With the installation of Joshua on the part of God, the official life of Moses was brought to a close. Having returned from the tabernacle, he finished the writing out of the laws, and then gave the book of the law to the Levites, with a command to put it by the side of the ark of the covenant, that it might be there for a witness against the people, as He knew its rebellion and stiffneckedness (Deu 31:24-27). עַל־סֵפֶר כָּתַב, to write upon a book, equivalent to write down, commit to writing. תֻּמָּם עַד, till their being finished, i.e., complete. By the “Levites who bare the ark of the covenant” we are not to understand ordinary Levites, but the Levitical priests, who were entrusted with the ark. “The Levites” is simply a contraction for the full expression, “the priests the sons of Levi” (Deu 31:9). It is true that, according to Num 4:4., the Kohathites were appointed to carry the holy vessels, which included the ark of the covenant, on the journey through the desert; but it was the priests, and not they, who were the true bearers and guardians of the holy things, as we may see from the fact that the priests had first of all to wrap up these holy things in a careful manner, before they handed them over to the Kohathites, that they might not touch the holy things and die (Num 4:15). Hence we find that on solemn occasions, when the ark was to be brought out in all its full significance and glory, - as, for example, in the crossing of the Jordan (Jos 3:3., Deu 4:9-10), when encompassing Jericho (Jos 6:6, Jos 6:12), at the setting up of the law on Ebal and Gerizim (Jos 8:33), and at the consecration of Solomon's temple (1Ki 8:3), - it was not by the Levites, but by the priests, that the ark of the covenant was borne. In fact the Levites were, strictly speaking, only their (the priests') servants, who relieved them of this and the other labour, so that what they did was done in a certain sense through them. If the (non-priestly) Levites were not to touch the ark of the covenant, and not even to put in the poles (Num 4:6), Moses would not have handed over the law-book, to be kept by the ark of the covenant to them, but to the priests. אָרֹון מִצַּד, at the side of the ark, or, according to the paraphrase of Jonathan, “in a case on the right side of the ark of the covenant,” which may be correct, although we must not think of this case, as many of the early theologians do, as a secondary ark attached to the ark of the covenant (see Lundius, Jüd. Heiligth. pp. 73, 74). The tables of the law were deposited in the ark (Exo 25:16; Exo 40:20), and the book of the law was to be kept by its side. As it formed, from its very nature, simply an elaborate commentary upon the decalogue, it was also to have its place outwardly as an accompaniment to the tables of the law, for a witness against the people, in the same manner as the song in the mouth of the people (Deu 31:21). For, as Moses adds in Deu 31:27, in explanation of his instructions, “I know thy rebelliousness, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the Lord (vid., Deu 9:7); and how much more after my death.”
With these words Moses handed over the complete book of the law to the Levitical priests. For although the handing over is not expressly mentioned, it is unquestionably implied in the words, “Take this book, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant,” as the finishing of the writing of the laws is mentioned immediately before. But if Moses finished the writing of the law after he had received instructions from the Lord to compose the ode, what he wrote will reach to Deu 31:23; and what follows from Deu 31:24 onwards will form the appendix to his work by a different hand.
(Note: The objection brought against this view by Riehm, namely, that “it founders on the fact that the style and language in Deu 31:24-30 and Deu 32:44-47 are just the same as in the earlier portion of the book,” simply shows that he has not taken into consideration that, with the simple style adopted in Hebrew narrative, we could hardly expect in eleven verses, which contain for the most part simply words and sayings of Moses, to find any very striking difference of language or of style. This objection, therefore, merely proves that no valid arguments can be adduced against the view in question.)
The supposition that Moses himself inserted his instructions concerning the preservation of the book of the law, and the ode which follows, is certainly possible, but not probable. The decision as to the place where it should be kept was not of such importance as to need insertion in the book of the law, since sufficient provision for its safe keeping had been made by the directions in Deu 31:9.; and although God had commanded him to write the ode, it was not for the purpose of inserting it on the Thorah as an essential portion of it, but to let the people learn it, to put it in the mouth of the people. The allusion to this ode in Deu 31:19. furnishes no conclusive evidence, either that Moses himself included it in the law-book which he had written with the account of his oration in Deu 31:28-30 and Deut 32:1-43, or that the appendix which Moses did not write commences at Deu 31:14 of this chapter. For all that follows with certainty from the expression “this song” (Deu 31:19 and Deu 31:22), which certainly points to the song in ch. 32, is that Moses himself handed over the ode to the priests with the complete book of the law, as a supplement to the law, and that this ode was then inserted by the writer of the appendix in the appendix itself.