Deuteronomy is Moses’ final address to Israel before they enter the Promised Land. He recounts the nation’s wanderings in the wilderness, the result of their unbelief. Now on the edge of entering, Moses recounts God’s faithfulness despite Israel’s continual rebellion and delivers the curses and blessings upon them; curses for disobedience, blessings for obedience.
Textual notes on Deuteronomy 32
Chapter 32 is somewhat the finalé of Moses’ life. This portion was written as a song, as songs were used to aid memory. It is sung as a series of blessings and curses, a summary of what had been previously recorded. One thing stood apart as I read it this morning. It is the name Moses ascribes to God. We first encounter this name is verse 4:
Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.(NKJV)
This name for God is repeated a total of five times in this chapter alone. Verses 4, 15, 18, 30, and 31 use the metaphorical name. As I pondered upon this for a time I went to my Hebrew lexicons and commentaries to find the meaning of Moses’ use of Rock. Two resources in particular resonated. The first entry is from the Lexham Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible and the second is from the IVP Bible Background Commentary.
5. God⟺Rock — the God of Israel understood metaphorically as a rock or stone; perhaps with emphasis on strength and permanence. (Emphasis mine)
(2020). The Lexham Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
rock metaphor. Used in 2 Samuel 22:3 as a divine epithet, rock could also carry the meaning “mountain” or “fortress.” It is used in Israelite names both as a metaphor for God (Zuriel, Num 3:35, “God is my Rock”) and as a divine name (Pedahzur, Num 2:20, “Rock is my redeemer”). It is used of other deities in Aramaic and Amorite personal names, and its application to other gods is hinted at here in verses 31 and 37. As a metaphor it speaks of safety and deliverance (Emphasis mine)
Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
God was the strength of Israel. He was meant to be their permanent Divine, the only God that should be worshiped. This would soon be a bygone concept once Israel conquered their enemies and settled down in the land. They would forget their Rock and seek to be acquiesced into the culture surrounding them. Later in the chapter (verses 10-15) God accuses them of their future idolatry, or rather the way He will rebuke them when they fail to obey His Law. He harshly condemns their offerings and sacrifices to other “rocks.” They are vain, and deaf, and powerless. God’s rebuke was justified and needed.
Law & Gospel in Deuteronomy 32
Just as Israel sought after empty things to satisfy them, we too, often run after rocks instead of the Rock. We find solace in the temporal pleasures of this life instead of the Eternal God. In spite of God’s punishment of His chosen people, He was gracious and compassionate toward them. In the same chapter that He pronounced His judgment, He would also pronounce His mercy. Verse 36, along with verse 43 is this chapter’s pinnacle of the gospel in the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy 32:36 (NKJV) — 36 “For the Lord will judge His people And have compassion on His servants, When He sees that their power is gone, And there is no one remaining, bond or free… 43 “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”
O, what mercy and grace! Yahweh would redeem His people despite their rebellion. He would redeem them and bring them back as His very own possession, and with the promise to circumcise their hearts so that they would love Him.
It is this same great mercy that has been extended to us through the perfect work of Jesus. His sacrificial and vicarious death has covered our sins; it has covered our idolatry, our greed, our sexual perversions, and every other sin that the Law continues to bring to remembrance. As the children of Israel gazed upon the bronze serpent to be healed of their fiery bites, so must we fix our gaze by faith on the One who took sin’s bite in our stead.
Rejoice in Christ’s work. Be joyful in His merciful offer of His invitation to come to Him and live.