Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 31

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel.

And Moses went and spake, [ wayeelek (H3212) Mosheh (H4872) wayªdabeer (H1696)]. 'And Moses continued to address these words.' This seems rather to be the import of the phraseology, than that, after a cessation of some interval, Moses repaired to the scene of the public assembly to speak to the people.

It is probable that this rehearsal of the law extended over several successive days; and it might be the last and most important day on which the return of Moses to the place of assembly is specially noticed. In drawing his discourse toward a conclusion, he adverted to his advanced age; and although neither his physical nor intellectual powers had suffered any decay (Deuteronomy 34:7), yet he knew by a special revelation that the time had arrived when he was about to be withdrawn from the superintendence and government of Israel.

Verse 2

And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: also the LORD hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.

I can no more go out and come in - The idea of physical infirmities, or inability to perform the duties of a leader, through exhaustion of nature, is excluded by the testimony borne to the undiminished energies, both mental and corporeal, of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:7). But the unalterable decree of heaven had fixed the Jordan as the boundary of his life's journey, and having that goal, he could no longer act as formerly the part of their guide and governor. The import of the clause obviously is, 'I shall not be in circumstances to march with you any further.'

Also the Lord hath said unto me - should be 'for the Lord hath said.'

Thou shalt not go over this Jordan. While taking a solemn leave of the people, he exhorted them not to be intimidated by the menacing opposition of enemies; to take encouragement from the continued presence of their covenanted God; and to rest assured that the same divine power which had enabled them to discomfit their first assailants on the east of Jordan would aid them not less effectually in the adventurous enterprise which they were about to undertake, and by which they would obtain possession of 'the land which He had sworn unto their fathers to give them.'

Verses 3-8

The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 9

And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel.

Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests. The law thus committed to writing was either the book of Deuteronomy only, as Kurtz and Delitzsch think, or the important part of it contained between Deuteronomy 27:1-26 and Deuteronomy 30:1-20 (as Davidson maintains; Horne's 'Introduction,' 3: pp. 616, 618), or the whole Pentateuch, as the phrase, "this law," 'the book of this law,' signifies in the later historical books (Joshua 1:8; Joshua 8:31; Joshua 8:34; Joshua 24:26; 2 Kings 14:6: see further in the General Introduction).

It was usual in cases of public or private contract for two copies of the engagement to be made-one to be deposited in the national archives, or some secure place for reference, should occasion require; the other to remain in the hands of the contracting parties (Jeremiah 32:12-14). The course was followed on this renewal of the covenant between God and Israel. Two written copies of the law were prepared, the one of which was delivered to the public representatives of Israel-namely, the priests and the elders.

The priests ... which bare the ark of the covenant. In all ordinary journeys it was the common duty of the Levites to carry the ark and its furniture (Numbers 4:15), but on solemn or extraordinary occasions that office was discharged by the priests (Joshua 3:3-8; Joshua 6:6; 1 Chronicles 15:11-12). Hence, frequent allusion is made to the priests as invested with the high function of keeping the canon of inspiration (Deuteronomy 17:18).

All the elders of Israel. They were assistants to the priests, and overseers to take care of the preservation, rehearsal, and observance of the law.

Verses 10-11

And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles,

At the end of every seven years ... thou shalt read this law. At the return of the Sabbatic year, and during the feast of tabernacles, the law was to be publicly read. This order of Moses was a future and prospective arrangement; for the observance of the Sabbatic year did not commence until the conquest and peaceful occupation of Canaan.

Some think that this order for the public rehearsal of the law was addressed to the priests, particularly the high priest, and the prevailing opinion is, that the office was performed by them; while others maintain that it was on the temporal rulers the duty devolved (2 Kings 23:2; Nehemiah 8:1). The passage seems to bear that both the civil and ecclesiastical authorities were taken bound to see the injunction duly attended to.

This ordinance, for the solemn septennial reading of the law in the audience of all the people, was subservient to several important purposes. For, while the people had opportunities of being instructed in it every Sabbath, and daily in their own homes, this public periodical rehearsal at meetings in the courts of the sanctuary, where women and children of twelve years were present, as they usually were at the great festivals, was calculated to produce good and pious impressions of divine truth amid the sacred associations of the time and place; besides, it formed a public guarantee for the preservation, integrity, and faithful transmission of the sacred book to successive ages.

'Among the various wise reasons for choosing this period of seven years, one most principal one appears to be its being the year of release, when the general abolition of debts and discharge from personal slavery periodically took place; circumstances which would necessarily secure constant attendance to this solemnity, and contribute to ensure the observance of this command. Thus closely were the religious and civil parts of the Mosaic code connected' (Graves' 'Lectures on the Pentateuch,' 2:, p. 20).

Verses 12-13

Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 14-15

And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die: call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation, that I may give him a charge. And Moses and Joshua went, and presented themselves in the tabernacle of the congregation.

The Lord said unto Moses ... call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation.

Joshua had been publicly designated to the office of commander by Moses, who doubtless exerted all his influence to obtain for his successor a proper reception. But with the view of securing the continued respect and submission of so fickle and perverse a people, it was expedient that a higher sanction should be given to the authority, of which the Shechinah was the symbol and pledge. It never appeared in the second temple; and its non-appearance was a prelude of all the evils that came upon them, because their God was not among them.

Verses 16-18

And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 19

Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel.

Now therefore write ye this song. National songs take deep hold of the memories, and have a powerful influence in stirring the deepest feelings of a people; and in accordance with the principle in human nature, a song was ordered to be composed by Moses, doubtless under divine inspiration, which was to be learnt by the Israelites themselves, and to be taught to their children in every age, embodying the substance of the preceding addresses, and of a strain well suited to inspire the popular mind with a strong sense of God's favour to their nation.

Verses 20-23

For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 24

And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished,

When Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished. That Moses, at an early period in the course of his divine legislation, was commanded to record God's wonderful doings and deliverances to Israel, appears from Exodus 17:14 [where it is called baceeper (H5612), in THE book, Deuteronomy 24:4-7, "the book of the covenant"]. To this book he from time to time made successive additions, as the inspiring 'Spirit which was in him did signify;' and here it is stated, as one of the last acts of his laborious life, that 'he made an end of writing all the words of this law [ `al (H5921) ceeper (H5612)] in a book,' which is clearly defined to be the book, by the significant words which follow [ `ad (H5704) tumaam (H8552)], even unto their being finished - i:e., in full wholly (Gesenius: cf. Deuteronomy 31:30; Joshua 24:25-26; 1 Samuel 10:25).

Verse 25

That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 26

Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.

Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark. The second copy of the law (see the note at Deuteronomy 31:9) was deposited, for greater security and reverence, in the most holy recess of the sanctuary, a little chest [ mitsad (H6654) 'ªrown (H727)], BESIDE the ark of the covenant, under the shadow of the cherubic figures and the eye of Him who dwelt between them;-for there was nothing contained within it but the tables of stone (1 Kings 8:9).

Others think it was put within the ark, it being certain, from the testimony of Paul (Exodus 40:20; Hebrews 9:4), that there were once other things inside the ark, and that this was the autograph copy found in the time of Josiah (2 Kings 22:8). Some writers have concluded, from the circumstance of Moses' writing being here declared to be finished, that all the rest of this book, from Deuteronomy 31:19, are appendices added by the hand of another writer. But it does not follow that the moment Moses intimated to the priests they were to be invested with the sacred deposit of "this book of the law," he ceased to have any connection with (or control over) it.

The injunction addressed to the priests (Deuteronomy 31:26), to take it "and put it in the side," seems to have been an intimation that in due time it was to be entrusted to their safe custody; and they must have felt it as their highest honour and privilege, that 'unto them were committed the oracles of God.' But it cannot be supposed that 'Moses cut himself off from all access to his own work; and there is nothing in all this chapter which may not have been written by Moses. He could surely afterward add the remaining records, with an account of the transmission; for it is not likely that the solemn transmission should have hindered Moses from making the needful addition. The account of the delivery seemed necessary to complete the work thus delivered' (Arnold).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 31". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/deuteronomy-31.html. 1871-8.
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