“And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them; that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed” Deuteronomy 31:21

In this final article on the Song of Witness we will consider Yahweh’s judgments upon Israel for their unfaithfulness; His “provocation” of them with a “foolish nation”; His ultimate intervention on their behalf and deliverance of them, and the glorious finale, the rejoicing of all nations with “His people”.

“When Yahweh saw it, He abhorred Them” Deuteronomy 32:19

Notice how many times reference is made to “provoking” in verses 16 to 21—five times. In verses 19 to 27 we are told about the awful judgments that would befall the forgetful, unmindful nation of Israel. Looking back over the nation’s history we can see with what remarkable precision these words have come to pass, right down to our day; and as we know they shall yet culminate in the final drama of “Jacob’s trouble” which shall be brought to an end by the intervention of the Messiah.

All fathers react unfavourably to provocation by their sons and daughters (v19). For this cause Yahweh declared He would “hide his face from them”, and the cause is repeated, “for they are a very froward [rsv perverse] generation, children in whom is no faith” (v20). Notice how the “hiding of Yahweh’s face” presages disfavour and trouble (Deut 31:17; Psa 104:29), whereas the shining of His face is synonymous with grace and peace (Num 6:24–27).

“They have Moved Me to Jealousy” Deuteronomy 32:21

Israel’s infidelity in worshipping strange gods provoked Yahweh to jealousy. Human jealousy is often cruel, and excessive and destructive. Yahweh’s jealousy, a quality which is always present where there is true love, is real bringing judgment with a view to ultimate restoration.

When verse 21 is set out in verse, as it is in the original and the rsv, the parallelism and balance in the thoughts can be appreciated:

“They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god;
They have provoked me with their idols.
So I will stir them to jealousy with those who are no people
I will provoke them with a foolish nation.”

We want to spend a little time considering how these words are picked up by prophet and apostle alike. Remember, this is Yahweh’s Song of Witness, and we should not be surprised to find reference being made to it in Israel’s subsequent history. Had they heeded these words of warning, the judgments which befell them could have been averted (Psa 81:13).

First of all we see that Isaiah takes up these words in reference to Judah, which had turned away from Yahweh (late in Hezekiah’s and Manasseh’s reigns): “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts; a people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick” (cp Exod 20:24). So here we have portrayed the persistent rebellion and provocation of Yahweh’s people despite His continuing appeals and overtures to them. That the “Song of Witness” is in focus is not only clear from the reference to “provoking”, but Isaiah 65:6,7 reads: “Behold, it is written before me [that is, in the Song of Witness], I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense into their bosom, your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith Yahweh, which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed me upon the hills: therefore will I measure their former work into their bosom”. The emphasis laid upon recompensing here recalls the words found later in the Song of Witness, “to me belongeth vengeance, and recompense” (Deut 32:35).

Another feature in common between this section of Isaiah and the Song of Witness is the Fatherhood of God. Isaiah appeals to the Fatherhood of Yahweh as he seeks special treatment for his people—“Thou Yahweh, art our father, our redeemer…” (63:16); and, “But now, O Yahweh, thou art our father; we are the clay and thou our potter…” (64:8). The Song of Witness has presented Yahweh as the Father of the nation, “Do ye thus requite Yahweh, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee?” (Deut 32:6).

Deuteronomy, Isaiah Brought Together in Romans

The words that we have been considering are cited one after the other in Romans 10. In verse 19 Paul asks the question, “Did not Israel know?” Know what? The answer to this question is twofold and Israel knew that they would be unheeding of God’s ways and that as a result the Gentiles would be included in His purpose. From earliest times Moses their teacher had made this clear in the Song of Witness, for as Paul puts it, “First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you” (Rom 10:19, citing Deut 32:21).

Then he quotes from Isaiah 64 and 65, the very part of Scripture we have shown to have its roots in the Song of Witness, to further amplify the rejection of Israel and inclusion of Gentiles. In Romans 10:20 Paul first quotes Isaiah 65:1 (lxx), “ but Isaiah is very bold [rv waxes daring], and saith, I was found of them that sought me not [ie the Gentiles]; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me”. Isaiah’s words vindicate Moses’ anticipation. They would disturb the Jewish mind, so filled as it was with a sense of privilege and superiority. Gentiles were now turning to God because He was calling them in the work of Paul (Acts 15:14). In the words that follow, in Isaiah 65:2, God takes the initiative, “I said, Behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name” (ie Gentile nations).

But had God acted with disregard and without feeling toward His chosen people? No. The following words, from Isaiah 65:1, describe Israel’s indifference to His persistent overtures, “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom 10:21). So Scripture, the Song of Witness and later Isaiah attest the fact that Gentiles would accept God’s invitation and Israel would reject it. So again we have three points of reference, the Song of Witness (Deut 32), alluded to by Isaiah, and then later, both being brought together in Romans 10.

Israel Punished but Preserved

Deuteronomy 32:22–34

The dreadful list of Divine judgments to come upon Israel are recounted in verses 22–25. Severe as they would be, they would not utterly consume Israel, for Yahweh’s purpose with them necessitated their preservation (Mal 3:6). The chastening hand of God would be restrained by the inevitable boast of Israel’s enemies who would say on overcoming Israel, “Our hand is high, and Yahweh hath not done all this” (v27). Then there is a plea with Israel to be wise and consider their glorious alternative destiny:

“O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end” (v 29, cp Num 23:10).

Then follows a comparison between the “rock” (ie the gods) of the nations and Yahweh (verses 30–33). Israel’s inexplicable victories when so few vanquished so many, could only be explained by Yahweh’s blessing upon them (v 30; Lev 26:8). Even Israel’s enemies made the observations that Yahweh was supreme and incomparable (cp Joshua 2:9,10; 1 Sam 4:8). All who trust in idols shall come to grief: “Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps” (v 33).

“How Unsearchable are His Judgments” Romans 11:33

Then follows an intriguing verse: “Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures?” (Deut 32:34) What is being referred to here? Is not God referring to His punishment and ultimate redemption of His people, while on the other hand the Gentiles are the beneficiaries of Israel’s fall, until the time comes when God shall receive them back, when “there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom 11:26). In that coming day Jews and Gentiles shall rejoice in God’s saving work in Christ. This is the beautiful note on which the Song of Witness ends, “Rejoice, O ye nations with his people” (Deut 32:43), words which are cited in Romans 15:10.

But coming back to the reference to these things being laid up in store and sealed among Yahweh’s treasures (v34), Paul explains the demise of Israel as providing opportunity for Gentiles to be partakers of God’s mercy if they believed: “For as ye [Gentiles] in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these [Jews] also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:30–32). What a beautiful balance there is in God’s dealings. Whilst punishing Israel for unbelief His gifts and calling remain unchangeable (v29). Whilst the Gentiles were “outside” of the calling of God, an opportunity came their way when Jewry rejected Jesus of Nazareth, their Messiah. In an overall sense both were in unbelief and both received mercy (v31). With these thoughts Paul exclaims, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (v33). Paul seems to be alluding to God’s comment in the Song of Witness, “Is not this laid up with me, and sealed up among my treasures?” It is as if the mystery, the treasure once concealed with God, has not been revealed and Paul is making it known as the “apostle of the Gentiles” (cp Rom 16:25; Eph 3:8,9).

“To Me Belongeth Vengeance and Recompence” Deuteronomy 32:35

In Deuteronomy 32:35–38 Yahweh reveals His ultimate role in relation to Israel. He will inflict vengeance upon the enemies of His chosen nation, and will move to vindicate them. In verse 35 Yahweh asserts His right to exercise vengeance upon His people for their sins: “Their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand…” History testifies to the judgments that have befallen Israel because they rejected their God and His Son.

But we have the assurance that this judgment will not be indiscriminate, even though Yahweh’s vindication of them will not take place until they have passed through the direst perils, almost to the point of annihilation: “For Yahweh shall judge [rsv vindicate, Heb mishpot, maintain the right; lxx krino, 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” (rsv “When he sees that their power is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free”; lxx “For he saw that they were utterly weakened, and failed in the hostile invasion, and were become feeble”). Here there is reference to the final moments, when Israel is invaded by Gogue and they are on the verge of total defeat with “two parts” in all the land “cut off and dead” (Zech 13). At this low ebb the compassion and indignation of Yahweh is ignited, and He will move to vindicate His people. We read of this amazing drama and future headline in Zechariah 12 and 13. It is then that they realise redemption has come from a most unexpected source, at the hand of one whose side has been pierced and whose hands and feet have wounds in them! The utter shock of this fact, and the coming to grips with this long national and historical sin of having rejected their Messiah, will serve to convert Yahweh’s people and write His law upon the fleshly tables of their hearts. Thus all Israel shall be saved.

In verses 37 and 38 Yahweh chides Israel who have been redeemed by His mighty power, asking, “Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted…? let them rise up and help you and be your protection”. But so complete will be Israel’s remorse and sorrow that they will abhor themselves, make a full confession, and renounce their wayward past.

Yahweh Vindicated

In the remaining verses of the Song of Witness Yahweh asserts His incomparable power. No power on earth can be compared with Him. This power shall be unleashed upon the nations at Armageddon and the whole world shall be prostrated at His feet. In few passages of the Scripture do we have such a statement of Yahweh’s power and His will to use it in His time.

“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.
For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live forever.
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.
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” (Deut 32:39–42).

In all the mighty display of power the end result is one of justice and rejoicing by Jew and Gentile:

“Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people [cited Rom 15:10]:
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.”

Unlike the indiscriminate use of power by the mighty weapons in the hands of men today, in which the innocent suffer along with the wicked, Yahweh will measure His judgments in righteousness, and for that day we long. These final words are an answer to the request of Habakkuk when he, too, saw the mighty power of Yahweh in vision and when he said, “O Yahweh I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Yahweh, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (3:2). We might well join in this refrain also.