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Deuteronomy 31


Joshua the New Leader of Israel Concluding Events of Moses' Life Joshua Becomes Moses' Successor Commissioning of Joshua
31:1-8 31:1-6 31:1-6 31:1-6
  31:7-8 31:7-8 31:7-8
The Law to Be Read Every Seven Years   The Law Is To Be Read Every Seven Years The Ritual Reading of the Law
31:9-13 31:9-13 31:9-13 31:9-13
Prediction of Israel's Rebellion   The Lord's Last Instructions to Moses Yahweh's Instructions
31:14-15 31:14-15 31:14-15 31:14-15
31:16-23 31:16-22 31:16-18 31:16-18
      The Song of Witnesses
    31:19-21 31:19-22
  31:23 31:23 31:23
      The Law Placed Beside the Ark
31:24-29 31:24-29 31:24-29 31:24-27
      Israel Gathers to Hear the Song (31:28-32:44)
The Song of Moses (31:30-32:47)   The Song of Moses (31:30-32:44) 31:28-29
31:30 31:30 31:30 31:30

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



1So Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. 2And he said to them, "I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I am no longer able to come and go, and the Lord has said to me, 'You shall not cross this Jordan.' 3It is the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has spoken. 4The Lord will do to them just as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when He destroyed them. 5The Lord will deliver them up before you, and you shall do to them according to all the commandments which I have commanded you. 6Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."

31:1 "spoke these words" Possibly this should be "finished speaking," following the Septuagint and some manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which transpose two Hebrew consonants (cf. NRSV, REB). This is the end of Moses' three sermons.

31:2 "I am a hundred and twenty" Moses' life of 120 years (cf. 34:7) can be divided into three 40 year segments. Moses was 40 years being prepared at the royal academies of Egypt, 40 years in the desert training for his call, and 40 years from the time of the burning bush to the present (cf. Exod. 7:7 and Acts 7:23ff). Why mention his age? These are possible reasons: (1) in Egyptian literature 110 years was the age of wise men, but in Syria it was 120 years; (2) age limit of Gen. 6:3; or (3) another excuse of Moses for why he will not lead them into the Promised Land.

▣ "I am no longer able to come and go" This is a Hebrew idiom for vitality (Josh. 14:11; NRSV, TEV, NJB, JPSOA)! However, old age had not taken away Moses' strength, cf. Deut. 34. Possibly this was an excuse (cf. 1:37) related to Moses' public disobedience recorded in Num. 20:11-12. Deuteronomy 3:23-29 records Moses' pleading with God to let him enter the Promised Land (cf. 32:48-52).

31:3 "the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you" God fights for them, though they must prepare for battle and participate (cf. vv. 3-6, i.e., holy war terminology). Moses was a tool used by God. God, Himself, was the one who delivered the people. In reality it is YHWH, not Joshua, who goes into battle ahead of His people!

▣ "Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you" A new leader was needed because of Moses' disobedience. God will be with Joshua, but he too must do his covenant obligations (cf. 1:38; 3:28).

31:6 "Be strong and courageous" This verse has several imperatival forms:

1. "be strong" - BDB 304, KB 302, Qal imperative, cf. vv. 7,23

2. "be courageous" - BDB 54, KB 65, Qal imperative, cf. vv. 7,23

3. "do not be afraid" - BDB 431, KB 432, negated Qal imperfect, used in a jussive sense

4. "do not tremble" - BDB 791, KB 888, negated Qal imperfect, used in a jussive sense, cf. 1:29; 7:21; 20:3; Josh. 1:9

Numbers 1 and 2 are repeated by Moses to Joshua in v. 7 and numbers 3 and 4 are repeated in v. 8 (#4 is parallel, but a different verb, "be dismayed," BDB 369, KB 365, Qal imperfect).

A proper attitude and faith are essential! There are giants in the land, but YHWH is with His people (cf. vv. 3,4,5,6).

▣ "He will not fail you or forsake you"

1. YHWH goes with them (i.e., "walks," BDB 229, KB 246, Qal active participle)

2. YHWH will not fail them (i.e., "abandon," BDB 951, KB 1276, Hiphil imperfect)

3. YHWH will not forsake them ("leave," BDB 736 I, KB 806, Qal imperfect, cf. Gen. 28:15)

This promise is repeated to Joshua in Josh. 1:5 and is repeated as a promise to NT believers in Heb. 13:5! Our hope is in the unchanging gracious character of YHWH (e.g., Exod. 34:6; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13)!

7Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. 8The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed."

31:7 This is a public transfer of power! This is the fulfillment of 1:38 and 3:28!

31:8 "He will be with you" This is restated, "I will be with you," in v. 23! The promise of YHWH's personal presence is the greatest blessing that can be given (cf. Exod. 3:12; 4:12,15; 33:14-16; Deut. 4:37; Josh. 1:5). It is the reason why His leaders and people should not be fearful of anyone or anything!

9So Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10Then Moses commanded them, saying, "At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, 11when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. 12Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. 13Their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess."

31:9 "Moses wrote this law" Several times in the Pentateuch it says, "Moses wrote" (cf. Exod. 17:14; 24:4,22; 34:1,27,28; Num. 17:2,3; 33:2; Deut. 4:13; 5:22; 31:9,22). Moses gave the Law to Israel to standardize the will of God for future generations.

▣ "to the priests, the sons of Levi" It is interesting that there is some divergency in exactly who are "priests":

1. tribe of Levi (always)

2. sons of Aaron (often)

All priests are Levites, but not all Levites are priests.

▣ "to the elders" This refers to tribal elders. In this verse Moses entrusts the law to Israel's religious and secular (i.e., tribal) leaders. However, in reality, all of Israel's leaders and laws were seen as religious (i.e., YHWH's will). There was no secular versus sacred in Israel. All was sacred because all belonged to YHWH! There were special days and special places, but all of life was regulated by divine decrees!

31:10 There are two dates referred to in this verse:

1. one was every year, the Feast of Booths

a. Exod. 23:16-17; 34:22

b. Lev. 23:33-43

c. Deut. 16:13-15

2. one was every seventh year (i.e., the Sabbatical year)

a. Exod. 23:10,11

b. Lev. 25:1-7

c. Deut. 15:1-6

Here Moses adds to the regular rituals the reading of the covenant.

The Feast of the Booths was an annual event meant to remind Israel of YHWH's gracious and powerful acts of deliverance from Egypt and His provision and presence during the wilderness wanderings. This festival of thanksgiving for deliverance/freedom, as well as the freedom from debt ceremony, occurred every seventh year (i.e., Sabbath year, cf. Leviticus 25). The combination of these two freedom events was a perfect time to review the Mosaic law covenant with this gracious, covenant-making God!


31:11 "the place which He will choose" This verse in Moses' day referred to the gathering of all males three times a year (cf. Leviticus 23) at the tabernacle (cf. Exod. 20:24; Deut. 12:5,11,13; 14:25; 15:20; 16:7,16; 17:8,10; 18:6; 26:2).

Later it would refer to the central shrine located in Jerusalem.

▣ "you shall read this law in front of all Israel" This was a covenant renewal event. The Law was clearly revealed (i.e., read) and Israel committed herself to its keeping! Everyone in Israel's society was present (cf. vv. 12-13), even the newest generation (i.e., of Bar Mitzvah age, e.g., Isa. 7:16).

The law was not only for a later king nor current leaders, but for all the people through their generation and even resident aliens!

31:12 "may hear. . .learn. . .fear" Notice the progression of verbs:

1. "hear" - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperfect, common in Deuteronomy, meaning "to hear so as to do"

2. "learn" - BDB 540, KB 531, Qal imperfect

3. "fear" - BDB 431, KB 432, Qal perfect (see last paragraph below)

4. "be careful to observe"

a. BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal perfect

b. BDB 793, KB 889, Qal infinitive construct

Notice that #1,2,3 are repeated in v. 13 to relate to the new generation, which did not as yet know (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal perfect). This law was meant to be known and kept through multiple generations of Israelis.

In some ways this progression reminds me of Ezra (cf. Ezra 7:10). Israel is to fear or revere (BDB 431) YHWH (cf. 4:10; 14:23; 17:19), but not fear anyone or anything else!

14Then the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, the time for you to die is near; call Joshua, and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, that I may commission him." So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves at the tent of meeting. 15The Lord appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood at the doorway of the tent. 16The Lord said to Moses, "Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. 17Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them; so that they will say in that day, 'Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?' 18But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods."

31:14 "call. . .present" These are two imperatives.

1. "call" - BDB 894, KB 1128, Qal imperative

2. "present" - BDB 426, KB 427, Hithpael imperative (this refers to an official commissioning by YHWH, cf. I Sam. 10:19, or covenant renewal, cf. Josh. 24:1)


▣ "the tent of meeting" There seems to have been two special tents connected to YHWH:

1. the tabernacle described in Exodus 25-27, which housed the Ark of the Covenant and was positioned at the center of the Israelite camp

2. the tent of meeting described in Exod. 33:7-11, erected outside of the camp of Israel, where Moses went to meet with YHWH

3. usually the cloud (i.e., which the rabbis call the Shekinah Cloud of Glory), which symbolized YHWH's personal presence, manifested itself at #1, but here at #2 (cf. v. 15; Exod. 33:9)

4. It is possible that several other references relate to #2-Exod. 18:7-16; Num. 11:16,24,26; 12:4


▣ "that I may commission him" In v. 7 Moses calls Joshua before the people. Here YHWH calls Moses and Joshua before Himself.

31:15 "a pillar of cloud" This same pillar of cloud was what separated the children of Israel from the army of Egypt (cf. Exod. 13:21-22; 14:19-20). This pillar is what filled the Temple when Isaiah saw God "high and lifted up" in Isaiah 6. This was a physical symbol of the presence of God. It stayed with the Israelites throughout their wilderness wandering. It functioned in several ways:

1. it showed YHWH's presence

2. it led the Israelites from place to place

3. it shaded them by day

4. it lit up their camp by night

Once they crossed Jordan, YHWH's presence was manifested over the Ark of the Covenant, but the cloud disappeared.

31:16 "this people will arise and play the harlot" This reveals YHWH's foreknowledge of Israel's continuing sin of idolatry (cf. 4:15-28; 31:29). Notice the progression of the idolatry in the verbs:

1. "will arise" - BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal perfect, e.g., Exod. 32:6

2. "play the harlot" - BDB 275, KB 275, Qal perfect

a. act as a harlot

(1) Lev. 21:7,9,14

(2) Deut. 22:21; 23:18

b. metaphorically of the Promised Land, Lev. 19:29

c. metaphorically of foreign alliances

(1) Isa. 23:17

(2) Jer. 3:1

(3) Ezek. 16:26,28

d. metaphorically of fertility idolatry

(1) Exod. 34:15,16

(2) Lev. 17:7; 20:5

(3) Deut. 31:16

3. "will forsake Me" - BDB 736, KB 806, Qal perfect, cf. 28:20; Jdgs. 10:6,10; Jer. 1:16

4. "break My covenant" - BDB 830, KB 974, Hiphil perfect, cf. 31:20; Lev. 26:15; Jer. 11:10


31:17 "My anger will be kindled" This verb (BDB 354, KB 351, Qal perfect) is often used of YHWH's anger:

1. against Moses, Exod. 4:14

2. against Israel, Exod. 22:24; 32:10; Num. 11:1,10; 32:10; Deut. 6:15; 7:4; 11:17; 31:17

3. against the spies, Num. 12:9

4. against Balaam, Num. 22:22 

5. against the land, Deut. 29:27


▣ "I will forsake them and hide My face from them" These two verbs describe anthropomorphically YHWH's nullification of the covenant. YHWH does to them what they did to Him (cf. v. 16).

1. "I will forsake them" - BDB 736, KB 806, Qal perfect

2. "hide My face from them" - BDB 711, KB 771, Hiphil perfect, cf. v. 18; 32:20; Isa. 59:2; 64:7). This is an idiom for the removal of covenant fellowship and blessing.

The consequences are:

1. they shall be consumed

a. verb, "to be" - BDB 224, KB 243, Qal perfect

b. consumed/devoured - BDB 37, KB 46, Qal infinitive construct

2. many evils and troubles will come

a. "will come" - BDB 592, KB 619, Qal perfect

b. evil - BDB 949

c. troubles - BDB 865 I

3. YHWH's presence (cf. vv. 6,8) will not be with them (i.e., "our God is not among us")


31:18 The threat from v. 17 (i.e., "I will hide my face from them") is emphatically repeated (Hiphil infinitive absolute and Hiphil imperfect).

"other gods" The Jewish Study Bible asserts that "our God" of v. 17 should be translated "our gods" and relate to "other gods" in v. 18 (cf. P. 439).

The first term (BDB 43) seems to be a singular form derived from Elohim (BDB 43) in v. 18. The first term can be used of a pagan god (cf. II Chr. 32:15; Dan. 11:37), but also for YHWH (cf. Deut. 32:15,17; Ps. 50:22; 114:7; 139:19; Pro. 30:5; Isa. 44:8).

19"Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, so that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel. 20For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant. 21Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore." 22So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the sons of Israel.

31:19 "write this song for yourselves" This would be a witness for God against the future actions of Israel.

This, of course, is a legal metaphor (cf. 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; Josh. 24:22)! Israel was responsible to instruct every new generation in YHWH's law!

31:20 "they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous then they will turn to other gods" The hardest times for the people of God are during the times of great prosperity! We tend to forget so easily (cf. 6:10-15; 8:11-20; 32:15-18).

Notice the downward progression into rebellion:

1. they will turn to other gods - BDB 815, KB 937, Qal perfect, cf. v. 18; 29:18; 30:17

2. serve them - BDB 712, KB 773, Qal perfect, cf. 4:19; 7:4; 8:19; 11:16; 13:6,13; 17:3; 28:14,36,64; 29:18,26; 30:17

3. spurn Me - BDB 610, KB 658, Piel perfect, cf. Num. 14:11,23; Isa. 1:4

4. break My covenant - BDB 830, KB 974, Hiphil perfect, cf. v. 16; Lev. 26:15; Jer. 11:10; 31:32


31:21 "when many evils and troubles have come upon them" These evils and troubles were mentioned in v. 17 and predicted in 4:30.

▣ "(for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants)" This is a promise of a faithful remnant and continued knowledge of YHWH's law.

▣ "intent" The Hebrew word yetzer is sometimes translated "imagination of the heart" (BDB 428 I, it can be in a positive sense, Isa. 26:3). This is the OT way of saying that YHWH knows the tendency toward rebellion which is within mankind (i.e., Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Ps. 103:14; Jer. 18:23).

23Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, "Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you."

31:23 Moses spoke these words to Israel in 31:6. Moses spoke these words to Joshua in 31:7 (cf. 1:38; 3:28). Now (v. 23) YHWH speaks these words directly to Joshua (cf. Josh. 1:6,7,9), who stood with Moses at the door of the tabernacle.

1. "be strong" - BDB 304, KB 302, Qal imperative

2. "be courageous" - BDB 54, KB 65, Qal imperative


▣ "I will be with you" This statement identifies the pronoun "he" of v. 23a. This is YHWH's greatest gift (cf. Exod. 3:12; 4:12,15; 33:14-16; Deut. 4:37; 31:6,8; Josh. 1:5)!

24It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, 25that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, 26"Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. 27For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more, then, after my death? 28Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. 29For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands."

31:26 "beside the ark" The KJV has "in," but the better translation is "beside" (NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB, cf. Exod. 25:16; I Kgs. 8:9); and for "the ark" see Exod. 25:10-22.

In the OT apparently only the two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments written by God (Exod. 31:18) were contained in the Ark (as well as the pieces of the first set that Moses broke, e.g., Exod. 32:19; 34:1). There are three other items which were placed beside the Ark:

1. a jar of manna, Exod. 16:33-34

2. Aaron's rod that budded, Num. 17:10

3. this copy of the law written by Moses

However, there must have been some confusion about this within rabbinical circles, because the author of Hebrews asserts that the Ark contained the stone tablets and #1 and #2 (cf. Heb. 9:4).

▣ "covenant" See Special Topic at 4:13.

31:27 "For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness" Moses had experienced Israel's rebellious tendencies (cf. v. 21) during his lifetime (cf. 9:7-29).

NKJV"stiff neck"
NRSV, TEV"stubborn"
NJB"stiff necked"

The term is a combination of "neck" (BDB 791) and "stiff" or "hard" (BDB 904). Israel is often described by this unflattering combination (cf. Exod. 32:8; 33:3,5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6,13; 31:27). The verb is used in Deut. 10:16; II Kgs. 17:14; Neh. 9:16,17,29; Jer. 7:26; 17:23; 19:15. The same thought is expressed in Isa. 48:4 and Ezek. 2:4; 3:7.

In a sense vv. 27-29 are a prophecy, based on the past actions of Israel. This same kind of prophecy is also found in Josh. 24:19-20. Israel's best efforts were not enough. The first covenant would fail to restore the intended intimacy between YHWH and His highest creation (i.e., mankind) in the Garden of Eden. It would take a New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) based on YHWH's actions. Mankind was incurably rebellious (cf. Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Jer. 17:9).

31:28 This verse has three imperatival verbs:

1. "assemble" - BDB 874, KB 1078, Hiphil imperative

2. "speak" - BDB 180, KB 210, Piel cohortative

3. "call" - BDB 729, KB 795, Hiphil cohortative

Moses addresses the leaders (i.e., elders and officers), who symbolize all Israel, directly. This may refer to a representative national council (e.g., Jdgs. 21:16).

▣ "the heavens and the earth to witness against them" The ratification witnesses are often mentioned in covenant contexts (cf. 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1).

In this chapter there are also two other witnesses:

1. Moses' song, vv. 19,21

2. law scroll, v. 26


31:29 Notice the downward progression prophesies after Moses' death (cf. Josh. 24:19-28):

1. you will act corruptly - BDB 1007, KB 1469, both the Hiphil imperfect and the infinitive absolute, cf. 4:16,25; 9:12

2. turn from the way - BDB 693, KB 747, Qal perfect

3. you will do that which is evil (BDB 948 II) in the sight of the Lord - BDB 793 I, KB 889, Qal imperfect

4. provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands (BDB 795 and 388, i.e., idolatry) - BDB 494, KB 491, Hiphil infinitive construct, cf. 4:25; 9:18; 32:16; I Kgs. 16:7; II Kgs. 17:7; 21:6; Jer. 25:6,7; 32:30; 44:8


31:30 This verse should go with chapter 32.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is God changing leaders?

2. How is God's foreknowledge and man's choice related in this chapter?

3. Why did Israel turn away from God?


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