Moses encourages the people, and Joshua. (1-8) The law to be read every seventh year. (9-13) The Israelites' apostacy foretold, A song given to be witness against them. (14-22) The law delivered to the Levites. (22-30)
Verses 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.
Verses 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.
Verses 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.
Verses 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.
Deuteronomy 31:1-8 . MOSES ENCOURAGES THE PEOPLE AND JOSHUA.
1. Moses went and spake--It is probable that this rehearsal of the law extended over several successive days; and it might be the last and most important day on which the return of Moses to the place of assembly is specially noticed. In drawing his discourse towards a conclusion, he adverted to his advanced age; and although neither his physical nor intellectual powers had suffered any decay ( Deuteronomy 34:7 ), yet he knew, by a special revelation, that the time had arrived when he was about to be withdrawn from the superintendence and government of Israel.
2-8. also the Lord hath said--should be "for the Lord hath said" thou shalt not go over this Jordan. While taking a solemn leave of the people, Moses exhorted them not to be intimidated by the menacing opposition of enemies; to take encouragement from the continued presence of their covenanted God; and to rest assured that the same divine power, which had enabled them to discomfit their first assailants on the east of Jordan, would aid them not less effectually in the adventurous enterprise which they were about to undertake, and by which they would obtain possession of "the land which He had sworn unto their fathers to give them."
Deuteronomy 31:9-13 . HE DELIVERS THE LAW TO THE PRIESTS, TO READ IT EVERY SEVENTH YEAR TO THE PEOPLE.
9-13. And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests--The law thus committed to writing was either the whole book of Deuteronomy, or the important part of it contained between the twenty-seventh and thirtieth chapters. It was usual in cases of public or private contract for two copies of the engagement to be made--one to be deposited in the national archives or some secure place for reference, should occasion require. The other was to remain in the hands of the contracting parties ( Jeremiah 32:12-14 ). The same course was followed on this renewal of the covenant between God and Israel. Two written copies of the law were prepared, the one of which was delivered to the public representatives of Israel; namely, the priests and the elders.
the priests, . . . who bare the ark of the covenant--In all ordinary journeys, it was the common duty of the Levites to carry the ark and its furniture ( Numbers 4:15 ); but, on solemn or extraordinary occasions, that office was discharged by the priests ( Joshua 3:3-8 , 6:6 , 1 Chronicles 15:11 1 Chronicles 15:12 ).
all the elders of Israel--They were assistants to the priests and overseers to take care of the preservation, rehearsal, and observance of the law.
10, 11. At the end of every seven years, . . . thou shalt read this law--At the return of the sabbatic year and during the feast of tabernacles, the law was to be publicly read. This order of Moses was a future and prospective arrangement; for the observance of the sabbatic year did not commence till the conquest and peaceful occupation of Canaan. The ordinance served several important purposes. For, while the people had opportunities of being instructed in the law every Sabbath and daily in their own homes, this public periodical rehearsal at meetings in the courts of the sanctuary, where women and children of twelve years were present (as they usually were at the great festivals), was calculated to produce good and pious impressions of divine truth amid the sacred associations of the time and place. Besides, it formed a public guarantee for the preservation, integrity, and faithful transmission of the Sacred Book to successive ages.
14, 15. the Lord said unto Moses, . . .call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation--Joshua had been publicly designated to the office of commander by Moses [ Numbers 27:22 Numbers 27:23 ]; and God was pleased to confirm his appointment by the visible symbols of His presence and approval. As none but the priests were privileged to enter the sanctuary, it is probable that this significant manifestation of the cloudy pillar was made while the leaders stood at the door of the tabernacle.
16-22. the Lord said unto Moses, . . . this people will rise up--In this remarkable interview, Moses was distinctly apprised of the infidelity of Israel, their corruptions of the true religion through intercourse with the idolatrous inhabitants of Canaan ( Amos 5:26 ), and their chastisements in consequence of those national defections.
17. Then my anger shall be kindled, . . . and I will hide my face from them--an announcement of the withdrawal of the divine favor and protection of which the Shekinah was the symbol and pledge. It never appeared in the second temple; and its non-appearance was a prelude of "all the evils that came upon them, because their God was not among them."
19. Now therefore write ye this song--National songs take deep hold of the memories and have a powerful influence in stirring the deepest feelings of a people. In accordance with this principle in human nature, a song was ordered to be composed by Moses, doubtless under divine inspiration, which was to be learnt by the Israelites themselves and to be taught to their children in every age, embodying the substance of the preceding addresses, and of a strain well suited to inspire the popular mind with a strong sense of God's favor to their nation.
26. Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark--The second copy of the law security and reverence in a little chest beside the ark of the covenant, for there was nothing contained within it but the tables of stone ( 1 Kings 8:9 ). Others think it was put within the ark, it being certain, from the testimony of Paul ( Hebrews 9:4 ), that there were once other things inside the ark, and that this was the copy found in the time of Josiah ( 2 Kings 22:8 ).