In this second study of the Song of Witness recorded in Deuteronomy 32 at the end of Moses’ life, we shall consider further references to it in Israel’s history and apostolic times. As we do so we should ever be mindful of the wonderful solidarity of the Divine revelation. Here is a Song deliberately written before Israel’s history as a nation, containing warnings and an outline of those events in a way no human author could have known or written. Here prophecy and history are an exact fit, making it clear that the Bible is inspired, that “holy men of God spake as they were moved [Roth borne along] by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). We shall see further examples of how prophets and apostles reach back and allude to or quote the words of Deuteronomy 32 to substantiate their message.

“A Perverse and Crooked Generation” Deuteronomy 32:5

Because Yahweh knows all things, He was able to forecast accurately how Israel would fare in their subsequent history. Despite Yahweh’s moral integrity (v4), Israel would soon stray: “They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation” (LXX genea skolia kai diestrammene). There are two occasions where this phrase is picked up in the New Testament and applied to that generation. The first is in Acts 2:39. Peter has just, for the first time, proclaimed salvation by baptism into the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Urging his hearers to respond to the grace of God, and knowing that Jerusalem would be decimated by the Romans in AD70, he “testified and exhorted saying, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Grk sothete apo tes geneas tes skolias tautes).

It is notable that the record says: “with many other words did he testify….” (Gk diemartyrato; the word used to describe the “Song of Witness” in the Septuagint, martyrion Deut 31:26).

The other reference is to be found in Philippians 2:14,15 where the apostle Paul exhorts the brethren to “do all things without murmurings and disputings: that they might be blameless and harmless, the sons [Gk tekna] of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation” (Grk en meso geneas skolias kai diestrammenes). Here the words are an exact quotation from the Septuagint; even the phrase “the sons of God without rebuke” (tekna Theou amometa). Paul’s reference to “murmurings” also takes us back to the wilderness generation.

“He Kept Him as the Apple of His Eye”

This is a beautiful expression for we all know how sensitive the eye is to touch. Yahweh is very aware of how the nations treat His people!! Using the same figure, David implored Yahweh, “keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings” (Psa 17:8).

We find this phrase used in Zechariah 2:8: “For thus saith Yahweh of hosts; After the glory [of Yahweh manifested in Jerusalem—v5] hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye”. So with loving care and jealousy for His people Yahweh will deliver them from their oppressors among the nations. So far as He is concerned, and despite the intervening history of waywardness, they remain the “apple of his eye”.

But this is not the only reference to Deuteronomy 32 in Zechariah 2. In verse 9 we have another eloquent expression of Yahweh’s relationship to Israel: “For Yahweh’s portion is his people: Jacob is the lot [mrg cord, RSV allotted heritage] of his inheritance”. In the next vision in Zechariah 2 Yahweh dwells in the midst of the “daughter of Zion”, and this is the cause of rejoicing. Verse 12 described Yahweh “inheriting Judah his portion in the holy land, and choosing Jerusalem again”. In that day all nations will see and learn a lesson. Who are Yahweh’s people, His portion, lot and inheritance, and what is the city He has chosen?

“Hush! all flesh before Yahweh, — For he hath roused himself up out of his holy dwelling” (Zech 2:13 Roth).

“As an Eagle Stirreth Up Her Nest” Deuteronomy 32:11

Reference to Yahweh as an eagle recalls His words to Moses, “Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself” (Exod 19:4). This glorious figure of the parent bird rescuing the young as it learns to fly by coming under the fledgling, depicts Yahweh’s loving care for His people when desperate and unable to help themselves. Brought safely back to the lofty nest we read that Yahweh made him (Israel) “ride on the high places of the earth” (v13). This reward is referred to in another notable passage depicting the reward Yahweh will give to those who honour him, not doing their own ways, nor finding their own pleasure, nor speaking their own words: “Then thou shall delight thyself in Yahweh; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of Yahweh hath spoken it” (Isaiah 58:14).

“There was No strange God [El] with Him” Deuteronomy 32:12

Psalm 81, a Psalm of Asaph, is a lamentation over Israel’s failure to hearken to Yahweh’s words. Deuteronomy is indelibly imprinted in its thoughts. Consider the opening words of the Song of Witness:

“Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth” (Deut 32:1). Compare them with Psalm 81:8:

“Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou will hearken unto me”.

A clear alignment between these two portions of Scripture is apparent and this is substantiated by the words that follow: “There shall no strange god [el] be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god [el]”. Notice that these words bear upon Yahweh’s words when He redeemed Israel and led him to his inheritance: “So Yahweh alone did lead him, and there was no strange god [el] with him”.

Then Asaph recalls Yahweh’s wondrous redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Truly He was their God and deliverer: “I am Yahweh thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt”. In Deuteronomy 32:7–12, the Song of Witness calls upon subsequent generations of Israelites to recall their beginnings, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee… He found him [Jacob] in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness…” (cp Deut 26:5–10).

The words of Psalm 81:10 effectively record what God had said to His people: “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it”. Deuteronomy 32:13–14 records the richness with which Yahweh fed His people.

But the psalm laments that Israel would not hearken and as a result they were given over to their own hearts’ lust (v11,12). Had they but been obedient, their enemies would soon have been subdued (v13–15). Reflecting upon what might have been their lot Asaph says, “He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee” (v16). A comparison of these words with the Song of Witness makes it obvious that Asaph is paraphrasing the thoughts: “He [Yahweh] made him [Israel] 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 [sela], and oil out of the flinty rock [tzur]; 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” (Deut 32:13,14).

So we can see the use the psalmist was mak ing of the Song of Witness. Asaph was reading the words of Deuteronomy 32 and matching them against Israel’s tragic history. The prospects for the nation, redeemed by Yahweh, were so bright and promising but a failure to heed His word had brought about their demise. Inexorably Yahweh’s word had “taken hold” on history and moulded it. In their lamentable and tragic history there lies a lesson for us today. Those living in the western world are “full” and live in the lap of luxury. If we should fail to heed the words of the Son of God, we, too, will suffer the same fate.

“But Jeshurun Waxed Fat, and Kicked” Deuteronomy 32:15

These words in the Song of Witness return to the sin of God’s people referred to earlier (Deut 31:26,27,29; 32:5,6). The blessings of Yahweh ironically would lead to Israel forsaking Yahweh, despite the warnings!

The term “Jeshurun” is one of affection and recalls the birth of Israel. The word is defined by Young’s Concordance to mean “the darling upright” one and comes from the Hebrew word “yashar” meaning “right, upright”. It is translated “right” in Deuteronomy 32:4. “Jeshurun” occurs only four times (Deut 32:15; 33:5,26; Isa 44:2). The latter reference coming much later in Israel’s history is significant. It recalls Israel’s birth and Yahweh’s continuing affection for His servant Jacob despite the years of infidelity and apostasy. Much like the Song of Witness, it records the ultimate reconciliation and union of Yahweh and His people: “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith Yahweh that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee: Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen” (Isa 44:1,2).

The picture presented in Deuteronomy 32:15 is of a well-fed animal rebelling and treating with scant regard its benefactor: “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked [see 1 Sam 2:29 where the term is used of the priestly house of Eli which treated Yahweh’s offerings shamefully]: 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”.

Moses had warned Israel of the dangers of affluence. He knew that they would inherit “a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, and thou shalt not lack anything… When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless Yahweh thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. beware that thou forget not Yahweh thy God… Lest when thou hast eaten and art full and hast built goodly houses… then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget Yahweh thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deut 8:8–14).

Many times wealth and affluence have been the downfall of Yahweh’s people when the eyes focus on “the things that are seen” and the eye of faith grows dim. Often the victim is oblivious of his condition, so complete can “the things that are seen” numb the conscience. The warning reaches out to us in these perilous, affluent and hedonistic last days. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked… I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev 3:17,16).

Conclusion

Whilst Moses’ words of warning were primarily directed to Israel, they have relevance to the ecclesia of all times and especially in these last days; and whilst it is fascinating to see where the words are picked up and cited by prophet and apostle, we would be foolish not to measure ourselves by them as well and heed the warnings and lessons of the past.

Our next article will conclude our consideration of Deuteronomy 32.