Origin stories make for the most interesting movies. I love to learn how a superhero got his powers, how a spy developed her craft, or even what turned a villain evil. ESPN’s 30 for 30 series or VH1’s old Behind the Music documentaries are fascinating because they explain how athletes or events or songs came to be. That sort of origin story, mixed with a strong dose of Grandpa saying “remember where you came from,” is what this passage from Deuteronomy offers.
Moses is telling the people, or rather singing to the people, an epic tale of where they came from, not in a historical timeline sense but as God’s people. This song of Moses is not a recounting of Israel’s great deeds or even of their hardscrabble upbringing. He is singing God’s sovereignty, providence, and love over them as a reminder to remember their roots, not get too big for their britches, and to never abandon dependence on the One who formed and rescued them.
From the jump, Moses reminds his listeners that, despite this being their origin story, they are not the hero. They are not even the supporting cast. They are the supported cast, and God is the hero and the originator.
Deuteronomy 32:8–9 tells us that God “gave the nations their inheritance and divided the human race, he set the boundaries of the peoples.” He created all the nations of the earth and gave them their places. Then it goes on to say “But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob, his own inheritance.” The origin of God’s people is God. He chose a people for Himself as His riches, His treasure.
The following verses describe how God established His people with kindness and fruitfulness, then how they rebelled and thought too much of themselves (v.10). But God did not discard His people, but rather disciplined them and called them back to Himself. This is what Moses wanted the people to see. He says “Take to heart all these words I am giving as a warning to you today” (v.46). This story is not for their ego, but for their correction and as a reminder “to follow all the words of this law carefully” (Deuteronomy 32:46).
What is so striking about this song is that it is neither a song of victory nor of defeat. It is a song about God reminding all His people that we came from Him. Psalm 86:11–13 says “Teach me your way, LORD, and I will live by your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear your name…For your faithful love for me is great, and you rescue my life from the depths of Sheol.” This should be our prayer too. Teach me to keep Your Law and to fear You because You love me and called me to Yourself. This is the response of someone who remembers that God chose His people as His inheritance.