f THE PENTATEUCH PART V: DEUTERONOMY Conclusion of Moses' Third Homily

Lesson 15: Chapters 31:28-34:12
The Conclusion of Moses' Third Homily: The Song of Witness (Song of Moses), Moses' Death and Joshua's Commissioning

Lord God,
You commanded Moses to teach the Old Covenant people the Song of Witness to remind them, in every generation, of the dire consequences of covenant failure. But in the victory of Christ's Resurrection and His Ascension to the Heavenly Sanctuary, You have given Your people a new song. Our new song is a never ending song of praise, proclaiming the triumph of Jesus Christ and the defeat of sin and death. We look forward to the day when we will be taught the new song as we rejoice in Jesus, our Lord and Savior, when we sing our canticle of praise in Your Divine Presence in the Heavenly Sanctuary. Please send Your Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study of the last chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The new hymn of the Heavenly Sanctuary: There before the throne they were singing a new hymn in the presence of the four living creatures and the elders, a hymn that could be learnt only by the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the world ... They all had harps from God and they were singing the hymn of Moses, the servant of God, and the hymn of the Lamb:
How great and wonderful are all your works,
Lord God almighty;
Upright and true are all your ways,
King of nations.
Who does not revere and glorify your name, O Lord?
For you alone are holy,
And all nations will come and adore you
For the many acts of saving justice you have shown.
Revelation 14:3; 15: 2b-2

In the Exodus, when God parted the waters of the Yam Suf and delivered the Israelites from their Egyptian enemies, Moses, Miriam and the people celebrated their deliverance with a "Song of Victory," also called the "Song of the Sea" (Shirat ha-Yam, Ex 15:1-21). In the Book of Revelation, God's people sing a "new song," celebrating the new deliverance of God's people by the new Moses who is Christ the Lord and the new order He inaugurated as the Lamb that was sacrificed.

Chapter 32: The Song of Witness/Song of Moses

Yahweh called on His people to be faithful to the Sinai Covenant and to enjoy the blessings that He promised them, but tragically Moses' song foretold that the future choice of God's people would not be for the good; rather, as God warned Moses, 'You will soon be sleeping with your ancestors, and this people is about to play the harlot by following the gods of the foreigners of the country [land], among whom they are going to live. They will desert me and break my covenant, which I have made with them' (Dt 32:16). The song of Witness/Song of Moses, sung at every Sabbath liturgy, was a legal witness, meaning it functioned within the context of God's covenant with Israel: teach it to the Israelites, put it into their mouths, for it is to be a witness on my behalf against the Israelites ... The repetition of the song was to present to all generations:

  1. A witness to the nation as they were about to enter the Promised Land of the consequences of rebellion against Yahweh and His Law
  2. A witness to God's call for Israel to be faithful
  3. A witness of God's promise of faithfulness to His covenant people if they were obedient


Moses again, when about to depart from this life, sang a fear-inspiring canticle in Deuteronomy. He left the song as a sort of testament to the people of Israel, to teach them the kind of funeral they should expect, if ever they abandoned God.
Nicetas, Bishop of Remesiana (4th century) Liturgical Singing 3

Deuteronomy 31:28-30
Israel Assembles to Hear the Canticle of Moses
28 'Gather all your tribal elders and scribes round me, so that I may be sure that they hear these words, as I call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after my death you are certain to grow corrupt; you will leave the way which I have marked out for you; in the final day disaster will befall you for having done what is evil in Yahweh's eyes, for having provoked his anger by your behavior.' 30 In the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel, Moses then recited the words of this song to the end:

The "Song of Witness/Song of Moses" is a poem full of imagery, symbolism and hyperbole like all other poems/songs in Scripture. Verse 28 is the call for Israel to assemble and learn the song, as Moses calls heaven and earth to stand as witnesses in what will amount to the preliminary document of a covenant lawsuit.

Question: According to verse 29, what is the central theme of the poem?
Answer: The central theme is the warning of Israel's future apostasy and the consequence of God's divine judgment.

Please note that the brackets [..] indicate the literal Hebrew translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 548-553).

Deuteronomy 32:1-44
The Song of Witness/Song of Moses
1 'Listen [give ear], heavens, while I speak; hear, earth, the words that I shall say! 2 May my teaching fall like the rain, may my word drop down like the dew, like showers on the grass, like light rain on the turf! 3 For I shall proclaim the name of Yahweh. Oh, tell the greatness of our God!

Listen [hear or give ear]... The Hebrew title of the poem is Shirat Ha'azinu, "Song of Give Ear," a title taken from the first five words of the poem.

According to Deuteronomy 19:15 a single witness will not suffice to convict anyone of a crime or offence of any kind ...

Question: What two witnesses are called to give evidence in this covenant lawsuit, according the regulations of the Law? See Dt 31:28 and 32:1.
Answer: Heaven and earth.

Question: In the introduction, how does Moses describe the words of his teaching on the Law?
Answer: The words of Moses are compared to rain, dew, and fresh showers /droplets that nourish the grass like Moses' teaching of the Law (the Torah) nourishes and fosters spiritual growth among the covenant people.

3 For I shall proclaim the name of Yahweh. Oh, tell the greatness of our God! To "proclaim the name" means to declare God's qualities by telling "the greatness of our God." This declaration is echoed in Psalm 105:1, a psalm which recounts Israel's history from the call of Abraham to the Exodus experience.

Moses' teaching not only fosters faith among the present generation, but the Torah of Moses will also refresh the souls of future generations by telling them of the greatness of Yahweh their God.

4 He is the Rock, his work is perfect [tamim], for all his ways are equitable [just = mishpat]. A trustworthy [faithful = 'emunah] God who does no wrong [not false = 'avel], he is the Honest [righteous = tzaddik], the Upright [yashar] One! 5 They have acted perversely [corrupt = shicheit], those he fathered without blemish, a deceitful [defect = mumam] and underhanded brood [corrupt/evil generation and crooked = f'taltol].

The poem begins with Israel's divine election when Yahweh "fathered" His covenant people. The word "rock" (tzur) is found eight times in the poem (each word will be underlined in the biblical text). In Hebrew tzur is a word that refers to a mountain or cliff. In reference to Yahweh the word projects the imagery of a rock fortress on high ground in which one may find safety.

In the poem, the word "rock" is used as a title and as a metaphor for both Yahweh and false gods seven times (32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31 twice, and 37). The word "rock" is also found in verse 13 where it does not refer directly to God but may be used to indicate that the provision of food throughout the wilderness journey was directly from the provision of God. However, "Rock" is used as a title for Yahweh a significant five times (32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31) and twice as a reference to false gods (32:31 and 37). In the symbolic meaning of numbers in Scripture, five is the number of divine grace and two is the number signifying division.

The word "rock" is a title for God and also a metaphor used for God that is found repeatedly in the Old Testament(1). It is also:

Question: How is the word "Rock" used in a description of Yahweh in verse 4? What are Yahweh's qualities in the Hebrew text?
Answer: Five adjectives are used to describe God's complete perfection:

  1. He is just
  2. He is faithful
  3. He is not false
  4. He is righteous
  5. He is upright

Question: What is Israel's behavior in contrast to the perfections of Yahweh?

  1. They are corrupt
  2. They do not act as His children
  3. They are defective
  4. They are a corrupt generation
  5. They are crooked

Question: When did Yahweh accuse the Israelites of being a corrupt/evil generation previously? See Num 14:27-35.
Answer: When they failed to believe God would give them victory over the Canaanites at Kadesh-Barnea. It was this failure that led to the additional 38 years of wandering in the wilderness until every member of that generation over 20 years of age died.

6 Is this the return you make to Yahweh? O people brainless and unwise! Is this not your father, who gave you being, who made you, by whom you subsist? 7 Think back on the days of old, think over the years, down the ages. Question your father, let him explain to you, your elders, and let them tell you! 8 When the Most High gave the nations each their heritage, when he partitioned out the human race, he assigned the boundaries of nations according to the number of the children of God, 9 but Yahweh's portion was his people, Jacob was to be the measure of his inheritance. 10 In the desert he finds him, in the howling expanses of the wastelands. He protects him, rears him, guards him as the pupil of his eye. 11 Like an eagle watching [stirs] its nest, hovering over its young, he spreads out his wings to hold him, he supports him on his pinions. 12 Yahweh alone is his guide; no alien god for him! 13 He gives him the heights of the land to ride, he feeds him on the yield of the mountains, he gives him honey from the rock to taste, and oil from the flinty crag; 14 curds from the cattle, milk from the flock, and the richness of the pasture, rams of Bashan's breed, and goats, the richness of the wheat kernel; the fermented blood of the grape for drink.

Question: What does the song ask the people to do in verses 6-9?

  1. To acknowledge that He redeemed and established them as a people (verse 6)
  2. To remember their history (verse 7)
  3. To acknowledge that God gave them special status among the world's nations as His people (verses 8-9)

Verses 8-9 offer a description of Israel's divine election. The poem reminds the Israelites that God ordered the world with the foreknowledge that He would establish the nation of Israel to be "His portion" and the "measure of His inheritance" (verse 9). The "inheritance" language means that God chose to "dwell" among Israel.

Verse 10 recounts God's protection over the people from the time of the Exodus, and verses 12-14 describe the tender mercy God showed to Israel when they were lost and wandering in the wilderness. The poem uses two similes to describe God's protection of Israel: He rescued Israel and guided her as the "pupil of His eye" (see the same imagery in Zech 2:8). It is a reflex action to guard one's eye; therefore the pupil is an effective simile for Israel as the object of God's protective care (verse 10). Yahweh also cared for Israel like a mother eagle caring for her young (verse 11). The simile of an eagle caring for its young and teaching them to fly is especially descriptive. Mother eagles "stir" the nest, rousing their babies to get them to jump out of the nest to learn to fly. As the eaglet attempts to fly and begin to fail, the mother eagle swoops beneath her baby and supports the fledgling on her own wings, just as God led Israel out of Egypt and guided and protected her on the journey.

Jesus made a similar comparison of a mother bird caring for her young when He spoke of Jerusalem, saying: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longer to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused! (Mt 23:37). Teaching on Psalm 91:4 and referring to both Deuteronomy 32:11 and Matthew 23:37, St. Jerome compared God spreading protection over His people to Christ's outstretched arms on the Cross: Like an eagle, the Lord spreads his wings over us, his nestlings. There the Lord is compared with the eagle guarding its young. The simile therefore is appropriate that God protects us as a father and as a hen guarding her chicks lest they be snatched away by a hawk. Nevertheless a different interpretation is also permissible. "With his pinions he will cover you": he will be lifted up on the cross; he will stretch forth his hands to shelter us. "And under his wings you shall take refuge" (Jerome, Homilies on the Psalm, 20, quoting from Ps 91:4).

Verses 12-14 describe in poetic terms how God fed the Israelites on their journey, even where food seemed scarce, and provided the prosperity they experienced living in the Promise Land, where they reaped God's promised material blessings.

15 Jacob has eaten to his heart's content, Jeshurun [Yeshurun], grown fat has now lashed out [kicked]. (You have grown fat, gross, bloated.) He has disowned the God who made him, and dishonored the Rock, his salvation, 16 whose jealousy they aroused with foreigners-with things detestable they angered him. 17 They sacrificed to demons [goats] who are not God, to gods hitherto unknown to them, to newcomers of yesterday whom their ancestors had never respected. 18 You forget the Rock who fathered you, the God who made you, you no longer remember.

After the stark contrast between Yahweh's goodness and Israel's failure to value Yahweh's goodness, the next section expresses the incredulity of Israel's ingratitude (verses 15-21a). The "goats" in verse 17 are satyrs, demons in animal forms that were believed to haunt deserts, wastelands and ruins (also see Is 13:21; 34:14; Lev 17:7). Here as in Leviticus 17:7 the word is used contemptuously for false gods.

Question: Who is "Jacob" and who is Jeshurun/Yeshurun?
Answer: These are alternate names for Israel.

Instead of being grateful, Israel grew "fat" on Yahweh's bounty, and has selfishly forgotten the source of her well-being. Israel has therefore turned to pagan gods, emulating other nations and has "kicked," meaning rebelled (verse 15), against Yahweh and His covenant.

"Jeshurun," in Hebrew Yeshurun, is a word formed on the verb yashar, "to be upright" (The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 306). It is used as an alternative name for Israel (in Hebrew, Yisra'el) four times in Scripture (Dt 32:15; 33:5, 26; Is 44:2). In each of these cases, the name Yeshurun is used in the context of God's providential care for Israel and his covenant relationship with His people. The use of Yeshurun as an alternate name for Yisra'el may be a clue to the original meaning of "Israel/Yisra'el." Thus, instead of meaning "struggles with God" or "may God show his strength" or "he has shown his strength against God" as some scholars have suggested (interpretations based on Gen 32:29/28), Yisra'el may mean "upright of God" ("el" is the Hebrew word for "god" singular). In verse 15, its use stresses the fact that the Israel should be grateful for all the graces shown to her by Yahweh their Rock, but instead, Yeshurun, the formerly "upright of God," forgot Yahweh's acts of kindness, and no longer upright and righteous they came to despise His Law.

19 Yahweh saw it and, in anger, he spurned his sons and daughters. 20 'I shall hide my face from them,' he said, 'and see what will become of them. For they are a deceitful brood [deceitful/perverse generation], children with no loyalty in them. 21 They have roused me to jealousy with a non-god, they have exasperated me with their idols. In my turn I shall rouse them to jealousy with a non-people, I shall exasperate them with a stupid nation. 22 Yes, a fire has blazed from my anger, it will burn right down to the depths of Sheol; it will devour the earth and all its produce, it will set fire to the footings of the mountains. 23 I shall hurl disasters on them, on them I shall use up all my arrows. 24 They will be weakened by hunger, eaten away by plague and the bitter scourge. Against them I shall send the fang of wild animals and the poison of snakes that hide in the dust. 25 Outside, the sword bereaves, while inside terror will reign. Young man and girl alike will perish, suckling and greybeard both together.

But, as the poem points out, Israel's sin is even greater because not only have the people been ungrateful but they have denied Yahweh by turning to worshipping idols-counterfeit gods that are "non-gods." In the Decalogue, worshipping Yahweh requires a confession of His unique status as the One, the only God. Idolatry is, therefore, a denial of God as the One, true God.

Question: What will be God's response to this ultimate betrayal?
Answer: God will administer His stern punishment by withdrawing His divine protection.

Question: What does Proverbs 3:12 tell us about divine judgment?
Answer: Like a loving human father, the Divine Father reproves and corrects the children that He loves.

Question: What will be Israel's punishment? See verse 20.
Answer: God will "hide his face from them," meaning that His protective presence and provision will be removed and Israel will become venerable to her enemies and the conditions of sin in the world (famine, droughts, sickness, wars, etc).

Verse 21 offers the contrast They have roused me to jealousy with a non-god, they have exasperated me with their idols. In my turn I shall rouse them to jealousy with a non-people, I shall exasperate them with a stupid nation. God will use pagan nations who do not know Him-nations that the Israelites have followed into idolatry who foolishly worship non-gods-to punish Israel. When this happens, God will become a consuming fire of judgment rather than a Rock/fortress of protection.

26 I should crush them to dust, I said, I should wipe out all memory of them, 27 did I not fear the boasting of the enemy. But do not let their foes be mistaken! Do not let them say, 'We have got the upper hand and Yahweh plays no part in this.' 28 What a short-sighted nation this is, how thoroughly imperceptive! 29 Were they wise, they would succeed, they would be able to read their destiny. 30 How else could one man rout a thousand, how could two put ten thousand to flight, were it not that their Rock has sold them, that Yahweh has delivered them up?

Despite the severity of the judgment, God will not utterly destroy Israel because the pagan nations would claim that they were triumphant and that Yahweh has no power and isn't a real god. Yahweh's focus is always on man's ultimate salvation, including the salvation of the pagan nations of the earth. Israel is the vehicle God will use to bring about the birth of the Messiah and the salvation of all of mankind. He will not let their destruction be a cause for the Gentile nations to be further estranged from Him.

In verse 30, the weakness of Israel without Yahweh's help at the mercy of the Gentile enemy is described as one to a thousand, and two to ten thousand. This is a reverse of the promised blessings for Israel in Leviticus 26:8: five of you pursuing a hundred of them, one hundred pursuing then thousand and your enemies will fall before your sword. If the nations would reflect on Israel's past victories when Yahweh dwelled in their midst, they would realize that their victories over Israel were because God allowed it and not because of their own powers. However, like Israel, those nations would foolishly believe in their own strength and not in the control Yahweh has over the unfolding events of human history.

31 But their rock is not like our Rock; our enemies cannot pray for us! 32 For their vine springs from the stock of Sodom and from the groves of Gomorrah: their grapes are poisonous grapes, their clusters are bitter; 33 their wine is snakes' poison, the vipers' cruel venom. 34 But he, is he not safe with me, sealed inside my treasury? 35 Vengeance is mine, I will pay them back, for the time when they make a false step. For the day of their ruin is close, doom is rushing towards them, for he will see to it that their power fails, that neither serf or free man remains.' 36 For Yahweh will see his people righted, he will take pity on his servants. 37 'Where are their gods then?' he will ask, 'the rock where they sought refuge, 38 who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their liberations?' Let these arise and help you, let these be the shelter above you! 39 See now that I, I AM he, and beside me there is no other god. It is I who deal death and life; when I have struck, it is I who heal, no one can rescue anyone from me.

Question: What is meant by their rock is not like our Rock?
Answer: The pagan gods are not like Israel's God.

The pagan nations that will be allowed to punish Israel are corrupt from within, and they will also face divine judgment for their sins against the innocent. Their gods are false and their corrupt way of life ("vines bearing poisonous grapes") will become their executioner. God is allowing them to "store up" their poison, planning to serve it to them on His Day of Vengeance (verse 35).

The poem now turns to the compassion of God for his fallen people (verse 36).

Question: When the Israelites finally realize that the idols to which they turned to offer worship have not saved them, God will ask them what question?
Answer: He will ask "Where are your gods ... the rock where you sought refuge?"

Then God will make known to them that He is the one who brought about their suffering to lead them to repentance. He is the great I AM (Ex 3:13-14), the one God who can deliver them and heal them (verse 39).

Question: The poem reveals that in order to establish His glory on earth, God will preserve the covenant people. What important point does the poem make concerning Israel's continued existence? Also see Is 7:13-14; 11:1-4, 10-12; Ez 36:22-23.
Answer: The primary purpose of God's faithfulness to Israel and the preservation of the descendants of Jacob-Israel is not because of Israel's importance among world nations. The primary purpose is the revelation of God's greatness to the nations and to fulfill His plan of salvation for mankind.

40 Yes, I raise my hand to heaven, and I say, 'As surely as I live for ever, 41 when I have whetted my flashing sword, I shall enforce justice, I shall return vengeance to my foes, I shall take vengeance on my foes. 42 I shall make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword will feed on flesh: the blood of the wounded and the prisoners, the disheveled heads of the enemy!'

Question: What is the significance of God declaring: Yes, I raise my hand to heaven ...
Answer: This gesture is an act of oath swearing.

Justice for the innocent is God's primary motivation in punishing the wicked. When the Day of Vengeance comes, Yahweh swears that He will judge the nations of the earth and will bring justice to the innocent who have suffered and vengeance to His enemies who are the enemies of the righteous (also see Prov 6:34; Is 34:8; 61:2; 63:4; Jer 46:10; Lk 21:22).

43 Heavens, rejoice with him, let all the children [sons] of God pay him homage [worship him]! Nations, rejoice [acclaim] with his people, let God's envoys tell of his power! For he will avenge the blood of his servants, he will return vengeance to my foes, he will repay those who hate him and purify his people's country [land].

After His wrath is poured out upon the nations, avenging the blood of His prophets, Yahweh will call the nations to repentance and will send His apostles (envoys) to preach the Gospel of salvation (verse 43), purifying the people and the land and calling them to worship Him. Once again, notice that salvation is offered in connection with Israel's restoration. The Song of Witness makes it clear that God's salvation is inextricably united to His covenant with Israel. Those nations of the earth who find salvation in God will do so only as they "rejoice with His (covenant) people" who are meant to be the vehicle of their salvation.

44 Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and recited all the words of this song in the people's hearing.

Deuteronomy 32:45-47
The Torah is the Source of Life
45 When Moses had finished reciting these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, 'Take all these words to heart [place upon your heart these words]; I intend them today to be evidence against you. You must order your children to keep and observe all the words of this Law [torah]. 47 You must not think of this as empty words [or a useless word], for the Law [for it] is your life, and by its means you will love long in the country [land] which you are crossing the Jordan to possess.'
[..] =
literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 552).

After Moses and Joshua taught the people the Song of Witness, Moses reminded the people of the importance of the Torah as the source of life and urged the people to "place upon your heart these words," an expression meaning they were to study the instructions of the Law, to memorize it, to meditate upon the meaning, and to make the instruction on the Law the guiding principle that governs their life and their relationship in God. The warning was to be heeded by Israel as a corporate people but also by each individual who made up the one nation in covenant with Yahweh. In every generation to come, some disregarded the warning and fell away from obedience to the covenant, but there was always a "faithful remnant" who remained loyal to Yahweh in which the "promised seed" of Genesis 3:15 was preserved as the hope of mankind (Is 10:21-22; Rom 9:27; 11:5).

Finally, in verse 47, Moses says: You must not think of this as empty words [a useless word], for the Law [for it] is your life, and by its means you will live long in the country [land] which you are crossing the Jordan to possess.' The Torah is not "empty," or "without substance" or "useless;" instead it is full of life. By this Moses does not mean the Torah (instruction in the Law) is the source of life-God is the source of life. Nor is he contradicting St. Paul who will later write: So then, no human being can be found upright at the tribunal of God by keeping the Law; all that the Law of God does is to tell us what is sinful (Rom 3:20). Moses' message is that God's commandments, taught in the instructions given to Moses in the Torah, are the manner in which the people are to live in fellowship with God in the Promised Land, and by doing so they will experience the full richness of life, as God intended them to experience the blessings of life.

Deuteronomy 32:48-52
Moses is Told to View the Promised Land
48 Yahweh spoke to Moses that same day and said to him, 49 'Climb this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, in the country [land] of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the Canaan which I am giving to the Israelites as their domain. 50 Die on the mountain you have climbed, and be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 51 Because, with the other Israelites, you broke faith with me at the Waters of Meribah-Kadesh in the desert of Zin, because you did not make my holiness clear to the Israelites; 52 you may only see the country [land] from outside; you cannot enter it-the country [land] which I am giving to the Israelites.'
[..] =
literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 552-53).

The designation Meribah-Kadesh identifies the site of "water from the rock" in Numbers chapter 20 that took place at the oasis of Kadesh and distinguishes it from the incident in Exodus 17:1-7 that took place near Mt. Sinai with the water gushing forth form the rock in the presence of the elders at Mt Sinai. It was because Moses struck the rock at Meribah-Kadesh instead of "calling on the rock" to reveal God's glory as God commanded him that he was bared from crossing over the Jordan into the Promised Land (Num 27:14).

Chapter 33: The Last Testament of Moses

The tribes mentioned in Moses' blessing are Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin, Joseph, Zebulun and Issachar, Gad, Dan, Naphtali, and Asher.

Question: What tribe is missing from the list?
Answer: The tribe of Simeon.

It is difficult to understand why the tribe of Simeon is missing from the list. Later, long after the tribes settle in the Promised Land, the tribe of Simeon will be absorbed into the tribe of Judah. Either this section is a later addition, after Simeon had been absorbed into Judah, or at some point the verse or verses mentioning Simeon was lost from the surviving Hebrew texts. The last mention of the tribe of Simeon is that towns belonging to Simeon were included in King Josiah's 7th century BC religious reforms (2 Chr 34:6).

It is also curious that Judah, given a prominent place in Jacob-Israel's death-bed blessing (Gen 49:8-12) and a prominent place in leading the order of the march of the twelve tribes in the wilderness years, should have such a non-illustrious place in the poem. There are several similarities between Jacob-Israel's last testament in the blessing of his sons and Moses' last testament in blessing the tribes in this poem. One point of similarity that stands out is the prominence given the tribe of Joseph (compare Gen 49:22-26 with Dt 33:13-17). Either this poem was a later addition by a scribe from the Northern Kingdom (often an adversary of Judah), or parts of the poem have been lost.

If the poem isn't a later addition, parts of the content describing tribal occupation of Canaan is prophetic since the allocation of the tribal lands in Canaan wasn't made until after the conquest in the Book of Joshua (Josh 14-19).

Deuteronomy 33:1-29
Moses' Poem Blessing the Tribes-the Introduction
1 This is the blessing that Moses, man of God, pronounced over the Israelites before he died. 2 He said: 'Yahweh came from Sinai, from Seir he dawned upon us, from Mount Paran blazed forth, for them he came, after the mustering at Kadesh, from his zenith as far as the foothills. 3 You who love the ancestors! Your holy ones are all at your command. At your feet they fell, under your guidance went swiftly on. 4 Moses enjoined a law on us. The assembly of Jacob comes into his inheritance; 5 there was a king in Jeshurun when the heads of the people foregathered and the tribes of Israel were all assembled!

Yahweh came from Sinai, from Seir he dawned upon us, from Mount Paran blazed forth... In the Song of Deborah (Judg 5:1-31), Yahweh is also described as coming out from Seir (Judg 5:4). The imagery is that God rose like the sun upon His people, illuminating them above over all other peoples in their divine election. The exact location of both Sinai and Seir is not certain, but in Scripture Seir is practically synonymous with Edom in the southern Transjordan (see Gen 36:6, 9)(3). Mount Paran is probably the highest peak in the mountain range of Seir. In this passage Yahweh is described as coming from Sinai, which is near to the southern Transjordan territory of Edom. This would mean Sinai was closer to Midian lands on the northeastern side of the Sinai Peninsula than to the traditional location identified in the southern Sinai Peninsula.

The "assembly of Jacob" probably refers to the assembly of the entire people for the covenant ratification ceremony in Exodus chapter 24. The reference to a "king in Jeshurun" refers to Yahweh who became Israel's sovereign Lord at the covenant ratification ceremony. The "heads of the people" who gathered are probably the leaders of the people who witnessed Yahweh's coronation in the sacred meal of covenant ratification (Ex 24:9-11). As in other nations, it is the people or their leaders who legitimates the people's acceptance of the king's sovereignty.

6 May Reuben survive and not die out, survive though his men be few!

Comparing this blessing to the other tribal blessings, the verse is missing its introduction (Of _____ he said), evidence perhaps that the poem has not survived in tact. In Jacob's death-bed blessing, he disinherited Reuben from his position as "first-born" because he committed adultery/incest with Jacob's concubine (Gen 35:22). The tribe was still important in the days of the Judges, but in the Song of Deborah they stayed at home to guard their flocks instead of joining the Israelites in battle, perhaps because they had so few fighting men (Judg 5:15b-16). Eventually the tribe of Reuben disappeared, as did the other tribes located in the Transjordan.

7 Of Judah he said this: 'Listen, Yahweh, to the voice of Judah, and bring him back to his people. That his hands may defend his rights, come to his help against this foes!'

This is a surprisingly short blessing for Judah considering the present (in Moses' day Judah led the march of the tribes) and later prominence of this tribe. Judah had control of the southern part of the Promised Land extending from Jerusalem (after absorbing the tribe of Simeon), and in the days of David and Solomon, Judah had control of the entire nation of Israel. Moses' blessing anticipates a time of war when Judah will need Yahweh's help in defeating enemies.

8 Of Levi he said: To Levi, give your urim, to your faithful one, your thummim, having tested him at Massah, having striven [challenged] with him at the Waters of Meribah. 9 Of his father and mother, he says, 'I have not seen them.' He does not acknowledge his brothers, nor does he know his own children. Yes, they have kept your word, they hold firmly to your covenant. 10 They will teach your customs [mishpatim] to Jacob, and your Law [torah] to Israel. They will put incense before you and burnt offerings on your altar. 11 Yahweh, bless his worthiness, and accept the actions he performs. Crush the loins of those who rise against him and of his foes, so that they rise no more!'

The first part of the blessing is directed to each of Aaron's descendants who serve during their lifetimes as High Priests and have charge of the two cultic devices for determining the will of God. The second phrase of verse 8 is directed to the rest of the Levites who serve as lesser ministers and who, along with the other Israelites, tested Yahweh at Massah and Meribah in the two incidents of water from the Rock (Ex 17:1-7; Num 20:1-13). There is word play in the Hebrew in "tested" (nissito) at Massah, literally "testing place" and "challenged" (terivehu) at Meribah, literally "challenge-place" (The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 324).

This is a far more positive assessment of Levi than in Jacob's death-bed testimant. Verse 9 refers to the Levites' pledge to loyally carry out God's laws without showing favoritism even to their own families. Because of their loyalty and devotion to God's precepts and commands, they have the privilege of teaching God's law and Moses' instruction on the Law to the future generations of Israelites (verse 10a). Verse 10b refers to the duties of the chief priests in the Holy Place (offering incense) and serving at the sacrificial altar. The concluding verse refers to God's provision for their material welfare and their protection in war, since they do not serve as warriors but as ministers to the people and the guardians of Yahweh's Sanctuary.

12 Of Benjamin he said: 'Beloved of Yahweh, he rests trustfully near him, the Most High protects him day after day and dwells [rests] between his hillsides [shoulders].

In the allocation of tribal lands, the small tribe of Benjamin occupied strategic territory between the two most powerful tribes, Judah to the south and Ephraim to the north. The blessing characterizes the tribe as "God's beloved," and may reflect the younger, beloved brother status of Benjamin to Joseph, his elder brother (the two sons of Rachel), who sought to keep Benjamin with him in Egypt. The phrase "rests between his shoulders" is the image of a child being carried on his father's back, and is used as a metaphor for God's loving protection over Benjamin.

13 Of Joseph he said: His land is blessed by Yahweh. For him the best of heaven's dew and of the deep that lies below, 14 the best of what the sun makes grow, of what springs with every month [bounteous crops of the moons*], 15 the first-fruits of the ancient mountains, the best from the hills of old 16 the best of the land and all it holds, the favor of him who dwells in the Bush. May the hair grow thick on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the consecrated [nazir] one among his brothers! 17 First-born of the bull, his the glory. His horns are the wild ox's horns, with which he gores the peoples to the very ends of the earth. Such are the myriads of Ephraim, such are the thousands of Manasseh.

*moons plural usually refers to months, which were lunar months. This phrase probably refers to the various months in which the crops ripen.
[..] =
literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 554).

Joseph is the ancestor of the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph's blessing is similar to the blessing by Jacob (Gen 49:22-26) where the word nazir (consecrated, dedicated) in verse 16 is also used for Joseph in the last line of Genesis 49:26. The emphasis on fertility may be based on the Hebrew meaning of the name "Joseph" (yosef means "may he increase") and on the meaning of Ephraim, which is explained in Genesis 41:52 as meaning "God has made me fertile." The blessing says that Joseph has the favor of "him who dwells in the Bush," a reference to the presence of Yahweh/the angel of Yahweh that was revealed to Moses in the "burning bush" (Ex 3:2-6).

The title "first-born" applied to Joseph is both a reference of his physical birth as the firstborn of Rachel and to his father elevating him above his older brothers as the acknowledged principal heir, the "first-born" in rank. The blessing focuses on the fertility of the territory of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh and the health of the people (thick hair was considered a sign of health and vigor). Ephraim occupied the southern part of the central highlands and was the more prominent of the two (even though the territory Ephraim occupied was smaller than Manasseh). It will be a prince of Ephraim who will lead a successful revolt against the Davidic king Rehoborm (son of Solomon), breaking with Judah to form the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kng 11:26; 12:20). The majority of the tribe of Manasseh occupied the northern part of the central highlands of Canaan, and two clans occupied Bashan and Gilead in the Transjordan.

Zebulun and Issachar:
18 Of Zebulun he said: Prosper, Zebulun, in your expeditions, and you, Issachar, in your tents! 19 On the mountain where the people come to pray they offer upright sacrifices, for they taste the riches of the seas and the treasures hidden in the sands.

The heading only names the tribe of Zebulun, but the blessing also includes Issachar. Zebulun and Issachar were the two youngest sons of Jacob's wife Leah; their order is reversed since Issachar was the fifth and Zebulun the sixth son born to Leah (Gen 30:18-20). They are also mentioned side-by-side in Jacob's death-bed blessing (Gen 49:13-14) and in the Song of Deborah (Judg 5:18). Both tribes were assigned neighboring territories in the lower Galilee and in the Jezreel Valley.

According to Genesis 49:13, Zebulun was located on the Mediterranean coast, but according to the Book of Joshua, Zebulun occupied the central part of the Galilee and Issachar occupied the region to the southeast. Perhaps at one time Zebulun controlled lands as far west as the Mediterranean in the region of Haifa bay. The blessing in verse 18 might suggests this since Zebulun's "journeys" may refer to maritime trade routes or fishing expeditions along the coastal waters (also see Gen 49:13). Issachar's "tents" are probably the temporary tents of herdsmen. Genesis 49:14 mentions Issachar association with sheepfolds.

Verse 19 is problematic since worship and sacrifices to Yahweh are only to be offered in Yahweh's Sanctuary (Lev 17:3-9; Dt 12:11-12) and at no other site. The Sanctuary was never located as far north as the territories of these two tribes. However, if this poem is a later addition during the period of the divided kingdom and written by a scribe of the Northern Kingdom, it does make sense. The kings of the Northern Kingdom rejected the Temple in Jerusalem, located in the lands occupied by Judah and ruled by the Davidic kings. Jeroboam of Ephraim, king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, set up sacrificial altars and shrines on "high places" at Bethel and Dan were golden calf idols, represented as Yahweh, were worshipped (1 Kng 12:26-33).

20 Of Gad he said: Blessed be he who gives Gad space enough! He lies there like a lioness; he has savaged arm and face and head. 21 Then he took the first portion for himself, saw that there was stored up for him a leader's share. He has come at the head of the people, has carried out the saving justice of Yahweh and his judgments on Israel.

Verse 20 either refers to the size of Gad's territory or that Gad's fertility has increased the nation of Israel. Gad selected the fertile pasturelands of the Transjordan as the tribe's territory. He has come at the head of the people might refer to the agreement Gad and Reuben made with Moses (Num 32:20-27). In exchange for permission to occupy lands in the Transjordan, they agreed to be the vanguard of the Israelite army in the conquest of Canaan, a promise which Gad faithful carried out.

22 Of Dan he said:

Dan is a lion cub leaping from Bashan.

After the conquest of Canaan, Dan was assigned lands situated to the west of Benjamin, but the tribe of Dan was unable to subdue the local inhabitants and emigrated from that territory to settle in the extreme northern part of Israel at Laish (Leshem), which means "lion," at the foot of Mt. Hermon on the border with Bashan (Josh 19:40-48).

23 Of Naphtali he said: Naphtali, sated with favors, filled with the blessings of Yahweh: the west and south are to be his domain.

Naphtali occupied the rich lands of the upper Galilee, well-watered lake land, rich in forests, fruit trees, and fertile pastures. They occupied the western and southern shores of the Sea of Galilee.

24 Of Asher he said: Most blessed of the sons let Asher be! Let him be the most privileged of his brothers and let him bathe his feet in oil! 25 Be your bolts of iron and of bronze and your security as lasting as your days!

Asher's lands were situated in the hill country of the upper Galilee, between the lands of Naphtali and the Mediterranean Sea. It was an area rich in olive trees and the tribe became a major producer of olive oil. The tribal lands were also crossed by one of the major trade routes, "the Way of the Sea." As a territory transected by an international highway, the tribe needed strong defenses to defend against invaders from both the north and northeast. The title most blessed of the sons probably refers to Asher's name, which means "blessedness" (Gen 30:13).

Conclusion of Moses' Blessings:
26 No one is like the God of Jeshurun: he rides the heavens to your rescue, rides the clouds in his majesty! 27 The God of old ['elohei kedem] is your refuge, his the eternal arm which here below drives the enemy before you; he it is who says, 'Destroy!' 28 Israel rests trustfully. The well-spring of Jacob is chosen out for a land of corn [grain] and wine; there heaven itself rains down dew. 29 Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, O victorious people? Yahweh is the shield that protects you and the sword that leads you to triumph. Your enemies will try to corrupt you, but your yourself will trample on their backs.
[..] =
literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 555).

Moses' final blessing is directed to the entire nation of Israel. Israel is blessed to have a God who is like none other (verse 26). The epithet "God of old" or "ancient God," 'elohei kedem, is synonymous with "everlasting God" (Gen 21:33 NAB; Is 40:28; Rom 16:26). It is consistent with the concept that God has existed since beyond time, and like this passage, Psalm 90:1-2 also connects God as a refuge with His eternity: Lord, you have been our refuge from age to age. Before the mountains were born, before the earth and the world came to birth, from eternity to eternity you are God.

Verses 27b-28: God drives out Israel's Canaanite enemies to give His people a land rich in grain and grapes, which He waters from heaven. This is a reminder that the Israelites must rely on God to water their land, unlike the land of Egypt that had a steady supply of water from the Nile River.

Verse 29 reminds the Israelites of their unique blessedness comes from belonging to the One True God. He brings them victory over their enemies; He is a protective shield and a victorious sword; metaphors often applied to God (Gen 15:1; Ps 3:4; 18:3, 31; 28:7; 84:12). Trampling on the backs of defeated enemies (verse 29) is a ceremonial gesture of triumph, often mentioned in Scripture (Josh 10:24; 1 Kng 5:17; Ps 110:1), in ancient Near Eastern literature, and illustrated in ancient art of the Near East.


Chapter 34: The Death of Moses

It is true that Moses was trustworthy in the household of God, as a servant is, acting as witness to the things which were yet to be revealed, but Christ is trustworthy as a son is over his household. As we are his household, as long as we fearlessly maintain the hope in which we glory.
Hebrews 3:5-6

And now Moses, the faithful servant of Yahweh, having set Master's "house" in order, prepared for his own "exodus," his departure from this life. From the time Yahweh first called him from the brush which earthly flames could not destroy, Moses' life's mission had been to cooperate in God's plan for the salvation of his people. Mindful that the work to bring Israel to the Promised Land had not been completed, Moses asked Yahweh to appoint "a shepherd" over Israel to succeed him (see Num 27:15-21). With the appointment and anointing of Joshua and with his final homilies and his renewal of the covenant with the new generation accomplished, his mission was completed.

Deuteronomy 34:1-4
Moses Views the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo
1 Then, leaving the Plains of Moab, Moses went up Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah opposite Jericho, and Yahweh showed him the whole country [land]: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 the whole of Naphtali, the country [land] of Ephraim and Manasseh, the whole country of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the region of the Valley of Jericho, city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. 4 Yahweh said to him, 'This is the country which I promised on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: I shall give it to your descendants. I have allowed you to see it for yourself, but you will not cross into it.'

"Gilead as far as Dan" was the northern limits of the Promised Land. The land of Naphtali was in the upper Galilee. Ephraim and Manasseh occupied the central region of the Promised Land, and land of Judah came to include all of those sites mentioned in verse 2b-3. The Negeb was the southern most part of the Promised Land and Zoar was a town southeast of the Dead Sea where Lot escaped to with his daughters after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:18-22, 30; also see Gen 13:10; Is 15:5; Jer 48:34).

Question: Why is it significant that Moses viewed the land from a site on a mountain across from the ancient city of Jericho? See Josh 3:14-16.
Answer: He had a view of the land from the point where the Israelites would cross the Jordan River into Canaan opposite Jericho.

Alone with God, Moses set out on his last journey (Dt 34:1-4). He climbed to the highest peak of the mountain, approximately 4,000 feet up, a rapid ascent but not rugged(4). The people's eyes must have followed him as he made his final journey. At the top of the mountain, standing there alone, his old eyes would have taken in the full view of the Promised Land. As Moses stood on the crest of the mountain, the sweep of the land would have seemed almost endless. Turning his back on the river and looking east, Moses saw the fertile Transjordan plains stretching from the south lands bordering the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) to the north, pastures and rolling hills that were now the homeland of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the two clans of Manasseh. Then, turning and looking below slightly to the southwest, he might have seen that the land descended in terraces from the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) and beyond the Salt Sea the plains that turned into hill country and beyond the hills to the southwest the arid lands that became the Negeb, the southern most boundary of Canaan. From the Negeb his eyes might have moved northeast until he saw the ridge of Hebron, and then, as his eyes traveled further north toward central Canaan, he might have seen the high mountain ridges that would be home to both the little village of Bethlehem and the ancient city of Jerusalem. It was at Jerusalem where Yahweh's Sanctuary would find its final home and become "a place for Yahweh's name."

Looking down from the mountain, Moses would have seen the winding course of the Jordan River passing near the ancient city of Jericho, resplendent with its many palm trees. Continuing his gaze across the river slightly to the northwest into central Canaan his old eyes would have rested on the rounded tops of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, the site of the next covenant renewal ceremony. Perhaps God gave him vision beyond the mountains to the pleasant sight of the fertile Plain of Esdraelon (Plain of Jezerel) and beyond the plain to the shoulder of Mount Carmel. Moses might have picked out a blue haze in the far distance beyond Mount Carmel that was the visible line of the Great Western Sea (Mediterranean). Still farther northward perhaps he could have seen the outline of Mount Tabor and then straining his eyes and looking east of Mts. Carmel and Tabor he might even have had a vision of the beautiful lake country of the Galilee with its lush green grass and its rolling hills. Perhaps farther to the north he saw the snow-clad outline of Mount Hermon and, if the day was clear, perhaps the highest range of the mountains of Lebanon slightly to the east and the Golan Heights of Syria to the northwest. How the site of this beautiful land must have filled his old heart with hope for his people and gratitude for the faithfulness of his God.

Deuteronomy 34:5-9
The Death of Moses
5 There in the country [land] of Moab, Moses, servant of Yahweh, died as Yahweh decreed; 6 he buried him in the valley, in the country [land] of Moab, opposite Beth-Peor; but to [until = 'ad] this day no one has ever found his grave,7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye undimmed, his vigor unimpaired. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses on the Plains of Moab for thirty days. The days of weeping for the mourning rites of Moses came to an end. 9 Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid hands on him, and him the Israelites obeyed, carrying out the order which Yahweh had given to Moses.
[..] =
literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 556).

The last lines of the Pentateuch were probably written by Moses' successor Joshua. After Moses completed his last journey, he fulfilled his last act of obedience to Yahweh by dying. Moses was born a slave, raised to be a prince, and spent the last forty years of his life as the intimate servant of the One True God. He died just as Yahweh decreed; he died and was buried in the valley of Moab opposite the pagan shrine of Beth-Peor, the site of the new generation's fall from grace when the men were seduced into participating in pagan fertility rites (Num 25:18). Moses was 120 years old. Israel mourned for thirty days, and Joshua succeeded the great prophet as the leader of the nation of Israel. You may recall that Aaron also died on a mountain top and was mourned for thirty days (Num 20:28-29; 33:38). Aaron died in the 40th year of the Exodus, on the first day of the fifth month when he was 123 years old. Moses probably died in the twelfth month of the liturgical year (February). Thirty days later, the tribes crossed the Jordan River into Canaan on the 10th day of the first month, and they celebrated the Passover four days later in the Promised Land (Josh 5:10-12).

Deuteronomy 34:5 provides the final reference to Yahweh's refusal to allow Moses to enter the Promised Land with the words: Moses, servant of Yahweh, died as Yahweh decreed. His death was a judgment for a failure in obedience just as his generation had died in the wilderness for their failure to trust Yahweh in conquering the Canaanites. However, Moses' failure in his one act of striking the rock instead on calling on the rock to give its life-giving water (Num 20:7-11; 27:14) was a judgment based on a significant future theological truth that Christ was only struck down once for man's sins when the blood and water flowed from His side. It was from that event that all future generations were to receive the life-giving waters of Baptism and the eternal nourishing precious Blood of the Savior in the Eucharist by calling on God, the Rock of our salvation. Moses was 120 years old when he died and he was buried somewhere in the valley near Mt. Nebo.

Question: According to verse 6, who buried Moses?
Answer: God

The Samaritan Pentateuch and some Greek manuscripts read "they buried him," meaning the Israelites. However, it makes sense that God would have buried His old servant. God may have buried Moses to prevent the Israelites from turning Moses' grave into a shrine that might have been worshipped. In antiquity, great men were often deified by future generations.

There was a peaceful transition from Moses as leader to Joshua.

Question: What is the positive assessment of Joshua that leads us to understand that he will have the necessary attributes to carry out God's plan? Also see Num 27:18.
Answer: Numbers 27:18 and Deuteronomy 34:9 state that Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom.

David's son King Solomon also received the gift of divine wisdom to govern Israel (1 Kng 3:7-12).

Question: What was the significance of Moses laying hands upon Joshua in verse 9? Also see Num 27:18, 23.
Answer: It was a rite of investiture in which Moses' power and authority was transmitted to Joshua as witnessed by the people.

The same gesture in the Catholic Church is part of the ordination ceremony for priests, the consecration of those receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, and in Rabbinic Judaism, it is part of the ceremony of rabbinic ordination, which is called semikhah, "laying [of hands]" (The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 339).

It is unusual to find the expression "filled with the spirit" in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament God's spirit usually "rests" upon certain individuals called to service (Num 11:17, 25-26; 24:2; Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:9; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 11:16; 16:13; 19:20, 23; 2 Chr 15:1; Is 11:2; 42:1; etc.).

Question: What other man did God's spirit fill in the Pentateuch? See Ex 31:1-5; 35:31.
Answer: God's spirit filled Bezalel of the tribe of Judah who was responsible for crafting the sacred furniture for the Sanctuary.
and him the Israelites obeyed, carrying out the order which Yahweh had given to Moses.
The transition of leadership was complete, and the people began to obey Joshua.

Deuteronomy 34:10-12
Concluding Eulogy
10 Since then, there has never been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man whom Yahweh knew face to face. 11 What signs and wonders Yahweh caused him to perform in Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants and his whole country [land]! 12 How mighty the hand and great the fear that Moses wielded in the eyes of all Israel!
[..] =
literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 556).

This eulogy is a declaration of Moses' unique status among Israel's leaders.

Question: What is the significance of 34:10? When was it written?
Answer: This passage, written sometime after Moses' death, tells us that at the time of the addition of this line that the prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 had not yet come.

The works of Moses as God's covenant mediator were never equaled by another Old Testament prophet. Until the advent of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, no prophet as great as Moses, who communicated directly with God, had come to lead the covenant people. The eulogy picks up the theme of the future Messiah using Moses as a "type" for the future redeemer who will come as a "new Moses" to speak the words of God to the people, to lead a new "exodus" and to fulfill the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by bringing a world-wide blessing to the nations of the earth.

St. Peter spoke of Moses in his homily to the "men of Israel" at the Jerusalem Temple sometime after the miracle of Pentecost, telling them that Jesus of Nazareth was the "new Moses," the prophet Moses prophesied would one day come to Israel speaking the words of God: Moses, for example, said "From among your brothers the Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me; you will listen to whatever he tells you. Anyone who refuses to listen to that prophet shall be cut off from the people." In fact, all the prophets that have ever spoken, from Samuel onwards, have predicted these days. You are the heirs of the prophets, the heirs of the covenant God made with your ancestors when he told Abraham, "All the nations of the earth will be blessed in your descendants." It was for you in the first place that God raised up his servant [Jesus of Nazareth] and sent him to bless you as every one of you turns from his wicked ways' (Acts 3:22-26).


1. See Gen 49:24b; 1 Sam 2:2; 2 Sam 22:2, 3, 32, 47; 23:3; Ps 18:2 twice, 31, 46; 19:14; 28:1; 31:2-3; 42:9; 62:2, 6; 78:35; 89:26; 92:15; 94:22; 95:1; 144:1.

2. Cephas is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word Kepha, "rock." The Apostle Simon-Peter was the son of a man named "John" (see Jn 1:42; 21:15, 16, 17), but in Mt 16:17 Jesus called Simon "bar Jonah", which can be translated "son of the dove" or "son of Jonah," referring not to Simon's father but to the 8th century BC prophet who was sent to Nineveh, the capital city of the most powerful empire of the times, the Gentile Assyrians, to tell the people to repent their wickedness (Jonah 1:1-2). Both translations of "Jonah" in Mt 16:17 are appropriate metaphors for St. Peter. In the New Testament, the dove is the sign of God the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:16). God the Holy Spirit was to indwell and direct St. Peter in his mission to lead the Church of the New Covenant people of God. In addition, like the Old Testament prophet Jonah, St. Peter's mission was to go to the capital city of the current world superpower-to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, the world's most powerful nation and to tell the Gentiles of the Roman world to repent their wickedness and turn go God. St. Peter established the world headquarters of the Universal [Catholic] Church in Rome, where he was martyred c. 67 AD.

3. Edom was the southernmost of the Transjordanian kingdoms, but its territory also extended west of the Aravah/Arabah into the highlands of the eastern Negev, south of the Promised Land. Seir usually refers to the part of Edom extending northward from just east of Kadesh-barnea to Hormah, near Arad (see Num 20:16; Dt 1:44).

4. Mt. Nebo was one of the prominent peaks of the Abarim on the east side of the Jordan River across from Jericho. The two most likely candidates are Jebal Neba (3,935 ft.) or Ras Siagha (3,586 ft.), two peaks east of the northeast corner of the Dead Sea. The peaks of both mountains offer vistas that are similar to the description in Dt 34:1-3 (The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 421).

Michal Hunt, Copyright 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicates that Scripture is quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

Dt 32:6

CCC 238*

Dt 32:8

CCC 57*, 441*

Dt 32:34

CCC 1295

Dt 32:39

CCC 304*