Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 31

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-30

CRITICAL REMARKS.—Moses had finished the interpretation and enforcement of the law. But his work is not quite accomplished, he therefore makes final arrangements.

Deuteronomy 31:1-6. Encouragement to Israel. Went Heb. continued to speak and prepare himself. His age not likely to render him a sufficient guide in future, though his natural force was unabated (cf. Deuteronomy 34:7.) God also had intimated his approaching death and forbidden him to go over Jordan (Numbers 20:24). But God will go with them and Joshua will lead them, Hence “Be strong, he will not fail thee.” (cf. Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5.)

Deuteronomy 31:7-8. Joshua becomes leader. Encouraged in the same words as the people. In the sight of all that his authority might not be questioned. Fear not. Many dangers and great reasons for fear—looking only to themselves.

Deuteronomy 31:9-13. Moses commits the Law to Levites. To be read at the end of seven years—the year of release (Deuteronomy 31:15). 1. Taber (Leviticus 23:24). Appear (Deuteronomy 31:11; cf. Deuteronomy 16:16; Nehemiah 8:12 seq.) Bead, Joshua 8:34; 2 Kings 23:0; 2 Kings 23:0. Law—not the whole Pentateuch, but summaries.

Deuteronomy 31:14-18. Moses informed of his Death. Called with Joshua into the tabernacle (Deuteronomy 31:15) he would sleep (lie down) with his fathers, but the nation would apostatise go a whoring. (cf. Exodus 34:15; Judges 2:17.) Break the covenant and God in anger would hide his face and suffer them to fall into deep troubles.

Deuteronomy 31:19-23. Moses commanded to write a song as “a witness for God against them.” Waxen Fat (cf. Deuteronomy 32:15; Nehemiah 9:23; Hosea 13:6. Forgotten (Deuteronomy 31:21). “Being in verse it would be more easily learned and kept in memory. The use of songs for such didactic purposes not unknown to legislators of antiquity, and was familiar to theologians of later times of Social History (Ecclesiastes 6:8 and Colossians 3:16)”—Speak. Com.

Deuteronomy 31:24-27. The song finished and put into the ark of covenant. The book commenced before Exodus 17:14, gradually increased and now finished, i.e. in full, wholly complete. In the side. (Deuteronomy 31:26) for greater security and reverence. Only tables of stone in the ark (1 Kings 8:9). Deuteronomy 31:27. Words by which Moses handed the book to the priests.

Deuteronomy 31:28-30. Rehearsal to assembled elders. Gather civil authorities of the congregation specially to hear the ode. Know partly for past experience and partly for gift of prophecy. He pronounced the words audibly to the representative and they to the people of the song following.

A Farewell Address.—Deuteronomy 31:1-6

Moses had spent 40 years in Pharaoh’s court, 40 years in Midian, and 40 as leader of Israel He is about to leave his people, but gives specific instructions and makes certain arrangements, from which learn—

I. God’s workmen are often taken away in the midst of usefulness. The work of Moses not finished but he had intimation of death.

1. Through old age. “I am an hundred and twenty, &c.” Old comparatively for “his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” Age brings infirmities, and incapacitates for work. “It is the worst time we can choose to mend either our lives or our fortunes,” says one. Not the time to begin the service of God, who deserves our energy from our youth, cf. 2 Samuel 19:35 : Ecclesiastes 12:1 to Ecclesiastes 7:2. Through special Providence. Sometimes punishment for sin. Moses and Aaron forbidden to enter Canaan, Numbers 20:12. David could not build the temple. Or accidents and sudden death cut off men when prominent, in the prime of life and the splendour of fame, and likely to be useful. Men who leave a blank not easily filled up, a heavy loss to the Christian Church and the world. Let each fulfil the end of life and be able to say, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”

II. God’s work is carried on by successors. Moses dies, and Joshua succeeds. “God buries his workmen, but carries on his work,” says Wesley.

1. Successors divinely called. Joshua specially chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. God’s servants not self-called, nor put into office by friendship and worldly favour. “There is nothing in which a king would be more absolute than in the choice of his ministers. And shall we dare to contest and take away this right from the King of Kings?” Quesnel.

2. Successors specially qualified. Joshua specially gifted and trained by service. More than natural endowment required. “None but he who made the world can make a minister of the gospel,” said Newton. None selected for important work enters it at his own charge. God equips and helps.

III. God gives encouragement to those who carry on his work. Fellow workers may fall, but God compensates for loss.

1. By his presence. “He will go over before thee,” Deuteronomy 31:3. If under the inspiration of Alexander, Cæsar, and other great leaders, soldiers have performed exploits, what can we not do with God present! Failure impossible with him!

2. By his promise. Presence animates, but accompanied with promise often makes soldiers irresistible. God’s promises may be trusted, God’s bonds given and sealed with his own hand. “He will not fail thee, &c.”

3. By his help. Promise must issue in performance. God is strength for burdens and a shield for battles. His grace makes the heart stout and the arm strong. “He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.”

A GLORIOUS PAST.—Deuteronomy 31:4

1. A godly people will always have a glorious past. Israel’s past, England’s past. A Christian man looks back upon a wonderful past-enlightenment, forgiveness and adoption, great peace, great joy, and great hope. Nothing little in redemption. God’s gifts like himself. “Great and marvellous are thy works.”

11. This glorious past should not be forgotten. The great things of God should be remembered, considered, and prompt to obedience. They are helpful for the present, pledges of God’s faithfulness and power and types of future mercies. “The Lord shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according to all the commandments which I have commanded you,” Deuteronomy 31:5.

LIFE’S CONFLICTS.—Deuteronomy 31:3-6

Israel about to engage in arduous warfare. God would help them, therefore they must not be discouraged.

I. Life a warfare. A soldier’s life hardness endured, 2 Timothy 2:3. Discomforts in camp, field duties, tedious marches, great and numerous foes to overcome (Sihon and Og), territories to gain, and a purpose to be accomplished.

II. We are not sufficient in ourselves for this warfare. In us no good thing. Our sufficiency for everything from God.

1. We are weak. Need strength and defence. Divine grace alone makes the heart stout and the arm strong. “We have no might against this company.”

2. We are timid. “Fear not,” “Cowardice hath made us by-words to our enemies” (Shaks.), and a disgrace to our captain. Swedenborg says, “Charles II. did not know what that was which others called fear.” Fear not, nor be dismayed; be strong and of good courage.”

3. We are afraid. Danger frightens, enemies overawe, and we forebode evil. We fight with shadows and waste our strength. “Thou shalt not be afraid of them; but shalt remember what the Lord thy God did unto Pharaoh, &c,” Deuteronomy 7:18.

III. In God we may have confidence to help. “The Lord thy God, he doth go with thee.” Not much behind, nor too far before, with thee, to guide, Proverbs 20:24; Proverbs 16:9; provide, Hebrews 13:5; and help, Joshua 1:5. Confidence;

1. In the word of God. The promise counteracts tendency to doubt and faint, fitted to produce and support assurance.

2. In the faithfulness of God. He never modifies, retracts, nor forgets his word. He wills and intends to fulfil it. Nothing can make him recede from his merciful purpose, nor cause him to repent or violate his pledge. “The strength of Israel will not lie nor repent; for he is not a man that he should repent.”

3. In the presence of God. “He will go over before thee,” Deuteronomy 31:3. God with Moses, God with Joshua, God with every good man—with thee. Grand words to begin an undertaking and conquest, to encourage in life’s dangers and toils! “Understand, therefore, this day that the Lord thy God is he who goeth over before thee, &c.,” Deuteronomy 9:3.

4. In the strength of God. He increases our might, makes us more than ourselves, more than a match for any foe. “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life,” Joshua 1:5. “They that war against thee shall be as nothing and as a thing of nought, Isaiah 41:13.

THE CHOSEN LEADER.—Deuteronomy 31:7-8

In the choice of Joshua, Moses displays his greatness and intense anxiety for his people. No excessive grief, nor unavailing remorse. He appoints a successor not out of his own family or from his own choice, but according to God’s will (cf. Numbers 27:15).

I. A leader specially qualified for the work. Joshua was honoured and qualified in an eminent degree.

1. Trained under Moses. He was the minister, the servant of Moses (Joshua 1:1). With him on the Mount (Exodus 24:13), and a companion in the camp.

2. Qualified by God. Filled with the spirit of wisdom, courage, and the fear of God (Deuteronomy 34:9). As leader under a theocracy he was to act as the minister of God, wait for instructions from God, and shepherd or lead the people as the flock of God (Numbers 27:17).

II. A leader publicly chosen. “In the sight of all Israel” designated to office. By a solemn rite set apart (Numbers 27:18).

1. To indicate the solemnity of the charge.

2. To set forth its responsibility.

3. To identify himself with the people.

4. To gain the sympathy of the people. “Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it” (Deuteronomy 1:38).

III. A leader specially encouraged. Though courageous and resolute he required help. The work was new, long, and arduous. He felt inferior to Moses, and knew the perverseness of the people.

1. Divinely guided. Jehovah would go before him. What help and inspiration in this thought. “There is no inspiration so great as to feel the influence of a spirit greater and nobler than our own. When we listen to his voice, when we are ready to do his will, our whole nature is liberated and exalted, and out of this the greatest and noblest work comes” (Dr. Allon).

2. Divinely assisted. “He will not fail thee.” Joshua not faint-hearted, but humble; hence cheered, often encouraged to “be strong.” If God be with us, what account those against us! Who can defeat Divine wisdom or overcome Omnipotence! In God’s work God’s servants never alone, never forsaken. Joshua took the reins of government and led the tribes to the conquest of Canaan. Brave in counsel and brave in war, he trusted in God and accomplished his charge. Be you courageous, hold the divine commands sacred and in spite of opposition yield full and hearty obedience. This is true wisdom and gains true success. “Then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success (do wisely)” (Joshua 1:8).

“He holds no parley with unmanly fears,
Where duty bids he confidently steers,
Faces a thousand dangers at her call,
And, trusting in his God, surmounts them all”


Deuteronomy 31:2. Thou shalt not go over.

1. Best men not infallible, may sin.
2. Consequences of one sin most serious.
3. God impartial and just in punishing sin.

Deuteronomy 31:3-6. I. A disheartened people. Great leader lost. Great work to be done. Our work to dethrone enemies, enter lands, establish and maintain the worship of God and the Kingdom of Christ. “The children of Judah could not drive them out.” II. A sufficient God. “With thee” in presence; “before thee” in providence; abiding in strength “not fail thee.”—“The mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but never shall the covenant of his faith fulness fail.”

Deuteronomy 31:6-8. Antidote to fear. “Fear not.” I. He is able to help thee: He will not fail thee, in adversity or prosperity—will guard thee against the immediate dangers of the one, and the seductive influences of the other. II. He is willing to help thee: not able merely, but willing also. III. He has promised to help thee: and his promises are always sure. Learn

(1) Rely on God’s power;
(2) Trust in his promises (Biblical Museum).—God’s Providence the ground of contentment (cf. Hebrews 13:5). “He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”

1. Then cherish no distressing care—“one hair white or black”—“cast your care upon him.”

2. Then cease to devise your own plans. We scheme for our children and our business, tempt providence and take destiny into our own hands. God’s will supreme. “Commit thy way to him, &c.”

3. Then exercise implicit faith in God;

(1) whose promise is sure;

(2) whose power is omnipotent;

(3) whose providence is universal. Be strong. “The Septuagint in this and the following verse have play the man. and be strong. From this St. Paul seems to have borrowed his ideas (1 Corinthians 16:13.) Stand firm in the faith; play the man, act like heroes; be vigorous.”—A. Clarke.

Deuteronomy 31:7-8. Appointment of Joshua to succeed Moses. Consider: I. The concern of Moses for the people committed to him. In this he acted as—

1. as a true patriot;
2. a faithful minister. II. The gracious provision which God made for them:
1. He selected a suitable person for the office;

2. He prescribed the mode of his ordination to it. (Numbers 27:15-17; Numbers 3:0. He promised him all needful assistance in it. Learn

(1) the blessedness of the Christian Church;
(2) the duty of advancing in every possible way its best interest.—C. Simeon, M.A.

THE INHERITED VOLUME.—Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:13; Deuteronomy 31:19; Deuteronomy 31:22; Deuteronomy 31:24-26

Moses now commits the law which he had written into the hands of the priests and elders, the religious and secular rulers of the congregation, to be read and preserved for future generations.

I. The Law to be written. “Moses wrote this law.” This a natural and safe method of transmission. More secure, complete, and diffusive than oral tradition. In this method titles and estates are handed down, arts and sciences propagated. This law has to rank in the literature of Israel as a story-book for children and a statute book for all. Hence written and carefully preserved in the archives of the nation. “Write in a book.”

II. The Law to be read. Strict are regulations on this point.

1. Read at festivals. Four instances given (Joshua 8:30; 2 Chronicles 17:7; 2 Chronicles 34:30; Nehemiah 8:7). a. “In the year of release” (Deuteronomy 31:10). When servants were discharged, debtors acquitted, and all had leisure to read. Spare time and special occasions should be devoted to Bible reading, b. “In the feast of tabernacles.” Most appropriate season, as revealing the source and purifying the nature of their joy—connecting the design of the law with the spirit of the festival.

2. Read in public assemblies. “In the place” of assembly (Deuteronomy 31:11). Bible reading important part of religious worship—needful for instruction, reverence and edification—a privilege to meet in God’s house to expound the law and review His mercies.

3. Read to all classes. Old and young, and strangers within the gates (Deuteronomy 31:12). All classes interested—home-born and aliens, bond and free, must be taught the word of God. There is no hesitation, no fear of giving the law to the common people. It is their right and privilege that they may hear, love, and obey God.

III. The law to be preserved (Deuteronomy 31:24-26). What was written, was needful to preserve for that and future nations. A second copy of the law was deposited in the ark for greater reverence and security.

1. Preserved as a rule of life. “That they may hear, learn, and obey” (Deuteronomy 31:12). Men apt to forget what God requires. Philosophy and reason do not supply a standard of duty. In the Bible, and the Bible alone, have we a guide sufficient and unsurpassed—a book to make us wise unto salvation.

2. Preserved as a witness against disobedience. Memory may fail and teachers die; but the law abides firm and faithful in its testimony. Solemn to have God’s law and neglect it—to turn the blessing into a curse and the best of books into a witness against us. Every sermon we hear, every chapter we read, will help or finally condemn. “Take heed how ye hear.”


I. As the Basis of its Religion. Natural religion is founded on reason or the light of philosophy. Systems of belief are often refined speculations of mind, conflicting, uncertain, and insufficient. Revealed religion is spiritual, vital, and safe. The Bible alone reveals God and moral duty, explains religious worship, and offers moral renovation. It is the foundation of faith and practice, and hope for the present and future life.

II. As the Friend of its Education. The Bible proves the necessity and the value of education. It fosters and promotes intelligence among the masses, helps to rear noble institutions, to enlighten and refine society. It has given the world new ideas and impulses not found in the province of letters. Superb themes for poetry, painting, and fine arts, and thus the highest enjoyment and most exalted thoughts have been furnished by the Bible.

III. As the Source of its Progress. In the Bible are strong innate principles to civilize and elevate. Where these principles are practised we find refinement, free institutions, and the blessings of liberty. Morals are purified, commercial enterprise encouraged, cruelties and war abolished. How much is England indebted to the Bible? What is the condition of countries where the Bible is fettered, exiled or unknown? It is source of progress in learning, legislation, and religion. It is not dead or effete yet. Its mission is great and sublime. It is emphatically the Book for the people, the Book for the nation, and the Book for the age.

This lamp from off the everlasting throne,
Mercy took down, and in the night of time
Stood casting on the dark her gracious bow,
And evermore beseeching men, with tears,
And earnest sighs, to read, believe, and live.—Pollok, Bk. 1


Deuteronomy 31:7-13. Methods of propagating Scripture. By writing or printing, by public reading or expounding. Let us be thankful for a complete and printed Bible. The heritage of the past and the trust of the present. “Unto them were committed the oracles of God.”

The Bible and the children. Revealing God to children, prescribing duties to children, fostering the spirit to perform these duties, and ensuring the happiness of children. The Bible an entrancing book to children, in its spirit, examples, and lessons. The Bible in the family. The Bible should be read in the family. When read rightly it promotes domestic comfort, cleanliness, industrious and provident habits; it purifies the affections and fills the dwelling with joy in poverty and depression of trade.—(“The Cotter’s Saturday night.”)—“The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous.”

Deuteronomy 31:10-12. Directions here given for public reading of the law.

1. To be read at “the feast of tabernacles,” the greatest of all their festivals, when harvest and vintage being completed, they had most leisure to attend to it. This feast was celebrated in “the year of release,” the most proper time that could be chosen for reading the law; for then the people were Treed from debts, troubles, and cares of a worldly nature, and at liberty to attend to it, without distraction.

2. The law was to be read by Joshua, chief governor, and by others who had the charge of instructing the people. Thus Joshua himself read to the congregation Joshua 8:34-35; Josiah and Ezra, 2 Chronicles 34:30; Nehemiah 8:2. But Jehoshaphat employed priests and Levites (2 Chronicles 17:9). This public reading was in part the duty of the king, the Jews say, who began it, and that afterwards it was taken up by the priests.

3. The law was to be read in the hearing of all Israel (Deuteronomy 31:11).

(1) Pious Jews who had copies doubtless read in their own houses.

(2) Some portion was read in the synagogue every Sabbath day (Acts 15:21).

(3) In Jehoshaphat’s time it was read by his command in the different cities of Judah, and the people were instructed out of it by the priests and Levites, but
(4) at every year of release the law was read, not only publicly to all the people, but throughout, and read from an original copy, which served as a standard by which all other copies were tried.
4. The whole congregation must assemble to hear the law. Hence learn

(1) that when our debts are remitted and we are brought into the liberty of God’s children we shall then delight to hear and obey our delivering Lord in every call of duty.
(2) The word of God being our only rule, should be read and known of all; how cruel the attempt, and how contrary to the Divine will, to keep it locked up from the people in an unknown tongue, and to establish ignorance by law!
(3) Nothing should engage us more solicitously than the early instruction of our children in the knowledge of the holy Scriptures, which alone can make them wise unto salvation.—J. Wilson.

A SOLEMN MEETING.—Deuteronomy 31:14-16; Deuteronomy 31:23

Moses commanded to present himself with Joshua in the tabernacle, the circumstances in which they met, and the charge they received, made the meeting memorable and solemn.

I. The persons who met, made the meeting solemn. Not the congregation, but the leaders. Numbers interest, excite and create enthusiasm. When few meet together in private prayer or Sunday class, the occasion is often solemn. Prayers more ardent and appeals more effectual. God meets with two or three.

II. The place in which they met made the meeting solemn. The tabernacle, the special dwelling of Jehovah, filled with his glory, the cloud outside and inside. The utmost done to invest the place with peculiar sanctity. Repeatedly is the injunction given: “Ye shall reverence my sanctuary.” In our sinful and weak condition we need manifestations to excite awe, and glory tempered with clouds to encourage access.

III. The purpose for which they met made the meeting solemn.

1. Moses to receive intimation of his death. “Thou shalt die.” Solemn message! but no grief nor murmuring. His chief concern for a successor (Numbers 27:16). He was not unprepared, but resigned, ready and responded to the call. Could we face a sentence like this? Our death will be a personal approach to God. “Set thine house in order.”

2. Joshua to be inaugurated to office. Publicly designated before. But a higher sanction required to encourage the leader himself, and beget the respect and obedience of a fickle and perverse people. We should ever listen to the voice of God and feel that his equipment is needful for every enterprize.
3. Both to hear of future apostacy, Moses would grieve and intercede; Joshua would be aware of danger and strive to avert it, Sad predictions, casting shadows of fear in the hour of death and upon the entrance of office. But whatever brings us near to God, and prepares for the events of life or death is profitable.

Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical love,
And coming events cast their shadows before.

—T. Campbell.

THE DARK PROSPECT—Deuteronomy 31:16-21

What human insight could pronounce such a future, especially when the moral condition of the people and present signs seemed to contradict it. What human legislator would give laws and predict that his subjects would break them! What a proof is this of the divine origin of this sacred book!

I. The chosen people turning into apostates. Disowning their relation “to go a whoring after other Gods.”

1. Unfaithful in special trust (Deuteronomy 31:20). Received the land, yet neglected to drive out its people, the least unfaithfulness may bring a curse, as the weakest footstep or the slightest breath may cause an avalanche to entomb a village.

2. Ungrateful for innumerable favours (Deuteronomy 31:20). Fed upon the gifts and forgot the giver. Indulged in sensual enjoyments, abused prosperity, “according to their pasture so were they filled; they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me” (Hosea 13:6).”

3. Rebellious against divine laws. “Break my covenant.” Forgetful of dependence, proud of their position, they were a law unto themselves. Having thrown off allegiance to God, “they turn unto other gods.”

II. Divine Goodness turned into Divine Wrath. “Then my anger shall be kindled against them,” Deuteronomy 31:17. God’s relations to us and dealings with us, according to our conduct.

1. Anger most severe. “Many evils and troubles shall befall them.”

2. Anger most destructive. “They shall be devoured.” Fearful aspect of God. “Consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.”

3. Anger in recompense to sin. “Are not these evils because God is not among us,” Deuteronomy 31:17. Sin ever brings its own retribution, and presumptuous sins defy God’s authority. He justly casts off those who rebel against him, withdraws protection and prosperity. and leaves them to suffer the consequences of their own sins. “I will punish them (visit upon) for their ways, and reward (return to) them their doings, Hosea 4:7.

III. Special Checks failing in desired results. Deuteronomy 31:21. The example and influence of Moses, the anointing and authority of Joshua, the declaration of law, and the presence of death itself, were expedients to prevent evil. Restraints are needful for the individual and the nations. But when men’s hearts are “fully set in them to do evil,” neither affliction, the checks of conscience, nor the restraints of providence will hinder. “A stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that set not their hearts aright,” ever wavered in allegiance, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God,” Psalms 78:8.

IV. Severe punishment without remedy. Indications of God’s displeasure were many, but the greatest punishment was the “hiding of his face from them on that day.” In the darkest day, in the greatest trouble we may rejoice in the light of his countenance. But if God hide his face from us, and forsake us, prayer avails not, our sun is turned into darkness and life into mourning.

1. Enquiry can find no escape, Deuteronomy 31:17. Are these evils not the result of God’s withdrawal? Let us consult and try to discover escape. Intense anxiety and earnest search in vain. “Thou shalt not escape out of his hand.”

2. Future prospect affords no escape, Deuteronomy 31:18. Future condition would be worse than the present; sin and servitude, judgment and deliverance marked their history, but changed not their disposition, Judges 2:19. God was provoked; his anger was kindled. “They were devoured (consumed with affliction) and troubles befell (found) them because forsaken of God, Deuteronomy 31:17. Such is the dark prospect of the sinner. God warns and urges escape. “Stand in awe and sin not.”

“Take heed, for God holds vengeance in His hand
To hurl upon their heads that break his law.”—Shakespeare.

A SONG FOR THE PEOPLE—Deuteronomy 31:19-26

Laws, history and proverbs often put into verse. The valour and praises of famous men often sung at feasts. National songs are retained in the memories and stir the deepest feelings of a people. This song of Moses (ch. 2), composed by divine inspiration, to be learnt by Israel and taught their children in every age. Poetry and prose, the energy of heart and tones of voice should be consecrated to God. “Teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” etc.

I. The song in its form. “Write this song.” This the best method for preserving and transmitting divine revelations to mankind, more natural, secure, complete and diffusive than oral testimony.

II. The song in its design.

1. To reverse God’s mercy (Deuteronomy 31:20). In making the covenant bestowing the land, and giving prosperity. It commemorates God’s sovereign mercy and rich provision for his people. “Put it in their mouths” that it may stir their hearts. “Sing unto the Lord.”

2. To justify God’s proceeding. “That this song may be a witness for me.” In forewarning of danger, checking tendencies to fall into it, and persuading to love and obedience. The word tells truth, points out duty, and will witness for God in apostacy and punishment.

3. To humble the people. The song reminded of dependence, “was well suited to inspire the popular mind with a sense of God’s favour to their nation.” A nation sinful, rebellious and unworthy. If it did not prevent apostacy it would lead to penitence and humility. “It shall not be forgotten.”


Deuteronomy 31:16. Thou shalt sleep (may lie down). Old Testament conception of death.

1. Life a period of work.
2. Death a rest, a lying down.
3. But there will be a rising up, an awakening from this sleep (cf. Psalms 76:6; Daniel 12:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 2 Peter 3:4).

4. This resurrection a gathering to good men. Death not dominion for ever, cuts not off from Holy patriarchs and companions—“Thou shalt be gathered unto thy people” (Numbers 27:13).

Deuteronomy 31:19. A witness for me.

1. Of his kindness in giving them so many blessings.
2. Of His patience in bearing so long with them.
3. Of His clemency in giving them such fair and plain warnings, and,
4. Of His justice in punishing such an unthankful, perverse and incorrigible people.—J. Wilson.

Deuteronomy 31:20. Notice—

1. Selfish indulgence.
2. Sinful pride.
3. Abominable idolatry associated with—(a) debasing service; (b) Open rebellion; (c) Divine provocation—sins most un-natural, most dangerous. “How shall I pardon thee for this? Thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods. When I fed them to the full they committed adultery.” (Jeremiah 5:7)

THE FAITHFUL AMANUENSIS.—Deuteronomy 31:11; Deuteronomy 31:24-26; Deuteronomy 31:30

I. The work in which he was engaged. “Write ye this.” Ancient kings copied the law. Monks in the Scriptorium, careful and devout, exact and conscientious, have preserved learning and handed down Manuscripts. Let us be thankful for the alphabet, printing, and the arts of civilization!

II. The method in which he prosecuted the work.

1. Patient in spirit. Slow process, not like printing, to write.

2. Preserving in effort. “Until they were finished” (Deuteronomy 31:24).—Ven. Bede.

3. Mindful of the end in view. Under solemn sense of responsibility for correctness, knowing the future consequences, yet he completes and preserves the work.

4. He recites what he writes, vocalises the word, “speaks in their ears” (Deuteronomy 31:28), to help the memory and impress the heart. “The manner of reading among the Orientals is not less peculiar than the style of their writing. Generally speaking, the people seem not to understand a book till they have made it vocal. They usually go on reading aloud, with a kind of singing voice, moving their heads and bodies in time, and making a monotonous cadence at regular intervals; thus giving emphasis, although not such as would please an English ear” (cf. Acts 8:27-40).

The Solemn Warning against future Idolatry.—Deuteronomy 31:27-30

Israel is again admonished of duty, solemnly forewarned of sad consequences of defection and to this very day this song is strong proof to Jew and Gentile that Moses spoke by inspiration of God.

I. Divine Foresight of Israel’s Sins. “I know that after my death, &c.” (Deuteronomy 31:29) Israel would decline from God, corrupt themselves, provoke God’s anger and bring fearful calamities upon themselves. God knows all future events. Nothing surprises him or happens unknown. Eternity is unveiled before him and nothing is concealed from him. “Thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising and understandest my thought afar off.”

II. Solemn Warning of certain results of Israel’s Sins. Self degradation, divine provocation and a series of calamities enough to cause bitter reflection! All this warning in love, to deter from sin. Threatenings should alarm, rouse to repentance and return to God. When evil is foreseen we should hide ourselves (Proverbs 22:3). Disciples fled from impending evil (Matthew 10:23). Paul hid himself from threatened destruction (Acts 17:4; Acts 23:17). “Noah moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house.”

III. Solemn Warnings disregarded and threatened results experienced. The testimony of song, the death of Moses, and the checks of providence did not prevent from sin. The presence of good men may restrain, but not eradicate evil. The expedients of God may fail. The very sins at which men are astonished may be committed, and they may rush madly on to sufferings. “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this great thing.” No force without, not even the divine law—as law merely—commanding and punishing can conquer the will. God alone by his spirit and grace can renew and control. “Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.”


Deuteronomy 31:21. God’s intimate knowledge of future evil.

1. In its root. Their imagination. “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart (Heb. whole imagination, the purposes and desires) only evil continually (every day)” Genesis 6:5.

2. In its fruits. Troubles which befall them. “As a man that knows what roots he hath in his garden, though not a flower appears, yet can say when the spring comes, this and this will come up because he knows the garden and knows what roots are there: so the Lord knows our thoughts afar off, because he knows the principles that are within, and knows what they will do when occasion serves; he is privy to that root that beareth gall and wormwood” (cf. Deuteronomy 29:18).—Trapp.

Deuteronomy 31:21; Deuteronomy 31:27; Deuteronomy 31:29. God’s service.

1. Relaxed in practice.
2. Perverted in simplicity.
8. Secularised in spiritualty, and

4. Debased in dignity. Sad sight! Offensive to God! Imagination, thought, and purpose, corrupt, evil and only evil. The root of violence and oppression, wantonness and luxury (James 1:15; Matthew 15:19.) “I know thy rebellion” Deuteronomy 31:27. Not an unconcerned spectator, but as one injured and affronted, as a tender father sees the folly and stubbornness of a disobedient child who displeases and grieves him.

He that shuts love out, in turn shall
Be shut out from love, and on her threshold lie
Howling in outer darkness.—Tennyson.


Deuteronomy 31:2. Old. Life is the ordinance of God. Nothing more shows Divine Sovereignty than the time and place of our birth, the duration of our life and the circumstances of our death.—G. S. Bowes.

Deuteronomy 31:3-6. Work. Whatever be the meanness of a man’s occupation, he may discharge and prosecute it on principles common to him with Michael or Gabriel, of any of the highest spirits of heaven.—(Binney.) Courage. Deuteronomy 31:6. Is there one whom difficulties dishearten—who bends to the storm? He will do little. Is there one who will conquer? That kind of man never fails.—(John Hunter.)

Deuteronomy 31:7-8. Joshua chosen.

God sends his teachers with every age,
To every clime and every race of man,
With revelations fitted to their growth
And shape of mind.—(Lowell).

Deuteronomy 31:9-13. Delivered. Tradition is the treasure of religious thought, amassed by ages upon the platform of positive revelation.—Vinet.

The Protestant bible lives on the ear like a music that can never be forgotten—like the sound of church bells, which the convert hardly knows how he can forego. Its felicities often seem to be almost things rather than mere words. It is a part of the national mind, and the anchor of national seriousness; … the memory of the dead passes into it. The potent traditions of childhood are stereotyped in its verses. The power of all the griefs and trials of a man is hidden beneath its words. It is the representative of his best moments, and all that there has been about him of soft, and gentle, and pure, and penitent, and good, speaks to him for ever out of his English bible.—Newman.

Deuteronomy 31:14-15. Accidents occur nowhere so little as in the lives of men who have determined the history and progress of man. Moses, the man of God, was a man made of God for men.—Fairbairn. Call Joshua.

The old order changeth, yielding place to new;
And God fulfils himself in many ways.


Deuteronomy 31:16-18; Deuteronomy 31:20-21; Deuteronomy 31:27; Deuteronomy 31:29. It shall come to pass.

Time, as he courses onwards, still unrolls
The volume of concealment In the future,
As in the optician’s glassy cylinder,
The undistinguishable blots and colours
Of the dim past collect and shape themselves,
Upstarting in their own completed image
To scare or to reward.—S. T. Coleridge.

Deuteronomy 31:24-26. End of writing.

Do not for one repulse forego the purpose
That you resolved to effect.—Shakespeare.

Deuteronomy 31:19-30. Song. “Give me the making of the nation’s ballads,” said Lord Chatham, “and I care not who makes the laws.”

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 31". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.