Deuteronomy 33 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Deuteronomy 33)
The blessings of Moses over the people according to those of God

We have also the blessings of this man of God, pronounced over the people before his death (chap. 33). The blessings of Jacob were more historical regarding the future. Here they are rather relationship with God according to His government. Twelve is still the number of the tribes (Simeon being omitted to make room for two tribes of the posterity of Joseph, the firstborn as to the inheritance, instead of Reuben). Here it is according to the blessing of God, and not according to the rights of nature. Upon this latter principle, Israel, represented by Reuben, will be diminished, but will not die.

Jehovah is there in majesty, with the terror of the law in His right hand; but He loves the people, that is to say, His saints there surrounding Him to receive His words. The people receive a law, through the mediation of Moses, which is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. This Moses is there as king. These, then, are the relationships on which these blessings are based.

Jehovah's blessings according to the majesty of Sinai and of the revelation of Himself

The blessings are not here presented historically as those of the children of the fathers, and, consequently, in connection with Shiloh, the Rock of Israel, nor as a complete view of God's ways in Israel, as in Genesis; but the subject is the relationship of Jehovah with the people, as in possession of the land (as in the rest of the book), and placed under the government of God: Jehovah blessing, but blessing according to the majesty of Sinai, and of His revelation of Himself in the bush; Moses, the king, being the channel of these blessings, which had thus reference to the nation, and were based upon this relationship with God.

Thus Levi is blessed, having been faithful to Jehovah; Joseph has the blessing and the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush, having been separated from his brethren, fearing God, and being the vessel of His purposes. This was accordingly the position of the two tribes in the land, as Simeon, not mentioned here, was, so to speak, lost in the land; his portion was where the Philistines dwelt.

Why the chief blessings rest on Levi and Joseph

We must also remark here, that the chief blessings rest upon him who, for the sake of God, neither knew his father, nor his mother, that is, Levi; and upon Joseph, who, for the glory of God, was separated from his own. Both were His. Levi has the most excellent place; his separation, which should actually take place, was a fruit of faithfulness. Joseph has, perhaps, more sensible enjoyment; he was faithful to God in his involuntary separation. Both these are completely realised in Christ.

Reuben and Judah

If the blessing of God preserves life to Reuben, with but few men, Judah is presented to Jehovah, that he may be heard, and that the help of Jehovah may be with him. The expression, "Bring him unto his people," deserves careful notice, in the relations which have existed between that people and God, seeing the position of Judah in their history, under the government of God, and its present dispersion, and in that which is yet to take place, when the union of the whole people will be restored in their own place.

Levi and the everlasting priesthood

Levi occupies the third place, Simeon being left out. The request of the prophet-king for him (Levi) is the everlasting priesthood of the people of God (upon earth, of course). "His holy one" is used in the sense of piety towards God—grace in the heart. He requests that light and perfection (Urim and Thummim) in the intelligence of the relations which would in reality exist at all times between the people and God, and between God and the people in return, might be with the man of grace and piety, officially the priestly tribe.

But the basis of this request is remarkable, as to the government of God. God proved the people at Massah, and strove with them at Meribah. Now, that is precisely what is attributed to Israel historically. They tried (or tempted) God at Massah, and strove With Him at Meribah. But where the flesh manifested itself in Israel, there did God put His priest to the test, and at the waters of Meribah, where Moses did not sanctify Him, He was in controversy with Moses. [1] Painful circumstances—the being deprived of the stream of manifest and sensible blessings in the midst of the people of God, a state which makes room for the manifestation of rebellious flesh, and for murmurs against God in the wilderness, tempting God and saying, "Is He amongst us?"—are trials to which God subjects His priests. The church, in her priestly position, and especially those who have the good of the church at heart, are also put to the test, to see whether they know how to reckon upon the blessing of God, however things may be.

Levi put to the test

But, although Levi was put to the test in his priesthood, he had been put to the test in order to obtain it; and Levi had not hesitated one moment in choosing between man and God—even man in the nearest relationship according to the flesh. That is the sole basis of all-priesthood. One can only stand before God on the behalf of another, in proportion as one has oneself stood truly for God before man. For with what God would one be a mediator? It would not be with the holy God, who has a right to our whole being. There could only, as to sinners, be the sympathy of the flesh, which connects itself with sins.

One must be accepted in the presence of God according to His holiness, in order to be able to intercede for man in his weakness. This is absolutely true of Jesus, and of us all in a practical sense. But to be so, there must be the testimony when the question is raised; and this must needs cost us something before men. One must be for God, not sparing oneself, hating father and mother. This instruction is important. There must also be the distinguishing between the trial of our priesthood and the trial of ourselves before entering upon it. Here the practical trial, where we are so, is spoken of, for we are priests by grace, yet fitted by full exercise of heart, separating us to God.

Benjamin and Joseph

It would seem that the place of Benjamin, in relation with Jehovah, was in His favour; being kept near Him, as has been the case with that tribe, within whose limits was Jerusalem.

Joseph had his earthly blessing by the title of firstborn; as to the inheritance, his land is blessed, the double portion is assigned to him.

Zebulun, Issachar and Gad

I have no remarks to make on the other blessings, except that those of Zebulun and Issachar seem to be yet future, and those of Gad to establish the relations which existed already.

God exalted Himself to bless His people in the end

But, moreover, if the ways of God towards His people were connected with their faithfulness and the manifestation of Himself—if God suited His ways to their conduct to manifest His government and Himself—He also exalted Himself above all to bless and to keep. He would fall back upon the title of His own glory in order to be to them an infallible source of blessing and security; He would make known His glory in the behalf of Israel; He rode upon the heavens in their help. Where His majesty was, there was the help of the people. He would uphold them also, would destroy their enemies, and then should Israel dwell in safety alone. The nations should dwell in a fruitful land, on which the heavens would drop down blessings as dew. Happy people! objects of the deliverance of God, who was unto them as a shield and a sword. Their enemies would be subdued under them.

Thus, whatever might be the details of the relationship of the people with God, in His government of them, He would bless them in the end, as a people, according to His sovereign glory and majesty.

[1] No doubt the fall of this man of God was the effect of his previous state, for he was a man. Trial, when we are not going on well, is chastening, but needful chastening, and a blessing in result. Therefore, at the same time that it is a blessing, it is said, "Lead us not into temptation."