REJECTING THE ROCK OF ISRAEL RESULTS IN GOD FORSAKING HIS PEOPLE – BUT NOT UTTERLY
Daniel Block: Although the NIV labels this chapter as “The Song of Moses,” it should really be called “The Song of Yahweh,” because Yahweh inspired it and dictated it to Joshua and Moses in the Tent of Meeting (31:14–21). Whereas in Moses’ preaching we hear the voice of God refracted through the orations of a man, this song was composed by God and then performed by Moses precisely as he had heard it (31:30; 32:44). Even more directly than Moses’ sermons, this is “the word of God.”
Whatever technical term we ascribe to the poem, its didactic function is clear. In addition to proclaiming the greatness of Yahweh, the Song provides a constant reminder to the Israelites of their origins (rooted in Yahweh’s grace) and their demise (rooted in their perfidious response to grace), which demonstrates Yahweh’s justice in punishing them and points to the resolution of the broken relationship through Yahweh’s future acts of grace. . .
As suggested earlier, this song serves as a sort of national anthem, intended to function as a “witness” in perpetuity (31:21) by reminding the people that they owed their existence to Yahweh and warning against abandoning him in favor of other gods. Moses had personally performed these functions for the past forty years, but once he is gone, the Song must take over and keep the people on spiritual course. This anthemic function accounts for the absence of specific historical references: to be perpetually relevant required removing time-bound details. As an anthem, this song would have been recited, sung, or performed when the people assembled for worship.
David Whitcomb: In this song, we do discover Moses’ testimony about God’s goodness and majesty. But as we read through the entire song, we might be a bit surprised to discover that this is a song about God’s vengeance against His people’s rebellion. Not only is this not a happy song. It is a scary song. Here Moses, under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, teaches us that just vengeance belongs to God. That is a message that bluntly cuts across the grain of our religious culture that is all about God’s kindness, mercy, and grace. Of course God is kind. He is more merciful than we can imagine. His grace is immeasurable. But when His people replace Him with their handmade idols, it does not make God very happy. We do well to learn from this song to be very careful about setting God aside to make room for our own idols.
Jack Deere: This song was to be taught to Israel for use in the covenant-renewal ceremony. . . Israel’s future is depicted in rather gloomy terms for her newly acquired wealth would lead her into apostasy. However, after she underwent severe judgment from the Lord He in compassion would deliver His people and take vengeance on their enemies. So in singing this song the Israelites would be acknowledging two things:
(a) their obligation to obey the Lord, and
(b) the righteous and certain character of their judgment if they fell into apostasy.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The Song is written in ancient Hebrew poetry and thus represents a significant shift from the narrative and legal format of Deuteronomy thus far. Most versions reflect this shift in the way they format the text on the page. Fortunately the essence of Hebrew poetry is not lost in translation. The key characteristic of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, a style in which a second, or sometimes third, clause repeats what has been said in the first clause. This repetition may take place by expressing the same thought through different wording (synonymous parallelism), through saying something similar in the opposite way (antithetic parallelism), or through expansion of an idea (complementary parallelism). That style is common in the book of Psalm.
Michael Grisanti: In addition to the heavens and the earth (Dt 30:19; 31:28) and the book of the law (31:26), Yahweh gives this song to Israel through Moses as a witness to them. These witnesses are given to remind Yahweh and Israel of their mutual commitments. This song recites Yahweh’s many gracious acts in their behalf, as well as his demand for absolute loyalty. Any long-term departure from genuine obedience will invite the experience of covenantal cursing.
Duane Christensen: The poem begins with what Tigay calls an “exordium” (vv 1–6), in the form of a summons to heaven and earth to pay attention to “the words of my mouth” (v 1). Those words focus on the righteousness of God (vv 3–4) and the disloyalty of his people Israel, who are described as “a crooked and perverse generation” (v 5). The poem ends on a note of celebration in which the heavens are summoned once again to praise God’s people and to worship God, together with the (seventy) “sons of God” (v 43). In the center we find the theme of God’s mercy in which he chooses to limit the punishment meted out to his people Israel (vv 26–27), in spite of the fact that they are “a nation void of sense” and without understanding (vv 28–29). They do not deserve God’s mercy.
Jamieson-Faucet-Brown: The magnificence of the exordium, the grandeur of the theme, the frequent and sudden transitions, the elevated strain of the sentiments and language, entitle this song to be ranked amongst the noblest specimens of poetry to be found in the Scriptures.
(31:30) INITIAL RECITATION OF THE SONG
“Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel
the words of this song, until they were complete:”
Peter Craigie: These words serve as the prose introduction to the Song of Moses, which follows in its entirety in 32:1–43, Normally, ancient Hebrew poetry is introduced as having been sung (see Exod. 15:1; Judg. 5:1); here, the song is said to have been spoken. It may be that the song was recited initially and that in this manner it was taught to the people (cf. 31:19), with a view to being sung by them subsequently. The recital (or subsequent singing) of the song would be a part of the covenant renewal ceremony, and it should not be considered simply as an appendix to the book of Deuteronomy. The song functions as a part of the witness to the renewal of the covenant; when the Israelites sang it, they would bear witness to their understanding and agreement to the full terms and implications of the covenant. This part of the renewal ceremony, however, is related in particular to the approaching demise of Moses and Joshua’s assumption of leadership. In this context, the song was not only a song of witness for the present, but one that would continue to be sung in the future, thus bearing a continuing witness of the covenant commitment and reminding the people of the implications of a breach of the covenant.
I. (:1-4) INTRODUCTION TO THE SONG –
RELEVANCE, VALUE, THEME AND FOCUS
A. (:1) Universal Relevance
“Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak;
And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.”
Jack Deere: The appeal to the heavens and the earth meant that the song had significance for the entire created order.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The role of the heavens and the earth may be that of formal witnesses to a lawsuit (cf. Isa 1:2-3; Jer 2:12-13), but the term “witness” is not used anywhere in the Song, and according to the words of the summons, that which the heavens and earth are to hear is not an indictment but the proclamation of the greatness of Israel’s God (v. 3). One is reminded of psalms that regularly call on others to hear or join in the praise. Similar to the peoples of 4:5-8, and the nations of 29:24, the heavens and the earth will marvel and wonder at the greatness of the God of Israel and the obstinacy of the people of Israel.
B. (:2) Life-Giving Value
“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.”
Michael Grisanti: Moses uses four similes to describe the life-giving and growth-inducing results of Moses’ teaching. Both rain (Dt 11:14; 28:12; Job 5:10; Ps 72:6) and dew (Dt 33:13, 28; Ps 133:3; Pr 19:12; Isa 26:19; Hos 14:5 ) are part of God’s beneficent provision for his vassal nation.
C. (:3) Majestic Theme = Great Name of the Lord
“For I proclaim the name of the LORD;
Ascribe greatness to our God!”
Daniel Block: The Song does this by
– reciting his attributes (v. 4),
– his gracious deeds on behalf of his people (vv. 5–14),
– his righteous anger in response to their rebellion (vv. 15–25),
– his justice in dealing with Israel’s enemies (vv. 26–35), and ultimately
– his compassionate atonement for his own people (vv. 36–43).
Michael Grisanti: God’s greatness is a trait that sets him apart from all the gods worshiped by other peoples. He is totally transcendent.
Duane Christensen: To ascribe greatness to God (v 3) is to acknowledge his eternity, his matchless power, and his absolute authority. The prayer of David in 1 Chr 29:10–14, when the offerings were brought for the building of the temple in Jerusalem, stands as a moving example of the power of praise (cf. also Dan 4:31–34 [Eng. 34–37], in a prayer of Nebuchadnezzar(!) and Rom 11:33–36).
David Whitcomb: He proposed to declare all the character, works, and attributes of the LORD (that is what name means). That would be to offer to God the truth about His greatness, which is actually what it means to praise God
D. (:4) Faithful Focus = the Righteous Rock
“The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He.”
Jack Deere: Unlike the gods of the ancient Near East whose followers believed they were often immoral and capricious, the Lord can always be counted on. He is faithful (cf. Deut. 7-9) and always does what is morally right (He does no wrong).
Earl Kalland: The rest of the song suggests that the main “works” of the Lord are activities of crating, aiding, and guiding Israel. These “works are perfect, and all his ways are just” (cf. Ps 18:30). His character is marked by faithfulness; no wrongdoing exists in him. He is upright and straightforward.
II. (:5-18) FORSAKING GOD CONTRADICTS ISRAEL’S FAMILY PRIVILEGES
A. (:5-6) Unnatural Perversion of the Children of God
1. (:5) History of Perversion
“They have acted corruptly toward Him,
They are not His children, because of their defect;
But are a perverse and crooked generation.”
Peter Craigie: Israel, unlike its Rock, is perverted and tortuous. The perversity of the Israelites was all the worse in that it was totally out of harmony with the Lord’s dealings with them: Is this what you render to the Lord? (v. 6). In their foolishness, they failed to recognize him as their father and failed to recognize that all his dealings with them were not onerous impositions, but a reflection of God’s covenant love. He created you, He made you and he established you.
2. (:6) Contrasted with History of the Father’s Gracious Dealings
“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.”
Earl Kalland: The effect of these questions is to magnify the position of the Lord as the one who brought Israel into existence and to stigmatize Israel for her failure to recognize him in this position.
B. (:7-14) Unsurpassed Provision and Protection from the Supreme God
1. (:7) Testimony of Preceding Generations
“Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of all generations.
Ask your father, and he will inform you,
Your elders, and they will tell you.”
2. (:8-9) Treasured Status of Israel among the Nations
“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
When He separated the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples
According to the number of the sons of Israel.
For the LORD’s portion is His people;
Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.”
Michael Grisanti: When the Lord set up boundaries for all the nations and allocated to them spreads of land as part of his plan for the world, Israel was at the center of his efforts. He sets his election of Israel as an essential part of his plans for the entire world.
David Whitcomb: Consider demonstrations of the Creator’s authority. Stop to think about and talk about what He has done. Or in the words of Moses, “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you” (v.7). In remembering, we will discover that our Creator has the right to decide who lives, who lives where, and when. “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God” (v.8). Our Creator also has the right to show special love. He chose Jacob. “But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage” (v.9). Because of God’s choice, Jacob’s lineage is the LORD’s portion.
Earl Kalland: the boundaries of the nations were determined with the intent that Israel would have Canaan because her numbers could be supported in that area. This was done because Israel was central in the Lord’s affection and sovereign planning.
3. (:10-12) Tenderly Caring for and Guiding the Young Nation
a. (:10) Encircling Love
“He found him in a desert land,
And in the howling waste of a wilderness;
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.”
Daniel Block: The simile in the last line of this verse intensifies the image of Yahweh’s protection; he guarded them as his precious treasure. This interpretation of the literal expression “the apple of his eye” has a long history. Whatever its derivation, this became a fixed expression for “to treat with love and care” (cf. 8:15–16).
Eugene Merrill: Israel’s lack of initiation of and total dependence in the covenant relationship is seen in their description as a foundling, an infant abandoned in a desert place and left to die. This does not mean that Israel was indigenous to the desert or even that it was there that the Lord first came to know them. The Old Testament tradition traces their origin back to Abraham, and from those ancient patriarchal times Israel had been the focus of the Lord’s redemptive design (cf. Deut 26:5b-9; Josh 24:2-13). What was in view here was Israel’s post-exodus experience in the Sinai deserts, the “barren and howling waste” where the Lord made covenant with them and through which he guided them to the present moment.
b. (:11) Hovering Protection
“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.”
Peter Craigie: The simile of the eagle may have been prompted by the language of the wilderness in the previous verse; the picture in this verse is that of the eagle’s nest, perhaps located in some remote place in the wilderness. As an eagle stirs up (or perhaps “guards”) its nest — see also v. 10b for the protective character of God’s love. Apparently the eagle taught its young to fly by throwing one out of the nest, and then swooping down and allowing the young bird to alight on its mother’s wings. The poetry illustrates vividly God’s dealings with his people, casting them from security to the fierce wilderness, but remaining beneath them to give them strength for the fearful experience, and gradually teaching them to “fly” on their own. It is implied that Israel is still in its youth, brought out of Egypt as a child and still learning to stand and walk during the years in the wilderness.
c. (:12) Solitary Guidance
“The LORD alone guided him,
And there was no foreign god with him.”
4. (:13-14) Tremendous Provision of Food and Drink
“He made him ride on the high places of the earth,
And he ate the produce of the field;
And He made him suck honey from the rock,
And oil from the flinty rock,
Curds of cows, and milk of the flock,
With fat of lambs, And rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats,
With the finest of the wheat—
And of the blood of grapes you drank wine.”
Daniel Block: Yahweh provides food through the soil. Just as fat around kidneys was the most desirable product of rams (Lev. 3:3–4; Isa. 34:6), so “fat of the kidneys of wheat” (pers. trans.) refers to the highest quality wheat or flour. The phrase “blood of grapes” refers either to common red or specialty wine. The stanza ends with a surprising verbal clause: “You drank foaming [wine].” Here wine in the fermentation stage highlights the Israelites’ joy in the produce provided by the land that Yahweh had given them.
Michael Grisanti: Not only did Yahweh protect and guide his chosen people, but he also abundantly provided for them (vv.13–14). The clause “he made him ride on the heights of the land” highlights Yahweh’s absolute sovereignty over the land and his ability to lead his people wherever they needed to go (cf. Isa 58:14; Job 9:8; Am 4:13; Hab 3:19). He enabled them to eat the produce of the fields and to “suck,” like an infant nursing at his mother’s breast, all that they needed and more: honey and olive oil, curds and milk, lambs, goats, and rams, and wheat. They were able to drink their fill of wine. Moses piles up these terms to highlight Yahweh’s superabundant provision for his vassal nation. The phrases “from the rock” and “from the flinty crag” demonstrate that Yahweh will even provide for his children from places where one would not expect abundance.
C. (:15-18) Unimaginable Provocation of Israel’s Divine Creator and Savior
Michael Grisanti: In spite of enjoying Yahweh’s abundant provision, the Israelites abandoned their Father and Maker in order to worship pagan gods that were powerless. These verses present three sad contrasts.
– First, Israel responded to Yahweh’s abundant provision by rejecting his authority and treating him with contempt (nbl; v.15). Unlike most animals, which are docile when fed, Israel kicked at Yahweh, their Maker and Protector, and resisted his directives.
– Second, even though Yahweh had chosen and flawlessly guided his people to the brink of the Promised Land, Israel often turned to pagan (“strange”), do-nothing gods (vv.16–17)—behavior prohibited by Yahweh and regarded as vile. The incomprehensible part consisted in the fact that there was nothing about these “gods” to compel Israel to worship them. Israel had not experienced any blessings through their activity, and Israel’s forefathers knew nothing about them. This horrific treatment of Yahweh provoked his jealousy. As Ortlund, 30, n. 16, points out, “God’s morally perfect jealousy arises out of his joint longings both to vindicate his own glory and to enjoy true love with his people.”
– Finally, they deserted and forgot the God who brought them into existence (v.18).
1. (:15) Forsaking God Due to Prosperity
“But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—
You are grown fat, thick, and sleek—
Then he forsook God who made him,
And scorned the Rock of his salvation.”
Daniel Block: The rich food and prosperity (vv. 13–14) have obviously had an effect on the consumer’s disposition. In verse 15a Israel kicks like an animal, a colorful image of revolt against its provider. With elegant parallelism, in verse 15b the poet laments Israel’s abandonment of her divine Creator and Savior. The choice of nāṭaš rather than ʿāzab for “abandon” is striking. While usually used of Yahweh giving up on his people, here nāṭaš speaks of the people abandoning him (cf. Jer. 15:6). The second verb (nābal) (Piel) means to treat with contempt, as if the object is a fool (cf. v. 6). Instead of honoring Yahweh their father and generous divine benefactor, they despise him.
2. (:16) Provoking God to Anger and Jealousy with Idolatry
“They made Him jealous with strange gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.”
3. (:17) Sacrificing to False Gods
“They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread.”
4. (:18) Abandoning their Creator
“You neglected the Rock who begot you,
And forgot the God who gave you birth.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The concluding verse combines the image of God as the protecting dependable Rock with that of a parent giving birth (32:8). The language of the latter image is striking because it combines masculine pronouns with verbs normally associated with mothers. The first verb, bore, refers to giving birth, and the second literally speaks of a mother’s labor pains (Tigay: 307). Israel’s abandoning God is as reprehensible as someone forgetting both mother and father in a culture where children are responsible to take care of their parents.
Eugene Merrill: Israel’s rebellion to that point did not bode well for the future. It was all the more urgent, then, that this recital of past failure be recalled regularly in the singing of the song so that the hard lessons of judgment that followed sin might act as a deterrent to future disobedience.
III. (:19-35) FORSAKING ISRAEL IS CONSISTENT WITH GOD’S DEMAND FOR COVENANT LOYALTY
A. (:19-25) Description of God Forsaking Israel
1. (:19) Rejecting Israel Due to Provocation
“And the LORD saw this, and spurned them
Because of the provocation of His sons and daughters.”
2. (:20) Turning Away from Israel Due to Perverse Unfaithfulness
“Then He said, ‘I will hide My face from them,
I will see what their end shall be;
For they are a perverse generation,
Sons in whom is no faithfulness.”
Daniel Block: Verses 20c–21b summarize the basis for Yahweh’s rejection of his people, presenting first the external (v. 20c–d) and then the internal grounds (v. 21a–b). Externally, Israel’s punishment is justified because they are “perverse” and totally lacking in fidelity. Internally, Yahweh’s rejection of Israel is fueled by his fury.
3. (:21-22) Unleashing Consuming Fire of Jealousy Due to Israel’s Idolatry
“They have made Me jealous with what is not God;
They have provoked Me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people;
I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation,
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.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: God’s profound and intense love for Israel, as reflected in the election, is one side of the coin (7:6-8; 32:8-9). But the other side is the deep pain and jealousy and anger when this love is rejected.
4. (:23-25) Heaping Calamities on Israel
“I will heap misfortunes on them;
I will use My arrows on them.
They shall be wasted by famine, 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.
Outside the sword shall bereave,
And inside terror—
Both young man and virgin,
The nursling with the man of gray hair.”
Daniel Block: Verse 23 serves as a thesis statement, highlighting Yahweh’s role and identifying the genre of calamities that follow. Verse 23a classifies the gathering storm as “evils,” a general expression for “calamities” (NIV). The second colon casts the theme in metaphorical form, employing “arrows” as shorthand for all the ammunition at Yahweh’s disposal. Many of these weapons are associated with ancient conceptions of the demonic world.
B. (:26-35) Determination of God Executing Vengeance but not Removing Israel
1. (:26-27) Forbearance of God in Not Utterly Forsaking Israel
“I would have said, ‘I will cut them to pieces,
I will remove the memory of them from men,’
Had I not feared the provocation by the enemy,
Lest their adversaries should misjudge,
Lest they should say, ‘Our hand is triumphant,
And the LORD has not done all this.’”
Jack Deere: Though the nation deserved to be wiped out, the Lord would not allow it, for it would cause her enemies to question His sovereignty and power (v. 27).
2. (:28-29) Foolishness of Israel in Not Discerning Sin’s Consequences
“For they are a nation lacking in counsel,
And there is no understanding in them.
Would that they were wise, that they understood this,
That they would discern their future!”
Earl Kalland: Because of their lack of wisdom, the people could not detect or understand their destiny (v. 29). It is a very singular obtuseness that is here attributed to Israel. This obtuseness could only result from total unbelief in what Moses had already told them and from a lack of faith that it really was the Lord who was the source of the miracles that brought them out of Egypt and through Sinai – providing for them for a whole generation.
3. (:30-33) Fruit of Paganism is Poisonous
“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?
Indeed their rock is not like our Rock,
Even our enemies themselves judge this.
For their vine is from the vine of Sodom,
And from the fields of Gomorrah;
Their grapes are grapes of poison,
Their clusters, bitter.
Their wine is the venom of serpents,
And the deadly poison of cobras.”
Eugene Merrill: This vine of paganism with its roots in Sodom produced noxious (cf. Deut 29:18; Lam 3:5; Hos 10:4) and bitter grapes. This is a way of saying that the fruit of the worship of these detestable gods was far short of satisfying. In fact, it left a bad taste in the mouth, so to speak. But more serious than that was the final result of worshiping them—certain and agonizing death. The wine of the bitter fruit of paganism was as deadly as the venom of the most virulent snake (v. 33). Far from being merely harmless options to the worship of the Lord, devotion to the gods of paganism had fatal consequences. Israel had to understand this lest they credit these gods with what the Lord had done and thus bring most painful judgment upon themselves.
4. (:34-35) Future of Israel Destined for Certain Retribution
“Is it not laid up in store with Me,
Sealed up in My treasuries?
Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: God alone is in control of the future of both Israel and the nations and will recompense as God determines. God retains his freedom, with the nations expected to recognize God’s role in reality. God’s integrity and honor require that God not allow people to consider themselves as independent and able to determine their own fate apart from God. It is striking that here again in the process of focusing on Israel, the people of God, Deuteronomy does so against a backdrop of the nations (cf. 4:5-8; 29:22-28). Even though God the Most High has chosen Israel as a treasured possession, God remains God over all nations and will protect that reputation among those nations (cf. 32:8).
Michael Grisanti: Yahweh resumes speaking (as vv.31–33 reflect the words of the Moses) and presents the demise of the wicked as a certainty. The “this” Yahweh has stored in his vaults refers to his intent to bring judgment on the pagan nations, who are devoted to their false gods. This judgment will take place at the time and in the manner that Yahweh determines. Because these nations have overstepped their bounds as agents of divine wrath, Yahweh alone will punish them (cf. Isa 10:5–19, 24–27; Jer 25:12–14).
Earl Kalland: The time when God acts against the wicked is indicated as near and soon. Even though he is a God of patience with quite a different view of time than that of men (Ps 90:4; Isa 55:8), he nevertheless is said to move quickly to punish the wicked.
IV. (:36-42) DIVINE MERCY OPERATES IN CONJUNCTION WITH DIVINE VENGEANCE
A. (:36) Divine Compassion Will Rescue Once God’s People Hit Rock Bottom
“For the LORD will vindicate His people,
And will have compassion on His servants;
When He sees that their strength is gone,
And there is none remaining, bond or free.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The implication of God’s second thought for Israel now becomes explicit: God will vindicate his people (v. 36) and will cleanse the land for his people (v. 43). These two affirmations frame this final portion of the Song and dominate the overall picture.
Peter Craigie: Eventually, God would vindicate his people and have compassion on them (vv. 36–38). There was a prerequisite to the vindication of God, however. Before the people could experience once again the compassion of God, they had to be totally drained of self-assurance and totally freed from their alliance with foreign gods. Their strength is exhausted and become nothing (v. 36)—since Israel’s defection was largely a result of the arrogance of believing in their own strength, that arrogance and belief in human strength had to be totally demolished before the people were in a position to realize their need of God’s strength. The rhetorical question posed in vv. 37–38 is designed to create awareness that other possible sources of strength were also useless. Where are their gods …?—the events God had permitted to happen to his people would make it very clear that foreign gods, in whom Israel so lightly could place its trust, were unable to offer help in crisis, and that they were in fact responsible for the crisis in the first place. Only when the Israelites reached rock-bottom would they be able to turn away from the lifeless rock in whom they sought refuge (v. 37), and turn again to their God, the living Rock (cf. v. 4).
Earl Kalland: The reality of the Lord’s deity is seen in what he does: he puts to death at his will and he gives life – a reference to his creative power and his power to rescue from death illustrated by his rescue of the nation of Israel when no one remains (v. 36).
B. (:37-38) Divine Sarcasm Will Expose False Gods as Futile Saviors
“And He will say, ‘Where are their gods,
The rock in which they sought refuge?
Who ate the fat of their sacrifices,
And drank the wine of their libation?
Let them rise up and help you,
Let them be your hiding place!’”
Eugene Merrill: Compassion does not negate accountability, however, and in Israel’s day of judgment the question must have been raised about who really is God. The Lord himself would challenge his people to produce the gods to whom they had turned for protection and whom they worshiped in their days of apostate unbelief. The answer to the query, “Where are their gods?” is self-evident. They were not to be found because they, in fact, did not exist. In scorn the Lord would exhort Israel in the day of their calamity to invoke the gods whom they had chosen in lieu of him (v. 38c, d). Vainly they would implore these figments of imagination to help them and to provide them security.
C. (:39) Divine Testimony Affirms God’s Unique Ability
“See now that I, I am He,
And there is no god besides Me;
It is I who put to death and give life.
I have wounded, and it is I who heal;
And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.”
Peter Craigie: Life, health, and victory were a result of God’s blessing. But death, disease, and defeat were equally a part of God’s dealings with his people; they did not indicate any diminution of God’s power, but showed only that the actions of the Israelites deserved divine judgment. An important principle emerges from this passage: when the blessing of God appears to be withdrawn, man should not question the ability of God, but should examine the state of his relationship to God.
D. (:40-42) Divine Vengeance Will Devour All Adversaries
“Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven,
And say, as I live forever,
‘If I sharpen My flashing sword,
And My hand takes hold on justice,
I will render vengeance on My adversaries,
And I will repay those who hate Me.
I will make My arrows drunk with blood,
And My sword shall devour flesh,
With the blood of the slain and the captives,
From the long-haired leaders of the enemy.’”
Daniel Block: Yahweh will rise on behalf of his people and punish their enemies for their arrogance and brutality to Israel.
Michael Grisanti: vv. 39-43 — The goal of Yahweh’s dealings with Israel, especially his judgment of them for their rebellion, is to elicit the nation’s realizing that he is the only true God, who possesses all power and will judge every one of his enemies in an act that will affect the entire world. In stark contrast to the pagan gods that the Israelites found so alluring, Yahweh is unique—“I am he,” declares the Lord. He makes the same affirmation in the book of Isaiah, where he announces that he has no rival among the pagan gods (Isa 41:4; 43:10, 13; 48:12). In the context (here and in Isaiah), Yahweh is stating that he alone, unlike the non-gods, controls the events of history. The affirmation of Yahweh’s uniqueness and exclusivity (“there is no other”) is echoed in several other OT passages (Dt 4:35, 39; 1Ki 8:60; Isa 45:5–6, 14, 18, 21–22; 46:9; Joel 2:27). He alone wields absolute sovereignty over life and death and has the ability to cause and heal wounds, which only God can do perfectly.
(:43) EPILOGUE – CELEBRATE DIVINE VENGEANCE AND ATONEMENT
“Rejoice, O nations, with His people;
For He will avenge the blood of His servants,
And will render vengeance on His adversaries,
And will atone for His land and His people.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: In the end it is a hymn of praise that witnesses to God’s unparalleled supremacy, power that God uses on behalf of his people. The Deuteronomic movement from jealousy to mercy, or from punishment to redemption (even if at points in the Song punishment appears to be more intended than actual), once more is evident (cf. 4:24-31; 29:16 – 30:10).
Daniel Block: Viewed as a whole, verse 43 presents the hosts of heaven and the nations with three reasons to celebrate and pay homage to Yahweh:
(1) Yahweh has restored his relationship with Israel;
(2) Yahweh has taken vengeance on Israel’s (and his own) enemies;
(3) Yahweh has made atonement for the land.
In so doing he has reversed the earlier dissolution of the tripartite relationship involving deity–nation–people precipitated by Israel’s idolatry. This is cause for celebration not only by the Israelite beneficiaries of the divine action—as in this song—but also by the hosts of heaven and the nations, indeed the entire universe.
Eugene Merrill: Though evil appeared to prevail and by its very strength to justify itself, in the day of the Lord’s triumph and Israel’s vindication it would be clear that the Lord and his eternal purposes for creation were brought to fruition in accordance with the standards of his own perfect holiness. . . God’s wayward people (vv. 15-18), set for judgment (vv. 19-25) and unable to find deliverance through powerless pagan gods (vv. 26-38), would at last be purged of their sin, vindicated in the face of their enemies, and restored to perfect covenant relationship with the Lord (vv. 39-43).