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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Deuteronomy 31

Introduction

CHAP. XXXI.

Moses, shortly to die, delivers to the priests a copy of the law which he had written, to be placed in the ark, and to be read every seventh year: a charge is given to Joshua: God predicts the rebellion of the people.

Before Christ 1451.

Verse 1

Ver 1. Moses went and spake these words Soon after Moses had finished the foregoing discourses, he gave a new summons to the Israelites, at least to the chief heads of them, to acquaint them that the time both of his government and life was now very short: and though, through the special providence of God, his strength and faculties were not decayed, even at the age of one hundred and twenty years, (see ch. Deuteronomy 34:7.) yet it was the decree of heaven, as he had told them before, that he was not the person who should conduct them into Canaan, and that he was now to commit them to the conduct of Joshua, to whom therefore he exhorted them to pay all due respect, and to follow him with a cheerful and undaunted assurance in the divine power and providence. The next verse might be rendered, more properly, thus: I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I may no more go out and come in; for the Lord hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. And Moses called unto Joshua, &c.— It is in vain, says Mr. Saurin, to inquire why none of the children of Moses succeeded him in his government. St. Augustin thinks it was because their mother was a Midianite. But these kinds of questions are not within human reach. God is at liberty in the disposal of his favours, and is responsible to none but himself for the use of such liberty: perhaps, also, he was desirous to obviate all suspicions of ambition and partiality, which might have been entertained against Moses had he himself made choice of one of his children for his successor. One of the most memorable circumstances of this great man's life, and one of the most proper to illustrate that love with which he was always animated, was, that as soon as God had told him that his unbelief excluded him from entering into the Land of Promise, his first cares were taken up about the management of that people from whom death was about to separate him. It is one of the chief characteristics of a true hero, not to seek, in the great stations to which he has been exalted, any thing but the happiness of those for whose sake he is placed there; and to be ready to come down from thence as willingly as he ascended, when Providence thinks fit to call to succeed him those who are worthy of it. Such was the character of Moses.

REFLECTIONS.—One parting word more before his lips are shut in death. They were going to a war in which they needed encouragement: he, the leader in whom they had confidence, could not go before them; his age was very great, and, though his natural force was not abated by it, yet God had put a bar in his way, and determined his death on this side Jordan. Note; 1. Moses animates the people with the assurance of God's constant presence with them, and his never-failing providence over them. As he might not go himself, he appoints them Joshua for their leader, of whose courage they had full experience, and of whose regard for them they could have no doubt after what had passed. Thus, as one faithful minister is removed, another succeeds him. They needed not fear success when God was their captain: what they had seen might be sufficient to confirm their confidence; and as it was God's determined decree to root out the Canaanites, and to make them his instruments, they might rest assured that it would be done. Note; (1.) Past experience should be remembered for our present encouragement. (2.) What God sends us to do, he will enable us to accomplish, however difficult it may appear. 2. He encourages Joshua; not that he wanted courage, but that every promise from God might inspire fresh confidence of victory: he gives him the same assurances of the Divine presence and never-failing care, and charges him to act as a valiant leader. Every believer is a Joshua, strong to fight the Lord's battles, undismayed by danger, and exercising faith in the Divine promises for final and complete victory over sin, and death, and hell.

Verse 9

Ver. 9. And Moses wrote this law i.e. says Houbigant, what he had before addressed to the people; not the whole Pentateuch, which, he says, is never understood by the word law in the books of Moses. As, however, in other parts of Scripture, the word is so understood, many interpreters think that the whole Pentateuch is here meant. Galatians 4:21.Nehemiah 10:35-36; Nehemiah 10:35-36. 2 Kings 23:24. 2 Chronicles 31:3. This law he delivered to the priests the sons of Levi, to be placed in the ark, and to be read to the people every seventh year; which seems a convincing proof, that the whole five books of Moses are meant.

Verse 10

Ver. 10. In the feast of tabernacles This was the most proper season that could be chosen for the purpose; when, having gathered in all the fruits of the earth, they had abundant leisure to attend to the reading of the law; and being at the end of every seventh year, when men's minds were free from cares by the release of their debts, the law was likely to make greater impression upon them. Though the males only were obliged to appear at the place of public worship at the annual feast of the tabernacle; yet it seems probable, from the 12th verse, that all Israel, men, women, and children, were to appear at this great septennial festival: accordingly, we are told, that Joshua read all the words of the law before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers. Joshua 8:34-35. From that time to the reign of Jehosaphat, 2Ch 17:7 which is computed to be five hundred and thirty years, we find no mention of a public reading of the law; nor from that time to the eighteenth year of king Josiah, 2Ch 34:30 which was a space of two hundred and eighty-two years; nor from that time till after the Babylonish captivity. Nehemiah 8:2.

REFLECTIONS.—1. Moses, to perpetuate the memory of these laws, commits them to writing. The blessing of having these records thus preserved is unspeakable; the law and gospel both, through mercy, are not committed to uncertain tradition, but recorded safely in the book of God, that our faith may not stand on the word of man, but on the power of God. 2. The care and custody of it is committed to the priests and elders, that themselves might be careful to conform to its precepts, and that the copies taken from it might be perfectly corresponding to the original. Ministers must speak as the oracles of God, and magistrates act according to the rule of God's word; then God's blessing and success will attend their labours. 3. A public reading of the whole, once in seven years, is appointed; every sabbath a portion was to be read, and, no doubt, in their families daily the good men failed not to occupy themselves in God's word: but that none may plead ignorance, and also by the solemnity to awaken deeper attention, at the feast of tabernacles, in the year of release, the whole was to be read through. The whole congregation of Israel then assembled; as it imported them all to attend, that the rising generation might learn their duty, and be quickened in the way of obedience. Note; (1.) When we are most happy in the gospel-liberty preached by Jesus Christ, we shall delight to hear and obey him 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.

Verse 16

Ver. 16. Thou shalt sleep with thy fathers Sleep, says Jameson, is a common word for death; and, to those who believe a resurrection, has a peculiar propriety, to put them in mind that death should not have dominion over them for ever; but that in the morning of the resurrection they shall awake, as certainly as they fall asleep. Who can believe from such phrases as these, that Moses, and all Israel with him, imagined their law wholly temporal; that they looked not for a better Canaan, where God should be their God for ever and ever? The paraphrast Jonathan, full of these ideas, thus paraphrases the words: "Thou shalt lie down in the dust with thy fathers, and thy soul shall be kept as a treasure in the repository of eternal life with those fathers." We may just observe, that the shalls and wills, in the next verses, are strangely intermixed. The judicious reader, however, will easily discern how they are to be altered.

Verse 19

Ver. 19. Now, therefore, write ye this song The divine composition which follows in the next chapter has ever been admired as a master-piece; and no wonder, when we consider who was its author. It has always been thought the most profitable method of instructing people, and communicating things to posterity, by putting them into verse. For this reason, as Aristotle reports, people anciently sung their laws; and Tully tells us, that it was the custom among the ancient Romans to have the virtues and praises of their famous men sung at their feasts, as a witness against those who degenerated from the noble deeds of their ancestors, and disgraced the great examples which such poetry proposed to them, ver. 21 Thessalonians 2:02nd verse should be read in a parenthesis; it being evident, that He, in the 23rd verse, refers to God. See Cicero, Tusc. Quaest. lib. 4. Bentley's Dissertation on the Epistles of Phalaris, p. 373 and the Memoirs of M. Delanauze upon the Songs of the Greeks, in the Royal Academy of Inscriptions, tom. 13:

REFLECTIONS.—Moses is again warned of his approaching end. The best of men need be admonished to put their house in order. Hereupon, 1. Moses is summoned to the tabernacle, with Joshua, solemnly delegated to be his successor, there to receive his charge. 2. God hereupon appears to them in the Shechinah, and foretells, [1.] The departure of Israel from him, and their adultery with idols, transgressing, as a wife, the covenant of marriage in which they had been joined to the Lord, and this, in consequence of their abuse of prosperity, and the carnality of their wicked hearts. Note. (1.) All love of sin is spiritual adultery. (2.) They, who pamper the body to inflame their lusts, will quickly seek unlawful gratifications for them. [2.] God's anger is threatened against them: since they forsake him, he will forsake them; and woe unto them, when his wisdom no longer guides, nor his power protects them! Note; The greatest bitterness of every affliction is, to have God's face turned away from us in anger.

Verse 26

Ver. 26. Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark Or, by the side of the ark; as the same word is rendered, 1Sa 6:8 for it does not appear that it was laid up within the ark, it being expressly said, there was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, 1Ki 8:9. 2 Chronicles 5:10. Add to this, that the end of laying up the original volume of the law in the sanctuary, was, that it might be reserved there as the authentic copy by which all others were to be corrected and set right; which could not have been done, if it had been put within the ark, and shut up there by the cover of the mercy-seat over it, which was not to be removed. Besides, when Hilkiah, the high-priest, in the time of Josiah, found the copy of the law in the temple, there is nothing said of the ark; neither is it there spoken of as taken from thence, but as found elsewhere in the temple. 2 Kings 22:8. See Prideaux's Connection, vol. 1: b. 3.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 31". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/deuteronomy-31.html. 1801-1803.