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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 31

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-6


Verses 1-6:

Moses’ ministry was almost finished. Only one thing more remained for him to do: he must pass the mantle of leadership to his successor, and exhort the people to be bold and courageous in their response to him.

Moses’ age at this time: one hundred and twenty. His life was divided into three segments of forty years each.

(1) The first forty years: in Egypt as the crown prince. This was the first step of preparation for his ministry. This was his education in leadership and scholarship.

(2) The second forty years: in Sinai as the son-in-law of Jethro, and the keeper of his sheep. This was the second step of preparation: his training in humility, and in becoming familiar with the territory through which he would later lead Israel.

(3) The third forty years: the actual task for which the first two phases of his life prepared him.

Moses’ disobedience forfeited the opportunity to realize his greatest desire: to lead Israel into Canaan, Numbers 20:12; Numbers 27:13. He apparently accepted God’s decree without complaint, however. This is an example for God’s child today, to accept God’s chastening as His mark of ownership and as assurance of His concern for the well-being of His child, Hebrews 12:5-10.

Jehovah had earlier designated Joshua as Moses’ successor, Numbers 27:18-23. See also Exodus 17; Exodus 13, 14; Exodus 24:13; Exodus 33:11; Numbers 13:8; Numbers 13:16; Numbers 14:30-38.

Verses 7-8

Verses 7, 8:

The text describes Moses’ final public appointment of Joshua as his successor. He publicly encouraged him to be courageous and fearless in leading Israel to appropriate what Jehovah had promised them. This occasion was likely a later public display than that described in Numbers 27:18-23.

Verses 9-13

Verses 9-13:

Following the public charge of Joshua, Moses turned to the priests and elders (religious and political leaders) of Israel, and publicly delivered to them the Law which he had written. He commanded them that they should read aloud to the people all the Law, with the aim to teach them to observe the commandments, statutes, and ordinances of the Law.

Moses committed the Law to the priests and elders not in order that they might guard and protect it, but that they might teach it and instruct the people how to observe it. This is the purpose of God’s law today, James 1:22-25; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19-20.

"Every seven years," see Deuteronomy 15:1-6.

"Feast of tabernacles," see Leviticus 23:33-43.

This solemn reading of the Law was not to be unto a select number. It was to include every man, woman, and child of Israel. The purpose: that Israel may hear and do what God commanded. In return, God promised peace and prosperity in their Land.

Verses 14-15

Verses 14, 15:

Jehovah summoned Moses and Joshua to the Tabernacle, for a final word to Moses and a charge to Joshua. This was likely a private meeting, with only Moses and Joshua present to hear Jehovah’s charge.

Verses 16-21

Verses 16-21:

Jehovah predicted that Israel would forsake Him and follow after the gods of the Land to which they were going, compare Exodus 34:10-17; Judges 2:17-19.

Verse 17 does not teach that God would forsake Israel. It means that He would withdraw His favor and help from them, and allow their enemies to invade their land and harass the people. Trouble brought repentance and return to God, but it was not a permanent restoration. When the pressure was off, the people returned to their sinful ways.

The greatest danger of apostasy occurred at times of prosperity (verse 20), see Jeremiah 5:7. This is still true today. God’s people find it easier to be faithful to Him in times of need more than in times of prosperity, see Proverbs 30:8; Matthew 13:22; Mr 4:19.

"This song," shirah. A common method of teaching was by singing. ’Moses sang a song of deliverance when Israel safely crossed the Red Sea, Exodus 15:1-19. Miriam and the women of Israel also sang on this occasion, Exodus 15:20-21. The purpose of these songs was not for entertainment, but for: (1) Praise to Jehovah for His deliverance; and (2) Teaching future generations of the power of Jehovah to deliver His people from the strongest of foes.

It is an established fact that music aids in the learning process. Words and concepts that are sung or chanted with melody, harmony, and rhythm are easier to learn than those merely repeated or read.

The "song" (verse 19) is that one recorded in chapter 32. Israel would call it to mind during their times of distress.

Verses 22-23

Verses 22, 23:

Moses wrote the words of the song on the day God gave it to him, and began on that same day to teach it to Israel.

Verse 23: "He gave," i.e. "God gave," apparently the charge given to Joshua in the Tabernacle as he accompanied Moses into Divine presence, see also verse 7; Joshua 1:6-8.

Verses 24-27

Verses 24-27:

Moses completed the writing of the Law in a book (scroll). He then gave the completed manuscript to the Levitical priests who had charge of the Ark of the Covenant, with the mandate that they place it inside the Ark. There it would be a constant testimony or witness against them: to condemn when they turned aside from Jehovah, and to bless when they followed Him.

Moses was fully aware of the fickle nature of Israel. They were rebellious and obstinate while he lived; how much more would they be after his death!

Verses 28-30

Verses 28-30:

Moses called heaven and earth as witness against Israel, that they would one day after his death rebel against God and follow the gods of the nations about them. This did not come to pass in .the first generation after Moses’ death, during the lifetime of Joshua, Joshua 24:31. But following Joshua’s death, Israel began the process of which Moses warned: drifting away from God to go after gods of the nations among whom they lived. The Book of Judges records this apostasy, and its effects, see Judges 1:19; Judges 1:21; Judges 1:27; Judges 1:29-36; Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1, et.al.

Moses assembled the religious, military, and political leaders of Israel and spoke the words of the song he had composed. It was their responsibility to teach it to those under their authority, cf. 2 Timothy 2:2.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 31". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/deuteronomy-31.html. 1985.
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