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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 33

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



Moses has heard the divine command, “Get thee up into this mountain,… and die there.” He is ready to obey. But before he ascends Nebo he takes leave of his people in this “blessing,” which so fitly closes his forty years of leadership.

Verse 1

1. This is the blessing This farewell benediction is to be connected with the song in the preceding chapter. That is a prophecy of the future of Israel as a nation; this is a blessing on the tribes in their individual character.

Moses, the man of God In Joshua 14:6, Caleb also speaks of Moses as the “man of God.” The same expression is used in the inscription to Psalms 90:0. The term is applied to one who has intercourse with God and revelations from him. Comp. 1 Samuel 9:6; 1Ki 12:22 ; 1 Kings 13:14.

Deuteronomy 33:2-5 constitute the introduction to the blessings upon the tribes, the giving of the law, and the selection of Israel to be the people of God.

Verse 2

2. The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount Paran These expressions do not refer to different appearances of Jehovah, but to that signal manifestation of himself at the giving of the law. The language is highly poetical. It is as though Moses saw the glory of Jehovah shine forth from the lofty heights of Sinai to the heights of Edom on the east and to the mountains of Paran, which form the boundary of the desert, on the north. “The glory of the Lord who appeared upon Sinai sent its beams even to the eastern and northern extremities of the desert.” Keil. Comp. Judges 5:4-5, and Habakkuk 3:3.

And he came with ten thousands of saints Literally, from myriads of holiness. The expression is meant to describe Jehovah leaving his heavenly abode, where he dwells surrounded by holy ones, and coming down to announce the law to his people.

From his right hand went a fiery law for them Our English version here follows the Vulgate. As the Hebrew reads, the literal rendering would be fire of law, a fire which was a law for them. Gesenius thinks it would be better referred to the pillar of fire, (Exodus 13:21,) which was as a law to direct them, than to the lightnings which Jehovah employs for his servants. Some Hebrew manuscripts write אשׁ דת as one word. If this reading should be accepted it might be rendered so as to refer to flashes of lightning. Comp. Habakkuk 3:4.

Verse 3

3. Yea, he loved the people Keil’s explanation of this is, that Jehovah embraces all nations with his love. We think the reference is to Israel.

Verse 4

4. Moses commanded us a law The law was given by God through Moses, and was a possession for the people.

Verse 5

5. And he was king in Jeshurun That is, Jehovah became king over the righteous nation. Comp. Deuteronomy 32:15.

Were gathered together This refers to the assembling around Sinai to receive the law.

Verse 6

BLESSINGS UPON THE TRIBES, Deuteronomy 33:6-25.

6. The blessing of Reuben.

Let not his men be few The negative is not in the Hebrew. We prefer to read the whole verse as follows:

“Let Reuben live and not die,

And let his men be few.”

The dying Jacob (Genesis 49:4) had said of this, his firstborn, “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.” Moses’s prayer is, that the tribe may live on, though few.

The tribe of Simeon, which would come next in order, is not named. According to Genesis 49:7, this tribe was to be scattered. In the division of the land it received a number of towns in the territory of Judah. See Joshua 19:2-9. “The omission of the mention of Simeon in the blessings which Moses pronounced upon the tribes has given rise to no little speculation. If we turn back to the twenty-fifth chapter of Numbers a reason will be found for this omission which is entirely satisfactory. We read in the chapter referred to that a terrible plague smote the camp of Israel. Twenty thousand died of the plague before it was stayed. This terrible calamity was caused by the act of Zimri, son of Salu, a prince of the chief house of the Simeonites. It appears, also, that the plague was confined to the tribe of Simeon; for we find in the census taken but a short time after that this tribe had diminished thirty-seven thousand. It is not at all wonderful, therefore, that Moses should omit to bless such a tribe when their diminished numbers were a standing witness of God’s displeasure.” STEBBINS, Study of the Pentateuch, p. 202.

Verse 7

7. And this is the blessing of Judah Literally, this for Judah.

Bring him unto his people Judah was the regal tribe, from whom for long centuries the sceptre was not to depart. The prayer that Jehovah may bring Judah to his people expresses the desire that, as he was to be the leader of the tribes in the wars with the neighbouring nations, he may return victorious.

Verses 8-11

8-11. Of Levi he said This is also addressed to Jehovah as a prayer.

“Thy Thummim and thy Urim,

Thy right and thy light.”

For Thummim and Urim see what is said in Exodus 28:30, and Leviticus 8:8.

Thy holy one Moses and Aaron were the noblest members of the tribe of Levi. With almost unwavering steadfastness they had served Jehovah through the wilderness wandering. Aaron, as high priest, is referred to as the holy one. In Psalms 106:16, he is called Jehovah’s holy one. Although Aaron is no longer living when Moses pronounces the benediction on the tribes, he may be considered as the representative of the high priesthood. And in one sense he may be deemed the representative of the tribe.

Massah Comp. Exodus 17:1-7.

Meribah Comp. Numbers 20:1-13. The reference to these two places favours the idea that a real person is referred to in the expression thy holy one, namely, Jehovah.

Verse 9

9. Who said unto his father… I have not seen him The sacred character of the high priest, his entire consecration to his holy duties, are implied in these words. He was not to pay the last duties of affection to his parents. See Leviticus 21:11-12. Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar were not to mourn for their sons and brothers. See Leviticus 10:6.

Verse 10

10. They shall teach Jacob thy judgments The priests are to be of the tribe of Levi, the divinely appointed teachers.

Verse 11

11. Smite through the loins The loins used to denote the seat of strength. Comp. Psalms 69:23; Job 40:16; Proverbs 31:17.

Verse 12

12. He shall dwell between his shoulders The figure is that of a father carrying his son.

Verse 13

13. Of Joseph he said In Genesis 49:22, Joseph is described as a fruitful tree planted by the water. Moses in poetic language portrays the prosperity and power of the two tribes descended from the sons of Joseph.

Verse 16

16. The good will The special favour.

Of him that dwelt in the bush Of Jehovah himself. A reference to the manifestation of Jehovah (Exodus 3:2) to Moses. Then Jehovah revealed himself as the God who was to have peculiar relations to his people.

Verse 17

17. The firstling of his bullock The emblem of the tribe of Ephraim, a powerful tribe.

Horns of unicorns Rather, wild bulls.

Verses 18-19

18, 19. Zebulun… Issachar Moses unites these two tribes.

Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out This is taken to be an allusion to the commercial pursuits of the tribe.

Issachar, in thy tents A reference to a nomadic life.

Verses 20-21

20, 21. Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad The territory of Gad was east of the Jordan. At the time of the pronouncing of this blessing the warlike character of the tribe was seen. It had gained a broad territory.

He dwelleth as a lion This expression was applied to the tribe on account of their warlike disposition. Comp. 1 Chronicles 12:8, where the Gadites are described as men of might and men of war fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions.

Teareth the arm with the crown of the head More literally rendered, Teareth the arm, yea, the crown of the head.

Verse 21

21. He provided the first part for himself He chose the firstfruits for himself. The land on the east of the Jordan, the firstfruits of the conquest, was apportioned to Gad and Reuben. Comp. Numbers 32:0.

Because there, in a portion of the lawgiver, was he seated For these was the leader’s portion reserved; kept as an appropriate reward for so brave and successful a leader.

Verse 22

22. Dan is a lion’s whelp: he shall leap from Bashan In Jacob’s prophecy of the tribes Dan was to be serpent-like. Moses sees the tribe in its future history springing like the lion on its prey.

Verse 23

23. O Naphtali, satisfied with favour In the blessing of Jacob, Naphtali is compared to a gazelle. Here Moses speaks of the tribe as having favour with Jehovah. Josephus says of his heritage that it is rich in land for tillage and pasturage. It is everywhere tilled, no part being allowed to lie idle, and it is everywhere productive.

Full with the blessing of the Lord The territory of this tribe bordered on the lakes Gennesaret and Merom, and extended to the sources of the Jordan. Modern travellers describe it as the most beautiful and fertile portion of Palestine. The depression of the land bordering on Lake Gennesaret makes it productive of tropical fruits the fruits of the south.

Verse 24

24. Let Asher be blessed with children Better, Let Asher be most blessed among the sons. Let him have the prominence in blessing above all the other sons of Jacob.

Let him dip his foot in oil The rabbins used to say that in Asher oil flows like a river. Both the Syrians and Phoenicians obtained their supply of oil from Galilee. Comp. 1 Kings 5:11.

Verse 25

25. Thy shoes shall be iron and brass Better, Thy castles shall be iron and brass; that is, his strongholds shall be impregnable.

As thy days, so shall thy strength be All thy days let thy strength be continued to thee.

Deuteronomy 33:26-29 contain the conclusion of the blessing, and bring out in clear light the power of God and the safety of his people.

Verse 26

26. There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun A better translation is, O Jeshurun, (or righteous nation,) there is none like God.

Who rideth upon the heaven in thy help More literally rendered, riding through the heavens to thy help.

And in his excellency on the sky Better, and in his majesty upon the clouds.

Verse 27

27. The eternal God is thy refuge Better thus, Thy dwellingplace is the God of ancient days. Comp. Psalms 90:1: “Lord, thou hast been our dwellingplace in all generations.” This psalm is entitled, A prayer of Moses, the man of God.

Verse 28

28. Israel… shall dwell in safety This verse may be rendered thus:

“And Israel dwells in safety,

The fountain of Jacob apart,

In a land of corn and wine;

Also his heavens drop down dew.”

Alone Separate from other nations. A peculiar people.

The fountain of Jacob The patriarch is here referred to as the source from whom all the tribes came. Comp. Psalms 68:26.

Verse 29

29. Thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee They will appear openly as enemies. Their fear will cause them to dissemble. As in the case of the Gibeonites. Joshua 9:0.

And thou shalt tread upon their high places Israel shall tread as a conqueror.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/deuteronomy-33.html. 1874-1909.
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