Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Give ear, O ye heavens; . . . hear, O earth--The magnificence of
the exordium, the grandeur of the theme, the frequent and sudden
transitions, the elevated strain of the sentiments and language,
entitle this song to be ranked amongst the noblest specimens of poetry
to be found in the Scriptures.
2, 3. My doctrine shall drop, &c.--The language may justly be taken as
uttered in the form of a wish or prayer, and the comparison of
wholesome instruction to the pure, gentle, and insinuating influence of
rain or dew, is frequently made by the sacred writers
(Isa 5:6; 55:10, 11).
4. He is the Rock--a word expressive of power and stability. The
application of it in this passage is to declare that God had been true
to His covenant with their fathers and them. Nothing that He had
promised had failed; so that if their national experience had been
painfully checkered by severe and protracted trials, notwithstanding
the brightest promises, that result was traceable to their own
undutiful and perverse conduct; not to any vacillation or
unfaithfulness on the part of God
whose procedure was marked by justice and judgment, whether they had
been exalted to prosperity or plunged into the depths of
5. They have corrupted themselves--that is, the Israelites by their
frequent lapses and their inveterate attachment to idolatry.
their spot is not the spot of his children--This is an allusion to the
marks which idolaters inscribe on their foreheads or their arms with
paint or other substances, in various colors and forms--straight, oval,
or circular, according to the favorite idol of their worship.
6. is not he thy father that hath bought thee--or emancipated thee
from Egyptian bondage.
and made thee--advanced the nation to unprecedented and peculiar
8, 9. When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance--In
the division of the earth, which Noah is believed to have made by
Ac 17:26, 27),
Palestine was reserved by the wisdom and goodness of Heaven for the
possession of His peculiar people and the display of the most
stupendous wonders. The theater was small, but admirably suited for the
convenient observation of the human race--at the junction of the two
great continents of Asia and Africa, and almost within sight of Europe.
From this spot as from a common center the report of God's wonderful
works, the glad tidings of salvation through the obedience and
sufferings of His own eternal Son, might be rapidly and easily wafted
to every part of the globe.
he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children
of Israel--Another rendering, which has received the sanction of
eminent scholars, has been proposed as follows: "When the Most High
divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of
Adam and set the bounds of every people, the children of Israel were
few in numbers, when the Lord chose that people and made Jacob His
10. found him in a desert land--took him into a covenant relation at
Sinai, or rather "sustained," "provided for him" in a desert land.
a waste howling wilderness--a common Oriental expression for a desert
infested by wild beasts.
11. As an eagle . . . fluttereth over her young--This beautiful and
expressive metaphor is founded on the extraordinary care and attachment
which the female eagle cherishes for her young. When her newly fledged
progeny are sufficiently advanced to soar in their native element, she,
in their first attempts at flying, supports them on the tip of her
wing, encouraging, directing, and aiding their feeble efforts to longer
and sublimer flights. So did God take the most tender and powerful care
of His chosen people; He carried them out of Egypt and led them through
all the horrors of the wilderness to the promised inheritance.
13, 14. He made him ride on the high places, &c.--All these
expressions seem to have peculiar reference to their home in the
trans-jordanic territory, that being the extent of Palestine that they
had seen at the time when Moses is represented as uttering these words.
"The high places" and "the fields" are specially applicable to the
tablelands of Gilead as are the allusions to the herds and flocks, the
honey of the wild bees which hive in the crevices of the rocks, the oil
from the olive as it grew singly or in small clumps on the tops of
hills where scarcely anything else would grow, the finest wheat
(Ps 81:16; 147:14),
and the prolific vintage.
15. But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked--This is a poetical name for
Israel. The metaphor here used is derived from a pampered animal,
which, instead of being tame and gentle, becomes mischievous and
vicious, in consequence of good living and kind treatment. So did the
Israelites conduct themselves by their various acts of rebellion,
murmuring, and idolatrous apostasy.
17. They sacrificed unto
21. those which are not a people--that is, not favored with such great
and peculiar privileges as the Israelites (or, rather poor, despised
heathens). The language points to the future calling of the Gentiles.
23. I will spend mine arrows upon them--War, famine, pestilence
are called in Scripture the arrows of the Almighty.
29. Oh, . . . that they would consider their latter end--The terrible
judgments, which, in the event of their continued and incorrigible
disobedience, would impart so awful a character to the close of their
32. vine of Sodom . . . grapes of gall--This fruit, which the Arabs
call "Lot's Sea Orange," is of a bright yellow color and grows in
clusters of three or four. When mellow, it is tempting in appearance,
but on being struck, explodes like a puffball, consisting of skin and
44-47. Moses . . . spake all the words of this song in the ears,
&c.--It has been beautifully styled "the Song of the Dying Swan"
It was designed to be a national anthem, which it should be
the duty and care of magistrates to make well known by frequent
repetition, to animate the people to right sentiments towards a
steadfast adherence to His service.
48-51. Get thee up . . . and die . . . Because ye trespassed . . . at
52. thou shalt see the land, but thou shalt not go
Notwithstanding so severe a disappointment, not a murmur of complaint
escapes his lips. He is not only resigned but acquiescing; and in the
near prospect of his death, he pours forth the feelings of his devout
heart in sublime strains and eloquent blessings.