Deuteronomy 31

The Word Made Fresh

1When Moses had finished his speech 2he said to Israel, “I am one hundred twenty years old now, and I can no longer lead you. The LORD has let me know that I will not cross over the Jordan. 3But the LORD your God will lead you across and help you overcome the people who are there, and you will take over the land.  Joshua will go with you, as the LORD has promised. 4Just as the LORD defeated the Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, 5the LORD will help you be victorious over the people across the Jordan, and you will deal with them as I have instructed you. 6Be strong. Be brave. Don’t be afraid of them, because the LORD your God goes with you and will not fail you or leave you.”

7Then Moses called Joshua forward and said to him in the hearing of all Israel, “You must have courage and be strong because you will be leading the people into the land the LORD promised your ancestors. You will help them take possession of it. 8The LORD will go ahead of you and will be with you and will not fail you. Do not be afraid.”

9Then Moses wrote the words of the law and gave it to the priests who carried the chest that held the LORD’s commandments. To them and the elders 10Moses said, “After seven years, during the year when debts are cancelled and when the Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated 11and all the people of Israel gather at the place the LORD chooses, read this law out loud in their hearing. 11Gather all the people – men, women, and children, and foreigners living among you – so that they will hear and learn to respect the LORD your God and obey all the words of this law. 13This is how the children will know the law and learn to obey it and respect the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

14The LORD said to Moses, “You will die soon. Call Joshua, and come to the meeting tent, and I will authorize him to lead the people.” So, Moses and Joshua came forward.

15Then the LORD came in a heavy cloud that stood over the entrance of the tent, 16and said to Moses, “Soon you will join your ancestors, and these people will begin to debase themselves before the foreign gods in the land they are entering. They will turn their backs on me and break the treaty I have made with them. 17When that happens I will forsake them in anger and stay hidden from them while they suffer the terrible consequences that they have brought on themselves. Then they will say, ‘Has this happened because the LORD our God has left us?’ 18I will have left them because they will have embraced other gods. 19So, I want you to write this song and teach it to the Israelites so that when they forsake me its words will be my witness against them. 20I know that when I have brought them into the land I promised their ancestors, and when they have eaten their fill and gotten fat and lazy, they will begin to serve other gods and turn their backs on me and trash my rules. 21Then, when awful consequences begin to overtake them, they will remember the words of this song. I know the kind of behavior they are capable of even before they enter the land I am giving them.”

22Moses wrote down the words of the song on that very same day and taught it to the Israelites.

23Then the LORD gave this commission to Joshua, son of Nun: “Be strong and brave, because you are the one who will lead Israel into the land I promised to give them. I will be with you.”

24When Moses finished writing all the laws in the book, 24he ordered the Levites who carried the chest containing the LORD’s laws 25to take the book and place it beside the chest to be a witness to them, 27“Because I know,” he said, “how rebellious and stubborn you are, and if you’ve already rebelled against the LORD while I’m alive, what will you do after I’m dead and gone? 28So, bring all the elders and officials of all the tribes and have them gather before me and I will recite the words to them and summon heaven and earth to be witnesses. 29I know that when I die you will become corrupt and ignore the rules I have given to you. The time will come when troubles fall on you because you will do evil things in the LORD’s eyes, and the LORD will be angry with you because of the things you will do.”

30Then Moses recited the words of the song, from beginning to end, to all the people of Israel.

Commentary

1-6: Moses, now 120 years old, concludes his speech. He ends by reassuring them that God will go before them and never forsake them or fail them. (We Methodists call this “prevenient grace”. God goes before all of us, prepares the way for us, and waits for us around every corner of life.)

7-8: Moses presents Joshua to the people and tells Joshua that he will be the one to go with them, but he emphasizes that it is God who goes before them.

9-13: Moses, always looking for ways to preserve the nation he has helped birth, gives them another ritual of remembrance: every 7th year during the Festival of Tabernacles (Succoth), the priests and the elders are to gather the people and read the law. It is not clear whether the reference is to this second covenant in the previous chapters, or to the whole of the Torah. Nehemiah 8 describes just such a reading, and it takes them six hours.

14-22: God summons Moses and Joshua to the Tent of Meeting and reveals to Moses what will happen in the future. The people will indeed forsake the covenant and suffer all the punishment of the curses Moses has warned them about. As an additional help in bringing them back to God, God tells Moses to write a song and teach it to them so that when the bad times comes, someone will remember this song and the people will thus be reminded of their calling.

23-29: God commissions Joshua. Moses writes the Law and instructs them to keep it beside the ark of the covenant. He tells them that he knows they will rebel once he’s gone (of course he knows – God just told him!). He orders them to assemble the elders and officials so he can recite the words of the song to them.

Takeaway

God knows that we will fall away. Human nature makes that inevitable. But, instead of sending another flood to kill us all, God has arranged ways for us to be called back, to repent, to be forgiven. Blessed be the name of the LORD.