Verses 19-25 (Deuteronomy 32:19-25)

The method of this song follows the method of the predictions in the foregoing chapter, and therefore, after the revolt of Israel from God, described in the Deut. 32:15, 16, here follow immediately the resolves of divine Justice concerning them; we deceive ourselves if we think that God will be thus mocked by a foolish faithless people, that play fast and loose with him.

I. He had delighted in them, but now he would reject them with detestation and disdain, Deut. 32:19. When the Lord saw their treachery, and folly, and base ingratitude, he abhorred them, he despised them, so some read it. Sin makes us odious in the sight of the holy God; and no sinners are so loathsome to him as those that he has called, and that have called themselves, his sons and his daughters, and yet have been provoking to him. Note, The nearer any are to God in profession the more noisome are they to him if they are defiled in a sinful way, Ps. 106:39, 40.

II. He had given them the tokens of his presence with them and his favour to them; but now he would withdraw and hide his face from them, Deut. 32:20. His hiding his face signifies his great displeasure; they had turned their back upon God, and now God would turn his back upon them (compare Jer. 18:17; Jer. 2:27); but here it denotes also the slowness of God?s proceedings against them in a way of judgment. They began in their apostasy with omissions of good, and so proceeded to commissions of evil. In like manner God will first suspend his favours, and let them see what the issue of that will be, what a friend they lose when they provoke God to depart, and will try whether this will bring them to repentance. Thus we find God hiding himself, as it were, in expectation of the event, Isa. 57:17. To justify himself in leaving them he shows that they were such as there was no dealing with; for, 1. They were froward and a people that could not be pleased, or obstinate in sin, and that could not be convinced and reclaimed. 2. They were faithless, and a people that could not be trusted. When he saved them, and took them into covenant, he said, Surely they are children that will not lie (Isa. 63:8); but when they proved otherwise, children in whom is no faith, they deserved to be abandoned, and that the God of truth should have no more to do with them.

III. He had done every thing to make them easy and to please them, but now he would do that against them which should be most vexatious to them. The punishment here answers the sin, Deut. 32:21. 1. They had provoked God with despicable deities which were not gods at all, but vanities, creatures of their own imagination, that could not pretend either to merit or to repay the respects of their worshippers; the more vain and vile the gods were after which they went a whoring the greater was the offence to that great and good God whom they set them up in competition with and contradiction to. This put two great evils into their idolatry, Jer. 2:13. 2. God would therefore plague them with despicable enemies, that were worthless, weak, and inconsiderable, and not deserving the name of a people, which was a great mortification to them, and aggravated the oppressions they groaned under The more base the people were that tyrannised over them the more barbarous they would be (none so insolent as a beggar on horseback), besides that it would be infamous to Israel, who had so often triumphed over great and mighty nations, to be themselves trampled upon by the weak and foolish, and to come under the curse of Canaan, who was to be a servant of servants. But God can make the weakest instrument a scourge to the strongest sinner; and those that by sin insult their might Creator are justly insulted by the meanest of their fellow-creatures. This was remarkably fulfilled in the days of the judges, when they were sometimes oppressed by the very Canaanites themselves, whom they had subdued, Jdg. 4:2. But the apostle applies it to the conversion of the Gentiles, who had been a people not in covenant with God, and foolish in divine things, yet were brought into the church, sorely to the grief of the Jews, who upon all occasions showed a great indignation at it, which was both their sin and their punishment, as envy always is, Rom. 10:19.

IV. He had planted them in a good land, and replenished them with all good things; but now he would strip them of all their comforts, and bring them to ruin. The judgments threatened are very terrible, Deut. 32:22-25. 1. The fire of God?s anger shall consume them, Deut. 32:22. Are they proud of their plenty? It shall burn up the increase of the earth. Are they confident of their strength? It shall destroy the very foundations of their mountains: there is no fence against the judgments of God when they come with commission to lay all waste. It shall burn to the lowest hell, that is, it shall bring them to the very depth of misery in this world, which yet would be but a faint resemblance of the complete and endless misery of sinners in the other world. The damnation of hell (as our Saviour calls it) is the fire of God?s anger, fastening upon the guilty conscience of a sinner, to its inexpressible and everlasting torment, Isa. 30:33. 2. The arrows of God?s judgments shall be spent upon them, till his quiver is quite exhausted, Deut. 32:23. The judgments of God, like arrows, fly swiftly (Ps. 64:7), reaching those at a distance who flatter themselves with hopes of escaping them, Ps. 21:8, 12. They come from an unseen hand, but wound mortally, for God never misses his mark, 1 Kgs. 22:34. The particular judgments here threatened are, (1.) Famine: they shall be burnt, or parched, with hunger. (2.) Pestilence and other diseases, here called burning heat and bitter destruction. (3.) The insults of the inferior creatures: the teeth of beasts and the poison of serpents, Deut. 32:24. (4.) War and the fatal consequences of it, Deut. 32:25. [1.] Perpetual frights. When the sword is without, there cannot but be terror within. 2 Cor. 7:5; Without were fightings, within were fears. Those who cast off the fear of God are justly exposed to the fear of enemies. [2.] Universal deaths. The sword of the Lord, when it is sent to lay all waste, will destroy without distinction; neither the strength of the young man nor the beauty of the virgin, neither the innocency of the suckling nor the gravity or infirmity of the man of gray hairs, will be their security from the sword when it devours one as well as another. Such devastation does war make, especially when it is pushed on by men as ravenous as wild beasts and as venomous as serpents, Deut. 32:24. See here what mischief sin does, and reckon those fools that make a mock at it.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary