Verses 1–8

Loth to part (we say) bids oft farewell. Moses does so to the children of Israel: not because he was loth to go to God, but because he was loth to leave them, fearing that when he had left them they would leave God. He had finished what he had to say to them by way of counsel and exhortation: here he calls them together to give them a word of encouragement, especially with reference to the wars of Canaan, in which they were now to engage. It was a discouragement to them that Moses was to be removed at a time when he could so ill be spared: though Joshua was continued to fight for them in the valley, they would want Moses to intercede for them on the hill, as he did, Exod. 17:10. But there is no remedy: Moses can no more go out and come in, Deut. 31:2. Not that he was disabled by any decay either of body or mind; for his natural force was not abated, Deut. 24:7. But he cannot any longer discharge his office; for, 1. He is 120 years old, and it is time for him to think of resigning his honour and returning to his rest. He that had arrived at so great an age then, when seventy or eighty was the ordinary stint, as appears by the prayer of Moses (Ps. 90:10), might well think that he had accomplished as a hireling his day. 2. He is under a divine sentence: Thou shalt not go over Jordan. Thus a full stop was put to his usefulness; hitherto he must go, hitherto he must serve, but no further. So God had appointed it and Moses acquiesces: for I know not why we should any of us desire to live a day longer than while God has work for us to do; nor shall we be accountable for more time than is allotted us. But, though Moses must not go over himself, he is anxious to encourage those that must.

I. He encourages the people; and never could any general animate his soldiers upon such good grounds as those on which Moses here encourages Israel. 1. He assures them of the constant presence of God with them (Deut. 31:3): The Lord thy God. that has led thee and kept thee hitherto will go over before thee; and those might follow boldly who were sure that they had God for their leader. He repeats it again (Deut. 31:6) with an emphasis: “The Lord thy God, the great Jehovah, who is thine in covenant, he it is, he and no less, he and no other, that goes before thee; not only who by his promise has assured thee that he will go before thee; but by his ark, the visible token of his presence, shows thee that he does actually go before thee.” And he repeats it with enlargement: “Not only he goes over before thee at first, to bring thee in, but he will continue with thee all along, with thee and thine; he will not fail thee nor forsake thee; he will not disappoint thy expectations in any strait, nor will he ever desert thy interest; be constant to him, and he will be so to thee.” This is applied by the apostle to all God’s spiritual Israel, for the encouragement of their faith and hope; unto us is this gospel preached, as well as unto them He will never fail thee, nor forsake thee, Heb. 13:5. 2. He commends Joshua to them for a leader: Joshua, he shall go over before thee, Deut. 31:3. One whose conduct, and courage, and sincere affection to their interest, they had had long experience of; and one whom God had ordained and appointed to be their leader, and therefore, no doubt, would own and bless, and make a blessing to them. See Num. 27:18. Note, It is a great encouragement to a people when, instead of some useful instruments that are removed, God raises up others to carry on his work. 3. He ensures their success. The greatest generals, supported with the greatest advantages, must yet own the issues of war to be doubtful and uncertain; the battle is not always to the strong nor to the bold; an ill accident unthought of may turn the scale against the highest hopes. But Moses had warrant from God to assure Israel that, notwithstanding the disadvantages they laboured under, they should certainly be victorious. A coward will fight when he is sure to be a conqueror. God undertakes to do the work—he will destroy these nations; and Israel shall do little else than divide the spoil—thou shalt possess them, Deut. 31:3. Two things might encourage their hopes of this:—(1.) The victories they had already obtained over Sihon and Og (Deut. 31:4), from which they might infer both the power of God, that he could do what he had done, and the purpose of God, that he would finish what he had begun to do. Thus must we improve our experience. (2.) The command God had given them to destroy the Canaanites (Deut. 7:2; 12:2), to which he refers here (Deut. 31:5; that you may do unto them according to all which I have commanded you), and from which they might infer that, if God had commanded them to destroy the Canaanites, no doubt he would put it into the power of their hands to do it. Note, What God has made our duty we have reason to expect opportunity and assistance from him for the doing of. So that from all this he had reason enough to bid them be strong and of a good courage, Deut. 31:6. While they had the power of God engaged for them they had no reason to fear all the powers of Canaan engaged against them.

II. He encourages Joshua, Deut. 31:7, 8. Observe, 1. Though Joshua was an experienced general, and a man of approved gallantry and resolution, who had already signalized himself in many brave actions, yet Moses saw cause to bid him be of good courage, now that he was entering upon a new scene of action; and Joshua was far from taking it as an affront, or as a tacit questioning of his courage, to be thus charged, as sometimes we find proud and peevish spirits invidiously taking exhortations and admonitions for reproaches and reflections. Joshua himself is very well pleased to be admonished by Moses to be strong and of good courage. 2. He gives him this charge in the sight of all Israel, that they might be the more observant of him whom they saw thus solemnly inaugurated, and that he might set himself the more to be an example of courage to the people who were witnesses to this charge here given to him as well as to themselves. 3. He gives him the same assurances of the divine presence, and consequently of a glorious success, that he had given the people. God would be with him, would not forsake him, and therefore he should certainly accomplish the glorious enterprise to which he was called and commissioned: Thou shalt cause them to inherit the land of promise. Note, Those shall speed well that have God with them; and therefore they ought to be of good courage. Through God let us do valiantly, for through him we shall do victoriously; if we resist the devil, he shall flee, and God shall shortly tread him under our feet.