The Song of Moses: A Theological Quarry

By George A. F. Knight
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1995). viii + 156 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
11.2 (Fall 2000) : 256-257

This little volume is aptly titled A Theological Quarry. It is a play on “the Rock” as a divine title in Deuteronomy 32. Pastors and students will discover some delightful lessons that Knight draws from the text of this significant OT chapter. The OT prophets and the NT writers dug in this quarry with profit, so it is fitting that we should continue to mine its wealth. Knight’s book invites the reader into a deeper contemplation of the devotional and expositional richness of the Song of Moses.

George Angus Fulton Knight is a retired professor and pastor living in Dunedin, New Zealand. He has ministerial experience in Hungary, Scotland, the United States, the Pacific islands, and New Zealand. He is one of the editors for the International Theological Commentary series and has authored three of its volumes (Isaiah 40–55, Isaiah 56–66, and The Song of Songs and Jonah). He has also produced commentaries on Leviticus and Psalms in the Daily Study Bible.

In the “Introduction,” Knight discusses the higher critical view ascribing Deuteronomy 32 to the work of a hypothetical Deuteronomist who was updating the work of Moses (1-8). He concludes that such a viewpoint is erroneous and that the Song is truly the work of Moses (6). He also rejoices that, after a period of neglect, “the study of Hebrew is being made mandatory in some of the best theological schools” (8).

The “Commentary” section of the volume (9-138) examines the text verse by verse. Then a “Postcript” (139-46) summarizes the continuity of the teachings of the Song of Moses and the teachings of the NT. Knight issues two challenges in these pages. The first is for readers to immerse themselves in the study of the continuity of OT and NT with regard to the person of God and the salvation He offers (141-42). The second is an invitation to Christians, Jews, and Muslims to engage in a joint reexamination of their common roots in the faith of Moses and Abraham (143, 145). A “Selected Bibliography” closes the book (147-56). Although it is a small tome, a set of indexes would greatly increase its usefulness.

Throughout the “Commentary” Knight hammers away at various theological and interpretive concepts that are characteristic of the present. He reminds the reader that the theme of Deuteronomy 32 “is the character of God, not—as many Westerners would wish it—’My experience of God’” (14). The Septuagint’s Greek text differs from the Masoretic Hebrew text in a number of places in the Song of Moses, so the author seizes the opportunity to warn about putting too much trust in the Septuagint. The student of Scripture must “remember that the LXX was penned by scholars who as fallible human beings w ere blissfully unaware that they were but children of their day and age” (23; also cf. 39, 67, 72, 115, 128, 133-34). Likewise, the author warns of overstating the contribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls: “At certain points the Scrolls demonstrate more eisegesis than exegesis of Moses, more interpretation of what the community wanted to find in the biblical text than what was actually there” (40). Modern literary criticism’s overstatements also draw Knight’s fire: “It is presumptuous on our part to straightjacket such an ancient poem as this within the bonds of the various classifications of Hebrew literature that moderns have thought up in the light of the literature of later centuries” (44).

Syntactical analysis, word studies, NT use of the OT, and theological application are all represented in Knight’s volume. The author’s approach is more theological than exegetical, although he is careful to establish his theological comments upon his exegetical results. This reviewer’s glowing comments should not be taken as stating that the volume is an example of errorless exposition or of theological perfection. Knight’s acceptance of Mosaic authorship for Deuteronomy 32 does not prevent him from allowing for multiple authors of the Pentateuch (55) and for later additions of Deuteronomy 30 (81) and the Law of Holiness (83). He also denies any Mosaic awareness of life beyond death (34, 43). In addition, he attributes the Israelite concept of Sheol to an erroneous Egyptian and Canaanite concept (78).

The Song of Moses is itself a “theological quarry.” As in any mining operation, however, the reader must sort the mined material by means of careful sifting and examination. Having done so, this reviewer found much gold and not a few gems of high value.