At 120 years old, Moses is told that he will not be going over the Jordan River with the rest of the people, so a replacement must be named. God chooses Joshua son of Nun. So Moses dutifully summons Joshua to him in front of everyone and tells him to be strong and courageous, and to remember that God is with him. That seems to be taking it rather well, considering what Moses has been. If he feels any resentment at having to pass the baton, he doesn’t seem to show it.

Moses Receiving the Law, by William Blake, c.1780

Moses Receiving the Law, by William Blake, c.1780

Moses then “wrote the law” (Deut. 31:9), supposedly the book of Deuteronomy, but that’s an assumption. It could just refer to the ordinances. Once it is written, Moses hands it over to the Levites to carry along with the ark, and also to the elders of Israel – which could mean that he either wrote multiple copies, or that both groups are responsible for the book.

From then on, Moses charges them to read out the book to the whole congregation every seven years, at the feast of booths, so that they can all hear it and learn it. This includes the men, the women, the children, and even the sojourners.

God then makes another seven days” call, and calls Moses and Joshua to the door of the tent of meeting, appearing to them as a pillar of cloud. There, he tells Moses that the people will betray him, so he’ll turn away from them so that “they will be devoured” (Deut. 31:16-17). To prepare his “I told you so” moment, he asks Moses to write down a song. Moses does so, and then God commissions Joshua, a repetition of the story from Numbers 27.

To close off, Moses gives his own warning to the people, saying: “Behold, while I am yet alive with you, today you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more after my death!” (Deut. 31:27). A point that might have been better made if Moses himself were not about to die for his own rebelliousness.

The whole chapter bounces all over the place and was rather hard to follow. I think Brant Clements of Both Saint and Cynic sums it up well:

Verses 14-18 “predict” God’s rejection of Israel. In verses 19-22 YHWH instructs Moses to write “this song” (What song?). Verse 23 focuses on Joshua again. Verses 24-29 hark back to 9-13. Here Moses is instructed to place the book he has written beside the ark of the Covenant. And then in verse 30, we are given an introduction to Moses song which begins in chapter 32 (Oh, that song!).