Deu 31:1-13 describe how Moses promised the help of the Lord in the conquest of the land, both to the people generally, and also to Joshua, their leader into Canaan (Deu 31:2-8), and commanded the priests to keep the book of the law, and read it publicly every seventh year (Deu 31:9-13); and Deu 31:14-23, how the Lord appeared to Moses before the tabernacle, and directed him to compose an ode as a testimony against the apostasy of the people, and promised Joshua His assistance. And lastly, Deu 31:24-27 relate how the book of the law, when brought to completion, was handed over to the Levites; and Deu 31:28-30 describe the reading of the ode to the people.
In Deu 31:1 Moses' final arrangements are announced. וַיֵּלֶךְ does not mean “he went away” (into his tent), which does not tally with what follows (“and spake”); nor is it merely equivalent to porro, amplius. It serves, as in Exo 2:1 and Gen 35:22, as a pictorial description of what he was about to do, in the sense of “he prepared himself,” or rose up. After closing the exposition of the law, Moses had either withdrawn, or at any rate made a pause, before he proceeded to make his final arrangements for laying down his office, and taking leave of the people.
These last arrangements he commences with the declaration, that he must now bid them farewell, as he is 120 years old (which agrees with Exo 7:7), and can no more go out and in, i.e., no longer work in the nation and for it (see at Num 27:17); and the Lord has forbidden him to cross over the Jordan and enter Canaan (see Num 20:24). The first of these reasons is not at variance with the statement in Deu 34:7, that up to the time of his death his eyes were not dim, nor his strength abated. For this is merely an affirmation, that he retained the ability to see and to work to the last moment of his life, which by no means precludes his noticing the decline of his strength, and feeling the approach of his death.
But although Moses could not, and was not to lead his people into Canaan, the Lord would fulfil His promise, to go before Israel and destroy the Canaanites, like the two kings of the Amorites; only they (the Israelites) were to do to them as the Lord had commanded them, i.e., to root out the Canaanites (vid., Deu 7:2.; Num 33:51.; Exo 34:11.).
Israel was therefore to be of good courage, and not to be afraid of them (vid., Deu 1:21; Deu 20:3).
Moses then encourages Joshua in the same way in the presence of all the people, on the strength of the promise of God in Deu 1:38 and Num 27:18. אֶת־הָעָם תָּבֹוא, “thou wilt come with this people into the land.” These words are quite appropriate; and the alteration of תָּבֹוא into תָּבִיא, according to Deu 31:23 (Samar., Syr., Vulg.), is a perfectly unnecessary conjecture; for Joshua was not appointed leader of the people here, but simply promised an entrance with all the people into Canaan.
Moses then handed over the law which he had written to the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant, and to all the elders of Israel, with instructions to read it to the people at the end of every seven years, during the festal season of the year of release (“at the end,” as in Deu 15:1), viz., at the fast of Tabernacles (see Lev 23:34), when they appeared before the Lord. It is evident from the context and contents of these verses, apart from Deu 31:24, that the ninth verse is to be understood in the way described, i.e., that the two clauses, which are connected together by vav. relat. (“and Moses wrote this law,” “and delivered it”), are not logically co-ordinate, but that the handing over of the written law was the main thing to be recorded here. With regard to the handing over of the law, the fact that Moses not only gave the written law to the priests, that they might place it by the ark of the covenant, but also “to all the elders of Israel,” proves clearly enough that Moses did not intend at this time to give the law-book entirely out of his own hands, but that this handing over was merely an assignment of the law to the persons who were to take care, that in the future the written law should be kept before the people, as the rule of their life and conduct, and publicly read to them. The explanation which J. H. Mich. gives is perfectly correct, “He gave it for them to teach and keep.” The law-book would only have been given to the priests, if the object had been simply that it should be placed by the ark of the covenant, or at the most, in the presence of the elders, but certainly not to all the elders, since they were not allowed to touch the ark. The correctness of this view is placed beyond all doubt by the contents of Deu 31:10. The main point in hand was not the writing out of the law, or the transfer of it to the priests and elders of the nation, but the command to read the law in the presence of the people at the feast of Tabernacles of the year of release. The writing out and handing over simply formed the substratum for this command, so that we cannot infer from them, that by this act Moses formally gave the law out of his own hands. He entrusted the reading to the priesthood and the college of elders, as the spiritual and secular rulers of the congregation; and hence the singular, “Thou shalt read this law to all Israel.” The regulations as to the persons who were to undertake the reading, and also as to the particular time during the seven days' feast, and the portions that were to be read, he left to the rulers of the congregation. We learn from Neh 8:18, that in Ezra's time they read in the book of the law every day from the first to the last day of the feast, from which we may see on the one hand, that the whole of the Thorah (or Pentateuch), from beginning to end, was not read; and on the other hand, by comparing the expression in Deu 31:18, “the book of the law of God,” with “the law,” in Deu 31:14, that the reading was not restricted to Deuteronomy: for, according to v. 14, they had already been reading in Leviticus (ch. 23) before the feast was held - an evident proof that Ezra the scribe did not regard the book of Deuteronomy like the critics of our day, as the true national law-book, an acquaintance with which was all that the people required. Moses did not fix upon the feast of Tabernacles of the sabbatical year as the time for reading the law, because it fell at the beginning of the year,
(Note: It by no means follows, that because the sabbatical year commenced with the omission of the usual sowing, i.e., began in the autumn with the civil year, it therefore commenced with the feast of Tabernacles, and the order of the feasts was reversed in the sabbatical year. According to Exo 23:16, the feast of Tabernacles did not fall at the beginning, but at the end of the civil year. The commencement of the year with the first of Tisri was an arrangement introduced after the captivity, which the Jews had probably adopted from the Syrians (see my bibl. Archaeol. i. §74, note 15). Nor does it follow, that because the year of jubilee was to be proclaimed on the day of atonement in the sabbatical year with a blast of trumpets (Lev 25:9), therefore the year of jubilee must have begun with the feast of Tabernacles. The proclamation of festivals is generally made some time before they commence.)
as Schultz wrongly supposes, that the people might thereby be incited to occupy this year of entire rest in holy employment with the word and works of God. And the reading itself was nether intended to promote a more general acquaintance with the law on the part of the people, - an object which could not possibly have been secured by reading it once in seven years; nor was it merely to be a solemn promulgation and restoration of the law as the rule for the national life, for the purpose of removing any irregularities that might have found their way in the course of time into either the religious or the political life of the nation (Bähr, Symbol. ii. p. 603). To answer this end, it should have been connected with the Passover, the festival of Israel's birth. The reading stood rather in close connection with the idea of the festival itself; it was intended to quicken the soul with the law of the Lord, to refresh the heart, to enlighten the eyes, - in short, to offer the congregation the blessing of the law, which David celebrated from his own experience in Ps. 19:8-15, to make the law beloved and prized by the whole nation, as a precious gift of the grace of God. Consequently (Deu 31:12, Deu 31:13), not only the men, but the women and children also, were to be gathered together for this purpose, that they might hear the word of God, and learn to fear the Lord their God, as long as they should live in the land which He gave them for a possession. On Deu 31:11, see Exo 23:17, and Exo 34:23-24, where we also find לֵרָאֹות for לְהֵרָאֹות (Exo 34:24).