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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Deuteronomy 32

 

 

Verse 1

Deuteronomy 32:1. “This very sublime ode,” says Dr. Kennicott, “is distinguished even by the Jews, both in their manuscripts and printed copies, as being poetry. In our present translation it would appear to much greater advantage if it were printed hemistically: and the translation of some parts of it may be much improved.” We subjoin his translation of the following verses as a specimen.

“1. Let the heavens give ear, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.

2. My doctrine shall drop, as the rain; my speech shall distil, as the dew, as the small rains upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.

3. Verily, the name of JEHOVAH will I proclaim; ascribe ye greatness unto our God.

4. He is the rock, perfect is his work; for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth, and without iniquity: just and right is he.

5. They are corrupted, not his, children of pollution, a generation perverse and crooked!

6. Is this the return which ye make to JEHOVAH?

O people foolish and unwise!

Is not he thy Father, thy Redeemer?

He who made thee, and established thee?”

Give ear, O ye heavens — hear, O earth — By appealing, in this solemn manner, to the heavens and the earth in the beginning of this song, Moses intended to signify, 1st, The truth and importance of its contents, which were such as deserved to be known by all the world: and, 2d, The stupidity of that perverse and unthinking people, who were less likely to hearken and obey than the heavens and the earth themselves. 3d, He hereby declares also the justice of the divine proceedings toward them, according to what he had said, Deuteronomy 31:28. See Job 20:27. Or, heaven and earth are here put for the inhabitants of both, angels and men: both will agree to justify God in his proceedings against Israel, and to declare his righteousness, Psalms 50:6; Revelation 19:1-2.


Verse 2

Deuteronomy 32:2. My doctrine shall drop as the rain — As nothing is more grateful to the thirsty earth than gentle showers, so there cannot be any thing more acceptable to those who are desirous of knowing the divine will than the revelation of it. And as the dew and rain gently falling soften and refresh the earth, producing both verdure and fertility; so my doctrine, or the words I am going to speak, if received into people’s minds in faith and love, will cause them to grow in grace and goodness, and produce the fruits of righteousness. Or it may be rendered, Let my doctrine drop, &c. Accordingly the learned Bishop Patrick understands this as a prayer, that his words, which were sent from heaven to them, might sink into their hearts and soften them, as the rain doth the earth, and so make them fruitful in obedience.


Verse 3

Deuteronomy 32:3. I will publish the name of the Lord — His glorious excellences and righteous actions, by which he hath made himself known as a man is known by his name, and by which it will appear both that there is no blame to be laid upon him whatsoever befalls you, and that it is gross madness to forsake such a God for dumb idols. Ascribe ye — As I am about to publish the majesty and glory of God, so do you also acknowledge it.


Verse 4

Deuteronomy 32:4. He is a rock — Stable in his nature, invincible in his power, fixed and immutable in his counsels, promises, and ways; so that if there should be a sad change in your affairs, remember that this proceeds from yourselves, and from the change of your ways toward God, and not from God, with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning, James 1:17. His work is perfect — All his works, whether of creation, providence, or grace, and all his actions are unblameable, perfect, wise, and righteous. All his ways are judgment — His dealings with you his people, and his administrations in the world toward all mankind, are just and holy in the highest degree. A God of truth — Ever faithful and constant to his promises. This seems to be mentioned in opposition to the infidelity and inconstancy of Israel, which he speaks of afterward. And with out iniquity — Although we are often ignorant of the methods and reasons of the divine procedure, yet it is as impossible there should be injustice or iniquity in God, as that infinite and unchangeable wisdom should act foolishly, or essential goodness should degenerate into malice, or, in the Scripture language, that light should become darkness. Just and right is he — Righteous in all that he doth. How should he do wrong, all whose actions are necessarily founded on perfect and immutable wisdom, justice, and equity?


Verse 5

Deuteronomy 32:5. They have corrupted themselves — Notwithstanding that God hath fully displayed these excellences in his dealings with the Israelitish nation, yet how corrupt and ungrateful hath been their behaviour! Their spot — The wickedness with which they are stained; is not of his children — Plainly shows they are not his children, but of their father the devil, John 8:44. God’s children have no such spot. Indeed, the text does not affirm that they have any spot at all. The Hebrew לא בניו מומם lo banau, mumam, may be properly rendered as in the margin, or, as Le Clerc has it, according to the Samaritan version, the sons of pollution are not his. The true characteristic of the sons of God is to imitate and resemble God, 1 John 3:10. It is true they are not without infirmities of various kinds, from which none dwelling in flesh are exempt. But they do not give that name to known sin, which they are always careful to avoid, and to walk in all well-pleasing before God. On the contrary, the Israelites are here denominated a perverse and crooked generation; froward and untractable; irregular and disorderly. In opposition to such characters the sons of God are described (Philippians 2:15) as “being blameless and harmless in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, shining as lights in the world, and holding forth the word of life.”


Verse 6

Deuteronomy 32:6. O foolish people and unwise! — Fools and double fools! Fools, indeed, to disoblige one on whom you so entirely depend! Who hath bewitched you to forsake your own mercies for lying vanities? Bought thee — That hath redeemed thee from Egyptian bondage. Made thee — Not only in a general, by creation, but in a peculiar manner, by making thee his peculiar people. Established — That is renewed and confirmed his favour to thee, and not taken it away, which thou hast provoked him to do.


Verse 7

Deuteronomy 32:7. The days of old — The events of ancient days or former ages, and thou wilt find that I had a respect unto thee not only in Abraham’s time, but long before it.


Verse 8

Deuteronomy 32:8. Their inheritance — When God, by his providence, allotted the several parts of the world to several people, which was done, Genesis 10:11. When he separated — Divided them in their languages and habitations, according to their families. He set the bounds — That is, he disposed of the several lands and limits of the people, so as to reserve a sufficient place for the great numbers of the people of Israel. And therefore he so guided the hearts of several people, that the posterity of Canaan, which was accursed of God, and devoted to ruin, should be seated in that country which God intended for the children of Israel, that so when their iniquities were ripe they might be rooted out, and the Israelites come in their stead.


Verse 9

Deuteronomy 32:9. The Lord’s portion is his people — Highly prized and loved by him, Exodus 19:5-6. As if he had said, The Israelites are that portion of mankind whom God was pleased to redeem out of bondage, and to make his peculiar people. It is no wonder, therefore, that he has so great a regard for them, and takes special care of them.


Verse 10

Deuteronomy 32:10. He found him in a desert land — Not by chance, but as it were looking out and seeking for him. He did, indeed, manifest himself to Israel in Egypt; but it was in the wilderness of Sinai that God found him in an eminent manner, revealed his will to him, entered into covenant with him, and imparted himself, and his grace and blessing to him. By this word found, he also signifies both their lost condition in themselves, and that their recovery was not from themselves, but only from God, who sought and found them out by his grace. It ought to be observed, however, that the Hebrew word מצא, matsa, here rendered found, signifies also to suffice, or provide sufficiently for, as appears from Numbers 11:22, Joshua 17:16 ; 21:14, and some other passages. And this sense of the word agrees best to the context here; for it cannot be said so properly, that God found the Israelites in the desert, as that he sustained them, and provided sufficiently for them there. Accordingly it is so rendered by the Seventy and Chaldee, the Samaritan and Arabic versions.

Compare Deuteronomy 8:15; Jeremiah 2:6. In a waste howling wilderness — In a place destitute of all the necessaries and comforts of life, which also was a type of that desolate and comfortless condition in which all men are before the grace of God finds them out; where, instead of the voices of men, is nothing heard but the howlings and yellings of ravenous birds and beasts. He led him — He conducted him from place to place by his cloudy pillar and providence. Or, he compassed him about by his provident care, watching over him and preserving him on every side. As the apple of his eye — As men use to keep the apple of their eye, that is, with singular care and diligence, this being, as a most tender, so a most useful part. What a striking idea does this give us of the care which God took of Israel. And similar to this is the care which he takes of all his spiritual Israel, his true people and servants!


Verse 11

Deuteronomy 32:11. As an eagle stirreth up her nest — The nest is here put for the young ones in the nest. The eagle is observed by naturalists to have a most tender affection to her young, and therefore the care of God over Israel is here well illustrated thereby. By her voice she encourages and stirs them up to fly, hovers over them, bears, and defends them by her strength; and for their preservation she is peculiarly fitted, by the quickness of her eye in espying danger, by her swiftness and great strength, as well as by her strong affection for them. Taketh them, beareth them on her wings — The eagle is said to take her young ones upon her wings, while they are so weak and feeble that they fail in their attempts to fly, and to support them till they acquire strength to commit themselves to the air. But the expression, on her wings, may mean, as on her wings, that is, gently, tenderly, and safely, as if she did not carry them in her claws, for fear of hurting them, but upon her wings.


Verse 12

Deuteronomy 32:12. So — With such tenderness and care; the Lord alone did lead him — When they were shut up in Egypt, as in their nest, whence they durst not venture to fly or stir, he taught, and encouraged, and enabled them to fly out from that bondage; he dealt tenderly with them, bearing with their infirmities, keeping them from all harms. There was no strange god with him — To assist him at that work, or to deliver them. The more unworthy they, in giving to idols a share in that worship which they owe to God only.


Verse 13

Deuteronomy 32:13. He made him ride on the high places — To conquer their strongest holds on the mountains, and their cities fenced with walls of the greatest height and strength: to ride upon being, in the phraseology of Scripture, to subdue and conquer. Or, he put him in possession of a country full of lofty and fruitful mountains, and therefore called the high places of the earth. To suck honey out of the rock — Placed him in a country where honey flowed from the very rocks, the bees making it in the holes thereof, or in the hollow trees that grew upon or among the rocks. Oil out of the flinty rocks — Olive-trees growing and bearing fruit best in rocky or hilly places. The expressions are proverbial, and denote a most fertile land.


Verse 14

Deuteronomy 32:14. Milk of sheep — Le Clerc renders it, Milk of sheep and goats; the Hebrew word signifying both. With fat of lambs — Or, lambs well fatted. The fat, indeed, wherewith the inwards were covered was not to be eaten by them, but offered to God; yet that fat which was mixed with the flesh they might eat. Bashan — A place famous for excellent cattle. Fat of kidneys of wheat — With the finest of the grains of wheat, compared to kidneys in their shape and colour; or with large and plump corn, affording a plenty of flour. The pure blood of the grape — This metaphor, as well as the preceding, is very elegant and natural, on account of the great resemblance between red wine and blood; and it is also a very animated expression.


Verse 15

Deuteronomy 32:15. Jeshurun — Israel is called Jeshurun, both here and chap. Deuteronomy 33:5; Deuteronomy 33:26; as also Isaiah 44:2. Some consider the word as being derived from שׁור, shur, to see, and think the appellation was given them because they were so highly favoured with divine manifestations. But it is much more probable that it is derived from ישׁר, jashar, to be right, upright, or righteous, and that they are called Jeshurun, because they were a people professing righteousness, and were governed by righteous laws. Moses might also give them this name by way of instruction, to remind them what they ought to be, and by way of reproof, to show them what a shame it was that they should degenerate so far from their name and profession. Waxed fat and kicked — As well-fed cattle were wont to do: he grew insolent and rebellious against God, and against his word and Spirit. Moses here, transported in his mind to future scenes, speaks in the prophetic style, which often represents future events as actually present, or already past, to denote the certainty of the things foretold. The meaning is, that Israel, in the days of their prosperity, would make a very bad use of the blessings bestowed on them, would spurn at the yoke of God’s law, and become wanton and ungovernable, like pampered horses. And lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation — That is, his mighty Saviour and Deliverer; as if he had said, I see the time approaching when they shall notoriously abuse the goodness of God, and behave with the utmost ingratitude toward the Author of all their mercies. The Hebrew word ינבל jenabel, which we render, He lightly esteemed, signifies, He rejected with the greatest contempt. Thus the Jews, in after ages, rejected their Messiah, who was in the most eminent sense the Rock of their salvation, and thereby again most awfully fulfilled this prophecy, after they had fulfilled it several times before. But prosperity is but too apt to make men forget and forsake God, and lightly to esteem both him and his salvation.


Verse 16-17

Deuteronomy 32:16-17. They provoked him to jealousy — Speaking after the manner of men. See on Numbers 25:11. The word expresses not only the hot displeasure and indignation of God, but also the ground of it, which was Israel’s falseness to him, whom they had accepted as their husband, and their spiritual whoredom with other gods. They sacrificed unto devils — Not that they actually considered their gods under the notion of devils; but, whatever pretext they might have for their idolatry, when they sacrificed, they really did it unto devils, the wasters and destroyers of mankind, as the Hebrew word שׁדים, shedim, here used, is thought to signify, and as the devil is called, Revelation 9:11 . Some, indeed, think it is a word of the same import with שׂעירם, segnirim, (Leviticus 17:7,) a name given to demons, either because they were conceived to haunt waste places, or to appear in the form of goats. To devils or demons the Israelites sacrificed their sons and daughters, when they sacrificed them unto the idols of Canaan, <19A636> Psalms 106:36-38. But these idols may here and elsewhere be termed devils, because devils brought them into the world in opposition to the true God, and gave answers by them, and in and through them received men’s worship. Many of the heathen considered their idols as a sort of lower gods, and pretended to worship the supreme God by them: but Moses here takes off this mask, and shows the Israelites that in worshipping these idols they worshipped devils, whose will they hereby obeyed, and whose work and service they promoted. And not to God — For God utterly rejected those sacrifices which they offered to him together with idols. To gods whom they knew not — Had no experience of receiving any good from them, or who knew not them, as the words may be rendered; that is, who had never bestowed any benefits upon them. As, on the contrary, the true God says, (Hosea 13:5,) I did know thee in the wilderness, which the Chaldee interprets, I supplied thy necessities. New gods — Not simply or absolutely, for some of them had been worshipped for many generations; but in comparison of the true God who is the Ancient of days, (Daniel 7:9,) and who was worshipped from the beginning of the world. Moses may, however, also intend to signify that they had not so much as the plea of ancient custom or tradition for the worship of many of their idols, and that they were so prone to idolatry, that every new object or mode of heathen superstition caught their fancy, and drew them away from their allegiance to the true God. Whom your fathers feared not — Worshipped not: and concerning whom they had no superstitious dread, (as the word שׂערו, segnaru, here used, imports,) no fear lest they should be hurt by them if they did not worship them, which fear differs essentially from that pious fear and reverence which we owe to the true God. He means they were such gods as could neither do good nor evil, Jeremiah 10:5 .


Verse 18-19

Deuteronomy 32:18-19. Of the Rock that begat thee — Of God, one of whose titles this is; or of Christ, the rock that is said to have followed the Israelites in the wilderness, (1 Corinthians 10:4,) of which they drank, and whom they tempted. Moses still speaks in the prophetic style, representing what appeared present to his prophetic view as if it had already happened. The provoking of his sons and daughters — Such they were by calling and profession. Daughters are here expressly named, because the women were notoriously guilty of provoking God by idolatry. Thus we read, (Jeremiah 7:18,) “The women knead dough to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings to other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.” And again, (Jeremiah 44:15,) “The women burned incense to other gods.” And in Ezekiel 8:14, “The women sat weeping for Tammuz.”


Verse 20

Deuteronomy 32:20. I will see what their end will be — I will make them and others see what the fruit of such actions shall be. No faith — No fidelity. They were notoriously perfidious, and had so often broke their covenant with God, that they were not to be trusted when they made profession of repentance. To the truth of this their whole history bears witness. But besides this, in another sense they were destitute of faith. They did not truly believe the words God had spoken to them; they had not faith either in his promises or threatenings. And they put no trust or confidence in his glorious perfections, in his power, love, or faithfulness. Alas! how justly may God make the same complaint concerning many professors of Christianity! They are children in whom is no faith. They have not a firm reliance on the truth and importance of what God has spoken, and on the divine attributes engaged to make it good. Whatever is not the object of their senses, they either believe but faintly, or not at all. Here is the great failing of most professors of the true religion, the grand source of their sins and miseries. For it is faith only that can unite man to God, and produce love and obedience: it is this only that can raise him from earth to heaven! Reader, hast thou faith? Remember, without faith it is impossible to please God. From this verse to the 29th, Moses personates God speaking.


Verse 21

Deuteronomy 32:21. They have provoked me to anger with their vanities — By vanities here are meant the fictitious deities of the nations with whose worship the Israelites corrupted themselves: see Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 14:22. I will move them to jealousy, &c. — God here threatens to repay their frequent revolts from him in their own kind, in a way most mortifying to their proud spirits; by causing the very Gentile nations, whom they much despised, not only to become their masters and conquerors, but also to be taken into his covenant, while they themselves were excluded from it. See Matthew 21:43-44; Romans 10:19. With those that are not a people — With the heathen nations, who were none of God’s people, who scarce deserved the flame of a people, as being without the knowledge and fear of God, which is the foundation of all true policy and government, and many of them destitute of all government, laws, and order. And yet these people God declares he will take in their stead, receive them, and reject the Israelites, which when it came to pass, how desperately did it provoke the Jews to jealousy! A foolish nation — So the Gentiles were, both in the opinion of the Jews, and in truth and in reality, notwithstanding all their pretences to wisdom, there being nothing more foolish or brutish than the worship of idols.


Verse 22

Deuteronomy 32:22. For a fire is kindled in mine anger — In this verse are predicted the dreadful calamities which God would bring upon the land of Judea, in words which seem to import the total ruin of it. Devouring judgments are here compared to fire, as they are also Ezekiel 30:8; Amos 2:5. And from hence to Deuteronomy 32:28, the destruction of their city and country by the Romans, and the dreadful calamities which they have suffered since in different ages, seem chiefly to be intended. And shall burn to the lowest hell — Or to the lowest parts of the earth, as the word שׁאול, sheol, here rendered hell, signifies: Numbers 16:30-33 . Most destructive calamities are meant, judgments that should never cease till they had overturned the whole Jewish constitution. And set on fire the foundations of the mountains — That is, subvert their strongest fortresses, yea, Jerusalem itself, founded on the holy mountains, which was perfectly fulfilled in its destruction by Titus. And, according to Josephus, Titus himself, though a heathen, saw and acknowledged the hand of God in the affair. For, observing the vast height of the walls, the largeness of every stone, and the exact order wherein they were laid and compacted, he cried out, “God was with us in this war: it is he that drove the Jews from these munitions. For what could the hands of men or machines have availed against such towers?” Perhaps it may not be improper to mention here, as a further illustration of this prophecy, and its accomplishment, what is related, not only by the Christian writers of that age, Chrysostom, Sozomen, and Socrates, but also by Ammianus Marcellinus, a heathen historian, that when Julian the Apostate ordered the temple of Jerusalem to be rebuilt, with a view to give the lie to our Saviour’s prophecy concerning it, “terrible globes of fire burst out near the foundations, which overturned all, burned the workmen, and made the place so inaccessible, that they desisted from the attempt.” See Bishop Warburton’s book, entitled Julian.


Verses 23-25

Deuteronomy 32:23-25. I will spend mine arrows upon them — Even empty my quiver, and send upon them all my plagues, which, like arrows shot by a skilful and strong hand, shall speedily reach, and certainly hit and mortally wound them. The judgments of God are often compared to arrows, Job 6:4; Psalms 38:2; Psalms 91:5. They shall be burnt with hunger — Here these arrows or plagues are enumerated; the first of them is famine, with which they are therefore said to be burnt; because it burns and parches the inward parts of the body. This threatening was awfully fulfilled in their destruction by the Chaldeans, when, according to Jeremiah, their visages became black as a coal, through famine; and their skin withered like a stick, Lamentations 4:8. And devoured with burning heat — From fevers, or carbuncles, or other inflaming distempers. Destruction by wild beasts and poisonous serpents is threatened in the next clause, and Deuteronomy 32:25, by the sword. So that all God’s four sore judgments were to be employed against them. Serpents of the dust — That creep upon and eat the dust, (Genesis 3:14,) and lurk in it, that they may surprise unwary passengers, Genesis 49:17. The sword without, and terror within — In the field they shall be exposed to the sword of their enemies, and at home shall die with fear, or shall destroy their own lives lest they should fall into the hands of their destroyers.


Verse 27-28

Deuteronomy 32:27-28. Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy — Their rage against me, as it is expressed Isaiah 37:28-29; their furious reproaches against my name, as if I were cruel to my people, or unable to deliver them. This is spoken after the manner of men; and the meaning is, that it would have been righteous in God to cut them entirely off and wipe out their very memory from the earth; but such a sudden and final destruction of a people in whose behalf God had done so much, for establishing his true worship among them, and for conveying it from them to the rest of the world, would have occasioned those heathen to insult God himself, by ascribing their destruction to their own valour, or to the power of their idols, and not to his righteous judgment. Therefore, to prevent this wrong construction of such desolating judgments, it became the divine wisdom to defer the execution of them. We find Moses more than once representing before God the blasphemous reflections which the heathen would make, in case of the total destruction of the Israelitish nation, as an argument to avert the effects of the divine displeasure. Void of counsel — Their enemies are ignorant and foolish, and therefore would readily form such a false and foolish judgment upon things.


Verse 29-30

Deuteronomy 32:29-30. O that they were wise — O that they would duly and wisely consider the dealings of God toward them, and so happily prevent the evils that will otherwise befall them in the generations to come How should one chase a thousand — One Israelite. Except their rock had sold them — Their God, who was their refuge and defence, had quitted them, and delivered them up to the will of their enemies. Shut them up — As it were, in the net which their enemies had laid for them.


Verse 31

Deuteronomy 32:31. Their rock is not as our rock — The gods of the heathen are not wise, and powerful, and gracious, like Jehovah. Our enemies being judges — Who, by their dear-bought experience, have often been forced to acknowledge that our God is far mightier than they and their false gods together.


Verse 32

Deuteronomy 32:32. Their vine is the vine of Sodom — God had planted Israel a noble vine, a right seed, but they turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine, Jeremiah 2:21. Their principles and practices became corrupt and abominable. Their grapes are grapes of gall — Their fruits are loathsome to me, mischievous to others, and at last will be pernicious to themselves. And so Josephus, their own countryman, describes them before their last destruction, when he says, their city was so wicked that, if the Romans had not fallen upon them, the earth would have opened its mouth and swallowed them up, or thunder and lightning from heaven must have destroyed them as it did Sodom: for “they were a more atheistical nation than those who suffered such things.” And in another place, that “there was no one work of wickedness that was not committed, nor can one imagine any thing so bad that they did not do; endeavouring publicly, as well as privately, to exceed one another, both in impiety toward God, and injustice to their neighbours.”


Verse 33

Deuteronomy 32:33. Their vine is the poison of dragons — An expression of the same import with the former, signifying their fruits or works to be most depraved and pernicious, (Revelation 17:2,) and so resembling the poison of dragons. The cruel venom of asps — The venom of asps is called cruel, because it is accounted the most subtile and acute of all poisons, instantly penetrating into the vital parts.


Verse 34

Deuteronomy 32:34. Is not this laid up in store with me? — That is, all their wickedness spoken of before, or the vengeance he is going to mention in the following verses. This, by Le Clerc, and many others, is referred to the vengeance which God would inflict on the enemies of the Jews. But surely the verses with which it is immediately connected, whether preceding or following, render it much more probable that the vengeance which should come on the Jews themselves, is intended, as if he had said, My long- suffering toward them may make them think I have forgotten their sins: but I remember them punctually. They are sealed up as in a bag, (Job 14:17,) and as men seal up their treasures. Or, the allusion may be to deeds signed and sealed, and kept safely in a cabinet, though not presently executed, and in that case the meaning will be that the execution of the vengeance was a thing notified and determined in the mind of God, but that the time was reserved with him as a profound secret, known only to himself.


Verse 35

Deuteronomy 32:35. To me belongeth vengeance — As the supreme Lord and Judge of the world, whose power no force can resist, from whose knowledge no secret can be concealed, and from whose justice no art can escape. Their feet shall slide — Though they think themselves immoveably fixed in their power and prosperity, they shall certainly be visited with national judgments, and overthrown. In due time — Though not so soon as some may expect, yet in that time when it shall be thought most proper, when they have filled up the measure of their sins. At hand — Hebrew, is near. So the Scripture often speaks of those things which are at many hundred years’ distance, to signify, that though they may be afar off as to our measures of time, yet in God’s account they are near, they are as near as may be; when the measure of their sins is once full, the judgment shall not be deferred.


Verse 36

Deuteronomy 32:36. For the Lord, &c. — The Hebrew particle here rendered for, may properly be translated nevertheless, as it is Isaiah 9:1 : for here, it seems, a new paragraph begins; and having spoken of the dreadful calamity which would come upon his people, he now turns his discourse into a more comfortable strain, and begins to show that after God had sorely chastised them, he would have mercy upon them and turn their captivity. Judge his people — Shall plead their cause, shall protect and deliver them. Repent — Of the evils he hath brought upon them. None shut up — Either in their strong cities, or castles, or other hiding places, or in the enemy’s hands or prisons, whence there might be some hope or possibility of redemption; and none left, as the poor and contemptible people are neglected and usually left by the conquerors in the conquered land, but all seem to be cut off and destroyed.


Verse 37-38

Deuteronomy 32:37-38. He shall say — The Lord, before he deliver his people, will first convince them of their former folly in forsaking him for idols. Which did eat — That is, to whom you offered sacrifices and oblations, after the manner of the Gentiles. Let them rise up and help you — If they can. Or, perhaps, instead of He shall say, (Deuteronomy 32:37,) it may be better rendered, One shall say; or, It shall be said. And then the meaning will be, Whoever beholds these judgments with due consideration will be convinced of the vanity and unprofitableness of these imaginary deities, to whom they offered their sacrifices, without receiving the least benefit from them.


Verse 39

Deuteronomy 32:39. See now — Open your eyes and be convinced by your own sad experience what vain and impotent things idols are. I am he — The only true, omnipotent, and irresistible God. There is no god with me — As I have no superior, so neither have I any equal. I kill and I make alive — I am the arbiter of life and death, the dispenser of prosperity and adversity, and the author of national changes and revolutions, whether in the way of mercy or judgment. We may observe that it is usual, in Scripture language, to represent extreme calamities under the notion of death, and to express happiness and prosperity by the word life.


Verses 40-42

Deuteronomy 32:40-42. I lift up my hand to heaven — I solemnly swear I will do what here follows. It was the custom to stretch out the hand in swearing, Genesis 14:22. And say, I live for ever — As surely as I live for ever, I will whet my sword, &c. If I whet — If once I begin to prepare for war, and for the execution of my sentence. Mine hand take hold on judgment — The instruments of judgments, the weapons of war. A metaphor from warriors that take their weapons into their hands when they intend to fight. Glittering sword — Hebrew, the lightning of my sword. A similitude which shows God’s judgments to be swift, powerful, and terrible, Ezekiel 21:10; Zechariah 9:14. I will render vengeance to mine enemies — No power shall be able to stop or hinder my proceedings. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood — I will execute vengeance upon them to the full. A strong poetical figure, implying the abundance of blood that should be shed. The blood — of the captives — Whom my sword hath sorely wounded, though not utterly killed. The beginning of revenges — When once I begin to revenge myself and people upon mine and their enemies, and will go on and make a full end.


Verse 43

Deuteronomy 32:43. Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people — So the Seventy, a translation followed by St. Paul, (Romans 15:10,) where this passage is quoted, and where we are directed to consider it as a prediction of the bringing in of the Gentiles to share the privileges of the gospel, and become one church of God in conjunction with the Jews. Or, if it be translated more literally, according to the Hebrew, Rejoice, O ye nations, (or Gentiles) his people; that is, being now his people, the sense will be much the same. Either way the words seem evidently to relate to the last great deliverance of the Jews, and their conversion to Christianity, and the bringing in of the fulness of the Gentiles, which undoubtedly will be the completion of the divine dispensations, and will spread peace and happiness over all the earth. He therefore calls upon all the nations of the earth to rejoice in prospect of this great event, which they had all reason to do, considering the singular advantages which all nations would enjoy at that time and upon that occasion.


Verse 44

Deuteronomy 32:44. He and Hoshea — Or Joshua. Probably Moses spoke it to as many as could hear him, while Joshua, in another assembly, at the same time delivered it to as many as his voice would reach. Thus Joshua, as well as Moses, would be a witness against them, if ever they forsook God.


Verse 46-47

Deuteronomy 32:46-47. Set your hearts unto all the words, &c. — Having concluded his prophetic song or hymn, he addressed himself afresh to them in a pathetical exhortation, to weigh and remember well the contents of it, and seriously to improve it, in a hearty and careful observance of the laws he had given them, and by training up their children in the same obedience. It is not a vain thing — It is not an unprofitable or contemptible work I advise you to do, but well worthy of your most serious care. It is your life — Temporal, spiritual, and eternal; the way to, and means of, happiness here and hereafter.


Verse 48-49

Deuteronomy 32:48-49. That self-same day — Now he had finished his work, why should he desire to live a day longer? He had indeed formerly desired and prayed that he might go over Jordan: but now he is entirely satisfied, and saith no more of that matter. Nebo — A ridge or top of the mountains of Abarim.


Verse 50

Deuteronomy 32:50. And died in the mount — Not immediately, but after he had blessed the people, as in the next chapter. Be gathered unto thy people — We seem to be compelled to understand this of the soul of Moses, to be associated in paradise with the souls of the just, here termed his people; in which sense it is taken by some of the Jewish writers. For if it were to be interpreted of his body only, or chiefly, it could hardly be said to be sense, since the people of Moses were not buried in mount Abarim. See on Genesis 25:8.


Verse 51-52

Deuteronomy 32:51-52. Because ye trespassed — God reminds him of the sin he had committed long before, and this Moses records as an acknowledgment, made at his death, of God’s justice, and a warning to all people not to distrust or disobey the voice of God. It is good for the holiest of men to die repenting even of their early sins. Yet thou shalt see the land — And see it as the earnest of that better country, which is only seen with the eye of faith. What is death to him who has a believing prospect and a steadfast hope of eternal life?

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/deuteronomy-32.html. 1857.

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