Today I am looking at just one verse from the song in Deuteronomy 32.
God’s people have evoked jealousy in him by turning to a non-deity.
God will evoke jealousy in his people by means of a non-people.
God’s people have enraged God by turning to empty deities.
God will enrage his people by means of a foolish nation
This gives the sense of Deuteronomy 32:21. There is contrast between God and non-god. There is contrast between God’s people and no people. There is a contrast between God and what is empty and does not satisfy. There is a contrast between God’s people and a foolish or shallow nation (Hebrew “goy“, meaning a non-Israelite people).
Two questions arise about this. First, who could be described as a non-people? It seems parallel to the foolish “goy” in the last line of the verse, so maybe a non-people is just a people not chosen by God–any nation other than Israel. But that would contradict verse 8, where all the nations are constituted by God.
In Hosea 1:9 the prophet has to name one of his sons “Laomi” which means “not my people”. The same root, laom, appears here to describe a non-people. It seems you can forfeit the right to be called a people. So perhaps the cruelty and defiance of God by these people means they lose their claim to the name of a people.
Or perhaps the singer of Deuteronomy 32 just imagines a bunch of barbarians who nobody recognizes as a people, but they still wreak havoc upon Israel. This was the proposal of Driver in the old International Critical Commentary.
But the song seems to talk about something that has partially already happened. That is the way I understand the context of verse 21. The historian in me wants to know when this could have happened. Given my previous thoughts about the period after the division of the kingdom, I am looking at the invasion of Pharaoh Shishak (1 Kings 14:25-28 and 2 Chronicles 12).
Of course, Egypt was recognized as a people. But 2 Chronicles describes the army that came against Judah as a bunch of mercenaries–Libyans, Sukkites, and Cushites (2 Chronicles 12:3). Could the poet have called them a non-people?
Complicating this is the relationship of Jeroboam, ruler in the north, and Pharaoh Shishak (1 Kings 11:40) and the détente between the north and south (1 Kings 12:21 ff). Archeological evidence (Shishak’s victory stele from Megiddo) indicates that Shishak attacked the northern kingdom as well. There is a lot we don’t know about the chronology and the international relationships at the time. (Google any of this and you will find a whole alternative time-line associated with the names of Velikovsky and Rohl that throws Egyptian history off by hundreds of years. I think you shouldn’t believe a lot of the stuff that seems popular on the internet.)
The other question is a theological one. Paul the apostle quotes this verse in Romans 10:19. Does he get this verse at all? He seems to say that the situation of Israel in the wake of the crucifixion and the Gentile mission is the same as that in God’s lawsuit against Israel in Deuteronomy 32. The Gentiles will again humiliate Israel. The Roman War lay in the future, but Paul doesn’t seem to speak of a military defeat (the literal meaning of the verse in Deuteronomy). He is picking up on the song’s theme of Israel’s rebellion. And he is leading up to the question that open’s Romans 11: has God rejected Israel?
Paul’s answer is that God has not. In Romans 11:11 Paul begins to talk about his future hope for Israel. His work with the Gentiles furthers the goal of Israel’s salvation. It’s purpose is “to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them” (Romans 11:14). The idea of jealousy goes back to Deuteronomy 32:21. “I will stir them to jealousy by means of those who are no people.”
I admit that Paul’s use of the Hebrew scriptures just seems weird to me sometimes. In regards to Deuteronomy 32, I just scratch my head about his idea that Christ was the Rock following the Hebrews around in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4).
However, here Paul defends to non-Jews (v. 13) the connection of his mission and the call of Israel. He seems to say, “You were no people, but now you benefit from playing a part in God continuing to fulfill his intent to call Israel.” Paul uses the contrasts, not the literal meaning, in the song to make a legitimate point. At least, I think I get a glimmer of what Paul is saying.