Deuteronomy 32:1
Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XXXII.

(1) Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.—Comp. the opening of Isaiah 1:2, which is almost identical, excepting that the two words for “hearing” are transposed.

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, Psalm 50:6; Revelation 19:1-2.32:1,2 Moses begins with a solemn appeal to heaven and earth, concerning the truth and importance of what he was about to say. His doctrine is the gospel, the speech of God, the doctrine of Christ; the doctrine of grace and mercy through him, and of life and salvation by him.Song of Moses

If Deuteronomy 32:1-3 be regarded as the introduction, and Deuteronomy 32:43 as the conclusion, the main contents of the song may be grouped under three heads, namely,

-1Deu 32:4-18, the faithfulness of God, the faithlessness of Israel;

-2Deu 32:19-33, the chastisement and the need of its infliction by God;

-3Deu 32:34-42, God's compassion upon the low and humbled state of His people.

The Song differs signally in diction and idiom from the preceding chapters; just as a lyrical passage is conceived in modes of thought wholly unlike those which belong to narrative or exhortation, and is uttered in different phraseology.

There are, however, in the Song numerous coincidences both in thoughts and words with other parts of the Pentateuch, and especially with Deuteronomy; while the resemblances between it and Psalm 90:"A Prayer of Moses," have been rightly regarded as important.

The Song has reference to a state of things which did not ensue until long after the days of Moses. In this it resembles other parts of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch which no less distinctly contemplate an apostasy (e. g. Deuteronomy 28:15; Leviticus 26:14), and describe it in general terms. If once we admit the possibility that Moses might foresee the future apostasy of Israel, it is scarcely possible to conceive how such foresight could be turned to better account by him than by the writing of this Song. Exhibiting as it does God's preventing mercies, His people's faithlessness and ingratitude, God's consequent judgments, and the final and complete triumph of the divine counsels of grace, it forms the summary of all later Old Testament prophecies, and gives as it were the framework upon which they are laid out. Here as elsewhere the Pentateuch presents itself as the foundation of the religious life of Israel in after times. The currency of the Song would be a standing protest against apostasy; a protest which might well check waverers, and warn the faithful that the revolt of others was neither unforeseen nor unprovided for by Him in whom they trusted.

That this Ode must on every ground take the very first rank in Hebrew poetry is universally allowed.

Deuteronomy 32:1-3

Introduction. Heaven and earth are here invoked, as elsewhere (see the marginal references), in order to impress on the hearers the importance of what is to follow.

CHAPTER 32

De 32:1-43. Moses' Song, Which Sets Forth the Perfections of God.

1. Give ear, O ye heavens; … hear, O earth—The magnificence of the exordium, the grandeur of the theme, the frequent and sudden transitions, the elevated strain of the sentiments and language, entitle this song to be ranked amongst the noblest specimens of poetry to be found in the Scriptures.The Divine song, in which God’s power, mercy to his people, and vengeance on his enemies exalted, their ingratitude is rebuked, Deu 32:1-18. God’s wrath and future judgments, Deu 32:19-26. Yet the idolatrous nations to be destroyed, and they at last to be enlarged, Deu 32:27-43. He exhorts them to set their hearts on these words for their good, Deu 32:41-47. God sendeth him up to Mount Nebo, there to see the promised land and die, Deu 32:48-52.

O ye heavens, and, O earth: either,

1. Angels and men; or,

2. You lifeless and senseless creatures, heaven and earth, which he calls upon partly to accuse the stupidity of Israel, that were more dull of hearing than these; and partly as witnesses of the truth of his sayings, and the justice of God’s proceedings against them.

Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth,

the words of my mouth. This song is prefaced and introduced in a very grand and pompous manner, calling on the heavens and earth to give attention; by which they themselves may be meant, by a "prosopopaeia", a figure frequently used in Scripture, when things of great moment and importance are spoken of; and these are called upon to hearken, either to rebuke the stupidity and inattention of men, or to show that these would shed or withhold their influences, their good things, according to the obedience or disobedience of Israel; or because these are durable and lasting, and so would ever be witnesses for God and against his people: Gaon, as Aben Ezra observes, by the heavens understands the angels, and by the earth the men of the earth, the inhabitants of both worlds, which is not amiss: and by these words of Moses are meant the words of the song, referred to in Deuteronomy 31:29; here called his words, not because they were of him, but because they were put into his mouth, and about to be expressed by him, not in his own name, but in the name of the Lord; and not as the words of the law, which came by him, but as the words and doctrines of the Gospel concerning Christ, of whom Moses here writes; whose character he gives, and whose person and office he vindicates against the Jews, whom he accuses and brings a charge of ingratitude against for rejecting him, to which our Lord seems to refer, John 5:45; the prophecies of their rejection, the calling of the Gentiles, the destruction of the Jews by the Romans, and the miseries they should undergo, and yet should not be wholly extirpated out of the world, but continue a people, who in the latter days would be converted, return to their own land, and their enemies be destroyed; which are some of the principal things in this song, and which make it worthy of attention and observation.

Give ear, O ye {a} heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

(a) As witness of this people's ingratitude.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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[150]), 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.

[150] 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!Verse 1. - Heaven and earth are summoned to hearken to his words, both because of their importance, and because heaven and earth were interested, so to speak, as witnesses of the manifestation of God's righteousness and faithfulness about to be celebrated (cf. Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 31:28, 29; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 2:12; Jeremiah 22:29). With the installation of Joshua on the part of God, the official life of Moses was brought to a close. Having returned from the tabernacle, he finished the writing out of the laws, and then gave the book of the law to the Levites, with a command to put it by the side of the ark of the covenant, that it might be there for a witness against the people, as He knew its rebellion and stiffneckedness (Deuteronomy 31:24-27). על־ספר כּתב, to write upon a book, equivalent to write down, commit to writing. תּמּם עד, till their being finished, i.e., complete. By the "Levites who bare the ark of the covenant" we are not to understand ordinary Levites, but the Levitical priests, who were entrusted with the ark. "The Levites" is simply a contraction for the full expression, "the priests the sons of Levi" (Deuteronomy 31:9). It is true that, according to Numbers 4:4., the Kohathites were appointed to carry the holy vessels, which included the ark of the covenant, on the journey through the desert; but it was the priests, and not they, who were the true bearers and guardians of the holy things, as we may see from the fact that the priests had first of all to wrap up these holy things in a careful manner, before they handed them over to the Kohathites, that they might not touch the holy things and die (Numbers 4:15). Hence we find that on solemn occasions, when the ark was to be brought out in all its full significance and glory, - as, for example, in the crossing of the Jordan (Joshua 3:3., Deuteronomy 4:9-10), when encompassing Jericho (Joshua 6:6, Joshua 6:12), at the setting up of the law on Ebal and Gerizim (Joshua 8:33), and at the consecration of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 8:3), - it was not by the Levites, but by the priests, that the ark of the covenant was borne. In fact the Levites were, strictly speaking, only their (the priests') servants, who relieved them of this and the other labour, so that what they did was done in a certain sense through them. If the (non-priestly) Levites were not to touch the ark of the covenant, and not even to put in the poles (Numbers 4:6), Moses would not have handed over the law-book, to be kept by the ark of the covenant to them, but to the priests. ארון מצּד, at the side of the ark, or, according to the paraphrase of Jonathan, "in a case on the right side of the ark of the covenant," which may be correct, although we must not think of this case, as many of the early theologians do, as a secondary ark attached to the ark of the covenant (see Lundius, Jd. Heiligth. pp. 73, 74). The tables of the law were deposited in the ark (Exodus 25:16; Exodus 40:20), and the book of the law was to be kept by its side. As it formed, from its very nature, simply an elaborate commentary upon the decalogue, it was also to have its place outwardly as an accompaniment to the tables of the law, for a witness against the people, in the same manner as the song in the mouth of the people (Deuteronomy 31:21). For, as Moses adds in Deuteronomy 31:27, in explanation of his instructions, "I know thy rebelliousness, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the Lord (vid., Deuteronomy 9:7); and how much more after my death."

With these words Moses handed over the complete book of the law to the Levitical priests. For although the handing over is not expressly mentioned, it is unquestionably implied in the words, "Take this book, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant," as the finishing of the writing of the laws is mentioned immediately before. But if Moses finished the writing of the law after he had received instructions from the Lord to compose the ode, what he wrote will reach to Deuteronomy 31:23; and what follows from Deuteronomy 31:24 onwards will form the appendix to his work by a different hand.

(Note: The objection brought against this view by Riehm, namely, that "it founders on the fact that the style and language in Deuteronomy 31:24-30 and Deuteronomy 32:44-47 are just the same as in the earlier portion of the book," simply shows that he has not taken into consideration that, with the simple style adopted in Hebrew narrative, we could hardly expect in eleven verses, which contain for the most part simply words and sayings of Moses, to find any very striking difference of language or of style. This objection, therefore, merely proves that no valid arguments can be adduced against the view in question.)

The supposition that Moses himself inserted his instructions concerning the preservation of the book of the law, and the ode which follows, is certainly possible, but not probable. The decision as to the place where it should be kept was not of such importance as to need insertion in the book of the law, since sufficient provision for its safe keeping had been made by the directions in Deuteronomy 31:9.; and although God had commanded him to write the ode, it was not for the purpose of inserting it on the Thorah as an essential portion of it, but to let the people learn it, to put it in the mouth of the people. The allusion to this ode in Deuteronomy 31:19. furnishes no conclusive evidence, either that Moses himself included it in the law-book which he had written with the account of his oration in Deuteronomy 31:28-30 and Deuteronomy 32:1-43, or that the appendix which Moses did not write commences at Deuteronomy 31:14 of this chapter. For all that follows with certainty from the expression "this song" (Deuteronomy 31:19 and Deuteronomy 31:22), which certainly points to the song in ch. 32, is that Moses himself handed over the ode to the priests with the complete book of the law, as a supplement to the law, and that this ode was then inserted by the writer of the appendix in the appendix itself.

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