Deuteronomy 32-34

Good morning! Today we finish out Deuteronomy (chapters 32-34) with the same theme that has echoed throughout the book: remember God, remember the covenant. The writer has tried everything from coaxing, cajoling, shaming, threatening and warning to make an impression on the people. Now comes a song, followed by a blessing identified as Moses’ final words, and then the greatest Hebrew prophet-leader will pass away.

Deuteronomy 32 contains the song of Moses that was introduced yesterday, intended as a musical reminder that could correct the Hebrews when they had failed to be faithful to the covenant. This song sounds more like the later psalms than anything that has come previously. The poetry uses a repeated image of God as a “Rock”, who is also a birth-giver and a protecting eagle, among other metaphors. Beautiful imagery of God’s sustenance in the wilderness yields to the news that success has led to idolatry toward other “rocks”, provoking the one “Rock”. (Here’s one place where “grapes of wrath” imagery comes from.) God unleashes retribution against Israel, but not to destroy them utterly. God will deliver, but only after the people learn their lesson that no other deity has the power to save them.

The final blessing that makes up the bulk of chapter 33 is similar to the song in 32. Both bear signs of being originally from a different context, but the narrative of these final chapters tries to hold them in place. Here, Moses’ blessing makes third-person references to Moses, refers to a king (which we haven’t seen yet), and uses the exotic term “Jeshurun” as another moniker for Israel. These are all clues that this text comes from a later time. Moses’ blessing also takes a form like that of Jacob’s blessing on each of his children (and their associated tribe) before he died at the end of Genesis. The order of the tribes is different from that used earlier in the Torah, and with references that again point to a later origin for this text. This is a good example of the biblical custom of attributing special writings to dignitaries rather than listing actual authors. It doesn’t mean the texts are necessarily false or unreliable; but rather that we shouldn’t try to understand them according to 21st century literary customs.

At the beginning of Deuteronomy 34, Moses looks out at geography that is already called by the names of the tribes of Israel, then dies “at the Lord’s command”. The final three verses are an everlasting epitaph to Moses’ unparalleled power and influence on the people of Israel. This chapter finishes the whole book of Deuteronomy, and with it the first five books of the Bible (the Torah prized especially by Jewish people today). Because Joshua was commissioned by Moses, the people of Israel followed him. We’ll pick up the story of his leadership tomorrow, when we turn the page to the next generation and the invasion of Canaan. Happy reading!

Read Deuteronomy 32-34.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Joshua 1-4. Thanks for reading!

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