The last recorded words of a great man are important, especially for those of a man of God like Moses (Deu 33:1; Jos 14:6). After a long life of fellowship with God, he was still physically strong and mentally alert at 120 years of age (Deu 34:7). The last forty of those years were the most trying of all, as Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and onto the plains of Moab bordering the land of Canaan. The people had moaned and groaned every step of the way, trying Moses’ meekness and patience to the limit. Of those who had left Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua would enter the promised land. A generation had died in the wilderness because of unbelief (Heb 3:16-19).
Moses himself was not permitted to enter Canaan because of a single act of disobedience: one day he had angrily struck a rock instead of speaking to it as God had commanded (Num 20:7-12). However, God mercifully granted him a panoramic view of the promised land from the top of Mount Pisgah (Deu 34:1-4).
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses prepared the hearts and minds of the people before they would cross the Jordan River and begin the conquest of the land. He reminded them of God’s faithfulness in the past (chs.1-4), reiterated the divine laws that were to govern their present behavior (chs.5-30), and in the final chapters (31-34) he focused on the future.
Moses appointed a new leader, Joshua (Deu 31:7), and then wrote out a song that he taught to the people (Deu 31:22; 32:1-43). Before he died and was buried by God in an unknown grave, he blessed them all (Deu 33:1-29). This shows his magnanimous spirit. Despite their having caused him headaches and heartaches for so many years, he was able to rise above any personal disappointment and take the long-term view. He accepted God’s will and encouraged the next generation to advance into new territory where he himself would never tread.
While Moses’ blessing in Deuteronomy 33 is a reflection of his affection and desires for the nation, his words hold a prophetic significance because they also reveal God’s purposes for the various tribes in Israel. Ultimately, these will be fulfilled in the future millennial kingdom upon earth. They were blessings that God alone could give. There are three main sections in the chapter: Divine Glory (vv1-5), Divine Bounty (vv6-25) and Divine Security (vv26-29).
Divine Glory (vv1-5)
In graphic style (v2), Moses spoke of the Lord rising up and shining forth as He drew near to bless His people. He was like the sun, rising at dawn above the peaks of the desert mountains before blazing forth in resplendent glory at its zenith. This imagery depicts His divine power and majesty; He had come forth “from the myriads of the sanctuary” (JND), His heavenly dwelling place where the angelic hosts surrounded Him, worshipped and served Him continually. The “law of fire” from His right hand suggests righteous judgment. However, He had not come to judge His people but to bless them abundantly.
Moses affirmed God’s goodness in four delightful ways (v3). He is the great Lover of His people – “Yea, he loved the people”; the great Keeper – “all his saints are in thy hand”; the great Teacher – “and they sat down at thy feet”; and the great Shepherd – “every one shall receive of thy words.” His character, care, counsel and comfort meant that He provided for every need of His people then, as He still does now.
This same cluster of precious truths was experienced many years later by the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus of Bethany. Jesus was always welcome in their home and they came to know His love (Joh 11:5,35-36), comfort (Joh 11:23,25), and counsel, for “Mary … sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word” (Luk 10:39). Indeed, Mary was always at His feet (Joh 11:32; 12:3).
In verse 4, Moses is described in the third person, as if by an independent recorder: “Moses commanded us a law.” This Law, as well as the blessings, was for the whole nation, the descendants of Jacob.
Verse 5 speaks of God as being “king in Jeshurun.” This unusual term referring to Israel appears only three times in Scripture, as found in the closing chapters of Deuteronomy (32:15; 33:5,26). The root meaning is “uprightness.” The Israelites should have been true to their God and to their name, but instead of being upright, they were bent and broken. They had wantonly forsaken the living God for false gods (32:51-17).
Divine Bounty (vv6-25)
This section can be profitably compared and contrasted with Jacob’s blessings upon his sons before he died (Gen 49:1-28). Simeon’s name is omitted here, but his blessing may be included in the blessing upon Levi; the two tribes were often linked together (Gen 34:30). Moses’ blessings were not individual but rather tribal, relating to the descendants of Jacob’s sons who were on the verge of entering, conquering and settling in Canaan. The song of Moses in the previous chapter extolled God as “the Rock of his [Jeshurun’s] salvation” (Deu 32:15). Whereas the song had spoken much of the nation’s past failings, Moses was now focusing on its future blessings.
Reuben (v6) – Jacob’s firstborn had lived an inconsistent life: he had sinned by sleeping with his father’s concubine, but it was he who had hoped to rescue Joseph and spare him from death. Appropriately, Moses’ blessing was framed as a hope that his descendants would live, and not die. He desired also that the Reubenites would be numerous.
Judah (v7) – Moses wished that the prayers of Judah would be heard, that their pathway would be assured, that their power would be adequate for any challenge, and that they would know divine protection in the midst of their enemies.
Levi (vv8-10) – Levites had priestly responsibilities in guiding God’s people according to His revealed will. The two special stones, Urim and Thummim, assisted in making decisions. The Levites taught the Law and offered sacrifices on behalf of the nation (v10), but they, like everyone else, also needed the Lord’s protection.
Benjamin (v12) – The descendants of Jacob’s youngest son were tenderly referred to as “the beloved of the Lord,” and were promised unfailing divine shelter and protection “all the day long.”
Joseph (vv13-17) – The many blessings conferred upon his descendants related to the prosperity and fruitfulness of the land, sky and sea. Joseph had been separated from his brethren, but his suffering led to glory. He was the heir to many “precious things” of a material kind, but also spiritual blessing, described as “the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush” (v16). Moses could never forget his own desert encounter many years before, when the living God had spoken to him out of the burning bush (Exo 3:4). Divine blessing would come down from above upon the tribe and extend to the offspring of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
Zebulun and Issachar (vv18-19) – These two were united in a joint blessing. Zebulun was called upon to rejoice in his going out, whereas Issachar was described as dwelling in tents. Together they would announce blessing upon the people who would gather “unto the mountain” where sacrifices would be offered. The bounties of sea and land would be enjoyed.
Gad (vv20-21) – This blessing may be difficult to interpret precisely, but the Gadites would be enlarged. The majestic power of a lion would be theirs, and they would execute rule and justice among the people in accordance with divine standards.
Dan (v22) – If Gad was like a lion, then Dan was as a lion cub, lesser in power but with the same nature. Bashan became part of their territory. If necessary, they could spring into action from there.
Naphtali (v23) – This lovely blessing was described as being satisfying and fulsome. The tribe’s designated territory would be to the west and the south.
Asher (vv24-25) – Moses’ desire for the Asherites was for fertility as to their offspring, acceptability in regard to their brethren, prosperity as to their land, and strength as to their security.
Divine Security (vv26-29)
The final section is full of praise, assurance and joy. It perfectly complements the opening section by extolling the Lord as “the God of Jeshurun.” He is viewed in heavenly splendor, but yet He is not remote. He assisted His people by sheltering and supporting them through their many trials. He was their refuge in the storm when they were fearful, and the One who upheld them in His everlasting arms when they were faint. After redeeming Israel from Egyptian bondage, He had led them through a “waste howling wilderness,” right to the borders of Canaan. He never lost His love for them as “the apple of his eye” (Deu 32:10).
God would fight their battles, defeat their enemies, and procure their peace and prosperity in the land. The spies who reconnoitered the land had brought back tokens of agricultural fertility: a large cluster of grapes, pomegranates and figs. They had declared that “surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it” (Num 13:23,27 KJV). In the language of Moses, it was a land of “corn and wine” (Deu 33:28). The nation had every reason to be joyful: the Lord was their Saviour, shield and sword. With Him by their side, victory was assured.
He is our God too! All that the Lord was to Israel, He can be to us. While their blessings were predominantly earthly, we who are His children in this age of grace are blessed with all spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3). God has not changed, and He is our God too. Heavenly blessings can be enjoyed, even here and now. We draw together a few threads of truth to encourage us in our personal lives.
We are in His Hand – Security
Once we are saved, we are saved for ever! Our eternal security depends upon the almighty strength and grasp of His hand. Moses declared that “all his saints are in thy hand” (Deu 33:3). The Lord Jesus Christ taught the same, using the analogy of a shepherd and his sheep: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (Joh 10:28 KJV). This verse is worth committing to memory, especially for those dark days when we struggle with depression and doubt.
We are between His Shoulders – Shelter
“The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders” (Deu 33:12 KJV). What was true for the Benjamites is equally true for us. There is a shelter in the storms of life. There is One who can shield and protect us: “And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest … as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isa 32:2 KJV). We should never cease to praise Him who, on the cross, endured the greatest storm ever known, the righteous judgment of God against sin, and came through gloriously triumphant.
Underneath us are His Everlasting Arms – Support
“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deu 33:27 KJV). When we are weak and weary, there is One who will carry us safely home. He is the Good Shepherd who shall feed His flock, and “shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom” (Isa 40:11 KJV). But it is not only the lambs that He will carry: “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar [grey] hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you” (Isa 46:4 KJV). All of us, young and old, can rest upon His promises today.