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Before ascending Mount Nebo to depart this life, Moses took leave of his people, the tribes of Israel, in the blessing which is very fittingly inserted in the book of the law between the divine announcement of his approaching death and the account of the death itself, as being the last words of the departing man of God. The blessing opens with an allusion to the solemn conclusion of the covenant and giving of the law at Sinai, by which the Lord became King of Israel, to indicate at the outset the source from which all blessings must flow to Israel (Deuteronomy 33:2-5). Then follow the separate blessings upon the different tribes (vv. 6-25). And the whole concludes with an utterance of praise to the Lord, as the mighty support and refuge of His people in their conflicts with all their foes (Deuteronomy 33:26-29). This blessing was not written down by Moses himself, like the song in ch. 32, but simply pronounced in the presence of the assembled tribes. This is evident, not only from the fact that there is nothing said about its being committed to writing, but also from the heading in Deuteronomy 33:1, where the editor clearly distinguishes himself from Moses, by speaking of Moses as “ the man of God,” like Caleb in Joshua 14:6, and the author of the heading to the prayer of Moses in Psalms 90:1. In later times, “man of God” was the title usually given to a prophet (vid., 1 Samuel 9:6; 1 Kings 12:22; 1 Kings 13:14, etc.), as a man who enjoyed direct intercourse with God, and received supernatural revelations from Him. Nevertheless, we have Moses' own words, not only in the blessings upon the several tribes (vv. 6-25), but also in the introduction and conclusion of the blessing (Deuteronomy 33:2-5 and Deuteronomy 33:26-29). The introductory words before the blessings, such as “and this for Judah” in Deuteronomy 33:7, “and to Levi he said” (Deuteronomy 33:8), and the similar formulas in Deuteronomy 33:12, Deuteronomy 33:13, Deuteronomy 33:18, Deuteronomy 33:20, Deuteronomy 33:22, Deuteronomy 33:23, and Deuteronomy 33:24, are the only additions made by the editor who inserted the blessing in the Pentateuch. The arrangement of the blessings in their present order is probably also his work. It neither accords with the respective order of the sons of Jacob, nor with the distribution of the tribes in the camp, nor with the situation of their possessions in the land of Canaan. It is true that Reuben stands first as the eldest son of Jacob; but Simeon is then passed over, and Judah, to whom the dying patriarch bequeathed the birthright which he withdrew from Reuben, stands next; and then Levi, the priestly tribe. Then follow Benjamin and Joseph, the sons of Rachel; Zebulun and Issachar, the last sons of Leah (in both cases the younger before the elder); and lastly, the tribes descended from the sons of the maids: Gad, the son of Zilpah; Dan and Naphtali, the sons of Bilhah; and finally, Asher, the second son of Zilpah. To discover the guiding principle in this arrangement, we must look to the blessings themselves, which indicate partly the position already obtained by each tribe, as a member of the whole nation, in the earthly kingdom of God, and partly the place which it was to reach and occupy in the further development of Israel in the future, not only in relation to the Lord, but also in relation to the other nations. The only exception to this is the position assigned to Reuben, who occupies the foremost place as the first-born, notwithstanding his loss of the birthright. In accordance with this principle, the first place properly belonged to the tribe of Judah, who was raised into the position of lord over his brethren, and the second to the tribe of Levi, which had been set apart to take charge of the sacred things; whilst Benjamin is associated with Levi as the “beloved of the Lord.” Then follow Joseph, as the representative of the might which Israel would manifest in conflict with the nations; Zebulun and Issachar, as the tribes which would become the channels of blessings to the nations through their wealth in earthly good; and lastly, the tribes descended from the sons of the maids, Asher being separated from his brother Gad, and placed at the end, in all probability simply because it was in the blessing promised to him that the earthly blessedness of the people of God was to receive its fullest manifestation.
On comparing the blessing of Moses with that of Jacob, we should expect at the very outset, that if the blessings of these two men of God have really been preserved to us, and they are not later inventions, their contents would be essentially the same, so that the blessing of Moses would contain simply a confirmation of that of the dying patriarch, and would be founded upon it in various ways. This is most conspicuous in the blessing upon Joseph; but there are also several other blessings in which it is unmistakeable, although Moses' blessing is not surpassed in independence and originality by that of Jacob, either in its figures, its similes, or its thoughts. But the resemblance goes much deeper. It is manifest, for example, in the fact, that in the case of several of the tribes, Moses, like Jacob, does nothing more than expound their names, and on the ground of the peculiar characters expressed in the names, foretell to the tribes themselves their peculiar calling and future development within the covenant nation. Consequently we have nowhere any special predictions, but simply prophetic glances at the future, depicted in a purely ideal manner, whilst in the case of most of the tribes the utter want of precise information concerning their future history prevents us from showing in what way they were fulfilled. The difference in the times at which the two blessings were uttered is also very apparent. The existing circumstances from which Moses surveyed the future history of the tribes of Israel in the light of divine revelation, were greatly altered from the time when Jacob blessed the heads of the twelve tribes before his death, in the persons of his twelve sons. These tribes had now grown into a numerous people, with which the Lord had established the covenant that He had made with the patriarchs. The curse of dispersion in Israel, which the patriarch had pronounced upon Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5-7), had been changed into a blessing so far as Levi was concerned. The tribe of Levi had been entrusted with the “light and right” of the Lord, had been called to be the teacher of the rights and law of God in Israel, because it had preserved the covenant of the Lord, after the conclusion of the covenant at Sinai, even though it involved the denial of flesh and blood. Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh had already received their inheritance, and the other tribes were to take possession of Canaan immediately. These circumstances formed the starting-point for the blessings of Moses, not only in the case of Levi and Gad, where they are expressly mentioned, but in that of the other tribes also, where they do not stand prominently forward, because for the most part Moses simply repeats the leading features of their future development in their promised inheritance, as already indicated in the blessing of Jacob, and “thus bore his testimony to the patriarch who anticipated him, that the spirit of his prophecy was truth” ( Ziegler, p. 159).
In this peculiar characteristic of the blessing of Moses, we have the strongest proof of its authenticity, particularly in the fact that there is not the slightest trace of the historical circumstances of the nation at large and the separate tribes which were peculiar to the post-Mosaic times. The little ground that there is for the assertion which Knobel repeats, that the blessing betrays a closer acquaintance with the post-Mosaic times, such as Moses himself could not possibly have possessed, is sufficiently evident from the totally different expositions which have been given by the different commentators of the saying concerning Judah in Deuteronomy 33:7, which is adduced in proof of this. Whilst Knobel finds the desire expressed in this verse on behalf of Judah, that David, who had fled from Saul, might return, obtain possession of the government, and raise his tribe into the royal tribe, Graf imagines that it expresses the longing of the kingdom of Judah for reunion with that of Israel; and Hoffmann and Maurer even trace an allusion to the inhabitants of Judea who were led into captivity along with Jehoiachin: one assumption being just as arbitrary and as much opposed to the text as the other. - All the objections brought against the genuineness of this blessing are founded upon an oversight or denial of its prophetic character, and upon untenable interpretations of particular expressions abstracted from it. Not only is there no such thing in the whole blessing as a distinct reference to the peculiar historical circumstances of Israel which arose after Moses' death, but there are some points in the picture which Moses has drawn of the tribes that it is impossible to recognise in these circumstances. Even Knobel from his naturalistic stand-point is obliged to admit, that no traces can be found in the song of any allusion to the calamities which fell upon the nation in the Syrian, Assyrian, and Chaldaean periods. And hitherto it has proved equally impossible to point out any distinct allusion to the circumstances of the nation in the period of the judges. On the contrary, as Schultz observes, the speaker rises throughout to a height of ideality which it would have been no longer possible for any sacred author to reach, when the confusions and divisions of a later age had actually taken place. He sees nothing of the calamities from without, which fell upon the nations again and again with destructive fury, nothing of the Canaanites who still remained in the midst of the Israelites, and nothing of the hostility of the different tribes towards one another; he simply sees how they work together in the most perfect harmony, each contributing his part to realize the lofty ideal of Israel. And again he grasps this ideal and the realization of it in so elementary a way, and so thoroughly from the outer side, without regard to any inward transformation and glorification, that he must have lived in a time preceding the prophetic age, and before the moral conflicts had taken place.
In the introduction Moses depicts the elevation of Israel into the nation of God, in its origin (Deuteronomy 33:2), its nature (Deuteronomy 33:3), its intention and its goal (Deuteronomy 33:4, Deuteronomy 33:5).
“ Jehovah came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shone from the mountains of Paran, and came out of holy myriads, at His right rays of fire to them.” To set forth the glory of the covenant which God made with Israel, Moses depicts the majesty and glory in which the Lord appeared to the Israelites at Sinai, to give them the law, and become their king. The three clauses, “Jehovah came from Sinai...from Seir...from the mountains of Paran,” do not refer to different manifestations of God ( Knobel), but to the one appearance of God at Sinai. Like the sun when it rises, and fills the whole of the broad horizon with its beams, the glory of the Lord, when He appeared, was not confined to one single point, but shone upon the people of Israel from Sinai, and Seir, and the mountains of Paran, as they came from the west to Sinai. The Lord appeared to the people from the summit of Sinai, as they lay encamped at the foot of the mountain. This appearance rose like a streaming light from Seir, and shone at the same time from the mountains of Paran. Seir is the mountain land of the Edomites to the east of Sinai; and the mountains of Paran are in all probability not the mountains of et-Tih, which form the southern boundary of the desert of Paran, but rather the mountains of the Azazimeh, which ascend to a great height above Kadesh, and form the boundary wall of Canaan towards the south. The glory of the Lord, who appeared upon Sinai, sent its beams even to the eastern and northern extremities of the desert. This manifestation of God formed the basis for all subsequent manifestations of the omnipotence and grace of the Lord for the salvation of His people. This explains the allusions to the description before us in the song of Deborah (Judges 5:4) and in Habakkuk 3:3. - The Lord came not only from Sinai, but from heaven, “out of holy myriads,” i.e., out of the midst of the thousands of holy angels who surround His throne ( 1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:6; Daniel 7:10), and who are introduced in Genesis 28:12 as His holy servants, and in Genesis 32:2-3, as the hosts of God, and form the assembly of holy ones around His throne (Psalms 89:6, Psalms 89:8; cf. Psalms 68:18; Zechariah 14:5; Matthew 26:53; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 5:11; Revelation 7:11). - The last clause is a difficult one. The writing דּת אשׁ in two words, “fire of the law,” not only fails to give a suitable sense, but has against it the fact that דּת , law, edictum , is not even a Semitic word, but was adopted from the Persian into the Chaldee, and that it is only by Gentiles that it is ever applied to the law of God (Ezra 7:12, Ezra 7:21, Ezra 7:25-26; Daniel 6:6). It must be read as one word, אשׁדת , as it is in many MSS and editions - not, however, as connected with אשׁד אשׁדות , the pouring out of the brooks, slopes of the mountains (Numbers 21:15), but in the form אשּׁדת , composed, according to the probable conjecture of Böttcher, of אשׁ , fire, and שׁדה (in the Chaldee and Syriac), to throw, to shoot arrows, in the sense of “fire of throwing,” shooting fire, a figurative description of the flashes of lightning. Gesenius adopts this explanation, except that he derives דּת from ידה , to throw. It is favoured by the fact that, according to Exodus 19:16, the appearance of God upon Sinai was accompanied by thunder and lightning; and flashes of lightning are often called the arrows of God, whilst shaadaah, in Hebrew, is established by the name שׁדיאוּר ( Numbers 1:5; Numbers 2:10). To this we may add the parallel passage, Habakkuk 3:4, “rays out of His hand,” which renders this explanation a very probable one. By “them,” in the second and fifth clauses, the Israelites are intended, to whom this fearful theophany referred. On the signification of the manifestation of God in fire, see Deuteronomy 4:11, and the exposition of Exodus 3:2.
“ Yea, nations He loves; all His holy ones are in Thy hand: and they lie down at Thy feet; they rise up at Thy words.” עמּים חבב is the subject placed first absolutely: “nations loving,” sc., is he; or “as loving nations - all Thy holy ones are in Thy hand.” The nations or peoples are not the tribes of Israel here, any more than in Deuteronomy 32:8, or Genesis 28:3; Genesis 35:11, and Genesis 48:4; whilst Judges 5:14 and Hosea 10:14 cannot come into consideration at all, for there the word is defined by a suffix. The meaning of the words depends upon whether “all His holy ones” are the godly in Israel, or the Israelites generally, or the angels. There is nothing to favour the first explanation, as the distinction between the godly and the wicked would be out of place in the introduction to a blessing upon all the tribes. The second has only as seeming support in Daniel 7:21. and Exodus 19:6. It does not follow at once from the calling of Israel to be the holy nation of Jehovah, that all the Israelites were or could be called “holy ones of the Lord.” Least of all should Numbers 16:3 be adduced in support of this. Even in Dan 7 the holy ones of the Most High are not the Jews generally, but simply the godly, or believers, in the nation of God. The third view, on the other hand, is a perfectly natural one, on account of the previous reference to the holy myriads. The meaning, therefore, would be this: The Lord embraces all nations with His love, He who, so to speak, has all His holy angels in His hand, i.e., His power, so that they serve Him as their Lord. They lie down at His feet. The ἄπ. λεγ. תּכּוּ is explained by Kimchi and Saad. as signifying adjuncti sequuntur vestigia sua; and by the Syriac, They follow thy foot, from conjecture rather than any certain etymology. The derivation proposed by modern linguists, from the verb תּכה , according to an Arabic word signifying recubuit , innixus est , has apparently more to support it. ישּׂא , it rises up: intransitive, as in Habakkuk 1:3; Nahum 1:5; Hosea 13:1, and Psalms 89:10. מדּבּרתיך is not a Hithpael participle (that which is spoken); for מדּבּר has not a passive, but an active signification, to converse (Numbers 7:89; Ezekiel 2:2, etc.). It is rather a noun, דבּרת , from דּבּרה , words, utterances. The singular, ישּׂא , is distributive: every one (of them) rises on account of thine utterance, i.e., at thy words. The suffixes relate to God, and the discourse passes from the third to the second person. In our own language, such a change in a sentence like this, “all His (God's) holy ones are in Thy (God's) hand,” would be intolerably harsh, but in Hebrew poetry it is by no means rare (see, for example, Psalms 49:19).
“ Moses appointed us a law, a possession of the congregation of Jacob. And He became King in righteous-nation (Jeshurun); there the heads of the people assembled, in crowds the tribes of Israel.” The God who met Israel at Sinai in terrible majesty, out of the myriads of holy angels, who embraces all nations in love, and has all the holy angels in His power, so that they lie at His feet and rise up at His word, gave the law through Moses to the congregation of Jacob as a precious possession, and became King in Israel. This was the object of the glorious manifestation of His holy majesty upon Sinai. Instead of saying, “He gave the law to the tribes of Israel through my mediation,” Moses personates the listening nation, and not only speaks of himself in the third person, but does so by identifying his own person with the nation, because he wished the people to repeat his words from thorough conviction, and because the law which he gave in the name of the Lord was given to himself as well, and was as binding upon him as upon every other member of the congregation. In a similar manner the prophet Habakkuk identifies himself with the nation in ch. 3, and says in Habakkuk 3:19, out of the heart of the nation, “The Lord is my strength,...who maketh me to walk upon mine high places,” - an expression which did not apply to himself, but to the nation as a whole. So again in Psalms 20:1-9 and Psalms 21:1-13, which David composed as the prayers of the nation for its king, he not only speaks of himself as the anointed of the Lord, but addresses such prayers to the Lord for himself as could only be offered by the nation for its king. “A possession for the congregation of Jacob.” “Israel was distinguished above all other nations by the possession of the divinely revealed law (Deuteronomy 4:5-8); that was its most glorious possession, and therefore is called its true κειμήλιον ” ( Knobel). The subject in Deuteronomy 33:5 is not Moses but Jehovah, who became King in Jeshurun (see at Deuteronomy 32:15 and Exodus 15:18). “Were gathered together;” this refers to the assembling of the nation around Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:10.; cf. Exodus 19:17.), to the day of assembly (Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 10:4; Deuteronomy 18:16).
The blessings upon the tribes commence with this verse. “ Let Reuben live and not die, and there be a (small) number of his men.” The rights of the first-born had been withheld from Reuben in the blessing of Jacob ( Genesis 49:3); Moses, however, promises this tribe continuance and prosperity. The words, “and let his men become a number,” have been explained in very different ways. מספּר in this connection cannot mean a large number ( πολὺς ἐν ἀριθμῷ , lxx), but, like מספּר מתי (Deuteronomy 4:27; Genesis 34:30; Jeremiah 44:28), simply a small number, that could easily be counted (cf. Deuteronomy 28:62). The negation must be carried on to the last clause. This the language will allow, as the rule that a negation can only be carried forward when it stands with emphatic force at the very beginning ( Ewald, §351) is not without exceptions; see for example Proverbs 30:2-3, where three negative clauses follow a positive one, and in the last the לא is omitted, without the particle of negation having been placed in any significant manner at the beginning. - Simeon was the next in age to Reuben; but he is passed over entirely, because according to Jacob's blessing (Genesis 49:7) he was to be scattered abroad in Israel, and lost his individuality as a tribe in consequence of this dispersion, in accordance with which the Simeonites simply received a number of towns within the territory of Judah (Joshua 19:2-9), and, “having no peculiar object of its own, took part, as far as possible, in the fate and objects of the other tribes, more especially of Judah” ( Schultz). Although, therefore, it is by no means to be regarded as left without a blessing, but rather as included in the general blessings in Deuteronomy 33:1 and Deuteronomy 33:29, and still more in the blessing upon Judah, yet it could not receive a special blessing like the tribe of Reuben, because, as Ephraim Syrus observes, the Simeonites had not endeavoured to wipe out the stain of the crime which Jacob cursed, but had added to it by fresh crimes (more especially the audacious prostitution of Zimri, Num 25). Even the Simeonites did not become extinct, but continued to live in the midst of the tribe of Judah, so that as late as the eighth century, in the reign of Hezekiah, thirteen princes are enumerated with their families, whose fathers' houses had increased greatly (1 Chronicles 4:34.); and these families effected conquests in the south, even penetrating into the mountains of Seir, for the purpose of seeking fresh pasture (1 Chronicles 4:39-43). Hence the assertion that the omission of Simeon is only conceivable from the circumstances of a later age, is as mistaken as the attempt made in some of the MSS of the Septuagint to interpolate the name of Simeon in the second clause of Deuteronomy 33:6.
The blessing upon Judah is introduced with the formula, “ And this for Judah, and he said: ” “ Hear, Jehovah, the voice of Judah, and bring him to his people; with his hands he fights for him; and help against his adversaries wilt Thou be.” Judah, from whom the sceptre was not to depart (Genesis 49:10), is mentioned before Levi as the royal tribe. The prayer, May Jehovah bring Judah to his people, can hardly be understood in any other way than it is by Onkelos and Hengstenberg (Christol. i. 80), viz., as founded upon the blessing of Jacob, and expressing the desire, that as Judah was to lead the way as the champion of his brethren in the wars of Israel against the nations, he might have a prosperous return to his people; for the thought, “introduce him to the kingdom of Israel and Judah” ( Luther), or “give up to him the people which belongs to him according to Thine appointment” ( Schultz), is hardly implied in the words, “ bring to his people.” Other explanations are not worth mentioning. What follows points to strife and war: “With his hands ( ידיו accusative of the instrument, vid., Ges. §138, 1, note 3; Ewald, §283, a.) is he fighting ( רב participle of ריב ) for it (the nation); Thou wilt grant him help, deliverance before his foes.”
Levi. - Deuteronomy 33:8, Deuteronomy 33:9. “ Thy right and Thy light is to Thy godly man, whom Thou didst prove in Massah, and didst strive with him at the water of strife; who says to his father and his mother, I see him not; and does not regard his brethren, and does not know his sons: for they observed Thy word, and kept Thy covenant.” This blessing is also addressed to God as a prayer. The Urim and Thummim - that pledge, which the high priest wore upon his breast-plate, that the Lord would always give His people light to preserve His endangered right (vid., Exodus 28:29-30), - are here regarded as a prerogative of the whole of the tribe of Levi. Thummim is placed before Urim, to indicate at the outset that Levi had defended the right of the Lord, and that for that very reason the right of the Urim and Thummim had been given to him by the Lord. “Thy holy one” is not Aaron, but Levi the tribe-father, who represents the whole tribe to which the blessing applies; hence in Deuteronomy 33:9 and Deuteronomy 33:10 the verb passes into the plural. To define more precisely the expression “Thy holy one,” reference is made to the trials at Massah and at the water of strife, on the principle that the Lord humbles His servants before He exalts them, and confirms those that are His by trying and proving them. The proving at Massah refers to the murmuring of the people on account of the want of water at Rephidim ( Exodus 17:1-7, as in Deuteronomy 6:16 and Deuteronomy 9:22), from which the place received the name of Massah and Jeribah; the striving at the water of strife, to the rebellion of the people against Moses and Aaron on account of the want of water at Kadesh (Numbers 20:1-13). At both places it was primarily the people who strove with Moses and Aaron, and thereby tempted God. For it is evident that even at Massah the people murmured not only against Moses, but against their leaders generally, from the use of the plural verb, “ Give ye us water to drink” (Exodus 17:2). This proving of the people, however, was at the same time a proof, to which the Lord subjected the heads and leaders of the nation, for the purpose of trying their faith. And thus also, in Deuteronomy 8:2., the whole of the guidance of Israel through the desert is described as a trial and humiliation of the people by the Lord. But in Moses and Aaron, the heads of the tribe of Levi, the whole of the tribe of Levi was proved. The two provings by means of water are selected, as Schultz observes, “ because in their correlation they were the best adapted to represent the beginning and end, and therefore the whole of the temptations.”
In these temptations Levi had proved itself “a holy one,” although in the latter Moses and Aaron stumbled, since the Levites had risen up in defence of the honour of the Lord and had kept His covenant, even with the denial of father, mother, brethren, and children (Matthew 10:37; Matthew 19:29). The words, “who says to his father,” etc., relate to the event narrated in Exodus 32:26-29, where the Levites draw their swords against the Israelites their brethren, at the command of Moses, after the worship of the golden calf, and execute judgment upon the nation without respect of person. To this we may add Numbers 25:8, where Phinehas interposes with his sword in defence of the honour of the Lord against the shameless prostitution with the daughters of Moab. On these occasions the Levites manifested the spirit which Moses predicates here of all the tribe. By the interposition at Sinai especially, they devoted themselves with such self-denial to the service of the Lord, that the dignity of the priesthood was conferred upon their tribe in consequence. - In Deuteronomy 33:10 and Deuteronomy 33:11, Moses celebrates this vocation: “ They will teach Jacob Thy rights, and Israel Thy law; bring incense to Thy nose, and whole-offering upon Thine altar. Bless, Lord, his strength, and let the work of his hands be well-pleasing to Thee: smite his adversaries and his haters upon the hips, that they may not rise! ” The tribe of Levi had received the high and glorious calling to instruct Israel in the rights and commandments of God (Leviticus 10:11), and to present the sacrifices of the people to the Lord, viz., incense in the holy place, whole-offering in the court. “Whole-offering,” a term applied to the burnt-offering, which is mentioned instar omnium as being the leading sacrifice. The priests alone were actually entrusted with the instruction of the people in the law and the sacrificial worship; but as the rest of the Levites were given them as assistants in their service, this service might very properly be ascribed to the whole tribe; and no greater blessing could be desired for it than that the Lord should give them power to discharge the duties of their office, should accept their service with favour, and make their opponents powerless. The enemies and haters of Levi were not only envious persons, like Korah and his company ( Numbers 16:1), but all opponents of the priests and Levites. The loins are the seat of strength (Psalms 69:24; Job 40:16; Job 31:1; 17). This is the only place in which מן is used before a finite verb, whereas it often stands before the infinitive (e.g., Genesis 27:1; Genesis 31:29).
Benjamin. - “ The beloved of the Lord will dwell safely with Him; He shelters him at all times, and he dwells between His shoulders.” Benjamin, the son of prosperity, and beloved of his father (Genesis 35:18; Genesis 44:20), should bear his name with right. He would be the beloved of the Lord, and as such would dwell in safety with the Lord ( עליו , lit., founded upon Him). The Lord would shelter him continually. The participle expresses the permanence of the relation: is his shelterer. In the third clause Benjamin is the subject once more; he dwells between the shoulders of Jehovah. “Between the shoulders” is equivalent to “upon the back” (vid., 1 Samuel 17:6). The expression is founded upon the figure of a father carrying his son (Deuteronomy 1:29). This figure is by no means so bold as that of the eagle's wings, upon which the Lord had carried His people, and brought them to Himself (Exodus 19:4; vid., Deuteronomy 32:11). There is nothing strange in the change of subject in all three clauses, since it is met with repeatedly even in plain prose (e.g., 2 Samuel 11:13); and here it follows simply enough from the thoughts contained in the different clauses, whilst the suffix in all three clauses refers to the same noun, i.e., to Jehovah.
(Note: “To dwell upon God and between His shoulders is the same as to repose upon Him: the simile being taken from fathers who carry their sons while delicate and young” ( Calvin).)
There are some who regard Jehovah as the subject in the third clause, and explain the unheard-of figure which they thus obtain, viz., that of Jehovah dwelling between the shoulders of Benjamin, as referring to the historical fact that God dwelt in the temple at Jerusalem, which was situated upon the border of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. To this application of the words Knobel has properly objected, that God did not dwell between ridges (= shoulders) of mountains there, but upon the top of Moriah; but, on the other hand, he has set up the much more untenable hypothesis, that the expression refers to Gibeon, where the tabernacle stood after the destruction of Nob by Saul. - Moreover, the whole nation participated in the blessing which Moses desired for Benjamin; and this applies to the blessings of the other tribes also. All Israel was, like Benjamin, the beloved of the Lord (vid., Jeremiah 11:15; Psalms 60:7), and dwelt with Him in safety (vid., Deuteronomy 33:28).
Joseph. - Deuteronomy 33:13. “ Blessed of the Lord be his land, of (in) the most precious things of heaven, the dew, and of the flood which lies beneath, (Deuteronomy 33:14) and of the most precious of the produce of the sun, and of the most precious of the growth of the moons, (Deuteronomy 33:15) and of the head of the mountains of olden time, and of the most precious thing of the everlasting hills, (Deuteronomy 33:16) and of the most precious thing of the earth, and of its fulness, and the good-will of Him that dwelt in the bush: let it come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the crown of him that is illustrious among his brethren.” What Jacob desired and solicited for his son Joseph, Moses also desires for this tribe, namely, the greatest possible abundance of earthly blessing, and a vigorous manifestation of power in conflict with the nations. But however unmistakeable may be the connection between these words and the blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49:22.), not only in the things desired, but even in particular expression, there is an important difference which equally strikes us, namely, that in the case of Jacob the main point of the blessing is the growth of Joseph into a powerful tribe, whereas with Moses it is the development of power on the part of this tribe in the land of its inheritance, in perfect harmony with the different times at which the blessings were pronounced. Jacob described the growth of Joseph under the figure of the luxuriant branch of a fruit-tree planted by the water; whilst Moses fixes his eye primarily upon the land of Joseph, and desires for him the richest productions. “May his land be blessed by Jehovah from ( מן of the cause of the blessing, whose author was Jehovah; vid., Psalms 28:7; Psalms 104:3) the most precious thing of the heaven.” מגד , which only occurs again in the Song of Solomon 4:13, Song of Solomon 4:16, and Song of Solomon 7:13, is applied to precious fruits. The most precious fruit which the heaven yields to the land is the dew. The “ productions of the sun,” and גּרשׁ , ἅπ. λεγ. from גּרשׁ , “ the produce of the moons,” are the fruits of the earth, which are matured by the influence of the sun and moon, by their light, their warmth. At the same time, we can hardly so distinguish the one from the other as to understand by the former the fruits which ripen only once a year, and by the latter those which grow several times and in difference months; and Ezekiel 47:12 and Revelation 22:2 cannot be adduced as proofs of this. The plural “ moons ” in parallelism with the sun does not mean months, as in Exodus 2:2, but the different phases which the moon shows in its revolution round the earth. מראשׁ (from the head), in Deuteronomy 33:15, is a contracted expression signifying “from the most precious things of the head.” The most precious things of the head of the mountains of old and the eternal hills, are the crops and forests with which the tops of the mountains and hills are covered. Moses sums up the whole in the words, “the earth, and the fulness thereof:” everything in the form of costly good that the earth and its productions can supply. - To the blessings of the heaven and earth there are to be added the good-will of the Lord, who appeared to Moses in the thorn-bush to redeem His people out of the bondage and oppression of Egypt and bring it into the land of Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:2.). The expression “that dwells in the bush” is to be explained from the significance of this manifestation of God as shown at Ex 3, which shadowed forth a permanent relation between the Lord and His people. The spiritual blessing of the covenant grace is very suitably added to the blessings of nature; and there is something no less suitable in the way in which the construction commencing with וּרצון is dropped, so that an anakolouthon ensues. This word cannot be taken as an accusative of more precise definition, as Schultz supposes; nor is מן to be supplied before it, as Knobel suggests. Grammatically considered, it is a nominative to which the verb תּבואתה properly belongs, although, as a matter of fact, not only the good-will, but the natural blessings, of the Lord were also to come upon the head of Joseph. Consequently we have not יבוא ( masc.), which רצון would require, but the lengthened poetical feminine form תּבואתה (vid., Ewald, §191, c.), used in a neuter sense. It, i.e., everything mentioned before, shall come upon Joseph. On the expression, “illustrious among his brethren,” see at Genesis 49:26. In the strength of this blessing, the tribe of Joseph would attain to such a development of power, that it would be able to tread down all nations.
“ The first-born of his ox, majesty is to him, and buffalo-horns his horns: with them he thrusts down nations, all at once the ends of the earth. These are the myriads of Ephraim, and these the thousands of Manasseh.” The “ first-born of his (Joseph's) oxen” (shor, a collective noun, as in Deuteronomy 15:19) is not Joshua ( Rabb., Schultz); still less is it Joseph ( Bleek, Diestel), in which case the pronoun his ox would be quite out of place; nor is it King Jeroboam II, as Graf supposes. It is rather Ephraim, whom the patriarch Jacob raised into the position of the first-born of Joseph ( Genesis 48:4.). All the sons of Joseph resembled oxen, but Ephraim was the most powerful of them all. He was endowed with majesty; his horns, the strong weapon of oxen, in which all their strength is concentrated, were not the horns of common oxen, but horns of the wild buffalo ( reem, Numbers 23:22), that strong indomitable beast (cf. Job 39:9.; Psalms 22:22). With them he would thrust down nations, the ends of the earth, i.e., the most distant nations (vid., Psalms 2:8; Psalms 7:9; Psalms 22:28). “ Together,” i.e., all at once, belongs rhythmically to “the ends of the earth.” Such are the myriads of Ephraim, i.e., in such might will the myriads of Ephraim arise. To the tribe of Ephraim, as the more numerous, the ten thousands are assigned; to the tribe of Manasseh, the thousands.
Zebulun and Issachar. - “ Rejoice, Zebulun, at thy going out; and, Issachar, at thy tents. Nations will they invite to the mountain; there offer the sacrifices of righteousness: for they suck the affluence of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand.” The tribes of the last two sons of Leah Moses unites together, and, like Jacob in Genesis 49:13, places Zebulun the younger first. He first of all confirms the blessing which Jacob pronounced through simply interpreting their names as omnia, by calling upon them to rejoice in their undertakings abroad and at home. “At thy tents” corresponds to “at thy going out” (tents being used poetically for dwellings, as in Deuteronomy 16:7); like “sitting” to “going out and coming in” in 2 Kings 19:27; Isaiah 37:28; Psalms 139:2; and describes in its two aspects of work and production, rest and recreation. Although “going out” (enterprise and labour) is attributed to Zebulun, and “remaining in tents” (the comfortable enjoyment of life) to Issachar, in accordance with the delineation of their respective characters in the blessing of Jacob, this is to be attributed to the poetical parallelism of the clauses, and the whole is to be understood as applying to both in the sense suggested by Graf, “Rejoice, Zebulun and Issachar, in your labour and your rest.” This peculiarity, which is founded in the very nature of poetical parallelism, which is to individualize the thought by distributing it into parallel members, has been entirely overlooked by all the commentators who have given a historical interpretation to each, referring the “going out” to the shipping trade and commercial pursuits of the Zebulunites, and the expression “in thy tents” either to the spending of a nomad life in tents, for the purpose of performing a subordinate part in connection with trade ( Schultz), or to the quiet pursuits of agriculture and grazing ( Knobel). They were to rejoice in their undertakings at home and abroad; for they would be successful. The good things of life would flow to them in rich abundance; they would not make them into mammon, however, but would invite nations to the mountain, and there offer sacrifices of righteousness. “The peoples” are nations generally, not the tribes of Israel, still less the members of their own tribes. By the “ mountain,” without any more precise definition, we are not to understand Tabor or Carmel any more than the mountain land of Canaan. It is rather “the mountain of the Lord's inheritance” (Exodus 15:17), upon which the Lord was about to plant His people, the mountain which the Lord had chosen for His sanctuary, and in which His people were to dwell with Him, and rejoice in sacrificial meals of fellowship with Him. To this end the Lord had sanctified Moriah through the sacrifice of Isaac which He required of Abraham, though it had not been revealed to Moses that it was there that the temple, in which the name of the Lord in Israel would dwell, was afterwards to be built. There is no distinct or direct allusion to Morah or Zion, as the temple-mountain, involved in the words of Moses. It was only by later revelations and appointments on the part of God that this was to be made known. The words simply contain the Messianic thought that Zebulun and Issachar would offer rich praise-offerings and thank-offerings to the Lord, from the abundant supply of earthly good that would flow to them, upon the mountain which He would make ready as the seat of His gracious presence, and would call, i.e., invite the nations to the sacrificial meals connected with them to delight themselves with them in the rich gifts of the Lord, and worship the Lord who blessed His people thus. For the explanation of this thought, see Psalms 22:28-31. Sacrifice is mentioned here as an expression of divine worship, which culminated in sacrifice; and slain-offerings are mentioned, not burnt-offerings, to set forth the worship of God under the aspect of blessedness in fellowship with the Lord. “Slain-offerings of righteousness' are not merely outwardly legal sacrifices, in conformity with the ritual of the law, but such as were offered in a right spirit, which was well-pleasing to God (as in Psalms 4:6; 51:21). It follows as a matter of course, therefore, that by the abundance of the seas we are not merely to understand the profits of trade upon the Mediterranean Sea; and that we are still less to understand by the hidden treasures of the sand “the fish, the purple snails, and sponges” ( Knobel), or “tunny-fish, purple shells, and glass' (Ps. Jon.); but that the words receive their best exposition from Isaiah 60:5-6, Isaiah 60:16, and Isaiah 66:11-12, i.e., that the thought expressed is, that the riches and treasures of both sea and land would flow to the tribes of Israel.
Gad. - “ Blessed be He that enlargeth Gad: like a lioness he lieth down, and teareth the arm, yea, the crown of the head. And he chose his first-fruit territory, for there was the leader's portion kept; and he came to the heads of the people, he executed the justice of the Lord, and his rights with Israel.” Just as in the blessing of Noah (Genesis 9:26) the God of Shem is praised, to point out the salvation appointed by God for Shem, so here Moses praises the Lord, who enlarged Gad, i.e., who not only gave him a broad territory in the conquered kingdom of Sihon, but furnished generally an unlimited space for his development (vid., Genesis 26:22), so that he might unfold his lion-like nature in conflict with his foes. On the figure of a lioness, see Genesis 49:9; and on the warlike character of the Gadites, the remarks on the blessing of Jacob upon Gad (Genesis 49:19). The second part of the blessing treats of the inheritance which Gad obtained from Moses at his own request beyond Jordan. ראה , with an accusative and ל , signifies to look out something for oneself (Genesis 22:8; 1 Samuel 16:17). The “first-fruit” refers here to the first portion of the land which Israel received for a possession; this is evident from the reason assigned, חלקת שׁם כּי , whilst the statement that Gad chose the hereditary possession is in harmony with Numbers 32:2, Numbers 32:6, Numbers 32:25., where the children of Gad are described as being at the head of the tribes, who came before Moses to ask for the conquered land as their possession. The meaning of the next clause, of which very different explanations have been given, can only be, that Gad chose such a territory for its inheritance as became a leader of the tribes. מחקק , he who determines, commands, organizes; hence both a commander and also a leader in war. It is in the latter sense that it occurs both here and in Judges 5:14. מחקק חלקת , the field, or territory of the leader, may either be the territory appointed or assigned by the lawgiver, or the territory falling to the lot of the leader. According to the former view, Moses would be the mechokek . But the thought, that Moses appointed or assigned him his inheritance, could be no reason why Gad should choose it for himself. Consequently מחקק חלקת can only mean the possession which the mechokek chose for himself, as befitting him, or specially adapted for him. Consequently the mechokek was not Moses, but the tribe of Gad, which was so called because it unfolded such activity and bravery at the head of the tribes in connection with the conquest of the land, that it could be regarded as their leaders. This peculiar prominence on the part of the Gadites may be inferred from the fact, that they distinguished themselves above the Reubenites in the fortification of the conquered land ( Numbers 32:34.). ספוּן , from ספן , to cover, hide, preserve, is a predicate, and construed as a noun, “a thing preserved.” - On the other hand, the opinion has been very widely spread, from the time of Onkelos down to Baumgarten and Ewald, that this hemistich refers to Moses: “ there is the portion of the lawgiver hidden,” or “the field of the hidden leader,” and that it contains an allusion to the fact that the grave of Moses was hidden in the inheritance of Gad. But this is not only at variance with the circumstance, that a prophetic allusion to the grave of Moses such as Baumgarten assumes is apparently inconceivable, from the simple fact that we cannot imagine the Gadites to have foreseen the situation of Moses' grave at the time when they selected their territory, but also with the fact that, according to Joshua 13:20, the spot where this grave was situated ( Deuteronomy 34:5) was not allotted to the tribe of Gad, but to that of Reuben; and lastly, with the use of the word chelkah , which does not signify a burial-ground or grave. - But although Gad chose out an inheritance for himself, he still went before his brethren, i.e., along with the rest of the tribes, into Canaan, to perform in connection with them, what the Lord demanded of His people as a right. This is the meaning of the second half of the verse. The clause, “he came to the heads of the people,” does not refer to the fact that the Gadites came to Moses and the heads of the congregation, to ask for the conquered land as a possession (Numbers 32:2), but expressed the thought that Gad joined the heads of the people to go at the head of the tribes of Israel (comp. Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12, with Numbers 32:17, Numbers 32:21, Numbers 32:32), to conquer Canaan with the whole nation, and root out the Canaanites. The Gadites had promised this to Moses and the heads of the people; and this promise Moses regarded as an accomplished act, and praised in these words with prophetic foresight as having been already performed, and that not merely as one single manifestation of their obedience towards the word of the Lord, but rather as a pledge that Gad would always manifest the same disposition. “To do the righteousness of Jehovah,” i.e., to do what Jehovah requires of His people as righteousness - namely, to fulfil the commandments of God, in which the righteousness of Israel was to consist (Deuteronomy 6:25). יתא , imperfect Kal for יאהת or יאתּה ; see Ges. §76, 2, c., and Ewald, §142, c. “ With Israel: ” in fellowship with (the rest of) Israel.
Dan is “ a young lion which springs out of Bashan.” Whilst Jacob compared him to a serpent by the way, which suddenly bites a horse's feet, so that its rider falls backward, Moses gives greater prominence to the strength which Dan would display in conflict with foes, by calling him a young lion which suddenly springs out of its ambush. The reference to Bashan has nothing to do with the expedition of the Danites against Laish, in the valley of Rehoboth (Judges 18:28), as this valley did not belong to Bashan. It is to be explained from the simple fact, that in the regions of eastern Bashan, which abound with caves, and more especially in the woody western slopes of Jebel Hauran, many lions harboured, which rushed forth from the thicket, and were very dangerous enemies to the herds of Bashan. Even if no other express testimonies to this fact are to be found it may be inferred from the description given of the eastern spurs of Antilibanus in the Song of Sol. (Song of Solomon 4:8), as the abodes of lions and leopards. The meaning leap forth, spring out, is confirmed by both the context and dialects, though the word only occurs here.
Naphtali. - “ O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full of the blessing of Jehovah; of sea and south shall he take possession.” If the gracefulness of Naphtali is set forth in the blessing of Jacob, by comparing it to a gazelle, here Moses assures the same tribe of satisfaction with the favour and blessing of God, and promises it the possession of the sea and of the south, i.e., an inheritance which should combine the advantages of the sea - a healthy sea-breeze - with the grateful warmth of the south. This blessing is expressed in far too general terms for it to be possible to interpret it historically, as relating to the natural characteristics of the inheritance of the Naphtalites in Canaan, or to regard it as based upon them, apart altogether from the fact, that the territory of Naphtali was situated in the north-east of Canaan, and reached as far as the sea of Galilee, and that it was for the most part mountainous, though it was a very fertile hill-country (Joshua 19:32-39). ירשׁה is a very unique form of the imperative, though this does not warrant an alteration of the text.
Asher. - “ Blessed before the sons be Asher; let him be the favoured among his brethren, and dipping his foot in oil. Iron and brass be thy castle; and as the days of thy life let thy rest continue.” Asher, the prosperous (see at Genesis 30:15), was justly to bear the name. He was to be a child of prosperity; blessed with earthly good, he was to enjoy rest all his life long in strong fortresses. It is evident enough that this blessing is simply an exposition of the name Asher, and that Moses here promises the tribe a verification of the omen contained in its name. מבּנים בּרוּך does not mean “blessed with children,” or “praised because of his children,” in which case we should have בּניו ; but “blessed before the sons” (cf. Judges 5:24), i.e., blessed before the sons of Jacob, who were peculiarly blessed, equivalent to the most blessed of all the sons of Israel. אחיו רצוּי does not mean the beloved among his brethren, acceptable to his brethren, but the one who enjoyed the favour of the Lord, i.e., the one peculiarly favoured by the Lord. Dipping the foot in oil points to a land flowing with oil (Job 29:6), i.e., fat or fertile throughout, which Jacob had already promised to Asher (see Genesis 49:20). To complete the prosperity, however, security and rest were required for the enjoyment of the blessings bestowed by God; and these are promised in Deuteronomy 33:25. מנעל ( ἅπ. λεγ. ) does not mean a shoe, but is derived from נעל , to bolt (Judges 3:23), and signifies either a bolt, or that which is shut fast; a poetical expression for a castle or fortress. Asher's dwellings were to be castles, fortresses of iron and brass; i.e., as strong and impregnable as if they were built of iron and brass. The pursuit of mining is not to be thought of as referred to here, even though the territory of Asher, which reached to Lebanon, may have contained brass and iron (see at Deuteronomy 8:9). Luther follows the lxx and Vulgate, and renders this clause, “iron and brass be upon his shoes;” but this is undoubtedly wrong, as the custom of fastening the shoes or sandals with brass or iron was quite unknown to the Israelites; and even Goliath, who was clothed in brass from head to foot, and wore iron greaves, had no iron sandals, though the military shoes of the ancient Romans had nails in the soles. Moreover, the context contains no reference to war, so as to suggest the idea that the treading down and cursing of the foe are intended. “As thy days,” i.e., as long as the days of thy life last, let thy rest be (continue). Luther's rendering, “let thine old age be as thy youth,” which follows the Vulgate, cannot be sustained; for although דּבא , derived from דאב , to vanish away, certainly might signify old age, the expression “thy days” cannot possibly be understood as signifying youth.
The conclusion of the blessing corresponds to the introduction. As Moses commenced with the glorious fact of the founding of the kingdom of Jehovah in Israel, as the firm foundation of the salvation of His people, so he also concludes with a reference to the Lord their eternal refuge, and with a congratulation of Israel which could find refuge in such a God.
“ Who is as God, a righteous nation, who rides in heaven to thy help, and in His exaltation upon the clouds. Abiding is the God of olden time, and beneath are everlasting arms: and He drives the enemy before thee, and says, Destroy.” The meaning is: No other nation has a God who rules in heaven with almighty power, and is a refuge and help to his people against every foe. Jeshurun is a vocative, and the alteration of כּאל into כּאל , “as the God of Jeshurun,” according to the ancient versions, is to be rejected on the simple ground that the expression “ in thy help,” which follows immediately afterwards, is an address to Israel. Riding upon the heaven and the clouds is a figure used to denote the unlimited omnipotence with which God rules the world out of heaven, and is the helper of His people. “In thy help,” i.e., as thy helper. This God is a dwelling to His people. מענה , like the masculine מעון in Psalms 90:1, and Psalms 91:9, signifies “dwelling,” - a genuine Mosaic figure, to which, in all probability, the houseless wandering of the people in the desert, which made them feel the full worth of a dwelling, first gave rise. The figure not only implies that God grants protection and a refuge to His people in the storms of life (Psalms 91:1-2, cf. Isaiah 4:6), but also that He supplies His people with everything that can afford a safe abode. “The God of old,” i.e., who has proved Himself to be God from the very beginning of the world (vid., Psalms 90:1; Habakkuk 1:12). The expression “ underneath” is to be explained from the antithesis to the heaven where God is enthroned above mankind. He who is enthroned in heaven above is also the God who is with His people upon the earth below, and holds and bars them in His arms. “Everlasting arms” are arms whose strength is never exhausted. There is no need to supply “thee” after “underneath;” the expression should rather be left in its general form, “upon the earth beneath.” The reference to Israel is obvious from the context. The driving of the enemy before Israel is not to be restricted to the rooting out of the Canaanites, but applies to every enemy of the congregation of the Lord.
“ And Israel dwells safely, alone the fountain of Jacob, in a land full of corn and wine; his heavens also drop down dew.” Because the God of old was the dwelling and help of Israel, it dwelt safely and separate from the other nations, in a land abounding with corn and wine. “The fountain of Jacob” is parallel to “Israel;” “ alone (separate) dwells the fountain of Jacob.” This title is given to Israel as having sprung from the patriarch Jacob, in whom it had its source. A similar expression occurs in Psalms 68:27. It completely destroys the symmetry of the clauses of the verse to connect the words, as Luther does, with what follows, in the sense of “ the eye of Jacob is directed upon a land.” The construction of שׁכן with אל , to dwell into a land, may be explained on the ground that the dwelling involves the idea of spreading out over the land. On the “ land of corn,” etc., see Deuteronomy 8:7 and Deuteronomy 8:8. אף is emphatic: yea his heaven, i.e., the heaven of this land drops down dew (vid., Genesis 27:28). Israel was to be congratulated upon this.
“ Hail to thee, O Israel! who is like thee, a people saved in the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who (is) the sword of thine eminence. Thine enemies will deny themselves to thee, and thou ridest upon their heights.” “Saved;” not merely delivered from danger and distress, but in general endowed with salvation (like Zechariah 9:9; see also Isaiah 45:17). The salvation of Israel rested in the Lord, as the ground out of which it grew, from which it descended, because the Lord was its help and shield, as He had already promised Abraham (Genesis 15:1), and “the sword of his eminence,” i.e., the sword which had fought for the eminence of Israel. But because the Lord was Israel's shield and sword, or, so to speak, both an offensive and defensive weapon, his enemies denied themselves to him, i.e., feigned friendship, did not venture to appear openly as enemies (for the meaning “feign,” act the hypocrite, see Psalms 18:45; Psalms 81:16). But Israel would ride upon their heights, the high places of their land, i.e., would triumph over all its foes (see at Deuteronomy 32:13).
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the <>Sixth Sunday after Easter