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Share the Word: Deuteronomy 31

In Summary:

Moses has very little time left in the story. His story draws to an end with the close of the Pentateuch and has only three chapters left. He has led Israel out Egypt and up to the Promised Land. The story now focuses on him personally rather than the nation as a whole.

Deuteronomy 31 features the beginning of Moses’ closing words to Israel. This chapter is headed by an important distinction: these are the words of Moses to all Israel, rather than Moses speaking for the Lord. That is an important distinction, although my belief in all of the Bible as inspired by God leads me to see this still as God’s Word. Prior to this chapter, Moses has given the official terms and conditions of the covenant.

Here we see the beginning of his summary of those terms. Think of it like this: there are long, wordy terms and conditions for the software you use. I can sum it up: don’t make illegal copies of the software, don’t break it down to make your own version, don’t expect it to do more than it claims, don’t expect the company to pay you for it not doing what it should do, and don’t expect the company to provide you a new computer if it breaks yours.

One of those is the legal covenant for using iTunes. The other is my synopsis. Both are accurate—this is the best analogy to what we see Moses do in the first portion of Deuteronomy 31.

The second portion records the Lord’s (YHWH)’s words to Moses about what the future holds for Israel. It’s a disturbing look at the future of apostasy and failure. God gives a command to Moses to write a song for the Israelites to remember the covenant by, and the commissions Joshua to take charge of Israel. The song is Deuteronomy 32, so we’ll see that later.

In Focus:

Focus in on Deuteronomy 31:9 for a moment. Moses has written out the Law. He now gives a copy to the Levites who carry the Ark and “to all the elders,” likely meaning that they are witnesses to the event. It is also possible that there are additional copies which are entrusted to the leadership of the community while one is preserved in the Ark.

Is it important? This is recorded twice in this chapter (Deuteronomy 31:26,) with this second time highlighting the evidentiary purpose of the preservation. The Ark-held copy is for a witness against the Israelites, in the days when they abandon the covenant.

In Practice:

Practically speaking, the first item we should see is that the covenant and its written record belong to the people, not to just one person. The idea we can copy here is that no one person—be it a Moses or a Joshua—should possess the Word of God and block the access of others to it. Why? Partly because all of us are accountable to the Word of God. This is part of the Christian heritage of our nation, as well: the rule of law.

As an aside: we are not in a rule of the majority nation. We are in a rule of law nation. The majority voices their opinion to make the law, but then the law rules. Otherwise there is chaos—and someone claiming to be popular can subvert the reality. Further, the law rules and prohibits the majority from making abusive decisions to the detriment of the minorities.

Next piece of practical results? This: the consistent presence of the Word of God is a witness against us, His covenant people, for our failure to keep that covenant. We live in a Bible-rich age and our lives are Bible-poor. That should not be.

Finally, there is the ever-present reminder here that generations follow after generations. Let us not assume we are the first to follow Jesus nor that we will be the last. Let us learn from those who have entrusted the task to us, and then let us entrust the task onward!

In Nerdiness:

Of all the laws Moses restates in the first part of Deuteronomy 31, he picks remission of debts in Deuteronomy 31:10. Think on what that means for how we handle economics.


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