Verses 1–6

Here is, I. A commanding preface or introduction to this song of Moses, Deut. 32:1, 2. He begins, 1. With a solemn appeal to heaven and earth concerning the truth and importance of what he was about to say, and the justice of the divine proceedings against a rebellious and backsliding people, for he had said (Deut. 31:28) that he would in this song call heaven and earth to record against them. Heaven and earth would sooner hear than this perverse and unthinking people; for they revolt not from the obedience to their Creator, but continue to this day, according to his ordinances, as his servants (Ps. 119:89-91), and therefore will rise up in judgment against rebellious Israel. Heaven and earth will be witnesses against sinners, witnesses of the warning given them and of their refusal to take the warning (see Job 20:27); the heaven shall reveal his iniquity, and the earth shall rise up against him. Or heaven and earth are here put for the inhabitants of both, angels and men; both shall agree to justify God in his proceedings against Israel, and to declare his righteousness, Ps. 50:6; see Rev. 19:1, 2. 2. he begins with a solemn application of what he was about to say to the people (Deut. 32:2): My doctrine shall drop as the rain. “It shall be a beating sweeping rain to the rebellious;” so one of the Chaldee paraphrasts expounds the first clause. Rain is sometimes sent for judgment, witness that with which the world was deluged; and so the word of God, while to some it is reviving and refreshing—a savour of life unto life, is to others terrifying and killing—a savour of death unto death. It shall be as a sweet and comfortable dew to those who are rightly prepared to receive it. Observe, (1.) The subject of this song is doctrine; he had given them a song of praise and thanksgiving (Exod. 15:1-21), but this is a song of instruction, for in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, we are not only to give glory to god, but to teach and admonish one another, Col. 3:16. Hence many of David’s psalms are entitled Maschil—to give instruction. (2.) This doctrine is fitly compared to rain and showers which come from above, to make the earth fruitful, and accomplish that for which they are sent. (Isa. 55:10, 11), and depend not upon the wisdom or will of man, Mic. 5:7. It is a mercy to have this rain come often upon us, and our duty to drink it in, Heb. 6:7. (3.) He promises that his doctrine shall drop and distil as the dew, and the small rain, which descend silently and without noise. The word preached is likely to profit when it comes gently, and sweetly insinuates itself into the hearts and affections of the hearers. (4.) He bespeaks their acceptance and entertainment of it, and that it might be as sweet, and pleasant, and welcome to them as rain to the thirsty earth, Ps. 72:6. And the word of God is likely to do us good when it is thus acceptable. (5.) The learned bishop Patrick understands it as a prayer that his words which were sent from heaven to them might sink into their hearts and soften them, as the rain softens the earth, and so make them fruitful in obedience.

II. An awful declaration of the greatness and righteousness of God, Deut. 32:3, 4.

1. He begins with this, and lays it down as his first principle, (1.) To preserve the honour of God, that no reproach might be cast upon him for the sake of the wickedness of his people Israel; how wicked and corrupt soever those are who are called by his name, he is just, and right, and all that is good, and is not to be thought the worse of for their badness. (2.) To aggravate the wickedness of Israel, who knew and worshipped such a holy god, and yet were themselves so unholy. And, (3.) To justify God in his dealings with them; we must abide by it, that God is righteous, even when his judgments are a great deep, Jer. 12:1; Ps. 36:6.

2. Moses here sets himself to publish the name of the Lord (Deut. 32:3), that Israel, knowing what a God he is whom they had avouched for theirs, might never be such fools as to exchange him for a false god, a dunghill god. He calls upon them therefore to ascribe greatness to him. It will be of great use to us for the preventing of sin, and the preserving of us in the way of our duty, always to keep up high and honourable thoughts of God, and to take all occasions to express them: Ascribe greatness to our God. We cannot add to his greatness, for it is infinite; but we must acknowledge it, and give him the glory of it. Now, when Moses would set forth the greatness of God, he does it, not by explaining his eternity and immensity, or describing the brightness of his glory in the upper world, but by showing the faithfulness of his word, the perfection of his works, and the wisdom and equity of all the administrations of his government; for in these his glory shines most clearly to us, and these are the things revealed concerning him, which belong to us and our children, Deut. 32:4. (1.) He is the rock. So he is called six times in this chapter, and the LXX. all along translates it Theos, God. The learned Mr. Hugh Broughton reckons that God is called the rock eighteen times (besides in this chapter) in the Old Testament (though in some places we translate it strength), and charges it therefore upon the papists that they make St. Peter a god when they make him the rock on which the church is built. God is the rock, for he is in himself immutable immovable, and he is to all that seek him and fly to him an impenetrable shelter, and to all that trust in him an everlasting foundation. (2.) His work is perfect. His work of creation was so, all very good; his works of providence are so, or will be so in due time, and when the mystery of God shall be finished the perfection of his works will appear to all the world. Nothing that God does can be mended, Eccl. 3:14. God was now perfecting what he had promised and begun for his people Israel, and from the perfection of this work they must take occasion to give him the glory of the perfection of all his works. The best of men’s works are imperfect, they have their flaws and defects, and are left unfinished; but, as for God, his work is perfect; if he begin, he will make an end. (3.) All his ways are judgment. The ends of his ways are all righteous, and he is wise in the choice of the means in order to those ends. Judgment signifies both prudence and justice. The ways of the Lord are right, Hos. 14:9. (4.) He is a God of truth, whose word we may take and rely upon, for he cannot lie who is faithful to all his promises, nor shall his threatenings fall to the ground. (5.) He is without iniquity, one who never cheated any that trusted in him, never wronged any that appealed to his justice, nor ever was hard upon any that cast themselves upon his mercy. (6.) Just and right is he. As he will not wrong any by punishing them more than they deserve, so he will not fail to recompense all those that serve him or suffer for him. He is indeed just and right; for he will effectually take care that none shall lose by him. Now what a bright and amiable idea does this Deut. 34:4 give us of the God whom we worship; and what reason have we then to love him and fear him, to live a life of delight in him, dependence on him, and devotedness to him! This is our rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him; nor can there be, Ps. 92:15.

III. A high charge exhibited against the Israel of God, whose character was in all respects the reverse of that of the God of Israel, Deut. 32:5. 1. They have corrupted themselves. Or, It has corrupted itself; the body of the people has: the whole head sick, and the whole heart faint. God did not corrupt them, for just and right is he; but they are themselves the sole authors of their own sin and ruin; and both are included in this word. They have debauched themselves; for every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust. And they have destroyed themselves, Hos. 13:9. If thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear the guilt and grief, Prov. 9:12. 2. Their spot is not the spot of his children. Even God’s children have their spots, while they are in this imperfect state; for if we say we have no sin, no spot, we deceive ourselves. But the sin of Israel was none of those; it was not an infirmity which they strove against, watched and prayed against, but an evil which their hearts were fully set in them to do. For, 3. They were a perverse and crooked generation, that were actuated by a spirit of contradiction, and therefore would do what was forbidden because it was forbidden, would set up their own humour and fancy in opposition to the will of God, were impatient of reproof, hated to be reformed, and went on frowardly in the way of their heart. The Chaldee paraphrase reads Deut. 32:5 thus: They have scattered or changed themselves, and not him, even the children that served idols, a generation that has depraved its own works, and alienated itself. Idolaters cannot hurt God, nor do any damage to his works, nor make him a stranger to this world. See Job 35:6. No, all the hurt they do is to themselves and their own works. The learned bishop Patrick gives another reading of it: Did he do him any hurt? That is, “Isa. God the rock to be blamed for the evils that should befal Israel? No, His children are their blot,” that is, “All the evil that comes upon them is the fruit of their children’s wickedness; for the whole generation of them is crooked and perverse.” All that are ruined ruin themselves; they die because they will die.

IV. A pathetic expostulation with this provoking people for their ingratitude (Deut. 32:6): “Do you thus requite the Lord? Surely you will not hereafter be so base and disingenuous in your carriage towards him as you have been.” 1. He reminds them of the obligations God had laid upon them to serve him, and to cleave to him. He had been a Father to them, had begotten them, fed them, carried them, nursed them, and borne their manners; and would they spurn at the bowels of a Father? He had bought them, had been at a vast expense of miracles to bring them out of Egypt, had given men for them, and people for their life, Isa. 43:4. “Isa. not he thy Father, thy owner (so some), that has an incontestable propriety in thee?” and the ox knoweth his owner. “he has made thee, and brought thee into being, established thee and kept thee in being; has he not done so? Can you deny the engagements you lie under to him, in consideration of the great things he has done and designed for you?” And are not our obligations, as baptized Christians, equally great and strong to our Creator that made us, our Redeemer that bought us, and our Sanctifier that has established us. 2. Hence he infers the evil of deserting him and rebelling against him. For, (1.) It was base ingratitude: “Do you thus require the Lord? Are these the returns you make him for all his favours to you? The powers you have from him will you employ them against him?” See Mic. 6:3; John 10:32. This is such monstrous villany as all the world will cry shame of: call a man ungrateful, and you can call him no worse. (2.) It was prodigious madness: O foolish people and unwise! Fools, and double fools! who has bewitched you? Gal. 3:1. “Fools indeed, to disoblige one on whom you have such a necessary dependence! To forsake your own mercies for lying vanities!” Note, All wilful sinners, especially sinners in Israel, are the most unwise and the most ungrateful people in the world.