Deuteronomy 31


Moses, being one hundred and twenty years old and about to die,

calls the people together, and exhorts them to courage and

obedience, 1-6.

Delivers a charge to Joshua, 7, 8.

Delivers the law which he hod written to the priests, with a

solemn charge that they should read it every seventh year,

publicly to all the people, 9-13.

The Lord calls Moses and Joshua to the tabernacle, 14.

He appears to them, informs Moses of his approaching death, and

delivers to him a prophetical and historical song, or poem,

which he is to leave with Israel, for their instruction and

reproof, 15-21.

Moses writes the song the same day, and teaches it to the

Israelites, 22;

gives Joshua a charge, 23;

finishes writing the book of the law, 24.

Commands the Levites to lay it up in the side of the ark,

25, 26.

Predicts their rebellions, 27.

Orders the elders to be gathered together, and shows them what

evils would befall the people in the latter days, 28, 29,

and repeats the song to them, 30.


Verse 2. I am a hundred and twenty years old] The life of

Moses, the great prophet of God and lawgiver of the Jews, was

exactly the same in length as the time Noah employed in preaching

righteousness to the antediluvian world. These one hundred and

twenty years were divided into three remarkable periods: forty

years he lived in Egypt, in Pharaoh's court, acquiring all the

learning and wisdom of the Egyptians; (see Ac 7:20, 23;)

forty years he sojourned in the land of Midian in a state of

preparation for his great and important mission; (Ac 7:29, 30;)

and forty years he guided, led, and governed the Israelites under

the express direction and authority of God: in all, one hundred

and twenty years.

Verse 3. Joshua, he shall go over before thee]

See Clarke on Nu 27:17, &c.

Verse 6. Be strong] chizku, the same word that is used

Ex 4:21; 9:15, for

hardening Pharaoh's heart. See the notes there. The Septuagint,

in this and the following verse, have, ανδριζουκαιισχυε,

Play the man, and be strong; and from this St. Paul seems to have

borrowed his ideas, 1Co 16:13: στηκετεεντηπιστειανδριζεσθε,

κρατιουσθε: Stand firm in the faith; play the man-act like heroes;

be vigorous.

Verse 8. The Lord-doth go before thee] To prepare thy way, and

to direct thee.

He will be with thee] Accompany thee in all thy journeys, and

assist thee in all thy enterprises.

He will not fail thee] Thy expectation, however strong and

extensive, shall never be disappointed: thou canst not expect too

much from him.

Neither forsake thee] He knows that without him thou canst do

nothing, and therefore he will continue with thee, and in such a

manner too that the excellence of the power shall appear to be of

him, and not of man.

Verse 9. Moses wrote this law] Not the whole Pentateuch, but

either the discourses and precepts mentioned in the preceding

chapters, or the book of Deuteronomy, which is most likely.

Some of the rabbins have pretended that Moses wrote thirteen

copies of the whole Pentateuch; that he gave one to each of the

twelve tribes, and the thirteenth was laid up by the ark. This

opinion deserves little credit. Some think that he wrote two

copies, one of which he gave to the priests and Levites for

general use, according to what is said in this verse, the other to

be laid up beside the ark as a standard copy for reference, and to

be a witness against the people should they break it or become

idolatrous. This second copy is supposed to be intended De 31:26.

As the law was properly a covenant or contract between God and the

people, it is natural to suppose there were two copies of it, that

each of the contracting parties might have one: therefore one was

laid up beside the ark, this was the Lord's copy; another was given

to the priests and Levites, this was the people's copy.

Verse 10. - 11. At the end of every seven years-thou shalt read

this law] Every seventh year was a year of release,

De 15:1, at which time the people's minds, being under a

peculiar degree of solemnity, were better disposed to hear and

profit by the words of God. I suppose on this ground also that the

whole book of Deuteronomy is meant, as it alone contains an epitome

of the whole Pentateuch. And in this way some of the chief Jewish

rabbins understand this place.

It is strange that this commandment, relative to a public

reading of the law every seven years, should have been rarely

attended to. It does not appear that from the time mentioned

Jos 8:30, at which time this public reading first took place,

till the reign of Jehoshaphat 2Ch 17:7, there was any public

seventh year reading-a period of 530 years. The next seventh year

reading was not till the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah,

2Ch 34:30,

a space of two hundred and eighty-two years. Nor do we flnd any

other publicly mentioned from this time till the return from the

Babylonish captivity, Ne 8:2. Nor is there any other on

record from that time to the destruction of Jerusalem. See Dodd.

Verse 16. Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers]

shocheb, thou shalt lie down; it signifies to rest, take rest in

sleep, and, metaphorically, to die. Much stress cannot be safely

laid on this expression to prove the immortality of the soul, or

that the people in the time of Moses had a distinct notion of its

separate existence. It was, however, understood in this sense by

Jonathan ben Uzziel, who in his Targum paraphrases the word thus:

"Thou shalt lie down in the dust with thy fathers; and thy soul

( nishmethach) shall be laid up in the treasury of the life to

come with thy fathers."

Verse 18. I will surely hide my face] Withdraw my

approbation and my protection. This is a general meaning of the

word in Scripture.

Verse 19. Write ye this song] The song which follows in the

next chapter. Things which were of great importance and of common

concern were, among the ancients, put into verse, as this was

found the best method of keeping them in remembrance, especially

in those times when writing was little practised. Even prose was

sometimes sung. The history of Herodotus was divided into NINE

books, and each inscribed with the name of one of the NINE Muses,

because these books were anciently sung. Homer is reported to

have sung his poems through different Greek cities. Aristotle

observes that anciently the people sung their laws. And Cicero

observes that it was a custom among the ancient Romans to sing the

praises of their heroes at the public festivals. This was the

case among the northern inhabitants of Europe, particularly in

Ireland and Scotland; hence the Gaelic poetry of Ossian and

others. See Dodd; and See Clarke on Ex 15:1,

where the subject is largely treated.

Verse 21. This song shall testify against them] Because in it

their general defection is predicted, but in such a way as to show

them how to avoid the evil; and if they did not avoid the evil,

and the threatened punishment should come upon them, then the song

should testify against them, by showing that they had been

sufficiently warned, and might have lived to God, and so escaped

those disasters.

Verse 26. Take this book of the law] The standard copy to

which all transcripts must ultimately refer: another copy was put

into the bands of the priests. See Clarke on De 31:9.

Verse 27. While I am yet alive-ye have been rebellious] Such

was the disposition of this people to act contrary to moral

goodness that Moses felt himself justified in inferring what would

take place from what had already happened.

1. NEVER was a people more fully and faithfully warned, and from

this very circumstance we may see that they were under no fatal

constraining necessity to commit sin against God; they might have

avoided it, but they would not. God was present to help them,

till by their repeated provocations they forced him to depart:

wrath therefore came upon them to the uttermost because they

sinned when they might have lived to the glory of God. Those who

abuse God's grace shall not only have that grace taken away from

them, but shall be punished for the abuse of it, as well as for

the transgression. Every sin is double, and must have a twofold

punishment; for 1. Grace is resisted; 2. Transgression is

committed; and God will visit for both.

2. How astonishing it is that, with such examples of God's

justice before their eyes, the Jews should be so little affected;

and that the Gentiles, who have received the Gospel of God, should

act as if God would no more punish transgression, or that he must

be so partial to them as to pass by iniquities for which the hand

of his justice still continues heavy upon the descendants of

Jacob! Let them take heed, for if God spared not the natural

branches, he will not spare them. If they sin after the manner of

the Jews, they may expect to be partakers with them in their

punishments. What God does to nations he will do to individuals

who reject his mercy, or trample under foot his grace; the soul

that sinneth, and returns not to God by repentance and faith,

shall die. This is a decree of God that shall never be reversed,

and every day bears witness how strictly he keeps it in view.

3. The ode composed by Moses for this occasion was probably set

to some lively and affecting air, and sung by the people. It

would be much easier to keep such a song in remembrance, than an

equal quantity of prose. The whole would have the additional

circumstances of cadence and tune to cause it to be often

repeated; and thus insure its being kept in memory. Poetry,

though often, nay, generally abused, is nevertheless a gift from

God, and may be employed with the best effect in his service. A

very considerable part of the Old Testament is written in poetry;

particularly the whole book of Psalms, great part of the prophet

Isaiah, the Lamentations, and much of the minor prophets. Those

who speak against poetic compositions in the service of God, speak

against what they do not understand. All that a man hath should

be consecrated to his Maker, and employed in his service; not only

the energy of his heart and mind, the physical force of his

body, but also the musical tones and modulations of his voice.

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