After almost two thousand years of Christianity, it is amazing that God still shows so many of the blessings, like here to Israel. He does so at the end of this book in which failure is so emphatically described in the last chapters. The last words of Moses, the man of God, are words of blessing. Thus he says farewell to them, with words that resonate to this day.
There is a comparison with the blessing which Jacob pronounces over his sons in Genesis 49 (Gen 49:1-28). Jacob speaks about the history of Israel as it will develop through the ages. That description of history is a description of the failure of the people in their faithfulness to God. That corresponds to the song of Moses in the previous chapter. But in this chapter Moses gives no history and does not speak of failure. He describes the condition of the tribes in the time of the realm of peace.
Moses does not only express good wishes. He talks about the blessing of God for a restored people. This chapter shows all the tribes in possession of the promise, the blessing of the land. In every son (tribe) is seen something of God’s purpose for His people as it will find its fulfillment in the realm of peace. The whole people, every tribe, is needed to see this purpose in its fullness.
It has already been said, but it is good to repeat it and bearing that in mind that we can explain a part of the Bible in three ways. This also applies to the blessing of Moses:
1. The first explanation is the literal one. For what Moses says of the tribes, it means that each of the tribes will have its own inheritance at the end of the book of Joshua.
2. The second explanation is the prophetic one. This means that the blessing that Moses pronounces here will find its full fulfilment in the millennial realm of peace, under the reign of the Messiah.
3. The third explanation is the spiritual one. Then it is about the application for us, what we can learn from this for our life in faith.
1 - 5 The LORD Comes to His People
1 Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the sons of Israel before his death.
2 He said,
“The LORD came from Sinai,
And dawned on them from Seir;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones;
At His right hand there was flashing lightning for them.
3 “Indeed, He loves the people;
All Your holy ones are in Your hand,
And they followed in Your steps;
[Everyone] receives of Your words.
4 “Moses charged us with a law,
A possession for the assembly of Jacob.
5 “And He was king in Jeshurun,
When the heads of the people were gathered,
The tribes of Israel together.
Moses is called six times “the man of God” (verse 1; Jos 14:6; 1Chr 23:14; 2Chr 30:16; Ezra 3:2; Psa 90:1). A man of God is one who, in a time of decline, as an individual acknowledges God’s rights and shows them in his life. Such a person has an insight into the current situation of God’s people and bears witness against it in order to bring the people back to God’s way. Such a person also has an eye for God’s ultimate goal with His people and that is to bless them. Therefore, before climbing the Nebo, this man of God can say farewell to his beloved people by blessing each tribe. What a farewell!
With beautiful imagery, borrowed from the dawn and the increasing glare of the sun, the majesty of God is described in a sublime way (Jdg 5:4-5; Psa 68:7-8; Heb 3:3-4). God appears as the Divine light from Sinai and casts His rays upon all the surroundings, leading Israel’s journey to Canaan. In this description of the appearance of God, God is represented as coming from the south.
Moses begins with an impressive description of God’s appearance to His people. “Sinai” is the beginning of the journey and “Seïr” indicates the end (Deu 1:2). The journey itself is skipped. Only “Mount Paran” is mentioned, the area where they set up their camp after they left Sinai and have not yet failed. All failures are skipped.
The “ten thousand holy ones” refer to the people of God Himself. God is seen here among them. There is talk of the law as “flashing lightning”. Giving the law on the Sinai has been accompanied by thunder and lightning (Exo 19:16-18; Deu 1:4).
The LORD “loves the peoples”. The “peoples” are the tribes of Israel. God’s hand is over them. “They followed in Your steps” also can be rendered as “lie down at Your feet”. At His feet they listen to Him (cf. Lk 10:39). The law, the Word of God, is the inheritance of the people (Psa 119:111a). God has given them that blessing through Moses. The land cannot be possessed and enjoyed if there is no love for what God has said.
Moses is called king of his people here. He is a type of the true King, the Lord Jesus, Who exercises His authority in love. Therefore it can be said of the believers of the church that they have been transferred “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). The Son is the Lord Jesus as the Object of the Father’s love. As such, He now exercises authority over the lives of those who have accepted Him as their Savior and Lord.
6 “May Reuben live and not die,
Nor his men be few.”
The first three sons over whom Moses pronounces his blessing are of Leah. Simeon is missing. That may be because his inheritance belongs to that of Judah. Reuben, the eldest son, is called the first. Moses wishes him life, while he has behaved unworthy of life. It is a blessing when all that is Israel by nature is wiped out, while there will be a remnant, “a few”, that has life.
If there is a remnant, it is inextricably linked to God’s grace. The whole should have been judged, but God saves a few, a rest in His grace. A remnant, a few, it is not something impressive. For God that is the proper starting point to start something new in which the life He gives can grow and blossom.
7 And this regarding Judah; so he said,
“Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah,
And bring him to his people.
With his hands he contended for them,
And may You be a help against his adversaries.”
Judah’s blessing indicates the first characteristics of life saved in Reuben. Judah means ‘one who praises God’. Judah’s voice speaks to God to praise Him for the life He gave. Judah also raises his voice to call upon God when there are adversaries. And God hears (2Chr 13:14-15).
That Judah is a praying tribe means that it is a fighting tribe. In doing so, he knew himself dependent on the help of God. The question to God to bring him to his people looks at the outcome of the battle: Judah will overcome and that victory will be for the benefit of all the people.
8 - 11 Levi
8 Of Levi he said,
“[Let] Your Thummim and Your Urim [belong] to Your godly man,
Whom You proved at Massah,
With whom You contended at the waters of Meribah;
9 Who said of his father and his mother,
‘I did not consider them’;
And he did not acknowledge his brothers,
Nor did he regard his own sons,
For they observed Your word,
And kept Your covenant.
10 “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob,
And Your law to Israel.
They shall put incense before You,
And whole burnt offerings on Your altar.
11 “O LORD, bless his substance,
And accept the work of his hands;
Shatter the loins of those who rise up against him,
And those who hate him, so that they will not rise [again].”
In the blessing that Moses pronounces of Levi, we are reminded of a priestly people, a people who know God’s will and can teach God’s people about it. The Thummim and Urim speak of this. These are the two stones that the high priest wears in the breastpiece and through which he consults the will of God (Exo 28:30).
Levi is prepared for this task. Here it is said that God put him to the test at Massah and Meribah. Exodus 17 states that Israel has put God to the test (Exo 17:7). There is no water. That is God’s test to see how the people react. The people blame God for His actions and even doubt His presence among them.
As part of the people Levi got there to know himself. These tests are a training for Levi to receive light from God. If later the people again become unfaithful as a whole, Levi remains faithful. They have killed the unfaithful by order of Moses (Exo 32:26-29). In exercising their judgment, they have made no distinction between those who are and those who are not family members (Mt 10:37; Lk 14:26).
This is a further education to be a suitable teacher of the people. A person is only suitable to teach God’s Word if that Word has absolute authority over and for himself. As a reward for his faithfulness Levi has been given the honorable commission to teach God’s law to the people (2Chr 17:8-9; Mal 2:4-7).
Someone so formed in the practice of living among God’s people, may go into the sanctuary. Through the education they have received themselves, and also pass on, they are able and also desiring to bring incense and burnt offerings. In the realm of peace, nothing will be able to put an end to this service.
Incense is a picture of the glories of Christ that are pleasing to God. We may tell God all that we have discovered of the glories in Christ. Incense also refers to the prayer of the believers (Rev 5:8b; Psa 141:2), to which Christ adds the glory of His Person through which those prayers are pleasing to God (Rev 8:3-4).
Moses proclaims God’s blessing for such a people of priests and Levites. What they do can count on God’s full consent and acceptance. Moses also asks the LORD to protect Levi from their enemies by shattering the loins of those who stand up against them to attack them. The loins symbolize power and strength (Psa 69:23; Job 40:2; Pro 31:17). All who want to do wrong to Levi will not prosper.
12 Of Benjamin he said,
“May the beloved of the LORD dwell in security by Him,
Who shields him all the day,
And he dwells between His shoulders.”
Benjamin is one of the two sons of Rachel. After the offeror Levi comes Benjamin as “the beloved of the LORD”. An offeror knows himself accepted by God in the offering. That is why he dwells in security by Him (Psa 91:1). Jerusalem is situated on Mount Moria in the inheritance of Benjamin (Jos 18:28). Because of this Benjamin lives near the temple and enjoys its protection (Psa 125:2). He dwells between God’s shoulders, which gives the picture that God carries him (cf. Deu 1:29).
Like Benjamin the whole people are “the beloved of the LORD”. Thus the blessings of each individual tribe apply to the people as a whole. We are also personally and collectively in Christ and belong to “God’s household” (Eph 2:19).
13 - 17 Joseph
13 Of Joseph he said,
“Blessed of the LORD [be] his land,
With the choice things of heaven, with the dew,
And from the deep lying beneath,
14 And with the choice yield of the sun,
And with the choice produce of the months.
15 “And with the best things of the ancient mountains,
And with the choice things of the everlasting hills,
16 And with the choice things of the earth and its fullness,
And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush.
Let it come to the head of Joseph,
And to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.
17 “As the firstborn of his ox, majesty is his,
And his horns are the horns of the wild ox;
With them he will push the peoples,
All at once, [to] the ends of the earth.
And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
And those are the thousands of Manasseh.”
In Joseph, that is Ephraim and Manasseh, we see what great, unchanging and advancing blessings are attached to our position, which in Benjamin is determined on the basis of the offering. The blessing is all-encompassing. The blessing is not to be encompassed by us because the source of that blessing, God Himself, cannot be encompassed.
“The choice things of heaven” is the rain, which is necessary to enjoy fruit. To obtain fruit, God also gives the “dew” and the choice things “from the deep lying beneath”. He has provided an abundance of opportunities to moisturize the land so that it can produce rich fruit (Psa 65:11). The best results come from “the sun” and “the month” or “the moon” that God has given. The sun with its soothing warmth stimulates the growth process. The moon does its job by giving a period of cooling and invigoration that creates dew.
The excellent fruits are located on the heights, “the ancient mountains”, which looks at the past, and “the everlasting hills”, which looks at the future. For us, that means that our blessings are in heaven forever and we will enjoy them forever. Mountains and hills are symbols of stability, they indicate what is immutable.
Rich blessings are also present in the plains, on “the earth”. What we may enjoy in heaven in all eternity, we may already now enjoy in fullness on earth. To enjoy the fruit, a cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting is necessary. This requires effort, sowing and harvesting, while we still depend on God for the result, for God must give the growth (1Cor 3:6-7).
In all these enjoyments we may know as a special blessing on us “the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush”. More than all the gifts is He from Whom the gifts come. And who is He? It is He Who was present with His people in the time of slavery and oppression. By this oppression God did not want to kill His people, but wanted to teach them to call to Him. We see this in the picture of the thorn bush that does not burn and in which the LORD is present (Exo 3:2a).
The Lord Jesus also refers to the thorn bush when He answers the Sadducees to their question about the resurrection (Lk 20:37-38). He connects with this Him Who by Moses is called “the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Lk 20:37). In this way the thorn bush is connected with the promises to the fathers and to the resurrection. In quoting that scene, the Lord Jesus shows a beautiful connection between suffering on earth and glory afterwards in the resurrection. There God finds His pleasure in fulfilling His purposes by this way of suffering and on the other side of death.
God fulfils His promises to Joseph, the “one distinguished [or “chosen” or “separated”] among his brothers”. Election means separation. God has separated His people, which is set apart among all nations, to be for Him His people, a people dedicated to Him. That is His election which is based on pure grace and love on His part. God has also done this with us, members of the church, whom He has chosen in Christ (Eph 1:4). He was able to do this because He anointed His Christ above His companions (Psa 45:7; Heb 1:9).
In his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh Joseph receives a double part, the part of the firstborn. The ox and the wild ox that Moses mentions speak of strength, which strengthens the thought of firstborn.
18 - 19 Zebulun and Issachar
18 Of Zebulun he said,
“Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going forth,
And, Issachar, in your tents.
19 “They will call peoples [to] the mountain;
There they will offer righteous sacrifices;
For they will draw out the abundance of the seas,
And the hidden treasures of the sand.”
Zebulun and Issachar are called together. Both are sons of Lea and their inheritances lie next to each other. Each of these tribes has its own occupation. They are called upon to do their work with joy. Zebulun is the traveler, the businessman. Issachar is the man who does his work at home. In the realm of peace they invite the peoples to participate in the blessings of the land. “The abundance of the seas” can refer to the sea of the nations. “The mountain” is the mountain where the temple will stand. Moses speaks here as a prophet (cf. Exo 15:17).
God determines for each one the area of his activities (2Cor 11:13,16b). There is a common goal in these different activities. We may invite others to come and share in the blessings. A people who have been given the blessings also becomes an evangelizing people, who attract others to those blessings. Some may go to other nations for this, others may stay at home to tell their neighbors.
The purpose of this invitation is to offer sacrifices in accordance with God’s desires. They are “righteous sacrifices”, that is, they are offered according to God’s statutes, but also in the right mind (Psa 51:17). When people come to repentance, it is to become worshipers (offerors) of the Father (Jn 4:23). But God also wants it to happen in the right way and in the right mind: in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24).
To be able to do so, “they will draw out the abundance of the seas and the hidden treasures of the sand” on the shore of the sea (cf. Isa 60:5; 66:11-12). ‘The abundance of the seas’ can also refer to the experiences with the Lord. The sea is a picture of the trials of life. In these trials, the believer often makes a treasure of discoveries on Who the Lord Jesus is to him.
The sand on the shore of the sea can be applied to the countless company of the believers. All these blessings are covered and hidden to be exhumed by us. To discover them, we will have to make an effort. The result is that everything gives us an ever-greater view of the glory of the Lord Jesus.
20 - 21 Gad
20 Of Gad he said,
“Blessed is the one who enlarges Gad;
He lies down as a lion,
And tears the arm, also the crown of the head.
21 “Then he provided the first [part] for himself,
For there the ruler’s portion was reserved;
And he came [with] the leaders of the people;
He executed the justice of the LORD,
And His ordinances with Israel.”
In Gad we see the element of battle. Before Moses pronounces his blessing upon him, he first praises the LORD, “the one who enlarges Gad”. Gad is one of the tribes that remained in wilderness side of the Jordan. But here Moses does not think of the unwillingness to take possession of an inheritance in the land. Gad has been entering into the land to take possession of it for others. Here God approaches this positively.
Gad has acted as a captain, “a lion” (cf. 1Chr 12:8). Because of this he got room from the LORD to live there. Room, freedom of movement, is a great good for the believer. Beware of false brethren who want to bring believers back under the law and thereby deprive them of their freedom (Gal 2:4)!
“The first [part]” here is linked to “the rulers portion”, which refers to rule, to reign. Gad has joined the leaders of the people to fulfil his promise to go along to conquer the land of Canaan (Jos 1:12-18; 4:12). He will have excelled in this, for Moses gives him a prominent place among the people of the two and a half tribe.
Conquering the land means that the judgment of God is exercised on its inhabitants. In doing so, Gad has exercised the righteousness of God. Of the two and a half tribe, Gad will also be by far the most important in terms of number. Reuben will be few in number (verse 6), as will Manasseh of which only half of the tribe will live in the wilderness side of the Jordan.
The time of reign has not yet come for the believers (1Cor 4:8). But there may be matters in the church where justice has to be done. This does not require intelligent believers, but spiritually minded believers characterized by simplicity and wisdom (1Cor 6:4-5). They may act with spiritual authority. It is a great grace of God if such men are present in a local church. Let us thank God for them and not make life difficult for them, but be obedient and submissive to them (Heb 13:17).
22 Of Dan he said,
“Dan is a lion’s whelp,
That leaps forth from Bashan.”
The name Dan means ‘judge’. Like Gad, he is compared to a lion. All that is said of him is that he leaps forth. This seems to point to the sudden appearance of the Lord Jesus in the judgment of those who persistently oppose Him. This clears the way to the full blessing.
23 Of Naphtali he said,
“O Naphtali, satisfied with favor,
And full of the blessing of the LORD,
Take possession of the sea and the south.”
Naphtali, like Asher, gets a rich part. In Naphtali we see someone who is completely satisfied because of the rich blessing of the LORD. In Naphtali lies Capernaum, where the Lord Jesus lived (Mt 9:1; Mk 2:1). His presence is the greatest conceivable blessing. It means an exaltation to heaven (Mt 11:23).
In Naphtali we see someone who is full of Christ and rests in it. This is where the Holy Spirit wants to lead every believer to: to be satisfied with Christ and without having any other desire. That does not mean that we will have learned all and that there is nothing left to take possession of. Hence the encouragement to take possession of the west (the sea) and the south.
24 - 25 Asher
24 Of Asher he said,
“More blessed than sons is Asher;
May he be favored by his brothers,
And may he dip his foot in oil.
25 “Your locks will be iron and bronze,
And according to your days, so will your leisurely walk be.
Moses wishes Asher five blessings:
1. The first blessing is that he is more blessed than sons or will be blessed with sons. Here we see the sonship. Sons are there for God, and they are heirs. For us this blessing means that we are aware that we are there for God’s joy and that God has given us an inheritance to our joy.
2. The second blessing is that his brothers will favor him. As sons we are not only pleasant to God, but also to our brothers and sisters. Believers are sons of God and brothers of each other. We are a family, and to living and dwelling together in that consciousness the Lord attaches His blessing (Psa 133:1-3).
3. The third blessing, “dip his foot in oil”, refers to his walk. It is a blessing when the walk is characterized by the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16,25), of which the oil is the well-known picture. Sonship goes together with the Spirit of sonship (Gal 4:6).
4. A walk in the Spirit can only be in the way of separation. The fourth blessing speaks of this. “Iron and bronze” are the “locks” with which doors are closed to keep evil outside the door. The blessings can only be enjoyed without mixing with worldly principles. Separation is not negative. True separation is separation to God and makes strong as iron and shiny as bronze.
5. If there is true separation, the blessing will be enjoyed all days of our life to come. That is the fifth blessing. Separation ensures that no power is wasted on sinful things, which in turn means that the blessing is not enjoyed.
Asher is the only tribe of the ten who are not connected to the house of David, which is mentioned in the New Testament (Lk 2:36-38). In that section there is talk of Anna, who belongs to the tribe Asher. What is said of her makes it clear that she is a real Asherite.
26 - 29 Who Is Like Israel?
26 “There is none like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to your help,
And through the skies in His majesty.
27 “The eternal God is a dwelling place,
And underneath are the everlasting arms;
And He drove out the enemy from before you,
And said, ‘Destroy!’
28 “So Israel dwells in security,
The fountain of Jacob secluded,
In a land of grain and new wine;
His heavens also drop down dew.
29 “Blessed are you, O Israel;
Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD,
Who is the shield of your help
And the sword of your majesty!
So your enemies will cringe before you,
And you will tread upon their high places.”
The end of this blessing corresponds to the beginning. In the beginning Moses spoke of the glorious fact of the establishment of the kingship of the LORD as the firm foundation of the salvation of His people. He concludes with the reference to the LORD as the eternal protection and refuge and with praising Israel blessed that can rely on such a God.
The very last words written by Moses describe the incomparable God and His incomparable people. No one is like God (verse 26), and verse 29 says that no one is like His people. The God of Israel and the Israel of God belong together completely.
Riding the heavens and through the skies is a picture of the unlimited omnipotence with which God from heaven rules the world and is the Helper of His people. He is the eternal God, in contrast to all idols that have their origin somewhere in time and have thus recently come into being. This God is a dwelling place, which means that God offers His own everything that the security of a dwelling place can offer. A home is not only a refuge in case of the storms of life, but also speaks of the peaceful, carefree enjoyment of peace and fellowship.
He Who thrones above in heaven is at the same time the God Who is with His people on earth and holds them in His arms and carries them. Eternal arms are arms that will never lack strength. It indicates unlimited and invincible power, by which His people will be safe forever. In addition, there is no trace of the enemy. He has driven them out and destroyed them.
In the midst of all nations, Israel will “dwell in safety alone” (verse 28, Darby Translation; Num 23:9). The people will not be incorporated into any other people. As the object of God’s special promises, it will receive all that has been promised and will be a distributor of blessings among all the blessings to all the peoples of the earth.
Israel is also Jacob. Jacob is the name of the man who had to learn that he needs God in everything. The people had to learn that too. Their eye is focused on the blessing of the land. When they are in possession of the blessing, their eye will be focused on it. They will abide undisturbed in the land of blessing upon which the blessing of the LORD descends.
There are no people like Israel. There is no salvation like the salvation that is given to Israel, for the LORD has saved that people. And the LORD has not only saved Israel from Egypt, he has also saved it from countless difficulties. He is also Israel’s help. That help is a shield, a protection against anything that can harm that people. He helps by His sword, that is His Word. By His Word He has exalted this people to a high place.
No enemy can start anything against such a people. Although the enemies are not convinced in their conscience of sins and that they deserve judgment, they will be so wise to submit to this people. They shall, though in hypocrisy, honor this people, this people which is exalted by the LORD above all nations.