Adopt the Right Perspective

 

Week of November 27, 2011

 

Bible Verses:Deuteronomy 32:1-9, 36-39, 43.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson examines the song Moses recited at the end of his life, a song that centers all of life in knowing and living under the greatness and graciousness of God.

 

God is Worthy:Deuteronomy 32:1-4.

 

[1]"Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. [2]May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. [3]For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! [4]"The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.[ESV]

 

We come now to the truths expressed in Mosesí famous Song. It is a hymn of bitter grief, expressing Godís intense disappointment with His greatly loved people. Throughout the succeeding centuries it was to serve as an easily memorized teaching aid to educate the Israelite people about spiritual priorities and to communicate Godís warning message to successive generations. In biblical times Godís people frequently used songs to give vocal expression to their faith. Songs of victory celebrated Godís power, songs of trust recalled Godís faithfulness, songs of distress appealed for Godís help, and songs of joy acknowledge Godís deliverance. The literary pattern of this Song which Moses taught the people closely follows the structure of the declarations of guilt which were drawn up when a vassal nation violated the covenant agreement with a suzerain. They usually began with a public exhortation. In the presence of witnesses, the offending party is commanded to pay special attention to the precise accusations which are being made. The nation concerned is then interrogated regarding their offenses and reminded of the special privileges which they have jeopardized by their disobedience. The usual offense which transgressed the terms of these covenants was disloyalty by forming an alliance with another nation. These documents go on to condemn such disaffection and describe the fierce punishment which will follow. With this literary background we can see that the opening stanza of the Song [32:1-6] invites witnesses to attest the truth of the suzerainís accusations. As was common in such documents, heaven and earth are summoned to testify to the reality and seriousness of the transgression [1]. In the next section [7-14] the rebellious nation is reminded of the material benefits enjoyed under the covenantís terms, all of which have been spurned and disregarded by the disloyal people who have formed other alliances, in Israelís case with idols [15-18]. The agreement has been broken, despite the reliability and generosity of Israelís unique Suzerain, God. In the third section [19-42], the disloyal people are warned of the ultimate consequences of their persistent transgression. So far Mosesí Song closely follows this common literary structure but towards its close there is a striking difference. These documents normally conclude on a note of severe warning which often includes a vicious declaration of war against the offender. In contrast, Mosesí Song ends on the note of exultant hope, with praise offered to a merciful Lord who has not simply exposed the offense but pardoned it by making atonement for His peopleís sins [43]. Moses was a highly sensitive realist. From his forty years of experience with these people in the wilderness he knew only too well how they were likely to behave once they settled in Canaan. After all, the newly released Israelite slaves were worshipping an idol within months of their release from Egypt. For all his careful instructions, earnest appeal and repeated exhortations, they would continue to resist Godís word and repeatedly go after other gods. So, anticipating such apostasy after their settlement in Canaan, this song was to be taught to the people and their children, then passed on from generation to generation. By the novel means of a popular song, Israel would always have access to a constantly renewed warning about the tragic effects of their recurrent spiritual disloyalty. The Song is in four parts: Godís nature is described [1-14], His rivals condemned [15-18], His grief expressed [19-33] and His mercy promised [34-43].

 

[1-4]The Song does not begin with these somber themes of disobedience and despair although, eventually, it moves to them. At the start of the Song the rebels are encouraged to acknowledge the goodness of a God who speaks to them [1-2] and who is worthy of their praise [3]. The believerís only appropriate response to the revelation of God in Scripture is attention and adoration. Godís first word to the world He has made is Give ear. People who stubbornly resist His word cannot hope to please God, help others or fulfill themselves. The introduction to the song exalts the unique reviving power of Godís word [2]. Its arresting imagery would be highly meaningful in an agricultural community. The word of God in this Song would come to successive generations like refreshing rain. Just as Godís gift of water is vital for the physical life of the people, so His creative word is an essential ingredient in their spiritual life. Once they settled in Canaan they would come to see that, for all their physical assets, true contentment depends on something more than material possessions. The Song begins with the appeal that the people will give themselves attentively and obediently to this vitalizing word, and that its teaching will drop as the rain and distill as the dew. If they will welcome this unique truth, it will be as productive in their lives as gentle rain upon the tender grass. This word of God will sometimes come to them as the early morning dew, without great dramatic impact. Almost imperceptibly it would gently find its way into their receptive hearts. As other times, it would descend with powerful force, like showers upon the herb, leaving them in no doubt that God had spoken to them with convincing power. Reverent attention to Godís word will issue in grateful adoration. The fact that this song addresses the people with such transforming vitality will surely encourage them to ascribe greatness to our God. Praise is a vital aspect of Christian as well as Hebrew spirituality. The highly appropriate imagery changes suddenly from the rain to the rock [4]. The confession is the first of seven occasions when this imagery is used in the Song. In Scripture the rock is a striking and familiar metaphor. Rocks in the wilderness provided travelers with shelter in a desert storm, a shadow to protect them from the blazing sun. in certain situations, they even became places where food might be found. This Song later reminds the Israelite of times when God nourished him with honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock [13]. Yet, despite such provision, Israel scoffed at the Rock of his salvation [15]; as a people they forgot the God who gave you birth [18]. When they were routed by their enemies, did they not realize that their defeat was because, to teach them a lesson, their Rock had sold them and the Lord had given them up [30]? Whenever would they realize that substitute gods were useless? In these ways the Song skillfully develops the contrast between God the dependable Rock and the nationsí idols, flimsy, unreliable rocks, which offer no firm foundation for their future. From their experience in the wilderness these travelers knew the sharp contrast between the firm, secure rock and the constantly drifting sand. For forty years they had lived in the hazardous desert and now they yearned for something settled, permanent and reliable. The stability they longed for would never come about by a mere change of geographical territory; lasting security was to be found only in God Himself. He, and He alone, is the strong, firm rock on whom every believer can rely. His total dependability, always keeping His covenant promises, is in marked contrast to the uncertain, perpetually shifting, sand-like experience of His unreliable children. They will frequently let Him down, and disregard the agreement they have made with Him. Like drifting sand they will love Him one day and serve other gods the next. Though they disappoint Him, however, God will never deal with them as they deserve. He is a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he [4], not like the capricious nonentities which His disloyal subjects worship at idolatrous shrines. In times of bewildering suffering they would find renewed comfort as well as distinct challenge in this exhortation to praise; all his ways are justice, not just some of them. During periods of their history when they suffered as captives or exiles they could renew their confidence in a faithful covenant God who would use even their adversities, and transform them into the messengers of His unchanging and unfailing love.

 

Humanity is Willful: Deuteronomy 32:5-9.

 

[5]They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. [6]Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? [7]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. [8]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. [9]But the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.[ESV]

 

[5-9]Yahwehís charges against Israel were that they had become so disobedient that they no longer acted like His children but, to the contrary, had repudiated Him as their Father and Creator. The disobedience, already a part of Israelís past and an anticipated course of life in the future, is expressed here in the strong language of perversion. What is perverted is the relationship established by election and covenant, namely, that of kinship with the Lord. Israel, as the child of God, is a common Old Testament motif, one developed especially by Hosea. Indubitably drawing upon the imagery here in Deuteronomy (and elsewhere), the prophet spoke of Israel as children of unfaithfulness who, because of their unfaithful mother (also Israel), would no longer prosper in the land and be objects of the Lordís gracious forgiveness but, to the contrary, would become no longer Godís people. As the song here puts it, they had become a crooked and twisted generation, a grotesque mockery of what God created them to be. Such behavior, the accusation reads, is an incomprehensible response to the loving beneficence of God their Father and Creator. It bears all the marks of an obtuse and irrational people, a people willing to abandon sonship in favor of their own selfish ways. The thought of any people rejecting their god was almost beyond belief, but the Lord is more than ďjust God.Ē He is Father and Creator, the one who made and established His people. The personal interest and intimacy surrounding such a concept staggers the imagination and makes all the more incredible the possibility that any people could reject the God who initiated it. But this is precisely what Israel did and was expected to do in the future. Israelís actual and projected defection from the Lord and the covenant is particularly heinous in light of the Lordís past acts of election, redemption, and provision on their behalf. It is said that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it, and with that sentiment in mind Moses urged the people to remember bygone days in order to be informed and inspired by them. The important thing is that each generation understand its origin and the process by which it had arrived at that hour. The point of departure was when the Most High divided humankind into nations and assigned to them their geographical and historical allotments [8]. This act of universal sovereignty supplies clear evidence of the Lordís concern for the whole world, His special selection of Israel notwithstanding. God from the beginning carved out a geographical inheritance for His elect people and arranged the allotments of all other nations, especially those of Canaan, to accommodate that purpose. Not only was Canaan itself, then, set apart from the beginning to be the land of promise, but its very extent was established on the basis of Israelís number, that is, their population and other requirements. To underscore this centrality of Israel in the salvific purposes of God, Moses described them as the Lordís own portion, His special inheritance [9]. As though His provision of a land allotment for Israel among all nations was not enough, He counted Israel, from among all nations, His own precious possession. This kind of language appears also on the occasion of the Lordís making covenant with Israel where they are described as my treasured possession among all peoples [Ex. 19:5].

 

Godís Ways are Wonderful: Deuteronomy 32:36-39,43.

 

[36]For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free. [37]Then he will say, 'Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge, [38]who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection! [39]"'See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. [43]"Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people's land."

 

[36-39]The Lord has the sole prerogative to avenge, no matter the means that is used, for it is He who is offended by sin. It is He, therefore, who brings judgment when and as He pleases. But it also is He who acts with compassion even in the midst of judgment. When He saw that the Israelites had turned to gods that could give no help or hope and that they were therefore completely debilitated, He still responded with pity for His people were a nation void of counsel [28]. Compassion does not negate accountability, however, and in Israelís 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. Vainly they would implore these figments of imagination to help them and to provide them security. In marked contrast to the weak, incompetent, and, in fact, non-existent gods of the pagans was the Lord, the one who alone exists. This self-affirmation is inherent throughout the covenant text of Deuteronomy and argued at length elsewhere, especially in Isaiah. He was the ultimate cause of death and the source of all life, the wounder and healer, the one from whom no one could escape. The order of these abilities or attributes appears to be the reverse of matching elements in verses 26-38, where the powerlessness of pagan gods is the issue. Thus the Lordís grasp from which no one could be delivered [39] opposes verses 26-30, where Israel is said to have believed that their calamities must be attributed to the gods of the nations. Also the Lord as sovereign of life and death and of harm and health was so unlike those gods whose roots and fruits were poisonous in their source and effect [31-33]. Finally, His uniqueness and solitariness contrasts with the imagined existence and plurality of these deities.

 

[43]The Song concludes on the note of praise and promise, inviting every individual Israelite to respond: Rejoice with him. The cleansing described in verse 43 indicates that which is covered, cleared away, expiated. Though His disaffected people have broken the covenant-promises, causing Him great sorrow, the Lord will not break His promise. His uplifted hand testifies to earth and heaven the reliability of His spoken oath [40]. The concluding stanza of the Song is a paradigm of His dealings with us. He will cleanse our sins, every single one of them. He will cover them so completely that they need not haunt us on earth and will never be recalled in heaven. The Song uncovers human sin only that it may be divinely covered; exposure is an essential element in its atonement. All attempts to conceal or disguise our sins are ultimately useless. God sees everything now and will certainly do so in the future. Our sins become almost vocal and cry out against us; only God can silence the accuser and assure us of an eternally effective covering. Across the changing centuries, the people who sang this Song were reminded of changeless truth Ė that the God who loved them [36] would not fail to restore them.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† How does Moses begin his song in 32:1-4? What is emphasized? Why is this important for a rebellious people to hear?

 

2.†††††††† ďReverent attention to Godís Word will issue in grateful adoration.Ē Do you find this to be true in your own life? Then why donít we spend more time and energy giving reverent attention to Godís Word?

 

3.†††††††† How is the rock a striking metaphor for our covenant God?

 

4.†††††††† According to 32:5-6, what have the people done? What does Moses instruct the people to do in 32:7-9? Why is remembering so important for our spiritual life?

 

5.†††††††† How does Moses conclude his song in 32:36-43? Why is praise the only fitting conclusion to a meditation on Godís character?

 

References:

The Message of Deuteronomy, Raymond Brown, Inter Varsity.

Deuteronomy, Eugene Merrill, NAC, Broadman.

Deuteronomy, John Currid, Evangelical Press.