Deuteronomy 31:1-8. MOSES RESIGNS HIS CHARGE AS LEADER TO JOSHUA.
(1) And Moses went and spake.—The expression is unusual. Possibly it means “went on to speak.” The Palestine Targum has, “He went into the house of instruction and spake.” The LXX. have apparently preserved a different reading, and say, “And Moses made an end of speaking these words” (like Deuteronomy 32:45), as if the Hebrew were vay’cal instead of vay-yelek. A transposition of two letters would make all the difference.
(2) I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in.—The description of Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34:7, says, “his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” Yet he may have felt within himself that his work was done. “I have no longer authority, for the authority is taken from me and given into the hand of Joshua” is one interpretation. And it suits with what follows. “The Lord hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.”
(3) The Lord thy God, he will go over before thee . . . Joshua, he shall go over before thee.—Can it be accidental that Jehovah and Joshua are spoken of in exactly the same language, and that there is no distinguishing conjunction between them, the “and” of the English Version being supplied? “Jehovah, He is going over; Joshua, he is going over.” Verbally, the two are as much identified as “The God who fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel that redeemed me from all evil” (Genesis 48:15-16). The prophetical truth of this identification is too remarkable to be missed.
(4) As he did to Sihon and to Og.—The value of these two conquests, before Israel passed the Jordan, was inestimable, as an encouragement to them to persevere.
(5) According unto all the commandments.—The Hebrew word for “commandments” is in the singular, Mitzvah, the principle of action.
(6) Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid.—Here this is addressed to the people in the plural number. The same thing is said to Joshua in the next verse.
(7, 8) And Moses called unto Joshua.—In these words Moses formally delivers the charge of the people to Joshua, to lead them over Jordan.
He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee.—Repeated by Jehovah Himself (Joshua 1:5). “Will not let thee go” is the exact meaning of “fail” here. Comp. Deuteronomy 9:14, “let me alone.”
(9-11) And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests . . . And . . . commanded them, saying . . . thou shalt read.—This must be distinguished from the deliverance of the “book” to the Levites in Deuteronomy 31:25-26. The deliverance here must be understood as a charge and a trust conveyed to the priests, making them responsible for the “reading of the law,” and for the instruction of the people. This is the special duty of the priests. They are said to “bear” the ark of the covenant here; not because they always carried it (they did sometimes, as in Joshua 3), but because they were responsible for it, just as they were also responsible for the exposition of the law (Deuteronomy 17:9). This is another example of the distinction between priests and Levites in the book of Deuteronomy.
(10, 11) At the end of every seven years, in the . . . year of release, in the feast of tabernacles . . . thou shalt read this law.—The fulfilment of this command, as far as the reading of the law is concerned, is described in Joshua 8:34-35; and again “at the feast of tabernacles” in Nehemiah 8. That the law read on these occasions was especially the book of Deuteronomy appears from the Talmudical treatise Sotah (p. 41), where the reading of it by the king is described as beginning with Deuteronomy 1:1 : “These are the words.” It is in this connection that the story is told of Agrippa that he wept when he came to Deuteronomy 17:15, “Thou mayest not set a stranger over thee.” But they said, “Fear not, Agrippa, thou art our brother,” and he then finished the reading. It was read from a platform erected in the forecourt of the temple. From this passage it is clear that the “reading” was understood to refer specially to the book of Deuteronomy.
(13) That their children . . . may hear.—It is obvious from this that the existence of many copies of the law was not contemplated by the writer. Comp. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 : “These words shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them.”
(14) Thy days approach that thou must die: call Joshua, and present yourselves.—What Moses had already done before Israel (Deuteronomy 31:1-8) is now ratified by Jehovah to Joshua and Moses.
Moses and Joshua went.—We may compare this scene with that which is described in Numbers 20:25-28, when Aaron and Eleazar went up to Mount Hor, in order that the priesthood might be transferred from one to the other. Elijah and Elisha, in like manner, went together over Jordan, when Elijah was about to depart (2 Kings 2). For the last time it is recorded here that Jehovah met Moses face to face in the tabernacle. Their next meeting was on Mount Nebo, and the next “within the veil !”
(16) And break my covenant.—With this, contrast Judges 2:1 : “I said, I will never break my covenant with you.” The phrases are identical in Hebrew. Comp. 2 Timothy 2:13 : “If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.”
I know their imagination.—Heb., yêtzer, the same word employed in Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21. It is the word commonly used in Rabbinical literature for the evil nature or good nature in any man. The nature which they are forming, or making, this day, would be a literal rendering of the sentence in this verse. And yet with all this, He made Balaam say, “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob nor seen perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21). Comp. 1 Chronicles 28:9, “The Lord . . . understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts,” and Psalm 103:14, “He knoweth our frame (yêtzer); He remembereth that we are dust.”
Be strong . . .—Comp. Joshua 1:2; Joshua 1:6.
(24) When Moses had made an end of writing.—This means the completion of the books of Moses as he delivered them to Israel; not merely Deuteronomy, as above, in Deuteronomy 31:9, but the whole, including the song mentioned in Deuteronomy 31:22. The song was probably the end of the book as delivered to them by Moses.
In a book.—’Al-sêpher; upon a roll. The Pentateuch is written upon a single roll to this day.
(25) The Levites, which bare the ark.—Observe this, and comp. Deuteronomy 31:9, above.
(26) In the side of the ark.—More literally, beside, Rashi says, “The wise men of Israel differ about this in the treatise Baba Bathra (in the Talmud). Some of them say there was a leaf or slab projecting from the ark outside, and there the book was placed. Others say that it was placed beside the tables of the covenant in the ark itself.”
(28) Gather unto me all the elders.—In like manner Joshua gave a special charge to the elders at the close of his life (Joshua 23).