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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Deuteronomy 33

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Moses Blesses the Tribes

A. Introduction to the blessing of the tribes.

1. (Deu 33:1) Now this is the blessing …

Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.

a. Moses the man of God: As he looked at Israel with a shepherd's heart, he could not leave them without blessing them. It must be this way. Moses could not leave this earth without a final blessing of the people he has loved and served in the LORD for these 40 years.

b. This chapter is similar in its effect to the blessing of Israel (Jacob) upon his twelve sons as recorded in Genesis 49. Since Moses was the one who recorded the blessing of Israel in Genesis 49, it is not a stretch to think he consciously modeled his blessing on Jacob's previous one.

2. (Deu 33:2-5) The context is set: The glory of God's revelation to Israel.

And he said:
"The LORD came from Sinai,
And dawned on them from Seir;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And He came with ten thousands of saints;
From His right hand Came a fiery law for them.
Yes, He loves the people;
All His saints are in Your hand;
They sit down at Your feet;
Everyone receives Your words.
Moses commanded a law for us,
A heritage of the congregation of Jacob.
And He was King in Jeshurun,
When the leaders of the people were gathered,
All the tribes of Israel together."

a. The LORD came from Sinai: In the midst of images of God's glory in revealing Himself and His word to Israel (He shone … with ten thousands of saints … a fiery law … He was King). This adds a sense of drama and grandeur to Moses' prophetic words to each tribe.

B. The blessing of the individual tribes.

1. (Deu 33:6) Reuben: Nor let his men be few.

Let Reuben live, and not die,
Nor let his men be few.

a. Let Reuben live: 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.

b. Live and not die: 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.

2. (Deu 33:7) Judah: May You be a help.

And this he said of Judah:
"Hear, LORD, the voice of Judah,
And bring him to his people;
Let his hands be sufficient for him,
And may You be a help against his enemies."

a. Hear, LORD, the voice of Judah: Since the name Judah means praise, Moses prayed that the LORD would hear the voice of praise.

b. Let his hands be sufficient: 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.

i. Moses knew this destiny for the tribe of Judah from Jacob's prophecy in Genesis 49:10: The scepter shall not depart from Judah.

3. (Deu 33:8-11) Levi: They shall teach … Israel Your law.

And of Levi he said:
"Let Your Thummim and Your Urim be with Your holy one,
Whom You tested at Massah,
And with whom You contended at the waters of Meribah,
Who says of his father and mother, 'I have not seen them';
Nor did he acknowledge his brothers,
Or know his own children;
For they have observed Your word
And kept Your covenant.
They shall teach Jacob Your judgments,
And Israel Your law.
They shall put incense before You,
And a whole burnt sacrifice on Your altar.
Bless his substance, LORD,
And accept the work of his hands;
Strike the loins of those who rise against him,
And of those who hate him, that they rise not again."

a. They have observed Your word and kept Your covenant: Because of this, Levi had a blessed place among the tribes of Israel. Moses prayed that the substance of Levi would be blessed and that their enemies would be defeated.

b. They shall teach Jacob Your judgments, and Israel Your law: Especially, Levi had the blessed place of teaching Israel the word of God. They would accomplish this as they were scattered in Israel, as Jacob had prophesied (Genesis 49:7).

i. The prophecy I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel (in Genesis 49:7) was given to both the tribes of Simeon and Levi. For the tribe of Levi it was a blessing, as they were scattered throughout the nation to minister to the people and to bring God's word to the whole nation. For the tribe of Simeon, the scattering was a significant curse; they are not even mentioned among the tribes being blessed here.

4. (Deu 33:12) Benjamin: The beloved of the LORD.

Of Benjamin he said:
"The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by Him,
Who shelters him all the day long;
And he shall dwell between His shoulders."

a. The beloved of the LORD: The place of special love and blessing Benjamin had would be prophetically fulfilled in a Benjaminite city becoming the center of the nation - Jerusalem.

b. Shall dwell in safety by Him: 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.

5. (Deu 33:13-17) Joseph: Let the blessing come.

And of Joseph he said:
"Blessed of the LORD is his land,
With the precious things of heaven, with the dew,
And the deep lying beneath,
With the precious fruits of the sun,
With the precious produce of the months,
With the best things of the ancient mountains,
With the precious things of the everlasting hills,
With the precious things of the earth and its fullness,
And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush.
Let the blessing come 'on the head of Joseph,
And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.'
His glory is like a firstborn bull,
And his horns like the horns of the wild ox;
Together with them He shall push the peoples
To the ends of the earth;
They are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
And they are the thousands of Manasseh."

a. Blessed of the LORD is his land: The two tribes of Joseph - Ephraim and Manasseh - were indeed blessed numerically in Israel. The descendants of this one son among twelve sons of Jacob were far more numerous than all the other tribes.

b. Ten thousands of Ephraim … thousands of Manasseh: This fulfilled Jacob's prophecy in Genesis 49:22 (Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall).

6. (Deu 33:18-19) Zebulun and Issachar: They shall partake of the abundance of the seas.

And of Zebulun he said:
"Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out,
And Issachar in your tents!
They shall call the peoples to the mountain;
There they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness;
For they shall partake of the abundance of the seas
And of treasures hidden in the sand."

a. They shall partake of the abundance of the seas: Both the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar were in the Galilee region, and were blessed to take advantage of the Sea of Galilee.

b. Treasures hidden in the sand: This is consistent with what Jacob said of Zebulun in Genesis 49:13 (Zebulun shall dwell by the haven of the sea).

7. (Deu 33:20-21) Gad: He dwells as a lion.

And of Gad he said:
"Blessed is he who enlarges Gad;
He dwells as a lion,
And tears the arm and the crown of his head.
He provided the first part for himself,
Because a lawgiver's portion was reserved there.
He came with the heads of the people;
He administered the justice of the LORD,
And His judgments with Israel."

a. He dwells as a lion: The lion-like character of the tribe of Gad was shown by the fact that Gad furnished many fine troops for David (1 Chronicles 12:14). This is in fulfillment of Jacob's words in Genesis 49:19: he shall triumph at last.

8. (Deu 33:22) Dan: A lion's whelp.

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

a. He shall leap from Bashan: 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 way.

b. From Bashan: The 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.

9. (Deu 33:23) Naphtali: Full of the blessing of the LORD.

And of Naphtali he said:
"O Naphtali, satisfied with favor,
And full of the blessing of the LORD,
Possess the west and the south."

a. O Naphtali, satisfied with favor: 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.

10. (Deu 33:24-25) Asher: Most blessed of sons.

And of Asher he said:
"Asher is most blessed of sons;
Let him be favored by his brothers,
And let him dip his foot in oil.
Your sandals shall be iron and bronze;
As your days, so shall your strength be."

a. Asher is most blessed of sons: The abundance of the tribe of Asher was also expressed by Jacob in Genesis 49:20 (he shall yield royal dainties).

11. (Deu 33:26-29) Conclusion: Happy are you, O Israel!

"There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to help you,
And in His excellency on the clouds.
The eternal God is your refuge,
And underneath are the everlasting arms;
He will thrust out the enemy from before you,
And will say, 'Destroy!'
Then Israel shall dwell in safety,
The fountain of Jacob alone,
In a land of grain and new wine;
His heavens shall also drop dew.
Happy are you, O Israel!
Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD,
The shield of your help
And the sword of your majesty!
Your enemies shall submit to you,
And you shall tread down their high places."

a. The eternal God is your refuge: What blessing God bestowed on Israel! As Paul said in Romans 3:2: To them were committed the oracles of God. The true greatness of Israel is the same as the greatness of the Christian: not in and of themselves, but in their God: There is no one like the God of Jeshurun.

b. Who rides the heavens to help you: God is great and uses His greatness on behalf of His people, upholding them with the everlasting arms. When we are a people saved by the LORD, it means that God is for us and heaven is on our side! If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31) He is the shield of your help.

© 2006 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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