Moses has completed his expounding of the law to the people in a series of sermons. In his final sermon he declared that Israel was going to fail at keeping the law but that their hope would not be lost even in their disobedience. Once the people failed, God would circumcise their hearts and they would love the Lord with all their heart and soul. Further, the Lord would restore the fortunes of the people and have mercy on them. All of these things were pointing to the restoration that would be initiated when Jesus came. God would cut people’s hearts by sacrificing his own Son so that all the world could be gathered to him. With his sermons to the people of Israel complete, Moses must now pass the torch to his successor who will lead the people into the promised land. These are the final words of Moses.
Be Strong and Courageous (31:1-8)
Moses speaks to Israel and tells them that he is 120 years old but is not going to bring the people into the land because that is the Lord’s declaration. Moses will not be allowed to lead the people into the land because of his rebellion recorded in Numbers. The Lord will be their leader and that is why they have nothing to fear or dread. The Lord will destroy the nations and Joshua will be at the head as they go into the land. Therefore, the people are to be strong and courageous because the Lord will never leave them or forsake them. This will be Israel’s hope as they go in. Their hope is not to be in Moses. Their hope is to rest completely on the Lord and knowledge that the Lord will not leave them. This is why the people have nothing to fear. God is with you.
Passing The Torch (31:9-29)
In verses 9-13 Moses writes the law and gives it to the priests and to all the elders of Israel. Every seven years that law was to be read to the people at the Feast of Booths. The people were to assemble, listen, and fear the Lord. Further, they were to be careful to do all the words of this law so that their children also will hear and learn to fear the Lord. The children were not excluded from this. The children were not supposed to do something else while the law was read. It was important for them to hear the word of the Lord read before them so they would learn just like the adults.
Now it is time for the visible passing of the torch from Moses to Joshua in verses 14-29. The Lord appears in a pillar of cloud over the tent. Then the Lord tells Moses some certainly discouraging words. These people are going to give themselves over to these foreign gods when they come into the land. They will forsake the Lord and break the covenant. The Lord will then consume them in his anger for their rebellion. Great trouble will come upon the nation and the people will begin to realize that the Lord is not with them.
Because of this, the Lord has Moses write down a song to teach the people so that it will be witness for the Lord against Israel (31:19). The song of Moses is a song of confrontation to witness against them for what they have sinfully done. When the people wonder why all these troubles come upon them, they will know this song because it will be taught to future generations so that will know why these things are happening. So Moses wrote down the song and taught it to the people (31:22). The Lord then tells Joshua to be strong and courageous because he will bring the people into the land. After Moses finished writing the law, it was to be placed beside the ark of the covenant as a witness to the people. The reason is because Moses knows how rebellious and stubborn the people are. I think it is important to see that Moses has not sugar coated the situation. He tells them their sins directly. They are rebellious and stubborn and that is why Moses is in their presence. They are going to be worse once he dies. When he dies the people are going to turn away from the commands of the Lord and pains will come on them for the evil they will do in the sight of the Lord. Moses tells them this to try to impact their hearts so that these will not come upon them.
The Song of Moses (31:30-32:47)
The song that Moses gives to the people can be outlined in a rather simple way. The first four verses acknowledge the perfections of the Lord. Verses 5-18 acknowledge the people’s imperfections. Finally, verses 19-35 are a call to the people to recognize God’s justice. God’s name is great for he is just and faithful (32:3-4). But the people have disqualified themselves by acting corruptly (32:5). God cared for his people (32:10-14), but the people forgot. Their prosperity led to forsaking the Lord (32:15-18). God could not be with the people because of their rejection of him (32:19-22). Verses 22-27 describe the consequences for their rejection of the Lord. Yet God will not destroy the people for his own glory (32:26-27). The problem is that they are a people who lack understanding (32:28-30) which is what Moses said in Deuteronomy 29:4. They are like Sodom and Gomorrah (32:31-33), storing up judgments for themselves (32:34-35).
But listen to the amazing love of God in verse 36. The Lord will have compassion on his people after they are judged. Then God will destroy your gods so that you will no longer trust in your gods (32:37-38). What God did was show Israel that their idols were nothing by sending them bringing trouble upon them. God is showing the people that everything that they trusted in did not help them at all. This is an important message to this song and an important message for us. God has a way to cut the idols out of our hearts. The way he cuts out our idols is putting our lives in distress so that we will see the emptiness of trusting in those idols rather than God. We have all experienced this to one degree or another. Just when we start accumulating some money, what seems to always happen is that something big happens requiring our money to be lost. God will cause us to lose that which we hope in to show us how we are wasting our lives putting our hope in those people or things rather than hoping in God. The Lord wants us to ask where are our gods that we took refuge in. The Lord wants us to see how our gods do not rise up and help us in the day of our calamity. Only God can help us. The point is that God wants us to see that there is no one like the Lord and that he is sovereign (32:39-43). Therefore, understand that the word of God is your very life (32:44-47). This is the song Israel was to sing and remember all the days of their lives, through all the generations.
The Reason For Moses’ Death (32:48-52)
With this in mind, consider the literary location of the explanation for Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 32:48-52. The Lord tells Moses that he is going to walk up Mount Nebo and see the land that he is going to give Israel as a possession. It is on this mountain that Moses is going to die. But the reason for Moses’ death is highlighted. This will happen because Moses broke faith with Lord and did not treat the Lord as holy in the midst of the people (32:51). Please consider the message that is being declared to Israel and to us. The people who will fall short of entering the glory of the promised land are those who break faith with the Lord and do not treat the Lord as holy. The people must remain faithful to the Lord and treat God as holy before the world to enter with the Lord into his eternal promises.
The Torch Passes (33:1-34:12)
Chapter 33 records Moses blessing the tribes of Israel and reminding them that there is no one like the Lord (33:26). Further, to remember that they are a people who have been saved by the Lord (33:29). After blessing the people, Moses began to walk up Mount Nebo to see the promised land. Look after 34:5-8.
5 So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, 6 and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. 8 And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended. (Deuteronomy 34:5–8 ESV)
Notice that the reason Moses died was not because he was so old. His eyes were undimmed and his vigor had not left him. He died because God designated that it was time for Moses to die. The epitaph for Moses is amazing. Look at verses 10-12.
10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10–12 ESV)
There has not arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses. No one was like Moses who knew the Lord face to face. No one was like Moses for all the signs and wonder that the Lord sent him to do. No one was like Moses because he had a direct, intimate relationship with the Lord. He did not need an intermediary (cf. Numbers 12:6-8; Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Yet remember the prophecy we read in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 that a prophet like Moses would one day arise to lead the people. A new Moses was going to come who would know the Lord face to face and would perform signs and wonders like no one else. Deuteronomy ends showing what the people should look for in the new Moses. Remember what John 1:14-18 records.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14–18 ESV)
John also records in John 9 how of all the miracles ever performed, no one has ever given sight to the blind (John 9:32). Jesus performed signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to do and there was no one like him in what he did. We are to see the glory of Moses and through that lens see an even greater glory of Jesus.
Finally, did you see the title of honor given to Moses: the servant of the Lord? This is the first time we see this title given to Moses. Moses dies and what is the honor given to him? His honor is that he is the servant of the Lord. What an honor to be given to Moses! Of all the things that could have been said about Moses, this is the notable honor given to him: Moses was the servant of the Lord.
Remember the parable of the talents that Jesus told in Matthew 25. When the master came to settle accounts, each servant stood before the master and gave an account of what they had done with talents they had received from the master. Listen to the honor given to the servants who have done the will of the master. “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Jesus has made it possible for us to receive the same honor, called a servant of the Lord. Be faithful to the Lord. Give your life to Lord. Follow the Lord with all your heart. Do not put your hope in idols and false gods. They cannot help. They cannot save. Depend on the Lord. Let the Lord be your hope for life.