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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
The Blessing contains:
(1) an Introduction, Deuteronomy 33:1-5;
(2) the Benedictions pronounced on the tribes individually, Deuteronomy 33:6-25;
(3) a Conclusion, Deuteronomy 33:26-29.
It was no doubt spoken by Moses, probably on the same day and to the same assembly as the Song Deuteronomy 32:1-43, as soon as lie received the reviewed notice of his approaching decease Deuteronomy 32:48, and just before he ascended Mount Nebo. Like the Blessing of Jacob Genesis 49, to, which it has an intimate though independent correspondence throughout, it is the solemn farewell of the earthly head of the race. A comparison with Genesis (see the marginal references) will show how the blessings uttered by Moses over the several tribes partly repeat, partly enlarge and supplement, and sometimes modify or even reverse, the predictions of the dying Jacob.
This chapter, in striking contrast with the last, is pervaded by a tone of happy augury; and the total absence of warning and reproof has been rightly noted as indicating that Moses is here speaking of the ideal Israel, of the people of God as they might and would have been but for their perverseness, rather than foretelling what would in fact be the fate and fortunes of the twelve tribes. As the Song sets forth the calamities with which God's justice will visit Israel's fall, so does the Blessing describe the glory and greatness which would from His mercy crown Israel's faithfulness. The Song and the Blessing are therefore correspondent, and mutually supplementary. The form into which the Blessing is thrown exhibits the several tribes cooperating, each according to its special characteristics and circumstances, for the accomplishment of the national mission.
1And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.
The title "the man of God" in the Old Testament is one who is favored with direct revelations, but not necessarily an official prophet. The occurrence of the title here is no doubt a token that the Blessing was not, as was the Song, transcribed by Moses himself. Compare Deuteronomy 31:27.
2And 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.
By "Seir" is to be understood the mountain-land of the Edomites, and by "mount Paran" the range which forms the northern boundary of the desert of Sinai (compare Genesis 14:6 note). Thus the verse forms a poetical description of the vast arena upon which the glorious manifestation of the Lord in the giving of the covenant took place.
With ten thousands of saints - Render, from amidst ten thousands of holy ones: literally from myriads of holiness, i. e., holy Angels (compare Zechariah 14:5). God is represented as leaving heaven where He dwells amidst the host of the Angels 1 Kings 22:19 and descending in majesty to earth Micah 1:3.
A fiery law - more literally as in the margin, with perhaps an allusion to the pillar of fire Exodus 13:21. The word is much disputed.
3Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words.
"The people" are the twelve tribes, not the Gentiles; and his saints refer to God's chosen people just before spoken of. Compare Deuteronomy 7:18, Deuteronomy 7:21; Exodus 19:6; Daniel 7:8-21.
4Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.
5And he was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together.
He was king - i. e., not Moses but the Lord became king.
6Let Reuben live, and not die; and let not his men be few.
Let not his men be few - literally, "a number," i. e., "a small number," such as could be easily counted (compare Genesis 34:30 note). While the verse promises that the tribe shall endure and prosper, yet it is so worded as to carry with it a warning. The Reubenites, occupied with their herds and flocks, appear, soon after the days of Joshua, to have lost their early energy, until in later times its numbers, even when counted with the Gadites and the half of Manasseh, were fewer than that of the Reubenites alone at the census of Numbers 1 (Compare 1 Chronicles 5:18 with Numbers 1:20.) No judge, prophet, or national hero arose out of this tribe.
The tribe of Simeon, which would according to the order of birth come next, is not here named. This omission is explained by reference to the words of Jacob concerning Simeon Genesis 49:7. This tribe with Levi was to he "scattered in Israel." The fulfillment of this prediction was in the case of Levi so ordered as to carry with it honor and blessing; but no such reversal of punishment was granted to Simeon. Rather had this latter tribe added new sins to those which Jacob denounced (compare Numbers 26:5 note). Accordingly, though very numerous at the Exodus, it had surprisingly diminished before the death of Moses (compare Numbers 1:22-23 with Numbers 26:12-14); and eventually it found territory adequate for its wants within the limits of another tribe, Judah. Compare Joshua 19:2-9.
7And 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.
Bring him unto his people - Moses, taking up the promise of Jacob, prays that Judah, marching forth at the head of the tribes, might ever be brought back in safety and victory; arm intimates that God would grant help to accomplish this.
8And 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;
Thy holy one - i. e., Levi, regarded as the representative of the whole priestly and Levitical stock which sprang from him. The contrast between the tone of this passage and that of Genesis 49:5-7 is remarkable. Though the prediction of Jacob respecting the dispersion of this tribe held good, yet it was so overruled as to issue in honor and reward. The recovery of God's favor is to be traced to the faithfulness with which Moses and Aaron, who came of this tribe, served God in their high offices; and to the zeal and constancy which conspicuous persons of the tribe (e. g. Phinehas, Numbers 25:11 ff), and the whole tribe itself (compare Exodus 32:26), manifested on critical occasions in supporting the leaders of the people. The same reasons led to Levi's being selected for the special service of God in the sanctuary (Deuteronomy 10:8 ff, and Numbers 8:5 ff); and for the office of instructing their brethren in the knowledge of the Law. The events at Massah and Meribah, the one occurring at the beginning, the other toward the end, of the forty years' wandering, serve to represent the whole series of trials by which God proved and exercised the faith and obedience of this chosen tribe.
9Who 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.
Who said unto his father and to his mother - Compare Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26.
10They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar.
11Bless, 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.
Smite through the loins - Rather, strike the loins, i. e., the seat of their strength.
12And 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.
He shall dwell between his shoulders - i. e., be supported by God as a son who is carried by his father (compare Deuteronomy 1:31). Benjamin was especially beloved of his father Genesis 35:18; Genesis 44:20; Moses now promises no less love to him from God Himself.
13And 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,
Comparing the words of Moses with those of Jacob, it will be seen that the patriarch dwells with emphasis on the severe conflicts which Joseph, i. e., Ephraim and Manasseh, would undergo (compare Genesis 49:23-24); while the lawgiver seems to look beyond, and to behold the two triumphant and established in their power.
14And for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon,
15And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills,
16And 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.
17His 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.
Rather: "The first-born of his" (i. e. Joseph's) "bullock is his glory": the reference being to Ephraim, who was raised by Jacob to the honors of the firstborn (Genesis 48:20, and is here likened to the firstling of Joseph's oxen, i. e., of Joseph's offspring. The ox is a common emblem of power and strength.
18And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents.
Zebulun possessed a commodious sea-shore and the fisheries of the Lake of Tiberias: and was therefore to thrive by commerce, and to rejoice in his "going out," i. e., in his mercantile enterprises. Issachar possessed a fertile inland district, and would therefore dwell at home and prosper in agriculture. Both tribes distinguished themselves in the contest with Jabin (compare Judges 5:14-15, Judges 5:18): and of Zebulun it is particularly noted that it produced the officers and tacticians who led and marshalled the host which vanquished Sisera (see Judges 5:14, and compare 1 Chronicles 12:33).
19They 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.
Unto the mountain - Compare Exodus 15:17.
Sacrifices of righteousness - Sacrifices offered in a righteous spirit, and therefore well pleasing to God (compare Psalm 4:5; Psalm 51:19).
Treasures hid in the sand - The riches of the seas in general. However, it is noteworthy that the sand of these coasts was especially valuable in the manufacture of glass; and glass was a precious thing in ancient times (compare Job 28:17). The murex from which the highly-prized purple dye was extracted, was also found here. A typical reference to the conversion of the Gentiles is strongly suggested by Isaiah 60:5-6, Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 66:11-12.
20And 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.
i. e., Blessed be God who shall grant to Gad a spacious territory. Compare the blessing of Shem Genesis 9:26.
With the crown - Rather, yea, the crown. The warlike character of this tribe is shown by their leading the van in the long campaigns of Joshua (compare Joshua 4:12-13; Joshua 22:1-4). Compare also 1 Chronicles 5:18-22; 1 Chronicles 12:8 ff, and the acts of Jehu, the Gadite, in 2 Kings 9; 10.
21And 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.
The first fruits of the conquest made by Israel were assigned to Gad and Reuben by Moses, at their own request.
Because ... seated - Render, because there was the leader's portion reserved, i. e., there was reserved the fitting portion for Gad as a leader in war.
And he came ... - i. e., he joined the other leaders to fulfill the commands of God respecting the conquest of Canaan (compare Numbers 32:17, Numbers 32:21, Numbers 32:32; Joshua 1:14). Moses regards the promise of the Gadites to do this as already redeemed.
22And of Dan he said, Dan is a lion's whelp: he shall leap from Bashan.
Dan shall be like a lion which leaps forth from his covert in Bashan. Compare Sol 4:8.
23And of Naphtali he said, O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the LORD: possess thou the west and the south.
Satisfied with favor - Compare Genesis 49:21 and note.
The west and the south - i. e., taking the words as referring not to geographical position but to natural characteristics, "the sea and the sunny district." The possession of Naphtali included nearly the whole west coast of the Sea of Galilee, the Lake of Merom, the modern Bahr el Hulch, and the well watered district near the springs of Jordan. It contained some of the grandest scenery and some of the most fertile land in Palestine. Josephus speaks of the shore of Gennesaret as "an earthly paradise;" and Porter describes it as "the garden of Palestine." The modern name for this district, "land of good tidings," is significant.
24And 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.
Rather, "Blessed above the sons" (i. e. of Jacob-most blessed among the sons of Jacob) "be Asher; let him he the favored one of his brethren," i. e., the one favored of God. The plenty with which this tribe should be blessed is described under the figure of dipping the foot in oil (compare the marginal reference).
25Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.
The strength and firmness of Asher is as if he were shod with iron and brass (compare Revelation 1:15). The territory of this tribe probably contained iron and copper. Compare the marginal reference.
As thy days, so shall thy strength be - i. e., "thy strength" (some prefer "thy rest") "shall be continued to thee as long as thou shalt live: thou shalt never know feebleness and decay."
26There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky.
Rather, There is none like unto God, O Jeshurun! See marginal reference and note.
27The 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.
Thy refuge - Rather, "dwellingplace." Compare Psalm 90:1; Psalm 91:9.
28Israel 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 shall be upon a land of corn and wine - The King James Version does not preserve the symmetry of the clauses. Render it: "Israel shall dwell in safety; alone shall the fountain of Jacob be" (compare Psalm 68:26; Isaiah 48:1); "in a land," etc.
29Happy 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.
Be found liars unto thee - Perhaps rather, "cringe before thee." The verb means to show a feigned or forced obedience: see the marginal references.
Tread upon their high places - i. e., occupy the commanding positions in their land, and so have it in subjection.