exceed those of all the other generations. What is their answer?
15 - 18 The Ingratitude of Israel
15 “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—
You are grown fat, thick, and sleek—
Then he forsook God who made him,
And scorned the Rock of his salvation.
16 “They made Him jealous with strange [gods];
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.
17 “They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New [gods] who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread.
18 “You neglected the Rock who begot you,
And forgot the God who gave you birth.
The answer to so much goodness is shocking – if we don’t know ourselves at all. Despite all God’s cares, provisions, and blessings, the people reject Him. They sink deeper and deeper into their revolt against God. After kicking to Him there is talk of forsake, scorn, neglect, and finally forget. Rebellion against God eventually leads to a state in which He no longer exists. Any bond with Him, the Rock Who has begotten them, is meaningless to them. Even the thought of the God who brought them forth is gone. Moses here compares God to a father (“begot you”) and a mother (“gave you birth”).
This free fall of God’s people begins with enjoying the blessings without thanking God for it. The blessings are enjoyed, but the Giver is not involved. Complacency arises. It is the language of the church in Laodicéa: “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (Rev 3:17). But the Lord had to withdraw Himself and to stand outside: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev 3:20).
Moses calls the people “Jeshurun” which means “sincere” or “upright”. God has given His people His own attributes. But instead of being a reflection of God, the people began to boast on their own righteousness. They have drawn all honor to themselves.
Because man cannot do without an object of worship, they have fallen prey to idolatry. Instead of remaining faithful to Him Who has shown such faithfulness to them, they have turned to strange gods. That is extraordinarily offensive for Him. The sacrifices they bring to those gods are received by demons. An idol of wood or stone is nothing, but behind these dead materials truly living evil spirits are hidden (1Cor 10:19-20; Psa 106:36-37).
19 - 25 The Judgment Announced
19 “The LORD saw [this], and spurned [them]
Because of the provocation of His sons and daughters.
20 “Then He said, ‘I will hide My face from them,
I will see what their end [shall be];
For they are a perverse generation,
Sons in whom is no faithfulness.
21 ‘They have made Me jealous with [what] is not God;
They have provoked Me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with [those who] are not a people;
I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation,
22 For a fire is kindled in My anger,
And burns to the lowest part of Sheol,
And consumes the earth with its yield,
And sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.
23 ‘I will heap misfortunes on them;
I will use My arrows on them.
24 ‘[They will be] wasted by famine, and consumed by plague
And bitter destruction;
And the teeth of beasts I will send upon them,
With the venom of crawling things of the dust.
25 ‘Outside the sword will bereave,
And inside terror—
Both young man and virgin,
The nursling with the man of gray hair.
If God’s people forget God, He must spurn them. That is what this report is about. He is faithful to Himself and must therefore judge them. He says such harsh words precisely because they are His beloved children. He rejects His people, because His people rejected Him first.
In verse 5 He denied that they are His sons. There the LORD sees them as unrepentant and unattainable. Here is spoken of “His sons and His daughters”, not as a recognition from His side that they are this, but because they themselves claim to be this. But He cannot recognize them as such. He hides His face from them, that is, He looks not upon them in favor. He looks down upon them in anger and wants to see how things are going with them.
When He made the connection with His people, He called them children who will not act unfaithfully (Isa 63:8). However, this has not remained the case. They have turned to the idols, which has provoked God to jealousy. God’s answer is that He will also make His people jealous. God uses surrounding peoples to discipline them and bring them back, but He also uses them to make His people jealous. Therefore God sends out salvation to the nations. Not the judgment He brings upon them through the nations, but the grace He has for the nations is intended to bring His people to repentance (Rom 10:19).
Moses also mentions how consuming fire as a symbol of God’s judgment will do its consuming work. It will consume the yield of the land that made them fat and thick. Natural disasters will do their devastating work. With His arrows He will find and strike those who try to escape. Hunger, fever and disease will make their victims. The wild animals also have their share in the performance of God’s wrath. There will be no place that offers safety and there will be no feelings of pity for anyone.
26 - 38 The LORD Is the Rock of His People
26 ‘I would have said, “I will cut them to pieces,
I will remove the memory of them from men,”
27 Had I not feared the provocation by the enemy,
That their adversaries would misjudge,
That they would say, “Our hand is triumphant,
And the LORD has not done all this.”‘
28 “For they are a nation lacking in counsel,
And there is no understanding in them.
29 “Would that they were wise, that they understood this,
That they would discern their future!
30 “How could one chase a thousand,
And two put ten thousand to flight,
Unless their Rock had sold them,
And the LORD had given them up?
31 “Indeed their rock is not like our Rock,
Even our enemies themselves judge this.
32 “For their vine is from the vine of Sodom,
And from the fields of Gomorrah;
Their grapes are grapes of poison,
Their clusters, bitter.
33 “Their wine is the venom of serpents,
And the deadly poison of cobras.
34 ‘Is it not laid up in store with Me,
Sealed up in My treasuries?
35 ‘Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.’
36 “For the LORD will vindicate His people,
And will have compassion on His servants,
When He sees that [their] strength is gone,
And there is none [remaining], bond or free.
37 “And He will say, ‘Where are their gods,
The rock in which they sought refuge?
38 ‘Who ate the fat of their sacrifices,
[And] drank the wine of their drink offering?
Let them rise up and help you,
Let them be your hiding place!
If there were no divine intervention, no one would escape. This intervention by God, which causes a reversal, is indicated in verse 27 with the words “had I not”. Two motifs lie at the root of this reversal:
1. the Name of God in this world, the testimony thereof among the nations (verse 27; Jos 7:9) and
2. the greatness of God Himself (verse 39).
If God were to destroy His people, their enemies would boast on their own strength, and would consider the LORD unable to protect His people. In their boldness they have no regard for the true condition of God’s people, nor for their own condition. Unbelief is always presumptuous and blind.
Unfortunately, this also applies to God’s people. They do not understand that they were able to defeat their enemies only by God’s power. They lack the insight that a few people have had a great force majeure on the flight because their Rock has worked that out. The strength of God’s people does not lie in self-confidence, but in trust in God (Isa 30:15). By their self-confidence the roles will be reversed (Isa 30:17a).
“For their vine is from the vine of Sodom” (verse 32) seems to refer to Israel’s enemies who are ripe for destruction. The measure of their iniquity is full (Gen 15:16). God therefore surrenders them to the sword of Israel, which overcomes them easily. The rock of the enemy are their gods. There is no power in it. The vine indicates its origin. It lies in the sinfulness of Sodom and Gomorrah. The fruit is in accordance with it.
These verses can also refer to Israel itself (Psa 80:8). They are planted like a noble vine, a wholly faithful seed, but through sin they turned into corrupted branches of a strange vine (Jer 2:21). They have taken over and even surpassed the sin and iniquity of Sodom (Jer 23:14; Eze 16:48). God has called them His vineyard, a plant of His delight. He has expected good fruit, but His vineyard has produced stinking fruit (Isa 5:1-7).
They will drink the fruit of it and die. How this happens, God keeps hidden in Himself. He forgets nothing of all the sins that are committed (Psa 90:8), whether they are the sins of the nations or those of His own, unrepentant people. He keeps a register that will be opened at the time appointed by Him (Rev 20:12).
Because God does not judge directly, people continue to sin (Ecc 8:11). But His vengeance will come, both over the enemies of His people (Isa 59:18) and over His own apostate people (Heb 10:30). The slipping of the foot is the picture of a starting fall or crash (Psa 38:17; 94:18).
At the same time as doing justice to His people He will take care of His servants (verse 36), who are the faithful among His faithless people as a whole. These faithful suffer double: from the enmity of the peoples around them and from their godless peers.
Once again He points out the end of all the wicked. There is no power left in them. Mockingly God calls them to turn to their rock, their idols, for salvation and protection (verse 37-38): “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Jdg 10:14). With this way of speaking, the LORD wants to convince His people of the futility of idols and the folly of idolatry, and to bring them to the recognition that He alone is the true God (verse 39).
39 - 43 The LORD Delivers His People
39 ‘See now that I, I am He,
And there is no god besides Me;
It is I who put to death and give life.
I have wounded and it is I who heal,
And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
40 ‘Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven,
And say, as I live forever,
41 If I sharpen My flashing sword,
And My hand takes hold on justice,
I will render vengeance on My adversaries,
And I will repay those who hate Me.
42 ‘I will make My arrows drunk with blood,
And My sword will devour flesh,
With the blood of the slain and the captives,
From the long-haired leaders of the enemy.’
43 “Rejoice, O nations, [with] His people;
For He will avenge the blood of His servants,
And will render vengeance on His adversaries,
And will atone for His land [and] His people.”
In the song, the moment has now come when God presents Himself to His people in His glory and power. The contrast with the previous verses is enormous. Here we see that God is the Eternal One, the Being One, without origin, always present at every conceivable time in eternity. He is also the Only One at all, besides Him no one is God, with Him no one can be compared (Isa 43:10b-11).
Just as He cannot be equaled in His Person, so is He in His deeds. He acts in complete freedom, without being accountable to anyone (Isa 45:7; Lam 3:37-38). By the way, who would be so audacious to call Him to account (Rom 9:20)? With undisputed authority He disposes of all His creatures. But He never does it at will. His actions always have a perfectly just basis and are aimed at blessing. He puts to death, but He gives life to everyone who acknowledges His judgment. So shall it be with the people (1Sam 2:6; Isa 26:19 Hos 5:15; 6:1-2). He who believes, “has passed out of death into life” (Jn 5:24).
He swears by Himself that He will judge all His adversaries, all who go on to resist Him (Psa 7:13-14). This judgment will be terrible, sparing nothing and nobody. The blood will flow in large quantities (Rev 14:20). The long-haired leaders speak of leaders with a hair dress that expresses a fullness of strength and overconfidence in the enemy (cf. Psa 68:21). Their overconfidence will not last in God’s judgment. God is merciful and patient, but there comes a moment when to be patient any longer would be to compromise His righteousness. There is an end to His forbearance. That is when man has proven to have a hardened and unrepentant heart (Rom 2:5).
After the execution of the judgment, the nations are called to rejoice with His people. His people are delivered. The enemies have been defeated. The time of peace has come. The people can dwell in peace and enjoy all the promised blessings. Peace is great and endless. The Messiah rules. This means blessing not only for Israel, but also for the nations. Therefore Paul cites verse 43a in the letter to the Romans (Rom 15:1). He shows that God has already spoken in the Old Testament about mercy for the nations.
This mercy is not something new, something that has only been revealed in the New Testament. It is not about the church. In the Old Testament the church is indeed something hidden. What is at stake here is to make it clear that God’s heart in the Old Testament also goes out to the nations outside of Israel. To prove this, Paul quotes, among other things, this verse from the song of Moses, in which the nations are called to rejoice with God’s people.
The great peace in which Israel enters and in which the nations may share is the result of the atonement that God has brought about. Atonement is only possible through satisfaction. God’s holy demands regarding sin and sins are satisfied through Christ on the cross. He has reconciled sinners guilty of death to God by pouring His blood. The land and the creation, on which there is blood guilt (Num 35:33), will be atoned on the basis of the same work (Col 1:19-20).
For sinners there is only reconciliation if they repent from their evil way with faith and confession of their evil deeds, their sins. For Israel, this will happen under the action of God’s Spirit, through which they will see on Him, “whom they have pierced” (Zec 12:10). About atonement of land and people we read in Daniel 9 (Dan 9:24-27).
44 - 47 This Word Is Your Life
44 Then Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he, with Joshua the son of Nun. 45 When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, [even] all the words of this law. 47 For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”
These verses form a transition between the reign of God in the song and the plans of God in the blessing for each tribe we hear about in the next chapter. The content of the song is the restoration of lost blessings. After singing the song, Moses urges the people to take everything to heart. They must also command their sons to observe carefully all the words of this law.
The Word of God is not an idle or an empty Word. It has life in it and gives life to who hears it. Whoever possesses this life lives continuously by taking in God’s Word. Listening to God’s Word is vital. Not only because otherwise death awaits. It is their life in two senses. Taking it to heart is both the life for their soul and the true content of their lives. To live this life is the real life that can be enjoyed for a long time in the land where there is abundance of blessing.
48 - 52 The LORD Points Moses to His End
48 The LORD spoke to Moses that very same day, saying, 49 “Go up to this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab opposite Jericho, and look at the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the sons of Israel for a possession. 50 Then die on the mountain where you ascend, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, 51 because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel. 52 For you shall see the land at a distance, but you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving the sons of Israel.”
After Moses has spoken the song and applied it to the conscience of the hearers, his task as leader of the people is over. He may climb the Nebo on the same day to see from that mountain the land he so desires, but may not enter because of an act of unfaithfulness (Num 27:12-14). To alleviate his pain about this, God in His grace grants His faithful servant this view.
God is a God of pity. He also soothes the death of Moses by reminding him of the death of his brother Aaron. Moses was present when he died (Num 20:28). It must have been a dignified farewell that impressed him.
The death of loved ones who look forward to being with the Lord is an encouragement to all who are about to leave the earth in this way. Then we look not on whom and what we leave behind, but to Him whom we will meet. In view of this meeting, Paul says that we can comfort each other when a loved one falls asleep: “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1Thes 4:18).
Moses is in his life an illustration of what will happen to the people. He has not sanctified God and does not enter the land. The principles he held out to the people also apply to him, and to an even greater extent because of his responsible position.