New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Deu 31:1 Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel-
LXX "And Moses finished speaking all these words".

Deu 31:2 I am one hundred and twenty years old this day-
He died on his birthday. His life so clearly splits up into three periods of 40 years; the 40 years leading sheep around Sinai clearly prepared him for 40 years leading Israel. We too can look back on life and see how clearly God had arranged things.

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. We note that he makes no reference to the reason why he couldn't enter the land. He makes his age an excuse for not entering the land, but we read later that his natural strength was not at all abated. Even in his great spiritual maturity, even Moses maybe found it hard to accept personal sin and consequences for it.

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 Dt. 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-
The victories over Sihon and Og were intended as foretastes and assurances of the Kingdom, and we have the same in our lives.

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-
The truth was that they were not obedient to the commandments. Their entry to the land was predicated upon their obedience, but they were disobedient. So they entered the land by grace, and that experience was intended to elicit their obedience. Divine commandment is likewise for us a way or channel to express our gratitude for salvation by grace rather than a requirement in order to attain salvation by our works.

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-
See on 31:17; Josh. 1:6. Dt. 4:31 and 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 Pentateuch, 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-
"Cause them to inherit it" could imply that their inheritance was still conditional. For the inheritance was predicated upon their obedience, and they were disobedient. So they would only enter it thanks to Joshua / Jesus.

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.

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-
LXX "After seven years" may suggest this refers to a special ceremony to be performed seven years after they had entered Canaan, when all the land was intended to be subdued before them.

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-
We note the frequent references to Yahweh choosing a specific geographical location for the sanctuary. This apparently was not fulfilled, for the ark moved around a lot. This was a tacit reflection of Israel's disobedience, and of how the inheritance of the Kingdom was to be reinterpreted and rescheduled until the last days.

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-
All Israel were envisaged as attending this ceremony; but as noted on :11, it never happened. The "foreigner" could refer to the members of the "mixed multitude" amongst them, or may reflect Yahweh's hope that some like Rahab and the Gibeonites would accept covenant relationship with Yahweh rather than having to be destroyed.

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-
The idea is that fearing Yahweh would lead to their living long in the land. But they didn't fear Yahweh. The fact Israel did prolong their days for some centuries in the land, despite their disobedience, is therefore a reflection of God's great patience with them.

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-
See on Dt. 31:9. 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.

Deu 31:15 Yahweh appeared in the Tent in a pillar of cloud. The pillar of cloud stood over the door of the Tent-
LXX "And the Lord descended in a cloud", as if the theophany of Sinai was now repeated. The Angel in the pillar of cloud shone forth.

Deu 31:16 Yahweh said to Moses, Behold, you shall lay down to sleep with your fathers, 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-
See on Dt. 34:6. 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). 

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?’-
This was envisaged as happening in the next generation (:16). But the tragedy was that for all their sufferings, Israel generally didn't come to this realization, and will only fully do so in the last days. So we see here God's desperate hope for them, a hope which was a reflection of His love.

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-
These words were spoken by the Angel in the pillar of cloud whose face was now shining forth (:15). The idea practically may be that the shekinah glory would no longer be seen in the tabernacle.

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-
In illiterate society, songs were the usual way to remember beliefs and history and keep them alive. It was God's intention that His people would sing this to themselves, ever reminding themselves of His grace and purpose with them, and of their likelihood to waste it all by falling away.

The Songs of Moses at the Red Sea and at his death were sung by a stuttering man (Ex. 4:10). This shows for all time how God works through those who apparently are unsuited for His work.

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-
They carried the idols and tabernacle of false gods with them through the wilderness (Ez. 20:7,8; Acts 7:43). So it was grace indeed to speak in terms of their future apostacy and acceptance of other gods. Israel came to describe the Egypt they had been called out from as the land flowing with milk and honey (Num. 16:12), and denied that the Kingdom was in fact like that. And so we have the same tendency to be deceived into thinking that the kingdoms of this world, the world around us, is effectively the Kingdom of God, the only thing worth striving after.

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-
Seeing they had the idols already with them (Ez. 20:7,8; Acts 7:43), it was clear that they intended to use them in Canaan. God knew their hearts, and realized this was "their imagination". Constantly we see God's focus upon the state of the heart.

Deu 31:22 So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the children of Israel-
We note the continual emphasis upon "the same day" and "this day..." throughout Deuteronomy. A fair case could be made that all this happened on the last day of Moses' life; an intense final day of a very busy life.

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-
"I will be with you" surely refers to God, but Moses at the end of his life was totally identified with God, and spoke personally on His behalf.

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-
Presumably to the Kohathites (Num. 4:4,5) who carried the ark; but only the priests could touch it, so perhaps they are in view here, as the ark had to be touched in order to fix the scroll of the law to the side of it (:26). The priests often carried the ark (Josh. 3:3; 4:9,10; 6:6,12; 8:33; 1 Kings 8:3).   

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-
This may have been the book of the law which was found in Jeremiah's time, having become detached from the ark.

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?-
Although the people were "stiff-necked", refusing to bow their necks in obedience, and thereby liable to destruction if God was amongst them (Ex. 32:9; 33:3,15), God was willing to give this stiff-necked people a place in God's Kingdom (Dt. 9:6). And so although God had said that He would not go in the midst of a stiff-necked people, yet Moses asks Him to do so (Ex. 34:9)- for He senses God's desire to save them by grace despite their hardened disobedience. 

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-
It was specifically Moses' song which called heaven and earth to witness (Dt. 32:1). Perhaps the idea was that "earth" was witness in that a copy of the law or the song was to be placed by the ark; and God in heaven was witness too.

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. 

Deu 31:30 Moses spoke in the ears of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were finished-
The implication would be that the song was Divinely inspired, it came to him and he spoke or sung it to them until the revelation had finished.