Deuteronomy Chapter 33  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Deuteronomy 33
Deu 33:1

“This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel.” In Genesis 27:27-40, Isaac blessed his sons, Jacob and Esau, with a prophetic blessing. In Genesis 49, Jacob blessed his twelve sons with a prophetic blessing. Here Moses acts as the father of Israel and blesses his “children” with a prophetic blessing. Interestingly, in this blessing the tribe of Simeon is left out, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are blessed together under “Joseph,” the actual son of Jacob. Simeon may have been left out because historically he more or less disappeared, having taken his territory inside the territory of Judah. Eventually, Judah swallowed up Simeon.

It may be because Moses started to father Israel in Egypt that this chapter of blessing opens with God coming from Sinai to deliver Israel, and Moses became the leader (or “father”) of the people at that time. Also, while Jacob fathered twelve tribes, it was in the wilderness and under Moses’ leadership that God made a covenant with Israel and they became a nation of His people.

Deu 33:2

“Yahweh came from Sinai.” This verse is poetically describing Yahweh coming to deliver Israel when they were slaves in Egypt. They met him on Mount Sinai after coming out of Egypt (Exod. 19:1-2), so this verse describes God as coming from Sinai and the area of Edom to deliver them from slavery.

“At his right hand there was flaming fire for them.” The meaning of the Hebrew text is uncertain, and the versions differ greatly. “At his right hand was a fiery law for them” (ASV); “his warriors were next to him, ready” (CEB); “with flaming fire at his right hand” (ESV); “at his right hand advanced the gods” (NAB); “At His right hand there was flashing lightning for them” (NAS); “from the south, from his mountain slopes” (NIV); “At His right hand are springs for them” (YLT). Whatever the text means, it is clear that it refers to God supporting and fighting for Israel, His people.

Deu 33:3

“All his holy ones are in his hand.” The Hebrew is more literally, “All his holy ones are in your hand.” Some versions leave the literal Hebrew while others make the pronouns the same, either “his” or “your.”

Deu 33:4(top)
Deu 33:5

“Let there be a king in Jeshurun.” Peter Craigie (NICOT: The Book of Deuteronomy) explains the translation: “The translation here assumes a simple waw plus verb (as is normal in poetry), rather then a waw consecutive.” God was to be the king in Israel, but sadly over time God was rejected by the people.

“Jeshurun.” “The Upright,” or “Righteous-nation.” This is a reference to Israel that also occurs at the end of the prophecy (Deut. 33:26). [For more on Jeshurun, see commentary on Deuteronomy 32:15].

Deu 33:6

“Let Reuben live.” Moses’ prophetic blessing starts with Reuben, Jacob’s oldest son, just like Jacob’s prophetic blessing over his children began with Reuben (Gen. 49:3). Jacob’s blessing began in birth order: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. In contrast, Moses begins with Reuben, but then has Judah, then Levi, and then, interestingly, leaves Simeon out completely, likely because they were more or less assimilated into Judah.

“but let his men be few in number.” This is a strange but true prophetic blessing. The tribe of Reuben is foretold that it will not die off even though its men will be few in number. Also, however, the prophecy that his men would be few in number may refer to how they would participate in Israel. Although they did survive and are mentioned in the Book of Revelation, we see very little of them in the text of Scripture. They are not mentioned much in Scripture, and, for example, they did not participate in the war in Judges when they could have helped defeat the Canaanites (Judges 5:15-16). This all accords with Jacob’s prophecy over Reuben, that he would not excel (Gen. 49:4). Some translations have “nor let his men be few,” but that does not seem to be the meaning of the text.

Deu 33:7(top)
Deu 33:8

“About Levi he said.” In Moses’ blessing of Levi here in Deuteronomy 33:8-11, Levi’s role as priest to Israel is clearly set forth. Having the priesthood was a new development for Levi that occurred at the incident of the golden calf, and so this blessing is decidedly different from the blessing on Levi that Jacob gave (Gen. 49:5-7).

“Thummim and Urim.” These were stones in the breastplate of the High Priest by which the judgment of God was determined. [For more on the Urim and Thummim, see commentary on Exod. 28:30].

“your godly one.” This could be translated as “your pious one.” It referred to the High Priest. He was the only one who had the Urim and Thummim.

Deu 33:9

“I have not seen them.” The Levites were to keep the Law of God and guard His covenant even when it meant turning away from their fellow Israelites who turned away from the Law.

Deu 33:10

“in your nose.” The literal Hebrew, “in your nose,” is very graphic and may well allude to the fact that the golden altar of incense is immediately in front of the Holy of Holies where God dwells and thus the smoke and smell of the incense goes right up God’s nose, so to speak. The Levites have the privilege of being that close and intimate with God, while the other tribes are not allowed into the Holy Place, the room before the Holy of Holies.

Deu 33:11(top)
Deu 33:12

“The beloved of Yahweh.” Although the text does not state why Benjamin was called the beloved of Yahweh, and there may be several reasons for it, it is noteworthy that when God assigned the tribal territories, the territory of Benjamin was in central Israel and the place that God chose to dwell and set up the Temple was in the territory of Benjamin.

Deu 33:13

“by the deep waters crouching beneath.” The reference seems to be to the deep waters below the ground that were the source of springs, rivers, and that filled wells. So Joseph would get the rain and dew from heaven and water from the earth to grow crops and sustain life.

Deu 33:14(top)
Deu 33:15

“best.” The Hebrew word translated “best” is literally ro'sh (#07218 רֹאשׁ), which means “head” and usually when used of a mountain means “top” or “summit.” The JPS Torah commentary says, “The translation ‘best’ is suggested by the parallel ‘bounty.’ Ro'sh has this meaning in the idiom ro'sh besamim, ‘finest spices,’ but it is not a common idiom…it may have been chosen here to form a double entendre. Some think the clause is elliptical for ‘with the bounty of the tops of the ancient mountains” (Jeffrey Tigay, The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1996).

Also, much of the tribal areas assigned by Joshua to Ephraim and Manasseh, the two tribes descended from Joseph, were mountainous, adding weight to the idea that Moses’ prophecy about Joseph getting the “best” (“top”) of the ancient mountains is likely a double entendre. That Moses would prophesy about the area given to the tribes of Joseph being mountainous is one more piece of evidence of God’s authorship of Scripture. No human can foretell the future like that.

Deu 33:16

“the good will of him who dwelt in the ​burning bush.” The reference is to God meeting Moses in the burning bush and telling him to go and bring the Israelites out of Egypt (cp. Exod. 3:1-10). It is worth noting that before the vowel points were added to the Hebrew text, in the old consonantal Hebrew text, the word translated “bush” could have been understood as “Sinai,” and the verse could read that Joseph had the favor of the one who dwelt at Sinai, where Israel met God (Exod. 19, 20). In this poetic prophecy, Joseph is blessed, and that blessing comes from God.

Deu 33:17

“The firstborn of his herd, majesty is his.” Deuteronomy 13:17 must be read and understood in the context of the whole verse and history. Joseph’s firstborn son was Manasseh, who was never as prominent as his second son, Ephraim. Here, the “firstborn” is used of Ephraim in poetry, not based on birth order, but based on prominence, as is clear from the end of the verse. The 10,000’s of Ephraim that will gore the enemies refer to the military might of Ephraim.

Deu 33:18

“Zebulun...Issachar.” The tribes of Zebulun and Issachar were given small tribal areas next to each other to the southwest of the Sea of Galilee. They are mentioned together in other places, for example, in the blessing of Jacob (Gen. 49:13-15) and in Deborah’s song (Judges 5:14-15).

Deu 33:19

“for they will draw out the abundance from the seas, the hidden treasures of the sand.” Although neither Zebulun nor Issachar were by the Mediterranean Sea, and the tribal territory of Asher was between them and the sea, it seems that they still somehow got abundance from the sea, perhaps by going there to fish, and by trade. The phrase “hidden treasures of the sand” could just be a poetic way of referring to the wealth of the sea, or it could refer to things like the dye made from shellfish.

Deu 33:20

“and tears the arm, yes, ​and the crown of the head.” The tribe of Gad got its territory in the Transjordan, east of the Jordan River, and fought for its territory and also helped the other tribes of Israel conquer the Promised Land. Apparently good warriors, they tore the arm of the enemy making him unable to fight, and even the crown of the head (which may also include a veiled reference to killing the enemy leaders).

Deu 33:21

“best.” This is more properly a first part, premier part, but it can be understood in this context as the “best” part.

Deu 33:22

“Dan is a lion’s cub that leaps out from Bashan.” Dan is compared to a lion’s cub, meaning he is powerful but immature and learning. Joshua assigned Dan a territory in central Israel, but the tribe failed to displace the Canaanites there, and much of the tribe decided to move north (Josh. 19:40-48) and became the northernmost tribe of Israel. That turned out to be a very poor decision for them because they became the first tribe attacked by every army that came from the north: Syria, then Assyria, then Babylonia, then Persia, then Greece. They were effectively wiped out by the Assyrians around 725 BC, and archaeological surface surveys of the Galilee show very little organized occupation for many years after the Assyrians came through.

The analogy to “a lion’s cub that leaps out from Bashan” must be understood from the natural geography. Dan never controlled Bashan, the area to the east of the Sea of Galilee, and did not attack Laish from there to gain its northern territory. Rather, Dan is compared to the lions that live in Bashan, because Bashan is mountainous and had many lions during Old Testament times. C. F. Keil writes, “...the regions of eastern Bashan, which abound with caves, and more especially in the woody western slopes of Jebel Hauran, many lions harboured, which rushed forth from the thicket, and were very dangerous enemies to the herds of Bashan” (Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament). Lions are mentioned many times in the Old Testament and were abundant in Israel until Roman times when they were captured and used in gladiator arenas. Lions disappeared from Israel during the time the Romans controlled Israel.

Deu 33:23

“take possession of the sea and the south.” The Hebrew word for “sea” (or “lake”) is yam (#03220 יָם), which literally means “sea,” but was also the word used in the Bible for “west” because west of Israel was the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, yam came to mean “sea” or “seaward” (west). In Moses’ prophecy here in Deuteronomy 33:23, yam seems to mean “sea” rather than “west” because Naphtali was not on the west side of Israel and did not have a border on the Mediterranean Sea, but had its territory in north-central Israel and included the west and south side of the Sea of Galilee. If the Hebrew text does mean “west” and “south,” then it would refer to Naphtali having the territory west and south of the Sea of Galilee.

Deu 33:24

“Most blessed of sons is Asher.” Leah’s slave Zilpah gave birth to Asher, who was Jacob’s eighth son (Gen. 30:12-13). The word “Asher” means happy, which is related in meaning to “blessed.” Although the KJV and a few other versions have the translation, “Let Asher be blessed with children,” that is not the meaning of the Hebrew (cp. Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament).

“Let him be favored among his brothers.” That is, favored by God.

“Let him dip his foot in oil.” The territory assigned to the tribe of Asher by Joshua (Josh. 19:24-31) was very fertile and also had many olive trees. That Asher would “dip” its foot in oil is a hyperbolic reference to the large amount of olive oil produced in the region.

Deu 33:25

“Your bars will be iron and bronze.” The “bars” refer to the bars that keep the gates of the city closed to the enemy. This is a prophecy of secure cities. For Asher to enjoy the prosperity God spoke of, the people would have to enjoy peace and security.

Deu 33:26

“Jeshurun.” “The Upright,” or “Righteous-nation.” This is a reference to Israel that also occurs at the beginning of the prophecy (Deut. 33:5). [For more on Jeshurun, see commentary on Deuteronomy 32:15].

“who rides through the heavens to your help.” It is not known if the Israelites had any clear concept of how God flew through the heavens. By the time of David, more than 400 years later (c. 1000 BC), God revealed Himself as riding on a cherub (2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10). However, by the time of Daniel and Ezekiel (c. 600 BC), Scripture gives us a much more complete description of cherubim, and shows them powering God’s chariot-throne (Ezek. 1:4-28). Given the fact that God reveals more and more about Himself through the Scriptures, it is likely that the more complete description of God riding on His chariot-throne through the sky is what Deuteronomy 33:26 is referring to, even though it seems that was not revealed to Israel at the time Moses wrote. In Daniel 7:9, Yahweh is sitting on a throne that has wheels, and it could possibly be the same chariot-throne that is in Ezekiel.

Deu 33:27

“He thrust out the enemy from before you and said, ‘Destroy!’” Deuteronomy 33:26-27 shows God riding through the heavens to help Israel, and fighting for Israel, but it also shows by the word “destroy” that God expects Israel to fight for themselves, using His support to bring them victory. When we pray for God’s help, we should not think that life will be easy after that. We should not think that our problems will just go away when God helps us. God was there to help Israel conquer the enemy in the Promised Land, but the Israelites still had to fight, and fight hard to win it, and in some cases they did not have the mental resolve to complete the job God gave them and drive the enemy from their land. Even with God’s help and support, believers should still be prepared to fight hard in the spiritual battle.

Deu 33:28(top)
Deu 33:29

“you will trample on their high places.” In ancient times, “high places” gave the ones who controlled them a distinct advantage in war. They were generally secure and hard to attack. Cities were built on high places whenever they could be, as were Jerusalem and Samaria, the capital cities of Judah and Israel. For Moses to include in his blessing that Israel would trample on the high places of the enemy was a way of expressing that no enemy would be able to withstand them.

When reading the blessings in Deuteronomy 33, the reader is expected to understand that they are conditional on Israel obeying God and worshipping Him. They are not “unconditional blessings” that would occur with or without God’s blessing and help. If Israel wanted to be blessed, they would have to understand that they were being blessed by God, who expected obedience and worship from them, which was part of their covenant agreement. Sadly, Israel did not fully obey God, and as a result did not fully receive many of the blessings promised in Deuteronomy.


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