Chapter 33


Moses Blesses the People (33:1-29)

        • This is the blessing that Moses, the man of God, gave the Israelites before he died:

            • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “On the eve of his death, Jacob blessed his twelve sons (Genesis 49:1-28). As the founding father of his country, Moses blessed these same sons, now grown into mighty tribes.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible continues, “This poetic account does not establish an itinerary that God followed. Instead, it portrays God in his splendor as he came at certain times and places to lead his people against their foes in God’s war.”

Historical Review

          • The Lord came from Sinai and He dawned upon them from Seir. He shone forth from Mount Paran and came with myriads of holy ones, with His right hand He gave them a fiery law.

          • Most modern translations note that the phrase rendered “fiery law” is an obscure text in the Hebrew, therefore various translations may render the phrase differently.

        • Indeed, He loves the people, all His holy ones are in His hands, and they sit at His feet, each receiving His words.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds the following:

            • On covenant contexts, to love is frequently synonymous with to choose. The Lord does love his people, but here it means that he chooses them as his special possession (Deuteronomy 4:20).”

            • On “His hands”: “This phrase figuratively conveys the security that Israel (His holy ones) had in the Lord.”

            • Continuing on, “Following the Lord requires adopting his lifestyle and going where he goes. His teaching (rendered ‘His words’ above) refers particularly to the Torah in all its fullness.”

        • Moses gave us a law, an inheritance for the people of Jacob. And the Lord was King over Jeshurun when the leaders of the people assembled, the tribes of Israel gathered together.

Blessing on Reuben

          • Let the tribe of Reuben live and not die out; and let him not be few in number.

          • Guzik writes, “This tepid blessing is in line with Jacob’s prophecy concerning the tribe of Reuben (you shall not excel, Genesis 49:4). The tribe of Reuben never did excel; as far as we know, there never came a prophet, a judge, or a king from the tribe of Reuben…This is a general blessing for the tribe of Reuben. Moses prayed, ‘Nor let his men be few,’ asking that the tribe of Reuben be blessed with growth.”

          • HCSB adds, “Historically Reuben disappeared as a tribal entity, though no doubt it was absorbed into other Transjordanian peoples and continued to live through them. On the other hand, these are blessings and not necessarily solid promises…”

Blessing on Judah

        • About the tribe of Judah, Moses said: Lord, hear Judah’s voice and bring him to his people. He contended for them with his hands, and may You help him against his adversaries.

          • Essentially, Moses prayed for the blessing and sustaining of the tribe of Judah, no doubt until it could fulfill its prophetic destiny to bring forth the Messiah. Moses knew this destiny for the tribe of Judah from Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49:10: The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” (Guzik)

Blessing on Levi

        • About the tribe of Levi, Moses said: Let Your Thummim and Urim belong to Your godly one, whom You tested at Massah, and with whom You contended at the waters of Meribah. The one who said of his mother and father, ‘I did not consider them.’ He disregarded his brothers and his children. Instead, he observed Your word and kept Your covenant. They will teach Your ordinances to Jacob and Your law to Israel. They will put incense before You and whole burnt offerings on Your altar. Lord, bless his substance and accept the work he does with his hands. Smite the loins of those who rise up against him and those who hate him, so they cannot rise again.

          • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible makes several helpful notes:

          • Thummim and Urim were precious stones embedded in or suspended from the breastpiece of the ephod, a garment worn by the chief priest. These stones could be consulted to determine God’s will…”

          • Massah means ‘[place of] testing,’ referring to an incident when the people ran out of water and tested the Lord (Exodus 17:1-7)… Meribah means ‘[place of] contention, referring to another occasion when the people of Israel fought with the Lord until he brought them water from a rock (Numbers 20:13, 24).”

          • The verse [kept Your covenant] alludes to the incident of the gold calf and Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:25-29) and to the affair at Baal-peor (Numbers 25:6-9). The Levites’ love for the Lord and loyalty to his covenant eclipsed their devotion to their own families, averted God’s judgment, and brought them the honor expressed here.”

          • In addition to carrying out priestly duties such as sacrifices and otherwise assisting at the Tabernacle and the Temple, the Levites had the task of teaching the Torah (31:9-13).”

          • On presenting incense, “This ministry was limited to Levitical priests (Numbers 16:39-40). Later, when King Uzziah entered the Temple to offer incense, he was roundly condemned for his arrogant breach of the priest’s privilege and was afflicted by a skin disease for the rest of his life (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).”

Blessing on Benjamin

        • About the tribe of Benjamin, Moses said: The Lord’s beloved rests securely. The Most High shields him all day, and dwells between his shoulders.

        • Guzik writes, “The place of special love and blessing Benjamin had would be prophetically fulfilled in a Benjaminite city becoming the center of the nation – Jerusalem…Thus, though the tribe of Benjamin was indeed fierce and warlike (Jacob’s prophecy described Benjamin as a ravenous wolf, Genesis 49:27), the tribe was greatly beloved of the LORD.”

Blessing on Joseph

        • About the tribes of Joseph, Moses said: May the Lord bless his land with the choice things of heaven; with dew; with the deep that lies down beneath; with the choice yield of the sun; with the choice yield of the seasons; with the finest products of the ancient mountains; with the choice things of the everlasting hills; with the choice things of the earth and everything in it; and with the favor of Him who appeared in the bush. May these blessings come upon the head of Joseph, on the crown of the prince of his brothers. Joseph has majesty like a firstborn ox, and he has the horns of a wild ox. With them, he will push the people together to the ends of the earth. These are the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh.

          • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible makes the following notes:

          • On “the favor of Him who appeared in the bush,” “See Exodus 3:2-4 [burning bush]. The same Lord who favored Israel by rescuing them from bondage blessed the tribes of Joseph.”

          • On “the prince of his brothers,” “Joseph’s dream that he would rule over his siblings was fulfilled when they submitted to him in Egypt (Genesis 37:5-11; 42:6).”

          • Ephraim is listed first because he received the blessing of the firstborn over Manasseh (Genesis 48:8-22)…Moses’ blessing reflects Jacob’s blessing by listing the tribe of Ephraim as numbering in multitudes and Manasseh in thousands.”

Blessing on Zebulun and Issachar

        • About the tribe of Zebulun, Moses said: Zebulun, rejoice when you go out, and Issachar rejoice in your tents. They will call people to the mountain, and they will make righteous sacrifices there. Because they draw from the sea’s abundance and the treasures hidden in the sand.

        • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes the following:

        • On “when you go out” and “in your tents,” “This figure of speech (a merism) encompasses life in all its fullness for both tribes, from activity (travels) to inactivity (tents).”

          • Issachar was allotted much of the plains of Jezreel or Esdraelon, Mount Tabor, a prominent land mark of this region, was probably the mountain in view because later tradition knows this as a place of worship (Hosea 5:1).”

        • Is this mention of sacrifice on mountains in contradiction to previous passages condemning sacrifices in high places? HCSB answers, “Critics have noted that the promise that Zebulun and Issachar would offer sacrifices on a certain mountain appears to contradict the clear commandment of 12:5 and elsewhere that worship be carried out in only one place, namely, where the Lord placed His holy name. However, the latter pertains to worship by the nation as a whole. Worship at local shrines by villages and even individuals was allowed (1 Samuel 9:11-14; 1 Kings 18:30).”

          • On the references to abundance of the sea, “…might refer to the maritime industry of the people of Zebulun when their western border extended to the Mediterranean Sea.”

Blessing on Gad

        • About the tribe of Gad, Moses said: The one who enlarges Gad’s territory will be blessed. Gad crouches down like a lion, and tears off an arm or a scalp. He selected the best land for himself, a ruler’s portion was assigned to him. He came with the leaders of the people; he carried out the Lord’s justice and obeyed His ordinances for Israel.

          • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “Gad chose this territory prior to the conquest. It was the famously rich and productive land of Bashan (Numbers 32:1-5). The commendation of Gad for carrying out the Lord’s justice and obeying his regulations probably refers to the tribe’s faithfulness in assisting the western tribes in their conquest of Canaan (Joshua 22:1-3).”

Blessing on Dan

        • About the tribe of Dan, Moses said: Dan is a lion’s cub leaping out of Bashan.

        • Guzik writes, “This may not be a complimentary phrase. History records that Dan was a troublesome tribe. They were the tribe to introduce idolatry into Israel (Judges 18:30); Jeroboam set up one of his idolatrous golden calves in Dan (1 Kings 12:26-30), and later Dan became a center of idol worship in Israel (Amos 8:14). Indeed, Jacob said of Dan in Genesis 49:17, Dan shall be a serpent by the wayThe tribe of Dan originally was allotted land in the southern part of Israel but migrated to the north hundreds of years after this (Judges 18). Moses’ reference to Bashan (a region in northern Israel) prophetically anticipated this migration.”

Blessing on Naphtali

        • About the tribe of Naphtali, Moses said: Naphtali, satisfied with favor and full of the Lord’s blessing. Take possession of the sea and the land to the south.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The Hebrew word (yam) can mean either ‘west’ or ‘sea.’ This phrase might refer to the region this tribe settled in near the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:12-17), known for its fishing and farming.”

        • Guzik adds, “The tribe of Naphtali was indeed satisfied with favor. Naphtali’s land was in a key portion near the Sea of Galilee, the region where Jesus did much of His teaching and ministry. No wonder Moses says this tribe is full of the blessing of the LORD, and that Jacob said of Naphtali in Genesis 49:21, he gives goodly words.”

Image via Bible Blender

Blessing on Asher

        • About the tribe of Asher, Moses said: May Asher be the most blessed of the sons. May he be the most favored by his brothers and may he dip his feet in oil. May the locks of your gate be of iron and bronze, and your strength last as long as you live.

        • Guzik writes, “The abundance of the tribe of Asher was also expressed by Jacob in Genesis 49:20 (he shall yield royal dainties).”

General Praise and Blessing

        • There is none like the God of Jeshurun who rides through the heavens, across the skies in His majesty, to help you. The eternal God is a hiding place and His everlasting arms are under you. He drove your enemies out before you and said, “Destroy!” So, Israel lives in safety; Jacob’s fountain is alone in a land of grain and new wine. Even his skies drip with dew. How blessed you are Israel! Who is like you? A people saved by the Lord. He is the shield that protects you and the sword of your triumph. Your enemies will cringe before you and you will tread on their high places.

        • Again, “Jeshurun” is an endearing term for Israel.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes:

          • Moses’ blessing of the tribes climaxes with praise to the Lord. Like a mighty warrior, God rides triumphantly through the skies on chariots of cloud.”

          • On “tread their high places,” “…meaning the heights of the land and the traditional places of pagan worship- a way of suggesting total physical and spiritual conquest. The Lord promised to lead the way and guarantee success in the forthcoming conquest…”

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