The Israelites’ forty-year transition from slavery in Egypt to living in the Promised Land was brought to a closure just before Moses’ death. After Joshua had been commissioned to lead Israel, God told Moses, “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:19). The reason why the LORD needed a witness against the people of Israel was because he knew how things were going to turn out. God said, “For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give them” (Deuteronomy 31:21). The Book of Hebrews talks about what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness in the context of faith and entering into God’s rest. Hebrews 3:7-19 states:
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
The Greek word that is translated testing in Hebrews 3:8, peirasmos (pi-ras-mosˊ) refers to “a state of trial in which God brings His people through adversity and affliction in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him” (G3986). After forty years of testing in the wilderness, God determined that the Israelites were inclined to go astray in their hearts and had been so hardened by the deceitfulness of their sin that they were unable to enter into his rest.
Testing usually involves us experiencing difficult circumstances or suffering because of our trust in God. Hebrews 11:4-38 focuses on some of the Old Testament saints who passed their tests so to speak by demonstrating their faith in God. It says in Hebrews 11:29, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.” The Greek words that are translated attempted, peira (piˊ-rah) lambano (lam-banˊ-o) literally mean to take a test (G3984/G2983). The Egyptians weren’t able to cross the Red Sea because they didn’t believe in God and even though the Israelites crossed the Red Sea by faith, they later rebelled against God and refused to enter the land of Canaan when they were instructed to do so (Numbers 14:1-4). The Israelites’ experience in the wilderness shows us that faith is not just an action or a one-time act that guarantees God’s blessings for the rest of our lives, but a continual demonstration of reliance upon God that gets us from one step of our journey to the next until we fulfil our destiny. Hebrews chapter eleven concludes with the statement, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:35-40). The Greek word that is translated though commended, martureo (mar-too-rehˊ-o) means “to be a witness, i.e. testify…to testify to the truth of what one has seen, heard, or knows” (G3140). The people in Hebrews chapter eleven who suffered because of their trust in God testify to the fact that sin (moral rebellion against God) can be overcome by faith (Hebrews 12:4).
God told Moses that the song he was going to teach the Israelites would “confront them as a witness” (Deuteronomy 31:21). The Hebrew words that are translated confront, ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) paniym (paw-neemˊ) convey the idea of getting in someone’s face or telling a person exactly what you think of him. The Song of Moses begins:
“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak,
and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
May my teaching drop as the rain,
my speech distill as the dew,
like gentle rain upon the tender grass,
and like showers upon the herb.
For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
ascribe greatness to our God!
“The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.
They have dealt corruptly with him;
they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
they are a crooked and twisted generation.” (Deuteronomy 32:1-5)
The Rock that is mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:4 is identified in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as Christ. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrownin the wilderness.” Paul referred to Jesus as “the spiritual Rock” and said that he followed the Israelites when they were in the wilderness. The Greek word that is translated followed, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o) means “to be in the same way with, i.e. to accompany” (G190). Akoloutheo is used throughout the four gospels in connection with Jesus’ disciples following him. It says in Matthew 9:9, “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow (akoloutheo) me.’ And he rose and followed him.”
Paul’s reference to Jesus as “the spiritual Rock” (1 Corinthians 10:4) meant that Christ wasn’t visibly present with the Israelites in the wilderness, but his power was at work in their lives. Moses’ song stated, “The Rock, his work is perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Hebrew word tamiym (taw-meemˊ) refers to something that is perfect in the sense of it being blameless (H8549). In Psalm 18, which is titled “The LORD is My Rock and My Fortress,” David said of God’s salvation, “This God—his way is perfect, the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless” (Psalm 18:30-32). David indicated that not only was God’s way perfect (tamiym), but also that God had made his way blameless (tamiym). David thought of himself as being in the same way with (akoloutheo) or a follower of God (Jesus). Unfortunately, David was one of only a handful of the kings of Israel that were faithful to God’s word. Within a few hundred years of David’s reign, the prophet Isaiah echoed the words of Moses’ song. Isaiah 1:2-4 states:
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged.
Jesus reiterated the point that the people of Israel had become “a crooked and twisted generation” (Deuteronomy 32:5) when he rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith. Matthew 17:14-21 states:
And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Jesus attributed his disciples’ inability to cast out the demon to their lack of confidence in him (G3640) and indicated that it only required an extremely small amount of faith for them to do miracles. Jesus referred to the people of Israel as a faithless and twisted generation, indicating that the Israelites not only had no faith in him, but they were also distorting or at the very least misrepresenting God’s word to the people around them. The problem that existed throughout the Israelites’ history was that they had a short memory when it came to the things that God had done for them and preferred to worship idols. Deuteronomy 32:15-18 states:
“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
with abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
and you forgot the God who gave you birth.
The Rock is mentioned twice in this section of the Song of Moses. It says that the people of Israel scoffed at the Rock of their salvation and that they were unmindful of the Rock that bore them. These images seem to suggest that the Israelites wanted to distance themselves from their past. The people of Israel had likely gotten so full of themselves that they were too proud to admit that they had at one point needed God’s help.
After Israel’s rejection of her Messiah was addressed, the Song of Moses shifted its focus of attention away from Israel’s salvation to the end times. Deuteronomy 32:19-22 states:
“The Lord saw it and spurned them,
because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.
And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
children in whom is no faithfulness.
They have made me jealous with what is no god;
they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
For a fire is kindled by my anger,
and it burns to the depths of Sheol,
devours the earth and its increase,
and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.”
The LORD said he would make the people of Israel “jealous with those who are no people” and indicated he “will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21). This part of the song’s message has to do with God’s salvation being offered to the whole world. Romans 10:5-21 focuses on the message of salvation to all and restates Deuteronomy 32:21 in the context of Isaiah’s prophecy about judgment and salvation and God’s creation of new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65). Paul wrote:
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”
But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
Paul refuted the argument that the people of Israel had never heard the gospel when he asked the question, “Did Israel not understand?” (Romans 10:19) and then, quoted Deuteronomy 32:21, followed by Isaiah 65:1. Paul concluded his argument with Isaiah 65:2 in which God said to the people of Israel, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” The phrase held out my hands is sometimes associated with Christ’s hands being stretched out when he was nailed to the cross, but it’s possible that it was intended to convey the open invitation that Jesus extended to the crowds around him when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus went on to say, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).
Much of the judgment of God’s chosen people that is outlined in the Song of Moses is reiterated in more detail in the books of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. In particular, Deuteronomy 32:23-27 corresponds with Ezekiel’s detailed account of Jerusalem’s destruction (Ezekiel 5:16-17), the day of the wrath of the LORD (Ezekiel 7:15), and Israel’s continuing rebellion against God (Ezekiel 20:23). Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem included a statement linked to Deuteronomy 32:29. Luke said, “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children with you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation’” (Luke 19:41-44).
The final verses of the Song of Moses speak of a future closure that Israel will experience that coincides with the events of the Great Tribulation. Deuteronomy 32:34-41 states:
“‘Is not this laid up in store with me,
sealed up in my treasuries?
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
and their doom comes swiftly.’
For the Lord will vindicatehis people
and have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone
and there is none remaining, bond or free…
“‘See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
For I lift up my hand to heaven
and swear, As I live forever,
if I sharpen my flashing sword
and my hand takes hold on judgment,
I will take vengeance on my adversaries
and will repay those who hate me.
Revelation 15:2-3 indicates that all those who conquer the beast and its image and the number of its name will sing the song of Moses standing beside the sea of glass just prior to the seven bowls of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth (Revelation 16:1). Afterward, is the judgment of the great prostitute and the beast (Revelation 17) and the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18), and then, rejoicing in heaven takes place (Revelation 19:1-5). At the conclusion of the Great Tribulation, the Israelites who accepted Jesus as their Messiah will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Matthew 19:28; Revelation 20:4). This will bring God’s plan of salvation to a final closure and marks the beginning of an eternal rest for all who have faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:1-11).