Deuteronomy 33:1
And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XXXIII.

MOSES’ LAST BLESSING.

(1) Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel.—The title man of God is here used for the first time. Its counterpart is to be found in Deuteronomy 34:5 : “Moses the servant of Jehovah died.” The more any man is a “servant to Jehovah,” the more is he a “man of Elohim” to his fellow-men. After Moses, Elijah and Elisha are more especially described by this title (“man of God “) in the Old Testament.

Blessed . . . Israel before his death.—“And if not then, when should he?” (Rashi.)

Deuteronomy 33:1. The blessing wherewith Moses blessed Israel — He is said to bless them, by praying to God with faith for his blessing upon them; and by foretelling the blessings which God would confer upon them. And Moses calls himself the man of God, that is, the servant or prophet of God, to acquaint them that the following prophecies were not his own inventions, but divine inspirations.

33:1-5 To all his precepts, warnings, and prophecies, Moses added a solemn blessing. He begins with a description of the glorious appearances of God, in giving the law. His law works like fire. If received, it is melting, warming, purifying, and burns up the dross of corruption; if rejected, it hardens, sears, pains, and destroys. The Holy Spirit came down in cloven tongues, as of fire; for the gospel also is a fiery law. The law of God written in the heart, is a certain proof of the love of God shed abroad there: we must reckon His law one of the gifts of his grace.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. CHAPTER 33

De 33:1-28. The Majesty of God.

1. Moses the man of God—This was a common designation of a prophet (1Sa 2:27; 9:6), and it is here applied to Moses, when, like Jacob, he was about to deliver ministerially before his death, a prophetic benediction to Israel.The majesty of God, Deu 33:1-5. Blessings prophesied of the twelve tribes, Deu 33:6-25. The excellency of Israel, Deu 33:26-29.

He is said to bless them ministerially, partly by praying to God with faith for his blessing upon them; partly by foretelling the blessings which God would confer upon them, for the prophets are oft said to do what they foretell should be done, as Genesis 49:7 Jeremiah 1:10 Ezekiel 43:3 Hosea 6:5. And Moses calls himself here

the man of God, i.e. the servant, or prophet, or minister of God, as this phrase signifies, 1 Samuel 9:6,7 1 Timothy 6:11, to acquaint them that the following prophecies were not his own inventions, but Divine inspirations.

The children of Israel, i.e. the several tribes; only Simeon is omitted, either,

1. In detestation of their parent Simeon’s bloody and wicked carriage, for which Jacob also gives that tribe a curse rather than a blessing, in Ge 49. But as for Levi, who is joined with him in that censure and curse, Genesis 49:5-7, he is here separated from him, and exempted from that curse, and blessed with an eminent blessing for a singular and valuable reason expressed here, Deu 33:8,9; whereas Simeon’s tribe had been so far from expiating their father’s crime, that they added new ones, their prince being guilty of another notorious crime, Numbers 25:6,14, and his tribe too much concurring with him in such actions, as interpreters gather from the great diminution of the numbers of that tribe, which were 59,300 in Numbers 1:23, and but 22,200 in Numbers 26:14, which was near forty years after. Or,

2. Because that tribe had no distinct inheritance, but was to have his portion in the tribe of Judah, as he had, Joshua 19:1, and therefore must needs partake with them in their blessing.

And this is the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. Namely, what is related in the following verses, this being the general title to the chapter: Moses is called "the man of God", being raised up of God, and eminently qualified by him with gifts for the work he was called unto, and by whom he was inspired to say what is after expressed: it is a title given to prophets, 1 Samuel 9:6; and so Onkelos here paraphrases it,"Moses the prophet of the Lord,''and Aben Ezra observes, that this is said to show that he blessed Israel by a spirit of prophecy, and which he did a little before his death, when very near it; and, as the same writer says, on the very day of his death. And this is the {a} blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.

(a) This blessing contains not only a simple prayer, but an assurance of the effect of it.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 (2). The Mutilated shall not Enter the Congregation. The reason is either the general one, which may well have been primitive, that a blemished man was ritually unfit for a community, formed like all ancient communities on a religious basis (cp. H, Leviticus 21:20, for the priests alone); or the particular one that such unsexed persons often served heathen deities (Deuteronomy 14:1, Deuteronomy 23:17 f. (18 f.)). Also the employment of eunuchs was part of the foreign ḥareem system introduced by Solomon. There is therefore no reason to doubt the possibility of an early date for this law.

On its use of ḳahal for the congregation of Israel see below. Berth. argues that the rigorous exclusion of eunuchs implies a date later than the exilic or post-exilic passage Isaiah 56:3 ff., which promises the childless eunuch, sarîs, a lasting name in Israel, better than sons or daughters, if he keeps Jehovah’s covenant. But this promise, in its connection with a similar one to the son of the foreigner, reads as the grant, under the influence of a more spiritual and generous piety (cp. on Deuteronomy 33:6), of privileges hitherto denied to the physical eunuch by custom or law. Or has sarîs here the same symbolic meaning which it bears in Matthew 19:12? Nor does Berth.’s appeal to Jeremiah 34:19 carry weight, for the sarîsîm mentioned there can hardly, because of their ranking with princes and priests, be physical eunuchs but are rather chamberlains or other high officials. Jensen derives the word from Ass. sha reshi ‘he who is chief’ (Z. A. vii. 174); cp. Genesis 39:1, where the married Potiphar is a sarîs of Pharaoh, and note that no Heb. code calls the physical eunuch sarîs. On eunuchs as guardians of the mosques at Medinah and Mecca see Burton, Pilgrimage, etc., i. 371.

wounded in the stones] Lit. wounded by crushing (the testes), cp. H, Leviticus 21:20; this and the other operation here described are both practised in the East.

the assembly] or congregation. For the Heb. ḳahal see on Deuteronomy 5:22. The earlier instances of the term cited there shew that its use here cannot be taken as proof of an exilic or post-exilic date. This in answer to Berth. Not used in this meaning elsewhere by D; its presence here may be due to D’s employment of an earlier law (cp. Dillm.). But cp. Deuteronomy 33:4.

1. An editor’s introduction; note children of Israel, not D’s all Israel.

the blessing … blessed] This title is not given to the less hopeful oracles assigned to Jacob in Genesis 49. Great sanctity was ascribed to the words of a dying father or leader on the fortunes of his sons or followers, for such a blessing was before Jehovah; Genesis 27:7; Genesis 27:23; Genesis 27:27 ff., Gen 48:9, 20, 49, cp. Joshua 14:13.

man of God] Frequently of prophets: Moses, Joshua 14:6 (deut.), Psalms 90. (title); Samuel, 1 Samuel 9:6; 1 Samuel 9:10; Elijah, 1 Kings 17:18; Elisha, 2 Kings 4:7; 2 Kings 4:9; 2 Kings 4:15; 2 Kings 4:22; 2 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 4:27; a nameless prophet, 1 Kings 13.

(2–9). Four Laws: Of Right to Enter the Congregation

There shall not enter any eunuch (Deuteronomy 33:1); nor the son of an unlawful marriage, nor descendants (Deuteronomy 33:2); nor Ammonite, nor Moabite, nor descendants (Deuteronomy 33:3-6); but the third generation of Edomite or Egyptian may enter (Deuteronomy 33:7 f.).—These laws have negative openings like the preceding and like the series which follow in Deuteronomy 33:15-20 (Deuteronomy 33:16-21) after the interrupting law, Deuteronomy 33:9-14 (Deuteronomy 33:10-15); hence possibly their position just here. The form of address to Israel does not appear till Deuteronomy 33:4 a (Deuteronomy 33:5 a) where it is Pl., but in Deuteronomy 33:4-7 Sg. Other features are the use of ḳahal, congregation, for the commonwealth of Israel, not elsewhere in D, the difference of Deuteronomy 33:4 a (Deuteronomy 33:5 a) from Deuteronomy 2:29, the introduction of Balaam not mentioned in chs. 1–3, and the favourable treatment of Egyptians. Such data raise questions of the origin and structure of these laws as difficult as any we have met, and perhaps incapable of solution.

Some take Deuteronomy 33:4-6 (Deuteronomy 33:5-7) as secondary, and the rest as original to D. But it is nearly as plausible to reckon part or all of Deuteronomy 33:4-6 as D’s addition to earlier laws and to argue for the primitive origin of these (see below). Berth. holds that all Deuteronomy 33:1-8 (Deuteronomy 33:2-9) is secondary, Deuteronomy 33:1-6 being from the time of Ezra and perhaps inserted by Ezra himself to correct the religious confusions which he found in Jerusalem. As there is nothing at that time to explain Deuteronomy 33:7 f. (Deuteronomy 33:8 f.) he boldly suggests the origin of this in the Maccabean period (Stellung d. Isr. zu d. Fremden, 142 ff., and his note on this passage). For answers to him see below.

Verse 1. - Moses the man of God. This appellation is applied to Moses only here and in Joshua 14:6 and the heading of Psalm 90. The phrase, "man of God," indicates one favored with Divine communications, and employed as God's messenger to men (cf. 1 Samuel 9:6; 1 Kings 12:22). In this heading, the author of the blessing is clearly distinguished from the person by whom it was inserted in this place. Deuteronomy 33:1Before ascending Mount Nebo to depart this life, Moses took leave of his people, the tribes of Israel, in the blessing which is very fittingly inserted in the book of the law between the divine announcement of his approaching death and the account of the death itself, as being the last words of the departing man of God. The blessing opens with an allusion to the solemn conclusion of the covenant and giving of the law at Sinai, by which the Lord became King of Israel, to indicate at the outset the source from which all blessings must flow to Israel (Deuteronomy 33:2-5). Then follow the separate blessings upon the different tribes (vv. 6-25). And the whole concludes with an utterance of praise to the Lord, as the mighty support and refuge of His people in their conflicts with all their foes (Deuteronomy 33:26-29). This blessing was not written down by Moses himself, like the song in ch. 32, but simply pronounced in the presence of the assembled tribes. This is evident, not only from the fact that there is nothing said about its being committed to writing, but also from the heading in Deuteronomy 33:1, where the editor clearly distinguishes himself from Moses, by speaking of Moses as "the man of God," like Caleb in Joshua 14:6, and the author of the heading to the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90:1. In later times, "man of God" was the title usually given to a prophet (vid., 1 Samuel 9:6; 1 Kings 12:22; 1 Kings 13:14, etc.), as a man who enjoyed direct intercourse with God, and received supernatural revelations from Him. Nevertheless, we have Moses' own words, not only in the blessings upon the several tribes (vv. 6-25), but also in the introduction and conclusion of the blessing (Deuteronomy 33:2-5 and Deuteronomy 33:26-29). The introductory words before the blessings, such as "and this for Judah" in Deuteronomy 33:7, "and to Levi he said" (Deuteronomy 33:8), and the similar formulas in Deuteronomy 33:12, Deuteronomy 33:13, Deuteronomy 33:18, Deuteronomy 33:20, Deuteronomy 33:22, Deuteronomy 33:23, and Deuteronomy 33:24, are the only additions made by the editor who inserted the blessing in the Pentateuch. The arrangement of the blessings in their present order is probably also his work. It neither accords with the respective order of the sons of Jacob, nor with the distribution of the tribes in the camp, nor with the situation of their possessions in the land of Canaan. It is true that Reuben stands first as the eldest son of Jacob; but Simeon is then passed over, and Judah, to whom the dying patriarch bequeathed the birthright which he withdrew from Reuben, stands next; and then Levi, the priestly tribe. Then follow Benjamin and Joseph, the sons of Rachel; Zebulun and Issachar, the last sons of Leah (in both cases the younger before the elder); and lastly, the tribes descended from the sons of the maids: Gad, the son of Zilpah; Dan and Naphtali, the sons of Bilhah; and finally, Asher, the second son of Zilpah. To discover the guiding principle in this arrangement, we must look to the blessings themselves, which indicate partly the position already obtained by each tribe, as a member of the whole nation, in the earthly kingdom of God, and partly the place which it was to reach and occupy in the further development of Israel in the future, not only in relation to the Lord, but also in relation to the other nations. The only exception to this is the position assigned to Reuben, who occupies the foremost place as the first-born, notwithstanding his loss of the birthright. In accordance with this principle, the first place properly belonged to the tribe of Judah, who was raised into the position of lord over his brethren, and the second to the tribe of Levi, which had been set apart to take charge of the sacred things; whilst Benjamin is associated with Levi as the "beloved of the Lord." Then follow Joseph, as the representative of the might which Israel would manifest in conflict with the nations; Zebulun and Issachar, as the tribes which would become the channels of blessings to the nations through their wealth in earthly good; and lastly, the tribes descended from the sons of the maids, Asher being separated from his brother Gad, and placed at the end, in all probability simply because it was in the blessing promised to him that the earthly blessedness of the people of God was to receive its fullest manifestation.

On comparing the blessing of Moses with that of Jacob, we should expect at the very outset, that if the blessings of these two men of God have really been preserved to us, and they are not later inventions, their contents would be essentially the same, so that the blessing of Moses would contain simply a confirmation of that of the dying patriarch, and would be founded upon it in various ways. This is most conspicuous in the blessing upon Joseph; but there are also several other blessings in which it is unmistakeable, although Moses' blessing is not surpassed in independence and originality by that of Jacob, either in its figures, its similes, or its thoughts. But the resemblance goes much deeper. It is manifest, for example, in the fact, that in the case of several of the tribes, Moses, like Jacob, does nothing more than expound their names, and on the ground of the peculiar characters expressed in the names, foretell to the tribes themselves their peculiar calling and future development within the covenant nation. Consequently we have nowhere any special predictions, but simply prophetic glances at the future, depicted in a purely ideal manner, whilst in the case of most of the tribes the utter want of precise information concerning their future history prevents us from showing in what way they were fulfilled. The difference in the times at which the two blessings were uttered is also very apparent. The existing circumstances from which Moses surveyed the future history of the tribes of Israel in the light of divine revelation, were greatly altered from the time when Jacob blessed the heads of the twelve tribes before his death, in the persons of his twelve sons. These tribes had now grown into a numerous people, with which the Lord had established the covenant that He had made with the patriarchs. The curse of dispersion in Israel, which the patriarch had pronounced upon Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5-7), had been changed into a blessing so far as Levi was concerned. The tribe of Levi had been entrusted with the "light and right" of the Lord, had been called to be the teacher of the rights and law of God in Israel, because it had preserved the covenant of the Lord, after the conclusion of the covenant at Sinai, even though it involved the denial of flesh and blood. Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh had already received their inheritance, and the other tribes were to take possession of Canaan immediately. These circumstances formed the starting-point for the blessings of Moses, not only in the case of Levi and Gad, where they are expressly mentioned, but in that of the other tribes also, where they do not stand prominently forward, because for the most part Moses simply repeats the leading features of their future development in their promised inheritance, as already indicated in the blessing of Jacob, and "thus bore his testimony to the patriarch who anticipated him, that the spirit of his prophecy was truth" (Ziegler, p. 159).

In this peculiar characteristic of the blessing of Moses, we have the strongest proof of its authenticity, particularly in the fact that there is not the slightest trace of the historical circumstances of the nation at large and the separate tribes which were peculiar to the post-Mosaic times. The little ground that there is for the assertion which Knobel repeats, that the blessing betrays a closer acquaintance with the post-Mosaic times, such as Moses himself could not possibly have possessed, is sufficiently evident from the totally different expositions which have been given by the different commentators of the saying concerning Judah in Deuteronomy 33:7, which is adduced in proof of this. Whilst Knobel finds the desire expressed in this verse on behalf of Judah, that David, who had fled from Saul, might return, obtain possession of the government, and raise his tribe into the royal tribe, Graf imagines that it expresses the longing of the kingdom of Judah for reunion with that of Israel; and Hoffmann and Maurer even trace an allusion to the inhabitants of Judea who were led into captivity along with Jehoiachin: one assumption being just as arbitrary and as much opposed to the text as the other. - All the objections brought against the genuineness of this blessing are founded upon an oversight or denial of its prophetic character, and upon untenable interpretations of particular expressions abstracted from it. Not only is there no such thing in the whole blessing as a distinct reference to the peculiar historical circumstances of Israel which arose after Moses' death, but there are some points in the picture which Moses has drawn of the tribes that it is impossible to recognise in these circumstances. Even Knobel from his naturalistic stand-point is obliged to admit, that no traces can be found in the song of any allusion to the calamities which fell upon the nation in the Syrian, Assyrian, and Chaldaean periods. And hitherto it has proved equally impossible to point out any distinct allusion to the circumstances of the nation in the period of the judges. On the contrary, as Schultz observes, the speaker rises throughout to a height of ideality which it would have been no longer possible for any sacred author to reach, when the confusions and divisions of a later age had actually taken place. He sees nothing of the calamities from without, which fell upon the nations again and again with destructive fury, nothing of the Canaanites who still remained in the midst of the Israelites, and nothing of the hostility of the different tribes towards one another; he simply sees how they work together in the most perfect harmony, each contributing his part to realize the lofty ideal of Israel. And again he grasps this ideal and the realization of it in so elementary a way, and so thoroughly from the outer side, without regard to any inward transformation and glorification, that he must have lived in a time preceding the prophetic age, and before the moral conflicts had taken place.

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