Deuteronomy 29-32: You will be banished, then brought back

Moses speaks to Israel: You have seen the wondrous feats the LORD has performed in Egypt and along the way.  I led you for 40 years through the wilderness, but your clothes did not wear out and you never ran out of food.  You remember the idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold that the Egyptians and other nations keep; even now, some of you are thinking of turning back to those gods.  The LORD will single out those tribes for misfortune, inflicting them with plagues, diseases, and famine.  They will also be cast out of the land into another.

When all these blessings and curses are fulfilled, the LORD will retrieve you from exile, from all nations where you were banished, and make you more prosperous than ever.  He will open up your heart, so that you will love him and follow his commandments.

Moses tells the Israelites about his impending death, and appoints Joshua as the successor.  Moses recites a poem.  In this poem, the poet describes the LORD as an eagle taking care of nestlings.  Israel then forsook God and turned to other gods.  God plans to destroy the Israelites, but fearing that other nations might perceive him as weak, decides to destroy Israel’s enemies instead.

Commentary:

  • The Song of Moses (31:30-32:44) clearly presupposes the exile.  It also preserves an earlier, polytheistic theology: “When the Most High [Elyon] gave nations their homes/ And set the divisions of man, He fixed the boundaries of peoples / In relation to Israel’s numbers.  For the LORD’s portion is His people, Jacob his own allotment.”  Elyon is the formal title of El, the head of the Ugaritic pantheon.  In the original version, attested by the LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls, “in relation to Israel’s numbers” was “according to the sons of El”, which makes much more sense in context.
  • As it stands, 32:43 makes no sense, both structurally and in content.  In the first line, God is expecting the nations he is about to destroy to acclaim the Israelites.  In the very next line, he again promises destruction for the nations.  The original form of 32:43, reconstructed from the LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls, makes much more sense:
  • Rejoice, O heavens, with Him!
    Worship Him, O every god!
    For He’ll avenge the blood of His children,
    Wreak vengeance on His foes;
    He will repay those who hate him,
    And cleanse the land of His people.

    Here, “cleanse the land of His people” does not mean killing the Israelites; it means removing the impurity associated with murder by Israel’s foes. This is interesting because it was God who brought about the foreign invasion in the first place (32:21).

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