Deuteronomy 33:3
Yes, he loved the people; all his saints are in your hand: and they sat down at your feet; every one shall receive of your words.
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(3) Yea, he loved.—The connection appears to be this—

“From His right hand went a fire, a law for them (Israel).

Loving the peoples also;

(i.e., all who should hereafter become His people)

All His saints are in Thy hand:

(the hand of Him who spake on Sinai, and now “speaketh from heaven”)

And they are seated at Thy feet;

(the feet of the same heavenly Prophet. Comp. Matthew 5:1-2)

Every one shall receive of Thy words.”

Or, possibly, He, that prophet, will take of thy (i.e., of Moses’) words, We know he did so.



Deuteronomy 33:3

The great ode of which these words are a part is called ‘the blessing wherewith Moses blessed the children of Israel before his death.’ It is mainly an invocation of blessing from Heaven on the various tribes, but it begins, as the national existence of Israel began, with the revelation of God on Sinai, and it lays that as the foundation of everything. It does not matter, for my purposes, in the smallest degree, who was the author of this great song. Whoever he was, he has, by dint of divine inspiration and of his own sympathy with the inmost spirit of the Old Covenant, anticipated the deepest things of Christian truth; and these are here in the words of our text.

I. The first thing that I would point out is the Divine Love which is the foundation of all.

‘He loved the people.’ That is the beginning of everything. The word that this singer uses is one that only appears in this place, and if we regard its etymology, there lies in it a very tender and beautiful expression of the warmth of the divine love, for it is probably connected with words in an allied language which mean the bosom and a tender embrace, and so the picture that we have is of that great divine Lover folding ‘the people’ to His heart, as a mother might her child, and cherishing them in His bosom.

Still further, the word is in a form in the Hebrew which implies that the act spoken about is neither past, present, nor future only, but continuous and perpetual. Thus it suggests to us the thought of timeless, eternal love, which has no beginning, and therefore has no end, which does not grow, and therefore will never decline nor decay, but which runs on upon one lofty level, with neither ups nor downs, and with no variation of the impulse which sends it forth; always the same, and always holding its objects in the fervent embrace of which the text speaks.

Further, mark the place in this great song where this thought comes in. As I said, it is laid as the beginning of everything. ‘We love Him because He first loved us’ was the height to which the last of the Apostles attained in the last of his writings. But this old singer, with the mists of antiquity around him, who knew nothing about the Cross, nothing about the historical Christ, who had only that which modern thinkers tell us is a revelation of a wrathful God, somehow or other rose to the height of the evangelical conception of God’s love as the foundation of the very existence of a people who are His. Like an orchid growing on a block of dry wood and putting forth a gorgeous bloom, this singer, with so much less to feed his faith than we have, has yet borne this fair flower of deep and devout insight into the secret of things and the heart of God. ‘He loved the people’- therefore He formed them for Himself; therefore He brought them out of bondage; therefore He came down in flashing fire on Sinai and made known His will, which to know and do is life. All begins from the tender, timeless love of God.

And if the question is asked, Why does God thus love? the only answer is, Because he is God. ‘Not for your sakes, O house of Israel . . . but for Mine own name’s sake.’ The love of God is self-originated. In it, as in all His acts, He is His own motive, as His name, ‘I am that I am,’ proclaims. It is inseparable from His being, and flows forth before, and independent of, anything in the creature which could draw it out. Men’s love is attracted by their perception or their imagination of something loveable in its objects. It is like a well, where there has to be much work of the pump-handle before the gush comes. God’s love is like an artesian well, or a fountain springing up from unknown depths in obedience to its own impulse. All that we can say is, ‘Thou art God. It is Thy nature and property to be merciful.’

‘God loved the people.’ The bed-rock is the spontaneous, unalterable, inexhaustible, ever-active, fervent love of God, like that with which a mother clasps her child to her maternal breast. The fair flower of this great thought was a product of Judaism. Let no man say that the God of Love is unknown to the Old Testament.

II. Notice how, with this for a basis, we have next the guardian care extended to all those that answer love by love.

The singer goes on to say, mixing up his pronouns, in the fashion of Hebrew poetry, somewhat arbitrarily, ‘all His saints are in Thy hand.’ Now, what is a ‘saint’? A man who answers God’s love by his love. The notion of a saint has been marred and mutilated by the Church and the world. It has been taken as a special designation of certain selected individuals, mostly of the ascetic and monastic type, whereas it belongs to every one of God’s people. It has been taken by the world to mean sanctimoniousness and not sanctity, and is a term of contempt rather than of admiration on their lips. And even those of us, who have got beyond thinking that it is a title of honour belonging only to the aristocracy of Christ’s Kingdom, are too apt to mistake what it really does mean. It may be useful to say a word about the Scriptural use and true meaning of that much-abused term. The root idea of sanctity or holiness is not moral character, goodness of disposition and of action, but it is separation from the world and consecration to God. As surely as a magnet applied to a heap of miscellaneous filings will pick out every little bit of iron there, so surely will that love which He bears to the people, when it is responded to, draw to itself, and therefore draw out of the heap, the men that feel its impulse and its preciousness. And so ‘saint’ means, secondly, righteous and pure, but it means, first, knit to God, separated from evil, and separated by the power of His received love.

Now, brethren, here is a question for each of us: Do I yield to that timeless, tender clasp of the divine Father and Mother in one? Do I answer it by my love? If I do, then I am a ‘saint,’ because I belong to Him, and He belongs to me, and in that commerce I have broken with the world. If we are true to ourselves, and true to our Lord, and true to the relation between us, the purity of character, which is popularly supposed to be the meaning of holiness, will come. Not without effort, not without set-backs, not without slow advance, but it will come; for he that is consecrated to the Lord is ‘separated’ from iniquity. Such is the meaning of ‘saint.’

‘All His saints are in Thy hand.’ The first metaphor of our text spoke of God’s bosom, to which He drew the people and folded them there. This one speaks of His ‘hand.’ They lie in it. That means two things. It means absolute security, for will He not close His fingers over His palm to keep the soul that has laid itself there? And ‘none shall pluck them out of My Father’s hand.’ No one but yourself can do that. And you can do it, if you cease to respond to His love, and so cease to be a saint. Then you will fall out of His hand, and how far you will fall God only knows.

Being in God’s hand means also submission. Loyola said to his black army, ‘Be like a stick in a man’s hand.’ That meant utter submission and abnegation of self, the willingness to be put anywhere, and used anyhow, and done anything with. And if I by my reception of, and response to, that timeless love, am a saint belonging to God, then not only shall I be secure, but I must be submissive. ‘All His saints are in Thy hand.’ Do not try to get out of it; be content to let it guide you as the steersman’s hand turns the spokes of the wheel and directs the ship.

Now, there is a last thought here. I have spoken of the foundation of all as being divine love, of the security and guardian care of the saints, and there follows one thought more:-

III. The docile obedience of those that are thus guarded.

As the words stand in our Bible, they are as follow:-’They sat down at Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words.’ These two clauses make up one picture, and one easily understands what it is. It represents a group of docile scholars, sitting at the Master’s feet. He is teaching them, and they listen open-mouthed and open-eared to what he says, and will take his words into their lives, like Mary sitting at Christ’s feet, whilst Martha was bustling about His meal. But, beautiful as that picture is, there has been suggested a little variation in the words which gives another one that strikes me as being even more beautiful. There are some difficulties of language with which I need not trouble you. But the general result is this, that perhaps instead of ‘sitting down at Thy feet’ we should read ‘followed at Thy feet.’ That suggests the familiar metaphor of a guide and those led by him who, without him, know not their road. As a dog follows his master, as the sheep their shepherd, so, this singer felt, will saints follow the God whom they love. Religion is imitation of God. That was a deep thought for such a stage of revelation, and it in part anticipates Christ’s tender words: ‘He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.’ They follow at His feet. That is the blessedness and the power of Christian morality, that it is keeping close at Christ’s heels, and that instead of its being said to us, ‘Go,’ He says, ‘Come,’ and instead of our being bid to hew out for ourselves a path of duty, He says to us, ‘He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’ They follow at His feet, as the dog at his master’s, as the sheep at their shepherd’s.

They ‘receive His words.’ Yes, if you will keep close to Him, He will turn round and speak to you. If you are near enough to Him to catch His whisper He will not leave you without guidance. That is one side of the thought, that following we receive what He says, whereas the people that are away far behind Him scarcely know what His will is, and never can catch the low whisper which will come to us by providences, by movements in our own spirits, through the exercise of our own faculties of judgment and common-sense, if only we will keep near to Him. ‘Be ye not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouths must be held in with bit and with bridle, else they will not come near to thee,’ but walk close behind Him, and then the promise will be fulfilled: ‘I will guide thee with Mine eye.’ A glance tells two people who are in sympathy what each wishes, and Jesus Christ will speak to us, if we keep close at His heels.

They that follow Him will ‘receive His words’ in another sense. They will take them in, and His words will not be wasted. And they will receive them in yet another sense. They will carry them out and do them, and His words will not be in vain.

So, dear brethren, the peace, the strength, the blessedness, the goodness, of our lives flow from these three stages, which this singer so long ago had found to be the essence of everything, recognition of the timeless tenderness of God, the yielding to and answering that love, so that it separates us for Himself, the calm security and happy submission which follow thereon, the imitation of Him in daily life, and the walking in His steps, which is rewarded and made more perfect by hearing more distinctly the whisper of His loving, commanding voice.Deuteronomy 33:3. He loved the people — The tribes of Israel. The sense is, this law, though delivered with fire, and smoke, and thunder, which might seem to portend nothing but hatred and terror, yet in truth was given to Israel in great love, as being the great mean of their temporal and eternal salvation. Yea, he embraced the people, and laid them in his bosom! So the word signifies, which speaks not only the dearest love, but the most tender and careful protection. All God’s saints or holy ones, that is, his people, were in thy hand, that is, under God’s care, to protect, direct, and govern them. These words are spoken to God; the change of persons, his and thy, is most frequent in the Hebrew tongue. This clause may further signify God’s kindness to Israel, in upholding them when the fiery law was delivered, which was done with so much terror that not only the people were ready to sink under it, but even Moses did exceedingly fear and quake. But God sustained both Moses and the people, in or by his hand, whereby he, in a manner, covered them, that no harm might come to them. At thy feet — Like scholars, to receive instructions. He alludes to the place where the people waited when the law was delivered, which was at the foot of the mount. Every one — Of the people will receive or submit to thy instructions and commands. This may respect either the people’s promise when they heard the law, that they would hear and do all that was commanded; or, their duty to do so.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 people" are the twelve tribes, not the Gentiles; and his saints refer to God's chosen people just before spoken of. Compare Deuteronomy 7:18, Deuteronomy 7:21; Exodus 19:6; Daniel 7:8-21. 2-4. The Lord came—Under a beautiful metaphor, borrowed from the dawn and progressive splendor of the sun, the Majesty of God is sublimely described as a divine light which appeared in Sinai and scattered its beams on all the adjoining region in directing Israel's march to Canaan. In these descriptions of a theophania, God is represented as coming from the south, and the allusion is in general to the thunderings and lightnings of Sinai; but other mountains in the same direction are mentioned with it. The location of Seir was on the east of the Ghor; mount Paran was either the chain on the west of the Ghor, or rather the mountains on the southern border of the desert towards the peninsula [Robinson]. (Compare Jud 5:4, 5; Ps 68:7, 8; Hab 3:3).

ten thousands of saints—rendered by some, "with the ten thousand of Kadesh," or perhaps better still, "from Meribah" [Ewald].

a fiery law—so called both because of the thunder and lightning which accompanied its promulgation (Ex 19:16-18; De 4:11), and the fierce, unrelenting curse denounced against the violation of its precepts (2Co 3:7-9). Notwithstanding those awe-inspiring symbols of Majesty that were displayed on Sinai, the law was really given in kindness and love (De 33:3), as a means of promoting both the temporal and eternal welfare of the people. And it was "the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob," not only from the hereditary obligation under which that people were laid to observe it, but from its being the grand distinction, the peculiar privilege of the nation.

The people, i.e. the tribes of Israel, which are called people, Genesis 48:19 Judges 5:14 Acts 4:27. The sense is, This law, though delivered with fire, and smoke, and thunder, which might seem to portend nothing but hatred and terror, yet in truth it was given to Israel in great love, as being the great mean of their temporal and eternal salvation. And although God shows a general and common kindness to all men, yet he loved this people in a singular and peculiar manner.

All his saints; all God’s saints or holy ones, i.e. his people, as they are now called, the people of Israel, who are all called holy, Exodus 19:6 Numbers 16:3 Deu 7:6 Daniel 7:25 8:24 12:7, because they all professed to be so, and were obliged to be so, and many of them were such; though some appropriate this to the true saints in Israel.

Are in thy hand, or, were in thy hand, i.e. under God’s care, to protect, and direct, and govern them, as that phrase signifies, Numbers 4:28,33Jo 10:28,29. These words are spoken to God; and for the change of persons, his and thy, that is most frequent in the Hebrew tongue. See Daniel 9:4. This clause may further note God’s kindness to Israel in upholding and preserving them when the fiery law was delivered, which was done with so much dread and terror, that not only the people trembled and were ready to sink under it, Exodus 20:18,19, but even Moses himself did exceedingly fear and quake, Hebrews 12:21. But in this fright God sustained both Moses and the people in or by his hand, whereby he in a manner hid and covered them, that no harm might come to them by this terrible apparition.

They sat down at thy feet, like scholars, to receive instructions and counsels from thee. He alludes either,

1. To the manner of disciples among the Jews, who used to sit at their masters’ feet, Luke 10:39 Acts 22:3. See also Genesis 49:10 2 Kings 4:38. But it is doubtful whether this custom was so ancient as Moses. Or,

2. To the place where the people waited when the law was delivered, which was at the foot of the mount.

Shall receive of thy words; the people, easily understood from the foregoing words, did or will receive or submit to thy instructions and commands. This may respect either,

1. The people’s promise when they heard the law, that they would hear and do all that was commanded, Deu 5:27. Or,

2. The people’s duty to do so.

3. The people’s privilege, that they were admitted to receive so great a privilege as the words and laws of God were. Yea, he loved the people,.... The people of Israel, of which his giving the law to them in such a glorious manner was an instance, and was a distinguishing blessing which other nations were not favoured with, see Deuteronomy 4:6; how much more is the love of God shown to his spiritual Israel and special people, by giving them his Gospel, the precious truths, promises, and ordinances of it, and, above all, in giving them his Son to be the Redeemer and Saviour of them, as revealed therein! these he embraces in his arms and in his bosom, as the word here signifies; admitting them to great nearness and familiarity with him, to commune with Father, Son, and Spirit, to a participation of all the blessings of grace here, and to the enjoyment of glory hereafter:

all his saints are in thy hand; not the sons of Levi, who were round about the ark, as Aben Ezra interprets it; rather all the people of Israel, who were chosen to be an holy people to the Lord above all people, and who were the care of his providence, protected by his power, and guided with his right hand; and were in a wonderful manner kept and preserved by him, both at the time of the giving of the law, and in their passage through the wilderness; it is eminently true of the chosen people of God, who are given to Christ, and made his care and charge, as all such who are sanctified and set apart by God the Father are, they are preserved in Christ, Jde 1:1; and these are sanctified in and by Christ, and by the Spirit of Christ, and so may be truly called his saints; and they are in the hands of Christ, as dear to him as his right hand, highly valued by him, held in his right hand; they are in his possession, are his peculiar people, portion, and inheritance, they are at his dispose, under his guidance and direction; and are in his custody and under his protection, and where they are safe from every enemy, and can never be snatched, taken, or removed from thence; see John 10:28; here they are put by the Father, as an instance of his love to them, and care of them, though not without the consent and desire of the Son, and this was done in eternity, when they were chosen in him:

and they sat down at thy feet; which may respect the position of the Israelites at the bottom of Mount Sinai, while the law was giving, which may be said to be the feet of the Lord, he being on the top of the mount, see Exodus 19:17; all the Targums interpret it of the feet of the cloud of glory, they pitching their tents where that rested, Numbers 9:17; some think it an allusion to scholars sitting at the feet of their masters to receive instructions from them, see Acts 22:3; so the disciples and followers of Christ sit at his feet, attending on his word and ordinances with calmness and serenity of mind, with much spiritual pleasure and delight, and where they continue and abide; and which may denote their modesty and humility, their subjection to his ordinances, and readiness to receive his doctrines, and their perseverance in them, see Mark 5:15; the word signifies, in the Arabic language, to sit down at a table (e), and so the word is used in the Arabic version of Matthew 8:11; and the ancient manner being reclining, the guests might be said to sit at the feet of each, especially at the feet of the master; so Christ sits at his table, and his people with him at his feet, Sol 1:12,

everyone shall receive of thy words; of the words of the law, as the Israelites, who heard them and promised obedience to them, Exodus 24:7; and would hear and receive them again, Joshua 8:34; and so Christ's disciples, everyone of them that hath heard and learned of the Father, and comes to him, and believes in him, receives the words or doctrines given him by the Father, John 17:8; so as to understand them, approve of them, love them, believe them, and act according to them; these they receive into their hearts as well as into their heads, with all readiness, gladness, and meekness; even everyone of the persons before described or loved by the Lord, are in the hands of Christ and sitting at his feet.

(e) Hence "a table", with the Talmudists. T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 42. 1. Pesach. fol. 110. 2. Kiddushin, fol. 81. 1.

Yea, he loved the people; {c} all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at {d} thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words.

(c) Hebrew, his saints, that is, the children of Israel.

(d) As thy disciples.

3. he loveth] Heb. partic. ḥobeb, only here; the meaning is assured from other Semitic dialects.

the peoples] If the Heb. is accepted render tribes. But LXX has his people.

his saints] Not in an ethical sense, but as hallowed, or set apart, to Him; either all Israel or more probably their specially consecrated warriors; see Deuteronomy 2:34, Deuteronomy 20:2 ff., and cp. the other form of the same root, meḳuddashaw for warriors in Isaiah 13:3.

thy hand] So Sam. LXX; Luc. his hands, Vulg. his hand; Pesh. he blesses.

The text of the next couplet is uncertain; they sat down is a doubtful conjecture from the Ar. of the meaning of the Heb. verb otherwise unknown. But warriors do not sit. The LXX these are under thee and Sam. they humble, or submit, themselves suggest they fall in (in their ranks) which suits the following at thy feet, i.e. behind thee; cp. Jdg 5:15 rushed forth at his feet, 1 Samuel 25:42; shall receive, Heb. imperf. better rendered as a present take up. Ball conjectures, they went at his feet, they travelled in his ways, and Berth. he sustains thy lot and keeps his covenant with thee, both ingenious but unsupported by textual evidence, and the former tame.

3–6 (4–7). Nor shall Ammonites, nor Moabites, nor their Descendants Enter the Congregation (3), for these nations gave no provision to Israel on the way from Egypt (4a), but he (?) hired Balaam to curse Israel (4b, 5); Israel must never seek their welfare (6). Deuteronomy 33:3 is quoted in Lamentations 1:10 : evidence in favour, but not conclusive, of its being an original part of D’s code. The originality of Deuteronomy 33:4-6 is more doubtful.

They make the law longer than the others of this group, cp. the deuteronomic additions to the ‘Ten Words.’ Deuteronomy 33:3 is sufficiently accounted for, through its connection with the previous law, by the incestuous origin of Ammon and Moab (J, Genesis 19:30-38); but Deuteronomy 33:4-6 besides being quotations (see below) give other reasons for the law. The question is further complicated by the introduction of Balaam, not mentioned in chs. 1–3, and the difference between Deuteronomy 33:4 a and Deuteronomy 2:29. But whether Deuteronomy 33:3 is an earlier law to which D or editors have added (at different times) the two quotations, Deuteronomy 33:4-6; or whether Deuteronomy 33:3 is D’s own law, to which editors have added the rest—it is impossible to say. On Ammon and Moab see ch. 2.Verse 3. - Yea, he loved the people. The proper rendering is, he loveth peoples (עַמִּים). This is generally understood of the tribes of Israel; but some would understand it of nations in general, on the ground that such is the proper meaning of the word, as in Deuteronomy 32:8 and other places. A reference to nations at large, however, would seem incongruous here; and the use of the word in relation to Israel in such passages as Genesis 28:3; Judges 5:14; Isaiah 3:13; Hoe. 10:14; Zechariah 11:10, justifies the taking it so here. All his saints are in thy hand. The people of Israel are here called God's saints, or holy ones, because they were chosen by and consecrated to him. It is not probable, as some suggest, that the angels are here intended. The change from the third person to the second is not uncommon in Hebrew poetry (cf. Deuteronomy 32:15; Psalm 49:14, etc.). They sat down at thy feet. The verb rendered "sat down" here (תֻּכּוּ) is found only in this passage, and is of uncertain meaning. Kimchi explains it as "they united or assembled together to follow thy steps;" Knobel makes it "they wandered at thy feet," and understands it of Israel's following the lead of Jehovah in the wilderness, when the ark of the covenant preceded them in their march; Gesenius and Furst, "they lie down at thy feet." This last is accepted by Keil, and seems to have most in its favor. Every one shall receive of thy words. Some render here, they rise up at thy words; but though the verb נָשַׂא is sometimes used intransitively, it is properly an active verb, and there seems no reason why it should not be so regarded here: every one receives [the singular, יִשַּׂא, used distributively] thy words. "That self-same day," viz., the day upon which Moses had rehearsed the song to the children of Israel, the Lord renewed the announcement of his death, by repeating the command already given to him (Numbers 27:12-14) to ascend Mount Nebo, there to survey the land of Canaan, and then to be gathered unto his people. In form, this repetition differs from the previous announcement, partly in the fact that the situation of Mount Nebo is more fully described (in the land of Moab, etc., as in Deuteronomy 1:5; Deuteronomy 29:1), and partly in the continual use of the imperative, and a few other trifling points. These differences may all be explained from the fact that the account here was not written by Moses himself.
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