4 September 2012

Deuteronomy 31:30 - 32:12

"For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he; yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him, a perverse and crooked generation." (vv. 3-5)


I find it fascinating to see the different approaches to this beautiful poem.

In one corner we have the academic research into topics such as its date and authorship. (Some, for example, see it as a later addition to Deuteronomy and therefore not connected to Moses.) I find the way these arguments examine connections with other parts of Scripture particularly interesting (two examples are the opening and history of Psalm 78 and the thematic 'echoes' of Ezekiel 16).

In another corner are the translation challenges, in this section particularly verses 5a (difficult Hebrew), and 6-7 (awkward switches between singular and plural). Our translations are so good that it is easy to forget how difficult that task is. Being aware of this is helpful in avoiding traps of building grand theories that only work on a single translation. (Proverbs 29:18 from the King James Version is a classic example.)

In the third corner are the theological questions, again two examples. Firstly, who are these other Gods in verse 8 and how do they relate to Yahweh? Secondly, how significant is the lack of any reference to the Exodus, does that mean this is from a different tradition and does that affect my understanding of the story of the people of Israel?

In the last corner, there is the beauty and power of the poetry. That is what strikes me most and is what has inspired many hymn and song writers.

All these are important, and I am sure we will differ about which corners we find most interesting (although spending a little time in each corner would be good for us all).

However, I suggest that focusing too much on these issues, interesting though they are, can be distractions that we use to avoid allowing the text to challenge us. Verses 3-5 hit me hard as they put the nature of God (perfect, just, faithful) in sharp contrast to my nature and actions. They challenge the shallowness of the phrase 'God is my best friend' that I sometimes choose to believe.

To Ponder:

  • These verses highlight some key themes in Scripture (God's nature to be perfect, just, faithful, without deceit, justice, faithfulness, integrity) How relevant to your life do you find these? Do they challenge you, and if so how? If not, then why?
  • Which ways of looking at this song do you find most/least interesting? Consider finding out a bit more about one of the ways you don't normally use. What insights or challenges does it offer?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dave Warnock

Dave Warnock is a Methodist minister in the Leicester North Circuit based in Syston, Leicester. He is passionate about lots of things (including Scripture, discipleship, gender/sexual equality, pacifism and cycling) and loves being part of the Methodist people.