Deuteronomy 31:16
And the LORD said to Moses, Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, where they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.
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(16, 19) Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers . . . now therefore write ye this song.—This prophecy that the children of Israel would forsake Jehovah and break His covenant is not a little remarkable, when we consider His dealings with them as a nation. It is one of the many proofs in Holy Scripture that our Creator is not like the man in our Lord’s parable, who “intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost, whether he hath sufficient to finish it.” When He chose Israel to be His people, He knew the risk of doing so, and He provided for it beforehand. Not less when He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” did He provide the means of forming in us the Divine character by all that Christ has done. The fall is recorded in the third chapter of Genesis. Redemption and restoration are exhibited in type and symbol in the second chapter. God brought Israel into Canaan in full foreknowledge of what the people would become when there.

(16) And break my covenant.—With this, contrast Judges 2:1 : “I said, I will never break my covenant with you.” The phrases are identical in Hebrew. Comp. 2Timothy 2:13 : “If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.”

Deuteronomy 31:16. Thou shalt sleep with thy fathers — Sleep is a common word for death, and, to those who believe a resurrection, has a peculiar propriety, to remind them that death shall not have dominion over them for ever, but that they shall awake as certainly as they fall asleep. This people will go after the gods of the strangers — That is, the Canaanites, who will be turned out of their possessions, and become as strangers in the land. This aggravates their folly to worship such gods as could neither preserve their friends nor annoy their enemies. What a convincing proof is this that these sacred writings are indeed divine! For what human knowledge could or would have pronounced this at a time when the whole people were undoubtedly actuated with the greatest willingness, and the strongest resolution to keep the commandments of God? Or what mere human legislator would, at the same time that he gave his laws, have left it upon record that his people would certainly forsake and break them?31:14-22 Moses and Joshua attended the Divine Majesty at the door of the tabernacle. Moses is told again that he must shortly die; even those who are most ready and willing to die, need to be often reminded of its coming. The Lord tells Moses, that, after his death, the covenant he had taken so much pains to make between Israel and their God, would certainly be broken. Israel would forsake Him; then God would forsake Israel. Justly does he cast those off who so unjustly cast him off. Moses is directed to deliver them a song, which should remain a standing testimony for God, as faithful to them in giving them warning, and against them, as persons false to themselves in not taking the warning. The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of men's hearts, and meets them by reproofs and correction. Ministers who preach the word, know not the imaginations of men; but God, whose word it is, knows perfectly.The future apostasy of the people is announced in the presence of Joshua that the latter might be fully aware of the danger and strive in his day to avert it. This he faithfully did (compare Joshua 24:31); but we find him in his own last address to Israel repeating Joshua 23:15-16 the self-same prediction and warning.16-22. the Lord said unto Moses, … this people will rise up—In this remarkable interview, Moses was distinctly apprised of the infidelity of Israel, their corruptions of the true religion through intercourse with the idolatrous inhabitants of Canaan (Am 5:26), and their chastisements in consequence of those national defections. The death of men, both good and bad, is oft called a

sleep, because they shall certainly awake out of it by resurrection. See Psalm 76:5 Daniel 12:2 1 Thessalonians 4:13, &c.; 2 Peter 3:4. This people will go a whoring: God certainly foresees all things to come, yea, even those which depend upon the wills of men, or contingencies of the things, as this unquestionably did.

Of the strangers of the land, i.e. of the Canaanites, who now are possessors, but shortly will be turned out of their possessions, and become as strangers in their own land. This aggravates their folly, to worship such gods as could neither preserve their friends, nor annoy their enemies. And the Lord said unto Moses,.... Out of the pillar of cloud:

behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; a phrase expressive of death, frequently used both of good and bad men, which serves to render death easy and familiar, and less formidable; and to assure and lead into an expectation of an awaking out of it, or a resurrection from it:

and this people will rise up; in their posterity; for not till after Joshua's death, and the death of the elders of Israel, did they revolt to idolatry, Joshua 24:31,

and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be amongst them; that is, after the gods of the Canaanites, who though at this time the inhabitants of the land, yet when the children of Israel became possessors of it, they were the strangers of it; and being suffered to continue contrary to the directions God had given to destroy them, would be a means of drawing them into the worship of their idols, expressed here by going a whoring after them, or committing whoredom with them. Idolatry in Scripture is frequently signified by fornication and adultery; and, as foretold, this was the case; see Psalm 106:35,

and will forsake me: their husband, departing from his worship and service:

and break my covenant which I have made with them at Sinai; and now again in the plains of Moab, and which had the nature of a matrimonial contract; see Jeremiah 31:32.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.
16. Commences another saying of the Lord to Moses not connected with Joshua or with 14 f. except by reference to the approaching death of Moses.

And the Lord said … Behold] See on 14.

thou art about to sleep with thy fathers] In J, Genesis 47:30, and frequently in Kings.

go a whoring after the strange gods of the land] Jehovah was Israel’s husband, and her worship of other gods is therefore figured as whoredom (as by Hosea), but the figure is the more forcible that such worship often involved physical unchastity as well. Strange, or foreign, gods, not elsewhere in Deut. (though in the Song, Deuteronomy 32:12), is found in E, Genesis 35:2; Genesis 35:4, Joshua 24:20; Joshua 24:23, and in some later books. Of the land whither it goeth in is probably a gloss (Klost., Dillm., Dri., etc.), for it renders the construction of the v. very awkward, which R.V. seeks to relieve by inserting the words ‘to be.’ Forsake me, Deuteronomy 28:20, and in E, Joshua 24:16; Joshua 24:20. Break my covenant is found in the Hex. only here, Deuteronomy 31:20 and H, Leviticus 26:15; Leviticus 26:44 and P, Genesis 17:14, but is not uncommon elsewhere.Verse 16. - Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12; Psalm 13:3; Psalm 76:5; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 27:52; John 11:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:14). "The death of men, both good and bad, is often called a sleep, because they shall certainly awake out of it by resurrection" (Peele). Go a whoring (cf. Exodus 34:15; Judges 2:17) after the gods of the strangers of the land; literally, after gods of strangeness of the land; i.e. after gods foreign to the land, as opposed to Jehovah, the alone proper God of the land he had given to them. 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 Deuteronomy 15:1), viz., at the fast of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23:34), when they appeared before the Lord. It is evident from the context and contents of these verses, apart from Deuteronomy 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 Deuteronomy 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 Nehemiah 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 Deuteronomy 31:18, "the book of the law of God," with "the law," in Deuteronomy 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 Exodus 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 (Leviticus 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 (Bhr, 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 Psalm 19:8-15, to make the law beloved and prized by the whole nation, as a precious gift of the grace of God. Consequently (Deuteronomy 31:12, Deuteronomy 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 Deuteronomy 31:11, see Exodus 23:17, and Exodus 34:23-24, where we also find לראות for להראות (Exodus 34:24).

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