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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 33

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-29

Deuteronomy 33:1 . Moses blessed Israel. Moses, like Jacob, died distinctly blessing the tribes of Israel, and finished his course in a manner worthy of himself. The tribe of Simeon is here omitted. The rabbins say, because Zimri, a prince of that tribe, had led the people to whoredom with the daughters of Moab.

Deuteronomy 33:2 . The Lord came from Sinai. His glory accompanied the patriarchs, which is intimated in Psalms 114:0. and Habakkuk 3:3.

Deuteronomy 33:6 . Let Reuben live, and not die. He had fretted at Jacob’s words, Genesis 49:4; but here are words of comfort: God will not always visit a father’s sins.

Deuteronomy 33:8 . Urim. See on Exodus 28:30.

Deuteronomy 33:17 . The horns of a unicorn. See on Numbers 23:22.

Deuteronomy 33:23 . The west and the south. Several versions read, “the sea and the south;” for Naphtali had his lot by the sea of Galilee.

Deuteronomy 33:25 . Thy shoes shall be iron and brass. Some read, “Thy bolts shall be iron and brass.” It imports that mines should be under their feet.

Deuteronomy 33:26 . The God of Jeshurun, who rideth on the heaven. The idea of Jehovah’s riding in his chariot runs through the writings of all ancient nations, and abounds in the book of Psalms: Psalms 18:10; Psalms 99:1; Psalms 104:3-4.

Namque Diespiter, Igni corusco nubila dividens, Plerumque per purum tonantes Egit equos volucremque currum; Quo bruta tellus, et vaga flumina, Quo Styx, et invisi horrida Tœnari Sedes, Atlanteusque finis Concutitur.

For lo! that awful heavenly Sire, Who frequent cleaves the clouds with fire, Parent of day, Immortal Jove!

Late through the floating fields of air, The face of heaven, serene and fair, His thund’ring steeds and winged chariot drove; When, at the bursting of his flames The pondrous earth, and vagrant streams, Infernal Styx, the dire abode Of hateful Tœnarus profound, And Atlas to his utmost bound Trembled beneath the terrors of the God. Francis’s Horace, bk. 1. ode 34.

So also in the Voluspa, one of the most ancient poems in the world.

3. Ar var alda Thâ Ymir bigthi Var-a sandr, ne saer, Ne svalar unnir; Jörth fanz aeva Ne upp-himin; Gar var ginnuga, En gras hvergi.

4. Athur Bors synir, Bjothom yptho, Their er Mithgarth, Morann Skopo. Sol skein sunnan, A salar steina, Tha var grund groin, Groemim lauki.

5. Sol varp sunnan, Sinni mána, Hendi enni hogri, A himin Jodyr. Sol that ne visst, Hvar hon sali atti, Stjaurnor that ne visso Hvar thar stathi otto, Mani thath ne visse, Havt hann Megins atti. 3. In early times When Ymir lived, Was sand, nor sea, Nor cooling wave, Nor earth was found, Nor heaven above; One chaos all, And no where grass.

4. Until Bors sons Th’ expanse did raise, By whom Mithgard The great was made. From south the sun Shone on the rocks; Then did the earth Green herbs produce.

5. The sun warped south, The moon did shine; Her right hand held The horse of heaven. The sun knew not His proper sphere, The stars knew not Their proper place; Nor saw the moon, Her mickle power.

The fable of Bellerophon’s flying to heaven on Pegasus, the winged horse, is evidently subsequent to the above allusion of Vola, and of Horace. Yet our Gothic fathers were proud of the fable, because Bellerophon took his flight towards the arctic regions. Strabo, lib. 8. Our kings have put the horse on their arms, as the horse for Hanover; they have cut it also on the chalk-hills, as at Westbury, and at Calne in Wiltshire.

Deuteronomy 33:29 . Happy art thou, oh Israel. Moses’s full soul here poured out the plenary cup of benediction on his children, the family of God. What nation, to use his own words, was so happy in having God so nigh to them; in having statutes so holy; a ritual so full of mystical glory; an oracle at hand; the Eternal God their refuge; and the full assurance of the promised seed, the great prophet yet to come! Let christians think of this; the blessing of the Saviour on the apostles, when he ascended to heaven, still rests on the church.


In this chapter of beatitudes Moses marks first, the great and peculiar happiness of Israel in having the pillary cloud for a guide, and the throne of JEHOVAH for a defence in all the desert. When it crowned the summit of Sinai, they sat at his feet and heard his voice. It accompanied them to the land of Edom. “God came from Teman, and the HOLY ONE from mount Paran: he covered the heavens with his glory, and the earth was full of his praise.” The divine presence is every blessing in one; and if he depart, all our comforts droop.

This prophet and patriarch of his people proceeds next to bless the several tribes. He begins by asking life and progeny for Reuben, with all its blessings; which is happy as an indication that the curse of Jacob was now removed from his guilty head. Judah, in whom it would seem, the tribe of Simeon was now included, is promised strength against his enemies. And this promise was most signally realized in a series of wars sustained by the kings of Judah, and afterwards by governors from the time of the captivity to the birth of Christ, which perfectly coincides with Jacob’s prediction, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah until Shiloh came. Levi inherited honours and blessings from his father, and he acquired new ones by the impartiality of his justice. After Israel had revolted in adoring the calf, and after the silver trumpet had sounded to call the people to humiliation and repentance, he went forth to slay the rebels who refused to obey the sounds of grace; and in doing this he knew not his father, or his brethren. Spotless justice, however tremendous the stroke, acquires the agents immortal fame. Benjamin, ever beloved, is promised a lot near to the holy place which God should choose: and it is no small blessing to have our dwelling contiguous to the house of God. Joseph, from the peculiar presence of God here solicited his promised increase, as his name implies, a fertile soil and victory over all his foes. But he is reminded that all these blessings proceeded from the good will of him that dwelt in the bush, whose glory Moses had seen eighty years before. From that time Israel began to rise to glory and immortal fame. Let us never forget to trace our mercies back to the day when we were first more peculiarly called by grace into covenant and fellowship with God. The other tribes were all blessed suitably to their moral character, and according to the predictions of Jacob, and the lovingkindness of the Lord. But the more Moses poured blessings on the people, the more his heart overflowed. The fountains of heaven were opened within him. Therefore, once for all, he collects all the efforts of his soul in an apostrophe to the people, inimitably sublime and grand. Happy art thou, oh Israel. Who is like unto thee, oh people, saved of the Lord? What God was like Jeshurun’s God, riding on the clouds of heaven, and supporting them by his arm? They had the Urim and Thummim for counsel; they had all evils and curses removed; they had every blessing promised which either men or nations could enjoy; they had all those blessings crowned by promises of the Messiah; and the Shechinah remaining among them was the pledge of every good. Happier still is the christian Israel. The Shechinah became incarnate, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. We only want this grace to prevail in every heart and every nation, to change the earth to paradise, and give it a resemblance of heaven.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/deuteronomy-33.html. 1835.
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