Today’s taste of Torah is the Mosaic Swan Song. Now Moses was not a one hit wonder. He wrote at least three hit songs. One was sung after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Another one is recorded in Psalm 90. And the one before us now, in Deuteronomy chapter 32, was written in the last days of his life. In fact, the same day that Israel learned this particular Song of Moses, God directed Moses to climb Mt. Nebo, where he would be laid to rest (vv. 48–50). This is why attaching the adjective swan to this Mosaic song is a good fit.
The song begins with a universal call to listen. And the first word in the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 32:1 literally means to “give ear.” In the midrashic literature that corresponds to this passage, it’s stated that the ear gives life to the body. And this life to the body is said to come from listening to Torah; an idea that’s repeated in Romans 10:17 where it says,“Faith comes from listening to the Word of God.”
Also, this song is a theocentric tune. Its subject is the person of God. Its theme is the faithfulness of God. And its purpose was to encourage Israel to remember the greatness of God. Essentially it highlights the contrast between divine covenantal love and loyalty and human covenantal disloyalty and perversity. Again, the major theme we see here is God’s faithfulness. He is called “the Rock” four times in this song (vv. 18, 30–31). Even as God’s people are rebelliously acting out, God remains their steadfast, unchanging source of salvation.
So after reciting the history of Israel from their time of bondage in Egypt, through their wilderness wanderings, to their established place in the Promised Land (vv. 7–14), the song becomes prophetic. Israel’s future ingratitude and idolatry is predicted, as well as the judgments of God for their sin (vv. 15–31). But then God promises to avenge Israel against their enemies, who are also the Lord’s enemies. He demonstrates compassion toward His covenant people (vv. 32–42). And lastly, the song ends on a joyful note. God’s punishment is past, righteousness is restored, and the land of Israel is cleansed (v. 43).
Now the portion of the portion I want to briefly highlight, are the very last words of the song in verse 43. “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people.”
This prophetic promise that God will make atonement for His Land and His people is an eschatological Grand Slam for two reasons: 1) Future Land atonement means literal and full realization of all the promises associated with the Land Covenant (cf. Deut. 29:1-30:20). 2) Future corporate Jewish atonement means literal and full realization of all the promises associated with the New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34).
Right here and right now here’s the application for us: This song teaches that when we forget God’s gracious goodness to us, and when we turn away from Him to follow idols, (which can be anything that causes us not to give proper priority attention to God), like Old Covenant Israel, we can expect divine discipline.
So here’s the deal: When God appears to withdraw His blessings, we should not question His ability, His motives, or His character; but rather we should examine the state of our relationship with Him; particularly during this current period of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance. And that’s not just a swan song, that’s a song we should sing during all the seasons of our life!