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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Deuteronomy 31

A.M. 2553. B.C. 1451.

Moses encourages the people and Joshua , vv1-8, vv23. Delivers to the priests the law, to be read every seventh year, Deuteronomy 31:9-13 . God informs Moses of his approaching death, and the future apostacy of Israel, Deuteronomy 31:14-18 . Orders him to write a song, which should be a testimony against them, Deuteronomy 31:19-22 . Moses gives the law to the Levites to lay up beside the ark, and bids them assemble the people to hear his song, Deuteronomy 31:24-30 .

Verses 1-2

Deuteronomy 31:1-2. Went and spake Continued to speak, a usual Hebrew phrase. Go out and come in Perform the office of a leader or governor, because my death approaches.

Verse 6

Deuteronomy 31:6. Be strong In faith in God. He will not fail thee nor forsake thee Will not leave thee to thyself, but will be always present with thee to assist and make thee successful in thy undertakings. This promise, though made at this time particularly to Israel and Joshua, yet belongs to all believers, Hebrews 13:5.

Verse 7

Deuteronomy 31:7. Moses said to him in the face of all Israel Lest any should question or deny his authority after Moses’s death. Be strong and of good courage The same exhortation and promise are given to him in particular, that were before given to them all, because he was to bear the charge of them all, and the toil and burden of governing them, and conducting their affairs.

Verse 9

Deuteronomy 31:9. Moses wrote this law Largely so called, comprehending not only the contents of this book of Deuteronomy, but the whole law or doctrine delivered unto him, contained in these five books. Or rather it is probable the whole Pentateuch is here intended, which is the meaning of the word law in many parts of Scripture. And delivered it unto the priests Who were in duty bound to be peculiarly conversant with it, to keep it carefully and religiously, and to bring it forth upon occasion, and instruct the people out of it. And unto all the elders The magistrates, whose office it was to see that these laws of God were duly observed. The Jews allege that Moses, having delivered one copy unto the priests, gave one likewise to each tribe, which he committed to the care of the elders of it.

Verses 10-11

Deuteronomy 31:10-11. The year of release The most proper time that could be chosen for the purpose, when they were freed from debts, and troubles, and cares of a worldly nature, and at liberty to attend to the reading of it without distraction; and when all Israel were required to appear before the Lord, even the women and children, Deuteronomy 31:12. Thou shall read The chief governor was either to do it himself, or take care that it was done by the priests and others who had the charge of instructing the people. Thus, Joshua himself read all the words of the law before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers, Joshua 8:34; Josiah and Ezra did the same, 2 Chronicles 34:30; Nehemiah 8:2. But Jehoshaphat employed the priests and Levites to do it, 2 Chronicles 17:9. This law before all Israel in their hearing It was to be read from this original copy, for the greater solemnity of the action, and that it might make a deeper and more lasting impression on their minds. The pious Jews who had copies of the law, doubtless read it frequently in their houses. Some portion of it was read in the synagogues every sabbath day, Acts 15:21. 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 at every year of release it was to be read, not only publicly, to all the people, but throughout.

Verse 14

Deuteronomy 31:14. That I may give him a charge Immediately from myself, for his great encouragement, and to gain him more authority with the people.

Verse 16

Deuteronomy 31:16. Thou shalt sleep with thy fathers Sleep is a common word for death, and, to those who believe a resurrection, has a peculiar propriety, to remind them that death shall not have dominion over them for ever, but that they shall awake as certainly as they fall asleep. This people will go after the gods of the strangers That is, the Canaanites, who will be turned out of their possessions, and become as strangers in the land. This aggravates their folly to worship such gods as could neither preserve their friends nor annoy their enemies. What a convincing proof is this that these sacred writings are indeed divine! For what human knowledge could or would have pronounced this at a time when the whole people were undoubtedly actuated with the greatest willingness, and the strongest resolution to keep the commandments of God? Or what mere human legislator would, at the same time that he gave his laws, have left it upon record that his people would certainly forsake and break them?

Verse 17

Deuteronomy 31:17. Then my anger shall be kindled against them So it was upon their first defection to idolatry, (Judges 2:14,) and so it continued to be in all ages, as we read in that and the following sacred books. I will hide my face from them A metaphor borrowed from kings, who will not allow those who have offended them to come into their presence and see their face. It signifies, I will withdraw my favour and my help. Whatever outward troubles we are in, if we have but the light of God’s countenance, we are safe. But if God hide his face from us, then we are undone. Are not these evils come upon us because God is not among us? Here we see the true source of most national, domestic, and personal troubles, the absence of God, or his withdrawing his power, protection, and blessing. This made so remarkable a change in their affairs, that it could not but at last make them reflect on the cause of it. See Judges 3:9-15; Judges 4:3.

Verse 19

Deuteronomy 31:19. Now, therefore, write this song Recorded in the next chapter, the contents of which were put into a song, that they might be better learned and more fixed in their minds and memories. For it has always been thought the most profitable way of instructing people, and communicating things to posterity, to put them into verse. For which reason Aristotle reports that people anciently sung their laws. And Tully tells us it was the custom of the ancient Romans to have the virtues and praises of their famous men sung at their feasts. Teach it the children of Israel Cause them to learn and understand it, and have it daily in their mouths. That this may be a witness for me Of my kindness in giving them so many blessings, of my patience in bearing so long with them, of my clemency in giving them such fair and plain warnings, and of my justice in punishing such an incorrigible people.

Verse 21

Deuteronomy 31:21. This song shall testify against them as a witness That they were sufficiently admonished of their duty, and forewarned what would be the consequence of their defection from me and my worship, (Deuteronomy 32:18-19,) and be a clear evidence that the calamities which befall them are judgments sent from me for the punishment of their transgressions. How ought this to be remarked with wonder! For, to this very day, above three thousand years after, this song is a strong proof and demonstration, both to Jews and Christians, that Moses did indeed speak by the commandment of God. I know their imagination Inclination to idolatry, which they do not check as they ought: and some of them do not only cherish it in their hearts, but, as far as they can and dare, secretly practise it, as may be gathered from Amos 5:25; Acts 7:43.

Verses 25-26

Deuteronomy 31:25-26. The Levites The priests, (Deuteronomy 31:9,) who also were Levites. Put it in the side Or, by the side of the ark, as the same word is rendered, 1 Samuel 6:8. For it does not appear that it was laid up within the ark, it being expressly said that there was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, 1 Kings 8:9; 2 Chronicles 5:10. Probably this was the very same book which, after having been some way misplaced, was found in the house of the Lord in the days of Josiah, and publicly read by the king himself, for a testimony against the people, who were then almost ripe for ruin.

Verses 28-30

Deuteronomy 31:28-30. Gather unto me all the elders It is probable that Moses, having spoken to the people what he was commanded, dismissed them again till he should write the following song; which having done, he summoned the elders (and people, Deu 31:30 ) to deliver to them from his own mouth what he had written. Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation Pronounced himself, with an audible voice, to the representatives of the congregation, and afterward ordered to be repeated to the people of every tribe, the following song or hymn.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 31". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/deuteronomy-31.html. 1857.