Deuteronomy 32-the Rock

All through Deuteronomy 32 we find God and gods named the rock. Here are the passages:

Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are just: a faithful God and never unfair, just and upright is he.

*note: the word for upright is “jashar”. See my speculation in the previous Deuteronomy 32 post that the song comes from the Book of Jashar.

Deuteronomy 32:15 But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked. You grew fat, burley , and sleek; then he forsook the God who made him, and disrespected the rock of his salvation.

Deuteronomy 32:18 You neglected the rock that bore you , and forgot God that gave you birth.

*note: a maternal image of God in verse 18

Deuteronomy 32:30 How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their rock had sold them, and the LORD had handed them over?

Deuteronomy 32:31 For their rock is not as our rock, even our enemies recognize.

Deuteronomy 32:37 And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they took refuge,

Worshippers find this language familiar. We sing “Rock of Ages” and speak of God as a Rock in a weary land. Thus we speak of God’s solid presence with us sustaining us and protecting us. But the repeated use in Deuteronomy 32 is remarkable.

We should think twice before we take it as just a metaphor.

Archeologist have found more than a few standing stones in the barren region south of Israel. See here. These are called masseboths. In the pagan city states of the ancient near east, rocks were carved into idols shaped like men or animals. But standing stones are not graven images and may represent an aniconic (rejection of icons) religion. They stood for the presence of God but did not try to imagine him. One strand of the epic of Israel’s patriarchs, the one scholars call E, portrays standing stones as part of the religion of Jacob (Genesis 28:18 and 31:45).

If the ancient pre-Israelites, and probably the Midianites of the Sinai too, used stones to represent the presence of God, then the prominence of this idea in Deuteronomy 32 brings us back to a very ancient religious idea in Israel. This aniconic God of the patriarchs and the Sinai did not evolve into something else. But the theology of the desert became more refined. At least, I want to keep my mind open to that possibility.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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