I’m quite certain I’ll never forget the Shema. For a whole year, day after day, we would start Hebrew class by singing through each line of the Deuteronomic prayer. In the beginning, you stumble through an unknown language and mix up your verses, but eventually, you begin to recognize the meaning behind each phrase, you find yourself meditating on each word and its significance until you find that it, now memorized by heart, has embedded itself in your life and faith. Months later, I can still hear our call to prayer: “Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.”
Have you ever come across a song that you haven’t heard in years, maybe something from your childhood or younger years, and, singing along with it, found that you still remembered all of the lyrics? We’re still not entirely sure why music embeds itself so deeply in our brain, and why it’s easier to recall a 90’s bubblegum jingle than your grocery list. What is often considered a clever tool by students studying for exams and alternative treatments is also used to stimulate memory in Alzheimer patients. What we know for sure is that ancient oral cultures already knew what we’re still trying to exploit and figure out today. They knew that music and song sticks in our memory and that it’s easy to pass down generation to generation: powerful visual images through verse and play create strong emotional connections, and the recitation of alliteration, repetition, and rhyme has the power to embed itself in our hearts.
Deuteronomy 32, also known as the Song of Moses, was intended for this very purpose—to be a type of liturgy to pass down from generation to generation that proclaimed of their Rock’s faithfulness. It was also a call to identify with the consequences that would occur if they broke their end of the covenant. Liturgy is pedagogical in nature, but—as the Song of Moses instructs—it also convicts. There are some very serious consequences for deserting the Rock who birthed and fathered them. God says He will hide His face from His children, the ultimate loss of the intimacy of His presence. Without God’s favor, suffering and defeat would come upon the Israelites for their unfaithfulness, and they would only have themselves to blame.
As Moses passes, and the story of the Israelites continue, Scripture shows us they forgot who their Rock was (the one who brought them out of Egypt and into the promised land), and their disobedience to the covenant they made with God was their eventual downfall out of His presence and into captivity. Nevertheless, even though Israel was disciplined for breaking their promises and chasing after other gods, Scripture shows us that God remained faithful to His promises. Even when the Israelites saw their temple destroyed and their people enslaved, God was still working. Even while God seems silent, and there seems to be no hope of a savior, He gives us the hope of Christ. Even when we turn away and fall to the consequences of sinful actions, God’s arms remain wide open, calling for us to turn back.
There are many beautiful worship songs about God’s glory and faithfulness, but the lyrics in this particular section of Deuteronomy 32 probably won’t be found in the typical Sunday worship songs of today. They can be hard and scary, but they are in our Word, and the message is still clear and applicable to use today. Sin has consequences, but God will always remain faithful; after all, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”