Saturday Apr 15, 2023

Deuteronomy 32:44-52 - The Word of God is the Source of Life & Moses’ Punishment for Disobedience


     Moses, having delivered the song to the nation (Deut 32:1-43), now directs and encourages his audience to receive the message for themselves. If the people of Israel would accept the message, follow it, and teach it to their children, they would know blessing in the land of Canaan, to which they were about to enter and possess (Deut 32:44-47). God had placed before them everything they needed for a life of success and prosperity, both for them and their children, but they had to commit themselves to the Lord and follow His directives set forth in the Torah (Deut 11:26-28; 30:15-20). The last few verses of this chapter close out with God directing Moses to go up to Mount Nebo, where he will see the land of Canaan from a distance, and then die (Deut 32:48-52).


     In the opening of this pericope, Moses reiterates what he’d said at the beginning of the song (Deut 31:30), saying, “Then Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he, with Joshua the son of Nun” (Deut 32:44).

  • “When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, ‘Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law’” (Deut 32:45-46).  

     Moses, after speaking God’s Word to all Israel, directs them to accept the revelation for themselves, saying, “Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today” (Deut 32:46a). The word take translates the Hebrew verb שׂוּם sum, which means to “put, set, place…deposit.”[1] The form of the verb is a Qal imperative, which means it’s a command to be obeyed, as the believer intentionally deposits God’s Word to their own heart (לֵבָב lebab). For the believer with positive volition, it means he/she is mentally focusing on something of importance and paying careful attention to it. And what Moses was telling his audience to pay careful attention to? Specifically, it’s “all the words” he was communicating to them, adding the oft repeated reference to “all the words of this law” (Deut 32:46b; cf., Deut 17:19; 27:3, 8, 26; 28:58; 29:29; 31:12, 24). And after telling his audience that they are personally responsible to place God’s Word into their own hearts, he gives them an added responsibility, saying, “you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law” (Deut 32:46b). According to Eugene Merrill, “Not only were his hearers to pledge themselves to its stipulations, but they were to command their descendants to do the same. Over and over again the people of Israel were reminded that the faith and commitment of any one generation were not sufficient for all the generations to come. Each must have its own time of covenant renewal (cf. Deut 4:9–10; 5:29; 6:2, 7; 11:19, 21; 12:25, 28; 30:19).”[2]Though the parents were directed to command their children to learn and observe God’s directives, it was up to the children themselves to exercise their own volitions and accept God’s Word and walk in it. The command from the parents to the children was the highest display of love for them, for to give them the Word of God was to give them the source of life and blessing, for “man does not live by bread alone, but lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3).

     Moses drives the point further, saying, “For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess” (Deut 32:47; cf. Deut 4:40). Here we see repeated words that Moses has been stressing throughout the book (cf., Deut 6:24-25; 11:26-28; 30:15-20). As stated previously, the faith of one generation does not guarantee the faith of the next. Still, Moses was concerned about his generation, and instructed them to teach their children—which was a display of love for them—that they might continue in obedience to the Lord and know His blessings as well (See Deut 4:9-10; 5:29; 6:2, 7; 11:19, 21; 12:25, 28; 30:19). Concerning this passage, Peter Craigie states, “The law did not bind men in a straitjacket of legalism, but pointed toward that life which God purposed for them. In the law lay the secret of Israel’s longevity and prosperity in the promised land which they were soon to possess.”[3]

Prediction of Moses’ Death

     In this closing section, the Lord spoke directly to Moses and directed him to ascend to Mount Nebo, where he would see the land of Canaan from a distance and then die. This discourse from God reiterates what Moses had said before about the Lord’s punishment on him (see Deut 3:23-28; 31:2, 14). There are four commands given here to Moses: 1) go up to Mount Nebo (Deut 32:49a), 2) look at the land of Canaan (Deut 32:49b), 3) die on the mountain (Deut 32:50a), and 4) be gathered to your people (Deut 32:50b).

     The pericope opens, telling us, “The LORD spoke to Moses that very same day, saying, 49 ‘Go up to this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab opposite Jericho, and look at the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the sons of Israel for a possession’” (Deut 32:48-49; cf., Num 27:12-14). The Abarim was a mountain range located in Moab, east of Canaan. According to Eugene Merrill, “The ‘Abarim Range’ refers to the high plateau area east of the Jordan River and Dead Sea, the highest peak of which was Pisgah, a part of Mount Nebo (cf., Deut 34:1). This peak, with an elevation of over 2,600 feet, is about twenty miles from Jericho as the crow flies and affords an unobstructed view of nearly all the promised land (cf. Deut 34:1–3).”[4]

     For Moses, being able to see the land of Canaan allowed him to know his mission of leading the people there had been accomplished. It was now up to Joshua to lead the Israelites into Canaan, which God was “giving to the sons of Israel for a possession” (Deut 32:49). God then told Moses, “Then die on the mountain where you ascend, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people” (Deut 32:50). And God reminded Moses of the reason he could not enter the land of Canaan, saying, “because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel” (Deut 32:51). God reminded Moses that he had disqualified himself from entering the land of Canaan because he: 1) “broke faith” with God, and 2) did not treat the Lord as “holy in the midst of the sons of Israel.” Concerning this passage, Daniel Block states:

  • "In striking the rock Moses had misrepresented Yahweh publicly, violated his own representative role, and failed to respect Yahweh’s unique and sacred status. To Yahweh, striking the rock reflected a cavalier disposition toward him, as though Moses could adapt Yahweh’s commands as he wanted. Moreover, in relating directly to the rock rather than the Rock, he had committed an idolatrous act. Yahweh’s present indictment highlights the communal implications of Moses’ actions; he had publicly failed to uphold Yahweh’s holiness. As leader of the people and representative of Yahweh, he had struck the rock when Yahweh had commanded him to speak to it. While his act may have been a gesture of frustration, to God it involved publicly usurping what is otherwise a divine agenda. Remarkably, it worked—water issued from the rock. Moses may have looked like a magician—but it cost him his life and his mission."[5]

     The Lord tells Moses, “For you shall see the land at a distance, but you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving the sons of Israel” (Deut 32:52). These final words to Moses show that all who were under the covenant, even Moses, was not exempt from divine punishment if he broke faith with God and was disobedient. By his disobedience, Moses did not forfeit his salvation, but his reward of entering the promised land. However, we also see here a display of God’s grace, as He allowed Moses to see the land from a distance, just east of the Jordan River.

     Though Moses’ failure to honor God had cost him his right to enter the land of Canaan, overall, Moses is remembered for his faithfulness to the Lord, as the writer of Hebrews tells is, “Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant” to the Lord (Heb 3:5). The Lord called Moses His “friend” (Ex 33:11), and described him as His servant, who “is faithful in all My household” (Num 12:7). To be a friend of God means one follows His directives. Jesus said something similar to His disciples, saying, “You are My friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). By the end of his life, Moses would die at the ripe age of one hundred and twenty years with vigor  of life (Deut 34:7), and would tower above the prophets of Scripture who would follow after him (Deut 34:10-12).

     Though Moses was about to leave the company of Israel and go to the mountain, and there leave this world, he was leaving behind a powerful legacy that would serve as the foundation for all Israel’s success and prosperity in the years ahead, if they would accept it. Just before going up to the top of Mount Nebo, Moses would pronounce blessings on the nation (Deut 33), and then he would ascend the mountain—to die (Deut 34).


     In Deuteronomy 32:44-47, Moses directs his people to take all the words of God’s law to heart, for they are not meaningless words, but are the very source of life and blessing, both for them and their children, if they will follow the Lord and walk in righteousness. In Deuteronomy 32:48-52, the Lord calls Moses to ascend Mount Nebo to look upon the land of promise, informing him that he will not enter the land, because of an event in which he broke faith with God and did not treat Him as holy, informing Moses that he will die on the mountain and be gathered to his people.

Present Application

     God gives us His Word to light our paths (Psa 119:105; Prov 6:23), to revive our hearts (Psa 119:25, 107), and to direct us in the path of righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). Being plugged into God’s Word is paramount to the believer’s successful walk. Moses knew this, and he stressed it over and over to his audience. He told them, “Take to heart all these words I am giving as a warning to you today, so that you may command your children to carefully follow all the words of this law. For they are not meaningless words to you but they are your life, and by them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (Deut 32:46-47 CSB; cf. Deut 4:40). The Scriptural teaching is “that man does not live by bread alone, but lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deut 8:3). But only those with positive volition will accept God’s Word, live by faith, and walk in righteousness.

     Of the one with positive volition it is said, “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). The benefit of such a lifelong meditation is that “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:3). Elsewhere, David said, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart” (Psa 40:8). And Jeremiah said, “Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jer 15:16). To eat God’s Word is a picture of positive volition, as Jeremiah welcomed the divine revelation into himself, and once received, it delighted his heart.

     When the human heart is receptive to God’s Word, it transforms that person from the inside out, and this is both cognitive and experiential. God says, “Is not My word like fire? declares the LORD, and like a hammer which shatters a rock?” (Jer 23:29). His Word is powerful and accomplishes what He desires (Isa 55:10-11; Heb 4:12), and it lights a fire in the heart of those who are positive. For example, after His resurrection, Jesus walked for several miles with two disciples and gave them a Bible lesson which lasted for several hours (Luke 24:14-35). This Bible lesson occurred as they traveled “to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:13). Luke reveals how Jesus taught them, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). After His Bible lesson, the two disciples said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). The heart that is positive to God receives His Word and is excited by what is learned. But hearts that are negative suppress God’s truth (Rom 1:18-32), and this to their own harm.

     Learning Scripture must be followed by faith, as we become “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude” ourselves” (Jam 1:22). This means learning and living His Word day by day (Psa 1:2; Ezra 7:10; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2), walking by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:1-6), advancing to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1), and living the righteous life He intends. Such a life glorifies God, edifies others, and creates in us a personal sense of destiny tied to the God of universe, Who is directing history to the return of Jesus and the establishment of His earthly kingdom.



[1] Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 1237.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 428.

[3] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 390.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary, 429–430.

[5] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 779.

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