The Trinity and gender issues (Deut 32:17)

It is argued by many that God is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we are not at liberty to tamper with divine revelation simply in order to satisfy our liturgical needs or to bow to cultural pressures. Maternal images of the Godhead do occur in Scripture, Num 11:11-12; Deut 32:18; Isa 42:14; 46:3-4; 66:7-9; Hos 11:3f; 13:8; Mt 23:37; Lk 13:20f; 15:8-10. Are these sufficiently numerous or weighty for us to demand that liturgical language be either inclusive or gender-free? Some inclusive revisions of the liturgy refer to the Trinity as ‘Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier’; or as ‘God, Word, and Spirit’. But these are at once more specific (and therefore more limited) and more abstract than the usual definition of the Trinity. There may be more mileage in language about God which uses more mix of both maternal and paternal images and metaphors.

Invocation of Witnesses, 1-14

32:1 Listen, O heavens, and I will speak;
hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
32:2 My teaching will drop like the rain,
my sayings will drip like the dew,
as rain drops upon the grass,
and showers upon new growth.
32:3 For I will proclaim the name of the LORD;
you must acknowledge the greatness of our God.
32:4 As for the Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are just.
He is a reliable God who is never unjust,
he is fair and upright.
32:5 His people have been unfaithful to him;
they have not acted like his children—this is their sin.
They are a perverse and deceitful generation.
32:6 Is this how you repay the LORD,
you foolish, unwise people?
Is he not your father, your creator?
He has made you and established you.
32:7 Remember the ancient days;
bear in mind the years of past generations.
Ask your father and he will inform you,
your elders, and they will tell you.
32:8 When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
when he divided up humankind,
he set the boundaries of the peoples,
according to the number of the heavenly assembly.
32:9 For the LORD’s allotment is his people,
Jacob is his special possession.
32:10 The LORD found him in a desolate land,
in an empty wasteland where animals howl.
He continually guarded him and taught him;
he continually protected him like the pupil of his eye.
32:11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
that hovers over its young,
so the LORD spread out his wings and took him,
he lifted him up on his pinions.
32:12 The LORD alone was guiding him,
no foreign god was with him.
32:13 He enabled him to travel over the high terrain of the land,
and he ate of the produce of the fields.
He provided honey for him from the cliffs,
and olive oil from the hardest of rocks,
32:14 butter from the herd
and milk from the flock,
along with the fat of lambs,
rams and goats of Bashan,
along with the best of the kernels of wheat;
and from the juice of grapes you drank wine.

v8 The Most HighElyon, used only here in Deut.  Used elsewhere (Gen 14:18-22; Num 24:16) in connection with God’s sovereignty over the world’s nations.  The next verses uses God’s covenant name of Yahweh.

‘In the Old Testament the term Elyon is usually used as an epithet for Yahweh (see comments on Gen 14:17–24). There is no convincing evidence thus far of Elyon as the name of a deity in the ancient Near East, but it is fairly common as an epithet for various gods, particularly El and Baal, the principal gods in the Canaanite pantheon.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

‘Verses 8-9 take the origins of Israel right back to the divine allocation of nations and locate the election of Israel in the creative sovereignty of God over all mankind…Verse 8…embodies a universal, providential understanding of God in relation to the nations of humanity at large, while verse 9 expresses the particular elective-redemptive relationship of God to Israel…There is no possibility that Yahweh is simply one of the “sos of the gods” to whom nations are allocated.  The point is that the one and only God, know to Israel as Yahweh, is the same Most High God who is sovereign among the nations of humanity…This universal framework becomes the primary grounds for the judgement of the nations later in the song.’ (Wright)

he set the boundaries of the peoples,
according to the number of the heavenly assembly.

According to the number of the sons of Israel – NIV – ‘According to the number of the sons of Israel’.

The NASB is derived from the Received Text:

When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
When He separated the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples
According to the number of the sons of Israel.
“For the LORD’s portion is His people;
Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.

NRSV, on the other hand, reflects the LXX has ‘of the sons of God’, and a Qumran fragment which agrees with this.

When the Most High apportioned the nations,
when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
according to the number of the gods;
the LORD’s own portion was his people,
Jacob his allotted share.

If this reflects the original text, then it possibly reflects belief, widespread in the ANE, in a council of gods, each of whom was allocated to a different nation.  Within this picture, the council is presided over by the Most High God who is none other than Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel.

Although, in a sense, the reading ‘the sons of Israel’ is the easier, it suffers from the disadvantages of not making much sense!  (What would it mean for the boundaries of the nations to be set up ‘according to the number of the sons of Israel’?  It would seem that the compilers of the Masoretic Text altered the original in order to present an ‘easier’ view of God.

Heiser (The Bible Unfiltered, ch. 44) comments that v8 alludes to the dispersal of the nations at Babel (Gen 11:1-9) and Yahweh’s subsequent exclusive relationship with Israel (note that the call of Abraham is recorded in the very next chapter, Gen 12:1-3).  The other nations were given over to the administration of other, lesser gods (Elohim).  Of course, Israel rebelled and was herself dispersed among the nations; but her very disobedience became the means by which God would reclaim the nations, which in turn would spell the return of the Israelites (Jews) to their God.

Heiser (I Dare You Not To Bore Me With The Bible) concludes:-

‘God, of course, doesn’t need to be protected by a zealous scribe or anyone else. Israel’s doctrine was that Yahweh was unique and above all other divine beings (Pss 29:1; 89:5–7). In a severe judgment, the nations at Babel were disinherited by Yahweh and given over to the administration of other gods (Deut 4:19–20; 32:8), whose actions would be judged by the God of Israel (Psa 82:1, 6). This paved the way for God to create a new people, Israel, in the very next chapter of Genesis. And ironically, it was through Abraham’s seed that the disinherited nations would be reclaimed (Gen 12:1–3).’

It is gratuitous, and quite against the whole tenor of OT belief, to regard (so John Loftus, God or Godless? p22) the presiding god (El, or Elyon) as equivalent to the chief god of the Canaanites, who allocated Israel to Yahweh to rule over.

Patrick Miller (Interpretation) argues from this text that only Israel was called to the exclusive worship of Yahweh.  After all, Yahweh had alloted to the other nations their own (lesser) gods.

Israel’s Rebellion, 15-18

32:15 But Jeshurun became fat and kicked,
you got fat, thick, and stuffed!
Then he deserted the God who made him,
and treated the Rock who saved him with contempt.
32:16 They made him jealous with other gods,
they enraged him with abhorrent idols.
32:17 They sacrificed to demons, not God,
to gods they had not known;
to new gods who had recently come along,
gods your ancestors had not known about.
32:18 You have forgotten the Rock who fathered you,
and put out of mind the God who gave you birth.

v18 According to JB, both parts of the verse present male imagery: ‘You forget the Rock who begot you, unmindful now of the God who fathered you.’
NRSV, on the other hand, translates both parts in female terms: ‘You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.’

The NIV is probably correct in allowing this verse to simultaneously assert that the Lord was Israel’s Father and Mother.  See Isa 42:14; 49:15; 66:13; Psa 131:1ff; Mt 23:37.

‘The combination of roles makes the point even more strongly. To dishonor or disobey one’s human father and mother was a covenant offense that carried the death penalty. What then did Israel deserve for this treatment of the father-mother God? The answer follows directly.’ (Wright)

A Word of Judgment, 19-25

32:19 But the LORD took note and despised them
because his sons and daughters enraged him.
32:20 He said, “I will reject them,
I will see what will happen to them;
for they are a perverse generation,
children who show no loyalty.
32:21 They have made me jealous with false gods,
enraging me with their worthless gods;
so I will make them jealous with a people they do not recognize,
with a nation slow to learn I will enrage them.
32:22 For a fire has been kindled by my anger,
and it burns to lowest Sheol;
it consumes the earth and its produce,
and ignites the foundations of the mountains.
32:23 I will increase their disasters,
I will use up my arrows on them.
32:24 They will be starved by famine,
eaten by plague, and bitterly stung;
I will send the teeth of wild animals against them,
along with the poison of creatures that crawl in the dust.
32:25 The sword will make people childless outside,
and terror will do so inside;
they will destroy both the young man and the virgin,
the infant and the gray-haired man.

The Weakness of Other Gods, 26-38

32:26 “I said, ‘I want to cut them in pieces.
I want to make people forget they ever existed.
32:27 But I fear the reaction of their enemies,
for their adversaries would misunderstand
and say, “Our power is great,
and the LORD has not done all this!” ’
32:28 They are a nation devoid of wisdom,
and there is no understanding among them.
32:29 I wish that they were wise and could understand this,
and that they could comprehend what will happen to them.”
32:30 How can one man chase a thousand of them,
and two pursue ten thousand;
unless their Rock had delivered them up,
and the LORD had handed them over?
32:31 For our enemies’ rock is not like our Rock,
as even our enemies concede.
32:32 For their vine is from the stock of Sodom,
and from the fields of Gomorrah.
Their grapes contain venom,
their clusters of grapes are bitter.
32:33 Their wine is snakes’ poison,
the deadly venom of cobras.
32:34 “Is this not stored up with me?” says the LORD,
“Is it not sealed up in my storehouses?
32:35 I will get revenge and pay them back
at the time their foot slips;
for the day of their disaster is near,
and the impending judgment is rushing upon them!”
32:36 The LORD will judge his people,
and will change his plans concerning his servants;
when he sees that their power has disappeared,
and that no one is left, whether confined or set free.
32:37 He will say, “Where are their gods,
the rock in whom they sought security,
32:38 who ate the best of their sacrifices,
and drank the wine of their drink offerings?
Let them rise and help you;
let them be your refuge!

The Vindication of the LORD, 39-43

32:39 “See now that I, indeed I, am he!” says the LORD,
“and there is no other god besides me.
I kill and give life,
I smash and I heal,
and none can resist my power.
32:40 For I raise up my hand to heaven,
and say, ‘As surely as I live forever,
32:41 I will sharpen my lightning-like sword,
and my hand will grasp hold of the weapon of judgment;
I will execute vengeance on my foes,
and repay those who hate me!
32:42 I will make my arrows drunk with blood,
and my sword will devour flesh—
the blood of the slaughtered and captured,
the chief of the enemy’s leaders!’ ”
32:43 Cry out, O nations, with his people,
for he will avenge his servants’ blood;
he will take vengeance against his enemies,
and make atonement for his land and people.

v43 ‘Notice that Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Dead Sea Scrolls has three poetic pairings. Since it’s a poetic section, the symmetry is not only important, it’s expected. The Masoretic Text reading has removed or altered parts of two of the pairings. The first, as in Deuteronomy 32:8, eliminates references to other divine beings (“sons of God” in 32:8; “heavenly ones” and “gods” in 32:43). At some point, a scribe thought this reference to other gods was theologically offensive. The first line of the final pairing was removed because someone hating God was also offensive.’ (Heiser, I Dare You Not To Bore Me With The Bible)

Source: Heiser

Narrative Interlude, 44-47

32:44 Then Moses went with Joshua son of Nun and recited all the words of this song to the people. 32:45 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel 32:46 he said to them, “Keep in mind all the words I am solemnly proclaiming to you today; you must command your children to observe carefully all the words of this law. 32:47 For this is no idle word for you—it is your life! By this word you will live a long time in the land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”

Instructions about Moses’ Death, 48-52

32:48 Then the LORD said to Moses that same day, 32:49 “Go up to this Abarim hill country, to Mount Nebo (which is in the land of Moab opposite Jericho) and look at the land of Canaan that I am giving to the Israelites as a possession. 32:50 You will die on the mountain that you ascend and join your deceased ancestors, just as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and joined his deceased ancestors, 32:51 for both of you rebelled against me among the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the desert of Zin when you did not show me proper respect among the Israelites. 32:52 You will see the land before you, but you will not enter the land that I am giving to the Israelites.”