*Scripture verses covered in this section's commentary are noted in italics

Deuteronomy 32:10-14 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Deuteronomy 32:10
  • Deuteronomy 32:11
  • Deuteronomy 32:12
  • Deuteronomy 32:13
  • Deuteronomy 32:14

Moses recounted some of the works of the Suzerain (Ruler) God to His vassals (servants), Israel. God serves as a shepherd,c protector, and as father for His often-unfaithful people. The Israelites have every reason to trust and obey their spiritual father because He has always been faithful to them.

Moses continues to set forth the Song of Moses for Israel to sing and remember their covenant with Him. This is just prior to the time when Moses will die, and Joshua will lead the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land.

In this section, Moses reminded the Israelites of how the Suzerain (Ruler) God provided for them in the more recent past. Moses said that God found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness (v. 10). The him in this section refers to Jacob in v. 9, who in turn represents the nation of Israel. Jacob was renamed Israel, and the nation bears this new name he was given by God (Genesis 32:28).

Some think that the desert land and wilderness refer to Egypt, because of their condition of slavery. Others think they could refer to the wanderings during their exodus from Egypt, which would then refer to their physical surroundings. Both describe that which is desolate. It was in a place of spiritual desolation that God found His people, and a place of physical desolation where He formed them into a nation.

The verb find suggests that Jacob or Israel was lost and abandoned like an exposed infant in the wild (Genesis 21:16-17). When it says that the Suzerain God found them, it refers to their helpless condition when God engaged with the nation. When they were in Egypt, they were slaves, under complete dominion by the Egyptians. In Ezekiel 16, God describes Israel as being like a newborn that was abandoned to the elements to die when He rescued them (Ezekiel 16:4-6).

After the Suzerain God found Jacob, He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. That means that God surrounded the Israelites with great protection and attentively cared for them in the wilderness. The type of care that Israel received was precious just as the Suzerain (Ruler) God guarded them as the pupil of His eye. Since the pupil of the eye represents the most sensitive part of the human body, Moses told Israel that the Suzerain God provided instant help to them because they were so precious, as precious as eyes are to a human. As Israel’s father, the LORD had done great things for Israel to make sure they were secure.

Continuing the description of the Suzerain God as Israel’s father, Moses compared the LORD’s protective care as being like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young (v. 11). In addition to this, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. The eagle was a powerful bird with a wingspan up to seven and a half feet. It hunts high in the air and swoops down on its prey at great speed. In the ancient world, the eagle was known for its keen eyesight, power, sharp beak, and talons (Deuteronomy 14:12). The eagle not only protected its younglings from injury and danger, its hunting capabilities provided food as well.

Thus, like an eagle moving gently upon its young, training and supporting them to make sure they are capable of flying, the Suzerain (Ruler) God protected Jacob (Israel) during the wilderness journey (Psalm 36:8). He trained and supported him to make sure he could safely make his way through the wilderness.

The Lord alone guided him (Jacob/Israel) (v. 12) through the wilderness to the Promised Land. The Hebrew tense of the verb guided indicates that the LORD’s leadership was continuous during this period. There was no foreign god with Him when He rescued Israel (Jacob) from the hand of Pharaoh to lead him through the wilderness, a land full of fiery serpents and scorpions (Deuteronomy 8:15-16).

Although the wilderness trek was difficult and perilous, the Suzerain (Ruler) God led Jacob successfully and now the scene shifts to a future time when Israel will dwell on the east side of the Jordan River. There, God made him ride on the high places of the earth (v. 13), meaning the LORD caused the Israelites to enjoy the prosperity of the Promised Land. God here speaks of the future in the past tense, indicating the certainty with which it will come to pass. This would have been of great encouragement to the people now hearing the Song of Moses, as they are still on the west side of the Jordan, preparing to cross. For future generations, this stanza of the Song of Moses will indeed reflect their past.

Jacob ate the produce of the field. The land was fertile and capable of growing much produce, and the LORD causes the Israelites to be nourished by it. Moreover, God made him suck honey from the rock. Bees in Canaan often built their hives among rocks. The verb suck has the idea of a woman nursing her babe. Here in the song, the verb is used to show how God easily fed Israel and gave them abundance through the Promised Land. The Suzerain God also provided oil from the flinty rock for Israel. The phrase flinty rock is used to describe the rock Moses struck that flowed water (Deuteronomy 8:15) Since the context refers to bounty, perhaps this refers to olive trees (that produce olive oil) growing from a rocky land, which is much of Israel. Or perhaps natural petroleum seeps that were present during that era.

He also fed Israel with curds of cows, and milk of the flock (v. 14). In the Bible, the word curds often appears with milk, as was the case when the three guests visited Abraham and Sarah at the oaks of Mamre (Gen. 18:8; see also Judges 5:25). It might refer to yogurt (prepared by churning fresh milk) or possibly butter. The plurals, cows and the flock, indicate large herds, implying ample rain for grass for the livestock.

God also provided Israel with the best livestock—with fat of lambs, and rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats. In addition, He supplied the people with the finest of the wheat so they can make high-quality bread. The word fat indicates that Jacob (Israel) had the best things to eat; livestock that was well fed. The breed of Bashan (lit., “sons of Bashan”) is an idiom standing for Bashan, the northern hilly district located east of the Jordan River. Bashan was a rich and fertile grazing land located in what is now the Golan Heights, east of the Sea of Galilee.

Finally, Moses told Israel that of the blood of grapes you drank wine, meaning that Israel drank juice (blood) and wine from grapes growing in the many vineyards in the Promised Land.

Moses piled up these nouns to emphasize the prosperity and abundance the Suzerain (Ruler) God provided for Jacob or Israel. At the time the Song of Moses is written and given to Israel, all this is in the future. The events are spoken of in past tense to show the certainty with which they will come to pass. Future generations will sing the song and be reminded of their history.

Moses reminded Israel of God’s gracious care and protection for them during their difficult wilderness journey to come to the edge of the Promised Land. Soon Moses will die and Joshua will lead them across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. God provided for all their needs. They had manna to eat, which was simply a miraculous provision of God. Their clothing did not wear out. And God even kept their feet from swelling (Deuteronomy 8:1-5).

This God, the Deliverer, Provider, and Protector of His people, was worthy of the loyalty of His covenant people. He was also worthy to be trusted that He had their benefit in mind. His covenant commands were only given for their best interest. On the basis of these blessings, Moses appealed to Israel to be loyal to God and follow His ways.

Therefore, Moses used the wilderness experience to highlight a contrast between Israel’s precarious position and God’s loving care. The contrast was between Israel’s poverty in the wilderness and the future blessings and prosperity that awaited them in the Promised Land.

Biblical Text

10 He found him in a desert land,
And in the howling waste of a wilderness;
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.
11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.
12 The Lord alone guided him,
And there was no foreign god with him.
13 He made him ride on the high places of the earth,
And he ate the produce of the field;
And He made him suck honey from the rock,
And oil from the flinty rock,
14 Curds of cows, and milk of the flock,
With fat of lambs,
And rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats,
With the finest of the wheat—
And of the blood of grapes you drank wine.

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