Note: The first paragraph is identical to the background material that opened yesterday’s post on Deuteronomy 32:18-21. The next two paragraphs summarize the song up to the beginning of today’s verses. Other verses and the remainder of the song are summarized in the notes that follow the background material.
Bckground~The “Song of Moses”, from which today’s responsorial verses are taken, is first introduced in Deut 31:16-22. The people are on the Plains of Moab (Deut 1:1-5), on the verge of entering the Promised Land (Deut 4:1; Deut 27:2), but before this takes place Moses will die (Deut 3:24-27). A successor must be chosen (Deut 3:28 Deut 31:14-15), encouragement given (passim), and a reminder that it is ultimately the Lord who leads the people (Deut 31:1-6). The command to write the song is given in the Tent of Meeting and is closely connected with the commissioning of Joshua to succeed Moses, and with the promise of God’s continuing presence. A time will come when both people and leaders will forsake the Lord who is with them (Deut 31:16, 20), and he will hide his presence from them as punishment (Deut 31:17-18), and the song will serve as a witness against them (Deut 31:19, 21) .
The song opens with a call to attention formula (Deut 32:1). Moses wishes that his words will be as beneficial on the people as rain upon grass, for it is the name of the Lord that he will proclaim, and his great deeds that he will recount. (Deut 32:2-3). The staunch, rock-like faithfullness of God and his ways is proclaimed (Deut 32:4), and contrasted with the corruption His people will fall into (Deut 32:5-6), forgetting what their God has done for them (Deut 32:7-14).
The people would allow the very prosperity that God bestowed on them (see Deut 31:20) to lead them to become gross and lazy, turning to other gods (Deut 32:15-18). Having spurned their God He will in turn spurn them, leaving them to their own devices. Because they have provoked Him with their “no-god,” [i.e., alien god] He will provoke them with a “no-people” [alien people] (Deut 32:19-21). His burning wrath, hurled at them like war arrows, will manifest itself in drought, hunger, burning heat, pestilence, ravaging beasts; and invading enemies who will kill indiscriminately (Deut 32:22-25). It is at this point that today’s responsorial verses begin.
Deut 32:26 I said: Where are they? I will make the memory of them to cease from among men.
Deut 32:27 But for the wrath of the enemies I have deferred it: lest perhaps their enemies might be proud, and should say: Our mighty hand, and not the Lord, hath done all these things.
Deut 32:28 They are a nation without counsel, and without wisdom.
God’s complete withdrawal from His people (cf. Deut 32:20) would mean their eventual disappearance. God’s enemies (the “no-people in Deut 32:21) would boast that the undoing of the people was the result of their (the “no-people’s) own doing. This may sound arrogant and egotistical of God, but one needs to keep in mind God’s universal salvific will. It is for their own eventual well-being and salvation that the nations must recognize God’s actions. This actions include His bestowing unmerited pity upon His sinful people, as Deut 32:36 will show (see below). A God who will so such pity on a people who have forsaken Him will someday approach the “no-people” nations and make them His own (see Romans 9-11, especially St Paul’s quote of Deut 32:21 in Rom 10:19).
At the time of the song’s composition however, this “no-people” lacked the wisdom and counsel of God, this being so they lack the insight to see God’s doings and its relation to their own end, as Deut 32:29 notes. Because of this they cannot ask the following questions:
Deut 32:30 How should one pursue after a thousand, and two chase ten thousand? Was it not, because their God had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up?
Not only can the “no-people not ask, let alone answer these questions, they cannot come to know that their “rock” (i.e., any false god of their choosing) is not like the Rock of Israel, as Deut 32:31 states. They are like poison grapes from the vineyards of Sodom; like wine made from venom (Deut 32:32-33). Their day of judgement is coming as we read in verses 34-35ab~”Are not these things stored up with me, and sealed up in my treasures? Revenge is mine, and I will repay them in due time, that their foot may slide” Indeed, as verse 35cd states: the day of destruction is at hand, and the time makes haste to come.
Deut 32:36ab The Lord will judge his people, and will have mercy on his servants
God’s punitive judgement is not an end in itself, but leads to mercy and pity, as verse 36cd makes clear this will happen “when he sees that their power is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free.” His punishment and its effects will lead the people who had forsaken Him for false gods to realize that such god’s have no power to save (Deut 32:37-39 and recall Deut 32:15-18). God will requite His enemies for the sake of His servants, but he will also purge His people of sin (Deut 32:40-43). Better then to remain faithful to God and enjoy life, which is the basic message of the book (Deut 32:44-47)