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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 33

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-5


Verses 1-5:

This chapter is Moses’ benediction upon the tribes of Israel. It was probably delivered on the same day as the song, in chapter 32. Note the contrast between the two: the song is a somber warning, filled with dark predictions of doom; the benediction is bright and cheerful, with promises of Divine favor.

The text is the introduction to the tribal blessings. Compare this chapter with Genesis chapter 49, Jacob’s blessings upon his sons and their descendants.

"Moses, the man of God," see Joshua 14:6, and the title of Psalms 90. This implies that Moses was favored by being chosen as God’s spokesman, and was God’s faithful messenger to His people.

"The Lord came from Sinai," not as a place of origin, but as the starting point of His covenant with Israel, given through Moses.

Seir, the mountainous region south of the Salt (Dead) Sea extending to the Eleanitic Gulf. It was first occupied by the Horites, Genesis 14:6, and later by the descendants of Esau, Genesis 32:1-3.

Mount Paran, a wilderness region south by southwest of Canaan, and west of Edom. It reached westward to Shur and south to the Eleanitic Gulf. It is also called Mount Paran, and el-Paran, Genesis 21:21; Numbers 10:12; Numbers 12:16, et.al.

"Saints," (verse 2) qodesh, "separation, holiness." The reading is literally, "out from myriads of holiness." Comparing this text with 1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:6; Daniel 7:10, it may be implied that qadosh here refers to the myriads of holy beings who surround God’s throne in Heaven, awaiting His command and to do His pleasure, see Genesis 28:12; Genesis 32:2-3; Psalms 103:21.

"Fiery law," an expression not easily understood. The ancient versions vary considerably at this text. The meaning seems to be: "From His right hand went rays of fire, a law," compare Habakkuk 3:4; Exodus 19:16.

"He loved the people," that is, the people of Israel.

"Saints," (verse 3) qadosh, "set apart, separate, holy." The grammatical structure of this term indicates that it applies to Israel as the people whom God loved.

Jeshurun, see Deuteronomy 32:15.

Verse 6

Verse 6:

Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, begins the list of tribal blessings. In the clause, "let not his men be few," the word "not" is in italics, indicating that it was not in the original text, but was supplied by the translators as they thought the text demanded. In this case, it is an unneeded addition, and gives the incorrect meaning.

Reuben committed a grievous sin, incest, which forfeited his right of the firstborn, Genesis 35:23; Genesis 49:3-4. The number of the tribe of Reuben declined by 2,770 during the wilderness years, compare Numbers 1:21; Numbers 26:7. In her victory song, Deborah scorns Reuben for not responding to the call to join the other tribes in their conflict with the Canaanites, Judges 5:16-17; and 1 Chronicles 27:16 is the last mention of the Reubenites in sacred history, until Revelation 7:5.

Verse 7

Verse 7:

The blessing upon Judah is a prayer to God. Moses lists Judah next after Reuben, though he was reality the fourth-born son of Jacob and Leah. The reason: likely because of the leadership role which Jacob pronounced upon him, see Genesis 49:8-12, q.v.

Verses 8-11

Verses 8-11:

Th8 blessing on Levi, like that of Judah, is also in the form of a prayer. In Jacob’s blessing, Simeon and Levi were joined together, see Genesis 49:5-7. Moses does not make the connection between the two, possibly because Simeon was to be scattered among his brethren.

Thummin and Urim, "righteousness and lights," see Exodus 28:30.

Massah, Meribah, see Exodus 17:1-7.

Verse 9 refers to Exodus 32:26-29, where the Levites responded to Moses’ challenge to execute the Divine sentence of judgment upon the idolaters. They did not spare any guilty, even if the culprit was a close family member.

Verse 10 refers to God’s choice of Levi to minister before Him in a mediatorial and teaching capacity, because of their zeal in the matter of the golden calf.

Verse 12

Verse 12:

Benjamin was the beloved of his father, see Genesis 44:30-31; and he was also the beloved of Jehovah. The Lord promised to protect him.

"Cover," chaphaph, "overlay, protect," with the thought of continually sheltering.

"Between his shoulders," a phrase which denotes that Benjamin is carried on Jehovah’s back, as a father carries his young child. It implies that he leans upon Jehovah for protection and sustenance.

Compare this blessing with Genesis 49:27.

Verses 13-17

Verses 13-17:

The blessing which Moses pronounced upon Joseph is similar to that which Jacob bestowed, see Genesis 48:15-22; Genesis 49:22-26. Jacob described Joseph as a luxuriant branch of a fruitful tree; Moses describes the land of Joseph and pronounces rich blessings thereon.

"Precious things of heaven," probably "precious things from heaven. This likely refers to the dew, and the underground waters of the earth’s depths. Water was a precious commodity in that land, necessary for abundant crops

The sun and moon govern the day and night, and the seasons necessary for abundant harvest.

"The bush" refers to Jehovah, whom Moses met in the burning bush, Exodus 3:1-6.

Verses 16, 17: Joseph was separated or distinguished from his brethren, by Jacob’s choice of him as the legal heir to the rights of the firstborn, Genesis 37:1-4, and by his elevation as Egypt’s prime minister and the agent who preserved Israel alive, Genesis 41:39-44; Genesis 50:20.

Jacob separated Ephraim to be distinguished as the firstborn, in place of his older brother Manasseh, Genesis 48:15-19.

"Unicorn," reem, "wild ox, buffalo," see Numbers 23:22; Numbers 24:8.

Verses 18-19

Verses 18, 19:

Zebulun and Issachar are the last two sons of Jacob by Leah. Moses places them together in this benediction. Though Issachar is the eldest, Zebulun is listed first, as in Genesis 49:13-15, q.v.

This benediction promises success and domestic prosperity to both. Treasures of both land and sea are theirs.

Verses 20-21

Verses 20, 21:

Compare this text with Genesis 49:19.

Gad was a warlike tribe. He was successful in obtaining his portion or inheritance from the warrior nations on the west of Jordan He saw the excellent lands there suited for cattle, and he took it for himself.

"Lawgiver," chaquq, "to grave, decree," one who ordains or appoints. The term is applied to Gad, referring to the energy this tribe displayed in the conquest of their Land.

"He executed the justice of the Lord," that is, he did as Jehovah required of him.

Verse 22

Verse 22:

The blessings of both Jacob and Moses upon the tribe of Dan relate to the aggressiveness he displayed in leadership and combat.

Compare this text with Genesis 49:16-18.

Verse 23

Verse 23:

Naphtali’s blessing pictures the attributes of freedom, grace, blessing, prosperity, and contentment.

The "west" here likely refers to the Mediterranean Sea.

The "south" refers to the lower regions of the Land.

Naphtali’s territory lay in the north of Canaan, and bordered the Sea of Galilee but not the Mediterranean Sea. The terminology is symbolic of riches as from the sea, and warmth and geniality as from the south.

Compare this text with Genesis 49:21.

Verses 24-25

Verses 24, 25:

Compare this text with Genesis 49:20.

Asher was to be rich, honored, strong, and peaceful. He was to be blessed or; praised by the children who benefited from his strength and prosperity.

The territory assigned to Asher was along the Mediterranean coast, and included part of what is modern Lebanon. Its proximity to the sea made it an ideal commercial site. This accounted for its wealth, and the position held among the other tribes.

"Oil," likely olive oil, for the region abounds in olive groves, a prosperous land yielding rich dainties.

"Shoes," minal, a derivative from naal, "to shut fast." The term denotes a fortress securely closed. The symbolism: Asher’s dwelling place should be "iron and brass (copper)," or strong and impregnable.

"As thy days," or "as long as you live," you shall have rest and quiet.

Verses 26-29

Verses 26-29:

This is the conclusion of Moses’ benediction upon Israel. In it he eulogizes Jehovah as the eternal Refuge and Help of His people.

The grammatical structure of the first clause of verse 26 calls for the translation: "There is none like Elohim, O Jeshurun." This is further indicated by "thy help," denoting that Israel is meant.

Jeshurun, see verse 5, and Deuteronomy 32:15; also Isaiah 44:2.

"Refuge," meonah, "habitation, den," also translated dwelling place in Psalms 76:2.

The eternal God is also Israel’s source of sustenance, security, blessing, and victory over her enemies.

"Fountain," ayin, "spring;" see Deuteronomy 8:7; Genesis 16:7; Numbers 33:9. The term denotes a copious; flowing spring of pure water. The expression, "fountain of Jacob" is parallel to Israel in the first part of verse 26.

"Happy," ashere (Makariios, LXX), also translated "blessed," see Psalms 1:1; Psalms 21:12; Psalms 31:1; et. al. The term denotes prosperity, wealth, a condition to be envied, and the Biblical emphasis is upon spiritual prosperity.

"Thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee," means, "your enemies shall come fawning and cringing, and submit feigned obedience to you," with the idea of obtaining favor with you.

"Thou shalt tread upon their high places," denotes. Israel’s complete triumph over her enemies. Moses’ benediction looks forward to the ultimate role of Israel, fully realized in the Millennial Reign of’ Jesus upon earth, see Eze chapters 38-48.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/deuteronomy-33.html. 1985.
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