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Moses has finished his work as legislator and interpreter of law. He is now to appoint and install his successor. The rehearsal of the law in the preceding chapters must have occupied several days. The great lawgiver closes his work with these references to his approaching death. He is not to be their leader when they cross the river and pass into the promised inheritance. Another is to lead the nation to conquest and to the possession of the land.
1. Moses went and spake these words This expression serves, as in Exodus 11:1, and Genesis 35:22, to give a “pictorial description of what he was about to do in the sense of he prepared himself, or rose up.” Keil.
2. I am a hundred and twenty years old this day The life of Moses is divided into three periods of forty years each. He was forty years old when he fled from Egypt to Midian. He was eighty when he stood before Pharaoh and told him to let the people go. And forty years of wandering in the wilderness are now drawing to a close. Compare the speech of Stephen in Acts 7:0; also Exodus 7:7; Deuteronomy 34:7.
I can no more go out and come in Though his eye is not dim nor his natural force abated, Moses is conscious that the infirmities of age will render him unsuited for the burdens he has hitherto borne.
Also the Lord hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan There is a sad reminder in these words both of his own and the people’s sin. Comp. Deuteronomy 3:27.
7. Called unto Joshua Moses, in the sight of all Israel, calls Joshua, who is to be his successor, and with words of encouragement tells him he is to go with the people into the Land of Promise, and to cause them to possess it.
9. And Moses wrote this law This law need not mean the whole of the book of Deuteronomy, but only the most important part. At this time it was formally handed over to the priests for safe keeping.
Which bare the ark of the covenant It was the province of the Kohathites to carry the ark and its furniture. See Numbers 4:15. It would seem that on special occasions the priests performed the office of bearing the ark, as in the passage through Jordan (Joshua 3:3; Joshua 4:9) and around Jericho, (Joshua 6:6,) and in the solemn proclamation of the law at Ebal and Gerizim, and in the dedication of the temple. 1 Kings 8:3.
And unto all the elders The priests represented the ecclesiastical polity and the elders the civil polity of Israel. In these two bodies the whole nation was represented.
10. The end of every seven years At the return of the sabbatic year and during the feast of tabernacles, which was kept to commemorate the wilderness journey, this law was to be repeated.
11. Thou shalt read this law This was a formal reading of the law in a general assembly of the whole nation gathered to the place that Jehovah should appoint. In Nehemiah 8:18, we learn that at the feast of tabernacles Ezra read in the book of the law of God day by day from the first day unto the last day. Later, the reading was on the first day of the feast, and only portions of Deuteronomy were read.
12. Gather the people together Not the men alone, but the whole families were to listen to the solemn repetition of this law. What a deep and abiding impression this would produce!
Nothing was better calculated to keep alive the remembrance of Jehovah’s warnings and Jehovah’s promises.
14. Call Joshua,… that I may give him a charge Moses and Joshua at the direction of Jehovah present themselves in the tabernacle of the congregation, that Joshua may be solemnly installed in the responsible position he is to occupy after the death of the great leader. Jehovah appears in the pillar of cloud which stood before the door of the tabernacle. At this solemn moment Moses is told that after his death the nation will abandon Jehovah for the gods of the heathen, and then the terrible retribution that has been threatened will come upon them.
19. Write ye this song… and teach it An ode like the one that follows, in the time when the whole nation had its popular gatherings, its commemorative festal days, would be calculated to have a powerful and enduring effect upon the people.
21. This song shall testify against them as a witness This ode, passing down from father to son, from generation to generation, would rebuke the apostasy of the nation. How in the midst of prevailing idolatry and gross corruption these divine words would be like the utterances of the prophets of the old and the apostles of the new dispensation! Every time the ode was repeated it would reprove and rebuke. In the days of apostate kings, if the song were repeated, how startling the words, “They sacrificed unto devils, not unto God!”
26. In the side of the ark Better rendered, by the side of the ark. The two tables of the Decalogue were placed in the ark. 1 Kings 8:9; Hebrews 9:4. The Targum of Jonathan says, “This law was placed in a chest near the ark. It was deposited there, not as a mere place of safety, but close by the place of the typical atonement for sin, the ark of the covenant, as a protest against their national breach of that covenant by idolatry.” See PUSEY on Daniel, p. 308. Some have thought that this is the copy found in the time of Josiah. 2 Kings 22:8: “And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.”
28. Gather unto me all the elders Moses now, after handing over the book of the law, directs that the elders of the tribes and all in official position be gathered around him. A general assembly representing the entire nation now come together to listen to the unequalled ode which bears the name of the Song of Moses.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 31". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany