To begin, in only three verses, Yahweh tells Moses that all of his teaching in the book of Deuteronomy will not have its desired impact on Israel: “This people will rise and @#!*% after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them” (Deuteronomy 31:16). But Moses’ efforts to preach to them will not be in vain; his words will serve as a testimony against Israel: “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:19, 21).
The Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 contrasts Yahweh’s mercy with Israel’s rebellion: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of
faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation” (Deuteronomy 32:4-5). It makes Israel’s sin stand out by contrasting it with the grace through which Yahweh has given them His innumerable and exclusive benefits: “Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is he not your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (Deuteronomy 32:6)
Israel’s sin blooms during the material prosperity that distracts their spiritual focus on Yahweh: “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger” (Deuteronomy 32:15-16). Therefore, Yahweh will punish them in measure with their sins: “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21). He also will take away the prosperity that blinded them (Deuteronomy 32:22).
Even so, He will hold back His punishment because of the pride of the nations that will attack His people: “I would have said, ‘I will cut them to pieces; I will wipe them from human memory,’ had I not feared provocation by the enemy, lest their adversaries should misunderstand, lest they should say, ‘Our hand is triumphant, it is not the LORD who did all this’” (Deuteronomy 32:27). Therefore He will punish His people, but not to the limit that they deserve: “For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free” (Deuteronomy 32:36). Through this whole process, Yahweh will demonstrate that He is exalted and unique, that He is righteous and will execute vengeance on His enemies, whether they are among Israel or among the pagan nations that reside nearby (Deuteronomy 32:39-43).
As the Israelites must repeat this song to recall and assimilate its lessons, so we must pay it special attention, too. First, the themes described in this song will repeat themselves throughout the Bible, often in the historical books of the Old Testament but above all in the prophets. We will read repeatedly of Israel’s sin for following false gods in their prosperity, of the just retribution that Yahweh exacts from them for their sin, their loss of prosperity, land and life to the invasion of foreign troops, and the end of their punishment when the foreigners exalt themselves in pride. And this entire process will underline that Yahweh is exalted and One-of-a-kind, that He is righteous; He is the All-powerful One and the only One who saves.
Second, together with this message of Yahweh’s just judgment, we want to remember yesterday’s lesson on repentance. Today we read that
Yahweh’s judgment is coming quickly: “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the
time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and
their doom comes swiftly” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Yesterday we read that even in the most severe punishment there is opportunity to repent: “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in
all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you” (Deuteronomy 30:1-3). We will see this dynamic throughout the historical books and the prophets: coming judgment is announced to awaken repentance in a remnant of Yahweh’s people. Yahweh’s judgment is coming quickly, and this news urges some to take the narrow road of repentance before it closes completely. As the prophet Zephaniah says, “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD” (Zephaniah 2:3).
Therefore, how should we react to the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 today? Just as the Israelites should have reacted in the generations in which they sang this song: by immediate repentance, before the arrival of the certain and deserved judgment that it announces.