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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 33

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Deuteronomy 33:0


Moses' Final Blessing On IsraelThe Blessing of MosesMoses Blesses the Tribes of IsraelThe Tribes
Deuteronomy 33:1-5Deuteronomy 33:1-29 (Deuteronomy 33:1-5)Deuteronomy 33:1-5 (Deuteronomy 33:2-5)Deuteronomy 33:1-29(Deuteronomy 33:1)
(Deuteronomy 33:2)
(Deuteronomy 33:3)
(Deuteronomy 33:4-6)
Deuteronomy 33:6-7(Deuteronomy 33:6-7)Deuteronomy 33:6
Deuteronomy 33:7(Deuteronomy 33:7)
Deuteronomy 33:8-11(Deuteronomy 33:8-11)Deuteronomy 33:8-11(Deuteronomy 33:8-11)
Deuteronomy 33:12(Deuteronomy 33:12)Deuteronomy 33:12(Deuteronomy 33:12)
Deuteronomy 33:13-17(Deuteronomy 33:13-17)Deuteronomy 33:13-17(Deuteronomy 33:13-17)
Deuteronomy 33:18-19(Deuteronomy 33:18-19)Deuteronomy 33:18-19(Deuteronomy 33:18-19)
Deuteronomy 33:20-21(Deuteronomy 33:20-21)Deuteronomy 33:20-21(Deuteronomy 33:20-21)
Deuteronomy 33:22(Deuteronomy 33:22)Deuteronomy 33:22(Deuteronomy 33:22)
Deuteronomy 33:23(Deuteronomy 33:23)Deuteronomy 33:23(Deuteronomy 33:23)
Deuteronomy 33:24-29(Deuteronomy 33:24-25)Deuteronomy 33:24-29 (Deuteronomy 33:24-25)(Deuteronomy 33:24-25)
(Deuteronomy 33:26-29)(Deuteronomy 33:26-29)(Deuteronomy 33:26-29)

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This chapter is very similar to Genesis 49:0. Both reflect the ancient Jewish tradition of a Patriarchal blessing on the children (i.e., Jacob to his sons in Genesis 49:0). Here Moses is a surrogate father to the tribes of Israel and pronounces the family blessing and warning on each one.

B. The song of chapter 32, with its severe warnings, must be combined with the blessing of Deuteronomy 33:0 to see the full counsel of YHWH's word!

C. This poem seems to break the continuity between Deuteronomy 32:48-52 and Deuteronomy 34:0. Why it was inserted here, when and by whom, cannot be answered. It is assumed to be an inspired poetic blessing linked to Moses.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:1-5 1 Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the sons of Israel before his death. 2He said, “The Lord came from Sinai, And dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, And He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones; At His right hand there was flashing lightning for them. 3Indeed, He loves the people; All Your holy ones are in Your hand, And they followed in Your steps; Everyone receives of Your words. 4Moses charged us with a law, A possession for the assembly of Jacob. 5And He was king in Jeshurun, When the heads of the people were gathered, The tribes of Israel together.”

Deuteronomy 33:1 “the blessing. . .blessed” The VERB (BDB 138, KB 159, Piel PERFECT) and the NOUN occur in Deuteronomy 33:1.


“the man of God” This phrase (BDB 35 CONSTRUCT 43) was used to describe prophets (cf. Joshua 14:6; 1 Samuel 2:27; 1 Samuel 9:6-7; 1 Kings 9:6; 1 Kings 12:22; 1 Kings 13:1, 1 Kings 13:30; 2 Kings 1:9-13; 2 Kings 5:8; 2 Kings 23:17; Jeremiah 35:4).

Deuteronomy 33:2 This describes a revelatory appearance of YHWH to Israel (i.e., theophany). This awesome encounter between the divine and humans was terrifying (cf. Exodus 19:0; Psalms 50:2-3). YHWH's presence was continued in the form of the special cloud (i.e, Shekinah cloud of glory). YHWH came and stayed with His people from Mt. Sinai/Horeb until they crossed the Jordan. Even then, His special presence was with the Ark, above the wings of the cherubim.

It is obvious from this verse that YHWH is seen as associated with mountains (cf. 1 Kings 20:23, 1 Kings 20:28).

1. Moriah (Genesis 22:2; 2 Chronicles 3:1, site of the temple)

2. Mt. Sinai/Horeb (Exodus 19-20)

3. Mt. Seir (here, Judges 5:4)

4. Mt. Paran (here, Habakkuk 3:3)

5. Ebal/Gerizim (Deuteronomy 27:4; Joshua 8:30-33)

6. Tabor (Judges 4:6)

7. Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-39; 2 Kings 4:25-27)

8. Perazim (2 Samuel 5:20; Isaiah 28:21)

9. Mt. Zion (Isaiah 2:1-4; Micah 4:1-4; Psalms 68:16, name for Jerusalem)

10. Mt. Nebo (Deuteronomy 34:0, to Moses only)

“Sinai” This is the place of the giving of the Law. It is called Sinai (BDB 696) only here in Deuteronomy. It is usually called Horeb (BDB 352). See Special Topic: The Location of Mt. Sinai.

“Seir” This name (BDB 973) has several different referents in the OT:

1. It can refer to the land of Edom - Genesis 32:3; Genesis 36:30; Numbers 24:18; Deuteronomy 1:44; Deuteronomy 2:8, Deuteronomy 2:12, Deuteronomy 2:22, Deuteronomy 2:29; Deuteronomy 33:1; Joshua 11:17; Judges 5:4.

2. It can refer to a mountain/hill in Edom - Genesis 36:8-9; Deuteronomy 1:2; Deuteronomy 2:14; Joshua 24:4.

3. It can refer to a people - Genesis 36:20-30; 2 Chronicles 25:11, 2 Chronicles 25:14; Ezekiel 25:8 (of Edom)

4. It can refer to a mountain/hill in Judah - Joshua 15:10(?).

“Mount Paran” This is the mountain range (BDB 803) close to the plains of Moab (cf. Deuteronomy 1:1) on the west side of Arabah, down the west side of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Perhaps this listing is of the travel of the children of Israel as they left Sinai going into the Promised Land (also can be a wilderness, cf. Numbers 10:12; Numbers 12:16; Numbers 13:3, Numbers 13:26). God was saying that He had been with them throughout the wanderings and He was still with them.

NASB“the midst of ten thousand holy ones” NKJV“with ten thousands of saints” NRSV“myriads of holy ones” TEV“ten thousand angels were with him” NJB----------

The MT here has “Ribeboth-Kodesh.” Deuteronomy 32:51 translates similar consonants as “Meribah-Kadesh. This could refer to (1) a place name or (2) “angels” (cf. Daniel 7:10; Revelation 5:11) or “saints” (cf. Deuteronomy 33:3; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:9). Rabbis use this as text to assert the intermediary role of angels (cf. Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2).

NASB“flashing lightning” NKJV“a fiery law” NRSV“a host of his own” TEV“a flaming fire” NJB“blazed forth”

Literally this is “fiery law” (BDB 77 and 206). However, in this context it refers to the coming glory of the brilliance of YHWH's glory (cf. Isaiah 60:1-3).

Deuteronomy 33:3 “He loves the people” The VERB (BDB 285, KB 284, Qal PARTICIPLE) seems to reflect Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 10:15.

The OBJECT “people” is PLURAL and refers to the descendants of the Patriarchs.

NASB “All Your holy ones are in Your hand” NKJV“All His saints are in your hand” NRSV“All his holy ones were in your charge” TEV“protects those who belong to him” NJB“Your holy ones are all at your command”

The term “holy ones” (BDB 481 CONSTRUCT 872) refers to the covenant people. This could be translated “saints” (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2, Deuteronomy 14:21; “holy people”).

NASB“followed” NKJV“sit down” NRSV“marched” TEV“bow” NJB“fell”

This is literally “lie down at” (BDB 1067, KB 1730, Pual PERFECT, unusual VERB only here). It could also refer to the position of a learner (i.e., bowed low, cf. TEV, sit at your feet , cf. NET Bible). “They” refers to the people of Israel.

Everyone receives of Your words” This refers to the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai/Horeb in Exodus 20:0 and following. God's people knew God's will and law. The covenant people have a special responsibility to reflect God's character.

All of them affirmed their willingness to follow God's law.

Deuteronomy 33:4 “Moses charged us with a law” This seems to confirm the idea in the preceding verses that the reference in Deuteronomy 33:3 is to a place name and that these verses are talking about God's people, not angels.

“A possession for the assembly of Jacob” The term “possession” (BDB 440) refers to an inheritance (BDB 439). It was used first of the tribe of Israel (Jacob, BDB 784) in Exodus 6:8 and is mentioned often in Ezekiel (cf. Ezekiel 11:15; Ezekiel 33:24; Ezekiel 36:2, Ezekiel 36:3, Ezekiel 36:5).

The term “assembly” (BDB 875) means “congregation” (cf. same root in Deuteronomy 23:2, Deuteronomy 23:3, Deuteronomy 23:4, Deuteronomy 23:8; Deuteronomy 31:30).

Because of the parallelism in Deuteronomy 33:4, this particular usage of “possession” may be a metaphor for the covenant (i.e., law). God's people possess a revelation as well as a land!

Deuteronomy 33:5 “He was king” This may be a reference to YHWH as King (BDB 572 I, cf. Exodus 15:18; Numbers 23:21; Numbers 24:7; 1 Samuel 8:4-9).

The last two lines parallel “heads of the people” and “the tribes of Israel.” It refers to the inauguration of the covenant with the new people of God at Mt. Sinai/Horeb (cf. Exodus 19-20).

“Jeshurun” This is literally “the upright ones” (BDB 449) and refers to Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 33:26; Deuteronomy 32:15; Isaiah 44:2).

Verse 6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:6 6”May Reuben live and not die, Nor his men be few.”

Deuteronomy 33:6 “May Reuben live and not die” Verse Deuteronomy 33:6 has three Qal JUSSIVE forms:

1. live - BDB 310, KB 309

2. die - BDB 559, KB 562 (negated)

3. be - BDB 224, KB 243 (negated)

Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob, but he sinned against his father (cf. Genesis 35:22) and lost his preeminence (cf. Genesis 49:3-4).

NASB“Nor his men be few” NKJV“nor let his men be free” NRSV“even though his numbers are few” TEV“although their people are few” NJB“though his men be few”

If so, this is part of the loss of preeminence (cf. TEV, NJB). This phrase often means “not very many men” (cf. Genesis 34:30; Deuteronomy 4:27; Psalms 105:12; Jeremiah 44:28).

Verse 7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:7 7And this regarding Judah; so he said, “Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah, And bring him to his people. With his hands he contended for them, And may You be a help against his adversaries.”

Deuteronomy 33:7 “Hear” This VERB (BDB 1033, KB 1570,Qal IMPERATIVE) is used often in Deuteronomy, but usually it is YHWH (or Moses) speaking to Israel.

“O LORD” See Special Topic: Names for Deity.

“the voice of Judah” In context Moses is asking YHWH to hear Judah's prayer (i.e., the tribe of Judah's prayer). There is nothing in Moses' blessing that hints of Judah's special place as royal tribe, so evident in Jacob's blessing of Genesis 49:8-12.

The fact that the tribe of Simeon is not mentioned has caused some to relate this prophecy to a later period when Simeon was incorporated into Judah (cf. Joshua 19:1-9; Judges 1:3-4). Simeon's allotment was southwest of Judah, which was adjacent to the five Philistine cities.

NASB“With his hands he contended for them” NKJV“Let his hands be sufficient for him” NRSV“strengthen his hands for him” TEV“Fight for them, LORD” NJB“that his hands may defend his rights”

This Hebrew phrase is uncertain. It may refer to Judah defending itself against enemies, which may point toward the division of the unified monarchy in 922 B.C. into Judah and Israel (only speculation).

Verses 8-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:8-11 8Of Levi he said, “Let Your Thummim and Your Urim belong to Your godly man, Whom You proved at Massah, With whom You contended at the waters of Meribah; 9Who said of his father and his mother, 'I did not consider them'; And he did not acknowledge his brothers, Nor did he regard his own sons, For they observed Your word, And kept Your covenant. 10They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, And Your law to Israel. They shall put incense before You, And whole burnt offerings on Your altar. 11O Lord, bless his substance, And accept the work of his hands; Shatter the loins of those who rise up against him, And those who hate him, so that they will not rise again.”

Deuteronomy 33:8-11 In the Qumran literature, scrolls found in caves northwest of the Dead Sea, Deuteronomy 18:18 and Numbers 24:15-17, which are definite Messianic prophecies, are linked with this passage. They thought that the Messiah was related to the Levites (cf. Psalms 110:4-7; Zechariah 3-4).

This blessing includes not only the past faithful acts of Aaron (cf. Psalms 106:16), but also of Moses (cf. last two lines of Deuteronomy 33:8 and Exodus 17:1-7).

Deuteronomy 33:8 “Your Thummim and Your Urim” These two items (BDB 1070 and 22) were (1) a mechanical way (i.e., lots) or (2) a visible light which denoted a prophecy to know the will of YHWH. Apparently they were kept by the High Priest in a pouch behind the breast plate (cf. Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; 1 Samuel 14:37-42; 1 Samuel 23:9-12). Exactly what they were and how they worked has been lost (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 329-331).

“Your godly man” This may refer to Aaron or Moses or the descendant of the High Priest, but the historical reference mentioned refers to Moses.

“Massah. . .Meribah” Read Exodus 17:7. However, the rebellion at this location did not mention Levi or the priests in any way. The exact connection is uncertain.

Apparently YHWH tested both Israel and her leadership during the wilderness wandering period to see if they really trusted Him and His care and guidance (cf. Exodus 17:7).

1. proved/test - BDB 650, KB 702, Piel PERFECT

2. strive/contend - BDB 936, KB 1224, Qal IMPERFECT

Notice that YHWH regularly tests (BDB 650) the motives and commitment of those who claim to know and trust Him:

1. Abraham - Genesis 22:0

2. Israel - Exodus 15:25; Exodus 16:4; Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2, Deuteronomy 8:16; Deuteronomy 13:3 Judges 2:22; Judges 3:1, Judges 3:4

3. Moses - Deuteronomy 33:8

4. Hezekiah - 2 Chronicles 32:31

5. Jesus was also tested - Matthew 4:0; Luke 4:0

This same word is used often for humans “testing” God, which is always seen in a negative light!

Deuteronomy 33:9 This refers to the passage in Exodus 32:0, where Israel became involved in idolatry in the making and worshiping (i.e., sexual orgy) of the golden calf. At this point Moses ordered the faithful Levites (his own tribe) to kill many of their fellow Israelites in judgment (cf. Deuteronomy 32:25-29).

By this action, even against their own family, they are honored for:

1. they observed Your word - BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal PERFECT, cf. Deuteronomy 29:9

2. they kept Your covenant - BDB 665, KB 718, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Psalms 25:10; Psalms 78:7; Psalms 119:2, Psalms 119:22, Psalms 119:33, Psalms 119:34, Psalms 119:56, Psalms 119:69, Psalms 119:100, Psalms 119:115, Psalms 119:129, Psalms 119:145

Deuteronomy 33:10 “teach. . .put incense. . .and whole burnt offerings” These are the duties of the Levitical priests:

1. teaching - BDB 434, KB 436, Hiphil IMPERFECT, cf. Deuteronomy 31:9-13, which includes judging, cf. Deuteronomy 17:9-10

2. duties at the tabernacle/temple

Deuteronomy 33:11 This short verse has four VERBS and two PARTICIPLES:

1. “bless” - BDB 138, KB 159, Piel IMPERATIVE, cf. Deuteronomy 33:1, Deuteronomy 33:13, Deuteronomy 33:20, Deuteronomy 33:24; Deuteronomy 28:3(twice),4,5,6(twice), Deuteronomy 33:8, Deuteronomy 33:12, Deuteronomy 33:19; Deuteronomy 30:16. This is what YHWH wants to do!

2. “accept” - BDB 953, KB 1280, Qal IMPERFECT. This is a sacrificial term, cf. Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 7:18; Leviticus 19:7; Leviticus 22:23, Leviticus 22:25, Leviticus 22:27, which can also mean “enjoy,” Leviticus 26:34 (twice)

3. “shatter” - BDB 563, KB 571, Qal IMPERATIVE, used of YHWH in Deuteronomy 32:39, here of their enemies (cf. #4, #5, and #6)

4. “those who rise up” - BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE, used of adversaries

a. to God, Exodus 15:7

b. to Israel, Exodus 32:25; Psalms 109:28

c. to one's neighbor, Deuteronomy 19:11

5. “those who hate him” - BDB 971, KB 1338, Piel PARTICIPLE, often in the Psalms for enemies, cf. Psalms 18:40; Psalms 44:7, Psalms 44:10; Psalms 55:12; Psalms 68:1; Psalms 89:23

6. “rise again” (negated) - same root as #4, but here a Qal IMPERFECT. This could refer to the other Israelites who attacked Moses' and Aaron's leadership during the wilderness wandering period.

NASB, NKJV NRSV“bless his substance” TEV“help their tribe to grow strong” NJB“bless his worthiness”

This term (BDB 298) can have several connotations:

1. its basic meaning is “capacity” or “power”

2. “strength”

3. “ability,” “skills”

4. “worthiness”

5. “accomplishments”

6. “possessions”

“Shatter the loins” This is literally “break the thigh” (i.e., the largest muscle in the body used as a symbol for the whole person). This is a Hebrew metaphor for making someone powerless. It is even possible that it has the connotation of stopping procreation, thereby, no future generations.

Verse 12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:12 12Of Benjamin he said, “May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him, Who shields him all the day, And he dwells between His shoulders.”

Deuteronomy 33:12 “Of Benjamin. . .beloved of the LORD” He (BDB 122) may be called beloved of the Lord because he was the favorite of his father, Jacob (cf. Genesis 44:20).

“dwell in security by Him” The VERB (BDB 1014, KB 1496, is a Qal IMPERFECT, but in a JUSSIVE sense, cf. Deuteronomy 33:12 [twice],16,20,28; Exodus 25:8; Exodus 29:45, Exodus 29:46). YHWH is his close companion in Deuteronomy 33:12.

NASB“Who shields him all the day” NKJV“who shelters him all the day long” NRSV“surrounds him all day long” TEV“He guards them all the day long” NJB“protects him day after day”

The VERB (BDB 342, KB 339, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) is used only here and can mean “to enclose” or “to surround” or “to cover.”

NASB, NKJV“dwells between His shoulders” NRSV“rest between his shoulders” TEV“he dwells in their midst” NJB“dwells between his hillsides”

This is a metaphor for (1) a place of peace and security (Deuteronomy 33:20, Deuteronomy 33:28) or (2) living in a sheltered place (i.e., Shiloh, Bethel, or Jerusalem [a suggestion of S. R. Driver]).

Verses 13-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:13-17 13Of Joseph he said, “Blessed of the Lord be his land, With the choice things of heaven, with the dew, And from the deep lying beneath, 14And with the choice yield of the sun, And with the choice produce of the months. 15And with the best things of the ancient mountains, And with the choice things of the everlasting hills, 16And with the choice things of the earth and its fullness, And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush. Let it come to the head of Joseph, And to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers. 17As the firstborn of his ox, majesty is his, And his horns are the horns of the wild ox; With them he will push the peoples, All at once, to the ends of the earth. And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim, And those are the thousands of Manasseh.”

Deuteronomy 33:13-17 The longest of the blessings, except for Levi, goes to the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh (cf. Deuteronomy 33:17, his two sons in Egypt). These were the most powerful of the northern tribes.

In Deuteronomy 33:13-16b Moses enumerates agricultural blessings on these two tribes. In Deuteronomy 33:16 c and d Joseph's status in Egypt is acknowledged. In Deuteronomy 33:17 the power of these two tribes is expressed in animal metaphors.

Deuteronomy 33:13 This verse refers to the abundance of moisture from dew and underground sources (cf. Genesis 49:25). Water meant agricultural abundance!

Deuteronomy 33:15 “the best things of the ancient mountains. . .And... of the everlasting hills” This may refer to trees, both for food and construction.

Deuteronomy 33:16 “And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush” This may refer to the burning bush (cf. Exodus 3:2-4). This word for bush (BDB 702) is used only five times in the OT, four of them in Exodus 3:2-4.

NASB“And to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers” NKJV“And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers” NRSV“on the brow of the prince among his brothers” TEV“because he was the leader among his brothers” NJB“on the brow of the consecrated one among his brothers”

This reflects Jacob's blessing in Genesis 49:26. The leadership and preeminence of Joseph continues in his sons' descendants.

Deuteronomy 33:17 “And his horns are the horns of the wild ox” In Hebrew the word “horn”(BDB 901) is a symbol of power.

to the ends of the earth” This is a CONSTRUCT of BDB 67 and 75. It has such powerful theological significance.

1. uniqueness of YHWH (and thereby monotheism)

a. Isaiah 45:6, Isaiah 45:14; Isaiah 46:9; Isaiah 47:8, Isaiah 47:10

b. Zephaniah 2:15

2. the power and glory of YHWH

a. Proverbs 30:4

b. many of those under #3

3. the extension of YHWH's worship and rule to all the earth

a. Deuteronomy 33:17

b. 1 Samuel 2:10

c. Psalms 22:25-31; Psalms 59:13; Psalms 67:1-7; Psalms 98:2-9

d. Isaiah 45:22; Isaiah 52:10

e. Jeremiah 16:19

4. Messianic

a. 1 Samuel 2:10

b. Psalms 2:8

c. Micah 5:4-5

“the ten thousands of Ephraim. . .and the thousands of Manasseh” This phrase shows the priority of Ephraim in size and power. See Special Topic: Thousand.

Verses 18-19

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:18-19 18Of Zebulun he said, “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going forth, And, Issachar, in your tents. 19They will call peoples to the mountain; There they will offer righteous sacrifices; For they will draw out the abundance of the seas, And the hidden treasures of the sand.”

Deuteronomy 33:18 “Of Zebulun. . .And, Issachar” These two tribes are also listed together as in Genesis 49:13-15.

“Rejoice” This VERB (BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal IMPERATIVE) is used in the sense of “enjoy the good, safe abundance of life.”

“going forth” This (BDB 422, KB 425, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) seems to be used in the sense of a free life (cf. Deuteronomy 28:6, Deuteronomy 28:19; Deuteronomy 31:2).

“in your tents” This (BDB 13) refers to their home during the wilderness wandering period, but became a metaphor for one's house.

These two parallel lines imply a happy, settled life.

Deuteronomy 33:19 The parallelism between “mountain” (BDB 249) and “offer righteous sacrifices” (cf. Psalms 4:5; Psalms 51:19) implies a worship setting (cf. Exodus 15:17).

The next interpretive question is, do the next two lines of poetry continue this thought or change to another topic? Zebulun's involvement in the sea is mentioned in Genesis 49:13.

“abundance of the seas and the hidden treasures of the sand” These two lines are parallel. They are both OBJECTS of one VERB, “suck” or “draw out” (BDB 413, KB 416, Qal IMPERFECT). This is a metaphor for abundance (cf. Deuteronomy 32:13).

1. The first one refers to:

a. food (i.e., sacrifices or good living)

b. merchandise (i.e., coral, shells, sponges or dye)

2. The second is made up of two Qal PASSIVE PARTICIPLES:

a. “to cover,” but only here it means “reserved” or “laid up” (BDB 706)

b. “to hide” (BDB 380)

They seem to refer to the shipping trade (cf. Genesis 49:13-14).

Verses 20-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:20-21 20Of Gad he said, “Blessed is the one who enlarges Gad; He lies down as a lion, And tears the arm, also the crown of the head. 21Then he provided the first part for himself, For there the ruler's portion was reserved; And he came with the leaders of the people; He executed the justice of the Lord, And His ordinances with Israel.”

Deuteronomy 33:20 “Blessed is the one who enlarges Gad” This seems to be a reference to YHWH.

“He lies down as a lion” The word is “lioness” (BDB 522, cf. Genesis 49:9; Numbers 24:9; Job 4:11). The lioness was the one who hunted and provided food for the male lion and cubs. Gad was referred to as the lioness. The tribe of Gad was blessed because of their faithfulness in battle (cf. Genesis 49:19).

Deuteronomy 33:21 This verse is a play on Gad or a valiant warrior (in the metaphor of a lion). He chose part of the land on the eastern side of Jordan to inherit, but he and the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh were the first military group to go into battle in the Promised Land (cf. Joshua 4:12-13; Joshua 22:1-3).

“For there the ruler's portion was reserved” The Hebrew meaning is uncertain!

“And he came with the leaders of the people” This may refer to these three tribes asking Moses and the elders for permission to settle on the eastern side of Jordan.

Verse 22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:22 22Of Dan he said, “Dan is a lion's whelp, That leaps forth from Bashan.”

Deuteronomy 33:22 “Dan is a lion's whelp, that leaps from Bashan” The mention of Dan as somehow connected to Bashan (cf. Deuteronomy 1:4; Deuteronomy 3:1, Deuteronomy 3:3, Deuteronomy 3:4, Deuteronomy 3:10, Deuteronomy 3:11, Deuteronomy 3:13, Deuteronomy 3:14) is surprising. Originally Dan's tribal allocation by lot was in the southwest (i.e., the Philistine area) and later they moved to the far north (cf. Judges 18:0). This may be a prophecy connected to this unauthorized relocation.

Verse 23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:23 23Of Naphtali he said, “O Naphtali, satisfied with favor, And full of the blessing of the Lord, Take possession of the sea and the south.”

Deuteronomy 33:23 “Take possession of the sea and the south” The VERB (BDB 439, KB 441, Qal IMPERATIVE) is used several times in Deuteronomy for Israel to possess the land (cf. Deuteronomy 1:8, Deuteronomy 1:21, Deuteronomy 1:39; Deuteronomy 2:24, Deuteronomy 2:31; Deuteronomy 9:23; Deuteronomy 11:31; Deuteronomy 17:14; Deuteronomy 26:1). It implies a taking by force and securing it as a permanent inheritance.

Verses 24-25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:24-25 24Of Asher he said, “More blessed than sons is Asher; May he be favored by his brothers, And may he dip his foot in oil. 25Your locks will be iron and bronze, And according to your days, so will your leisurely walk be.”

Deuteronomy 33:24 “Of Asher he said

'More blessed than sons is Asher;

May he be favored by his brothers” This verb (BDB 224, KB 243, “be”) is a Qal jussive. This shows the working of the Hebrew mind. To a Jew, a son was the greatest blessing possible.

The rabbis interpret this verse to mean that because of the extreme beauty of Asher's daughters they were more sought after than sons. The meaning is uncertain.

“And may he dip his foot in oil” The location of Asher, on the northern seacoast, is the best area for olives. This phrase possibly refers to the act of treading oil out of the olives by foot.

Deuteronomy 33:25 “Your locks will be iron and bronze” The Hebrew root for “locks” (BDB 653) or “bars” (BDB 653) can also be translated “shoes” (BDB 653). The form used here is found only here. Because of Asher's geographical position, on the major highway route from the Fertile Crescent down to Egypt, if Asher fell, the whole land fell (from a southerly invasion). She was considered the door and lock to the Promised Land.

NASB“according to your days, so shall your leisurely walk be” NKJV, NJB“refuge” NRSV“He subdues the ancient gods” TEV“defense”

The interpretive question is what does the last NOUN mean (BDB 179)?

1. strength (i.e., vital life)

2. security (i.e., no invasion)

Verses 26-29

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 33:26-29 26”There is none like the God of Jeshurun, Who rides the heavens to your help, And through the skies in His majesty. 27The eternal God is a dwelling place, And underneath are the everlasting arms; And He drove out the enemy from before you, And said, 'Destroy!' 28So Israel dwells in security, The fountain of Jacob secluded, In a land of grain and new wine; His heavens also drop down dew. 29Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, Who is the shield of your help And the sword of your majesty! So your enemies will cringe before you, And you will tread upon their high places.”

Deuteronomy 33:26-29 These verses are a transition section which praises YHWH's uniqueness and power! Jeshurun is used as a designation for Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 32:15). These verses (i.e., Deuteronomy 33:26 line b & c; Deuteronomy 33:28 line c &d; Deuteronomy 33:29:line f) use phrases that commonly referred to the fertility god, Ba'al, implying that all the things that had been said about Ba'al were not true about him, but were true of YHWH. YHWH is the only God.

Deuteronomy 33:26 “There is none like the God” Sees note at Deuteronomy 4:35. See Special Topic: Monotheism.

Deuteronomy 33:27 “The eternal God” Elohim is often combined with attributes:

1. the eternal Elohim, here

2. the everlasting Elohim, Isaiah 26:0

3. the true Elohim, 2 Chronicles 15:3; Isaiah 65:16

4. the Elohim of all flesh, Jeremiah 32:27 (similar to Numbers 16:22; Numbers 27:16)

5. the Elohim of heaven, Genesis 24:3, Genesis 24:7; 2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2; Nehemiah 1:4, Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 2:4, Nehemiah 2:20

6. a Elohim at hand (or near), Jeremiah 23:23

7. Elohim of my (or our) salvation, Psalms 18:46; Psalms 18:46; Psalms 24:5; Psalms 25:5; Psalms 27:9; Psalms 65:5; Psalms 79:9; Psalms 85:4; Isaiah 17:10

8. Elohim of my righteousness, Psalms 4:1

9. Elohim who is my rock, 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalms 18:2

10. Elohim who is my stronghold, Psalms 43:2

11. Elohim who is my praise, Psalms 109:1

(This list is from BDB p. 44, #4, b.)

NASB“dwelling place” NKJV“your refuge” NRSV“your dwelling place” TEV-------- NJB“the well-spring of Jacob is chosen out”

This term (BDB 733) can refer to an animal's lair (cf. Job 37:8; Job 38:40; Amos 3:4) or a metaphor for the refuge offered by God for His people (only here). A similar concept is found in Psalms 71:3; Psalms 91:9.

“And underneath are the everlasting arms” This is a metaphor for:

1. YHWH's fighting on their behalf (cf. line c, Deuteronomy 33:29)

2. YHWH's perpetual care and attention

YHWH is the God who acts! It is possible that this is an allusion to Genesis 49:24 (lines b & c).

“Destroy” This VERB (BDB 1029, KB 1552, Hiphil IMPERATIVE) means “to exterminate.” It is part of the terminology of “holy war,” cf. Deuteronomy 1:27; Deuteronomy 2:22; Deuteronomy 6:15; Deuteronomy 9:20; Joshua 7:12; Joshua 9:24. If Israel is obedient to the covenant He will fight for them, but if not, He will fight against them!

The Israelites were expected to dress for battle and take the field against her enemies, but it was YHWH who won the battle!

Deuteronomy 33:28

NASB“The fountain of Jacob secluded” NKJV“the fountain of Jacob alone” NRSV“untroubled in Jacob's abode” TEV----------- NJB“the well-spring of Jacob is chosen out”

“Fountain” (BDB 745 II) means “spring” and refers to descendants. The term “secluded” (BDB 94, “alone”) is a metaphor for security.

Deuteronomy 33:29 This verse uses “holy war” terminology to describe YHWH's deliverance from Egypt, from the desert, and from the Canaanites!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why could Moses not enter the Promised Land?

2. Why are there so many translations of Deuteronomy 33:2-3?

3. Why is Simeon not listed in blessings?

4. Is there a Messianic reference in these blessings?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/deuteronomy-33.html. 2021.
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