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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Deuteronomy 33

 

 

Verses 1-29

The Distribution of Blessings

Deuteronomy 33

Moses cannot die. We have been told about his approaching death again and again; but he cannot yet be released. He has just been singing his great Song of Solomon , and now he is about to utter a blessing worthy of its doctrine and music; and whether he will yet die, who can tell? He does not die hard, in any severe and arbitrary sense of that term; instead of dying, he seems to live more, to double his vitality, and to cause his energy to express itself in song and benediction. To become a poet is not to die. To rise up into the stature and majesty of a priest is not to lie down and expire as an incident on the way to oblivion. We must follow this man further. If men can die as dogs die, why these Song of Solomon , these blessings, these earnest solicitudes about the future? No dog sings; no dog utters benedictions. What dog cares for the future of the world? There cannot be a hand so cruel as to crush Moses after such a song and such a series of beatitudes. There are some lives we cannot kill: they are so great, so capable, so full of sacred mystery, so near being something higher, that to touch them, except with reverence, is itself an act of profanity. We cannot reason about this, or be cross-examined as to mere process of argument: we feel it, we know it; we should contradict our own instincts and every quality that constitutes manhood were we to deny it. We thought Moses was about to die like an unforgiven criminal. Against this doctrine we have just protested with vehemence. It would be impossible. If there be two things in which it is impossible for God to lie, it is impossible for the God of justice to speak to Moses as a criminal. Whatever may have been written on the margin by some unskilled or malicious hand, and whatever may have been transferred from the margin into the body of the text, all nature, all justice, all truth says: Moses must not die on the ground of being a criminal. Such an assumption would prove too much or too little. Surely we cannot be allowed to part with Moses under some charge and impeachment of sin? We recover our composure. Justice herself, with grave face, smiles a sweet contentment as we read the words—"Moses the man of God" ( Deuteronomy 33:1). We were in great sorrow when we read about his sin and his being ordered to Abarim because he had sinned at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin. Our heart said "No!" We may not be prepared with a critical or grammatical answer, but we have an answer older than all criticism and all grammar—the answer of a just instinct. Now we read of Moses as "the man of God." That term was never applied to any man before. It will be applied to another prophet as we advance in the perusal of the sacred records; but to Moses alone, at this moment, is the term applied—and it fits him well; it is a grace he seems to have earned, a crown he seems to have won. "The man of God"—the man loving God, trusting God, knowing God, communing much and tenderly in solitary wastes and heights with God—the one man to whom God has spoken, as it were, face to face, and almost looked him into a kind of inferior deity, so grandly did his face burn and shine after long interviews in solitude with God. This is right; this is in harmony with all the story; the great rhythmic movement concludes itself in this solemn and majestic tone.

"—The man of God blessed the children of Israel." Rights come with character. The man of God has a right to bless; and men recognise in him an undisputed dignity, and look to him as a lower fountain and origin of blessing. Who has not longed for certain men to touch them? Who has not desired to pluck the good man"s gown and share his smile? Who would not have had one look from men whose names are immortal in all purest honour and goodness? To have spent a day with them would have been an education; to have heard their utterance of the mother-tongue would have been an epoch never to be forgotten. Great character carries with it great rights. There is a primacy of character; there is a throne which is never begrudged to goodness. The blessing does not read like the utterance of a man who is about to die from sheer weakness and exhaustion. There is no sign of intellectual decay here; the moral flavour is as delicate as ever, the penetration as keen, the tone as firm. This is not dying; it is passing on to greater spheres and nobler service. For death, in any inclusive and final sense, to come after this blessing would be an irony which imagination could not tolerate and which justice never could permit.

Let us look at the blessing as a whole. We need blessing. We have been so long in want of rain, it will do us good to go out and stand with uncovered head in the plentiful shower—so soft, so gentle, so impartial as to blessing, yet so discriminating as to its apportionment. All men could not receive the same blessing. A general "God bless thee!" would have amounted to nothing; or even some studied and pompous form of benediction, given with uplifted hands and priestly attitude and voice, would have been a gift unappreciated. It is a singular fact in human constitution that all men could not receive the same blessing—that is to say, what is a blessing to one man is not a blessing to another. Let us thank God that such is the case. It is in this way that variety becomes not only permissible but infinitely desirable, and even inevitable. The discourse which blesses one man has no music in it to another; neither is the discourse to be blamed, nor is the man to be blamed: there was no relation between the two things brought for one unhappy moment into connection. Give a landscape to a blind man! Would you blame the landscape? Would you blame the blind man because of want of appreciation? It is not a blessing to the blind man: he could not receive it. What does the blind man want? Believing that none could ask that question but God, he says, "Lord, that I might receive my sight!" Give him vision, and even partial darkness will be an opening heaven to his rejoicing and grateful heart. The earth is not equally appreciated in all its parts and distributions of clime and production. Some could hasten through a garden. There are men so made that they could walk faster through a garden than through a market-place. They could not receive the blessing which another quality of soul could receive. Some ears hear nothing in the bird-song and the bird-language but noise; they would slay the winged singers! Some men never lift their heads up to see how big the sky is. If they turn to the sky it is to forecast the weather, not to read the writing of God upon the blue beauty. So all men could not receive the same blessing or an inclusive blessing; there must be discrimination, allotment, individualisation; that we find in this great utterance of the dying Moses.

All men can receive some blessing. Let us thank God for that, otherwise some things in nature and life would go without appreciation. There are men so constituted that they want nothing but innumerable insects to gather, to classify, to name, and to study. They must have their portion in Israel; and God has plentifully endowed them with resources, blessed be his gracious name! He sends none away empty. If men would possess themselves, intellectually and scientifically, of stars, worlds, planets, God feeds them at a plentiful table! when they have satisfied themselves for the moment, they are filled with a knowledge that they have not begun to know the building of God. We must provide for the constitution and capacity of every man. Every man must find something in the Church for himself, set down, as it were, by the hand of God directly and immediately for his appropriation. This is the sublime possibility of the sanctuary. The weary man here finds rest, or hears of it, and in hearing of it dying hopes are rekindled and failing strength begins to take heart again. The man of sorrow wants healing. Alas! all men are more or less men of sorrow: every heart has its own wound, every life its own pain, every spirit its own tears. Such men must be blessed; and they can be plentifully blessed only in the house of God: every stone of it was put up for such men; the whole sanctuary was roofed in for their security, and the whole book of revelation and all the noble Psalm , written, by inspired men, are so many contributions made to the healing and the comforting of men of sorrow—now a great light for the intellect, now a tender tone for the hearing sated with the noises of the world, now a royal, soldierly exhortation to duty, service, sacrifice—a trumpet-blast which soldiers answer with a life of fire. Every man has a blessing in Israel—a special blessing, addressed, as it were, individually and exclusively to his very soul. Blessed are they who seize the benediction and live upon it! The distinct appropriateness of some blessings is a proof of the possible appropriateness of others. Here and there we can join the line and say,—This we know to be appropriate; and therefore the benedictions which we cannot follow in the letter may be equally appropriate could we as fully comprehend them. Levi has been a mystery to us all the way through. He has had no land; he has been unlike his brethren; he has been, so to say, the praying man of the ever-changing company, busying himself about sacrifices and law, and all manner of religious ceremony and instruction. What can he have? Can Moses fit him with a blessing? Read Deuteronomy 33:8-11

"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; who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant. They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar. 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."

Could any blessing be more exquisitely adapted to Levi as we know him from history than this peculiar benediction? Levi is commended to God because he had not known his father, or his mother, or acknowledged his brethren, or known his own children, because he was so absorbed in his work. This is the Christian call before the time. This is the dawn, white and tender, trembling and quivering in the faraway east of time; the fulness of this light we shall find in Christ"s own day, and in Christ"s own speech—"Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead;" "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Levi in a sense had done this, and Levi is to have the great blessing; the Urim and the Thummim are to be with the holy one for ever—Light and Perfection, glory and peace, radiance and security. As for what substance he has—Lord, bless it, and he shall have enough and to spare; his loaves are but five in number, break them with thine own hands, and he will call "Halt! for my hunger is satisfied." When we do come upon a divine explanation of a divine mystery, it is so clear, so complete, so profound and satisfying that we can with ineffable comfort pass on to the next mystery of which no explanation has been given, knowing that God could explain that enigma were it right that the riddle should be read.

Look for a moment at the unenvied blessings of some men. When Jacob came to Joseph the speech rolled from him like a river; the old man did not know how eloquent he was until the name of Joseph came to his lips. We have perused that great speech of old Israel, and found it to be like a garden of delights, a fountain in the wilderness,—a surprise to the man who uttered it as well as to the man who received it. Moses almost quotes the blessing, yet he varies it; for when was love ever short or the inventive faculty of adding new colour and new tone to the utterance of her homage? "And of Joseph he said"—then flows the river:—

"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, and for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon, and for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills, 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. 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" ( Deuteronomy 33:13-17).

"Blessed of the Lord be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, and for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon" ( Deuteronomy 33:13-14).

He dreamed of the sun and the moon and the stars long, long ago, and saw them in a spirit of homage. Let the sun shine for him, and let the moon pour her gentle beams upon sea and land for him, and let all things that grow gather themselves into sheaves that he may carry them in his bosom; let his glory be like the firstling of the bullock, and his horns be like the horns of the unicorn ( Deuteronomy 33:17). Only God has such blessings to give. To no earthly treasure-house does this man come for Joseph, but to heaven; and does heaven contain anything too good for him? And none envied his blessings. Men felt it to be right. When the portions were given out, men felt that this man had that which was right. Not one cried out saying: "That is too much for any one man; make the distribution more equal; do not create favouritism in Israel." There are times when men feel that compensation must be paid, when old wrongs come into the memory as so many prompters, saying, "You remember me; you cannot have forgotten my ghastliness; your recollection must vividly recall the night of revenge and cruelty, and the day of sale and expatriation." And when all these black memories crowd upon the soul, and we hear some great, royal, priestly voice outside pronouncing blessing upon blessing, piling mountain upon mountain, we say, "It is right: let it be done; God save the king!" There is a spirit in Prayer of Manasseh , and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding. Blessed are they whose trust is in the living God, for they shall in due time see the result of all their labour, and be comforted with tenderest and divinest solaces.

So every man in Israel had his blessing. Reuben was to have innumerable men; the voice of Judah was to be blessed as God might bless an instrument of music; Levi was to have the continual presence of the Thummim and the Urim; Gad was to be liberated from the mountains of Gilead, and to have great liberty; and all the children of Israel were to have a blessing adapted to the circumstances of each.

In blessing men we take nothing from God. When all the blessings were given, the poet-prophet said:—

"There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky. 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" ( Deuteronomy 33:26-27).

But there are always interstices—crevices that may have been left without a blessing; provision must be made for that possibility, so we conclude with a general blessing. Now, here is a shower that will fill everything up, leaving no cavity without its benefaction:—

"Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places" ( Deuteronomy 33:29).

This is the general benediction, the great comforting word that rolls like a river over the whole life of Israel.

Are we blessed? Have we each some blessing, great or small, all our own—a blessing of hope, of contentment, of aspiration, of reverent inquiry, of sure confidence in God? Do we read the Bible as if it had been written expressly, and this very moment, for us, for our guidance, stimulus, comfort and reward? If Song of Solomon , we are blessed with blessings. What is the Christian blessing? It may be mentioned in one word—a word which is often misunderstood, because too narrowly defined. The Christian blessing is Peace: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you"—the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, the peaceful peace, the tranquil calm, the sabbatic rest, the peace of God. Do not neglect the true meaning of that word peace; it is an inclusive term, it involves reconciliation—the harmonisation of the nature of man with the nature of God, the cessation of rebellion, the acceptance, upon divine terms, of pardon; it means the Cross, in all the typical eloquence of its blood, in all the unbeclouded splendour of its eternal glory. "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace." O that we had hearkened unto his law, then had our peace flowed like a river!

Prayer

Almighty God, thou hast given a voice unto the morning and a voice unto the evening. May we have understanding thereof, and know what thou art speaking to us by the rising light and by the departing sun; may all things round about us teach somewhat of thy providence and thy sovereignty, and may we receive the simple and tender lesson into an opening and responding heart. We all do fade as a leaf. We are cut down like the grass and are mown down like the flowers of the field. Thou dost give unto thy beloved sleep; thou sayest unto thy servants who have faithfully served thee, Well done! To dying eyes thou dost show the crown of righteousness gleaming through the deepening cloud. We bless thee for all thy care—so minute, so continual, so grand in patience, so ineffably careful and loving. We bless thee that thy hand is upon us, and behind us, and before us, and round about us, that we live and move and have our being in God. Let thy merciful presence come near us—a shining light, a glowing warmth in the heart, a speech of benediction, a token of heavenly deliverance and glory. We have come to praise thee for all the mercies of the passing time. The hours have been full of thy love, the ages have been alight with symbols of thy presence; our whole life lifts itself up in fearless testimony, and each Christian believer becomes a witness to the mighty power, the redeeming efficacy, of the blood of Jesus Christ. May we grow in the knowledge of our Saviour. We have not begun to know him; his riches are unsearchable; he cannot be found out unto perfection; he allures us onward, upward, heavenward; and by many a token he shows how near he Isaiah , and then he rises above our touch, and asks us to follow on. May we not be disobedient unto the heavenly vision, but rather arise and do God"s bidding with all love, with the energy of both hands, with the consent of the whole man. We own our sin, but when we bring to bear upon it the omnipotence of thy Cross, behold, where sin abounds grace doth much more abound, and is not to be heard of, because of the wonderful ministry of Christ. Blessed Saviour of the world, thou hast destroyed sin; thou hast beheld Satan fall like lightning out of heaven, and all his power is under thy foot, and the world is thine, and the whole earth, and thine the fulness of the sea; and all is hastening towards reconcilement and unity, completeness of homage and unbrokenness of service: the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and none may set aside his oath or destroy the divine covenant. As surely as thou dost live, the whole earth shall be covered with the glory of heaven. This is our hope, and this our confidence, and this our joy. We think of it until our heart burns within us, and we know that surely thou wilt hasten it in thy time, and we shall then see the meaning of light, the very glory of day. What we want, or what we need most, thou knowest. Thou understandest us altogether; our whole heart is laid bare before thee, like an open page, and thine eye can see the secret springs of our thought. Grant unto us some assurance that our emptiness shall be filled up, that our desire shall be construed into a sacred prayer and answered with largest blessing; may our aspirations be regarded as uttering the necessities of the soul, at least in hint, how feeble soever, and may they return upon us with great benedictions. Thou art shortening our days, thou art limiting our opportunities of doing good, thou art pointing us to the descending sun, and telling us that the day is swiftly speeding to its close; may we work in the light, for the night cometh when no man can work; may we walk as children of the day and not of the night—children of light, who are ashamed of darkness rather than afraid of it, and who glory in being sons of God, in purpose, in uppermost desire, how far short soever we fall in actual execution and realisation. We bless thee for this hope, for this inspiration, for this resolve; these are the miracles of God, these are the triumphs of grace; we praise thee for them as for good and perfect gifts of God. We pray for all whom we ought never to forget: for those who do not pray for themselves; for self-idolaters; for those who are their own confidence and strength, and who know not that their strength is in heaven and not upon earth; for the spiritually blind and deaf and dumb; for prodigals, wandering in the darkness and reaping nothing but its blackness; for all loved ones in trouble, perplexity, or sore straits; for all who travel by sea and land; for all who are in great crises of life, full of pain, or full of hope that becomes almost agony, because of its uncertainty; the Lord grant unto such all needful succour, tender blessing, ministry of grace; and lead them on still day by day, until the end nears and the meaning seems clearer to the mind. We give thee all we are and have—ourselves, our families, our houses, our businesses, our whole life. Lord, come thou, whose right it Isaiah , and reign over us all, that we may, in obedient love, do homage before thee night and day, and express the homage of our minds by the industry and sacrifice of our hands.

This prayer we pray, as we pray all our prayers and sing all our hymns, in the sweet name of the Son of Mary, Son of Prayer of Manasseh , Son of God, God the Son—the Word made flesh. Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/deuteronomy-33.html. 1885-95.

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