The final scenes of Deuteronomy detail the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. But the change of leadership is set in the backdrop of Israel’s soon-to-be covenant failure in Canaan. While Joshua had every reason to be confident of God’s leadership (Deut 30:1-8), just as he had been at Kadesh-Barnea (see Numbers 13-14), Moses was yet concerned for Israel to hear the law so that they would live in the land (Deut 31:9-13; 24-30). Moses prophesied that Israel would enter Canaan, but—because of their unfaithfulness—they would not remain (Deut 31:16-23)
In Deuteronomy 32, Moses poetically warned Israel to obey God, their Rock. Throughout Moses’ song, he called Israel to consider the blessings of refuge in the Lord and the vanity of seeking shelter in any other (Deut 32:4, 15, 18, 30-31, 37). Moses’ imagery here may have been a personal confession as well—since he struck the rock rather than speaking to it, as “the Rock” had commanded (Deut 32:48-52; see Num 20:2-13). On the whole, Moses’ song reminded Israel that their God is Holy—and since they had received His blessings, they were obligated to follow His demands.
Though in Deuteronomy 31-32 Moses prophesied Israel’s ultimate failure in the land, in Deuteronomy 33 he blessed the tribes as they looked toward Canaan. The blessings here open and close with praise of God (Deut 33:2-5; 26-29). Deuteronomy 33 is thus a word of immediate grace—in light of imminent discipline.
Paul and the author of Hebrews employed phrases from Moses’ prophesies in Deuteronomy 31-34 to explain God’s redemptive work in Christ and call their audiences to commit themselves fully to Him.
(1) In Rom 10:18-19; 15:10, Paul cited Moses’ prophecy that the Lord would make Israel jealous by calling the Gentiles (Deut 32:21, 43) to explain what God was doing in his day. Moses’ prophecy that the Lord was angry with Israel for their idolatry—and that He would provoke them to jealousy with an inferior people and enrage them with a foolish nation (Deut 32:21, 43)—helped Paul to explain why it was that so many Jews had rejected Christ. Paul wrote that since Israel had rebelled against the law God gave them, He was using Gentiles to provoke Jews to jealousy (Rom 10:18-19). Paul’s vision in Romans was that Gentiles would rejoice with Jews because of their common salvation in Christ (Rom 15:10).
(2) Paul and the author of Hebrews quoted Deut 32:35, “Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay,” making application for their specific audiences. Paul saw in Moses’ command a basis for the Romans to display the mercy they had received in Christ. In Rom 12:19, Paul warned his readers that they should not avenge themselves but trust God to repay those who harmed them—just as Moses said. In Heb 10:30, the author placed apostates in the sphere of those upon whom the Lord would exhibit His wrath. Moses warned Israel that God would not excuse their hardness of heart, the Lord would repay. According to Hebrews, any who turned away from God’s provision in Christ would find themselves on the receiving end of the wrath of God.
(3) In Heb 3:1-6, the author described Jesus’ superiority over Moses, urging his readers to trust God’s word to them. The concluding words of Deuteronomy emphasize Moses’ greatness: “No prophet has arisen again in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unparalleled for all the signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do against the land of Egypt” (Deut 34:10-11). But Moses’ stature was no match for Israel’s rebellion—as Moses himself stated in Deuteronomy 32. Indeed, no leader had the charisma, strength, wisdom, and courage to deal with the sin of humanity. The author of Hebrews wrote that though Moses was faithful as a servant in God’s household, Jesus is the Son over God’s household. The author called his audience to respond appropriately to what they had received in Jesus and hold fast their confidence to the end.
(4) In Heb 13:5, the author quoted Deut 31:6 to remind his hearers that the Lord would meet their financial needs. Though Moses prophesied Israel’s failure in Canaan, He also proclaimed that the Lord would be faithful to His people. Moses told them to be strong and courageous because the Lord would not leave or forsake them (Deut 31:6; see Josh 1:9). The audience of Hebrews suffered financial persecution (Heb 10:33-34) and the author encouraged his readers that their lives should be free from the love of money because God had promised to never leave or forsake them (Heb 13:5).