Deuteronomy 31 – Some Final Instructions from Moses
A. Moses charges the people, Joshua, and the priests.
1. (1-2) Moses at one hundred and twenty.
Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them: “I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also the LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’”
a. I am one hundred and twenty years old today: Moses, at 120 years, was not limited by his physical condition (in a short time he will climb to the top of a mountain). Instead, he could no longer go out and come in because he was limited by God’s command – the decree that Moses would not enter the Promised Land (Numbers 20:7-12).
b. You shall not cross over this Jordan: These specific words of God to Moses are not recorded in the Numbers 20 account; this must be a further elaboration of the decree you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them (Numbers 20:12).
i. There is a difference between you shall not bring this congregation into the land and you shall not cross over this Jordan. By the first statement, it is allowable that Moses could go into the Promised Land, but not as the leader of the nation, having passed the torch of leadership to Joshua. But God made it even more clear to Moses: you shall not cross over this Jordan.
ii. God’s correction of Moses was hard; not only will he not lead Israel into the Promised Land, he will not even go there. That which he had dreamed of, and felt called to, as a child in the palaces of Egypt – to deliver God’s people – will not be completed. Another will finish the job, and Moses’ feet will never touch the soil of the land that God had promised to the covenant descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why was it such a severe punishment? What did Moses do?
iii. Essentially, at Meribah (Numbers 20:7-12), when Israel complained and cried out for water, Moses misrepresented God. He misrepresented God by lecturing the nation harshly and unnecessarily. Moses misrepresented God by acting as if God needed him to provide water for the people. And Moses both misrepresented and disobeyed God by angrily striking the rock twice, instead of just speaking to the rock as God had told him to.
iv. This may seem an excessively harsh punishment for Moses; after all, with only one slip-up, he now must die short of the Promised Land? But Moses was being judged by a stricter standard because of his leadership position with the nation, and because he had a uniquely close relationship with God. It is right for teachers and leaders to be judged by a stricter standard (James 3:1); though it is unrighteous to hold teachers and leaders to a perfect standard. It is true the people’s conduct was worse than Moses’ but it is irrelevant.
v. Worst of all, Moses defaced a beautiful picture of Jesus’ redemptive work through the rock that provided water in the wilderness. The New Testament makes it clear this water-providing, life-giving rock was a picture of Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus, being struck once, provided life for all who would drink of Him (John 7:37). But it was unnecessary – and unrighteous – that Jesus would be struck again, much less again twice, because the Son of God needed only to suffer once (Hebrews 10:10-12). Jesus can now be come to with words of faith (Romans 10:8-10), as Moses should have only used words of faith to bring life-giving water to the nation of Israel. Moses “ruined” this picture of the work of Jesus God intended.
vi. So now, Moses must face his destiny. Not only you shall not bring this congregation into the land but also, you shall not cross over this Jordan.
2. (3-6) The charge to the children of Israel.
The LORD your God Himself crosses over before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over before you, just as the LORD has said. And the LORD will do to them as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites and their land, when He destroyed them. The LORD will give them over to you, that you may do to them according to every commandment which I have commanded you. Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.
a. The LORD your God Himself crosses over before you: Moses had led Israel for 40 years; he was the only leader most of these people had ever known. Yet the nation could be confident, and Moses could go his way in peace because He knew God was with Israel. Israel, Moses, or Joshua did not have to be afraid. Instead, they could Be strong and of good courage, because the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you.
i. Moses was a great man; one of the greatest to ever walk this earth. But Moses was not irreplaceable. God being with them, Israel was in good hands, with or without Moses.
b. Be strong and of good courage: It was now time for the nation to take courage in the LORD and not fear nor be dismayed. Moses passes from the scene, but God has not abandoned Israel.
3. (7-8) The charge to Joshua.
Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. And the LORD, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”
a. Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: Bringing the people into the Promised Land was God’s work. He was going to do it. But God almost always does His work through men and women who make themselves available to Him.
i. Sometimes people wrongly say, “It is all the LORD, it’s all the LORD.” True, God does His work, but He does it through people.
b. Be strong and of good courage: Since God was going to use Joshua, he must be strong and of good courage. But Moses knew Joshua and knew that he would. So he confidently said, you shall cause them to inherit it.
i. Men of encouragement like Moses are a blessing. Moses knew that Joshua might be wavering, so he encouraged him, and pushed him forward to be more than he perhaps thought he could be. God uses encouraging people to help us fulfill the destiny He has for us.
ii. Joshua was the man; but the work was the LORD’s: He is the one who goes before you.
4. (9-13) The charge to the priests.
So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, saying: “At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.”
a. Moses wrote this law: Just as the kings of Israel were to write their own copy of God’s law (Deuteronomy 17:18), so Moses wrote this law. He, as an uncrowned king over Israel, loved God’s word and wanted to pass it on to the generation behind him.
b. You shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing: Part of the job of the Levites was to minister the word of God to the nation, as they were scattered throughout the nation. Every seven years they were to have a public reading and explanation of the law of God, as was modeled in Nehemiah 8:1-8.
i. The first we know of a public reading of the law is in Joshua 8:30. The next we hear of it is during the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:7), more than 500 years later. Then, in the reign of Josiah there was another public reading of the law (2 Chronicles 34:30), more than 250 years after Jehoshaphat. Of course, there might have been public readings of the law as commanded here which are not recorded; but the fact that some are recorded probably means they were unusual, not typical. With this kind of neglect of God’s word, no wonder Israel was so often in trouble!
c. And that their children… may hear and learn to fear the LORD: This seven-year national focus on God’s word was especially important for the children among the people of Israel. Through His word, they could come to a personal relationship with the LORD.
B. Moses insures his legacy.
1. (14-15) The preface to Joshua’s inauguration as leader of Israel.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, the days approach when you must die; call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of meeting, that I may inaugurate him.” So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tabernacle of meeting. Now the LORD appeared at the tabernacle in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood above the door of the tabernacle.
a. Present yourselves in the tabernacle of meeting: Through the wilderness journey, we find Moses and Joshua together before the LORD often. Exodus 33:11 says, his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. Joshua was qualified to serve because he was at home in the presence of the LORD.
b. Now the LORD appeared: This begins a solemn and important chapter in the history of God’s people. This will be Moses’ retirement ceremony and Joshua’s inauguration ceremony.
2. (16-22) A song of Moses to warn Israel in a time of future apostasy.
And the LORD said to Moses: “Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused 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, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods. Now therefore, write down 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. When I have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant. Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them.”Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel.
a. This people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land: Because of this future idolatry in Israel, God instructed Moses to compose sort of a national anthem for ancient Israel.
b. Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel: Yet this was a strange national anthem, because the purpose of this anthem was to testify against them as a witness. God knew that words are more memorable when set to music, so He told Moses to compose the sermon in a song found in the following chapter, Deuteronomy 32.
3. (23) The inauguration of Joshua.
Then He inaugurated Joshua the son of Nun, and said, “Be strong and of good courage; for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land of which I swore to them, and I will be with you.”
a. Be strong and of good courage: It is remarkable how often this exhortation is directed towards Joshua. He hears it seven different times (Deuteronomy 31:6, 7, and 23; Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, and 18).
i. This exposes Joshua’s weakness; there was a need for such a command, because even a great leader like Joshua needed such encouragement.
ii. Most of us, God forgive us, are too big for God to use; we are too full of our own schemes and our own ways of doing things. Joshua needed to take strength and courage in the LORD and was small enough to be big in God.
iii. Wonderfully, the last time this phrase is used in connection with Joshua, he is encouraging others to be strong and of good courage (Joshua 10:25). He could encourage others with the encouragement the LORD, through others, had given him.
b. Be strong and of good courage: This was a manly way to speak to Joshua. God (and Moses) would not pander to Joshua’s weak and timid nature. He didn’t hear, “Oh Joshua, you’re so wonderful.” “Oh Joshua, you’re so strong.” “Oh Joshua, you’re so courageous.” Instead, he heard, “Now is the time. Step up to the challenge. Be strong and of good courage!”
c. You shall bring the children of Israel into the land: Joshua, by nature weak and lacking courage, needed to hear this from Moses. He needed to hear, “You are going to do it. It is going to happen.”
4. (24-27) Moses preserves the Law of God as a witness against Israel.
So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying: “Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you; for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD, then how much more after my death?”
a. When Moses had completed writing the words of this law: Moses finished the first five books of the Bible and gave this to Israel, and to all creation, as the inspired words of God.
i. Some raise objections at this point, wondering who wrote the last three chapters of Deuteronomy, because the text says that Moses finished here. No doubt, Joshua had the remainder of Moses’ words and deeds recorded and added to the end of his magnificent work.
b. Put it beside the ark of the covenant: The Ten Commandments were placed inside the ark of the covenant (Hebrews 9:4). But the whole book of the law – Genesis through Deuteronomy – was placed beside the ark of the covenant.
c. That it may be there as a witness against you: Moses knew Israel would rebel. He knew this both from the promise of God (Deuteronomy 31:16-17), and from common sense (If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD, how much more after my death?). Therefore, the law would stand as a witness against a rebellious Israel.
i. We love to find refuge in God’s word in our times of stress and trouble, but we don’t often consider that God’s word, if we reject Jesus and rebel against God, is no friend to us. It is a witness against us, a witness that rises up to testify against us.
5. (28-30) The elders and officers of Israel gather for the song of Moses.
“Gather to me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands.” Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song until they were ended:
a. Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song until they were ended: “In fact, the song of chapter 32 is strongly reminiscent in its structure and content of a well-known secular political form, namely, the formulation of a complaint against a rebel vassal by his overlord with the threat of punishment. It is not impossible that some, at least, in Israel would have understood such a pattern and Moses would certainly have met it in the pharaoh’s court.” (Thompson)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission