The Song of Moses vs.1-3

Lately I have been reading through Deuteronomy and it has been amazing to see the diversity of genres that it contains. It includes narrative, law, and even poetry. Thanks be to God for giving us such a masterpiece that is infused with both history, moral imperative, and awe-inspiring beauty.

In Deuteronomy 32 we see one of the literary achievements of the Bible, The Song of Moses. It is a song that is to be sung by all generations of God’s people to remind them of God’s goodness and to hold them accountable to their covenant.

So to practice some of my (meager) Hebrew skills, I have decided to start working on a personal translation of this poem. Here is the first part of my translation vs. 1-3. Feel free to throw in some suggestions or insight (i.e. Ron Giese).

1

Lend me your ears, Oh Heavens, and let me speak,

Let the Earth hear the utterances of my mouth.

2

May my tradition drip like rain,

May my sayings fall like dew,

Like a light shower on sprouting grass,

Like a downpour upon crops.

3

For I will call upon the Name of the Lord,

Ascribe magnitude to our God!

Here are some brief observations that I have noticed so far. In vs. 1 Moses is beckoning the attention of all creation with the merism of Heavens and Earth. He continues his merism imagery in vs. 2 as he likens the desired effect of his words to rain from the Heavens falling upon the Earth. Both the Heavens and the Earth are interacting in a life producing relationship. We can see this in the poetic progression of both the rains and the earth. The rains go from mere dew, to a light shower, and end up with heavy rains. The earth goes from not being mentioned, to young grass, to agricultural crops. Each stage of vegetation is receiving its most specific need. I think Moses is trying to tell us that if we take his words to heart then we will have abundant life in any situation.

In vs. 3 it seems as if Moses is acting as a priest when he says he will call upon the name of the Lord and commands the creation to ascribe greatness to God. This is reminiscent of the Genesis 1 where man was to have dominion over all of creation and have it bring glory to God.

Let me know what you guys think about it. I know many of us have done some training in the languages. Even if you haven’t I think it would be really beneficial if we all start sharing some exegetical insights with each other. At the very least it will keep us sharp.


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6 responses to “The Song of Moses vs.1-3

  1. Justin- cool stuff, digging the poetic progression. Interesting that man is speaking to creation here. In the Psalms, that hardly ever happens.

  2. why you gotta be so smart J…you’re killing me. love you.

  3. oh humbling mind…i just ran this by ron, he loved it, but did comment on the fact that i ‘really’ need to review my hebrew…ha. wow…he’s right, you don’t use it you loose it, but this is inspiration to try again.

  4. Justin Richter

    Thanks for running it by him. It seems like I lose Hebrew faster then Greek for some reason. I can drop Greek for a little while with out getting too much rust but if I take Hebrew off for a week it takes me a while to get going again.

    I just read Giese’s bio that he posted. Its impressive that he got his Phd. at Wisconsin. Its a legit program and is one of the best for semitics.

    Do you guys have study group for languages over at the DSC? If not, you should organize one. Community seems to be the best way to keep it going. Anyways G, I look forward hanging out some more. I’m still praying for God to open some doors for us.

  5. Nice translation. I like the “lend me your ears” since it reflects the ‘zn root! Also love the idea of Moses as high priest. I presented a paper at SBL years ago (like 15!) that ended up being an article in JSOT (issue 61, 1994, pp. 29-38) that dealt with a different poem of Moses, the Song of the Sea (Exod 15), titled “Strophic Hebrew Verse as Free Verse.” Poetry is indeed language written in lines (i.e., line length matters tons more than in prose), and this is the first and introductory difference between verse and prose. However, we can’t figure out the meter of Hebrew verse (most say that verse must, secondarily, have meter). What I say is that we can have verse without meter, or perhaps better worded, let’s stop looking for meter in Hebrew verse and focus on things we can see and analyze.

    What I try to demonstrate is that, especially in some verses in Exod 15, we can make out rhythm in the verse (rhythm in verse can be metrical but does not have to be). Exod 15:9 is a great example (the boasting of the enemy) of a rhythm set up by a series of very short lines.

    OK on to Deut 32. We know (or can fairly surmise) that we’re pronouncing Hebrew quite differently than (we guess) they did in first temple period. However, its also fair to say that what, for us, is a two-syllable word was, to them, a two-syllable word. There will be some exceptions (like in our country southerners pronounce some one-syllable words as two), but they will be too rare to worry about.

    Therefore we can get a feel for the rhythm of Hebrew verse, wherever it occurs. See it you can find this in Duet 32. For instance, a series of short lines. Or a variance/contrast (several short lines then one long one). E.g., verse 39 starts with a long line. In Eng., “See now that I, I am he.” Any casus pendens usually causes a slowing of the pace/rhythm, thus emphasis.

    I really like the way in your translation you’re putting care into the lines – their length, and also demonstrating your development by indents. To me all translations should do this, even if you risk being a little subjective at times (one translator may break a line different than you, or may see development different than you).

    The Hebrew scrolls did not do this, so at first glance we might say that translations should never do this. But I think we’re justified in doing this since orally this would have been done, and in the ancient world we’re really in a world that communicates orally (people *heard* the Scriptures, they didn’t read them).

    Finally, I agree that Deut is important. Let’s word it more strongly: its probably *the* most important book of the OT. My fav book is Job, but if you were to ask me what the most important is, to me the answer is not Genesis, not Isaiah, not Pss. Its Deut.

  6. Justin Richter

    Thanks for the feed back Ron. I really appreciate it. I read your SBL paper and I think it is still relevant today. Namely because it seems that people still haven’t figured out specifics about the metrical nature of Hebrew poetry. I find your middle ground approach helpful and true to my own experience so far.

    I wish my Hebrew was good enough to appreciate Job. Lord willing someday it will be. We had Doug Gropp come here and give a lecture on Job that I found fascinating. On a literary level it could be one of the most complex and beautiful pieces ever written.

    Thanks again and I look forward to getting to know you better.

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