Torah Portion for week 52: Deuteronomy 32
Haazinu (Give Ear!)
The book of Deuteronomy, Moses’ extended admonition to the conquest generation, draws to a close with the “Song of Moses,” a song intended to awaken Israel from spiritual slumber. From the time of the Exodus from Egypt, Israel had suffered from a spiritual amnesia, a short-term memory loss in which the mighty redemptive works of God on behalf of his people – from the ten plagues of Egypt on – were consistently forgotten whenever challenging circumstances arose.
With his own death at hand, Moses was warned by God that Israel’s rebellious behavior would only grow worse once he was gone. Therefore, God charged Moses to compose and teach the people the song of Deuteronomy 32 as a constant reminder of God’s righteous and gracious character and their own responsibility for the consequences of their rebellion (Deut 31:15-23). In short, Moses was to teach Israel this song so that the nation could never again hide behind the excuse of forgetfulness (v. 21).
The song itself has three stanzas. In the first, God’s righteous, praiseworthy character and his faithful performance of his covenant responsibilities toward Israel are detailed (32:1-14). In verses 3 and 4 we read: “For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
The second stanza details Israel’s future rebellious actions – forgetting God’s many saving acts, stirring up God’s anger, and bringing his just judgment (32:15-29). As Moses writes:
But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. . . . You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” (Deut 32:15-16, 18)
Even then, God’s judgment would be tempered by mercy. He would not utterly destroy his people although they had acted so foolishly (32:26-29).
The final stanza reminds Israel that God’s judgment will come, but so will his deliverance, as God once again demonstrates his worthiness to be praised and served (Deut 32:30-43). God might use the pagan nations as his instruments, but he will ultimately judge them for their attacks on Israel and will rescue his beleaguered people: “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly. 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” (Deut 32:35-36).
How fitting is this passage in the light of our situation in the Middle East! Israel is surrounded by those who are determined to exterminate us: Hamas terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Al Qaeda and Islamic State radicals in Sinai and Syria; not to mention a soon-to-be nuclear Iran with long range missiles. As the West is finally awakening to the threat of Islamic jihadists to their own distant citizens, Israel continues to be condemned by the world for fighting the same battle in its own backyard. Anti-Semitism in words and deeds has made Jewish people throughout Europe afraid for their lives; many feel compelled to hide their identities to avoid personal attacks.
The prophet Zechariah predicted the fulfillment of the ”Song of Moses” in the last days, when “all the nations of the earth” would be gathered against Jerusalem (Zech 12:3b). Israel today has largely forgotten the saving works of the Lord in the past and even the miraculous deliverances of the state of Israel in more recent history (since 1948). But the Lord has not forgotten his people, and he will use the very real threats posed by Israel’s enemies (and the growing hostility of one-time friends) to remind Israel that he and he alone is the God of their salvation.
God will vindicate his people and complete his plan of redemption for and through Israel. By his gracious intervention and the outpouring of his Spirit, Israel will one day “look on me, on him whom they have pierced” in true repentance (Zech 12:10) and be delivered from the onslaughts of those who oppose God, his people, and his redemptive plan (Zech 14). More than ever, in these days of destiny, we who love the Lord and know his ways must “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps 122:6) and especially that Israel might come to know the Prince of Peace, Yeshua the Messiah (Rom 10:1).