Deuteronomy 32:39 (CSB)
39 See now that I alone am he; there is no God but me. I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal. No one can rescue anyone from my power.
The vast majority of this pericope, and chapter 32, is the Song of Moses mentioned previously in Deut. 31. The song was to be remembered by the Israelites, and would serve as a testimony against them when they fall away from God.
The song begins by praising God, declaring how great he is, and proclaiming his perfection. This is important, as much for us today as it was for the Israelites then. It’s so important, the nature of who God is, that the song starts with, “Pay attention, heavens, […]; listen, earth.” the heavens and earth are called to take heed of what is to be sung… that’s important!
The song quickly shifts to the corruption of the Israelites though. Starting in Deut. 32:5, God outlines the failure, the corruption, the sin, of Israel. All the way through Deut. 32:14 we read how God cared for, protected, looked after, led, his people Israel (using Jacob as the focus of the verses). It is made clear what is said in v5: “this is [Israel’s] defect.” God did not bring about the rebellion of his people, it was their sin.
Deut. 32:15-18 describe Israel’s failure, their rebellion. Despite God’s provision and protection, gluttonous Israel rebelled. They sought after false gods, they “forgot” God. How careful we should be not to fall into the same trap. Those of us in the US, including myself, can so easily turn from God, placing our faith in any number of worldly things: our political leaders, money, possessions, jobs, etc. We, as a nation, have become fat and gluttonous, and we must be careful to cling to the one and only God who saves, protects, and provides.
The song then turns from what Israel has done, their sin, to God’s response. God determines to “hide” from Israel. What a scary place to be when God appears to be missing, nowhere to be found! Not only that, but God determines to provoke Israel in a similar fashion to their provocation of him, by sending a foreign nation to “enrage them”. And disasters are prophesied to be unleashed.
Then is an interesting passage, in Deut. 32:26-27 it almost seems like God is worried about his adversaries. It should be clear, especially taken in context with the opening of the song, that God does not really “fear” the enemy. What is described here, is God revealing that the enemy (and probably humanity) is too dumb to understand who was in control had the just punishment of being blotted out been administered. Instead of realizing it was God’s hand, his retribution, they would have thought their own evil ways and power had completed it. This is God deciding that it would be made clear for the enemy (and humanity?), just who is in absolute control. The next section continues this thought, as well as contrasting the lack of power of the false gods with the true God.
Deut. 32:34-42 follow with what the fate of Israel is, along with God’s enemies. It also reinforces the absolute, centralized power and control in God alone. There is this picture of Israel hitting “rock bottom”, and then God being there, asking where their false gods are. Where are the powers that they worshipped and followed. God alone will be standing. And the song closes in v43, with God purifying his land and his people. God remains faithful, merciful, and saving! I love v39 as well: it is a verse we should recall when we catch ourselves turning from God, remembering that he aloe is God, he alone is orchestrating everything, and he alone has the power that overcomes all.
The pericope closes with Moses commanding the people to remember the song, and conveying the great import of the message contained within it.
Lord, thank you for having mercy on me, for rescuing me, and for purifying me. I don’t deserve your love or mercy, because so often I deny you, I put my faith in other things and people, and flat out deny you through my actions and words…. yet you love me. Yet you wait upon me, take me back, and rescue me from the enemy and myself. I pray that Moses’ song remains in my heart, and I always remember my one and only true God. Amen.