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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Deuteronomy 33



Verse 1

And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.

This is the blessing, wherewith Moses ... blessed the children of Israel. Conformably to what was alluded to formerly (see the note at Deuteronomy 31:24), some writers maintain that this chapter was put in a written record by a writer subsequent to, or at least other than, Moses. Kennicott, who espouses this view, supports it on the following grounds:

(1) Because in this Book of Deuteronomy, Moses usually speaks of himself in the first person, while here the third is assumed.

(2) Because, although "man of God" was an epithet applied to a prophet (1 Samuel 2:27), Moses was not likely to assume so high-sounding an epithet to himself.

(3) Because the recorder speaks of himself as one of the people, who was subject to the official authority of Moses.

On these and other grounds, he concluded that the following series of benedictions was recorded by a person who heard them pronounced by Moses, and prefixed the preface contained in Deuteronomy 33:1-5 : "This is the blessing wherewith Moses blessed the children of Israel."

In this solemn act he delivered, like Jacob, ministerially, before his death, a prophetic blessing. The "blessing" consisted partly in praying, through faith, for a blessing upon them, and partly in preintimating the blessings which God would bestow upon each separate tribe. The prophets are frequently said to do what they only foretell would be done (Genesis 49:7; Jeremiah 1:1-19; Jeremiah 2:1-37; Jeremiah 3:1-25; Jeremiah 4:1-31; Jeremiah 5:1-31; Jeremiah 6:1-30; Jeremiah 7:1-34; Jeremiah 8:1-22; Jeremiah 9:1-26; Jeremiah 10:1-25; Ezekiel 43:3; Hosea 6:5).

Some critics allege that there is an inconsistency between this and the preceding chapter. But the object contemplated in the two passages is widely different. Deuteronomy 33:1-29 contains a very noble ode, in which the method of the divine judgments is unfolded, in order to vindicate the ways of Yahweh to Israel. The present chapter records a valedictory address of the venerable leader, who takes farewell of the people by pronouncing an appropriate benediction on each tribe in succession.

Verses 2-4

And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them.

The lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them , [ laamow (H3807a), to them-the poetic singular]. Since no persons are mentioned before Yahweh's appearance here described, it has been conjectured, that the proper reading of the text should be [l

Verse 5

And he was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together.

And he was king in Jeshurun. On "Jeshurun" as a designation of Israel, see Deuteronomy 32:15. By the grammatical connection of this verse with the preceding, "he" must refer to Moses, who might in a certain restricted sense be called "king," as under God chief ruler (Judges 19:1; Jeremiah 19:3). But the tenor of the context excludes this interpretation; for the general assembly of "the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel" at the promulgation of the law pointed to their public and solemn assent to the national compact, which was ratified by the glorious theophany above described; and then Yahweh, while by virtue of His creative power and providential agency He is Sovereign of the universe, began, by the inauguration of the legal economy, to exercise the kingly office among His chosen people. He, therefore, must be recognized as "king in Jeshurun."

It is the opinion of the most eminent Biblical scholars that "Moses" has crept into Deuteronomy 33:4 through the error of a transcriber, and that thus confusion and obscurity have been introduced into a passage of which the manifestation and the acts of God, not of Moses, form the real and the leading subject (see Kennicott, 'Dissertation,' 1:; Michaelis, 'Commentary on the Laws of Moses,' art. 34).

Verse 6

Let Reuben live, and not die; and let not his men be few.

Let Reuben live, and not die. Although deprived of the honour and privileges of primogeniture, he was still to hold rank as one of the tribes of Israel. He was more numerous than several other tribes (Numbers 1:21; Numbers 2:11), yet gradually sank into a mere nomadic tribe, which had enough to do merely to "live, and not die."

Josephus says ('Antiquities,' b. 4:, ch. 8:, sec. 48) that Moses blessed each one of the tribes; so that it may be concluded the name of Simeon must have been found in the text of his copy of the Pentateuch, although it is now omitted both in the Hebrew and Samaritan copies; and accordingly it stands in the Alexandrian manuscript of the Septuagint: kai Sumeoon estoo polus en arithmoo. But Apollinaris remarks, that 'the accurate copies do not contain the name of Simeon;' and Tischendorf has excluded it from his edition of the 'Codex Vaticanus,' although he places it, of course, among the various readings in his notes.

Professor Blunt ('Undesigned Coincidences.' p. 89) account for the omission by the preeminence of this tribe in the guilt of Baal-peor, (Numbers 25:1-18; Numbers 26:1-65.) The reading of our present text is in harmony with other statements of Scripture respecting this tribe (Numbers 1:23; Numbers 25:6-14; Numbers 26:14; Joshua 19:1).

And let not his men be few , [ m

Verse 7

And this is the blessing of Judah: and he said, Hear, LORD, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people: let his hands be sufficient for him; and be thou an help to him from his enemies.

This is the blessing of Judah. Its general purport points to the great power and independence of Judah, as well as its taking the lead in all military expeditions, especially during the war of invasion. Moses prefers a brief but earnest prayer for the victorious campaigning, as well as a happy return of this tribe (see the notes at Genesis 49:11).

Verses 8-10

And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah;

Of Levi he said. The burden of this blessing is the appointment of the Levites to the dignified and sacred office of the priesthood (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 22:8; Deuteronomy 17:8-11); a reward for their zeal in supporting the cause of God, and their unsparing severity in chastising even their nearest and dearest relatives who had participated in the idolatry of the molten call (Exodus 32:26-28 : cf. Malachi 2:4-6).

Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one. As to this remarkable engraving on the high priest's pectoral, see the notes at Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8. The words here assume the form of a direct prayer-the Thummim and Urim which are thine, O Lord. Let this consecrated breastplate, together with a possession of all the gifts and graces which that special breastplate implied, be with that tribe, and especially that high priest whom thou hast sanctified to thyself - "the holy one," in a sense-above the rest of the people; i:e., let the sacerdotal office be perpetuated in the family of Aaron.

Whom thou didst prove at Massah - i:e., although he was tried and rebuked, and excluded from Canaan for his misconduct at Meribah (see the notes at Numbers 20:10-13), yet he was not deprived of the pontificate. The import of the prayer is, that he, as representative of the tribe of Levi, might be still further honoured by being the honoured medium of diffusing light and truth among the people.

Verse 9. Who said unto his father ... - i:e., the person consecrated to thee. Aaron is still the subject of address, as representing the Levitical tribe, who, in the ardour of their zeal for the honour of God, sacrificed their natural feelings in the unsparing slaughter of their nearest relatives who had been guilty of idolatry (cf. Matthew 10:37).

Verse 11

Bless, LORD, his substance, and accept the work of his hands: smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again.

Bless, Lord, his substance, and accept the work of his hands. The prayer is continued that a special blessing may attend them in their official duty of custodiers of the Divine Word and public teachers of the laws and statutes of Yahweh (cf. Deuteronomy 17:18), ministering to diffuse through the great mass of the people the elements of moral and religious instruction (Deuteronomy 31:10).

Smite through the loins of them that ... they rise not again - in reference to the neglect and opposition the Levites would often experience (Deuteronomy 14:27-29; Deuteronomy 16:11-14; Deuteronomy 26:12).

Verse 12

And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by him; and the LORD shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders.

Of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord - so called from his being the fond object of Jacob's affection, and from his tribe being located, as Josephus says, in the richest part of the land. The Hebrew text [ y

Verse 13

And of Joseph he said, Blessed of the LORD be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath,

Of Joseph he said, Blessed of the Lord be his land. The territory of this tribe, which was situated in central Palestine, was fertile and picturesque, richer in varieties of natural produce than almost any other part of the country, and beautifully diversified by hill and dale.

For the precious things of heaven - i:e., a moist atmosphere, which was a real peculiarity of inestimable value in a country like Palestine.

For the dew - which was very copious (Judges 6:37-40).

And for the deep that coucheth beneath - i:e., the subterranean springs which abound there.

'The whole tract of country is emphatically "a good land;" the rocky slopes that run up into it from Judah and Benjamin are interrupted by wide fertile plains, by continuous tracts of verdure, and by vales with streams of water ('Handbook of Syria and Palestine,' p. 294).

Verse 14

And for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon,

And for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon , [ y

Verse 15

And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills,

And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills - "chief things" [ meero'sh (Hebrew #7218)], the best gifts; orchards of olives, vines, figs, and grain, growing in rich luxuriance on the terraced sides of the hills, while the fertile plains and valleys appear winding like a network among those heights, also waving with grain, and fat with the olive and the vine (see Hengstenberg on Psalms 72:16). 'In the richest parts of our own country I have never met with such signs of agricultural prosperity' (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' p. 95; Porter's 'Handbook of Syria and Palestine,' pp. 294, 330, 340; Van de Velde, vol. 1:, p. 386; Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine, p. 226; Olin's 'Travels,' 2:, pp. 340-342; Wilson's 'Lands,' 2:, p. 71; 'Tent and Khan,' p. 415; Bonar's 'Land of Promise,' p. 359).

Verse 16

And for the precious things of the earth and fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush: let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren.

For the good will of him that dwelt in the bush - i:e., every blessing that may be expected from the kindness of God, who formerly appeared to me in the bush, in order to manifest His interest in the emancipation and permanent prosperity of His people (see the note at Exodus 3:2).

Let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph ... - (see, for an explanation of this last clause, the note at Genesis 49:26.)

Verse 17

His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.

His glory is like the firstling of his bullock. This animal is remarkable for courage and fierceness. Gerard Vossius ('De Idolatria,' ch. 9:) has expended immense erudition in endeavouring to establish the position, that Joseph is here called an ox, because the figure of that beast was familiarly used in Egypt as a hieroglyphic of the illustrious patriarch, symbolizing his generosity, majesty, and usefulness.

But the vivacity and sportiveness, as well as the great power and indomitable energy of the animal, is what evidently forms the leading idea in this passage, the prominent point of comparison in the address. And the bull was probably chosen as the most appropriate image, since it was not only a familiar object, but reckoned among Semitic nations scarcely less formidable than the lion (Layard, 'Nineveh and its Remains,' 2:, p. 428).

And his horns are like the horns of unicorns , [ w

Verse 18

And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents.

Rejoice, Zebulun, In thy going out - namely, on commercial enterprises and voyages by sea. For 'the tribe of Zebulun's lot included the land which lay as far as the lake of Gennesareth, and that which belonged to Carmel and the sea (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch. 1:, sec. 22).

And, Issachar, in thy tents. This tribe would prefer a semi-nomad life, combining agricultural with pastoral occupations, and luxuriating in happy tranquillity and ease on the resources of their richly productive region (cf. Genesis 49:14-15). There is no parallelism in this verse: for the two clauses of which it consists refer to two distinct tribes; and the "going out" of the one is contrasted with the "tents" of the other. These two brothers are coupled in the prophetic blessings, because they were to be closely associated in their allotted territories. But it is observable that in this passage, as well as in Genesis 49:1-33, Zebulun, though the younger, is mentioned first, on account of the superior activity and prominence of his tribe.

Verse 19

They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand.

They shall call the people unto the mountain , [ `amiym (Hebrew #5971)] - the tribes of Israel. "The mountain" was probaly Tabor, which was on the border of Zebulun and Issachar (Joshua 19:22). There is no good foundation for the fancy of Herder, eagerly adopted by Stanley ('Sinai and Palestine,' p. 343; 'Lectures on the Jewish Church,' p. 266), that Tabor was a common sanctuary for the northern tribes. The latter adds, that 'according to the Midrash Galkaton, Deuteronomy 33:19, Tabor is the mountain on which the temple ought of right to have been built ... had it not been for the express revelation which ordered the sanctuary to be built on mount Moriah' (quoted from Schwarze, p. 71).

On that mountain Deborah and Barak did "call the people" on the eve of the great encounter with Sisera; and there, probably, on their return from the victorious campaign, the noble thanksgiving ode (Judges 5:1-31) was sung. It might be, as is alleged, that, during the abnormal period of the Judges, when there was no national religious unity established in Israel, "the people" in the northern parts of the land congregated on the level verdant summit of "the mountain" to hold their festive assemblies. But the sacred history does not furnish any data to warrant such a conclusion, which rests on no better basis than conjecture about the traditional sacredness of Tabor as a place of religious observance (cf. Psalms 89:12 with Hosea 5:1).

This blessing, however, was fully realized in the last age of Jewish history, when "the people" were called-not, indeed, to Tabor-which is erroneously assumed to be the scene of the Transfiguration-but to many of the mountains in that northern corner, to listen to the ministry of the great Teacher, Christ.

For they shall suck of the abundance of the seas - namely the Mediterranean and the sea of Galilee (the lake of Gennesareth). Both tribes should traffic with the Phoenicians in pearl and coral ambergris, especially in murex, the shellfish that yielded the famous Tyrian dye.

And of treasures hid in the sand - grains of gold and silver, and particularly glass, which was manufactured from the sand of the river Belus, in their immediate neighbourhood. Jonathan, in his Targum, specifies mirrors, and such utensils as might be made from the sand. 'Two miles from Ptolemais (Acre) a very little stream runs by, called Belus, where, by the tomb of Memnon, is a wondrous place of 100 cubits. It is circular and hollow, and yields the sand for glass; after it has been emptied, many ship-loads having been taken, it is filled up again' (Josephus, 'Jewish Wars,' b. 2:, ch. 10:, sec. 2). Pliny says ('Natural History, 36:, 26), 'a shore of not above half a mile: it has sufficed for yielding glass during many centuries.'

Verse 20

And of Gad he said, Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad: he dwelleth as a lion, and teareth the arm with the crown of the head.

Of Gad he said, Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad - either extends the borders of his territories, of which there was no need, as they were already ample enough; or rather, delivers him from the troubles in which he would be often involved from the attacks of the hostile tribes by which he was encompassed. The word rendered 'enlarge' bears this sense (Psalms 4:1 : cf. Psalms 31:8). An instance of the annoyance occasioned to the pastoral tribes east of the Jordan by the surrounding Bedouins is given in Judges 11:1-40.

He dwelleth as a lion , [ shaakeen (Hebrew #7931)] - couches, rests secure and fearless, though surrounded by enemies. In his forest regions, south of the Jabbok (Zerka), 'he dwelt as a lion' (cf. Genesis 30:2; Genesis 49:19). Gad was a very warlike tribe, and was distinguished for intrepid valour.

And teareth the arm with the crown of the head. [The Septuagint has: suntripsas brachiona kai archonta, crushing the ruler with the power of the enemy.] This is undoubtedly the metaphorical application of the words in this passage. But the phraseology is founded on the habit of the ferocious beasts of prey spoken of in the preceding clause, and which, like all ravenous animals, seize their prey at the shoulder-blade, at a particular point of the neck, near the skull, when a wound in the spinal marrow produces a speedy and apparently a painless death. (See this illustrated by Dr. Livingstone, 'Journal of Travels in Africa.' in his interesting account of his contest with a lion at Mabotsa.)

Verse 21

And he provided the first part for himself, because there, in a portion of the lawgiver, was he seated; and he came with the heads of the people, he executed the justice of the LORD, and his judgments with Israel.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 22

And of Dan he said, Dan is a lion's whelp: he shall leap from Bashan.

Dan is a lion's whelp , [ quwr (Hebrew #6979) 'aryeeh (Hebrew #738)] - a cub; differing from [ k

Verse 23

And of Naphtali he said, O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the LORD: possess thou the west and the south.

Of Naphtali he said. The pleasant and fertile territory of this tribe lay to "the west," on the borders of lakes Merom and Chinnereth, and to "the south" of the northern Danites.

O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord. Well they might be satisfied; for 'the wooded mountains that sink down into the plain of the Huleh and to the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, which fell to the lot of Naphtali, comprise some of the most beautiful scenery, as well as of the most fertile soil, in Palestine' (Porter's 'Handbook of Syria and Palestine,' p. 363).

Verse 24

And of Asher he said, Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil.

Of Asher he said, Let Asher be blessed. The same play upon the name, which means happy, was made at the birth of Asher. The condition of this tribe is described as combining all the elements of earthly felicity. His territory comprehended the western end of the rich plain, Esdraelon, with the beautiful Carmel, and a fertile lowland shore from that mountain to Zidon.

Dip his foot in oil. These words allude either to the process of extracting the oil by foot-presses, or to his district as particularly fertile, and adapted to the culture of the olive.

Verse 25

Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.

Shoes shall be iron and brass. These shoes suited his rocky coast from Carmel to Sidon. Country people, as well as ancient warriors, had their lower extremities protected by metallic greaves (1 Samuel 17:6; Ephesians 6:15) and iron-soled shoes. The traveler can still see these ores if one explores the southern slopes of Lebanon (Porter's 'Handbook of Syria and Palestine' p. 363; Kendrick's 'Phoenicia,' p. 35; Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 265). (See the 'Parallel Prophecies of Jacob and Moses relating to the Twelve Tribes, with a Translation and Notes,' by D. Durrell, D.D., Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, p. 1764.)

Verse 26

There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky.

There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun. The chapter concludes with a congratulatory address to Israel on their special happiness and privilege in having Yahweh for their God and Protector.

Who rideth upon the heaven in thy help [ b

Verse 27

The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 28

Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew.

The fountain of Jacob - the posterity of Israel shall dwell in a blessed and favoured land.


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

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