Deuteronomy 33

Introduction to the Blessing of Moses

1This is the blessing Moses the man of God pronounced upon the Israelites before his death. 2He said:

A Historical Review

The Lord came from Sinai
and revealed himself
Or “rose like the sun” (NCV, TEV).
to Israel
Heb “to him.” The LXX reads “to us” (לָנוּ [lanu] for לָמוֹ [lamo]), the reading of the MT is acceptable since it no doubt has in mind Israel as a collective singular.
Heb “him”; the referent (Israel) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
from Seir.
He appeared in splendor
Or “he shone forth” (NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT).
from Mount Paran,
and came forth with ten thousand holy ones.
With slight alteration (מִמְרִבַת קָדֵשׁ [mimrivat qadesh] for the MT’s מֵרִבְבֹת קֹדֶשׁ [merivvot qodesh]) the translation would be “from Meribah Kadesh” (cf. NAB, NLT; see Deut 32:51). However, the language of holy war in the immediate context favors the reading of the MT, which views the Lord as accompanied by angelic hosts.

With his right hand he gave a fiery law
The mispointed Hebrew term אֵשְׁדָּת (’eshdat) should perhaps be construed as אֵשְׁהַת (’eshhat) with Smr.
to them.
3 Surely he loves the people;
Heb “peoples.” The apparent plural form is probably a misunderstood singular (perhaps with a pronominal suffix) with enclitic mem (ם). See HALOT 838 s.v. עַם B.2.

all your holy ones
Heb “his holy ones.” The third person masculine singular suffix of the Hebrew MT is problematic in light of the second person masculine singular suffix on בְּיָדֶךָ (beyadekha, “your hands”). The LXX versions by Lucian and Origen read, therefore, “the holy ones.” The LXX version by Theodotion and the Vulgate, however, presuppose third masculine singular suffix on בְּיָדָיו (beyadayv, “his hands”), and thus retain “his holy ones.” The efforts to bring pronominal harmony into the line is commendable but unnecessary given the Hebrew tendency to be untroubled by such grammatical inconsistencies. However, the translation harmonizes the first pronoun with the second so that the referent (the Lord) is clear.
are in your power.
Heb “hands.” For the problem of the pronoun see note on the term “holy ones” earlier in this verse.

And they sit
The Hebrew term תֻּכּוּ (tuku, probably Pual perfect of תָּכָה, takhah) is otherwise unknown. The present translation is based on the reference to feet and, apparently, receiving instruction in God’s words (cf. KJV, ASV). Other options are as follows: NIV “At your feet they all bow down” (cf. NCV, CEV); NLT “They follow in your steps” (cf. NAB, NASB); NRSV “they marched at your heels.”
at your feet,
each receiving
The singular verbal form in the Hebrew text (lit. “he lifts up”) is understood in a distributive manner, focusing on the action of each individual within the group.
your words.
4 Moses delivered to us a law,
The Hebrew term תּוֹרָה (torah) here should be understood more broadly as instruction.

an inheritance for the assembly of Jacob.
5 The Lord
Heb “he was king.” The present translation avoids the sudden shift in person and the mistaken impression that Moses is the referent by specifying the referent as “the Lord.”
was king over Jeshurun,
Jeshurun is a term of affection referring to Israel, derived from the Hebrew verb יָשַׁר (yashar, “be upright”). See note on the term in Deut 32:15.

when the leaders of the people assembled,
the tribes of Israel together.
The following blessing is given to the tribes in order, although the tribe of Simeon is curiously missing from the list.

Blessing on Reuben

6 May Reuben live and not die,
and may his people multiply.
Heb “and [not] may his men be few” (cf. KJV, NASB, NIV).

Blessing on Judah

7 And this is the blessing
The words “the blessing” are supplied in the translation for clarity and stylistic reasons.
to Judah. He said,
Listen, O Lord, to Judah’s voice,
and bring him to his people.
May his power be great,
and may you help him against his foes.

Blessing on Levi

8 Of Levi he said:
Your Thummim and Urim
Thummim and Urim. These terms, whose meaning is uncertain, refer to sacred stones carried in a pouch on the breastplate of the high priest and examined on occasion as a means of ascertaining God’s will or direction. See Exod 28:30; Lev 8:8; Num 27:21; 1 Sam 28:6. See also C. Van Dam, NIDOTTE 1:329–31.
belong to your godly one,
Heb “godly man.” The reference is probably to Moses as representative of the whole tribe of Levi.

whose authority you challenged at Massah,
Massah means “testing” in Hebrew; the name is a wordplay on what took place there. Cf. Exod 17:7; Deut 6:16; 9:22; Ps 95:8–9.

and with whom you argued at the waters of Meribah.
Meribah means “contention, argument” in Hebrew; this is another wordplay on the incident that took place there. Cf. Num 20:13, 24; Ps 106:32.

9 He said to his father and mother, “I have not seen him,”
This statement no doubt alludes to the Levites’ destruction of their own fellow tribesmen following the golden calf incident (Exod 32:25–29).

and he did not acknowledge his own brothers
or know his own children,
for they kept your word,
and guarded your covenant.
10 They will teach Jacob your ordinances
and Israel your law;
they will offer incense as a pleasant odor,
and a whole offering on your altar.
11 Bless, O Lord, his goods,
and be pleased with his efforts;
undercut the legs
Heb “smash the sinews [or “loins,” so many English versions].” This part of the body was considered to be center of one’s strength (cf. Job 40:16; Ps 69:24; Prov 31:17; Nah 2:2, 11). See J. H. Tigay, Deuteronomy (JPSTC), 325.
of any who attack him,
and of those who hate him, so that they cannot stand.

Blessing on Benjamin

12 Of Benjamin he said:
The beloved of the Lord will live safely by him;
he protects him all the time,
and the Lord
Heb “he”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
places him on his chest.
Heb “between his shoulders.” This suggests the scene in John 13:23 with Jesus and the Beloved Disciple.

Blessing on Joseph

13 Of Joseph he said:
May the Lord bless his land
with the harvest produced by the sky,
Heb “from the harvest of the heavens.” The referent appears to be good crops produced by the rain that falls from the sky.
by the dew,
and by the depths crouching beneath;
14 with the harvest produced by the daylight
Heb “goings forth of the sun.”

and by
Heb “and from the harvest of the yield of.” This has been simplified in the translation to avoid redundancy.
the moonlight;
Heb “the moon.” Many English versions regard this as a reference to “months” (“moons”) rather than the moon itself (cf. NAB, NASB, NRSV, NLT).

15 with the best
Heb “head” or “top.”
of the ancient mountains
and the harvest produced by the age-old hills;
16 with the harvest of the earth and its fullness
and the pleasure of him who resided in the burning bush.
The expression “him who resided in the bush” is frequently understood as a reference to the appearance of the Lord to Moses at Sinai from a burning bush (so NIV, NCV, TEV, CEV, NLT; cf. Exod 2:2–6; 3:2, 4). To make this reference clear the word “burning” is supplied in the translation.

May blessing rest on Joseph’s head,
and on the top of the head of the one set apart
This apparently refers to Joseph’s special status among his brothers as a result of his being chosen by God to save the family from the famine and to lead Egypt.
from his brothers.
17 May the firstborn of his bull bring him honor,
and may his horns be those of a wild ox;
with them may he gore all peoples,
all the far reaches of the earth.
They are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph who became founders of the two tribes into which Joseph’s descendants were split (Gen 48:19–20). Jacob’s blessing granted favored status to Ephraim; this is probably why Ephraim is viewed here as more numerous than Manasseh.

and they are the thousands of Manasseh.

Blessing on Zebulun and Issachar

18 Of Zebulun he said:
Rejoice, Zebulun, when you go outside,
and Issachar, when you are in your tents.
19 They will summon peoples to the mountain,
there they will sacrifice proper
Or “acceptable”; Heb “righteous” (so NASB).
for they will enjoy
Heb “suck.”
the abundance of the seas,
and the hidden treasures of the shores.
Heb “of the sand” (so NRSV, NLT); CEV “the sandy beach.”

Blessing on Gad

20 Of Gad he said:
Blessed be the one who enlarges Gad.
Like a lioness he will dwell;
he will tear at an arm – indeed, a scalp.
Heb “forehead,” picturing Gad attacking prey.

21 He has selected the best part for himself,
for the portion of the ruler
The Hebrew term מְחֹקֵק (mekhoqeq; Poel participle of חָקַק, khaqaq, “to inscribe”) reflects the idea that the recorder of allotments (the “ruler”) is able to set aside for himself the largest and best. See E. H. Merrill, Deuteronomy (NAC), 444–45.
is set aside
Heb “covered in” (if from the root סָפַן, safan; cf. HALOT 764-65 s.v. ספן qal).
he came with the leaders
Heb “heads” (in the sense of chieftains).
of the people,
he obeyed the righteous laws of the Lord
and his ordinances with Israel.

Blessing on Dan

22 Of Dan he said:
Dan is a lion’s cub;
he will leap forth from Bashan.
He will leap forth from Bashan. This may refer to Dan’s conquest of Laish, a region just to the west of Bashan (Judg 18:27–28).

Blessing on Naphtali

23 Of Naphtali he said:
O Naphtali, overflowing with favor,
and full of the Lord’s blessing,
possess the west and south.

Blessing on Asher

24 Of Asher he said:
Asher is blessed with children,
may he be favored by his brothers
and may he dip his foot in olive oil.
Dip his foot in olive oil. This is a metaphor for prosperity, one especially apt in light of the abundance of olive groves in the area settled by Asher. The Hebrew term refers to olive oil, which symbolizes blessing in the OT. See R. Way, NIDOTTE 4:171–73.

25 The bars of your gates
The words “of your gates” have been supplied in the translation to clarify the referent of “bars.”
will be made of iron and bronze,
and may you have lifelong strength.

General Praise and Blessing

26 There is no one like God, O Jeshurun,
Jeshurun is a term of affection referring to Israel, derived from the Hebrew verb יָשַׁר (yashar, “be upright”). See note on the term in Deut 32:15.

who rides through the sky
Or “(who) rides (on) the heavens” (cf. NIV, NRSV, NLT). This title depicts Israel’s God as sovereign over the elements of the storm (cf. Ps 68:33). The use of the phrase here may be polemical; Moses may be asserting that Israel’s God, not Baal (called the “rider of the clouds” in the Ugaritic myths), is the true divine king (cf. v. 5) who controls the elements of the storm, grants agricultural prosperity, and delivers his people from their enemies. See R. B. Chisholm, Jr., “The Polemic against Baalism in Israel’s Early History and Literature,” BSac 151 (1994): 275.
to help you,
on the clouds in majesty.
27 The everlasting God is a refuge,
and underneath you are his eternal arms;
Heb “and from under, arms of perpetuity.” The words “you” and “his” are supplied in the translation for clarification. Some have perceived this line to be problematic and have offered alternative translations that differ significantly from the present translation: “He spread out the primeval tent; he extended the ancient canopy” (NAB); “He subdues the ancient gods, shatters the forces of old” (NRSV). These are based on alternate meanings or conjectural emendations rather than textual variants in the mss and versions.

he has driven out enemies before you,
and has said, “Destroy!”
28 Israel lives in safety,
the fountain of Jacob is quite secure,
Heb “all alone.” The idea is that such vital resources as water will some day no longer need protection because God will provide security.

in a land of grain and new wine;
indeed, its heavens
Or “skies.” The Hebrew term שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) may be translated “heaven(s)” or “sky” depending on the context.
rain down dew.
Or perhaps “drizzle, showers.” See note at Deut 32:2.

29 You have joy, Israel! Who is like you?
You are a people delivered by the Lord,
your protective shield
and your exalted sword.
May your enemies cringe before you;
may you trample on their backs.
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