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.
a. Moses, at one hundred and twenty 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.
iii. 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?
iv. 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.
v. 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.
vi. Worst of all, Moses defaced a beautiful picture of Jesus' redemptive work through the rock which 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 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.
vii. 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.
a. Moses had led Israel for forty years; he was the only leader most of these people had ever known. How could the nation be confident once Moses passed from the scene? How could Moses himself go his way in peace?
b. The answer is simple: The Lord your God Himself crosses over before you. 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.
c. Now, it is 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. So, go forth!
3. (7-8) The charge to Joshua.
a. 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's all the Lord, it's all the Lord." True, God does His work, but He does it through people.
b. 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 says, you shall cause them to inherit it.
i. Praise God for men of encouragement like Moses! 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.
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.
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.
a. Because Israel will, in the future, rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, God instructs Moses to compose sort of "national anthem."
b. But a strange "national anthem," because the purpose of this anthem is to testify against them as a witness. God knows that words are more memorable when set to music, so He tells Moses to compose the "sermon in a song" found in the following chapter, Deuteronomy 32.
3. (23) The inauguration of Joshua.
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 is a manly way to speak to Joshua. God (and Moses) will not pander to Joshua's weak and timid nature. He doesn't hear, "Oh Joshua, you're so wonderful." "Oh Joshua, you're so strong." "Oh Joshua, you're so courageous." Instead, he hears, "Now is the time. Step up to the plate. 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're going to do it. It's going to happen."
4. (24-27) Moses preserves the Law of God as a witness against Israel.
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 great objections at this point; "So who wrote the last three chapters of Deuteronomy? 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 rebell 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.
a. "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)