What does Deuteronomy 31:26 mean?
““Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.” (Deuteronomy 31:26, ESV)
Several times throughout the Book of the Law, or the Torah, there are prophetic foreshadowing’s of how the people will deny the Lord and do their own thing. He says they will follow idols once they get in the land. The rest of Scripture bears out this truth.
Just as Israel in the wilderness for 40 years questioned Moses, made their own gods, and complained when God provided for them, so they would do in the Promised Land. God knew this beforehand because of their actions in the wilderness.
So as he was finishing the Torah he told both Moses and Joshua to make witnesses against the people and place them in prominent places like near the Ark of the Covenant. Then when the people lived in the land they would find that these predictions of what they would do were true.
When they were with Moses and Joshua they committed themselves to following the whole of God’s law and never turning against him. As an example Joshua challenged the people and they promised that they chose Yahweh (Joshua 24:14-18).
It was easy for the people to commit to the Lord in the wilderness but when they would get into the land of Canaan it was much harder because of the temptations around them. One of the reasons God wanted them to utterly destroy the peoples of the land is because he knew they would lead the Israelites into idolatry.
So these were set up as a witness against Israel that they would fully commit to the Lord in the wilderness but failed to continue to commit to him in the Promised Land. They would see if they looked at the witness against them how they had committed and failed to continue their commitment.
It’s almost like God gave them the covenant commitment form and they signed it in the wilderness. Now they would look at this legal document that stood against them as a witness of their failure to maintain that commitment.
In case anyone would say, “I have followed the Lord and am fully committed to him,” these documents would show that they were not committed to him in the wilderness or in the Promised Land he gave them.
Why would God do this? In case the people became delusional about themselves or wanted to lie about themselves and say they were trusting Yahweh even though they were not he would have this witness against them.
We must be careful not to deceive ourselves about our relationship with God. If we do not continually have a vibrant abiding relationship with him we may deceive ourselves and think we do. He reminds us through his Word that we can fall prey to thinking we have what we don’t.
Such witnesses should give us accountability in our walk with God. If we ever get to a place like the apostle John points out in the beginning of First John where we are saying we walk with the Lord but we are walking in sin it helps us to see our true place in God (1 John 1:5-10).
So these witnesses against the Israelites reminded them that they would turn against God and he had predicted it way before they came into the land. The witnesses would not allow them to deceive themselves and kept them accountable to their true relationship with God. They can also be helpful for us to stay on the path with our Lord.