The Pulpit Commentary

Deuteronomy 32:4-5 (Deuteronomy 32:4-5)

He is the Rock, his work is perfect; rather, The Rock! his work is perfect, i.e. blameless, without fault. God is called "the Rock" ( הַצוּר ), as the unchangeable Refuge and Stronghold of his people, by which they are sustained, and to which they can resort for defense and protection at all times. The epithet is applied to God four times besides in this song ( Deuteronomy 32:15 , Deuteronomy 32:18 , Deuteronomy 32:30 , Deuteronomy 32:31 ); it occurs also frequently in the Psalms (cf. Psalms 19:14 ; Psalms 28:1 ; Psalms 31:2 , Psalms 31:3 ; Psalms 62:2 , Psalms 62:7 ; etc.). The Hebrew word, tsur , cur or zur , appears in several proper names of the Mosaic period, as e.g. Pedahzur , "Rock delivers" ( Numbers 1:10 ), a name of the same import as Pedahel , "God delivers" ( Numbers 34:28 ); Elizur , "God is a Rock" ( Numbers 1:5 ); Zuriel ( Numbers 3:35 ) and Zurishaddai , "the Almighty is Rock" ( Numbers 1:6 ; Numbers 2:12 ). "Jehovah," says Baumgarten, "is here called Rock, without any qualification, the reason is that he is the only true rock, and all the strength and firmness of earth's stones is but an ectype of his unchangeable faithfulness and rectitude. If one cleaves to the dualism of spirit and nature, and regards the figure as a merely subjective, arbitrary union of the two, such an expression is simply unintelligible; but if we would understand Scripture and religious speech, we must with all earnestness accustom ourselves to recognize the spiritual ground in nature, and apprehend this in the Biblical expression." It is remarkable that none of the ancient versions have retained this epithet here. The LXX . have θεὸς : the Vulgate, Deus (" Dei opera "); the Targum of Onkelos, תַּקִיפָא , "Mighty;" while the Peshito has simply the pronoun "his" appended to "works," see word. For all his ways are judgment; i.e. accordant with rectitude (cf. Psalms 145:17 ). A God of truth; rather, of faithfulness ( אְמֶוּנָת , from אָמַן , to stay, or be stayed, to be firm). They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation. Of this difficult passage the following seems the best construction and rendering:— A perverse and crooked generation not his children , [but] their spot—has become corrupt towards him. The subject of the verb at the beginning of the verse is the "perverse and crooked generation," at the end of it, and between the verb and its subject there is interjected parenthetically the clause, "not his children, but their spot." Spot is here used in a moral sense, as in Job 11:15 ; Job 31:7 ; Proverbs 9:7 . These corrupt persons claimed to be children of God, but they were not; they were rather a stain and a reproach to them (cf. 2 Peter 2:13 ; Isaiah 1:4 ). The rendering above given is substantially that of De Wette, Knobel, Keil, and Herxheimer, by all of whom the "perverse generation "is regarded as the subject of the sentence. This is the view adopted also in the 'Speaker's Commentary.' Some would make "God" the subject, and render, "He hath corrupted to him, or to himself" (margin, Authorized Version; Ibn Ezra, etc.). Others take "spot" as the subject, thus: "Their spot or blemish hath corrupted before him children not his" (Lowth, Dathe); but such renderings are forced, and proceed on constructions of the text which are illegitimate. Donaldson, following Lowth's construction, appeals to בָּנִים לאֹ אֵמֻן בָּם (verse 20) as a similar inversion. But the two cases are not parallel. To make them so, we must have here בָנָיו לאֹ מוּם בָּם , "his children in whom is no spot." Ewald takes מוּמֶה as the noun here, instead of מוּם , and tracing it to the Syriac, see Arabic word, juravit , renders "to him they, his not sons, have corrupted their oath," i.e. have broken it; and this Furst approves. But the phrase, "to corrupt an oath" is unexampled in the Old Testament, and there is no ground for changing the noun. The ancient versions vary considerably here: LXX ; ἡμάρτοσαν οὐκ αὐτῷ τέκνα μωμητά : Aq; διέφθειραν αὐτῷ οὐκ δι υἱοὶ αὐτου : Sym; διέφθειραν πρὸς αὔτον οὐχ οἱυἱοι τὸ σύνολον : Vulgate, peccaverunt ei et non filii ejus in sordibus ; Vert. Itala; peeca verunt non ei filii maculati ; Syriac, "They corrupted but not him, children of defilement." These various renderings indicate that probably the text is and has long been corrupt. Some of the older English versions are worth noting on this verse. Rogers [Matthew], "The frowarde and overthwart generation hath marred them selves to himward, and are not his sonnes for their deformitie's sake;" Bishop's Bible, "Frowardly have they done agaynst him by their vices, not being his own children, but a wicked and froward generation;" Geneva Version, "They have corrupted themselves towards him by their vice, not being his children, but a froward and crooked generation."

- The Pulpit Commentary

Deuteronomy 32:1-4 (Deuteronomy 32:1-4)

God the believer's Rock.

"Forms change: principles neverse" So have we had often to remark in discovering in and developing from this book the everlasting principles which are therein set in archaic forms. The song of Moses here recorded will yield us many illustrations of this kind of teaching. Its first four versos suggest three lines of thought.

I. THERE IS HERE A REVEALED DOCTRINE CONCERNING GOD . In the last song which the old man utters ere he climbs the mount of Nebo to die, he declares, "I will publish the Name of the Lord."

1. This Name is "Jehovah." The word involves self-existence, self-sufficiency, immutability, pure being, personality. "I am that I am" expresses all this. It would be a burning shame for any one to apply the term "anthropomorphic" to such a revelation as this. Such a conception may be revealed to man, but assuredly it borrows naught from him.

2. To this Being, greatness is ascribed; i . e . royal magnificence and splendor. The sovereignty of heaven and earth is there!

3. All moral perfections are in the" Name "of God (cf. Exodus 34:6 , Exodus 34:7 ).

4. His work is perfect. The revealed attributes of God warrant us in drawing this conclusion. The intention of Moses here is to set the perfection of God's work over against the sin of man's.

5. His ways are judgment; i . e . they are according to justice.

6. He is the Rock. This epithet is a "piece of Mosaic." It was indeed used by others long after. But the use of it began with Moses. On the rocks of Sinai was the Law proclaimed. In the rock-cleft was Moses hidden. From the smitten rock the waters gushed forth. How natural for Moses to apply this figure to the eternal God! In Deuteronomy 32:31 , Moses speaks of God as " our Rock." He was known to Israel as theirs, their own firm, changeless ground of strength, through all the changing years!

II. THIS DOCTRINE OF THE LIVING GOD AS THE ROCK IS FRAUGHT WITH COMFORT AND REFRESHMENT FOR MAN ( Deuteronomy 32:2 ); i . e . what the rain is to the herb, what the showers are to the grass, that is this teaching concerning God to the soul of man.

1. Our heart wants God ( Psalms 84:2 ).

2. Such a God—this God is as rain and as dew: refreshing, enlivening, restoring.

3. This doctrine of God is meant to make the heart productive of holiness. God's revelation of himself is meant to draw men to himself; in doing this God saves them!

III. THE DOCTRINE THUS PROPOUNDED DESERVES TO BE UNIVERSALLY HEARD , LISTENED TO , AND BELIEVED . ( Deuteronomy 32:1 .) Moses would summon all to hear it. It is—

1. For all classes.

2. For all lands.

3. For all the ages.

The day will never come when this doctrine of God will be obsolete—never!

- The Pulpit Commentary

Deuteronomy 32:4 (Deuteronomy 32:4)

God the Rock.

(Cf. Deuteronomy 32:15 , Deuteronomy 32:18 , Deuteronomy 32:31 , Deuteronomy 32:37 .) This name for God occurs chiefly in this song of Moses, and in the compositions of David and of later psalmists. It was a name full of significance to those familiar with the desert. Rock—rock—rock—Israel had seen little else during the thirty-eight years of wandering. The older men could remember the seclusion and granitic sublimity of the rock sanctuary of Sinai. The congregation had mourned for Aaron under the shadow of Mount Hor, "rising high aloft into the blue sky, like a huge, grand, but shattered rock-city, with vast cliffs, perpendicular walls of stone, pinnacles, and naked peaks of every shape." They had witnessed the security of Edom in the hills in which now stand the wondrous rock-hewn ruin of Petra. They had traversed the defiles of the terrible and precipitous Arabah. When David was hunted in the wilderness, he, too, was often led to think of God, his Rock ( Psalms 18:2 ; Psalms 61:2 ; Psalms 62:2 , Psalms 62:7 , etc.). It is wilderness experience which still makes the name so precious.

I. ROCK A NATURAL IMAGE OF DIVINE ATTRIBUTES . The image is not an arbitrary one. Nature abounds in shadows of the spiritual. It is what the mind puts into the objects of its survey which makes them what they are. "The Alps and Andes are but millions of atoms till thought combines them, and stamps on them the conception of the everlasting hills. Niagara is a gush of water-drops till the soul puts into it that sweep of resistless power which the beholder feels. The ocean, wave behind wave, is only great when the spirit has breathed into it the idea of immensity. If we analyze our feelings, we shall find that thought meets us wherever we turn. The real grandeur of the world is in the soul which looks on it, which sees some conception of its own reflected from the mirror around it; for mind is not only living, but life-giving, and has received from its Maker a portion of his own creative power" (Dr. John Ker). Rock is thus more than rock—its awfulness, grandeur, immovability, everlastingness, strength, are born of spiritual conceptions. These attributes do not in reality belong to it. Rock is not everlasting, moveless, abiding, etc. Old rocks are being worn away, new rocks are being formed; the whole system had a beginning and will have an end ( Psalms 90:2 ). It is not that these attributes belong to rock, and are thence by metaphor attributed to God; but these attributes of God, being dimly present in the mind, are by metaphor attributed to rock. We clothe the natural object with shadowy attributes of Deity. God is the true Rock, the other is the image. God is rock, in virtue of:

1. The eternity of his existence ( Psalms 90:2 ).

2. The omnipotence of his might ( Daniel 4:35 ).

3. The wisdom of his counsel ( Isaiah 40:13 ).

4. The immutability of his purpose ( Psalms 33:11 ; Isaiah 46:10 ).

5. The faithfulness of his Word ( Psalms 119:89 , Psalms 119:90 ).

6. The rectitude of his government ( Psalms 145:17 ). Whence:

7. The perfection of his work. Christ is like the Father, eternal ( Revelation 1:11 ), unchangeable ( Hebrews 13:8 ), all-powerful ( Matthew 28:18 ), faithful ( John 13:1 ; John 14:18-20 ), righteous ( Revelation 19:11 ), wise ( Isaiah 9:6 ).


1. A shelter ( Psalms 61:3 ).

2. A defense ( Psalms 18:2 ; Psalms 62:6 ).

3. A dwelling-place ( Psalms 90:1 ).

4. A shadow from the heat (cf. Isaiah 32:2 ).

5. A move-less standing-ground ( Psalms 40:2 ).

6. A foundation (cf. Matthew 7:24 ). The rock smitten in the wilderness furnishes the additional idea of:

7. A source of spiritual refreshment.

Apply throughout to Christ, the Rock on which his Church is built ( Matthew 16:18 ; 1 Corinthians 2:11 ), the smitten Savior ( 1 Corinthians 10:4 ; 1 John 5:6 ), the spiritual Refuge and Salvation of his people ( Romans 8:1 , Romans 8:34-39 ). Toplady's hymn, "Rock of Ages."—J.O.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Deuteronomy 32:4-7 (Deuteronomy 32:4-7)

God's righteousness and man's iniquity.

The sin of man is only fully seen in contrast with God's righteousness and love. The light is needed to bring out the depth of the shadow. It reveals the "spot."

I. GOD 'S FAVOR TO ISRAEL . God's dealings with Israel had been marked by:

1. Rectitude ( Deuteronomy 32:4 ). He had done everything that was just and right to them. His ways had been equal. He had given them just statutes. His covenant-keeping faithfulness had been signally manifested. There was not the shadow of a pretence for accusing God of injustice or of infidelity to his engagements.

2. Love . Love and grace had been more conspicuous in his treatment of them than even justice. It was shown in their election, in the deliverance from Egypt, in the guidance of the desert, in pardon of offences, in the many and undeserved favors which had been heaped upon them (cf. Deuteronomy 32:9-14 ). Rectitude and love have reached their fullest manifestation in the gospel. The cross displays both. It harmonizes their apparently conflicting claims, and exhibits them in new glories. God's character, revealed in Christ, is the condemnation of an unbelieving world.

II. ISRAEL 'S REQUITAL OF GOD 'S KINDNESS . ( Deuteronomy 32:5 , Deuteronomy 32:6 .) Their requital was an incredibly base one. They corrupted themselves. They wantonly departed from the ways of right. They behaved ungratefully. Instead of imitating God in the example of rectitude he had set them, and walking before him "as dear children," they flung to the winds the remembrance of his mercies, and brought disgrace upon his Name. He was their Father ( Deuteronomy 32:6 ), but instead of reflecting the features of his image, they dishonored and discredited it (cf. Isaiah 1:2-4 , which appears to be based on this passage). Their sin was:

1. Self-caused . There was nothing which they had seen in their God to cause it, to account for it, or to excuse it.

2. Irrational . Their powers, given by God, ought willingly to have been devoted in his service. Obedience is the normal condition. Heaven and earth, undeviatingly obeying the law of their existence, condemn man's apostasy ( Deuteronomy 32:1 ). The very brute creation testifies against him ( Isaiah 1:3 ).

3. Ungrateful . God had bought them for himself, had made a nation of them, and established them in Canaan. Yet, without compunction, they cast off his yoke.

4. Foolish ; for the way they chose was the way of death, whereas in God's favor was life ( Deuteronomy 32:47 ), with every blessing that heart could wish for. The same remarks apply to sinners—despising the gracious overtures which God makes to them, with all the favors, temporal and spiritual, he has actually shown them, and careering on to their eternal ruin. "O foolish people and unwise!"—J.O.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Deuteronomy 32:1-14 (Deuteronomy 32:1-14)

The fatherhood of God.

In this first section of the Divine song, the predominating idea is God's fatherhood. It comes out in Deuteronomy 32:6 in express terms; it is implied in the care that is attributed to him for his children of Israel; it passes into the still tenderer idea of motherhood in the illustration of the eagle ( Deuteronomy 32:11 ); and may fairly be taken as the idea dominating the whole. It has been thought that the fatherhood of God is almost altogether a New Testament idea; but we have it here expressly stated, and it underlies many portions of the Old Testament. This whole song is, in fact, a paternal expostulation with children that have been wayward in the wilderness, and will be more wayward still in the land of promise. We shall notice in order the ideas suggested by this section.

I. FERTILIZING DOCTRINE . Divine doctrine, even in its severest forms, has a gracious and fertilizing influence like rain or dew. It comes down upon the wilderness of human nature, and makes it a fruitful field. It comes down upon the tender herb of implanted graces, upon the grass of humble and useful piety, and makes all to grow more luxuriantly. Nothing is so important as "good doctrine."

II. THE ROCK - STABILITY OF GOD . This is the first inquiry. Can God be trusted as truly stable? The answer is that he is a Rock, and that upon his veracity and justice and helpfulness we can constantly rely. Moses and the Israelites had experienced this; as they wandered amid the rocky fastnesses of the desert, they had found him as firm and as reliable as the rocks. Up to this time, the figure had not been applied to God. The Israelites have, indeed, from the hard and flinty rock, had refreshing streams; the rock was to them a fountain of waters; and doubtless when here the figure is for the first time applied to God, they would find it delightful to associate refreshment and shelter with him. Then in course of time it became a favorite figure, as the Psalms in many passages show (cf. Psalms 28:1 ; Psalms 31:2 , Psalms 31:3 ; Psalms 42:9 ; Psalms 62:2 , Psalms 62:7 ; Psalms 78:20 , Psalms 78:35 ; Psalms 95:1 , etc.). And we rejoice to call our Redeemer "Rock of Ages," in the clefts of which, according to Toplady's idea, taken from Exodus 33:22 , we can take shelter and feel safe. £

III. PATERNAL APPEAL . Although God is so worthy of trust, the Israelites have corrupted themselves; they are unwilling to have upon them the mark or spot of the children of God, but the mark of some other tribe; £ and so as a Father he appeals to them because of their ingratitude. Has he not made them, bought them, and established them, and, in consequence, earned a right to different treatment from this? Fatherhood has rights by reason of service which no grateful child can overlook.

IV. PATERNAL FORESIGHT . He speaks next of the days of old, of the years of many generations, which the fathers and elders could testify about, during which time the Father was but evolving his glorious plan, separating and scattering the sons of Adam according to the interests and number of the children of Israel. At Babel and the subsequent migrations of men, "God so distributed the earth among the several peoples that were therein, as to reserve, or in his sovereign counsel to appoint, such a part for the Israelites, though they were then unborn, as might prove a commodious settlement and habitation for them." £ Noble foresight, worthy of an everlasting and infinite Father.

V. PATERNAL INSTRUCTION . One element in fatherhood is a sense of possession in the children. The father rejoices that the children are his, and will not part readily with his portion. So with God. "The Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." Out of this sense of property comes the improvement of the children by faithful instruction. Hence Israel were led into the wilderness, and their Father found them there, and led them about, instructing them, and keeping them as "the apple of the eye." It was the Father educating them through his own companionship, and leading them onwards in safety towards their home.

VI. PARENTAL DISCIPLINE . The song introduces ( Exodus 33:11 ) the figure of the eagle, and the motherly discipline to which she subjects her brood. " Naturalists tell us that when her young are old enough to fly, the eagle breaks her nest in pieces, in order to compel them to use their powers of flight; fluttering over them, that by imitation they may learn how to employ their wings, but, when unwilling to fly, spreading abroad her wings, she bears them upwards in the air, and then shaking them off, compels them to use their own exertions." £ From this Mr. Hull deduces the truth that "the Divine discipline of life is designed to awaken man to the development of his own powers." We see thus the kindness of the parental discipline, and that it takes motherhood as well as fatherhood to illustrate the Divine relation (cf. Isaiah 49:15 ).

VII. PARENTAL BLESSING . Having exercised such parental care over the people, the result was abundant temporal success and blessing. This is beautifully brought out as a "riding upon the high places of the earth." And then the whole panorama of agricultural prosperity is presented, "the increase of the fields" providing bread , the rocks affording shelter for the bees which extracted abundant honey from the flowers, the olives clinging to the flinty rocks and affording abundance of oil , while the kine in the fat pastures gave butter , and the sheep milk , and the lambs were choice food, and the rams of the breed of Bashan, while the finest wheat and the purest wine made the lot of Israel princely. It was a land of promise surely which supplied their wants in such a fashion. God's goodness was exceeding great.

The "fatherhood of God" had thus its grand exemplification in the history of Israel. A Father who was firm as the rocky fastnesses around them and as reliable; who provided for his children long before they were born; who instructed and disciplined them, and brought them eventually to a splendid inheritance,—might well look for their trust and obedience. The Lord shows a similar fatherly care still to all men, even those who do not return a filial spirit; and if, in his grace, they yield at length to his paternal appeals, then he comes and gives them a fellowship such as they never dreamed of. "He that loveth me," saith Jesus, " shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" ( John 14:21 ).—R.M.E.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Deuteronomy 32:1-6 (Deuteronomy 32:1-6)

God's vicegerent as poet.

The true poet is God's messenger. He that sings not of truth and goodness is not a genuine poet; he is but a rhymester. As the swan is said to sing sweetly only in the act of dying, so, on the eve of his departure, Moses sings his noblest strains.

I. OBSERVE THE POET 'S AUDITORY . He summons heaven and earth to hear. We read in ancient story that when Orpheus made music with his lyre, the wild beasts listened, and the trees and rocks of Olympus followed him about. This may serve as a just reproof to some men, who, having ears, act as if they had them not.

1. Heaven and earth may denote both angels and men . For even "the principalities of heaven learn from the Church the manifold wisdom of God."

2. Heaven and earth may denote all classes of the people , high and low . Frequently in Scripture great men are represented as the stars of heaven. The man of ambition is said to lift his head to the stars. The righteous are to shine as the brightness of the firmament.

3. Heaven and earth may denote the intelligent and the material creation . On account of man's sin, "the whole creation groaneth;" and the effect of man's obedience will be felt beneficially on the material globe. It will increase its fertility, its beauty, its fragrance, its music. "Truth" shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look "down from heaven." "Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice."

II. THE POET 'S BENEFICENT INFLUENCE . "My doctrine shall drop as the rain," etc. ( Deuteronomy 32:2 ). This imagery teaches us:

1. The silent , unobtrusive power of truth . It finds it way, quietly and unobserved, to the roots of human judgment and feeling.

2. It is refreshing . What a draught of clear water is to a thirsty man, truth is to a healthy, active soul.

3. It is fertilizing . It nourishes all good affections, and strengthens every virtue.

4. It is most suitable . No fitness can be more manifest than dew for tender grass. Poetic truth is suited to every grade of human understanding.

III. THE POET 'S LOFTY THEME . His theme is God; but God is only known as he reveals himself in his Name.

1. He descants upon his majesty, his supreme power, and the splendors of his state.

2. He touches upon his eternal stability. What the unchanging rock is amid the shifting sands, God is—unalterably the same.

3. He dwells upon the perfections of his character ("just and right is he"); upon the perfection of his works, which are incapable of any improvement; upon the perfection of his government ("all his ways are judgment"); and upon the perfection of his speech. He is "a God of truth." He alters nothing, retracts nothing.

IV. THE POET 'S MORAL PURPOSE . To restore harmony between man and God.

1. He proclaims man's fallen state: "they have corrupted themselves." Human nature is not as it was when it came from the hands of God. Man holds this tremendous power of ruining his own nature.

2. The mark of sonship has disappeared. "Their spot is not the spot of his children." Childlike docility and submissiveness form the family lineament.

3. This depravity has spread like the virus of disease. The whole race is infected. "They are a perverse and crooked generation."

4. Such conduct is suicidal folly. It is most antagonistic to self-interest. No madman could have acted worse.

5. Such conduct is the basest ingratitude. "Do ye thus requite the Lord?" Consider his claims. Did he not create thee? Has he not been a Father to thee? Has he not redeemed thee? Tender expostulation with the conscience is the poet's mission. For this vocation he has been specially inspired by God. A heavenly spirit breathes through his every word. No higher honor can man attain on earth.—D.

- The Pulpit Commentary