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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 31

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes



Having completed the major addresses to the Israelites recorded to this point in Deuteronomy, Moses needed only to make a few final arrangements before Israel was ready to enter the land. The record of these events concludes the book. Chapters 31-34 constitute several appendices to the main body of Deuteronomy (cf. Judges 17-21; 2 Samuel 21-24).

"This final section of the covenant document has as its unifying theme the perpetuation of the covenant relationship. Of special importance is the subject of the royal succession, which is also prominent in the extra-biblical suzerainty treaties . . . This succession is provided for by the appointment and commissioning of Joshua as dynastic heir to Moses in the office of mediatorial representative of the Lord (ch. 31). The testamentary assignment of kingdom inheritance to the several tribes of Israel (ch. 33) reckons with the status of all God’s people as royal heirs. Included also are two other standard elements in the international treaties. One is the invocation of covenant witnesses, here represented chiefly by the Song of Witness (ch. 32). The other is the directions for the disposition of the treaty document after the ceremony (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). By way of notarizing the document, an account of the death of Moses is affixed at the end (ch. 34)." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 197.]

Verses 1-8

1. The presentation of Joshua 31:1-8

Moses presented Joshua to the nation as God’s chosen leader who would take over the leadership of Israel very soon. He charged the people (Deuteronomy 31:6) and then Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:7-8) to be strong and courageous as they entered the land in view of God’s promises, presence, and power.

"Courage is only fear soaked in prayer." [Note: Lewis B. Smedes, "An Introduction to Mission Beyond the Mission," Theology, News, and Notes 30:3 (October 1983):3.]

"Commissioning of the community’s leader(s), therefore, as encountered in this model, is to a task, not to a position. Authority and standing are dependent upon the nature of the task, not vice versa." [Note: Miller, p. 221.]

We observe this too in the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas to their missionary task (Acts 13:2-3).

Verses 1-29

A. The duties of Israel’s future leaders 31:1-29

"Israel was not to be a nation of anarchists or even of strong human leaders. It was a theocratic community with the Lord as King and with his covenant revelation as fundamental constitution and law. The theme of this section is the enshrinement of that law, the proper role of Mosaic succession, and the ultimate authority of covenant mandate over human institutions." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 395.]

Verses 9-13

2. The seventh year covenant renewal ceremony 31:9-13

"Moses assigned the priests and elders the duty of regularly republishing the law of the covenant. The effect of this was to associate the priests and elders with Joshua in the responsibility of rule and in the esteem of Israel. More important, all the covenant people, together with all human authorities in the covenant community, were placed under the lordship of the Giver of the law." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 198.]

Before he died, Moses left a written document with the leaders of the nation that the Israelites regarded as God’s law (Deuteronomy 31:9, cf. Joshua 1:8). This probably refers to Moses’ exposition of the law (chs. 5-26), though the exact meaning of the "law" (torah, instruction, Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:24) here is not clear.

The national leaders were to read this law to the whole nation every seventh (sabbatical) year at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). This reading would remind and instruct God’s people concerning His gracious will for them. It was common in other ancient Near Eastern countries for the priests to assemble the people periodically and read them the king’s covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 16:13-17).

Verses 14-23

3. The commissioning of Joshua 31:14-23

Whereas previously Moses had presented Joshua to the people (Deuteronomy 31:1-8), now God officially commissioned him to his new responsibility as Moses’ successor. He did this at the tabernacle, the appropriate place for this official ceremony.

The bulk of this section concerns God’s revelation to Moses concerning Israel’s future apostasy (Deuteronomy 31:16-22). Hiding the Lord’s face (Deuteronomy 31:17-18; Deuteronomy 32:20) is the opposite of making His face shine on His people and turning His face toward them in blessing (cf. Numbers 6:25-26). To discourage this departure God gave Moses a song that he was to write down and teach the people to remind them of God’s faithfulness. As a song the people would have repeated these words frequently and remembered them easily. The singing of it would haunt them with how much they had lost for disobeying Yahweh.

Verses 24-29

4. The preservation of God’s words 31:24-29

Moses charged the priests with the care and keeping of the law he had written (Deuteronomy 31:25-26), perhaps the whole Book of Deuteronomy. [Note: Deere, p. 317.] It was normal for priests to bear this responsibility in the ancient Near East. [Note: Thompson, pp. 290-91.] They kept this document beside, not in, the ark (Deuteronomy 31:26; cf. 2 Kings 22:8). Only the Ten Commandments were in the ark (Exodus 25:16; cf. Exodus 16:33-34; Numbers 17:10-11). The Levites who carried the ark were Kohathites. The song (Deuteronomy 31:15-16) and the scroll were two witnesses to the people’s obedience and disobedience. Moses also warned the priests of Israel’s future apostasy as God had revealed this to him (Deuteronomy 31:27-29). It was important for these spiritual leaders to be ready for what was coming.

"What appears to be in view is a miniature preenactment of the ceremony that the whole nation was to engage in at Ebal and Gerizim once Canaan had been overcome and occupied (cf. Deuteronomy 27:1-14)." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 405.]

Verse 30

1. The introduction to the song 31:30

Moses recited the song God had given him in the hearing of all the Israelites. The song follows the pattern of the Deuteronomic treaty.

Verses 30-44

B. The Song of Moses 31:30-32:44

This is the song that Moses left with the people.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 31". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-31.html. 2012.
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