Yahweh's Threats of Judgment
The next section of Moses’ Song is found in Deut. 32:22-25. It corresponds to “E2” in the Step Parallelism.
Since E and E2 are the parallels in the center of the Song, we can see that Moses intended for us to understand that the core message of the Song was about God provoking Israel to jealousy by means of divine judgment. In other words, Moses prophesied that people of Israel would corrupt themselves and provoke God to jealousy by committing spiritual adultery with other gods; so God in turn would provoke Israel to jealousy by favoring other nations while casting Israel out of His house.
Destroying the Foundation of Nationhood
Deut. 32:22-25 describes this judgment:
22 For a fire is kindled in My anger,
And burns to the lowest part of Sheol,
And consumes the earth with its yield,
And sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.
In the metaphorical language of prophecy, mountains are nations or kingdoms. In this case, God intended to destroy the foundations of the nation of Israel. The foundation of the nation was, of course, the Old Covenant by which Israel was formed into a nation at Mount Horeb. Just as the Old Covenant was given to Israel in the midst of the fiery presence of God, so also will that same fire destroy that Covenant in favor of a New Covenant.
God’s Arrows Used Against Israel
Deut. 32:23 continues,
23 I will heap misfortunes on them;
I will use My arrows on them.
This has a double meaning that reflects both judgment and mercy. Literal arrows were part of warfare used to kill, but children were also pictured as arrows in a man’s quiver. Psalm 127:3-5 says,
3 Behold children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. 5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…
If arrows are “children,” then God’s arrows are the children of God. Further, teachers are called moreh, “archers,” in Joel 2:23, because they are supposed to “hit the mark” while teaching truth. Joel says,
23 So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in the Lord your God; for He has given you the early rain [moreh, “rain, archer, teacher”] for your vindication, and He has poured down for you the rain, the early and latter rain as before.
The breadth of meaning for the word moreh indicates that teachers are equated to the rain of the Holy Spirit. This is also the Spirit of Truth, whose job is to lead us into all truth. This truth is conveyed by the teacher, who is like an archer hitting the mark with his arrows. Job 36:22 says,
22 Behold, God is exalted in His power; who is a Teacher [moreh] like Him?
Isaiah 30:20 says also,
20 Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher [moreh], will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher [moreh].
Metaphorically speaking, when a teacher shoots his arrows, they are words of truth. Yet arrows can also picture children, because those who take such teaching to heart become the spiritual children of the teacher. We see this in such statements as the children of light, children of wisdom, children of Abraham, or even in such negative examples as the children of the devil or the children of Belial.
With this broader perspective in mind, we can look at Deut. 32:23 with greater understanding of its underlying implications. When God uses His arrows on Israel, it is not merely to kill and destroy, but also to rebuild upon new foundations of a second Covenant. God sends His teachers to shoot arrows (sons of God) into their midst. The sons of God speak what they have learned from their Teacher (archer), and while their arrows of truth may wound the heart, it is all for a good purpose. Their job is to prepare the way for the rain of the Holy Spirit, who comes as a cleansing fire, and as an Advocate in the divine court, and as the Spirit of Truth.
Thus, even as God’s purpose in Deut. 32:21 was to provoke Israel to jealousy by means of divine judgment, so also in verse 23 the purpose of His arrows was to bring the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth. In both cases, the end result was positive, even though the means to the end were an expression of the “anger” of God.
Burning the Foundations with Fire
The two sides of divine judgment—temporary evil leading to permanent good—is also seen in the “fire” in verse 22, “For a fire is kindled in My anger… and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.”
In Deut. 33:2, KJV, we read of the “fiery law” which God gave to Israel when He manifested Himself on the Mount in the midst of fire. The fire is pictured as the character of God, expressed in His law, but the law also brings divine judgment as a means to an end. It is through God’s judgments upon all flesh that the hearts of men are turned, either through the baptism of fire or the lake of fire.
So even in the midst of Moses’ dire predictions of divine judgment, there is an underlying promise, for the New Covenant depends only upon the oath of God and His ability to fulfill that oath. The Old Covenant could result only in judgment, on account of Israel’s inability to fulfill the Exodus covenant; but the New Covenant can result only in blessing, on account of God’s ability to fulfill the oath of the second Covenant.
Destroying by Famine
Moses continues his Song in Deut. 32:24, 25,
24 They shall be wasted by famine [ra’ab, “famine, hunger”], and consumed by plague
And bitter destruction;
And the teeth of beasts I will send upon them,
With the venom of crawling things of the dust.
Thirteen famines are mentioned in Scripture. Thirteen is the number of rebellion or depravity. God sends famine and hunger as a judgment for man’s rebellion against His right to rule. But Amos 8:11, 12 prophesies that in the latter days a different sort of famine would be sent upon the people:
11 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord. 12 The people will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.”
The prophet shows us the type of famine seen today. While we are in the midst of an abundance of physical food, there is a shortage of spiritual food. In fact, we have an abundance of Bibles, especially in Western countries, but reading the Bible is not the same as hearing the Word. Many read the Bible, but unless they are empowered by the Spirit to hear the word, they receive only ignorant calories.
When we interpret Moses through the eyes of the prophet Amos, we see that part of the divine judgment upon Israel was that God would withdraw the Spirit of Truth so that men would no longer have a clear understanding of the Word. Christians would go to their churches but the word of God would not be taught with any real clarity.
However, as we see from the previous verse, God would continue to send His archers to shoot “arrows.” In other words, if men wish to end the famine of hearing the Word, they will have to hear it from the sons of God. If they refuse, this famine will continue to affect them.
A prophetic example of this is given to us in the story of Joseph. When the famine came, all men had to go to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph. Joseph was a type of Christ in His second appearance, and so this is a prophecy of today’s famine of hearing the word. God used the famine to bring Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy food from Joseph. Joseph himself authorized the sale of grain to them, but he did not personally fill their sacks with grain. Joseph’s servants did that job, for they represented the sons of God.
Destruction by the Teeth of Beasts
Moses says also in verse 24, “and the teeth of beasts I will send upon them.” Moses thus foretold of the “beast empires” that were to devour Israel and Judah. Daniel 7 speaks of four specific beasts: a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a strange beast with large iron teeth. These are interpreted as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. And so we see that when God cast out His people, they were “eaten” by these beasts, as Moses prophesied.
Destruction by Venom
Moses also says in the Deut. 32:24 that God will judge Israel “with the venom of crawling things of the dust.” The Hebrew word for “venom” that Moses uses is chemah, which means “heat, burning anger, indignation, poison, venom.”
The word has layers of meaning. First, it is connected to the “fire” and “anger” of God in the previous verses. But it is also connected to the poisonous “venom” of snakes, spiders, or other creatures of the dust. This is probably meant to bring us back to the serpent in the Garden who was condemned to crawl and to eat dust in Gen. 3:14,
14 And the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life.”
Since man is made of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), the serpent was given man’s flesh to eat. Hence, when Israel was in rebellion and under divine judgment, the serpent was sent to “eat” their flesh (carnal mind). We see from this that when man continually desires to do the works of the flesh instead of hearing and obeying the word of God, God turns them over to their own ways, so that they will learn by hard experience the fruit of disobedience.
So also the Apostle says in Rom. 1:22-25,
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
When men continually revolt against God and His law, God eventually allows them to live in that alternative life style and to eat of its bitter fruits. The carnal mind thinks that God’s law is oppressive, but God shows them that it is their own carnal ways that are the real oppressors.
Judgment is Corrective
But thankfully, such divine judgment is meant to show us that casting aside His law leads only to a life of death and destruction. Jer. 2:19 says,
19 “Your own wickedness will correct you, and your apostasies will reprove you; know therefore and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God, and the dread of Me is not in you,” declares the Lord God of hosts.
Moses concludes this section (E2) in Deut. 32:25,
25 Outside the sword shall bereave,
And inside terror—
Both young man and virgin,
The nursling with the man of gray hair.
Divine judgment is not only external, but internal. Israel did indeed experience the horror of war and destruction, but fear or “terror” was also part of the judgment. When God allows men to be judged by their own wicked ways, they live by fear, rather than by love. The beast empires, ruling by the laws of men, rule by fear, whereas King Jesus rules by love. Unfortunately, because we are all part of a collective community or nation, all are affected, men and women, nursing babies and the elderly.