Scope, Selection and Content of Pericope
This text , within the Third Speech of Moses (Dt 29-32), is part of the Song of Moses (Dt 32:1-43). The text is part of the redemption and vengance section of the song. The selection, vv 36-39, is an appropriate pericope, even though it depends on the wider context for interpretation of its pronoun antecedents.
Chapter 32 is ancient material, dating to the united monarchy, incorporated into Deuteronomy during the sixth century. Theological emphases of the Deuteronomistic historian(s) include insistence on Yahweh as Israel's only God, rejection of idolatry, and the claim that Yahweh's act in history.
The text is presented as a song by Moses to the Israelites prior to entering the land. Although the early verses resemble later covenant lawsuits, that form is not maintained. The form, rather, is a war song, consistent with its origin during David's time. In subsequent years it would have been sung as a celebration of Yahweh's victory and as a reminder of the cost of idolatry. In its final form, it is a remembrance of Yahweh's past care, a confession of Israel's idolatries, and a celebration of the irresistible judgment of God the Warrior.
Summary of Content
Listen, heaven and earth; as I proclaim Yahweh's name and tell of our God's greatness.
Yahweh, the rock, is just, faithful, and perfect, but his children are faithless, degenerate, and perverse; they repay Yahweh their father badly. Yahweh made the nations and gave each a god; you were the one Yahweh chose as Yahweh's own. Yahweh sustained the people in the desert, cared for them as an eagle does its young, and brought them to the land. There they had all the good things of Yahweh. But you made Yahweh jealous by following other gods, and not being grateful to Yahweh.
Yahweh, then, abandoned you and brought a foolish nation against you. Yahweh's anger is able to burn everything, even the mountain springs. Yahweh punished you with disasters: famine, plague, wild beasts, and war.
Yahweh was going to utterly destroy you but refrained so that the enemy would not think that they (not Yahweh) had destroyed you.
The enemy has no sense or they would understand Yahweh's doing, because they could not have conquered you unless it had been Yahweh's will. They do not have a god like Yahweh; they have poison grapes like Sodom and Gomorrah. Yahweh will take vengeance on them soon.
Yahweh will execute (is executing) judgment for the people and have pity (has pity) on them when Yahweh knows that they can do nothing for themselves.
Yahweh will say (is saying), "Where are the gods they trusted? Who ate and drank the sacrifices they made? Let those gods protect them now!"
"You are commanded to see and know that I really exist, there is no other god who is equal to me. I have power over life and death, wounding and healing. No other god can oppose my action."
I, Yahweh, swear by my eternal existence that I will execute judgment and vengeance on those who hate me. I will make my arrows intoxicated with their blood and feed my sword on their bodies.
The sky is to praise Yahweh's people and all the gods worship Yahweh because he avenges the chosen people and takes vengeance in order to make the land clean for Yahweh's people.
The LORD will vindicate his people
Din, Nyd<1, has the primary meaning "judge", and is used in the sense of "pleading a cause", "acting as a judge", and "executing judgment", and by extension "to show to be right". The parallel with mh-n=, "to have compassion, pity", excludes the reading, "Yahweh will judge Yahweh's people". The interpretation of "pleading a cause" is excluded by context. The sense of the verb here is to do justice, to make things right. The verb form can indicate either future action or on-going action. The meaning, then, is that Yahweh will execute judgment (or is currently executing judgment) on behalf of Yahweh's helpless people.
Where are their gods?
"Their" is ambiguous. It could refer to the enemy or to the people of Israel. The impotence of the enemy's gods is noted in v 31. The vengeance and judgment of Yahweh is directed against the enemy throughout vv 35-43. The enemy's lack of understanding of Yahweh's control over history is the theme of vv 28-30. The mockery of vv 37-38, then, is directed at the enemy. It underscores the claim Yahweh makes in v 39.
See now that I, even I, am he
See, ha=r=, also means to "perceive". The sense is that by perceiving what Yahweh does to the enemy that Israel is commanded to understand the incomparability of Yahweh.
aVh yn1a8 yn1a8 yk<1 is literally "that/because I I he". The context of Yahweh declaring Yahweh's power to kill and make alive and Yahweh's incomparability, mocking the nation's gods inability to act, indicates that the statement is an assertion of Yahweh's existence.
The meaning then is "Perceive now, by seeing what I do, that I really exist".
There is no god beside me
The meaning of mi-, here translated as "beside" is "with". The sense in this contest is that there is no god equal to Yahweh, it is not an assertion that other gods do not exist (their existence is presumed in v 8 and v 43).
There is no thematic statement summarizing this text. A summary is that "Yahweh is executing/will execute judgment for Yahweh's people. Perceive that Yahweh's power is incomparable, greater than all other gods."
The Sixth Century Message
In the exile, this text would have been read as a message of hope. It warned against abandoning Yahweh for the gods of Babylon, even though it would appear that Yahweh either had forsaken the exiles or had been defeated. It proclaimed that when the people are incapable of acting on their own behalf then Yahweh would take up their cause and do justice for them. At that time they would see the irresistible power of Yahweh and that their enemy's gods are unable to stand against Yahweh.
Twentieth Century Message
In our time, "other gods" may include patriotism, money, success, family, churches, or ideologies. This text warns against placing trust in such gods. Our enemies are not invaders in our land, but they may be financial, social, psychological, or pathological. It promises that God will act on behalf of God's people when their own power is gone. It asserts God's ultimate power over life and death. We are to percieve God's execution of judgment on our behalf and know that God really is. The "other gods" have no power comparable to God's.
Anderson, Bernhard W., "Deuteronomy" in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised Standard Version, Metzger, editors Bruce M, and Roland E. Murphy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994
Blenkisop, Joseph "Deuteronomy" in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond E. Brown, et al, editors, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1968
Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament, An Introduction, New York: Paulist Press, 1984
Bright, John, A History of Israel, third edition, Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1973
Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown--Driver--Briggs--Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon, with an ap-pendix containing the Biblical Aramaic, annotated by Jay P. Green Sr, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979
Catholic Biblical Association of America, The New American Bible, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1970
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, The New American Bible, St. Joseph Medium Size Edition, New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1970.
Kohlenberger, John R. III, editor, The NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament, Volume 1, Genesis-Deuteronomy, Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation 1979
Luther, Martin, translator, Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments, nach der deutschen ubersetzung Martin Luthers, Stuttgard: Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1964.
McKenzie, Stephen L., "Deuteronomistic History" in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, editors David Noel Freedman, et al, 6 volumes, New York: Doubleday, 1992, II 160-8.
Miller, Patrick D., Deuteronomy, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching Series, Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990
O'Collins, Gerald G., "Salvation", in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, editors David Noel Freedman, et al, 6 volumes, New York: Doubleday, 1992, V 907-914.
Owens, John Joseph, The Analytical Key to the Old Testament, volume 1, Genesis-Joshua, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990,
Stuart, Douglas, "Exegesis" in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, editors David Noel Freedman, et al, 6 volumes, New York: Doubleday, 1992, II 682-688
Von Rad, Gerhardt, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, translator Dorothea Barton, The Old Testament Library, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966
Weinfeld, Moshe, "Deuteronomy, Book of" in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, editors David Noel Freedman, et al, 6 volumes, New York: Doubleday, 1992, II 168-183
Wigram, George V, The New Englishman's Hebrew Concordance, revised by Jay P. Green Sr, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984
____, Biblia. Det ar all den heliga skrift after den uppa konnung Carl den Tolftes Befallning, Introduction by Martin Luther, edition of 1703, Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1874
____, La Santa Biblia, Antiguo y Nuevo Testamentos, Antigua version de Casiodoro de Reina (1569), revisada por Cipriano de Valera (1602) y cotejada posteriormente con diversas traducciones, y con los textos Hebreo y Griego, London: Sociedad Biblica Trinitaria, date not given
____, The Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha, no city: Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1989
It is appointed in the LBW for Passion Sunday C in the company of Phil 2:5-11 and Lk 22:1-23:56.
The song has three parts: Israel's election and salvation (4-14), Israel's sin and punishment (15-25), Israel's redemption and vengeance (26-42), bracketed by introduction (1-3), and conclusion (43). Within the redemption and vengeance section are thematic divisions of the enemies' misunderstanding (26-30), the loathsomeness of the enemy (31-35), Yahweh's vindication (36-42). V 35 is introductory to v 36. V. 40-1 are Yahweh's oath of vengeance. V 43 is a concluding verse with an almost liturgical character.
It is difficult to divide this text into thematic units. For comparison:
26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43
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There is considerable debate about this assertion. As Von Rad states, "Its nature and origin can be determined only by internal evidence.", Gerhardt von Rad, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, translator Dorothea Barton, The Old Testament Library, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966) 195. I hold here to the view of Eissfeldt and Albright.
The archaic language, including 'Jeshurun", the unusual images, such as the apportionment of the nations, and the similarity to Ex 15 suggest such a date. The situation of the enemy in the song is consonant only with the time of the Judges, David, the destruction of the northern kingdom, or the exile. Yahweh did not avenge the northern kingdom's fall, so preservation of a song predicting such an event is unlikely. The theme in 43, to "cleanse the land for his people" strongly suggests the Philistines and Canaanites as the enemy. If the song is from David's time its preservation and even liturgical use is reasonable.
The argument for a later date is that the theology in the song has themes developed in later prophets. It seems reasonable that themes from a well-known traditional composition would be re-worked and elaborated by later writers. This view is not, then, persuasive.
Fuller discussion of the problem is in Joseph Blenkisop, "Deuteronomy" in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond E. Brown, et al, editors, (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1968), 120; von Rad, Deuteronomy, 198, 200; Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching Series, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 232.
See complete discussion in Moshe Weinfeld, "Deuteronomy, Book of" in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, editors David Noel Freedman, et al, 6 volumes, (New York: Doubleday, 1992), II 168-183.
"A conviction already discerned in Deuteronomic theology: All that happens is at the hand of the Lord." Miller, Deuteronomy, 233. This material was incorporated into Deuteronomy because it furthered these themes. Further discussion of these themes as applied to D in Miller, Deuteronomy, 5-7; von Rad, Deuteronomy, 28-30; Stephen L. McKenzie, "Deuteronomistic History", in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, editors David Noel Freedman, et al, 6 volumes, (New York: Doubleday, 1992), II 160-8.
The organization around Yahweh's past acts, Israel's sin, and Yahweh's war against their enemies is a polemic that explains both the reason for past disaster and the reason why victory is certain. The emotionally-laden wording is that of wartime, the images are those of warriors. The mockery and calumny of the enemy are typical of war-time rhetoric.
"The singing of the song has both a legal-juridical function and an educational one. It convicts as it instructs; it instructs as it convicts." Miller, Deuteronomy, 255. Dt 31:16-22 emphasizes the song's use as a witness against the people during times of trouble.
Compare the usage of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".
Two interpretations are possible for the verb forms in this context. See discussion below in Commentary section. The present tense meanings are consistent with the sitz im leben of a war song.
Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown--Driver--Briggs--Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon, with an ap-pendix containing the Biblical Aramaic, annotated by Jay P. Green Sr, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 192.
A present-time sense would seem to be excluded by the "then" beginning v 37. "Then", however, is an interpretation of the vuv conjunction which could equally well be translated "and", which would be consistent with a present-time sense.
Von Rad, among others, considers v 37-38 to be directed against the idolatrous Israelites. He does not explain why Yahweh has compassion and is going to vindicate the people in v 36 and then proceeds to tell them to let their idols protect them. See von Rad, Deuteronomy, 199.
The verb form is imperative second person masculine plural.
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