Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Though not comparable to other masterpieces of Hebrew poetry either for beauty of metaphor, or musical diction, or fineness of spiritual insight, this strong poem is distinguished by the fire, force, and sweep of its superb rhetoric. Granted its limits—for it is neither an epic nor a lyric, but a didactic ode addressed with a practical purpose to a sinful generation—it has no peer in the O.T.
The editor of the Pent., who has ascribed it to Moses (Deuteronomy 31:30; cp. Deuteronomy 32:19; Deu 32:22, these words in Deuteronomy 32:28, and the possible reading song instead of law in Deuteronomy 32:24), asserts that its main purpose is to testify beforehand against Israel; whereas the poem itself strikes its keynote (Deuteronomy 32:2) as one of mercy and of hope, and emphatically concludes on this keynote (Deuteronomy 32:34-43). The poem makes no claim to be by Moses, and reflects nothing of his time or circumstances. On the contrary it is addressed throughout to a generation at a remote distance from Israel’s origin in the desert (Deuteronomy 32:7-12). Not only is their carriage to, and settlement upon, the Land long past (Deuteronomy 32:13 f.); but they have become demoralised by their enjoyment of the wealth of the Land, succumbed to strange gods, forsaken Jehovah, and suffered His chastisements, which are described—exactly as by the earlier prophets—as a series of national calamities, famine, plague, pestilence, and wild beasts, culminating in war and defeat at the hands of a new and alien people (Deuteronomy 32:15-25). So worthless are they that Jehovah would have destroyed them but for the fear that the arrogant foe would vaunt this as his own work. Therefore He relents and turns His wrath upon the foe; Israel’s deliverance is near, their blood will be avenged and their land assoiled (Deuteronomy 32:26-43).
The evidence of the Song is thus clearly of a date far subsequent to Moses. The only question is to which of the many sufferings of the long settled people we are to assign it. As to this the data are in conflict.
Some critics are satisfied that the period of the Syrian wars alone suits the effects of the divine wrath reflected in the Song (Knobel, Dillm., etc.); they compare Deuteronomy 32:36 with 2 Kings 14:26, emphasise the absence of all threat of Exile, argue for the identity of the no-people who execute God’s anger on Israel with the Syrians, and explain the number of words in the Song not found elsewhere (see below) as due to its northern origin. Others have identified the no-people with the Assyrians, either at the time of the fall of Samaria (Reuss) or during the invasion of Sennacherib; to which the objection is reasonable that Deuteronomy 32:40 f. do not suit the Assyrians, and that there is no threat of Exile, an essential part of the Assyrian policy towards defeated enemies, as all the prophets of the period recognise. On the grounds of the literary affinities of the Song with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the exilic ‘Isaiah’ 40–55, and the Wisdom literature, more recent critics have brought it down to the Babylonian Exile, some to the eve or beginning of this (Kuen., Dri., etc.), others to its end on the ground that the deliverance of Israel is near (Steuern., Moore, the Oxford Hex., Berth., Robinson, and Marti). The no-people would thus be the Chaldeans.
The literary reasons for an exilic date are not slight (see notes). But on the other hand, there is the absence of reference to exile as the culmination of the apostate Israel’s punishment. Is it possible to conceive that an exilic poet could have ignored the Exile? The present writer thinks not. If the author of the Song be really echoing Jer., Ez., and the exilic ‘Isaiah,’ it is all the more strange that he does not speak of banishment or captivity. The only theory which would reconcile this conflict between the literary phenomena of the Song and its reflection of circumstances upon which exile does not lower, is that an exilic writer composed it with exclusive reference to a generation far earlier than his own, which is not unlikely when we consider the early subjects of certain late Psalms; or else that a poem originally written before the Assyrian period of Israel’s history received additions from an exilic scribe, for the affinities with Ez. and the exilic ‘Isaiah’ are not many.
The rhythm is one frequent in Heb. poetry: parallel couplets with, in the main, three stresses or accents to each line, but as in other O.T. poems of the same structure there are a considerable number of lines with only two stresses, and occasionally there is one of four, though this may not be original but due to bad tradition of the text. As Heb.—especially by virtue of its verbal suffixes—can express by one word with one accent ideas or feelings which it takes two or three to express in English, the rhythmical translation offered below is only a rough approximation to the metre of the original. As in many Heb. poems, there is no division into strophes. The rush of the rhetoric does not allow of this. The divisions given below are simply for the sake of convenience.
Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.1. heavens … earth] To these he appeals, not as witnesses of the divine events which he is about to declare (so Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 31:28), nor as proofs of the regularity or goodness of the divine action (so frequently in the Prophets and Psalms 1), but in the feeling that so great a theme—God’s dealings with His people—demands no less an auditory! The faith of the prophets (of so small and so irresponsive a people) in the infinite interest of their message, in its power of reverberating through the universe, is very striking. And such an assurance, because spiritual and not material, remains steadfast (Carlyle in some of his moods notwithstanding) whatever views be taken of the Universe, whether pre-Copernican or post-Copernican. It is the conviction of man which commands Nature, and not Nature which crushes the conviction. The Universe cannot silence, but must listen to, the spiritual truth. M. Henry interprets less probably: Heaven and Earth will listen sooner than this unthinking people, for they revolt not from their obedience to their Creator, Psalm 119:90 f.
 Cp. Carlyle: ‘The stars in the heavens and the blue-bells by the wayside shew forth the handiwork of Him who is Almighty, who is All Good. In a bad weak world what would become of us did not our hearts understand at all times that this is even so?’ (Life i. 338).
1–3. The Exordium
1 Give ear, O Heavens, let me speak,
And let Earth hear the words of my mouth.
2 May my message drop as the rain,
My speech distil as the dew,
Like mists on the grass,
And like showers on the herb.
3 For the name of the Lord I proclaim,
To our God give the greatness!
My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass:2. My doctrine] Lit. my taking, what I have received and take to men, my message; cp. St Paul 1 Corinthians 11:23, ἐγὼ γὰρ παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου ὃ καὶ παρέδωκα ὑμῖν. Or alternatively, what I have apprehended or learned; so commonly in the Wisdom literature for instruction or learning, Proverbs 1:5; Proverbs 4:2; Proverbs 9:9 (cp. Isaiah 29:24), but also for apprehensibleness, persuasiveness, Proverbs 16:21; Proverbs 16:23.
My speech] Sam., LXX, Syr. prefix and.
small rain] Heb. se.îrîm, only here (therefore Lag. emends to resîsîm rain-drops or fine rain, Song of Solomon 5:2). Translate mist. The word may be connected with se‘ar, hair (Ar. sha‘ir, ‘to be hairy’), as the Scot. haar and Lincolnshire harr = ‘sea-mist’ are connected with ‘hair.’ Musil, however, says that certain Arab tribes who connect the successive winter-rains with different stars or constellations, call the fourth of the series esh-She‘ri or She‘ra, meaning ‘the Sirius-rain.’
tender grass] Heb. dĕshĕ, fresh young grass.
showers] Heb. rebîbîm,—lit. lavish or frequent showers; Ar. rababa, ‘much water.’
Thus the Song strikes its keynote—the note to which it returns in the end after its indictment of the people—of quickening and refreshing power for the tender hopes of Israel after the long drought of their captivity. Others think that the figure includes that of a heating and sweeping rain for the rebellious (so a Chaldee para-phrast), as if it were meant that the Song would be a savour of life unto life to some, but of death unto death to others. This is not borne out by the terms of this v.
Because I will publish the name of the LORD: ascribe ye greatness unto our God.3. proclaim the name of Jehovah] See J, Exodus 33:19, where name = character and is parallel to glory (Deuteronomy 32:18) as above, Deuteronomy 26:19, it is parallel to praise and honour. Both ideas, character and renown, are probably included here. Cp. Deuteronomy 12:5, Deuteronomy 28:58.
give ye greatness unto our God] Cp. Deuteronomy 3:24, Psalm 29:1 f.
He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.4. The Rock] Or a Rock. This name, Ṣûr, is applied in Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18; Deuteronomy 32:30-31; Deuteronomy 32:37, both to Israel’s God and to others. It appears to have been a general Semitic figure for the divine unchangeableness and its refuge for men, and virtually a synonym for God; LXX, θεός as here, βοηθός, φύλαξ and even δίκαιος (1 Samuel 2:2). In Assyr. Bel and other gods are called ‘great mountain’; and with other Semites several theophorous names are compounded with ṣur, e.g. Bar-ṣur in the Senjerli inscription and others in S. Arabia (Zimmern, KAT3, 355, 358, 477).
 Die Keilinschriften und das AIte Testament, 3rd edition (1903), by H. Zimmern and H. Winckler.
his ways are judgement] Rather Law. Heb. mishpaṭ, which means now a single law or judgement and now justice, is here Law in the sense of order or consistency. So Isaiah 30:18 a God of mishpaṭ. Having laid down the lines of His action in righteousness and wisdom He remains in His dealings with men consistent with those. The idea is expounded in the next two lines: Iniquity is to be taken in its primary sense of breach or deviation, treason. For he LXX read Jehovah.
4–6. God’s Faithfulness, Israel’s Folly
4 The Rock—outright is His working!
Yea, all of His ways are Law,
The God of troth, without treason,
Righteous and upright is He.
5 His sons have dealt corruptly with Him … (?),
A twisted and crooked generation!
6 The Lord do ye thus requite,
O foolish folk and unwise?
Is He not thy sire who begat thee,
He ’tis that made and hath framed thee.
They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation.5. The text of the first line is corrupt; lit. he has dealt corruptly (as in Deuteronomy 9:12, cp. Deuteronomy 31:29) with him, not his sons, their blemish. Sam. LXX: they dealt corruptly not his sons, blameworthy things. Possible emendations, they dealt corruptly with him sons of blemish; his sons have corrupted their faithfulness to him; or as above. The line is overloaded. On blemish in physical sense see Deuteronomy 15:21, Deuteronomy 17:1.
twisted and crooked] Or tortuous; cp. Deuteronomy 5:20.
Do ye thus requite the LORD, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?6. Is it Jehovah ye thus requite] So the emphatic Heb. order.
foolish] See on Deuteronomy 22:21 : folly.
bought] Rather begat or produced, Genesis 4:1; Genesis 14:19; Genesis 14:22.
established] Or framed, set up, settled.
Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.7. Remember] Heb. Sg.; Sam., LXX Pl.
days of old … generations] One of many signs of the distance of the generation to which the Song is addressed from the time of the Wilderness and the entrance to the Promised Land.
that he shew thee … that they tell thee] So the Heb.
7–14. Origin and Progress of Israel
7 Remember the days of old,
Scan the years, age upon age;
Ask of thy sire that he shew thee,
Thine elders, that they may tell thee.
8 When the Highest gave nations their heritage,
When He sundered the children of men,
He set the bounds of the peoples
By the tale of Israel’s sons (?)
9 For the Lord’s own lot is Jacob,
Israel the scale of His heritage.
When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.8. Most High] Heb. ‘Elyôn, Numbers 24:16, Isaiah 14:14, and many Pss.
gave … inheritance] See Deuteronomy 1:38.
separated] Genesis 10:32 (P).
children of Israel] The purpose of His division was to leave room for Israel’s numbers.
But for the sons of Israel LXX has ἀγγέλων θεοῦ, angels of God, i.e. sons of ’El, after a late Jewish conception of a guardian angel for each nation (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20 f., Deuteronomy 12:1, Sir 17:17), an antithesis to Jehovah’s own guardianship of Israel in the following vv., which accordingly LXX introduces by and = but in place of Heb. for. This reading and interpretation is accepted by Steuern., Berth., Marti, Robinson. But the text as read by the LXX seems to be rather an adaptation of the Heb. to the conception aforesaid (Dillm.); and it is difficult to see how the Heb. arose out of the LXX text if the latter was original.
For the LORD'S portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.9. portion] Or lot; in Deuteronomy 12:12 with inheritance.
his people] LXX removes Jacob to this line, and to the end of the following adds Israel. In that case his people is superfluous both to the sense and to the rhythm.
lot] Lit. measuring-rope, i.e. scale or range; cp. Deuteronomy 9:26, Psalm 105:11.
He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.10 In a desert land He found him,
In the void and howl of the waste.
He swept around him, He scanned him,
As the pupil of His eye He watched him.
11 As an eagle stirreth his nest,
Fluttereth over his young,
Spreadeth his wings, doth catch them,
Beareth them up on his pinions,
12 The Lord alone was his leader,
And never a strange god with Him.
10. found him] This and the following vbs. are in the Heb. imperf.; this for the sake of vividness, the rest expressive of iteration. On Israel being found in the desert, cp. Hosea 9:10, Jeremiah 2:2. The O.T. tradition is constant that the Hebrews were originally nomad, desert tribes (see the present writer’s Early Poetry of Israel, 39 ff., 56 ff.; and above on Deuteronomy 1:28).
void and howl] Or the void of the howl = howling void.
compassed him about] Rather keeps circling around him.
cared] Rather regarded or scanned him penetratingly.
kept] Better watched or guarded.
apple of his eye] Pupil is a happier rendering of the Heb. ’îshôn (Ar. ’insân), mannikin, the image reflected in the centre of the eye.
As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:11. eagle] Heb. nesher, see on Deuteronomy 14:12; Deuteronomy 14:17; not her nest or young, but his, the father bird’s; Exodus 19:4, cp. above Deuteronomy 1:31.
Spreadeth his wings, doth catch them, beareth, etc.] As in R.V. marg. preferable to R.V. text. All these clauses still describe the eagle.
So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.12. did lead him] Still the imperf. for vividness.
strange] Not the adj. in Deuteronomy 32:16, but foreign, Deuteronomy 15:3, Deuteronomy 31:16.
13 He made him to ride the highlands,
And to eat of the fruit of the hills,
Suckled him with honey from the crag
And oil of the flinty rock,
14 Curd of the kine, milk of the flock,
With the fatness of lambs and of rams,
Bulls of Bashán and he-goats,
With the finest flour of the wheat—
And the grape’s blood thou drankest in foam!
He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock;13. ride on the heights] Cp. Amos 4:12.
and to eat of the fruit of the hills] So Sam. and LXX for the Heb. he doth eat; hills not fields as in Deuteronomy 28:3, Heb. sadai, early form sadeh, in the earlier sense of that word (see on Deuteronomy 5:21) as in Jdg 5:4, parallel to heights or high places. Israel’s territory was a highland one.
suckles] With Sam. and Syr. omit and.
honey] The honey of the O.T. is wild, as here, Jdg 14:8 ff., 1 Samuel 14:25 ff., Psalm 81:16; apiculture, a very ancient craft, is not implied till the N.T. speaks of wild honey (Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6). See further Jerus. i. 306 f., E.B. art. ‘Honey,’ and ZDPV. xxxii. 151.
oil of the flinty rock] Lit. the flint of the rock. The olive never yields oil so richly as on limestone terraces and their débris; see Jerus. i. 300.
Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape.14. Curd of kine] Fermented milk, Ar. leben.
fat of lambs and of rams] So LXX, bringing forward rams from next line.
Bulls of Bashán] Lit. the sons, or breed, of Bashán (Deuteronomy 3:1), celebrated for its steers, Psalm 22:12 (13), etc.
fat of the kidneys] The richest fat, Leviticus 3:4, Isaiah 34:6; here figuratively of the richest wheat.
blood of the grape thou drankest in foam] There is no need to read with the LXX he drank (so Steuern. to harmonise with the next line), nor to take the line as a gloss (Marti), though it be an odd line and not one of a couplet. This is the climax of the passage of Israel from the nomadic to the agricultural stage of life, and is still regarded as the last distinction of the fellaḥ from the Bedawee; cp. Deuteronomy 33:28, Genesis 49:11 f. Foam (EVV. wine), Heb. ḥemer from root ḥmr, to ferment or foam; cp. Psalm 46:3 (4), Psalm 75:8 (9).
But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.15. The line (And) Jacob ate and was full is added by Sam. to the previous v., but by the LXX to this one to which it is more suitable; cp. Deuteronomy 31:20, Nehemiah 9:25.
Jeshurun] Deuteronomy 33:5; Deuteronomy 33:26, Isaiah 44:2, a name for the people (cp. Jashar, Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18) with a play upon the name Israel; and, as it means honest or upright, it is used here sarcastically of so delinquent and perverse a race.
Thou wast waxen fat … plump … sleek] Note the change to the 2nd pers. and the fact that if the additional line from the Sam. and LXX be prefixed to the v. this line forms an odd one among its couplets; which may be taken as an argument against either its originality or that of the line added by the LXX. Sleek, perhaps we should read the same vb. as in Jeremiah 5:28 (Grätz); the Heb. vb. here means thou art gorged.
God] Heb. ’Eloah, ‘probably only a secondary form obtained inferentially from ‘Elohîm,’ only in late writings, chiefly poetry.
lightly esteemed] Rather held, or treated, as a fool, Micah 7:6. How often in their superstition men act as if God could be tricked, and in their immorality as if He were senseless. Yet God is sensitive, as the next v. declares, and as Isaiah says is wise. On Rock see Deuteronomy 32:4.
15–18. The Fulness and Apostasy of Israel
15 Jacob ate and was full,
Fat waxed Jeshurun and kicked,
—Thou wast fat, thou wast plump, thou wast sleek!
He forsook the God who had made him,
And befooled the Rock of his succour.
16 With strangers they moved Him to jealousy,
With abominations provoked Him,
17 They sacrificed to demons not God,
Gods whom they never had known,
New ones, lately come in,
Your sires never trembled at them.
18 Of the Rock that thee bare thou wast mindless,
And forgattest the God that had travailed with thee.
They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger.16. moved him to jealousy] This form of the vb. is found only here, and in Deuteronomy 32:21 b, Psalm 78:58; another form in Deuteronomy 32:21 a. On God’s jealousy see Deuteronomy 4:24.
strange] Jeremiah 2:25; Jeremiah 3:13. See above on Deuteronomy 32:12.
abominations] See Deuteronomy 7:25, and cp. Isaiah 44:19.
provoked] Deuteronomy 4:25.
They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.17. demons] Heb. shedîm, only here and in Psalm 106:37, ‘certainly a Babylonian loan-word,’ shedu, a good demon figured in the bull-colossi that guarded the entrances to temples (Zimmern, KAT3, 455 f., 460–2, 649); but according to Psalm 106:37 human sacrifices were offered them, which of course does not preclude the idea that they were protective spirits.
 Die Keilinschriften und das AIte Testament, 3rd edition (1903), by H. Zimmern and H. Winckler.
no God] Heb. ’Eloah as in Deuteronomy 32:15.
whom they had not known] Deuteronomy 11:28, Deuteronomy 13:2; Deuteronomy 13:6; Deuteronomy 13:13, Deuteronomy 28:64.
new ones lately come in] Or arrived.
dreaded] Lit. bristled or shuddered at, Heb. sacar, as in Jeremiah 2:12, Ezekiel 27:35; Ezekiel 32:10. Some, however, translate knew, on the strength of the Ar. sacara.
Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.18. Rock] See on Deuteronomy 32:4; God, Heb. ’El. The predicates used of Him are generally interpreted as if attributing to Him the functions both of father and mother. But the first vb. is more usually in the O.T. of the mother, and is rightly rendered here by R.V. marg. bare; the second, gave thee birth, is rather was in travail with thee; cp. Numbers 11:12.
And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.19. abhorred] Spurned, contemned, discarded, Deuteronomy 31:20, Jeremiah 14:21. The next line gives the motive, not as in R.V., but from grief with his sons, etc.
19–25. God’s Vengeance
19 But the Lord saw and He spurned,
From grief with His sons and His daughters.
20 ‘Let me hide my countenance from them,
I will see what their end shall be.
For an upsetting race are they,
Sons without steadfastness in them.
21 They moved me to jealousy with a nó-god,
With their vanities vexed me
And I make them jealous with a no-people,
With an infidel nation will vex them.
And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.20. And he said] A gloss, it overloads the rhythm.
Let me hide, etc.] Deuteronomy 31:17 f.
their end] Lit. their afterwards, see on Deuteronomy 4:30.
a very froward, etc.] Heb. is stronger, a generation of upturnings or overthrows (only here and in Prov.); not perverse but subversive; and so children in whom is no faithfulness, reliableness, or ‘staith.’
They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.21. moved … to jealousy] See on Deuteronomy 32:16. Mark the antitheses: no-god (lo’-’el), no-people (lo’-‘am, as hitherto outside the nations known and to be reckoned with, by Israel, as unfit to serve any Divine purpose); and vanities (lit. breaths, or as we should say, bubbles, so in Jer. of the heathen gods, Deuteronomy 8:19, etc.) and foolish (nabal, chosen perhaps both because of its probable root-meaning fading, worthless, parallel to vanities, and because it was used in a religious sense, godless, infidel). See Paul’s application of the v. in Romans 10:19.
22 For a fire has flared from my wrath,
And burned to the lowest Shĕ’ól,
It devours earth and her increase,
It flames round the roots of the hills.
23 I will sweep up evils upon them,
Against them exhaust mine arrows.
24 Drained by famine, devoured by fever (?)
And poisonous pestilence (?),
The teeth of brute beasts will I send them,
With venom of things that crawl in the dust.
25 Abroad shall the sword bereave,
And terror be in the chambers—
As well the youth as the maiden,
The suckling and gray-headed man.
For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.22. is kindled] but with the force of flaring up quickly, Jeremiah 15:14; Jeremiah 17:4, Isaiah 50:11; Isaiah 64:2 (1); it is not necessary to render ’aph, anger, by its original meaning nostril.
pit] Heb. She’ol, underworld, Psalm 86:13.
increase] See Deuteronomy 11:17.
And setteth on fire] licks or flames about; only in late writings.
I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them.23. heap] According as we point the consonants of this vb., it may mean add, or gather, or sweep up; evils, Deuteronomy 31:17.
24, 25 define the arrows of Deuteronomy 32:23—famine, fever, plague, wild beasts and poisonous, and war.
24 a. The rhythm is irregular whether for a line or couplet, and the text uncertain, the first and last words are only found here and their sense is conjectural.
From Sam. it is possible to read the first word mizzĕh, on this side, and to reconstruct the whole as a regular couplet yielding the kind of antithesis beloved by the writer (Deuteronomy 32:21; Deuteronomy 32:25) and free of the ἄπαξ λεγόμενα
mizzeh rá‘ab yilham On this side famine devours,
mizzeh rĕshĕph We kétĕl On this side fever and plague.
Wasted is a meaning drawn from a doubtful Ar. analogy; burning heat, Heb. resheph, fire-bolt or flame as God’s instrument of fever, in Habakkuk 3:5 parallel to pestilence.
24 b. beasts] Heb. Behemôth. For this natural curse of the East cp. Deuteronomy 7:22, Hosea 2:12. The contrast in Isaiah 11:6-9.
crawling things] Micah 7:17, cp. Isaiah 11:8, Jeremiah 8:17.
They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust.
The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs.25. War the climax to these natural plagues, just as in Amos 7.
I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men:26. I would have said, I will] The meaning of the ensuing vb pa’ah is uncertain: cleave them in pieces (Dri. and the Oxf. Heb. Lex.) is hardly justified by the Ar. fa‘a, which means only to split; A.V., scatter them into corners, is founded on a doubtful etymology; R.V., scatter them afar, is due to the LXX διασπερῶ, which probably read another vb. The meaning adopted since Gesenius by most moderns, will blow them away, is, in view of the parallel line, the most probable.
26–33. The Stay of God’s Vengeance
26 ‘I had said, “I will blow them away (?)
And still among men their remembrance,”
27 Had I feared not the taunt of the foe,
Lest their enemies misconstrue,
And should say, “Our hand was high,
Nor was this the work of Jehovah!”
28 For a rede-lorn people are they,
And among them insight is not.
29 Were they wise this would they ken,
See through to their fate at the last.’
30 How could one have chased a thousand,
Or two put ten thousand to flight,
Were it not that their Rock had sold them
And the Lord had given them up!
Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the LORD hath not done all this.27. provocation] Cp. Deuteronomy 32:19, but here the vexation caused to Himself by the foes’ misconstruction. The anthropomorphism is very strong. Sam. reads my foe. On the Heb. for feared see Deuteronomy 1:17, Deuteronomy 18:22.
For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them.28. void] More exactly forlorn, Heb. ’obed, cp. Deuteronomy 22:3, Deuteronomy 26:5.
28–33. It is doubtful whether these vv. relate to Israel or its arrogant foes. The latter I deem the more probable. So already Geddes.
O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!29. consider their latter end] This is weak and omits the preposition to which conveys the full sense understand, or see through, to their ultimate fate, past this temporary triumph over Israel to the punishment God has in store for them, Deuteronomy 32:34. Deuteronomy 32:29-31 are regarded by some as a later intrusion by one who wrongly interpreted Deuteronomy 32:28 of Israel; and indeed Deuteronomy 32:32 more naturally connects with 28, which it confirms, than with 31. Note also that God is not the speaker in them.
How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?30. How could one, etc.] Some ignominious rout of Israel.
delivered them up] Cp. Deuteronomy 23:15 (16).
For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.31 For not as our Rock is their rock,
Our foes being judges;
32 For their vine’s from the vine of Sedóm
And out of the tracts of Gomorrah;
Their grapes are poisonous grapes,
Bitterest clusters are theirs.
33 Their wine is the venom of dragons,
The pitiless poison of asps.
31. emphasises the previous couplet; it must have been Israel’s God who brought such defeat on His people.
For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter:32. These foes of Israel are of the same stock morally (can one produce grapes of thistles?) as the cities whose destruction for their wickedness was proverbial. They are therefore doomed.
fields] Heb. sedemôth, a rare word of uncertain meaning. Tracts is probably nearer it. It may have been chosen here for its assonance to Sedom in the previous line.
Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.33. venom of dragons] Or, foam of.
pitiless poison of asps] Poison, rôsh, as in Deuteronomy 29:17; asps, or according to some, cobras, the hooded kind, in Egypt and the lower parts of Syria, especially S. of Beersheba, Heb. pethanîm, Isaiah 11:8, etc.
Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures?34. laid up] Heb. kamus not found elsewhere, and probably misread for kanus, gathered, collected. In next line read treasuries.
34–43. It is Destined for Israel’s Foes
34 Is all that not stored with me,
Sealed in my treasuries,
35 For the day of revenge and requital,
What time their foot shall slip.
Yea, near is their day of disaster,
And destiny rushes upon them.
To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.35. Mine are vengeance, etc.] Sam. and LXX read for the day of vengeance, etc.; and perhaps rightly, see Ginsburg, Intr. p. 168. Here intended as an assurance to Israel, but in Romans 12:19 as a warning against undertaking revenge oneself, cp. Hebrews 10:30.
day of their disaster] Jeremiah 18:17; Jeremiah 46:21, Obadiah 1:13, Psalm 18:18 (19).
things destined for them] A late expression.
For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.36 For the Lord shall judge for His people,
And relent for His servants’ sake,
When He sees that their grip is gone,
Nor fast nor free remaineth;
37 And shall say, Where be their gods
The rock whereon they refuged,
38 Which ate the fat of their sacrifice,
Drank the wine of their pouring?
Let them arise to your help,
Let them be a covert above you!
36. judge his people] As the parallel line shows, this means ‘will judge for his people.’
power] Lit. hand, i.e. hold or grip.
nor fast nor free] Heb. ‘aṣûr we ‘azûb, an alliterative phrase for the whole population. Whether it means in and out of prison, or under and free of taboo or ritual uncleanness, is doubtful.
And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted,37. took refuge] As in R.V. marg., so often in the Pss., e.g. Psalm 2:12, Psalm 46:2.
Which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offerings? let them rise up and help you, and be your protection.38. Let them be a covert above you] So LXX, etc.; Heb. let it.
See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.39 See now that I, I am He,
And never a god beside me.
I do to death and revive,
I shattered and I shall heal.
[With none to save from my hand.]
40 For I lift to heaven mine hand,
And say, ‘As I live for ever,
41 I will whet my lightning sword,
And on judgement my hand shall close,
Vengeance I wreak on my foes,
And recompense them that hate me.
42 I drench mine arrows in blood,
And my sword shall feed upon flesh;
With the blood of the slain and the captive,
With the long-haired heads of the foe.’
39. I am he] The only God, Deuteronomy 4:35. Cp. Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 43:13; Isaiah 48:12.
And there is none, etc.] This line is out of place both for the rhythm and the sense, and is apparently borrowed from Isaiah 43:13 in a similar context. Cp. Hosea 5:14 b.
For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.40. lift up, etc.] Cp. Genesis 14:22, Exodus 6:8, Numbers 14:30 and many instances in Ezekiel.
If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.41. whet] See on Deuteronomy 6:7. Jehovah as warrior, as often in later prophecy, e.g. Isaiah 63.
I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy.42. and the captives] Assigned to death later.
leaders] So LXX ἀρχόντων, Heb. para‘ôth, Ar. fara‘, to excel; A.V. beginning of revenges from the analogy of Aram. phara. In Numbers 6:5, Ezekiel 44:20, pere‘ = flowing locks. Cp. W. R. Smith on Jdg 5:2, in Black’s Judges, in Smaller Cambridge Bible for Schools.
43 Sing, O ye nations, His people,
For His servants’ blood He avengeth,
And vengeance He wreaks on His foes,
And assoils the land of His people.
Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.43. For this LXX gives eight lines, part quoted in Romans 15:10.
Sing] Heb. harnînû, the most ringing of the vbs with this meaning.
assoils] Covers, or clears, from guilt, cp. Deuteronomy 21:8.
the land of His people] So Sam., LXX, etc., doubtless rightly. Heb. as in R.V.
And Moses came and spake all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hoshea the son of Nun.44. Concluding Note. Can hardly be from the same editorial hand as Deuteronomy 31:30. It is probable from the opening words, And Moses came, that this is a fragment from the end of a narrative of divine instructions given to Moses regarding the Song, such as we find in Deuteronomy 31:16-22 (cp. Exodus 19:7; Exodus 24:3); and indeed LXX repeats Deuteronomy 31:22 before it. Its position here is another sign of the editorial re-arrangements which the materials composing these chs. have undergone. Notice the non-deuter. phrase the people, not all Israel. For this Song LXX has this Law, probably an inadvertence. Hoshea‘ (Numbers 13:8; Numbers 13:16, P) is a clerical error (by omission of one jot!) for Yehoshua‘ or Joshua, which is confirmed by all the versions. The addition of Joshua agrees with the Pl. write ye of Deuteronomy 31:19.
And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel:45. made an end, etc.] Deuteronomy 20:9, Deuteronomy 26:12, Deuteronomy 31:24. Whether all these words originally referred only to the Code, or are meant by the editor to cover the hortatory addresses added to it, cannot be determined. All Israel, D’s formula.
45–47. A Postscript
Moses again exhorts all Israel to attend to the Law and enforce it on their children, for it is their life, by which they shall prolong their days in the Land. Both the ideas and the language are deuteronomic, and the passage belongs to one of the hortatory supplements to the Law. Most connect it with Deuteronomy 31:24-27.
Berth.’s proposal to read Shirah, Song, for Torah, Law, in Deuteronomy 32:46 (see on Deuteronomy 31:24) and to refer all the vv. to the Song, is contradicted by the phraseology, which is elsewhere consistently used of the Law.
And he said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law.46. Set your heart] So Exodus 9:21, and with another vb Deuteronomy 7:23. On heart = mind see Deuteronomy 6:6, Deuteronomy 11:18, Deuteronomy 29:4.
I testify against you] See on Deuteronomy 8:19.
that ye may command them to your children] So Heb. and not as in R.V. The idiom is also found in Deuteronomy 4:10. On D’s care for the young see Deuteronomy 6:7.
to observe to do] For this formula see on Deuteronomy 4:6.
For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.47. vain] Or, empty, without profit.
it is your life] As in Deuteronomy 30:20.
prolong your days … whither ye go over, etc.] For these formulas see on Deuteronomy 4:26.
And the LORD spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying,48. that selfsame day] A standing phrase of P, e.g. Genesis 7:13; Genesis 17:23; Genesis 17:26, Exodus 12:17. Contr. the deuter. this day and the like. The day is that stated in Deuteronomy 1:3, also from P; q.v.
48–52. Moses’ Call to Death
He is bidden climb Mt Nebo and view Canaan, and die there like Aaron on Mt Hor, because of his trespass against Jehovah at Ḳadesh. He shall see but not enter the Land.—The language (including the place-names) and the reason given for Moses’ failure to enter the Land, are those of P (see notes below). There is a doublet in Numbers 27:12-14. Which of the two passages is original and which editorial is doubtful. The additions to this one point to its being the later.
Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession:49. Abarim] Lit. the men or regions beyond or over there. Only in P, Jeremiah 22:20 R.V., and Ezekiel 39:11 (where read Abarîm). The name is proof that the people who used it were settled W. of Jordan and looked across the valley of that river and the Dead Sea, to the E. range beyond. See the present writer’s ‘Abarîm’ in E. B., HGHL 53, 548, 553, and Mod. Criticism, etc., 18 f.
unto mount Nebo … Jericho] Not in Numbers 27:12-14, unsuitable in the mouth of the Deity, and obviously a geographical note like those in chs. 2 f. Nebo is P’s name for E’s and D’s Pisgah. See on Deuteronomy 3:17, Deuteronomy 34:1.
I] The shorter form of the Heb. pronoun as always in P, while in Deut. the longer is used, for exceptions see on Deuteronomy 12:30.
children of Israel] So throughout the passage; not as in D all Israel.
for a possession] Not the deuter. yerushah or naḥalah (inheritance), Deuteronomy 4:21, etc., but ’ahuzzah as elsewhere in P, e.g. Leviticus 14:34. The term is exactly equal to the Fr. law-term ‘saisine,’ the Eng. ‘seisin’ or ‘seizin,’ the act of taking corporal possession or the legal equivalent of this.
And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:50. unto thy people] Better thy father’s folk, as always in this phrase. The word, ‘am, originally meant this, but in Heb. is usually widened to people, while in Ar. it = ‘father’s brother’ and ‘father’s brother’s children’ (Driver). The whole phrase is frequent in P, Genesis 25:8; Genesis 35:29, Numbers 20:24; Numbers 20:26, etc., and is found nowhere else.
on Hor, the mountain] Always so in P; cp. Numbers 20:22-29; Numbers 21:4; Numbers 33:37-41. Contr. above Deuteronomy 10:6 (E).
Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of MeribahKadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.51. because ye brake faith with me] So Driver. The phrase is chiefly found in P, Ez. and Chron. The judgement on Moses is explained not as in Deut. by the sin of the people, but by that of Aaron and Moses himself. See above, Further Note to Ch. Deuteronomy 1:36-38.
in the midst] Heb. betok, P’s synonym for the bekě́rĕb of Deut.
the waters of Meribah of Kadesh] As elsewhere in P, Numbers 27:14; cp. Numbers 20:13; Numbers 20:24, Ezekiel 47:19; Ezekiel 48:28, Deuteronomy 33:2, Psalm 81:7 (8), Psalm 106:32.
wilderness of Zin] Heb. Ṣin, only in P, Numbers 13:21, etc. See above, introd. to ch. Deuteronomy 2:1-8.
sanctified me] Cp. P, Numbers 20:12; Numbers 27:14. Notice the play upon the name Ḳadesh.
Yet thou shalt see the land before thee; but thou shalt not go thither unto the land which I give the children of Israel.52. This v. is in addition to Numbers 27:12-14.
before thee] The Heb. is stronger, lit. from in front of = over against (Deuteronomy 28:66). Scot. ‘forenenst.’