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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 31

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-30

The Surrender of Office and Work as a Pause to the Third Discourse

Deuteronomy 31:1-30

1And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel. 2And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no [I will not be able] more go out and come in: also [and] the Lord hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan. 3The Lord thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations [Gentiles] from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua he shall go over before thee, as the Lord hath said. 4And the Lord shall do unto them as he did to Sihon, and to Og, kings of the Amorites, and unto the land of them, whom he destroyed. 5And the Lord shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you. 6Be strong and of a good courage [firm], fear not, nor be afraid of [tremble before] them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee, he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. 7And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage [and firm]: for thou must [shalt] go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. 8And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed. 9And Moses wrote this law, and delivered [gave] 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. 10And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release [year of Jubilee], in the feast of tabernacles, 11When all Israel is come [In the coming of all Israel] to appear before [by over against the face of] the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read [proclaim] this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the 13words of this law: And that their children which have not known [do not yet know] anything, may [shall] hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it. 14And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die [near are thy days to 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. 15And the Lord appeared in the tabernacle in a pillar of a cloud: and the pillar of the cloud stood over the door of the tabernacle. 16And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep [margin: liest down] with thy fathers, and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land [of the foreign land]1 whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.

17Then [And] my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured [for a consumption] and many evils and troubles shall befall [margin: find them] them, so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon [have they not 18found us] us, because our God is not among us? And [But] I will surely [or still] hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that 19[for] they are turned unto other gods. Now therefore [And now] 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. 20For when I shall have brought [For I will bring]2 them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten [they eat] and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they [and] turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke [reject, despise] me, and break my covenant. 21And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen [shall find] them, that this song shall testify against them [margin: before them] as a witness: for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about [margin: do]3 even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware. 22Moses therefore wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel. 23And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage [firm]: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee. 24And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in [upon] a 25book, until they were finished, That [Then] Moses commanded the Levites which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, 26Take this book of the law, and put it in [by] the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee. 27For I know thy rebellion [obstinacy], and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the Lord; and how much more [will ye be] after my death? 28Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may [and I will] speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them. 29for I know that after my death ye will utterly [surely] corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall [meet] you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands. 30And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of the song until they were ended.


1. It forms as it appears a third last Selah, comprehending the two earlier. In the first Pause we have the designation of the cities of refuge on the east of the Jordan, that the office of Moses as rescuing life might clearly appear; in the second, the setting up of the monumental stones on the west of Jordan, as Moses work is to place the law in the life of Israel. The office and work, which now in the third pause are surrendered, relate therefore to the whole land of the chosen people.

2.Deuteronomy 31:1-8. The close. 1) In reference to Moses himself. Deuteronomy 31:1-2. And Moses went, Deuteronomy 31:1, is not a continuation of 1 (Hengst. speaks further, proceeds); the Sept. gives a sense better suited to the connection, completed, closed his discourse. It is literally either went away (Baumgarten: into his tent where he composed his written discourses, brought up to the last point, Deuteronomy 31:9), comp. Deuteronomy 31:14; then we must supply, and after he came again, he spake; or in order to emphasize the personal close, after the actual, the literal discourses were closed with chap. 30; i.e., and he came, entered, after his previous retiring from sight. Schultz supplies: anew, “or it is spoken still once more of the discourses generally, (Deuteronomy 1:1; Deuteronomy 4:45; Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 27:1 ).” It is essentially as if it were: he prepared himself and spake. [The Bib. Com. regards the word as redundant, but it is better to take it as Schroeder and Keil, prepared himself, rose up, or began.—A. G.]. Deuteronomy 31:2. Comp. Deuteronomy 34:7 (Exodus 7:7). The apparent diversity is only that between the personal perception of Moses, the presentiment of his death, and the view of his contemporaries, chap. 34. Does he say חיום with respect to his birth-day? The announcement of his age stands by itself and has no necessary influence upon what follows, which rather has its ground in the last clause of the verse. אוכל (also may be regarded as intimating that in the future, with such an age, he would not be able.—Go out and come in does not designate the leadership of Moses, but his personal work Deuteronomy 28:6 and here only that. It is not therefore to draw attention, Schultz, to any failing, declining strength לפני. Comp. Deuteronomy 27:17 The thought is completed first in the last clause of the Verse. Comp. besides, upon Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 3:26 Deut 31:31; Deuteronomy 3:1 to Deuteronomy 6:2) In reference to Israel. It closes his years of wandering under the leading of Jehovah. Comp. Deuteronomy 9:3; Deuteronomy 9:1.—He not directly in opposition to Moses, but emphatically pointing away from Moses to the Lord. Joshua would naturally stand as the one opposed to Moses, but he is rather placed by the Lord as the successor, the continuation to Moses. Hence, as the law-giving is both of Moses and of God, so also the emphatic expression here is equally suited to Joshua and to Jehovah. Comp. Deuteronomy 3:28 Deuteronomy 31:4. Comp. Deuteronomy 2:3 Deuteronomy 31:5. Comp. Deuteronomy 7:2 Deuteronomy 31:6. Comp. Deuteronomy 20:3 and Deuteronomy 4:31. Neither suffer them to sink down, thus to leave them without His guiding hand, nor indeed entirely forsake them Hebrews 13:5).

Deuteronomy 31:7; Deuteronomy 8:3) In reference to Joshua: “the last words from Moses to him.” (Schultz). Deuteronomy 31:7. Solemnly as it is formally in the sight of all. Comp. Deuteronomy 1:38; Deuteronomy 3:28 What was formerly said to the people is here addressed to its leader; for what is becoming to them, is not only also becoming to him, but is first truly incumbent upon him. Deuteronomy 31:8 : as Deuteronomy 31:6 Comp. still Deuteronomy 1:21.

3. The handing over of the Mosaic work. Deuteronomy 31:9-13. Comp. Intro., § 2. The writing on the part of Moses, Deuteronomy 31:9, is made prominent indeed because such prominence was generally necessary with respect to the priests, etc., but particularly necessary for the special charge, Deuteronomy 31:10 sq. The significance of the written, fixed form, thus appears already from both classes of officials, the ecclesiastical and the civil, who as permanent, and thus distinguished from the temporary activity of Joshua, come into view with regard to the law. For the priests see Intro.,§ 4, I. 22. Beth the construction with אֶל, and the mention of all the elders of Israel, to whom the literal giving would be out of place, as also the whole connection, evidently shows that the giving of the book by Moses is not to be understood of the material book, literally given out of the hand, but as a formal assignment, or an addressing of the law to these persons. Both officers are necessary for the charge, Deuteronomy 31:10; the priests for the law, the elders for the people. Comp. Deuteronomy 15:1. מוֹעֵד is a definite time (Exodus 9:5), Schultz: the time at which the year of release began; Keil: the festival time of the year of release, since he places the tabernacle feast at the expiration of the civil year (Exodus 23:16), Knobel: the specified time of the sabbatical year, and indeed at its close. It might designate also the festal gathering (Deuteronomy 31:11). Schultz: “That the people might thereby be incited to spend this year of rest in their employment with the word of God.” Bahr: “It was not intended for this purpose, but as a solemn promulgation of the fundamental law of the State, of the embodied covenant with Jehovah, and at the same time for the leading back and restoration, so far as departures had found entrance into the life of the people;” which at all events is better suited to what follows than the view of Keil, that “it was for the purpose of quickening and refreshing the people with the law, etc., in order to make the law beloved by the people as a gracious gift of God,” an entirely subjective aim and purpose according to the experience of David, Psalms 19:0. Moses neither emphasizes the propriety of the sabbatical year, nor signalizes its idea, nor even generally the idea of the feast of tabernacles, but what was opportune for the required reading of the law, i.e., Deuteronomy 31:11 : the gathering of the whole people at the place of the sanctuary (chaps. 12, 16.). Thou, i.e., the priestly and civil magistrate who represents Israel. According to Nehemiah 8:1, the priest Ezra. [We learn also from this passage in Neh., not only that Ezra read in the book of the law day by day, but that the book of the law was the Pentateuch, not merely Deuteronomy, since Ezra had actually read from the earlier portions of the Pentateuch. Comp. Nehemiah 8:14-15, with Leviticus 23:4; Leviticus 23:40. See also Hengstenberg, Authen. II., pp. 153–163, and Keil, who well says, “Ezra did not regard the book of Deuteronomy like the critics of our day, as the true national law book, an acquaintance with which was all that the people required.”—A. G.]. According to the Talmud: the king. But Deuteronomy 31:12 expressly requires the gathering of all the people in all its parts for this purpose. The object of the ordinance is here clearly and fully declared. Although that object was elsewhere (Deuteronomy 6:6 sq.; Deuteronomy 11:18 sought, yet it is cared for here in the most solemn and public manner. So that every excuse, over against this solemn testimony of the law, even the natural ignorance of the children, Deuteronomy 31:13, may fall away. Comp. further Deuteronomy 4:10.

4.Deuteronomy 31:14-23. After the Mosaic close, there follows now immediately the divine conclusion, and in the same order or succession of thought, as 1–8: Moses, Israel, Joshua. Deuteronomy 31:14 is connected with Deuteronomy 31:2, as to Moses, and the actual approach of his death gives the middle term between what is there said and what is here required. Comp. Genesis 47:29. That I may give him, is the new stage, the directly divine appointment, in distinction from Deuteronomy 31:7 sq. and Numbers 27:16 sq. Moses goes to the appointed place, Joshua alone with him. We need not suppose that either Israel or its representatives were dismissed (Schultz); it would have been more solemn still if the people in the meantime remained before the tabernacle and awaited the return (Luke 1:10 Herxheimer: “Here, for the first time, Joshua stands by the side of Moses before the God who reveals Himself.” Deuteronomy 31:15. Comp. Exodus 13:21; Exodus 40:34; Numbers 12:5; Exodus 33:9. The pillar of cloud stands high over the entrance. Since in Deuteronomy 31:16 the discourse is still addressed to Moses, it resumes again his death (Genesis 47:30; John 11:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13), which also serves to introduce what follows, and appears once more in reference to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:3). The people appear only restrained, kept down. Its nature1 is to rise up again as soon as possible. זָנָה—to turn aside, especially from a wife, thus to commit adultery, to run after many paramours, etc. (Exodus 34:15 sq.; Leviticus 17:7; Leviticus 20:5 sq.; Numbers 14:33; Numbers 15:39), Jehovah the husband of Israel, the covenant a marriage covenant. נֵכַר־ of the strange foreign land (Genesis 35:2; Joshua 24:23), not as Knobel, Keil, foreign gods of the land, since that would have been the same as other gods. It rather calls attention to the fact that Canaan, because of its past idolatrous nature, is a rejected (נכר) land (Deuteronomy 9:4 sq.). Upon forsake me comp. Deuteronomy 31:6; Deuteronomy 31:8 (Deuteronomy 32:15 sq.); and for the rest, Genesis 17:14; Leviticus 26:15 (Numbers 15:31). Deuteronomy 31:17. Comp Deuteronomy 29:26; Deuteronomy 7:16. Others: Many and pressing (oppressive) evils. Israel must pronounce its judgment with its own mouth. Schultz: “They were attributing their necessities and distress to his want of power rather than to his righteousness; the Lord protracts their sorrows to bring them to a better mind” (?) What follows does not necessarily imply this thought, for although there is a confession of guilt, it is only, or very much external and formal. But hence the position of the Lord in Deuteronomy 31:18. פנה and פני, as they have turned away from me, so I from them (Deuteronomy 30:17). Deuteronomy 31:19. The association of Joshua with Moses in the writing (see Introd. § 2) shows the significance of the written document also for the future consequences; Israel endures upon the progressive revelation of God—for the this here evidently refers to the song which follows in chap. 32.—but, at the same time, in the manner there intimated, viz., that the divine revelation must be ever deposited in writing. (“In Deuteronomy 31:16 sq. it was intimated that the song should spring up in the mind of Moses out of the Spirit, which Jehovah, when He announced to him the coming conduct of the people, had breathed upon His servant, and with which he was filled; there is no revealing word of the Lord, which was not accompanied by the efficacy of His Spirit.” Sack.) Now therefore—in view of such a future, Joshua also must know from the outset, and indeed from God Himself, with what a people he had to deal, that he might not give himself up to any delusion, but rather in his leading of the people keep their apostacy in mind. Nevertheless, Moses remains the leader of the people while he lives. As Deuteronomy 30:14, the law generally, so also this song added to it should be sung for a testimony to the Lord against Israel (Luke 19:22). Comp. Deuteronomy 31:26. Deuteronomy 31:20 sq. forms the fuller basis and carrying out of the testimony of the song, through what Jehovah had done for Israel, and what Israel had done in return. Comp. Deuteronomy 6:10 sq.; Deuteronomy 8:7 sq.; Deuteronomy 6:3; Deuteronomy 32:15. What grace turned to license! Provoke—despise, reproach, reject me, Numbers 14:11. Comp. Deuteronomy 31:16. Deuteronomy 31:21. Comp. Deuteronomy 31:17. Testify. Schroeder. Answer, Deuteronomy 19:16. To the law, to Moses himself (John 5:45; John 5:47), there is still now another witness Deuteronomy 17:6 [against; literally, before his face]. Israel should hold the court against itself even (Galatians 2:11; Acts 25:16), and indeed down to the very latest Israel (their seed). The power and significance of a sacred song confirmed by God Himself. [Comp. Colossians 3:16.—A. G.] Song against imagination (Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21). Deuteronomy 31:22. An insertion of the performance of the command immediately (Schultz:) as often occurs, e.g., Exodus 12:50, not only on account of the great importance of the song, but especially because of the immediate divine conclusion, and hence also barely, Moses wrote, etc.—and then the transition from Moses and Israel to the third stage or person, to Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:7-8). Deuteronomy 31:23. And he—Comp. Deuteronomy 31:14. With this the revelation in the tabernacle closes—and according to Hengstenberg, Keil, at the same time, the autographic work of Moses. Comp. on the contrary, Schultz, pp. 88 and 646.

5.Deuteronomy 31:24-30. The final surrender of the Mosaic work for its preservation and introduction to the following song. Upon Deuteronomy 31:24 comp. Numbers 16:31 and Introd. § 2. Upon Deuteronomy 31:25 comp. Deuteronomy 10:8 and Introd. § 4, I. 22. [It is clear that the Levites here are the priests, the sons of Levi, who alone could so freely approach or touch the ark. For although the Kohathites bore the ark through the wilderness, it was still as prepared by the priests; and on all solemn occasions it was the priests who bore the ark. See Joshua 3:3; Joshua 4:9-10; Jos 8:33; 1 Kings 8:3.—A. G.] Deuteronomy 31:26. In [at] the side—not in the ark, where were the two tables of stone (Exodus 25:16; Exodus 40:20), “but as a commentary upon the decalogue, it was to have its place outwardly as an accompaniment”—Keil, 1Ki 8:9; 1 Samuel 6:8; 1Sa 6:11; 1 Samuel 6:15; 2 Kings 22:0. (Introd. §4, II.). Comp. further Deuteronomy 31:19; Deuteronomy 31:21.Deuteronomy 31:27. Comp. Deuteronomy 1:26; Deuteronomy 1:43; Deuteronomy 9:7; Deuteronomy 9:23 sq. [While Moses appears to have handed over the book with these words, it was simply the words of this law (Deuteronomy 31:24), and it does not therefore in the least conflict with the theory that Moses himself wrote the song, and the blessing which follows. It is only a special part of his work which was then finished and delivered.—A. G.] Thus the song is introduced. The persons addressed Deuteronomy 31:28 are the Levites—those who came together or had remained together for the foregoing purpose (Deuteronomy 31:14). Gather (Deuteronomy 31:12) may be here not any new peculiar calling together, but directed on account of the here added officers (comp. upon Deuteronomy 1:15). Keil. “Because the civil authorities must take care that the whole people should learn the song.” They are rather regarded as the representatives of the people Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 30:19;). Heaven and earth

Verbally according to the beginning of the following song—really because of its whole enunciation. Deuteronomy 31:29. A communication of that revealed in the tabernacle, but not at all superfluous (Knobel). Comp. Deuteronomy 4:16; Deuteronomy 4:25; Deuteronomy 9:12; Deuteronomy 4:30, Evil on account of evil, Deuteronomy 4:28 (Deuteronomy 27:15). Deuteronomy 31:30. It is not said that he read it. (J. H. Michaelis: recitavit ex scripto.)


1. The parallel to Moses here, in 2 Peter 1:12 sq.

2. “A hundred and twenty years is the limit of life (Genesis 6:3) for the sinners of the old world. As the mediator and bearer of the law, Moses must experience the whole strength of the divine righteousness.” Baumgarten. “This was the noticeable age of Moses, of which forty years were spent in Egypt, forty in Midian, and forty in the wilderness.” Berl. Bib.

3. The thorah, from יָרָה, to scatter, spread, e.g., the hand, in order to point to any thing, is instruction, Deuteronomy 31:12. The appointment at the end of the Sabbatical year prefigures the intimation, Hebrews 4:9.

4. The days of birth and death are times fixed by God.
5. The death of believers is even in the Old Testament a falling asleep.
6. The relation of the wife to her husband, that of total dependence, is very instructive as to the correct understanding of the covenant of God.

7. How personally the covenant relation on the part of God declares the symbolism of the divine face, Deuteronomy 31:17-18.

8. Roos calls the song “a majestic song,” because “the only one flowing directly from the mouth of the Lord.”
9. “Psalms and spiritual songs serve for the confession of sin, for consolation to the troubled heart, and to remind us how we should order our life, so that we may please God, particularly to call upon Him and praise Him.” Piscator.

10. It is to be observed that the evil upon Israel, Deuteronomy 31:29, coincides with the salvation of the world.

11. [“The book so received, so secured, so guarded, was not to be kept secret, but to be published by open reading in the ears of all Israel.” Wordsworth.—A. G.]


Deuteronomy 31:1 sq. The faithfulness of Moses to his office, even to the end. Deuteronomy 31:2. Osiander: “If we should live equally long, still we must die, and often when we least expect to do so.” Starke: “A Christian should put his affairs in order before his end comes.” Deuteronomy 31:3. Zinzendorf: “The most important condition in all the undertakings under the Old Testament is that the Lord thy God be with thee: unless He goes with us, we may not go. Paul shows that the same desire dwelt with him: the Lord stood by me. But the declaration of the Saviour is most express—I am with you unto the end of the world—whence we are justified in thinking and speaking of Him as present.” Deuteronomy 31:4. Cramer: “If God promises that He will do any thing, He confirms it by examples from what He has already done.” Deuteronomy 31:7 sq. Berl. Bib.: “It is well when subjects and rulers mutually seek the blessing of God.” Osiander: “Soldiers should not rely upon their power and strength, but should lay their hopes upon God.” Deuteronomy 31:13. Starke: “The Scriptures should be taught even to the little children.” Deuteronomy 31:15. Starke: “Where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, there He is in the midst of them.” Zinzendorf: “But we have other eyes. Every child of God has spiritual senses, without which he cannot enter the kingdom of God, and with which he knows inwardly and truly the Saviour.” Deuteronomy 31:16. Starke: “God knows all things and understands the thoughts of men afar off, Psalms 139:0.” Deuteronomy 31:19. Zinzendorf: “It is an old and well-known fact that the song is the best method of bringing the truths of God into the heart, and of preserving them there.” Deuteronomy 31:20. Starke: “We should not be secure in favorable circumstances; Lord, give me only my allotted part, Proverbs 30:8.” Deuteronomy 31:22. V. Gerlach: “Moses thus has occasion to place his own testimony beneath his work,that he has written down the whole law.” Deuteronomy 31:24. Starke: “The sacred scripture is not incomplete, 2 Timothy 3:16.” Deuteronomy 31:26. Cramer: “God’s word is the blessed accompaniment and the true treasure of the Church.” Upon Deuteronomy 31:29 comp. Acts 20:29. Deuteronomy 31:30. V. Gerlach: “A precedent for many predictions of the prophets.”


[1][Deuteronomy 31:16. Schroeder’s suggestion here adds nothing to our version, which is literal, and conveys the full sense of the original.—A. G.].

[2][Deuteronomy 31:20. Hiphil, I will cause them to come. The construction is more direct and simple than in our version.—A. G.].

[3][Deuteronomy 31:21. Literally: Is doing, denoting the process already going on, and one which would continue.—A. G.].

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 31". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/deuteronomy-31.html. 1857-84.
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