Chapter 31


MOSES’ FAREWELL (31:1-34:12)

Deposit of Text and Provision for Implementation (31:1-29)

Joshua Becomes Israel’s Leader

        • Then Moses went out to the people of Israel and said, “I am 120 years old now, and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has told me that I will not cross over the Jordan River. The Lord your God Himself will cross the river ahead of you. He will destroy the nations that are living there now and you’ll drive them out.

        • Guzik reminds us that, despite Moses’ age, it is not his physical condition that prevents him from continuing to lead Israel, “Moses, at 120 years, was not limited by his physical condition (in a short time he will climb to the top of a mountain). Instead, he could no longer go out and come in because he was limited by God’s command – the decree that Moses would not enter the Promised Land (Numbers 20:7-12).”

        • The Lord has said that Joshua will cross over the river ahead of you. The Lord will deal with the inhabitants of the land just as he dealt with the Amorite kings, Sihon and Og. The Lord will hand the inhabitants of the land over to you and you must deal with them exactly as I have commanded you. Don’t be afraid of them or panic. Instead, be strong and courageous because it is the Lord your God Himself going ahead of you and He won’t leave you or abandon you.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Moses’ impending death meant that his role as covenant administrator would soon be over. Joshua had to be properly and publicly introduced as his successor with the same authority.”

Public Reading of the Law

      • So, Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests (the sons of Levi), who carried the ark of the covenant, and also to all Israel’s elders. Then, Moses gave them this command:

        • At the end of every seventh year, in year designated for the cancellation of debts, during the Feast of Tabernacles (Festival of Booths), you must read this law aloud in the hearing of all Israelites when they are gathered together in the presence of the Lord your God at the place that He chooses. All the people of Israel must be gathered together- men, women, children, and foreigners living in your towns- so that they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully obey all the words of this law. Then, the children who haven’t heard the law will listen and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land that you’re about to cross over the Jordan River to possess.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “So that future generations in Israel could be reminded of their covenant obligations, the covenant text was to be read publicly. Doing so was a practical necessity in an era when personal copies of documents were not generally available.”

        • HCSB adds, “Some have objected that the public reading of the Law would require more time than an assembled crowd could endure…Later biblical history records that Ezra ‘read out of the book of the law of God’ to the people in its entirety, over an eight-day period (Nehemiah 8:18). People can do difficult things when they consider them important.”

        • Guzik notes, “Part of the job of the Levites was to minister the word of God to the nation, as they were scattered throughout the nation. Every seven years they were to have a public reading and explanation of the law of God, as was modeled in Nehemiah 8:1-8The first we know of a public reading of the law is in Joshua 8:30. The next we hear of it is during the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:7), more than 500 years later. Then, in the reign of Josiah there was another public reading of the law (2 Chronicles 34:30), more than 250 years after Jehoshaphat. Of course, there might have been public readings of the law as commanded here which are not recorded; but the fact that some are recorded probably means they were unusual, not typical. With this kind of neglect of God’s word, no wonder Israel was so often in trouble!”

Israel’s Disobedience Predicted

      • Then the Lord said to Moses, “The time for you to die has almost arrived. Get Joshua and present yourselves at the Tabernacle so that I can commission him there.” When Moses and Joshua presented themselves at the Tabernacle, the Lord appeared in a pillar of cloud and stood over the entrance to the tent.

            • Some Bible translations say “tent of meeting” here rather than “Tabernacle.” The NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “At first, the Tent of Meeting was a provisional place of encounter between God and His people (especially Moses). Later, the term became synonymous with the Tabernacle (see Exodus 28:43; 33:7-11; 40:2; Numbers 11:16, 24, 26; 12:4).”

          • HCSB writes, “The fact that the Lord appeared in a pillar of cloud does not contradict the idea that no one has seen God at any time (John 1:18). The pillar of cloud represents the presence of God (Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19, 24; 33:9-10), though His presence is not the ‘shape’ of His person. In that sense whoever saw the cloud saw God Himself. The same is true of the pillar of fire, the burning bush, and other ‘theophanies’ or appearances of the Lord.”

      • Then the Lord said to Moses:

        • You are about to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are about to enter. They will abandon Me and break the covenant I made with them. Then, I will become angry with them, and I will forsake them- hiding My face from them- and they’ll be destroyed. Many disasters and afflictions will descend upon them and then they’ll ask, ‘Have all these troubles come upon us because our God is not with us anymore?’ When that day comes, I will hide My face from them because of all the evil things they have done, because they turned to other gods. So, write down this song and teach it to the Israelites. Have them sing it so that this song will be a witness for Me against them. When I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey that I promised to give their ancestors, and they have plenty to eat and became fat, they will turn to worship other gods, rejecting Me and breaking breaking My covenant. And when all the disasters and afflictions fall on them, this song will testify against them because their descendants will remember it. I already know what they are prone to do, even before I bring them into the land that I swore to give them.”

        • What does it mean that God will hide His face from them? NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The invisible God used this figure of speech to communicate the breaking of fellowship between Himself and His people. He turned away to indicate His rejection and repudiation.”

        • On the Israelites becoming “fat,” the NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Fatness did not imply obesity or self indulgence but blessing and prosperity.”

          • Guzik writes, “Because of this future idolatry in Israel, God instructed Moses to compose sort of a national anthem for ancient Israel…Yet this was a strange national anthem, because the purpose of this anthem was to testify against them as a witness. God knew that words are more memorable when set to music, so He told Moses to compose the sermon in a song found in the following chapter, Deuteronomy 32.”

      • Moses wrote down the song that day and taught it to the Israelites. Then the Lord commissioned Joshua, the son of Nun, and said to him: “Be strong and courageous because you will lead the Israelites into the land I swore to give them, and I will be with you.”

        • Guzik writes, “It is remarkable how often this exhortation is directed towards Joshua. He hears it seven different times (Deuteronomy 31:6, 7, and 23; Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, and 18)…Most of us, God forgive us, are too big for God to use; we are too full of our own schemes and our own ways of doing things. Joshua needed to take strength and courage in the LORD and was small enough to be big in God…This was a manly way to speak to Joshua. God (and Moses) would not pander to Joshua’s weak and timid nature. He didn’t hear, ‘Oh Joshua, you’re so wonderful.’ ‘Oh Joshua, you’re so strong.’ ‘Oh Joshua, you’re so courageous.’ Instead, he heard, ‘Now is the time. Step up to the challenge. Be strong and of good courage!’”

Moses Warns the People

      • When Moses finished writing every word of this law in a book, he commanded the Levites who carried the Ark of the Lord’s covenant:

        • Take this Book of the Law and put it beside the Ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, so that it can stay there to be a witness against you. I know how stubborn and rebellious you are. If you are rebelling against the Lord now while I am still alive, how much more rebellious will you be after I die! Gather all the tribal elders and officers to me so that I can speak these words to them directly and call heaven and earth as witnesses against them. For I know that after I die, you will become completely corrupt and turn away from the path I commanded you to follow. In the future, disaster will come down upon you because you will do what the Lord considers evil and cause Him to be furious with the works your hands do.”

          • Many commentators agree that the reference to the “Book of the Law” in verse 24 refers to the entire first five books of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Torah). Barnes writes, “The ‘book’ here spoken of would contain the whole Pentateuch up to this verse, and be ‘the Book of Moses,’ called generally by the Jews ‘the Law’ (compare Matthew 22:40; Galatians 4:21).”

        • Guzik does make the following note, “Some raise objections at this point, wondering who wrote the last three chapters of Deuteronomy, because the text says that Moses finished here. No doubt, Joshua had the remainder of Moses’ words and deeds recorded and added to the end of his magnificent work.”

The Song of Moses (31:30-32:47)

      • Then Moses recited all the words of the song aloud to the whole assembly of Israel: