New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

 

Deu 31:1 Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel-
That Moses lived to 120 (:2) with full faculties was as unusual then as it would be today; because lifespans at that time were around 70 years, and those older than seventy usually had weakened faculties as happens today too (Ps. 90:10). Moses says there in Ps. 90:10 that “our years” are 70- even though he himself had much longer life, and would’ve been writing Psalm 90 at well over 80 years old. We see here the empathy which comes from love, and his sense of identity with God’s people. All this is a pattern for us in our relationships and feelings toward others, but it also typifies Christ’s ultimate sensitivity, empathy and identity with the limitations of our humanity.


Deu 31:2 I am one hundred and twenty years old this day. I can no more go out and come in, and Yahweh has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan’-
See on Dt. 31:9. All this happened on Moses' birthday. "This Jordan" implies Moses had seen the river, or that he saw it in his mind's eye so clearly, as the barrier between him and the Kingdom.


Deu 31:3 Yahweh your God, He will go over before you. He will destroy these nations from before you and you shall dispossess them. Joshua shall go over before you, as Yahweh has spoken-
- see on 1:36.

Moses recalled how God had said to him "The LORD thy God He will go over before thee", and then said to Joshua "be strong and of a good courage, fear not nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God (the same Angel called 'the LORD thy God' in  relation to Moses), He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee nor forsake thee" (Dt. 31:3,6,7). These words are quoted in Heb. 13:5, and it is good to note the original Angelic context in which the words were used: "Be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I (the Angel) will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord (i. e. the Angel) is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me". Later on we see that Joshua did conceive of God in terms of the Angel- he took Moses' exhortation.

At Moses' death, the positive thrust of his closing exhortation was his conviction that the Angel of His presence which had been with them so far would continue to be so, to enable them to enter the land. This alone shows the great part that the Angel played in Moses' life. "The Lord thy God, He will go over before thee. . . and Joshua shall go over before thee. . . and Joshua shall go over before thee (showing Moses' belief that Joshua would work with the Angel- cp. Ps. 91, where Moses commends Joshua for keeping close to the Angel in the tabernacle). . . Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God (the Angel God of Israel), He it is that doth go with thee, He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (Dt. 31:3-6).

 

 


Deu 31:4 Yahweh will do to them as He did to Sihon and to Og, the kings of the Amorites and to their land, whom He destroyed.
Deu 31:5 Yahweh will deliver them up before you and you shall do to them according to all the commandments which I have commanded you.
Deu 31:6 Be strong and courageous, don’t be afraid nor be scared of them, for Yahweh your God, He it is who goes with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you-
Specifically applied to each of us in Heb. 13:5, in the context of appealing for us not to be covetous, worrying, as it were, how we are to cope on our journey into the Kingdom. See on 31:17; Josh. 1:6. Dt. 4:31 and Dt. 31:6,8 say that despite the sins Israel may commit, their Angel-God "will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant... He will not fail thee". But then Dt. 31:17 says that because the people would disobey Him, God "will forsake them... and they shall be devoured... and I will surely hide My face in  that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought". We have seen that in the Pentatuch, especially in God's dealings with Israel on their journey, God  is  to  be  conceived of as an Angel; which would explain the apparent fickleness shown here.


Deu 31:7 Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which Yahweh has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it.
Deu 31:8 It is Yahweh who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not fail you neither forsake you. Don’t be afraid neither be dismayed-
 
Note that the promise of Moses that God would not fail nor forsake Joshua, but would be with him (Dt. 31:8) was similar to the very promise given to Moses which he had earlier doubted (Ex. 3:12; 4:12,15). Such exhortation is so much the stronger from someone who has themselves doubted and then come to believe.

The LXX of Moses’ final charge to Joshua in Dt. 1:21,29; 7:18; 31:7,8 [“fear not, neither be dismayed”] is quoted by the Lord to His disciples in Jn. 14:1,27.

 


Deu 31:9 Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests the sons of Levi, who bore the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, and to all the elders of Israel-
 
The word of his God was in his heart, as he stood there before Israel, that people whom he loved, those for whom he wished to make atonement with his own life, even his eternal life. "Yea, he loved the people" is the Spirit's comment (Dt. 33:3- the "he" in the context seems to be Moses). It could only be the Spirit which would write so concisely. "Yea, he loved the people.... they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words". This is God's comment on that last meeting between Moses and Israel. And then he pours out his heart to them, he reels off what we have as the book of Deuteronomy (it takes about four hours to read it through loud), writes a copy of the Law (31:9; notice how Dt. 24 was written by Moses, Mk. 10:5), sings a Song to that silent multitude (surely with a lump in his throat, especially at points like 32:15), and then he turns and climbs the mountain to see the land and meet his death. The fact it all happened on his birthday just adds to the pathos of it all (Dt. 31:2). The huge amount of work which he did on that last day of his life looks forward to the Lord's huge achievement in the day of his death. No wonder Yahweh describes that day of Moses' death with an intensive plural: "The days (i.e. the one great time / day) approach (s.w. "at hand", "made ready") that thou must die" (Dt. 31:14). It seems that he said much of the book in one day; hence his repeated mention of the phrase "this day" throughout the book. The people were often reminded that they were about to “go over [Jordan] to possess” the land (Dt. 11:8,11 RV), as if they were on the banks of Jordan almost. In reality that speech of Deuteronomy was the outpouring of his heart, pleading with Israel to be faithful to the covenant, encouraging them to be aware of their weakness,  encouraging them to go forward and inherit the Kingdom. Not only do we have a powerful type of the Lord Jesus in all this; Israel assembled before him really do represent us. Dt. 32:36 ("the Lord shall judge his people") is quoted in Heb. 10:20 as relevant to all of us.   


Deu 31:10 Moses commanded them saying, At the end of every seven years, in the set time of the year of release, in the feast of tents,
Deu 31:11 when all Israel has come to appear before Yahweh your God in the place which He shall choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing-

The covenant on Sinai (Ex. 19:20) was reaffirmed in the plains of Moab (Dt. 29:1) and on Joshua's death (Josh. 24:25), and was to be reaffirmed every seven years (Dt. 31:9-11,25,26). It is this reaffirmation of covenant relationship which we make in the breaking of bread service. 


Deu 31:12 Assemble the people, men, women and the little ones and your foreigner who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear Yahweh your God and observe to do all the words of this law-
It takes about four hours to read through the book of Deuteronomy out loud. The many references in Deuteronomy to “this day” (see on 30:15) suggest Moses spoke it all on the last day of his life. It was a very busy day- he spoke Deuteronomy, wrote a copy of it (or of the entire Law; notice how Dt. 24 was written by Moses, Mk. 10:5), sings a Song to that silent multitude (surely with a lump in his throat, especially at points like 32:15), and then he turns and climbs the mountain to see the land and meet his death. The fact it all happened on his birthday just adds to the pathos of it all (:2). The huge amount of work which he did on that last day of his life looks forward to Christ’s huge achievement in the day of His death. No wonder Yahweh describes that day of Moses' death with an intensive plural: "Your days (an intensive plural, i.e. the one great time / day) are made ready that you must die" (:14). May our last day be as intensely productive as his.

Like Paul in his time of dying, Moses in Deuteronomy saw the importance of obedience, the harder side of God; yet he also saw in real depth the surpassing love of God, and the grace that was to come, beyond Law. This appreciation reflected Moses' mature grasp of the Name / characteristics of God. He uses the name "Yahweh" in Deuteronomy over 530 times, often with some possessive adjective, e.g. "Yahweh thy God" [AV- i.e. you singular], or "Yahweh our God". He saw the personal relationship between a man and his God. Jacob reached a like realization at his peak.


Deu 31:13 and that their children, who have not known, may hear and learn to fear Yahweh your God as long as you live in the land where you go over the Jordan to possess it-

"Drive out" is s.w. "possess". We must note the difference between the  Canaanite peoples and their kings being "struck" and their land "taken" by Joshua-Jesus; and the people of Israel permanently taking possession. This is the difference between the Lord's victory on the cross, and our taking possession of the Kingdom. Even though that possession has been "given" to us. The word used for "possession" is literally 'an inheritance'. The allusion is to the people, like us, being the seed of Abraham. The Kingdom was and is our possession, our inheritance- if we walk in the steps of Abraham. But it is one thing to be the seed of Abraham, another to take possession of the inheritance; and Israel generally did not take possession of all the land (Josh. 11:23 13:1; 16:10; 18:3; 23:4). The language of inheritance / possession is applied to us in the New Testament (Eph. 1:11,14; Col. 3:24; Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Pet. 1:4 etc.). Israel were promised: "You shall possess it" (Dt. 30:5; 33:23). This was more of a command than a prophecy, for sadly they were "given" the land but did not "possess" it. They were constantly encouraged in the wilderness that they were on the path to possessing the land (Dt. 30:16,18; 31:3,13; 32:47), but when they got there they didn't possess it fully.


Deu 31:14 Yahweh said to Moses, Behold, your life will end shortly. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting, so that I may commission him. Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the Tent of Meeting-
The day of our death is made ready ahead of time by God. Yahweh said that He would give Joshua a charge; but Moses gave Joshua the charge (Dt. 31:14,23). God was so strongly manifested in Moses. Yahweh describes that day of Moses' death with an intensive plural: "The days (i.e. the one great time / day) approach (s.w. "at hand", "made ready") that thou must die" (Dt. 31:14). It seems that he said much of the book in one day; hence his repeated mention of the phrase "this day" throughout the book- see on Dt. 31:9.

 


Deu 31:15 Yahweh appeared in the Tent in a pillar of cloud. The pillar of cloud stood over the door of the Tent.
Deu 31:16 Yahweh said to Moses, Behold, you shall lay down to sleep with your fathers-
Rabbinical commentators claim that "he buried him" (Dt. 34:6) is reflexive; it means that Moses buried himself. For confirmation of this, see S.R.Hirsch, The Pentateuch, Vol. 5 p.685 (New York: Judaica Press, 1971). It is the same Hebrew construction as in Lev. 22:16 and Num. 6:13. In this case, the description of Christ as 'making his own grave' (Is. 53:9) could be read as an allusion to the death of Moses. Therefore the pattern of events was perhaps something like this: The Angel showed Moses the land;  Moses, in the presence of the Angel, dug his own grave and lowered himself into it, as a conscious act of the will, in obedience to God's command (as the prototype of the Lord Jesus). The prophesy that Moses would lie down in death takes on a literal sense in this case (Dt. 31:16). Then the Angel kissed him, and he died. The Angel then built up the sepulchre over his body. Personally I feel this was what happened, but I am cautious to strongly push ideas which rely on a fine point of Hebrew grammar.

And this people shall rise up and play the prostitute after the strange gods of the land where they go to be among them, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them-
A few hours before the death of Moses, he had been telling Israel: "While I am yet alive with you this day (for a few more hours), ye have been rebellious against Yahweh; and how much more after my death?" (Dt. 31:27). Earlier that same day the Angel had told him: "Thou shalt lie down (mg.) with thy fathers (cp. the Angel lying him down in the grave)... and this people will rise up (i.e. immediately after his death), and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land" (Dt. 31:16). No wonder this was ringing in Moses' ears as he came to his death. Yet he triumphed in the fact that a minority would not give way. His very last words were a confident exaltation that ultimately Israel would overcome their temptations, the influence and idols of the surrounding world. But he knew that the majority of them would spiritually fall because of these things. Therefore he was looking forward to the minority in Israel who would gloriously overcome, who would come to the Kingdom, the land of corn and wine, when the heavens would drop dew. This is clearly the language of Ps. 72 and Isaiah about the future Kingdom. Moses met death with the vision of the faithful minority in the Kingdom, in the promised land, having overcome all their besetting temptations. And the Lord Jesus died with exactly that same vision (Ps. 22:22-31; 69: 30-36). 

Israel is so often set up as the bride of God (Is. 54:5; 61:10; 62:4,5; Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Hos. 2:19,20). This is why any infidelity to God is spoken of as adultery (Mal. 2:11; Lev. 17:7; 20:5,6; Dt. 31:16; Jud. 2:17; 8:27,33; Hos. 9:1). The language of Israel 'selling themselves to do iniquity' uses the image of prostitution. This is how God feels our even temporary and fleeting acts and thoughts of unfaithfulness. This is why God is jealous for us (Ex. 20:15; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15)- because His undivided love for us is so exclusive. He expects us to be totally His. Just as Israel were not to be like the Egyptians they were leaving, nor like the Canaanites into whose land they were going (Lev. 18:1-5; 20:23,24). We are to be a people separated unto Him.

 


Deu 31:17 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 come on them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Haven’t these evils come on us because our God is not among us?’-

To forsake Yahweh was to break covenant with Him (Dt. 31:16,17). Israel did forsake Yahweh (Jud. 2:13), but still He remained faithful to them, as Hosea remained faithful to Gomer despite her infidelity to their marriage covenant. Instead of forsaking them as He threatened, He instead by grace sent them saviours, judges, looking forward to His grace in sending the Lord Jesus, Yah's salvation.


Deu 31:18 I will surely hide My face in that day for all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods.
Deu 31:19 Now therefore write this song for yourselves and teach it to the children of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel-
God recognized the power of music by arranging things in this way; He knew they would sing this to themselves and the words would influence them. We must ensure that the music we listen to and hum to ourselves is leading us to repentance and to God, rather than the other way; because music and lyrics are powerful.


Deu 31:20 For when I have brought them into the land which I swore to their fathers, flowing with milk and honey, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise Me and break My covenant.
Deu 31:21 When many evils and troubles have come on them, this song shall testify before them as a witness, for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed; for I know their imagination which they plan this day, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.
Deu 31:22 So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the children of Israel.
Deu 31:23 He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.
Deu 31:24 When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book-
 
Ex. 40:33 is perhaps the clearest basis for the words of Jn. 17:4. This describes how Moses "reared up" the tabernacle, representing us (2 Cor. 6:16); "So Moses finished the work" God had given him to do. Dt. 31:24 likewise speaks of Moses finishing the work. The Hebrew for "reared up" is also used in the context of resurrection and glorification / exaltation. As our Lord sensed His final, ultimate achievement of the Father's glory in His own character, He could look ahead to our resurrection and glorification. He adopted God's timeless perspective, and died with the vision of our certain glorification in the Kingdom. This fits in with the way Psalms 22 and 69 (which evidently portray the thoughts of our dying Lord) conclude with visions of Christ's "seed" being glorified in the Kingdom. There are a number of passages which also speak of the temple (also representative of the ecclesia) being a work which was finished (e.g. 2 Chron. 5:1). In His moment of agonized triumph as He died, the Lord Jesus saw us as if we were perfect.

“It is finished" has some connection with the Lord loving His people “to the very end" (Jn. 13:1- eis telos). To the end or completion of what? Surely the Lord held in mind Moses’ last speech before he died. Then, “Moses had finished writing all the words of this Law in a book, even to the very end (LXX eis telos)" (Dt. 31:24). It was Moses’ law which was finished / completed when the Lord finally died. Again we marvel at the Lord’s intellectual consciousness even in His death throes. The fact He had completed the Law was upmost in His mind. This alone should underline the importance of never going back to reliance upon that Law, be it in Sabbath keeping or general legalism of attitude.

 


Deu 31:25 he commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of Yahweh saying,
Deu 31:26 Take this book of the law and put it in the side of the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.
Deu 31:27 For I know your rebellion and your stiff neck; even while I am alive with you this day you have been rebellious against Yahweh, and how much more after my death?
Deu 31:28 Assemble to 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 witness against them.
Deu 31:29 For I know that after my death you will utterly corrupt yourselves and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you, and evil will happen to you in the latter days, because you will do that which is evil in the sight of Yahweh, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands-
 
God can be grieved [s.w. 'provoke to anger']. He has emotions, and His potential foreknowledge doesn't mean that these feelings are not legitimate. They are presented as occurring in human time, as responses to human behaviour. This is the degree to which He has accommodated Himself to human time-space limits, in order to fully enter relationship and experience with us. As He can limit His omnipotence, so God can limit His omniscience, in order to feel and respond along with us. 

Paul warned the new Israel that after his death ("after my departing", Acts 20:29) there would be serious apostasy. This is the spirit of his very last words, in 2 Tim. 4. it is exactly the spirit of Moses' farewell speech throughout the book of Deuteronomy, and throughout his final song (Dt. 32) and Dt. 31:29: "After my death you will utterly corrupt yourselves". Paul's "Take heed therefore unto yourselves" (Acts 20:28) is quoted from many places in Deuteronomy (e.g. Dt. 2:4; 4:9,15,23; 11:16; 12:13,19,30; 24:8; 27:9).


Deu 31:30 Moses spoke in the ears of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were finished.