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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 14–21
Verses 14–21

Here, I. Moses and Joshua are summoned to attend the divine majesty at the door of the tabernacle, Deut. 31:14. Moses is told again that he must shortly die; even those that are most ready and willing to die have need to be often reminded of the approach of death. In consideration of this, he must come himself to meet God; for whatever improves our communion with God furthers our preparation for death. He must also bring Joshua with him to be presented to God for a successor, and to receive his commission and charge. Moses readily obeys the summons, for he was not one of those that look with an evil eye upon their successors, but, on the contrary, rejoiced in him.

II. God graciously gives them the meeting: He appeared in the tabernacle (as the shechinah used to appear) in a pillar of a cloud, Deut. 31:15. This is the only time in all this book that we read of the glory of God appearing, whereas we often read of it in the three foregoing books, which perhaps signifies that in the latter days, under the evangelical law, such visible appearances as these of the divine glory are not to be expected, but we must take heed to the more sure word of prophecy.

III. He tells Moses that, after his death, the covenant which he had taken so much pains to make between Israel and their God would certainly be broken. 1. That Israel would forsake God, Deut. 31:16. And we may be sure that if the covenant between God and man be broken the blame must lie on man, it is he that breaks it; we have often observed it, That God never leaves any till they first leave him. Worshipping the gods of the Canaanites (who had been the natives, but henceforward were to be looked upon as the strangers of that land) would undoubtedly be counted a deserting of God, and, like adultery, a violation of the covenant. Thus still those are revolters from Christ, and will be so adjudged, who either make a god of their money by reigning covetousness or a god of their belly by reigning sensuality. Those that turn to other gods (Deut. 31:18) forsake their own mercies. This apostasy of theirs is foretold to be the effect of their prosperity (Deut. 31:20): They shall have eaten and filled themselves; this is all they will aim at in eating, to gratify their own appetites, and then they will wax fat, grow secure and sensual; their security will take off their dread of God and his judgments; and their sensuality will incline them to the idolatries of the heathen, which made provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts of it. Note, God has a clear and infallible foresight of all the wickedness of the wicked, and has often covenanted with those who he knew would deal very treacherously (Isa. 48:8), and conferred many favours on those who he knew would deal very ungratefully. 2. That then God would forsake Israel; and justly does he cast those off who had so unjustly cast him off (Deut. 31:17): My anger shall be kindled against them, and I will forsake them. His providence would forsake them, no longer to protect and prosper them, and then they would become a prey to all their neighbours. His spirit and grace would forsake them, no longer to teach and guide them, and then they would be more and more bigoted, besotted, and hardened in their idolatries. Thus many evils and troubles would befal them. (Deut. 31:17, 21), which would be such manifest indications of God’s displeasure against them that they themselves would be constrained to own it: Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? Those that have sinned away their God will find that thereby they pull all mischiefs upon their own heads. But that which completed their misery was that God would hide his face from them in that day, that day of their trouble and distress, Deut. 31:18. Whatever outward troubles we are in, if we have but the light of God’s countenance, we may be easy. But, if God hide his face from us and our prayers, we are undone.

IV. He directs Moses to deliver them a song, in the composing of which he should be divinely inspired, and 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, Deut. 31:19. The written word in general, as well as this song in particular, is a witness for God against all those that break covenant with him. It shall be for a testimony, Matt. 24:14. The wisdom of man has devised many ways of conveying the knowledge of good and evil, by laws, histories, prophecies, proverbs, and, among the rest, by songs; each has its advantages. And the wisdom of God has in the scripture made use of them all, that ignorant and careless men might be left inexcusable. 1. This song, if rightly improved, might be a means to prevent their apostasy; for in the inditing of it God had an eye to their present imagination, now, before they were brought into the land of promise, Deut. 31:21. God knew very well that there were in their hearts such gross conceits of the deity, and such inclinations of idolatry, that they would be tinder to the sparks of that temptation; and therefore in this song he gives them warning of their danger that way. Note, The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of men’s hearts, and meets with them strangely by its reproofs and corrections, Heb. 4:12. Compare 1 Cor. 14:25. Ministers who preach the word know not the imaginations men go about, but God, whose word it is, knows perfectly. 2. If this song did not prevent their apostasy, yet it might help to bring them to repentance, and to recover them from their apostasy. When their troubles come upon them, this song shall not be forgotten, but may serve as a glass to show them their own faces, that they may humble themselves, and return to him from whom they have revolted. Note, Those for whom God has mercy in store he may leave to fall, yet he will provide means for their recovery. Medicines are prepared before-hand for their cure.