Deuteronomy 32:27
Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the LORD has not done all this.
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(27) Behave themselves strangely.—Possibly, misunderstand it, or take note of it (as a strange thing).

Deuteronomy 32:27-28. Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy — Their rage against me, as it is expressed Isaiah 37:28-29; their furious reproaches against my name, as if I were cruel to my people, or unable to deliver them. This is spoken after the manner of men; and the meaning is, that it would have been righteous in God to cut them entirely off and wipe out their very memory from the earth; but such a sudden and final destruction of a people in whose behalf God had done so much, for establishing his true worship among them, and for conveying it from them to the rest of the world, would have occasioned those heathen to insult God himself, by ascribing their destruction to their own valour, or to the power of their idols, and not to his righteous judgment. Therefore, to prevent this wrong construction of such desolating judgments, it became the divine wisdom to defer the execution of them. We find Moses more than once representing before God the blasphemous reflections which the heathen would make, in case of the total destruction of the Israelitish nation, as an argument to avert the effects of the divine displeasure. Void of counsel — Their enemies are ignorant and foolish, and therefore would readily form such a false and foolish judgment upon things.32:26-38 The idolatry and rebellions of Israel deserved, and the justice of God seemed to demand, that they should be rooted out. But He spared Israel, and continues them still to be living witnesses of the truth of the Bible, and to silence unbelievers. They are preserved for wise and holy purposes and the prophecies give us some idea what those purposes are. The Lord will never disgrace the throne of his glory. It is great wisdom, and will help much to the return of sinners to God, seriously to consider their latter end, or the future state. It is here meant particularly of what God foretold by Moses, about this people in the latter days; but it may be applied generally. Oh that men would consider the happiness they will lose, and the misery they will certainly plunge into, if they go on in their trespasses! What will be in the end thereof? Jer 5:31. For the Lord will in due time bring down the enemies of the church, in displeasure against their wickedness. When sinners deem themselves most secure, they suddenly fall into destruction. And God's time to appear for the deliverance of his people, is when things are at the worst with them. But those who trust to any rock but God, will find it fail them when they most need it. The rejection of the Messiah by the Jewish nation, is the continuance of their ancient idolatry, apostacy, and rebellion. They shall be brought to humble themselves before the Lord, to repent of their sins, and to trust in their long-rejected Mediator for salvation. Then he will deliver them, and make their prosperity great.Rather, I would utterly disperse them, etc., were it not that I apprehended the provocation of the enemy, i. e., that I should be provoked to wrath when the enemy ascribed the overthrow of Israel to his own prowess and not to my judgments. Compare Deuteronomy 9:28-29; Ezekiel 20:9, Ezekiel 20:14, Ezekiel 20:22.

Behave themselves strangely - Rather, misunderstand it, i. e., mistake the cause of Israel's ruin.

23. I will spend mine arrows upon them—War, famine, pestilence (Ps 77:17) are called in Scripture the arrows of the Almighty. The wrath of the enemy, i.e. their rage against me, as it is expressed Isaiah 37:28,29; their insolent and furious reproaches against my name, as if I were unnatural and cruel to my people, or unable to deliver them. Compare Exodus 32:12 Numbers 14:13 Deu 9:28 Joshua 7:9. The fear hereof is ascribed to God after the manner of men.

Strangely, i.e. insolently and arrogantly, above what they used to do. Or,

make themselves strangers, i.e. either really not acknowledge, or pretend they did not know, that which I had publicly declared, and they either did or easily might have known, to wit, that this judgment was inflicted upon them by my hand for their sins. Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy,.... Satan, the enemy of mankind in general, of the people of God in particular, and especially of the Messiah, the seed of the woman, and of God himself, whom he would dethrone, or at least place himself on an equality with him; this enemy is full of wrath, enmity, and blasphemy, against God, and stirs up all of this kind in the hearts of men, and instigates them to persecute the people of God; and does all he can to obscure the glory of God, and lessens his own "grief", as the word signifies, occasioned by it: and now though God has nothing to fear, either from the power and policy of the devil, being infinitely mightier and wiser than he; yet as Moses expressed his concern, if God should cut off the people of Israel as one man, that the Egyptians would say he brought them out of Egypt for mischief, or that he was not able to bring them into the land of Canaan, Exodus 32:12; so the Lord, speaking after the manner of men, as Aben Ezra observes, expresses his fears of the wrath of the enemy; not properly, but it denotes his precaution, provision, and preparation he made to put a check upon it, and a stop to it, that he might not have the opportunity of instilling it into the minds of men, that God was cruel to his people, or had not ability to save them from their enemies, or was unfaithful to his promises; and therefore he did not entirely cut them off, as he could and might have done, but made a reserve of them, as a standing proof to the contrary:

lest their adversaries; the Romans, who fought against them, took them, and carried them captive:

should behave themselves strangely; alienate the glory of God from him, and give it to their strange gods; which the Romans were wont to do, when they obtained victories, and did do something of this kind to Jupiter Capitolinus, when they carried the Jews captive, and their trophies in triumph to Rome: yet there was such an apparent hand of God in this affair, that the Heathens were obliged to own it. Titus the conqueror himself confessed that it was God that favoured him, and that it was he that brought the Jews out of the fortresses and fastnesses in which they were; and that no hands of men, or machines, were anything against such towers as they had (g): and when some neighbouring nations would have crowned him because of his victories over the Jews, he refused it, saying, he was unworthy of it, he had not done this of himself, but had only lent an hand to God that was angry with them (h). Cicero also observes (i) the hand of God in the conquest, captivity, and servitude of the Jewish nation; moreover, a remnant was preserved to be to the Romans, as the Canaanites were to the Israelites, thorns in their sides, and pricks in their eyes; to be a burden to them, a dead weight upon them, and to check their ovations and triumphs over them; for, that people conquered gave them great trouble, raised commotions and insurrections in many places, which obliged the emperors in succeeding reigns to come from distant parts, and quell them, and were the occasion of vast quantities of blood being shed; insomuch that one of their poets (k) wishes Judea had never been subdued by them: likewise a number of them was preserved to prevent the growth and spread of idolatry, and that they might be a standing example and caution to Christians among the Gentiles not to give into it, when they should observe what they suffered on the account of it, as their prophecies, extant in their sacred books preserved, abundantly testified and declared:

and lest they should say, our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this; lest anyone should say among the Gentiles, as particularly deists, lest they should lift up their horn on high, and speak with a stiff neck, and deny that ever any such things were done for this people the Scriptures speak of, as the miracles in the land of Egypt, at the Red sea, and in the wilderness; and confidently affirm there never was any such people, and defy Christians to show them a Jew if they could: now here was a reserve made of them, to be a standing proof of the truth of divine revelation against such infidels; as also that they might be a check unto all false teachers, and leave them inexcusable who embrace the same errors that have been condemned in them, and God has shown his displeasure at, and which they still retain; such as the doctrines of freewill, of justification by a man's own righteousness, of salvation not being wholly by the Messiah, and of his being non-Jehovah, or only a mere creature; for the words may be rendered, "non-Jehovah hath done all this" (l); or he that is not Jehovah hath done all that is done for the people of the Jews; and say, all that the Messiah hath done, with respect to salvation, is done by him that is not Jehovah, or God, but a creature. These were the doctrines of the Jews in Christ's time; the Pharisees, the prevailing sect among them, were freewillers, as Josephus relates (m); and the whole nation were self-justiciaries, as the Apostle Paul assures us, and sought for righteousness not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law, Romans 9:31; and such they are to this day, as well as Unitarians to a man; now Arians, Socinians, Pelagians, and Arminians, may look upon these people, who are continued, as having imbibed the same errors; and may read theirs in them, and God's displeasure at them.

(g) Joseph. de Bello Jud. l. 6. c. 9. sect. 1.((h) Philostrat. Vit. Apolion. l. 6. c. 14. (i) Orat. 24. pro Flacco. (k) "Atque utinam nunquam Judaea subacta fuisset", Rutilius. (l) "et non Jehovah operatus est omne hoc", Cocceius; so Van Till, Vitringa. (m) Antiqu. l. 18. c. 1. sect. 3.

Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should {p} behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the LORD hath not done all this.

{p} Rejoicing to see the godly afflicted, and attributing to themselves that which is wrought by God's hand.

27. provocation] Cp. Deuteronomy 32:19, but here the vexation caused to Himself by the foes’ misconstruction. The anthropomorphism is very strong. Sam. reads my foe. On the Heb. for feared see Deuteronomy 1:17, Deuteronomy 18:22."And He said, I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end will be: for they are a generation full of perversities, children in whom is no faithfulness. They excited My jealousy by a no-god, provoked Me by their vanities: and I also will excite their jealousy by a no-people, provoke them by a foolish nation. For a fire blazes up in My nose, and burns to the lowest hell, and consumes the earth with its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains." The divine purpose contains two things: - first of all (Deuteronomy 32:20) the negative side, to hide the face, i.e., to withdraw His favour and see what their end would be, i.e., that their apostasy would bring nothing but evil and destruction; for they were "a nation of perversities" (taphuchoth is moral perversity, Proverbs 2:14; Proverbs 6:14), i.e., "a thoroughly perverse and faithless generation" (Knobel); - and then, secondly (Deuteronomy 32:21), the positive side, viz., chastisement according to the right of complete retaliation. The Israelites had excited the jealousy and vexation of God by a no-god and vanities; therefore God would excite their jealousy and vexation by a no-people and a foolish nation. How this retaliation would manifest itself is not fully defined however here, but is to be gathered from the conduct of Israel towards the Lord. Israel had excited the jealousy of God by preferring a no-god, or הבלים, nothingnesses, i.e., gods that were vanities or nothings (Elilim, Leviticus 19:4), to the true and living God, its Father and Creator. God would therefore excite them to jealousy and ill-will by a no-people, a foolish nation, i.e., by preferring a no-people to the Israelites, transferring His favour to them, and giving the blessing which Israel had despised to a foolish nation. It is only with this explanation of the words that full justice is done to the idea of retribution; and it was in this sense that Paul understood this passage as referring to the adoption of the Gentiles as the people of God (Romans 10:19), and that not merely by adaptation, or by connecting another meaning with the words, as Umbreit supposes, but by interpreting it in exact accordance with the true sense of the words.

(Note: But when Kamphausen, on the other hand, maintains that this thought, which the apostle finds in the passage before us, would be "quite erroneous if taken as an exposition of the words," the assertion is supported by utterly worthless arguments: for example, (1) that throughout this song the exalted heathen are never spoken of as the bride of God, but simply as a rod of discipline used against Israel; (2) that this verse refers to the whole nation of Israel, and there is no trace of any distinction between the righteous and the wicked; and (3) that the idea that God would choose another people as the covenant nation would have been the very opposite of that Messianic hope with which the author of this song was inspired. To begin with the last, the Messianic hope of the song consisted unquestionably in the thought that the Lord would do justice to His people, His servants, and would avenge their blood, even when the strength of the nation should have disappeared (Deuteronomy 32:36 and Deuteronomy 32:43). But this thought, that the Lord would have compassion upon Israel at last, by no means excludes the reception of the heathen into the kingdom of God, as is sufficiently apparent from Romans 9-11. The assertion that this verse refers to the whole nation is quite incorrect. The plural suffixes used throughout in Deuteronomy 32:20 and Deuteronomy 32:21 show clearly that both verses simply refer to those who had fallen away from the Lord; and nowhere throughout the whole song is it assumed, that the whole nation would fall away to the very last man, so that there would be no further remnant of faithful servants of the Lord, to whom the Lord would manifest His favour again. And lastly, it is nowhere affirmed that God would simply use the heathen as a rod against Israel. The reference is solely to enemies and oppressors of Israel; and the chastisement of Israel by foes holds the second, and therefore a subordinate, place among the evils with which God would punish the rebellious. It is true that the heathen are not described as the bride of God in this song, but that is for no other reason than because the idea of moving them to jealousy with a not-people is not more fully expanded.)

The adoption of the Gentile world into covenant with the Lord involved the rejection of the disobedient Israel; and this rejection would be consummated in severe judgments, in which the ungodly would perish. In this way the retribution inflicted by the Lord upon the faithless and perverse generation of His sons and daughters becomes a judgment upon the whole world. The jealousy of the Lord blazes up into a fire of wrath, which burns down to sheol. This aspect of the divine retribution comes into the foreground in what follows, from Deuteronomy 32:23 onwards; whilst the adoption of the Gentile world, which the Apostle Paul singles out as the leading thought of this verse, in accordance with the special purpose of the song, falls back behind the thought, that the Lord would not utterly destroy Israel, but when all its strength had disappeared would have compassion upon His servants, and avenge their blood upon His foes. The idea of a no-people is to be gathered from the antithesis no-god. As Schultz justly observes, "the expression no-people can no more denote a people of monsters, than the no-god was a monster, by which Israel had excited the Lord to jealousy." This remark is quite sufficient to show that the opinion of Ewald and others is untenable and false, namely, that "the expression no-people signifies a truly inhuman people, terrible and repulsive." No-god is a god to whom the predicate of godhead cannot properly be applied; and so also no-people is a people that does not deserve the name of a people or nation at all. The further definition of no-god is to be found in the word "vanities" No-god are the idols, who are called vanities or nothingnesses, because they deceive the confidence of men in their divinity; because, as Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 14:22), they can give no showers of rain or drops of water from heaven. No-people is explained by a "foolish nation." A "foolish nation" is the opposite of a wise and understanding people, as Israel is called in Deuteronomy 4:6, because it possessed righteous statutes and rights in the law of the Lord. The foolish nation therefore is not "an ungodly nation, which despises all laws both human and divine" (Ros., Maur.), but a people whose laws and rights are not founded upon divine revelation. Consequently the no-people is not "a barbarous and inhuman people" (Ros.), or "a horde of men that does not deserve to be called a people" (Maurer), but a people to which the name of a people or nation is to be refused, because its political and judicial constitution is the work of man, and because it has not the true God for its head and king; or, as Vitringa explains, "a people not chosen by the true God, passed by when a people was chosen, shut out from the fellowship and grace of God, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and a stranger from the covenant of promise (Ephesians 2:12)." In this respect every heathen nation was a "no-people," even though it might not be behind the Israelites so far as its outward organization was concerned. This explanation cannot be set aside, either by the objection that at that time Israel had brought itself down to the level of the heathen, by its apostasy from the Eternal, - for the notion of people and no-people is not taken from the outward appearance of Israel at any particular time, but is derived from its divine idea and calling, - or by an appeal to the singular, "a foolish nation," whereas we should expect "foolish nations" to correspond to the "vanities," if we were to understand by the no-people not one particular heathen nation, but the heathen nations generally. The singular, "a foolish nation," was required by the antithesis, upon which it is founded, the "wise nation," from which the expression no-people first receives its precise definition, which would be altogether obliterated by the plural. Moreover, Moses did not intend to give expression to the thought that God would excite Israel to jealousy by either few, or many, or all the Gentile nations.

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