Deuteronomy 33


‘This is the blessing that Moses the man of God pronounced on the Israelites before his death. He said: “The LORD came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran. He came with myriads of holy ones from the south, from his mountain slopes. Surely it is you who love the people; all the holy ones are in your hand. At your feet they all bow down, and from you receive instruction, the law that Moses gave us, the possession of the assembly of Jacob. He was king over Jeshurun when the leaders of the people assembled, along with the tribes of Israel.’ Deuteronomy 33:1-5

In this chapter we read of Moses blessing Israel, just as Isaac and Jacob did before He died, Genesis 27:34-38 / Genesis 49:1-27, remember a blessing which was spoken was binding, it was a will and testimony.

Moses begins his blessing to Israel by speaking about God’s relationship with His people in the past. He says that God has always ‘loved’ them, Exodus 19:4 / Deuteronomy 32:10-12, and He has demonstrated this by delivering a law to them.

Israel had sat down at God’s feet and received His words when receiving the Law at Sinai. They experienced the fire and smoke and were terrified at the sight, Exodus 13:21 / Exodus 19:16-21 / Exodus 20:18-21. They experienced the awesome power of God and were thereby thoroughly impressed by the seriousness of His Laws.

Upon receiving the Law, God became their King and their greatest possession, as citizens of God’s kingdom, was the law. The law set Israel apart from all the other nations, Deuteronomy 4:8, and so, they were sanctified through law-keeping and thereby brought near to God.

Notice that angels attended the work of God among them, Acts 7:53 / Galatians 3:19 / Hebrews 2:2.

The term ‘Jeshurun’ is found four times in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 32:15 / Deuteronomy 33:5 / Deuteronomy 22:26 / Isaiah 44:2, and it means the ‘upright one.’ This may be something like a nickname for Israel since it is derived from the same Hebrew word that is translated ‘Israel’.

Moses Blesses The Tribes

‘Let Reuben live and not die, nor his people be few.” And this he said about Judah: “Hear, LORD, the cry of Judah; bring him to his people. With his own hands he defends his cause. Oh, be his help against his foes!” About Levi he said: “Your Thummim and Urim belong to your faithful servant. You tested him at Massah; you contended with him at the waters of Meribah. He said of his father and mother, ‘I have no regard for them.’ He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant. He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel. He offers incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. Bless all his skills, LORD, and be pleased with the work of his hands. Strike down those who rise against him, his foes till they rise no more.” About Benjamin he said: “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” About Joseph he said: “May the LORD bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above and with the deep waters that lie below; with the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield; with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills; with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness and the favour of him who dwelt in the burning bush. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers. In majesty he is like a firstborn bull; his horns are the horns of a wild ox. With them he will gore the nations, even those at the ends of the earth. Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim; such are the thousands of Manasseh.” About Zebulun he said: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, and you, Issachar, in your tents. They will summon peoples to the mountain and there offer the sacrifices of the righteous; they will feast on the abundance of the seas, on the treasures hidden in the sand.” About Gad he said: “Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain! Gad lives there like a lion, tearing at arm or head. He chose the best land for himself; the leader’s portion was kept for him. When the heads of the people assembled, he carried out the LORD’s righteous will, and his judgments concerning Israel.” About Dan he said: “Dan is a lion’s cub, springing out of Bashan.” About Naphtali he said: “Naphtali is abounding with the favour of the LORD and is full of his blessing; he will inherit southward to the lake.” About Asher he said: “Most blessed of sons is Asher; let him be favoured by his brothers and let him bathe his feet in oil. The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days.’ Deuteronomy 33:6-25

There is a comparison between the blessing of Moses here and that of Jacob in Genesis 49:1-27, which is significant. The comparisons show that while some tribes continued their spiritual weakness, others transformed into great tribes to the glory of God.

I’m sure you would have noticed that Simeon is missing from this list of tribes which Moses is about to bless. The reason for this is simply, that Jacob had prophesied that Simeon would be scattered among the other tribes due to his part in avenging Dinah of the Shechemites, Genesis 49:5-7.

All the tribes were blessed except Simeon who was eventually absorbed into the tribe of Judah, Numbers 1:22-23 / Numbers 26:12-14 / Joshua 19:2-9.

The pre-eminence among all the brothers belonged to Reuben because he was the firstborn of Jacob, Genesis 49:3-4. However, he forfeited his firstborn rights with his sin when he slept with Rachel’s handmaid Bilhah, Jacob’s wife, Genesis 35:22.

Though he sinned, Moses continues the blessing of Jacob for this tribe and says they would grow into a great company of people, rather than seeing them blotted out in death.

Jacob had reserved the greatest blessing upon Judah in Genesis 49:8-12. Judah was to experience pre-eminence, great power, and authority among his brethren. Jacob states that the ‘sceptre’ of sovereignty and authority won’t depart from Judah ‘until Shiloh come’. The name Shiloh is the title of the Messiah, Genesis 49:10.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus came from, Hebrews 7:14. The genealogies of Matthew 1:1-17, illustrate the lineage of Christ through Judah, Matthew 1:2-3.

The importance of Jacob’s announcement was that he made a prophetic proclamation of who the promised Messiah would come. Since Judah would eventually comprise the southern kingdom of Israel, in the future they would be received back into the fold of the other tribes of Israel after the Babylonian captivity.

As keepers of the judgments of God, that is, the Thummim and Urim, Levi was scattered among the tribes, Genesis 49:5-7, for priestly functions, and thus blessed in their work to keep the tribes close to God.

During the events of the golden calf at Mount Sinai, Levi remained strong for God, Exodus 32:26-29, however, at Meribah they were tested, and failed in their tribal leadership, Exodus 6:16 / Exodus 17:1-7.

The high calling of Levi was that they were to be teachers of the law of God, Leviticus 10:11, and attend to the temple with its sacrifices. Moses calls upon God’s protection against Levi’s enemies that may rise up against him, Numbers 16:1-50. Levi would continue to exercise their duties of instructing Israel in the law and carrying out the sacrifices for Israel.

Thummim And Urim

Inside the pocket of the priest’s breastplate, the Urim and Thummim were kept. Urim means ‘lights’ and Thummim means ‘perfections’. They were probably two jewels.

When someone had to make an important decision, the request was made known to the high priest. He would stand before the Lampstand, holding the Urim in one hand and the Thummim in the other.

As the light reflected from the Urim and the Thummim onto the stones of the Breastplate, this flash of light provided up to 24 combinations, 2 x 12. Since there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the flashes of light could produce strings of letters.

As God breathed through the Ark, the Veil would move, permitting a breeze to flicker the flames in the Lampstand to momentarily alter the angle of direction of the light onto the Urim and Thummim, and thence to the Breastplate. Thus, God was able to communicate directly, but not audibly, to the high priest and answer the enquiry.

The Urim and Thummim were a means of revelation entrusted to the high priest. No description of them is given. This oracular means apparently consisted of a material object or objects since it was physically stored in the breastpiece of the high priest, Exodus 28:30 / Leviticus 8:8.

Most people today think that the Urim and Thummim were a lot oracle, but this is by no means certain. Besides being mentioned by their full name, Exodus 28:30 and Leviticus 8:8 and Ezra 2:63 and Nehemiah 7:65, in reverse order with possessives, Deuteronomy 33:8, the Urim and Thummim could also be referred to by Urim alone, Numbers 27:21 and 1 Samuel 28:6.

Sometimes the mention of the ephod, on which the breastpiece housing the Urim and Thummim were fastened, includes a reference to the Urim and Thummim, 1 Samuel 23:9-12 and 1 Samuel 30:7-8. Also, the verb ‘inquire of’ followed by ‘the Lord’ or ‘God’ when no means of revelation is specified refers to a usage of the Urim and Thummim.

The Urim and Thummim were used at critical moments in the history of God’s people when special divine guidance was needed. The civil leader was expected to make use of this means for all important matters for which he needed direction.

Although referred to in Ezra 2:63 and Nehemiah 7:65, there is no convincing evidence that the Urim and Thummim were used after the time of David.

The reason for the demise of the Urim and Thummim is not explicitly given. Since the Urim and Thummim, in whatever way they functioned, were a physical means of revelation, it appears that God was taking his people away from the easy certainty inherent in a mechanical means of revelation to the more consistent use of prophecy and the Word alone.

This would require the more difficult application of the norms for true and false prophecy, Deuteronomy 13:1-4 and Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and thus necessitate a faithful teaching priesthood, Deuteronomy 33:10 / Malachi 2:7.

Although the lot theory has wide support today, there are significant difficulties with so identifying the Urim and Thummim. It is questionable whether the key evidence, the Greek text of 1 Samuel 14:41, is really to be preferred over the Hebrew text.

Also, the vocabulary of lot casting is not used, and the answers contain more information than the casting of lots could yield, e.g. 1 Samuel 1:1 and 1 Samuel 5:23-24.

This last point suggests the involvement of prophecy and the divine inspiration of the high priest in giving revelation. It can also be noted that the use of the actual object(s) constituting the Urim and Thummim appears to have been self-authenticating.

Even in extremely difficult circumstances, the guidance of the Urim and Thummim is followed, Judges 20:18-28. It could be theorised that a perfect light that miraculously shone from the gem(s) constituting the Urim and Thummim, which belonged to God, Deuteronomy 33:8 gave the needed authentication to the actual answer spoken by the high priest under divine inspiration.

In this way, the judgment of the Urim, the light, may have been given, Numbers 27:21. Such authentication would not have been out of place in Old Testament times when special signs were provided more often.

Benjamin was the second son born to Jacob through his beloved wife Rachel. The tribe of Benjamin was to inherit the small portion of land just northwest of the Dead Sea.

The people of Benjamin were powerful and warlike and so, Benjamin is compared to a ravening wolf devouring the prey, Genesis 49:27. As Benjamin occupied a special place in Jacob’s heart, even so, the Lord would show this love by protecting them against their enemies.

God would dwell with this tribe because Benjamin would bear God upon his shoulders. God would be the headship of this tribe throughout her history.

Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, were the tribal extensions of the seed of Joseph. Joseph was the favoured and well-beloved son of Jacob being the firstborn of his beloved Rachel.

By far the lands of Joseph, that is, Ephraim and Manasseh exceeded the other tribes in landmass. These two tribes would grow into great military strength, Ephraim becoming the predominant tribe of Israel.

Jacob said that Joseph’s lands would be fruitful, but not without problems from enemies Genesis 49:22-26. Although the enemy’s bow and arrow would annoy Joseph, he would still prevail against them. God’s blessings and help would be with Joseph and others would look to him as the rock of Israel for influence and strength.

Moses blesses Zebulun’s goings out, Jacob said Zebulun would live by the seashore Genesis 49:13. Interestingly, this prophecy actually came to pass for Asher rather than Zebulun.

Zebulun didn’t border the Mediterranean or the Sea of Galilee but was rather located between Asher and Naphtali, Joshua 13-21.

Moses blesses Issachar in their tent dwellings, Genesis 49:14-15. Issachar’s inheritance in Canaan was small and located south of Zebulun.

Issachar seemed only interested in gaining wages through agriculture rather than warring with the Canaanites and helping their brethren. They would use their religious cerebrations as opportunities for commercial negotiations.

Gad was blessed because he became a strong military force, Genesis 49:19. This tribe chose the fruitful pasture lands east of the Jordan, Numbers 32:1-5, despite being irritated by various attacks of troops, they still prevail, 1 Chronicles 12:14.

Jacob said that Dan would be like a snake which sits on the site of a path, Genesis 49:16-17, Moses, on the other hand, compares Dan to ‘a lion’s cub.’

Dan would bring trouble to his enemies like a young lion leaping out of the brush in ambush. They were known for sudden and devastating military attacks against the enemies of God, Joshua 19:47 / Judges 18:27.

Dan’s inheritance in Canaan would border the Mediterranean Sea to the south and west of Ephraim. The sad news concerning Dan was that they were the tribe to introduce idolatry into Israel, Judges 18:30 / 1 Kings 12:26-30 / Amos 8:14.

Jacob compared Naphtali to a free moving gazelle saying, Genesis 49:21. The inheritance of Naphtali was a large plot of land primarily to the North West of the Sea of Galilee.

Asher was blessed with great prosperity, Genesis 49:20. Asher would grow into a populous tribe and enjoy great popularity. The inheritance of Asher would lie due west of Naphtali and bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Although the tribe settled in the north-western part of the land, they would be a strong tribe to buffer Israel from any invasion from the north.

‘There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them!’ So Israel will live in safety; Jacob will dwell secure in a land of grain and new wine, where the heavens drop dew. Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights.” Deuteronomy 33:26-29

The term ‘Jeshurun’ is found four times in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 32:15 / Deuteronomy 33:5 / Deuteronomy 22:26 / Isaiah 44:2, and it means the ‘upright one.’ This may be something like a nickname for Israel since it is derived from the same Hebrew word that is translated ‘Israel’.

The eternal God is Israel’s refuge, Romans 3:2. Moses declares that God will help, provide a dwelling place, and exercise everlasting love for His people, there is no one else like Him. God offers land that has had His people’s enemies thrust out and blessed with grain and new wine.

God is pictured as the help of Israel who comes to her rescue in times of trial, Romans 8:31. Israel was the dwelling place of God on earth because the prosperity and religious nature of the people demonstrated His presence.

The protecting arms of God are always around Israel, even while they digress into sin. Although the enemies of Israel would seek to destroy them, through the help of God, Israel would occupy their high places.

Go To Deuteronomy 34


"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."