The Song of Moses, Part 8, The foolishness of Israel
Aug 21, 2013
In Deuteronomy 32:28, 29 Moses says,
28 For they are a nation lacking in counsel
And there is no understanding in them.
29 Would that they were wise, that they would understand this,
That they would discern their future.
Israel lacked intelligent understanding and wisdom. Their foolishness was shown in their failure to “discern their future,” that is, what would come to pass as a result of their sin. Like most people, they thought they could get away with it, that being the “chosen people” was sufficient to obtain the blessings of God in spite of sin.
Their lack of foresight was, in fact, the underlying motive behind the Song of Moses, which was to warn them of impending judgment as well as to give them hope during the time of their judgment.
30 How could one chase a thousand,
And two put ten thousand to flight,
Unless their Rock had sold them,
And the Lord had given them up?
This verse is unclear, so let me offer two alternate paraphrases:
30 How could a single Israelite chase a thousand
And two of them put ten thousand to flight,
Unless their Rock [God] had sold their enemies into their hands,
And the Lord had given them up into the hands of the Israelites?
However, we may also understand this in reverse:
30 How could one of the enemy chase a thousand Israelites,
And two enemies put ten thousand to flight,
Unless Israel’s Rock [God] had sold the Israelites,
And the Lord had given them up into the hands of their enemies?
Either way we read it, Moses intended to say that the only way to win battles was for God to be on your side. But if God “sold them” into slavery as per Exodus 22:3, the enemies would always win those battles. Our second paraphrase seems more likely to be correct, because it sets forth the possibility that God might sell Israel into the hands of their enemies. This actually occurred with each captivity. Judges 3:8 says,
8 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia…
Moses again calls Yahweh the “Rock” of Israel, as in Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, and 18. Since the term refers not only to a rock or cliff but also to the wall around a fortress, it is appropriate to understand this in terms of security from one’s enemies. Hence, when one’s rock, or fortress, gives up those who depend on it for security, it means that one cannot trust the fortress. In this case, Israel could not trust God to save them if they persisted in violating His law.
Moses then speaks of another rock—that is, the gods of other nations in whom they trust—for their own security.
31 Indeed their rock is not like our Rock,
even our enemies themselves judge [palel, “assess”] this.
The nations were well aware that Yahweh, the “Rock” of Israel, was different from their own gods in whom they trusted for protection and salvation. What is that difference?
32 For their vine is from the vine of Sodom,
And from the fields of Gomorrah;
Their grapes are grapes of poison [rosh, “poppies”],
Their clusters, bitter.
33 Their wine is the venom of serpents [tanniyn, “dragon, whale, sea monster, serpent”],
And the deadly poison of cobras.
The gods of other nations are pictured as poppies, because its extract, opium, only gives the appearance of pain-free security. In Gesenius Lexicon, under “Helps,” he explains:
רֹאשׁ … is also the name of a poisonous plant (Deut. 29:18); growing quickly and luxuriantly, Hos. 10:4; of a bitter taste, Ps. 69:21, Lam. 3:5; and on this account, frequently connected with wormwood, Deu. 29:17, Lament. 3:19; as I judge neither the cicuta as thought by Celsius in Oedmann (iv. p. 63); nor lolium, darnel (Mich. Supplemm. p. 2220); but the poppy, so called from its heads (Liv. i. 54). ראשׁ מי juice of poppies, opium, Jer. 8:14; 9:15; 23:15. Hence, poison of any kind, Deut. 32:32, 33; Job 20:16.
So Gesenius says that rosh is neither cicuta nor darnel, as some have thought, but is rather “the poppy, so called from its heads.” The Hebrew word rosh means “head,” and the poppy plant has a prominent “head” (flower).
Hence, the poppy is the “rock” of those foreign nations. Their gods give men a feeling of security by its own laws, but in reality those laws are bitter and poisonous. Moses also suggests that Sodom and Gomorrah were areas where poppies were cultivated and exported in their drug trade. Instead of growing grapes as Israel did, their “vineyards” were poppy fields.
Moses tells us, then, that the Rock of our salvation is not like the “rock” that other nations depend upon. Israel’s God is real; other gods are simulations. The law of Yahweh is “perfect, restoring the soul” (Psalm 19:7); the laws of other gods demand a way of life that ends in bitterness, addiction, and (as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah) homosexuality.
Prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea speak of this drug problem and equate it to the lawless way of life that the Israelites had chosen. Hosea 10:3, 4 says,
3 Surely now they will say, “We have no king, for we do not revere the Lord. As for the king, what can he do for us?” 4 They speak mere words, with worthless oaths they make covenants; and judgment [mishpat, “justice”] sprouts like poisonous weeds [rosh, “poppies”] in the furrows of the field.
In other words, Israel refused to honor its vow and keep its covenant with God. Hence, its system of justice sprouted like poppies, rather than being genuinely fruitful as grapes. We see this today quite clearly, for the modern nations of the West, which have been formed by those dispersed Israelites, have now reached the place where homosexuality is being normalized and same-sex marriage legalized.
Their legislatures have now bought shipment of poppies from Sodom and Gomorrah, and the laws will be bitter and poisonous.
Moses warns Israel that this will be their way of life in the end after they have become scattered (“Jezreel”) and when they cease to be “My people” (“Lo-Ammi”). Jeremiah enlarges upon this prophecy as well, saying in Jeremiah 8:13-15,
13 “I will surely snatch them away,” declares the Lord; “There will be no grapes on the vine, and no figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall wither; and what I have given them shall pass away.” 14 Why are we sitting still? Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities, and let us perish there, because the Lord our God has doomed us and given us poisoned water [rosh mayim, “poppy water (juice),” i.e., opium] to drink, for we have sinned against the Lord. 15 We waited for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but behold, terror!
Jeremiah saw that the people, its leaders, and its judicial system had all cast aside the law of God. Spiritually speaking, Israel preferred the drugs of false gods. They drank the “poppy juice” and waited for “peace” (that is, for the good feeling) or for “healing.” But they discovered that drugs could not heal anything but only mask the symptoms.
This is the price of casting aside the law of God. Even many Christians do not fully comprehend the problem, for there are many who teach that the law was put away, and that we no longer need to concern ourselves with it. Fortunately, they still have a residue of morality that comes from their past heritage. Fortunately, the New Testament lists enough of the laws of Moses to give Christians some moral compass. But the traces of opium are still being dispensed in the idea that the law no longer defines sin.
Hence, we are eating the bitter fruit of church doctrine. First, God was removed from government, then from the educational system, then from the judicial system. To appeal to the law of God only brings laughter and derision. Although many Christians have objected, their opposition has been weakened by an inherent contradiction. Their official teaching was that the law of God had been set aside, but when abortion was legalized, the Christians believed that murder had been legalized. The problem is that murder is sin because the law of God says so. The same is true regarding homosexual marriage. How can we put away the law and yet appeal to the law in opposing sin?
The fact is, because we have put away the whole law, thereby legalizing all sin (at least in theory), God has “given us poppy juice to drink.” The consequences of our doctrine is also our punishment. If we put away God’s law, we will be ruled by the unjust laws of other gods and their chosen people. This is the underlying theme of the Song of Moses.
This is the eighth part of a series titled "The Song of Moses." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones