Deuteronomy Chapter 31


Moses encourages the people, and Joshua. (Verse 1-8.)

The law to be read every seventh year. (Verse 9-13.)

The Israelites’ apostacy foretold, A song given to be witness against them. (Verse 14-22.)

The law delivered to the Levites. (Verse 22-30.)

1 And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel.

2 And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: also the LORD hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.

These one hundred and twenty years were divided into three remarkable periods: 1) Forty years he lived in Egypt, in Pharaoh’s court, acquiring all the learning and wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:20,23); 2) Forty years he sojourned in the land of Midian in a state of preparation for this great and important mission (Acts 7:29,30); and 3) Forty years he guided, led, and governed the Israelites under the direction and authority of God
– in all one hundred and twenty years. Moses called attention to himself not to draw out expressions of sympathy but to strengthen his appeal to the hearts of the people.

3 The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said.

4 And the LORD shall do unto them as he did to Sihon and to Og, kings of the Amorites, and unto the land of them, whom he destroyed.

5 And the LORD shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you.

6 Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

[Heb 13:5, Deut 31:8, Joshua 1:5]

There is no word of murmuring, no tinge of jealousy or envy in his reference to the one who was to take his place. All selfish considerations seemed to be lost in his one great objective – that of encouraging the hearts of the people to walk in the path of faith and obedience.

7 And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it.

8 And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

[Heb 13:5, Deut 31:6, Joshua 1:5]

Joshua needed a special word for himself as one called to occupy a prominent and distinguished place in the congregation. But the word to him is the sameas addressed to the whole assembly. He is assured of the divine presence and power with him. This was enough for Joshua as well as for the least of the assembly.

9 And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel.

10 And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles,

[tabernacles – a small hut or tent.]

11 When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.

12 Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law:

13 And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.

the Law was delivered to the priests and the command was given to read it to the people every seven years. The constant teaching of God’s pure, preserved, written word to the people is the fastest and most effective way to guard against the corruption of their faith.

Moses delivered the law which he had written to the priest with a charge that they should read it every seventh year publically to all the people. Two things claim our attention: 1) The public assembly was for the purpose of hearing His word; and 2) Those who heard the Word were to put it into action. This law probably meant the discourses and precepts mentioned in the preceding chapters or the book of Deuteronomy. Probably Moses wrote two copies, one of which he gave to the priests and Levites for general use and the second of which he laid up beside the ark as a standard copy for reference and to be a witness against the people should they break the law or become idolatrous. Every seventy year was a year of release (Deuteronomy 15:1) at which time the people’s minds were free to hear and profit by the words of God. It is strange that this commandment relative to the reading of the law every seven years should not have been attended to. It is first mentioned in Joshua 8:30,34 (five hundred and thirty years later it was done in the reign of Jehoshaphat – 2 Chronicles 17:7-9). Two hundred and eighty-two years later it is mentioned as having been done in the reign of Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:30). Nehemiah states that hey followed this commandment after the return from Babylon (Nehemiah 8;2). There is no other record from that time to the destruction of Jerusalem

14 And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die: call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation, that I may give him a charge. And Moses and Joshua went, and presented themselves in the tabernacle of the congregation.

15 And the LORD appeared in the tabernacle in a pillar of a cloud: and the pillar of the cloud stood over the door of the tabernacle.

16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.

God knew what the future would be for Israel because he is all-knowing; this however did not predetermine their future – God did not make Israel sin, he simply knew ahead of time the wrong choices that they would voluntarily make.

17 Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?

“Are not these evils…God not among us?” – Israel would and did misidentify the source of their problems – they blamed it upon God instead of upon their own sins! How often do we do the same thing?

18 And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.

19 Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel.

20 For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.

21 And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware.

The Lord called Moses and Joshua to the tabernacle. God appeared to them and informed Moses of his approaching death. He also delivered to Moses a prophetical or historical song or poem which he was told to leave with Israel for their instruction and reproof. The song of Moses was to be a witness for Jehovah against the children of Israel. They were shown how to avoid evil but, if they did not avoid the evil, the threatened punishment was to come upon them and the song would testify against them by showing that they had been sufficiently warned and might have escaped those
disasters through obedience.

22 Moses therefore wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel.

Moses probably wrote the song the same day and taught it to the Israelites.

23 And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee.

24 And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished,

25 That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying,

26 Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.

27 For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?

28 Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them.

29 For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands.

Man’s history is a blotted one from beginning to end. Moses felt himself justified in inferring what would take place from what had already happened.

30 And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended.

Commentary by Matthew Henry, 1710.

Verse 1-8 – Moses assures Israel of the constant presence of God with them. This is applied by the apostle to all God’s spiritual Israel, to encourage their faith and hope; unto us is this gospel preached, as well as unto them; he will never fail thee, nor forsake thee, Hebrews 13:5. Moses commends Joshua to them for a leader; one whose wisdom, and courage, and affection they had long known; one whom God had appointed to be their leader; and therefore would own and bless. Joshua is well pleased to be admonished by Moses to be strong and of good courage. Those shall speed well, who have God with them; therefore they ought to be of good courage. Through God let us do valiantly, for through him we shall do victoriously; if we resist the devil, he will flee from us.

Verse 9-13 – Though we read the word in private, we must not think it needless to hear it read in public. This solemn reading of the law must be done in the year of release. The year of release was typical of gospel grace, which is called the acceptable year of the Lord; for our pardon and liberty by Christ, engage us to keep his commandments. It must be read to all Israel, men, women, children, and to the strangers. It is the will of God that all people should acquaint themselves with his word. It is a rule to all, therefore should be read to all. Whoever has read of the pains taken by many persons to get scraps of the Scriptures, when a whole copy could not be obtained, or safely possessed, will see how thankful we should be for the thousands of copies amongst us. They will also understand the very different situation in which the Israelites were placed for many ages. But the heart of man is so careless, that all will be found too little, to keep up a knowledge of the truths, precepts, and worship of God.

Verse 14-22 – Moses and Joshua attended the Divine Majesty at the door of the tabernacle. Moses is told again that he must shortly die; even those who are most ready and willing to die, need to be often reminded of its coming. The Lord tells Moses, that, after his death, the covenant he had taken so much pains to make between Israel and their God, would certainly be broken. Israel would forsake Him; then God would forsake Israel. Justly does he cast those off who so unjustly cast him off. Moses is directed to deliver them a song, which should remain a standing testimony for God, as faithful to them in giving them warning, and against them, as persons false to themselves in not taking the warning. The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of men’s hearts, and meets them by reproofs and correction. Ministers who preach the word, know not the imaginations of men; but God, whose word it is, knows perfectly.

Verse 23-30 – The solemn delivery of the book of the law to the Levites, to be deposited in, or rather by the side, of the ark, is again related. The song which follows in the next chapter is delivered to Moses, and by him to the people. He wrote it first, as the Holy Spirit taught him; and then spake it in the hearing of all the people. Moses tells them plainly, I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves. Many a sad thought, no doubt, it occasioned to this good man; but his comfort was, that he had done his duty, and that God would be glorified in their dispersion, if not in their settlement, for the foundation of God stands sure.