The Song of Moses, Part 1
Aug 12, 2013
In Deuteronomy 32:1-43 we are given the lyric for the Song of Moses. Ferrar Fenton divides the song into ten stanzas. The Jerusalem Bible shows eight or nine stanzas separated by a double space. Most other Bibles do not try to divide the song at all.
If the song had been set up as an acrostic, as many of the psalms are, it would be much easier to divide into sections or stanzas. In an acrostic, the lines (in the Hebrew language) begin with successive Hebrew letters. But the Song of Moses is not structured that way.
In the absence of clearly defined stanzas, we must turn to yet another tool of Hebrew literature to help us understand the structure of this song. The structure is known as Step Parallelism. We see this literary tool throughout the Scriptures, both in the Old Testament and in the New. The New Testament language is Greek, but the literary style reflects Hebrew thought patterns. For example, see the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-9, which may be outlined as follows:
A Jesus comes
B Zacchaeus—a rich man
C The crowd (hostile)
D Up the Tree
E Jesus’ act of love and mercy
D2 Down the Tree
C2 The crowd (angry)
B2 Zaccaeus—money for others
A2 Jesus’ final word of love
In this parallelism, the main focus is in the center: Jesus’ act of love and mercy. The structure of the story itself conveys this as the most important message and the primary focus of Luke. The core is, however, flanked by the “D” and “D2” which move in opposite directions—the first being UP the tree, and the second DOWN the tree. There is also a parallel between the two “C’s” and “B’s” and “A’s.” The story moves the reader toward the core and then backs us out of it to where we started.
Sometimes, the parallelism can include an entire book, such as the Gospel of John, which is built upon the eight miracle-signs recorded there:
A Multiplying the wine
B The ruler’s son
C The impotent man
D Feeding the five thousand
D2 Walking on the sea
C2 The man born blind
B2 The sisters’ brother
A2 Multiplying the fish
These examples of Parallelism show us how Moses structured his song as well. The structure is revealed in Dr. Bullinger’s notes in The Companion Bible.
A Call to hear (32:1-6)
B Goodness and bounty of Yahweh to Israel (32:7-14)
C Israel’s evil return for Yahweh’s goodness (32:15-19)
D Divine reflections on “Lo Ammi” (Not My People) (32:20)
E Yahweh’s provocation of Israel (32:21)
E2 Yahweh’s threats of judgment (32:22-25)
D2 Divine reflections on “Jezreel” (God Scatters) (32:26-33)
C2 Israel’s evil return for Yahweh’s goodness (32:34-38)
B2 Judgments of Yahweh upon Israel (32:39-42)
A2 Call to rejoice (32:43)
The first thing that strikes us in seeing this overall structure of the Song is that one must understand the prophecy of Hosea in order to comprehend it. The book of Hosea bears witness to the Song of Moses, giving further explanation in the light of a later time period. Hence, Moses prophesied of Israel’s demise and restoration even before the nation was brought into the Promised Land. Hosea’s view is much closer to the problem as it manifested in history, for he saw firsthand the utter corruption that Moses saw from afar. Thus, Hosea was able to elaborate on the Song of Moses in greater detail.
So let us begin by looking at Section A, “Call to hear,” seeing it one line at a time in the song in Deuteronomy
The Song of Moses
1 Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak,
And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
2 Let my teaching drop as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
As the droplets on the fresh grass,
And as the showers on the herb.
3 For I proclaim the name of the Lord;
Ascribe greatness to our God!
4 The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just.;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He.
5 They have acted corruptly toward Him,
They are not His children, because of their defect;
But are a perverse and crooked generation.
6 Do you thus repay the Lord,
O foolish and unwise people?
Is not He your Father who has bought you?
He has made you and established you.
This first section gives us the reason for the “Call to hear.” It is because “His work is perfect” (vs. 4). He created all things “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Further, “all His ways are just.” No one can fault Him for injustice or for being without love. He is also a God of “faithfulness,” (Hebrew: amunah, “trustworthy, firm, steadfast”).
He is also “righteous,” (just, fulfilling His word) and “upright” (or straight, correct). This is contrasted with Israel’s ways toward God and other men, for in verse 5 we read of Israel, “They have acted corruptly toward Him.” From the divine point of view, then, “they are not His children, because of their defect.”
The Hebrew word for “defect” is muwm, “spot, blemish, defect.” It is the word used so often of spotted sheep that were disqualified as offerings to God. The word is used in Leviticus 21:17, 18, 21, 23, etc., where it is translated "defect" in the NASB and “blemish” in the KJV.
So Moses tells us that even though Israel was supposed to be the “sheep of His pasture,” they were actually spotted sheep. They were not qualified to be offered to God. To put it another way, they were Jacob’s spotted sheep (Genesis 30:32). Jacob owned only spotted sheep, for that was the deal he made with his uncle Laban, and this turned out to be a prophecy of the nation of Israel itself.
Moses writes of this in his song, saying, “they are not His children, because of their muwm (spots).” The sons of God are without spot or blemish, for they are part of the body of Christ. The true sons of God are qualified to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1, 2). The term “sons” in Hebrew thought conveys more than just physical genealogy. The term was a metaphor for one who resembled his “father.” Thus, we read of the sons of light (Luke 16:8), sons of thunder (Mark 3:17), children of the devil (John 8:44), sons of Belial (1 Samuel 2:12), and children of Abraham (Galatians 3:29).
All of these terms are metaphorical and not meant to be taken in a biological sense. And so, even though earlier the Israelites were called “sons of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1), here Moses prophesies that “they are NOT His children.” Is this a contradiction? Not at all. Being His children (or “sons”) is not about biology, but about resembling their Father in a spiritual way, walking in His ways, doing what He does, and thinking in the way that He thinks.
Only those who are in the image of their heavenly Father are truly the sons of God. This has nothing to do with skin color or any other physical characteristic. The sons of God have no spot or blemish, and if they do, they are not the sons of God. Instead, they are “a crooked and perverse generation” (Deuteronomy 32:5).
Paul quoted this in Philippians 2:15, saying,
15 that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.
The believers were “children of God,” not on account of genealogy, but because they were “lights in the world,” people who differed from others. They were admonished to be “blameless and innocent,” for in this way they could be said to be “children of God.”
Moses says of Israel that they were a foolish and unwise people, for they repaid God’s love and mercy with corrupt and perverse practices.
But thanks to God’s oath, the perverseness of the people could not overrule the intent of God to change their hearts by the power of His Spirit. Moses makes the contrast clear between the people’s Old Covenant vow, which they could not keep, and God’s New Covenant oath, which He cannot fail to keep.
This is the first part of a series titled "The Song of Moses." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones