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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

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Commentary on Deuteronomy

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

31.30–32.43 : The Song of Moses.

The Song is a late insertion that reflects upon Israel's history, probably presupposing the exile. In form it is a revised and expanded prophetic lawsuit (Isa 1; Jer 2; Mic 6; Ps 50 ) with this structure: introduction and summoning of witnesses (vv. 1–3 ); accusation (vv. 4–6 ); recital of God's loving actions (vv. 7–14 ); indictment (vv. 15–18 ); declaration of punishment (vv. 19–25 ). Yet God interrupts his own judicial sentence to recognize a risk to his honor: Other nations might conclude that Israel's God was weak should they see Israel destroyed (vv. 26–27 ). God reverses himself, cancels the punishment, and decides instead to punish Israel's enemies so as to vindicate Israel (vv. 28–42 ). The Song concludes with a call for the divine council to praise God for his actions; the call may originate from within the divine council itself (v. 43; similarly Ps 29.1 ). A prose frame links the Song to Deuteronomy, identifying Moses, otherwise unmentioned, as its speaker ( 31.30; 32.44 ).

32.2 :

Teaching, the original prophetic lawsuit has been combined with wisdom themes (Prov 1.5; 4.2; 17.21 ).

4 :

Rock, more accurately, “Mountain,” a title applied to the high god of ancient Canaan (see v. 8n. ) and to the biblical God (vv. 15,18,30–31,37; Isa 44.8; Ps 78.35 ).

6 :

Created you, when God redeemed Israel from Egypt (Ex 15.16 , correcting NRSV “acquired”).

8 :

Most High, or Elyon (text note a), is the title of El, the senior god who sat at the head of the divine council in the Ugaritic literature of ancient Canaan. The Bible applies El's title to Israel's God (Gen 14.18–22; Num 24.16; Ps 46.4; 47.2 ; esp. 78.35 , where it is parallel to Rock). Gods, the lesser gods who make up the divine council (Ps 82.1; 89.6–7 ), to each of whom Elyon here assigns a foreign nation.

9 :

The Lord's own portion, NRSV has added own in order to identify Yahweh with Elyon and avoid the impression that Yahweh is merely a member of the pantheon; see also 4.19n.

10 :

Sustained, more likely “found” (Hos 9.10 ). Overlooking the Egypt traditions, the Song here traces the beginnings of Israel to the wilderness period, romanticizing its ideal purity (similarly Hos 2.14–15; Jer 2.2–3 ; contrast Deut 9.6–7,22–27; Ezek 20 ). Apple of his eye, lit. the aperture or pupil of the eye.

11 :

Israel as God's fledgling; see Ex 19.4 .

13 :

Heights, see Ex 15.17 .

14 :

Curds, symbolic of extravagant hospitality offered to special guests (Gen 18.8; Judg 5.25 ). Bashan, in northern Transjordan, was famous for its cattle.

15 :

Jeshurun, probably meaning “upright,” is a poetic term for Israel ( 33.5,26; Isa 44.2 ).

17 :

Demons, better, “protective spirits” (also Ps 106.37 ). Not God, the language is sarcastic: “a non‐god” (see v. 21 ). To deities, better, “to gods.”

18 :

God is depicted as a woman; gave you birth refers specifically to labor pain (Isa 51.2; cf. Isa 42.14 ).

21 :

Jealous refers to the covenant's demand for exclusive loyalty to God ( 5.8; 6.15; Num 25.11 ). Accordingly, the punishment for breach of the covenant metes out precise retributive justice (see 19.19n. ). The Hebrew emphasizes the sarcasm: thus, with what is no god and what is no people, lit. “with a non‐god,” “with a non‐people.” Their idols, lit. “their vapors” or “their vanities,” even “their vapidities” (Jer 8.19; 10.15; 16.19; Eccl 1.2 ).

22 :

Sheol, the underworld (Gen 37.35; 1 Sam 2.6; Ps 139.8 ). The abode of all the dead, not a place of damnation like the later idea of hell.

23 :

Arrows, divine punishments (v. 42; Ezek 5.16; Ps 7.13; 18.14; 38.2 ).

24 :

Burning consumption, the name of the Ugaritic god of pestilence; thus better, “devoured by Plague.”

25 :

Woman, better, “young woman,” to emphasize the double merism ( 28.3–6n. ), which symbolizes the totality of the slaughter.

26–27 :

The Song here pivots from judgment of Israel to her vindication at the expense of the foreign invaders.

27 :

I feared, God has feelings and vulnerabilities (as at Gen 6.6 ).

28–33 :

God's soliloquy is interrupted by another voice, who refers to God in the third person and speaks on behalf of Israel (vv. 30–31 ).

28–29 :

The foreign nation, like Israel, has failed in wisdom, justifying God's judgment (see v. 6 ).

30 :

Ironically inverts the holy war idea ( 3.22; 20.1 ): The enemy is reproached for failing to understand that it owes its triumph over Israel to God rather than force of arms. God will thus punish Israel's conquerors to preserve his own honor (see 9.25–29; Num 14.13–16 ).

32 :

Sodom … Gomorrah, here symbolizing moral corruption more than ruinous devastation (cf. 29.23n. ).

34 :

This, the punishment of the foreign nation, which is about to be announced (vv. 35–42 ). Laid up … sealed up, the formal legal procedures for rolling and then sealing a witnessed deed or contract with wax, so that the unaltered document can subsequently be introduced into court as evidence (Isa 8.16; Jer 32.9–15 ).

35 :

Vengeance, better, “vindication,” since the idea is not revenge but justice.

36 :

Their power is gone, neither bond nor free, God will act when no one survives who can take charge or provide assistance (2 Kings 14.26; cf. 1 Kings 14.10; 21.21; 2 Kings 9.8 ).

39 :

Similar to exilic Second Isaiah (Isa 41.4; 43.10,13; 44.6; 45.6–7,22; 48.12 ).

41 :

Take, lit. “return,” in retributive justice. Thus, vengeance gives the wrong idea (see v. 35n. ). Those who hate me, treaty language that refers to disloyal action that violates the covenant; thus better translated, “those who reject me” ( 5.9 ).

43 :

The second, fourth, and fifth lines have been restored in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls. With heavens and land, the verse forms a frame or inclusio to “heavens … earth” (v. 1 ), thus framing the poem and returning the focus to Israel's impending entry into the promised land. All you gods, the divine council (v. 8n.; Ps 29.1 ), probably removed from the received Heb text because of the conflict with monotheism (see vv. 8–9n. ). Avenge the blood, God as divine blood avenger (cf. 19.6 ), who removes the stain of Israel's blood from the land by requiting the aggressor for having spilled it ( 19.11–13 ). Cleanse, since the moral stain on the land can only be “wiped clean” (the word's literal meaning) with the blood of the murderer (Num 35.33–34; cf. Deut 21.8 ): here, the foreign nation. God's position is nonetheless morally ambiguous, since it was he who had sanctioned the foreign invasion as punishment for Israel's wrongdoing (vv. 19–26 ). His people, instead, referring to God: “O heavens, rejoice with him!”

32.44–47 : Double conclusion.

Two originally separate conclusions joined by Deuteronomy's editors.

44 :

All the words …, an inclusio (see 31.30 ).

45–47 :

A separate section, the original continuation of 31.29 prior to the insertion of the Song.

46 :

All the words, the laws of Deuteronomy ( 31.24 ); now, following the insertion of the Song, reinterpreted to refer to both.

32.48–52 : Moses commanded to die.

This section repeats the announcement of Moses’ death (Num 27.12–14 ) and thus joins it to its logical continuation, the narrative of that death (Deut 34 ). The original connection between these two Priestly sections was broken by Deuteronomy's insertion into the Pentateuch.

49 :

This mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, as in the Priestly narrative (Num 27.12; 33.47 ); but, according to the Deuteronomistic tradition, Pisgah ( 3.27 ). The two traditions are joined at 34.1 .

50 :

You shall die, lit. “Die … !” This unusual imperative establishes that Moses both lives and dies at God's command ( 34.5n. ). Gathered to your kin, burial in a family tomb, where the bones of the generations would be gathered together (2 Kings 8.24; 22.20; cf. 1 Kings 13.31 ); here used metaphorically, since Moses’ burial place is unknown ( 34.6 ). Mount Hor, consistent with the Priestly tradition (Num 20.22–29; 33.37–39 ); but, in the Deuteronomistic tradition, “Moserah” ( 10.6 ).

51 :

You broke faith, see Num 20.1–13 .

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