Deuteronomy 31–32: Final Words and a Song


Dr. Warren Bennis, professor of management at the School of Business Administration at the University of Southern California, conducted a four-year study of outstanding leaders. After examining the source of their strength, Dr. Bennis discovered what he believes are five strengths common to all “super-leaders.”

1. Vision—the capacity to create a compelling vision of a desired state of affairs.

2. Communication—the capacity to communicate that vision in a way that gains the support of others.

3. Persistence—the capacity to maintain the organization’s direction, especially when the going gets rough.

4. Empowerment—the capacity to create a social structure that harnesses the energies and abilities of others to get the best results.

5. Organizational learning—the capacity to monitor an organization’s performance, learn from past actions, and use the resulting knowledge to forge a course for the future.[1]

Moses, the greatest leader in the Old Testament, was competent in all five areas. As Deuteronomy ends we find Moses, the great leader whose eye is yet undimmed, laying down his mantle of leadership before Israel crosses the Jordan. The congregation of Israel could, quite easily, become discouraged, but Moses exhibits one of those competencies common to all super-leaders—empowerment. In Chapter 31, Moses first focuses his attention on the congregation, encouraging them as they face this leadership transition (vv. 3–6). Then he turns to Joshua, his heir apparent as leader of the Israelites, and also encourages and empowers him (vv. 7–8). Good leaders inspire others by showing confidence in them; great leaders inspire others with confidence in themselves!

Moses begins his empowering message with a reminder that he would not be with them in the Promised Land. It’s a harsh object lesson about obedience and changing God’s word to fit our circumstances. Essentially, at Meribah (Numbers 20:7–12), the people cried and complained about water. Moses misrepresented God. He lectured the people and seemed to imply that he, not God, would provide the water. Most importantly, Moses misrepresented God’s words by angrily striking the rock twice, instead of just speaking to the rock as God advised him to do.

Moses goes on and tells the people, “Be strong and of good courage.” It was now time for the nation to take courage in the Lord and not fear nor be dismayed by circumstances or the uncertainty of their future. Moses may pass from the scene, but God will not abandon Israel.

Moses then turns his attention to Joshua. He reminds the next leader that God swore to deliver this land to Israel. In so doing Moses is helping Joshua see a bigger picture that includes God as the true leader. The responsibility is not Joshua’s alone. How many of us in our daily lives, our careers and our own positions of leadership need to hear this same encouragement? God is sovereign, He’s in charge and He is there to give us what we need to do His will and go His ways.

The chapter continues with the commissioning of Joshua and specific encouragement to the priests. Moses gives the priests the responsibility of teaching the law to the congregation of Israel. He instructs them to read the law to the people every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles. This section deals with the value of God’s word to the entire Israelite assembly because everyone was to receive the teaching.

In the inauguration of Joshua Moses repeats God’s admonition to Be strong and of good courage and I [God] will be with you.”Moses knew the cost of leadership. It’s a lonely position and every leader needs to make difficult decisions. Joshua, too, will stand alone. Yet, God promises him that in the vacant spot he will find God. He simply needs to believe.

Chapter 32 brings us the Song of Moses. I can remember my early days as a Christian. While I read my Bible daily, it was Christian music that deeply stirred my soul and was more easily remembered. Moses uses the same approach by bringing a farewell song in place of a long speech.

God instructed Moses to write a song and teach it to all Israel (Deut. 31:19–22). The song will be a witness to the faithfulness of God and will help Israel “remember the days of old” (32:7) after they fall into apostasy. This song has the following characteristics:

(1) It has an abundance of pictures, metaphors, and poetic expressions that show the feelings of God;

(2) It is a witness against a disobedient nation that has been blessed far above all other nations on earth; and,

(3) The song is a prophetic anticipation of future judgment. This poetic composition offers a graphic contrast between the nature of God and the nature of His people. For example, He is“the Rock” (vv. 4, 18, 30, 31). They are on the rocks (v. 37).

The song has both historic and prophetic aspects and can be divided into four major divisions:

God’s character (Deut. 32:1–4);

God’s kindness to His people (vv. 5–14);

God’s faithfulness to punish disobedient people (vv. 15–25); and,

God’s vengeance against His adversaries (vv. 26–43).

After sharing the song with the people, Moses tells them to “set your hearts on all the words” (v. 46), literally to know them and take them seriously. God, through Moses, wants this song to serve as a powerful deterrent to future disobedience and rebellion.

The final section of chapter 32 is God’s final command to Moses. This great leader’s final act is to climb Mount Nebo. He will not be allowed to cross the river to enter the Promised Land, but from this vantage point, he can see the land of Canaan. God gives him a vision of the promised territory. It is there that Moses dies.


  1. I am impressed with Joshua’s faithfulness to his task regardless of the bleak picture of the future. A mature leader looks beyond the circumstances and receives strength from his calling.
  2. How close do you have to get to another person before you see yourself reflected in that person’s eye? God has gotten that close to Israel. He knows His people face to face.
  3. The children of Israel will not experience the Lord’s compassion until they relinquish all their trust in their own efforts, “When He sees that their power is gone” (v. 36). God’s goal in judging Israel is not to annihilate her; it is to bring her to the point where she understands that “there is no God beside Me” (v. 39).
  4. I don’t want to be “a nation void of counsel.”I want to invest my time in His Word and receive the wisdom it contains for my life (See Proverbs 4).



[1]Warren G. Bennis, More Power to You (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc.)



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Brennan Manning

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