Ha’azinu is a Hebrew word meaning, “Give ear.” It is the first word of Deuteronomy 32.
Deuteronomy 32 begins with the call for us to give ear because it is essentially the final word of the Torah. It is the Song of Moses. It is what the heavenly beings will sing in the days of distress and judgment on the world (Rev. 15:3).
It also happens to be a very important passage for Paul. In Romans, he quotes from Ha’azinu three times (10:19; 12:19; 15:10).
My Messianic Rabbi friend in Chicago, Jeffrey Feinberg, is all about Ha’azinu. In virtually every sermon, teaching, or even brief motivational talk I have ever heard him give, he quotes Ha’azinu. Rabbi Feinberg loves to chant the trope, to sing the Torah. And Ha’azinu is a portion he sings more than any other. I have learned a great deal from him about this wonderful Song of Moses.
You see, Ha’azinu is a passage that goes a long way toward explaining the present course of this world and Israel’s position in the plan of God. Ha’azinu explains how Israel can, on the whole, disbelieve in God’s Messiah and yet remain the Chosen People. It also explains why so many non-Jews believe in Messiah and why we have the strange phenomenon of the early communities of Yeshua, in which Jews and Gentiles praised God together in Messiah.
And Ha’azinu is an important contributing factor in Paul’s thought in Romans. Romans is the letter in which Paul addresses non-Jewish followers of Yeshua teaching them the importance of Israel and respect for Israel. Few people read Romans this way, but this message is all through the book (check Romans 15:8-13 for example).
Translating Deuteronomy 32:43
Before I compare Ha’azinu to Paul’s message in Romans 11 (the great Israel chapter), let me address a translation issue that is crucial to understanding Ha’azinu. It concerns verse 43, which you will find reads differently in some translations than others. There are two issues. One is textual: the Masoretic (traditional) Text has a different reading than the Septuagint (Greek) version and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The other is about syntax: word order and relationship.
Some modern translations, such as the ESV, choose to follow the Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint instead of the Masoretic Text. Note the difference between the ESV, for example, and the NET version:
Rejoice with him, O heavens;
bow down to him, all gods,
for he pavenges the blood of his children
and takes vengeance on his adversaries.
He repays those who hate him
and cleanses his people’s land.
–Deuteronomy 32:43 (ESV)
Cry out, O nations, with his people,
for he will avenge his servants’ blood;
he will take vengeance against his enemies,
and make atonement for his land and people.
–Deuteronomy 32:43 (NET)
The choice of the ESV to follow the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls is unfortunate. The NET’s decision to follow the Masoretic text is a good one. Paul, in Romans 15:10, follows the Masoretic Text, at the very least indicating that its reading of Deuteronomy 32 is ancient.
Second of all, the syntax (word order and relationships) of Deuteronomy 32:43 is ambiguous. The first phrase is literally “Sing out nations his people.” A translation that works well and also which fits with Paul’s use of this verse in Romans 15:10 is, “Sing out, o nations, with his people.” The NET and the NIV do very well in their translation.
Outline of Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32)
1-3, Summoning witnesses (heaven and earth) to hear the teaching about Israel’ future.
4-6, Indictment: God’s incorruptible goodness contrasts with the faithless response of Israel.
7-14, Indictment: A closer look at God’s loving deeds for Israel.
15-18, Indictment: A closer look at Israel’s faithless response.
19-25, Judgment: The acts of God against faithless Israel.
26-27, God holds back from judgment lest the nations deny him.
28-33, The unseeing nations don’t realize their victory is because Israel has been sold out by their Rock.
34-42, Turning Point: Judgment on the nations when God’s anger has turned away from Israel and compassion on Israel, the servants of God.
43, God demands praise from the Goyim upon seeing God’s compassion for Israel and restoration of the land and people.
Comparison: Ha’azinu and Romans 11 on Israel, Unbelief, and Restoration
In what follows, I will outline the theology of Ha’azinu and Romans 11. The comparable ideas in these texts are evident.
Ha’azinu says that God chose Israel and blessed Israel for a time. That very blessing led Israel to grow apathetic as well as arrogant and to forget God who chose Israel in the first place. God then set out on a program to discipline Israel and came close to eliminating Israel from the earth. Yet God remained faithful and compassionate in light of the nations looking on and because God had mercy on Israel out of love. Thus, the nations had best beware, because God has been storing his wrath to be poured out on those who have attacked his people Israel. God will judge the nations with terrible punishment and restore Israel. In the end, the remnant of the nations will praise God with Israel.
Romans 11 says that God has not rejected Israel in spite of Israel’s lack of faith in Messiah. Rather, God has some in Israel who do believe him, just as God has always had a remnant within Israel. But how can Israel not believe in Messiah if they are the Chosen People? Paul’s answer is that Israel is in a time of judgment and their perception is blinded. This is similar to Ha’azinu, where God has hidden his face from Israel. But Paul reminds his readers that God’s plans for Israel are not finished. Israel will come out of the stupor of judgment. The great success of the mission of Messiah to the Gentiles will be outshone in glory by the greater mission of Messiah to Israel in the last days. Indeed, the resurrection of the dead will follow soon after Israel’s return to God through Messiah. Paul warns the Gentiles that they are like wild branches grafted to Israel’s olive tree and should not be arrogant. For the day is coming when all Israel, in that generation, will be saved. God’s promises to Israel will in no way fail to come about. Israel seems an enemy, but God has compassion on Israel going back to the Patriarchs. And in the end, God will show his mercy on all, Jew and Gentile, as the great consummation of all things comes to realization.