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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 33

 

 

Verses 1-29


The Blessing of Moses

This chapter contains the last words or 'swan-song' of Moses. Immediately before his death he takes farewell of the people, and blesses each of the tribes in turn, as Jacob had done on his deathbed: see Genesis 49. The two blessings should be compared; see also on Deuteronomy 33:4.

2-5. Introduction, describing the majestic appearance of Jehovah to His chosen people.

2. Cp. Judges 5:4; Habakkuk 3:3. Seir] Edom (see on Numbers 20:22-29). Mount Paran] the S. boundary of Canaan. The appearance of Jehovah is described as a sunrise. The glory of His Presence appeared on Mt. Sinai, His beams smote the top of Mt. Seir, and glowed upon Mt. Paran. Read, 'He came forth from the midst of (not, with) the myriad shining saints that encircle His throne: at His right hand was a burning fire for them.' The last clause is difficult and very probably corrupt.

3. All his saints] i.e. Israel's saints. They sat down at thy feet] as disciples listening to the words of their teacher.

4. This v. may be interpolated. Moses could hardly have written it himself. The superscription in Habakkuk 3:1 seems also to indicate that a later writer has written down the Blessing of Moses.

5. He was king] Jehovah, not Moses: cp. on Numbers 23:21. On Jeshurun see Deuteronomy 32:15.

6. Reuben is the eldest of the sons of Jacob. There is a difficulty in the second half of this v., in which AV has inserted a negative not in the original. It may be better to read with RV 'yet let his men be few.' In the earlier blessing of Jacob it is said that Reuben will not endure, or have preeminence, on account of his misdeed (Genesis 35:22). Owing to their position on the E. of the Jordan the Reubenites had a somewhat precarious hold of their territory. The Ammonites were troublesome (Judges 10, 11); on the Moabite Stone (see on Numbers 21:29) most of the Reubenite cities are said to be occupied by the Moabites; and TiglathPileser carried them captive to Assyria (1 Chronicles 5:6, 1 Chronicles 5:22, 1 Chronicles 5:26. 2 Kings 15:29. This constant danger of extinction may be alluded to here. But the text may be corrupt, and some words may have dropped out. Some MSS of LXX insert Simeon äs the subject of the second clause. It will be observed that he is not otherwise mentioned at all, though the omission may be explained by the fact that the tribe of Simeon was absorbed in that of Judah (Joshua 19:9).

7. Let his hands.. for him] RV 'with his hands he contended for himself' (or, 'for it,' i.e. the people). Judah was the champion of the tribes: see e.g. Judges 1:1; Judges 20:18.

8. On the Urim and Thummim see Exodus 28:30. Jehovah is addressed in this v., and Levi is meant by thy holy one. Three privileges of the priestly tribe are referred to in this blessing, viz. the use of the Urim and Thummim, the teaching of the Law, and the presentation of incense and sacrifice (Deuteronomy 33:10 : see on Numbers 18, Numbers 35:18, Numbers 35:9-15). Whom thou didst prove, etc.] At Massah and Meribah the people certainly proved and strove with Jehovah. But unless there is a change of person here, and again in Exodus 28:10, it would appear that the person addressed is still Jehovah, who is represented as having proved and contended with Levi there, in the persons of Moses and Aaron. See Numbers 20:12 and Deuteronomy 8:2.

9. This v. refers to the separation of the tribe of Levi to their sacred duties. They have no lot or inheritance among their brethren. There may be a particular referenee to the exceptional zeal of Levi mentioned in Exodus 32:26-29 : cp. for the thought Matthew 10:37; Luke 9:59-62.

11. Them that rise against him] such as Korah: see Numbers 16.

12. The beloved of the Lord] is Benjamin, and the subject of the second and third clauses is Jehovah, as in AV. The v. refers to the fact that Zion, the dwelling-place of Jehovah, was in the land of Benjamin. Jerusalem was on the border line between Benjamin and Judah, so that Jewish writers speak of the Temple being in Benjamin while its courts were in Judah. Hence, Jehovah is here said to dwell between Benjamin's shoulders, i.e. mountain slopes.

13. The fertility of the land of Joseph is also emphasised in the earlier blessing of Jacob: see Genesis 49:22-26. The precious things of heaven is the rain, and the deep that coucheth beneath is the springs of water. The words for the dew should perhaps be read 'from above'

14. Things put forth by the moon] RV 'things of the growth of the moons,' i.e. probably of the months, things put forth month by month, according to their season.

16. Good will of him that dwelt in the bush] Jehovah revealed Himself in the bush as the Deliverer of Israel: see Exodus 3:2, Exodus 3:6-8. The latter part of the v. is identical with that of Genesis 49:26.

17. Read, 'His firstling bullock, majesty is his, and his horns are the horns of the wild ox.' Ephraim is meant, and is compared to a wild ox: see on Numbers 23:22.

18. Thy going out] The reference is to the commercial intercourse between Zebulun and foreign nations. The phrase is almost equivalent to 'exports.' Zebulun seems to have had an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea; cp. the next v. and also Genesis 49:13; Isaiah 9:1. Nazareth was in the land of Zebulun. In thy tents] Issachar was an inland tribe. It possessed the Plain of Jezreel, or Esdraelon, a district of extraordinary fertility and the granary of Palestine. Issachar is accordingly represented as rejoicing in its tents, i.e. pursuing a peaceful agricultural life (Genesis 49:14-15).

19. The people] RV 'peoples,' their heathen neighbours who trade with them, particularly the Phoenicians. These they are here said to call unto the mountain where they offer sacrifices of righteousness, i.e. sacrifices that are offered rightly. It would appear that in the land of Zebulun and Issachar there were certain mountain sanctuaries where sacrificial feasts were held to which these tribes were wont to invite their neighbours, and that these gatherings were a source of commercial advantage to them. The abundance of the seas refers to the maritime commerce mentioned above, and the treasures hid in the sand have been supposed to refer to the manufacture of glass for which the sands at the mouth of the river Belus, which flows into the Bay of Acre, were famous. The Roman historian Pliny says indeed that it was here that glass was first invented or discovered by some sailors who lit a fire upon the sand and accidentally produced glass.

20. He that enlargeth Gad] i.e. Jehovah who has given him the wide territory E. of the Jordan: see Numbers 32. The Gadites are compared to a lion, as in 1 Chronicles 12:8. With the crown] RV 'yea the crown.'

21. The first part] Gad chose the part E. of the Jordan which was first conquered and also the first to be allotted: see Numbers 32. The next clause should read, 'for there was a ruler's (or commander's) portion reserved.' Gad obtained a portion suitable for such a warlike tribe. It was a 'commander's share,' or what might be called a 'lion's share': see v.

20. He came with the heads of the people, etc.] The Gadites, true to their promise, crossed the Jordan with the other tribes and assisted them in the conquest of the land: see on Numbers 32:16-23.

22. RV 'Dan is a lion's whelp that leapeth forth from Bashan.' This depicts the stealth and violence of the Danites in war or in marauding expeditions: see e.g. their capture of Laish, Judges 18. The forest and ravines of Bashan were the haunts of wild beasts: see on Bashan, Numbers 21:33-35.

23. Naphtali touched the Sea of Galilee on the E. and included some of the richest land and most beautiful scenery in Palestine. The Plain of Gennesaret was specially luxuriant. Josephus calls it the 'ambition of nature.' The west should be the 'sea,' i.e. the Sea of Gennesaret or Galilee, not the Mediterranean in the W.

24. The first clause should probably read, 'Blessed above sons be Asher.' Northern Galilee has always been distinguished for the cultivation of the olive. Jewish writers say, 'In Asher oil flows like a river': cp. Genesis 49:20. In ancient times this district was one of the main sources of the supply of olive oil (cp. 2 Chronicles 2:10), and even now great quantities are exported to Constantinople and elsewhere. The expression dip his foot in oil refers to the ancient custom of treading the olives to obtain the oil. Cp. Micah 6:15. Stone presses, however, were also used for this purpose. Remains of them are still to be seen in the neighbourhood of Tyre.

25. Thy shoes] rather, 'thy bars' or bolts, referring to the impregnable fortresses guarding the mountain passes of Galilee. Asher, lying in the N., was the gate of Canaan. Thy strength] A word of very doubtful signification, not found elsewhere. It means, perhaps, 'rest' or 'security,' and the clause will then imply that Asher's security will never be disturbed.

26. On Jeshurun, see Deuteronomy 33:5. In thy help] rather, 'for thy help.' The clouds are said to be the chariot of God: see Psalms 68:33-34; Psalms 104:3; Nahum 1:3.

27. Refuge] RV 'dwelling-place': cp. Psalms 90:1. Jehovah protects Israel both above and beneath.

28. RV 'Israel dwelleth in safety, the fountain of Jacob alone, in a land of corn and wine; yea, his heavens drop down dew.' Israel separated from all other nations (see on Numbers 23:9) dwells securely in a rich land. For the expression fountain of Jacob, see Psalms 68:26; Isaiah 48:1.

29. Thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee] RV 'shall submit themselves unto thee.' The idea is that of conquered nations cringing before their victors and protesting (perhaps feigning) submission.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/deuteronomy-33.html. 1909.

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