DURING ANY CRISIS TRANSITION TIME, WE NEED ASSURANCE OF GOD’S ONGOING PRESENCE AND ULTIMATE LEADERSHIP
Eugene Merrill: There is a strong sense of transition at this juncture in Deuteronomy, signs that the era of Moses’ leadership is ending and that of his successors beginning. Moreover, the covenant text has been fully revealed, its stipulations offered to and accepted by the assembly, and its blessings and curses invoked as testimony to their pledge to obey it. Finally, the time has come for the community that is about to leave its encampment on the way to conquest to embrace the covenant as its guiding principle. This must be personal and interior, to be sure, but symbol and custom also dictated that the text of the covenant be publicly placed on deposit as a witness to its abiding relevance and authority. Israel was not to be a nation of anarchists or even of strong human leaders. It was a theocratic community with the Lord as King and with his covenant revelation as fundamental constitution and law. The theme of this section is
– the enshrinement of that law,
– the proper role of Mosaic succession, and
– the ultimate authority of covenant mandate over human institutions.
Daniel Block: This death story itself divides into two parts. The first describes Moses’ actions to ensure Israel’s future well-being (31:1–32:47). The second concerns the account of his death and burial (32:48–34:12). Lengthy poems represent the center of gravity in both segments (32:1–43; 33:2–29). . .
Michael Grisanti: In preparation for Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land subsequent to his death, Moses appoints Joshua (before all Israel) as the next national leader. He arranges for the reading of his addresses, given on the plains of Moab, every seven years and for the deposition of the law. The Lord commissions him to write a final poem that will serve as a witness against Israel when they forsake him.
Jack Deere: Moses provided for the continuity of the covenant during the change in national leadership from himself to Joshua. Certain features of this section were also found in the vassal treaties of the ancient Near East:
– the depositing of the treaty document in a sacred place (31:24-26),
– provision for dynastic succession (31:7-8), and
– provision for future reading of the covenant ceremonies (cf. 31:9-13).
Pulpit Commentary: Moses had now finished his work as the legislator and ruler and leader of Israel. But ere he finally retired from his place, he had to take order for the carrying forward of the work by the nomination of a successor to himself in the leadership; by committing the keeping of the Law to the priests; and by anew admonishing the people to obedience, encouraging them to go forward to the conquest of Canaan, animating them with the assurance of the Divine favor and blessing, and pronouncing on them his parting benediction.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The loss of a great leader inevitably leads to anxiety and doubt among the people. . . In the face of such doubts, Chapter 31 affirms that on the macro-level nothing will change: God will still lead the way and give Israel the land as promised, just as he has begun to do in the Transjordan. Israel need not fear since it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you (v. 6).
General words of assurance may be fine, but they require concrete content to persuade. This chapter introduces three ways in which God’s ongoing presence will remain with them.
– First, Joshua will succeed Moses and have the specific assignment to bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them (v. 23).
– Second, the torah God has given Israel through Moses is to be recorded (vv. 9, 24), permanently safeguarded (vv. 25-26), and regularly read to the people (vv. 10-13).
– Third, Moses is to write a song (see ch. 32) that the people are to learn, memorize, and pass on to their children as a witness and reminder of their tendency to forsake God (vv. 16-22, 30).
Through a series of intermingled speeches, the chapter unites these three into one whole, assuring Israel that God’s presence will still be experienced after Moses is gone.
Moses to Israel: God Will Cross Over before You, 31:1-6
Moses to Joshua (before Israel): God Will Be with You, 31:7-8
Moses to Priests and Elders: Read the Law to Israel, 31:9-13
God to Moses: Prepare for Joshua’s Commissioning, 31:14-15
God to Moses: Write This Song for Israel, 31:16-22
God to Joshua: I Will Be with You, 31:23
Moses to Levite: Place the Law, Assemble the People, 31:24-30
I. (:1-8) LEADERSHIP TRANSITION MAINTAINS A STRONG CONTINUITY BASED ON GOD’S ULTIMATE ROLE AS COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF
Daniel Block: These eight verses consist of two speeches united by subject and by genre. Both are classified as “encouragement speeches”—a designation suggested by the repeated charge (vv. 6, 7), and reinforced by negative imperatives (vv. 6, 8), as well as by reminders of Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness. The first speech (vv. 2–6), referring to Joshua in the third person, is addressed to the people. The second is addressed to Joshua (v. 7b).
A. (:1-6) Address to All the People: Divine Leadership Remains Undiminished
“So Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel.”
MacArthur: Though some interpreters view this verse as the conclusion to the foregoing address in chaps. 29, 30, it is better to see these words as an introduction to the words of Moses which follow, based upon the general pattern of Deuteronomy.
Daniel Block: It divides into three parts:
(1) Moses’ announcement of his impending demise (v. 2);
(2) Moses’ promise of Yahweh’s continued presence (vv. 3–5);
(3) Moses’ appeal for courage and confidence (v. 6).
The middle section is the center of gravity.
1. (:2) Time for New Human Leadership
“And he said to them, “I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I am no longer able to come and go, and the LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan.’”
Eugene Merrill: With his admission that he was a hundred and twenty years old, Moses was tacitly preparing the people for his death. He was forty when he fled Egypt to find refuge in Midian (Acts 7:23), eighty at the time of the exodus (i.e., forty years earlier than the present time; cf. Deut 2:7; 29:5), and now three times forty. There was no mistaking the meaning of this periodizing of Moses’ life. The first two eras culminated in escapes from mortal danger into the deserts. This time, however, there was no escape, for his sin in the desert had effectively closed that door (cf. Num 20:12; 27:12-14). The urgent need for orderly succession was most apparent.
2. (:3-5) The Commander-in-Chief Remains the Same
a. (:3) Decisive Role of Yahweh
1) (:3a) Yahweh Still Leads the Way
“It is the LORD your God who will cross ahead of you;”
2) (:3b) Yahweh Still Grants the Victory
“He will destroy these nations before you,
and you shall dispossess them.”
3) (:3c) Joshua Will be the New Human Leader
“Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you,
just as the LORD has spoken.”
Michael Grisanti: vv. 3-6 — Moses’ capacity for leadership of the nation may have diminished, but Yahweh remains their ultimate leader (cf. 1:30; 3:18–21; 7:1–2, 17–24; 9:3–4; 20:1–4). As is affirmed previously in Deuteronomy, Yahweh is the commander-in-chief who will lead their army, destroy the Canaanites, and deliver the land to his chosen people. Although Joshua may be stepping into Moses’ shoes, his role is still a subordinate one. Yahweh’s role, not Joshua’s, is decisive (Tigay, Deuteronomy, 290). The primacy of Yahweh’s leadership is seen in the chiastic pattern:
Yahweh crosses (v.3a),
Joshua crosses (v.3b),
Joshua goes (v.7),
Yahweh marches (v.8).
b. (:4-5) Destruction of Enemy Nations Assured –
Remember Past Victories
“And the LORD will do to them just as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when He destroyed them. 5 And the LORD will deliver them up before you, and you shall do to them according to all the commandments which I have commanded you.”
3. (:6) Trust in the Lord’ Presence with You
a. Exhortation to Embrace Courage and Banish Fear
“Be strong and courageous,
do not be afraid or tremble at them,”
Peter Craigie: They are urged to be strong and be courageous (v. 6); the strength and courage would come not from confidence in their own abilities, but from confidence in God, the one marching with you. The strength and courage of the warriors of God would lie in the disposition of their minds during the battle. Though they would be engaged physically in the fighting, their minds would not be focused on the enemy, whose threatening presence could easily undermine confidence, but rather their minds would be fixed on God, who would not fail or forsake them (v. 6b). With full confidence in the presence of God in their midst, the army of the Lord could not fail to be victorious in the conquest, and soon the land which had been promised so long ago would become their possession in reality.
John Schultz: The conquest of Canaan was a frightening undertaking. From a military viewpoint the campaign was doomed to fail. The chances of an army of nomadic people conquering a land with strongly defended cities inhabited by people who would be fighting for their lives was nil. Were it not for the two previous experiences in which the people saw the unlikely defeat of the kings Sihon and Og, they would have utterly despaired to succeed. It is not without reason that we find the encouragement: “Be strong and courageous” three times in this chapter.
b. Assurance of the Lord’s Personal Presence
“for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you.”
c. Assurance of the Lord’s Persistent Power on Your Behalf
“He will not fail you or forsake you.”
B. (:7-8) Address to Joshua: Charge to Lead with Courage and Confidence
“Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel,”
1. (:7b) Exhortation to Embrace Courage
“Be strong and courageous,”
2. (:7c) Assurance of Victory
“for you shall go with this people into the land
which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them,
and you shall give it to them as an inheritance.”
Bruce Hurt: Obviously God was the ultimate Giver, but Joshua would be His instrument to dispense the gift of the land.
Daniel Block: His summary commission focuses on two phases of the events that await him and the Israelites: Joshua will bring this people into the land Yahweh had sworn to give to the ancestors, and Joshua will distribute among the Israelites the land Yahweh had reserved for them as their special grant.
3. (:8a) Assurance of the Lord’s Personal Presence and Persistent Power
“And the LORD is the one who goes ahead of you;
He will be with you.
He will not fail you or forsake you.”
4. (:8b) Exhortation to Banish Fear
“Do not fear, or be dismayed.”
II. (:9-13) LEADERSHIP TRANSITION MAINTAINS A STRONG CONTINUITY BASED ON THE AUTHORITY OF GOD’S LAW
A. (:9) The Foundation of the Law was Established by the Mediation of Moses
1. Moses Received and Inscribed the Law
“So Moses wrote this law”
2. Moses Delegated its Preservation and Exposition to the Priests and Elders
“and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.”
Michael Grisanti: As a written document, the Mosaic law will be preserved for the benefit of future generations. It makes the law more permanent and less susceptible to revision. Throughout Israel’s history it was primarily Israel’s kings and priests who had direct access to this law. Yahweh commissions the priests and Levites to teach the law of Moses to their fellow Israelites. Although many copies of this written law were not produced, its existence was essential as a covenantal witness to the nation (cf. 31:26).
Meredith Kline: Moses assigned the priests and elders the duty of regularly republishing the law of the covenant. The effect of this was to associate the priests and elders with Joshua in the responsibility of rule and in the esteem of Israel. More important, all the covenant people, together with all human authorities in the covenant community, were placed under the lordship of the Giver of the law.
B. (:10-13) The Faithful Perpetuation of the Law Requires Systematic Reading and Instruction with the Goal of Obedience
“Then Moses commanded them, saying,”
1. (:10b-11a) Renewed Focus at the Feast of Booths Every 7 Years
“At the end of every seven years,
at the time of the year of remission of debts,
at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place which He will choose,”
2. (:11b) Reading of the Law in Public
“you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing.”
Duane Christensen: John Maxwell’s quotation from the writing of George Mueller is worth repeating: “The vigor of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Word in our life and thoughts. I solemnly state this from experience of fifty-four years. I have read the Bible a hundred times and always with increasing delight. Each time it seems like a new book to me. Great has been the blessing from consecutive, diligent, daily study” (Maxwell  326). Moses was of the same mind.
3. (:12-13) Response to the Law
a. (:12) Process of Indoctrination Leads to Present Obedience
1) Focusing the Attention of All the People
“Assemble the people, the men and the women
and children and the alien who is in your town,”
2) Forming Godly Attitudes
“in order that they may hear and learn
and fear the LORD your God,”
3) Fostering Godly Actions
“and be careful to observe all the words of this law.”
Michael Grisanti: Although Yahweh clearly wants the conduct (external) of his people to manifest practically their reception of his expectations, a life of external conformity without internal reality (fear of Yahweh) is unacceptable to Yahweh. Israel’s obedience to this requirement of reading the Mosaic law to the nation every seven years is part of Yahweh’s plan to keep reminding his chosen nation of the blessings and responsibilities of their intimate covenantal relationship.
b. (:13) Perpetual Repeating of the Process Leads to Future Obedience
“And their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”
Daniel Block: Moses charges the Levitical priests and elders to read the Torah regularly before the people. This charge, which takes up the bulk of this paragraph, consists of three principal declarations:
– read this Torah (v. 11);
– assemble the people (v. 12);
– let their children hear and learn to fear Yahweh (v. 13).
The links between this speech and Moses’ account of what happened at Sinai in 4:10 are striking. Apparently future readings of the Torah will provide succeeding generations with regular opportunities for renewal and actualization of their covenant relationship with him.
Peter Craigie: As each generation learned to fear God and to obey him, so would the continuing community of Israel ensure their lasting possession of the Promised Land.
Earl Kalland: This reading of the law once every seven years would not be sufficient to inculcate its teachings in the minds of either the children or the adults. This septennial reading does not obviate the teaching ministry of the home (6:1-9) or that of the priests (17:11; 24:8; Lev. 10:11). It is meant, rather, to strengthen these other teaching procedures, to focus the attention of the people as a nation on the revelation of God on a dramatic and joyful occasion It would also dramatize the learning of the law for those children and others who had not been reached by the other teaching procedures in home and tabernacle.
III. (:14-15) LEADERSHIP TRANSITION MAINTAINS A STRONG CONTINUITY BASED ON DIVINE COMMISSIONING AND LESSONS FROM HISTORY
A. (:14-15) Theophany of Divine Commissioning of Joshua
1. (:14) Presence of Moses and Joshua Awaits the Commissioning
“Then the LORD said to Moses,’”Behold, the time for you to die is near;
call Joshua, and present yourselves at the tent of meeting,
that I may commission him.’
So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves at the tent of meeting.”
2. (:15) Presence of the Lord Authenticates the Commissioning
“And the LORD appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud,
and the pillar of cloud stood at the doorway of the tent.”
B. (:16-22) Treachery of Spiritual Adultery Requires Reminders of God’s Faithfulness
“And the LORD said to Moses,”
1. (:16b-18) Anticipating Future Spiritual Adultery
a. (:16b) Israel Will Forsake the God of the Covenant
1) Follows the Death of Moses
“Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers;”
2) Features Familiar Idolatry
“and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going,”
Eugene Merrill: The possibility of Israel’s falling away after Moses’ death had already been anticipated (cf. 4:25-31; 7:1-4), but here it is presented as a foregone conclusion. With Moses’ departure the Lord said, “These people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering” (v. 16). The imagery of prostitution (z nâ) conveys the very essence of covenant violation, namely, to forsake the Lord and embrace other gods (cf. Exod 34:15-16; Lev 20:5; Judg 2:17; 8:27; Ezek 6:9; 20:30; Jer 3:1; Hos 2:7; 4:15). Nothing could more clearly communicate disloyalty.
3) Forsakes the Covenant Relationship
“and will forsake Me
and break My covenant which I have made with them.”
b. (:17-18) God Will Forsake His Covenant People
1) (:17) Consequences of Divine Judgment
a) Unleashing of God’s Anger
“Then My anger will be kindled against them
in that day,”
b) Hiding of God’s Face
“and I will forsake them and
hide My face from them,”
Daniel Block: The three expressions Yahweh uses to describe his response to Israel’s apostasy reflect the intensity of his rage (v. 17a). While Moses had spoken earlier of Yahweh’s anger and his abandonment of his people, the idiom “to hide the face” occurs here for the first time. The expression signifies the withdrawal of favor. In ancient courtly contexts, for a king to turn his face from a subject signaled disaster, though the idiom was often applied to gods as well.
c) Suffering Severe Hardships
“and they shall be consumed,
and many evils and troubles shall come upon them;”
d) Blaming God Instead of Taking Responsibility
“so that they will say in that day,
‘Is it not because our God is not among us
that these evils have come upon us?’”
2) (:18) Certainty of Divine Judgment
“But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods.”
MacArthur: vv. 16-21 – After Moses’ death, the Lord Himself predicts that in spite of what He has commanded (30:11, 20), the Israelites would forsake Him by turning to worship other gods and thereby break the Sinaitic Covenant. Having forsaken God, the people would then be forsaken by God with the inevitable result that disaster would fall upon them at every turn. This is one of the saddest texts in the OT. After all God had done, He knew they would forsake Him.
2. (:19-22) Addressing Failure with a Memorable National Anthem –
Reminding the People of God’s Faithfulness and Their Culpability
a. (:19) Song Writing Commanded
“Now therefore, write this song for yourselves,
and teach it to the sons of Israel;
put it on their lips,
in order that this song may be a witness for Me
against the sons of Israel.”
Daniel Block: Indeed verses 19–21 suggest that Yahweh’s primary reason for calling Moses and Joshua to the Tent of Meeting was to communicate to them this Song, which would serve as a sort of national anthem for the people.
b. (:20) Prosperity Breeds Disloyalty (Should be the Opposite)
“For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers,
and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant.”
c. (:21) Memorialized Song Testifies to God’s Faithfulness
“Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.”
d. (:22) Song Writing Completed
“So Moses wrote this song the same day,
and taught it to the sons of Israel.”
Jack Deere: However, even in their rebellion they would find the grace of God. In the song that Moses would teach them they would find the reason for their judgments and the path of repentance (vv. 19-22). The song would also serve as a warning of the judgment to come for apostasy. God is fully aware of the tendency of the human heart to stray from Him: I know what they are disposed to do.
Meredith Kline: Lest the Israelites should then recall the divine promise not to forsake them (cf. v. 6) and impute unrighteousness to him, God appointed for them the Song of Witness, which places the promised blessings and the threatened curse in their proper perspective within the covenant. This song would proclaim the perfect righteousness of God and convict the Israelites of the justice of their afflictions (cf. 32:4, 5).
C. (:23) Charge of Divine Commissioning
“Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said,
‘Be strong and courageous,
for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them,
and I will be with you.’”
Peter Craigie: Of the forms of loneliness that a man can experience, there are few so bleak as the loneliness of leadership. But Joshua assumed his lonely role with an assurance of companionship and strength. God’s presence with him would be sufficient to enable him to meet boldly every obstacle that the future could bring. See also Josh. 1:5 and 3:7.
Michael Grisanti: Just as Moses commissioned Joshua, the Lord himself exhorts Joshua to be courageous in the light of his promise to install the chosen people in the land he has promised them (cf. Jos 1:6–7), just as he had sworn to their ancestors. God’s promise of his continued presence will serve as the ultimate foundation for Joshua’s hope.
IV. (:24-29) LEADERSHIP TRANSITION OPENS THE DOOR FOR INCREASED REBELLION AND DISLOYALTY
Daniel Block: Based on the subject matter, this short paragraph divides into three parts:
(1) a preamble to Moses’ speech (vv. 24–25);
(2) final instructions regarding the Torah (vv. 26–27);
(3) instructions regarding Israel’s national anthem (vv. 28–30).
A. (:24-25) Prepping the Levites for their Future Role
“And it came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, 25 that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying,”
B. (:26-27) Prosecution of Israel Initiated
1. (:26) Testimony of the Standards of the Law
“Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you.”
2. (:27) Tendency Towards Rebellion and Disloyalty
“For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness;
behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the LORD;
how much more, then, after my death?”
Michael Grisanti: vv. 27-29 — Moses is well aware of Israel’s penchant for rebellion. By drawing on expressions employed earlier in the book, he piles up terms to emphasize the darkness of the Israelites’ hearts (“rebel” [1:26, 43; 9:7, 23–24], “stiff-necked” [9:6, 13; 10:16], “corrupt” [4:16, 25; 9:12; 32:5], “turn away” [11:28; 28:14], “do evil” [4:25; 9:18; 17:2], and “provoke to anger” [4:25; 9:18; 32:16, 21]). Moses also knows that the intensity of Israel’s rebellion will only increase after his death. Consequently, he calls for Israel’s leaders to gather before him so that he can give them another weighty exhortation. He wants to make sure they understand that their choices and conduct will have far-reaching implications.
By calling heaven and earth as witnesses against Israel, Moses sets before the nation’s leaders the options of covenantal acceptance or repudiation (cf. 30:19; Merrill, Deuteronomy, 404). Covenantal treachery will face nothing less than disaster! Moses does not intend that the negative flavor of this exhortation will make the Israelites give up on the idea of obedience; rather, it serves to confront them with the predilections of a nation not totally comprised of believers in Yahweh. In the light of what Yahweh has revealed to his people through Moses, they are without excuse.
C. (:28-29) Prosecution of Israel Concluded with Convicting National Anthem
1. (:28) Calling Witnesses to Hear the Case against Israel
“Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers,
that I may speak these words in their hearing
and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them.”
2. (:29) Charging Israel with Corruption Resulting in Judgment
“For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands.”