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Before ascending Mount Nebo, to take a view of the land he was not permitted to cuter and then to die, Moses took farewell of the people he had so long guided and ruled, by pronouncing on them a blessing in their several tribes. This blessing was probably spoken on the same day as the song recorded in the preceding chapter, and to the same assembly. The one may be regarded as the counterpart of the other. In the song, Moses dwells chiefly on the calamities that were to befall the people because of their apostasy; in the blessing, he depicts the benefits that were to be enjoyed by them through the Divine favor. The tone of the one is somber and minatory; the tone of the other is serene and cheering. The one presents the darker side, the other the brighter side, of Israel's fortunes. Both were fitting utterances for the occasion: the one the farewell warning, the other the farewell benediction, of him who had so long proved them and known their ways; who, whilst he desired their welfare, feared they might forfeit this by their folly and sin; and who sought, both by warning and by blessing, to encourage them to pursue that course by which alone prosperity and happiness could be secured.
The blessing consists of a series of benedictions on the several tribes (Deuteronomy 33:6-25), preceded by an introduction (Deuteronomy 33:1-5), and followed by a conclusion (Deuteronomy 33:26-29).
Introduction. The blessing opens with an allusion to the making of the covenant and the giving of the Law at Sinai, when the Lord revealed himself in glory and majesty as the King of Israel, in order at the outset to fix the minds of the people on the source whence alone blessing could come to them. God's love to Israel is celebrated, and the intention and end of his choice and elevation of Israel to be his people is declared.
Moses the man of God. This appellation is applied to Moses only here and in Joshua 14:6 and the heading of Psalms 90:1-17. The phrase, "man of God," indicates one favored with Divine communications, and employed as God's messenger to men (cf. 1 Samuel 9:6; 1 Kings 12:22). In this heading, the author of the blessing is clearly distinguished from the person by whom it was inserted in this place.
And he said. Here begin the words of Moses. He commences by depicting the majesty of Jehovah as he appeared to Israel when he came to make the covenant with them and give them his Law. The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them, etc. Seir is the mountain land of Edom to the cast of Sinai. Mount Paran is probably the range of lofty hills which form the southern boundary of the Promised Land to the north of the desert of Et-Tih. These places are not mentioned as scenes of different manifestations of the Divine glory, but as indicating the extent to which the one manifestation given at Sinai reached. The light of the Divine glory that rested on Sinai was reflected also from the mountains of Seir and Paran (cf. Hebrews 3:3; Judges 5:4). He came with ten thousands of saints; rather, he came from ten thousands of holy ones; literally, out from myriads of holiness; i.e. "from his celestial seat, where myriads of angels surround his throne" (Rosenmüller). The rendering "with," though that of the Targum, LXX; and Vulgate, cannot be retained; nor does Scripture represent God as attended by angels when he comes forth to manifest his glory to men. They are represented as surrounding his throne in heaven (1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:6; Daniel 7:10), as his servants awaiting his behest, and his host that do his pleasure (Genesis 28:12; Genesis 32:2, Genesis 32:3; Psalms 103:21); and God is represented as dwelling in the midst of them (Psalms 68:17). Hence he is represented here as coming forth from among them to manifest himself to his people. A fiery law. There is a various reading here; instead of אֵשׁ מדּת, fire of law, many codices have אשׁדת in one word, and this is supported by the Samaritan text and other authorities, and is accepted by most critics and interpreters. It is a fatal objection to the textual reading that דַּת is not a Semitic word, but one of Persian origin, brought by the Jews from Babylonia, and found only in the post-exilian books (Esther 1:8, Esther 1:19; Esther 2:8, Esther 2:12; Esther 3:8, Esther 3:14; Esther 4:11, Esther 4:15; Ezra 7:12, Ezra 7:21; Ezra 8:36; Daniel 2:9, Daniel 2:13, Daniel 2:15; Daniel 6:5, Daniel 6:9, Daniel 6:13, Daniel 6:16); and in them as applied to the Law of God only by heathens. It is, therefore, altogether improbable that this word should be found in any Hebrew writing anterior to the Captivity. Besides, what is the sense of אֵשׁ דַּת, supposing דת to mean "law?" The words cannot be rendered, as in the Authorized Version, by "fiery law;" they can only be rendered by "a fire, a law," or "a fire of law," and What either of these may mean it is not easy to see. The ancient versions vary here very considerably: LXX; ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ ἄγγελοι μετ αὐτοῦ: Vulgate, fin dextera ejus ignea lex; Targum of Onkelos, "Written by his right hand, from the midst of the fire, a law gave he to us;" Syriac, "With myriads of his saints at his right hand. He gave to them, and also caused all peoples to love them." The best Hebrew manuscripts have אשׁדת as one word. The Masoretic note is, "The Chatiph is one word, and the K'ri two." The word אשׁדת is best explained as a compound of אֵשׁ, fire, and שׁדא, an Aramaic word signifying to throw or dart; the Syriac, see Syriac word, or the Hebrew יָדָה, having the same signification, so that the meaning is "fire-dartings:" from his right hand went rays of fire like arrows shot forth (cf. Habakkuk 3:4; Exodus 19:16). To them; i.e. to the Israelites, to whom this manifestation was vouchsafed.
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. Isaiah 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; Psalms 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, יִשַּׁא, used distributively] thy words.
Moses here, identifying himself with the people, uses the third person, and includes himself among those to whom the Law was given; cf. Psalms 20:1-9; Psalms 21:1-13; where David not only speaks of himself in the third person, but addresses such prayers for himself as could only be offered by the people for their king (cf. also Judges 5:12, Judges 5:15; Habakkuk 3:19). Even the inheritance of the congregation. The "even," which the translators of the Authorized Version have inserted here, were better omitted; the words are in apposition to "law." The Law which Moses communicated to Israel was to remain with them as the inheritance of the congregation. The Bishops' Bible and the Geneva Version have, more correctly, "for an inheritance of the congregation."
Some refer this to Moses, but Moses was never recognized as king in Israel: he "was faithful in all his house as a servant" (Hebrews 3:5); but Jehovah alone was King (Exodus 15:18; Psalms 47:6, Psalms 47:7). Jeshurun (cf. Deuteronomy 32:5). The gathering together refers to the assembling of the people at Sinai, when Jehovah came forth as their King to give them his Law.
Blessings on the tribes individually. With these may be compared the blessing which Jacob pronounced on his sons as representing the tribes of which they were the heads. The two resemble each other in many points; the differences are such as naturally arose from the different relations of the speakers to the objects of their address, and the changes in the condition and prospects of the tribes which during the lapse of centuries had come to pass.
And let not his men be few. The negative, though not expressed in the Hebrew, is to be carried into this clause from the preceding. Though the rights of primogeniture had been withdrawn from Reuben, and Jacob had declared that he should not excel, Moses here assures the tribe of continuance, and even prosperity. Their number was not to be small; which was, perhaps, said to comfort them, in view of the fact that their numbers had greatly diminished in the course of their wanderings in the desert (comp. Numbers 1:21 with Numbers 26:7). At no time, however, was this tribe numerous as compared with the others; nor was it ever distinguished either by the enterprise of its members or by the eminence of any of them in the councils of the nation or the management of affairs.
The blessing on Judah is in the form of prayer to Jehovah. As Jacobhad promised to Judah supremacy over his brethren and success in war, so Moses here names him next after Reuben, whose pre-eminence he had assumed, and prays for him that, going forth at the head of the tribes, he might return in triumph, being helped of the Lord. Let his hands be sufficient for him; rather, with his hands he contendeth for it (to wit, his people). רַב here is not the adj. much, enough, but the part. of the verb רִיב, to contend, to strive; and יָדָיו is the aeons, of instrument. The rendering in the Authorized Version is grammatically possible; but the meaning thereby brought out is not in keeping with the sentiment of the passage; for if Judah's hands, i.e. his own power and resources, were sufficient for him, what need had he of help from the Lord?
The blessing on Levi is also in the form of a prayer. In Jacob's blessing, Simeon is joined with Levi, but Moses passes him over altogether, probably because, as Jacob foretold, he was to be scattered among his brethren (Genesis 49:7), and so lose his tribal individuality. Simeon, however, is included in the general blessing pronounced on Israel; and as this tribe received a number of towns within the territory of Judah (Joshua 19:2-9), it was probably regarded as included in the blessing on that tribe. Thy Thummim and thy Urim; thy Right and thy Light (cf. Exodus 28:30). The high priest wore the breast-plate on which these were placed when he went in before the Lord; and this is here represented as the prerogative of the whole tribe. Thy holy one; i.e. Levi, the tribe-father, representing the whole tribe to which the blessing applies; hence in the following verses the verb passes into the plural. For "holy one," it would be better to read "pious" or "godly one;" literally, the man thy pious one. Some would render "the man thy favored one," or "the man of thy friendship;" but this is wholly arbitrary, the word (חָסִיד) has no such meaning. To explain this more particularly, reference is made to the trials at Massah and the waters of Meribah (strife), when the people rebelled and murmured against Moses and Aaron, whereby the piety of these men was put to the test, and in them, the heads of the tribe of Levi, the whole tribe was proved. (On Massah, see Exodus 17:1-7; and on the waters of strife, see Numbers 20:1-13.) In these trials, Levi had proved himself faithful and godly, having risen up in defense of the honor of Jehovah, and in support of his covenant, though in the latter case both Moses and Aaron stumbled. Who said unto his father and to his mother, etc. This refers to what is narrated in Exodus 32:26-29, when the Levites drew their swords against their brethren at the command of Moses, to execute judgment without respect of person, because of the sin of the people in the matter of the golden calf (of. also Numbers 25:8, and, for the principle here implicitly commended, see Matthew 10:37; Matthew 19:29; Luke 14:26). Because of their zealous devotion to the claims and service of the Lord, the dignity of the priesthood had been conferred on this tribe; and to them belonged the high office of being instructors of the people in Divine things, and of presenting the sacrifices of the people to the Lord. For those entrusted with such an office, nothing was more to be desired than that they should be blessed with power rightly to discharge the duties of their office, that their service should be accepted with favor, and that their enemies and haters should be foiled and rendered impotent; and for this Moses prays on their behalf.
Benjamin, the beloved of his father, is also the beloved of the Lord, and would be cared for and protected by him. Shall dwell in safety by him; shall dwell securely upon him, i.e. resting on him. Shall cover him. The word rendered "cover" (חַפַף) occurs only here; construed with עַל, upon, it conveys the idea of sheltering: he continually is sheltering him. And he shall dwell between his shoulders. "To be between the shoulders" is to be carried on the back (cf. 1 Samuel 17:6); and as a father might thus bear his child, so should Benjamin be borne of the Lord. There can be no doubt that Benjamin is the subject of this clause; to understand it of Jehovah dwelling on the shoulders of Benjamin, in the sense of having the temple, the place of his rest, within the territory of Benjamin, is too violent and far-fetched an interpretation to be admitted. In the change of subject in the three clauses of this verse, there is nothing strange, since such a change repeatedly occurs, and is found even in prose, as e.g. 2 Samuel 11:13. "To dwell upon God, and between his shoulders, means as much as to lean upon him; the similitude being taken from fathers who carry their sons while yet small and tender" (Calvin).
The blessing on Joseph by Moses closely resembles that pronounced by Jacob on his favorite son; he solicits for him the utmost abundance of temporal blessing, and the riches of the Divine favor. There is this difference, however, between the two blessings, that in that of the patriarch it is the growth of the tribe in power and might that is chiefly contemplated; whilst in that of Moses it is the advance of the tribe in wealth, prosperity, and influence that is chiefly indicated. "Jacob described the growth of Joseph under the figure of a luxuriant branch of a fruit tree planted by the water; whilst Moses fixes his eye primarily upon the land of Joseph, and desires for him the richest productions" (Keil). For the precious things of heaven, for the dew. Several codices, for מטל, "for dew," read מעל, above—"the precious things of heaven above;" and this reading, some critics of eminence adopt. Probably, however, this is only a correction, to bring this passage into accordance with Genesis 49:25. The Targums and the Peshito combine both readings. Instead of "for the precious things," it is better to read "with," etc; and so throughout Genesis 49:13-16. Literally, it is from, etc.; מִמֶּגֶד, the מ expressing the instrumental cause of the blessing, of which the Lord is the efficient cause. The noun מֶגֶד, literally, excellency, preciousness, occurs only here and in Song of Solomon 4:13, Song of Solomon 4:16 and Song of Solomon 7:13, where it is rendered by "pleasant." The precious fruit of the heavens is the dew, which, with the waters stored up in the recesses of the earth, furthers the growth of the earth's produce, ripened by the influences of sun and moon. And for the chief things of the ancient mountains; literally, and from the head of the mountains of old. The precious things of the mountains and hills are the vines and olive trees with which the lower slopes are adorned, and the forests that crown the loftier. The good will of him that dwelt in the bush. The reference is to the appearance of Jehovah to Moses in the bush at Horeb (Exodus 3:1-22.), when he manifested himself as the Deliverer of Israel, whose good pleasure it was that they should be redeemed from bondage and favored with blessing. That was separated from his brethren; separated in the sense of consecrated, or distinguished (נָזִיר, from נָזַר, to consecrate), from among his brethren. His glory is like the firstling of his bullock; rather, the firstborn of his oxen, majesty is to him. The singular, שׁוֹר, is here used collectively, as in Deuteronomy 15:19. The oxen are Joseph's sons, all of whom were strong, but the firstborn excelled the rest, and was endowed with majesty. It is Ephraim that is referred to, whom Jacob raised to the position of the firstborn (Genesis 48:8, etc.). His horns are like the horns of unicorns; literally, and horns of a ream are his horns. The ream is supposed to be the aurochs, an animal of the bovine species, allied to the buffalo, now extinct, but which the Assyrian bas-reliefs show to have been formerly hunted in that region (cf. Job 39:9, etc.; Psalms 22:22; Rawlinson 'Anc. Men.,' 1.284). By his strong power, Ephraim should thrust down nations, even the most distant. And they are the ten thousands of Ephraim; and these are, etc.; i.e. in such might will the myriads of Ephraim come forth. To Ephraim, as the chief, the myriads are assigned; to Manasseh only the thousands.
Deuteronomy 33:18, Deuteronomy 33:19
Zebulun and Issachar, the two last sons of Leah, are taken together by Moses; and Zebulun, though the younger son, is placed first, in accordance with Genesis 49:13. Success in enterprise, and felicity at home, are assured to both. "Although 'going out' (enterprise, labor) is attributed to Zebulun, and 'remaining in tents' (the comfortable enjoyment of life) to Issachar, in accordance with the delineation of their respective characters in the blessing of Jacob, this is to be attributed to the poetic parallelism of the clauses, and the whole is to be understood as applying to both in the sense suggested by Graf, 'Rejoice, Zebulun and Issachar, in your labor and your rest'" (Keil). They shall call the people unto the mountain; rather, they shall call nations to the mountain, i.e. the mountain of the Lord's inheritance (Exodus 15:17), the place of his sanctuary. Sacrifices of righteousness; i.e. sacrifices offered according to God's Law, and in a manner and a spirit well pleasing to him (Psalms 4:6; 51:21). They shall suck of the abundance of the seas, etc. The treasures of both sea and land should be theirs. The Targumist Jonathan Ben Uzziel explains this as referring especially to the obtaining of the rich purple dye from the shell of the oyster (murex Syrius), and the producing of mirrors and glass vases from the sand. The existence of vitreous sand on the coast of Zebulun is attested both by Strabo and Pliny.
Deuteronomy 33:20, Deuteronomy 33:21
As in the blessing of Shem by Noah, God is praised for Shem's prosperity (Genesis 9:26), so here God is praised for the enlargement of the warlike tribe of Gad (cf. Genesis 49:19). He dwelleth as a lion; rather, as a lioness. Though the noun לָבִיא has a masc. termination, usage shows that it was the female and not the male that was thereby designated (see e.g. Genesis 49:9; Numbers 24:9, where it can hardly, be a mere synonym; and Job 4:11; Job 38:1-41 :89, where the reference to the young of the animal accords better with the lioness than with the lion, Gesenius). Deuteronomy 33:21 refers to Gad's obtaining an inheritance for himself from Moses beyond Jordan. And he provided the first part for himself; literally, and he saw for himself (i.e. chose) the first, i.e. either the most excellent part or the firstfruits of the conquest. Because there, in a portion of the lawgiver, was he seated; rather, for there the portion of the leader was reserved. The word rendered "lawgiver," or "leader" (מְחֹקֵק), signifies primarily one who ordains or appoints, and is used in both the above senses (cf. Exodus 33:22; Judges 5:14); it is here applied to Gad, because that tribe displayed such promptitude and energy at the head of the tribes in the conquest of the land, that it might be regarded as their leader. An entirely different view of the passage has been taken by some, who by the mechokek understand Moses as the lawgiver, and his portion as the place of his grave, which was concealed, but was within the inheritance of Gad. But it is a fatal objection to this view that not only is the word rendered "portion" (חֶלְקַת) nowhere used of a grave, but the grave of Moses on Mount Nebo was in the territory of Reuben, not in that of Gad. Gesenius renders, "The portion of (assigned by) the lawgiver was preserved." But this does not tally with the immediately preceding statement, that Gad chose his portion for himself; at any rate, it could not be because of this that he chose it. Gad chose for himself a portion on the east of Jordan, and the portion he had chosen was sacredly kept for him, though he went with his brethren to the conquest of Canaan. And he came with the heads of the people; i.e. his place of marching was with the leaders; his place was at the head of the tribes (cf. Numbers 32:17, Numbers 32:21, Numbers 32:32, and Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12). He executed the justice of the Lord, etc.; i.e. he did what God required of him, obeying his commands, and thereby fulfilling all righteousness (cf. Matthew 3:15; Philippians 3:6). With Israel; in the fellowship of Israel.
Jacob compared Dan to a serpent that suddenly springs forth by the way, and bites the heels of a horse so that the rider falls backward. Moses here compares the tribe to a young lion that suddenly leaps from its lair in Bashan on the object of its attack. Both similitudes relate to the vigor and force which the tribe should display in conflict.
In Jacob's blessing, Naphtali appears invested with the attributes of freedom, gracefulness, and graciousness; here Moses assures that tribe of the Divine grace and blessing, and promises to it prosperity and felicity. Possess thou the west and the south. The word rendered "west" here (יָם) properly means sea, and came to signify "west" from the fact of the Mediterranean, or Great Sea, lying to the west of Palestine. The proper meaning of the word is to be retained here. As the territory of Naphtali lay in the north of Canaan, and was far from the sea, the blessing here pronounced upon him must be understood generally of prosperity and felicity. He was to possess riches as of the sea, and genial and fructifying warmth as of the south.
Deuteronomy 33:24, Deuteronomy 33:25
Asher, the prosperous one, as his name implies, was to be rich, and honored, and strong, and peaceful. Blessed with children; rather, blessed among the sons; i.e. either blessed more than the rest of the sons, or blessed by the sons who were to reap benefit from him. From what follows, the latter explanation seems the one to be preferred. The preposition מִן is constantly used as indicating the source whence anything proceeds, or the agent by whom anything is done. Let him be acceptable to his brethren; "iis e tetras suae proventibus res optimas suppeditaturus; cf. Genesis 49:20" (Rosenmüller). This tribe should find itself in so advantageous and luxurious a condition that the ether tribes should have delight and pleasure in it" (Knobel). Others render, "favored among his brethren;" favored, that is, by the Lord more than his brethren (Keil). But the former seems preferable. And let him dip his foot in oil. This points to a land abounding in olives, and generally richly fertile, a fat land and yielding rich dainties, such as Jacob promised to Asher (Genesis 49:20). Thy shoes shall be iron and brass. The word rendered "shoes" (מִנְעָל) occurs only here. It is a derivative from נָעַל, to bolt or shut fast, and is to be taken in the sense of a fastness or fortress, a place securely closed: iron and brass shall be thy fortress; i.e. his dwelling should be strong and impregnable. The rendering" shoes" is from a supposed derivation of the word from נַעַל, a shoe. As thy days, so shall thy strength be; literally, as thy days, thy rest; i.e. as long as thou livest, so long shalt thou have rest and quiet. The noun rendered "strength" (דֹבֵא) in the Authorized Version. occurs only here, unless it be found in the proper name מֶידְבָא (Medeba), and has no Cognate in Hebrew; but the Arabic supplies a root for it in (deba), to rest. Furst connects it with זָב, and the Targum with דְּוָא, to flow, and translates by "riches."
As Moses commenced by celebrating the glorious majesty of Jehovah when he appeared to establish his covenant with Israel, so he concludes with a reference to God as the eternal Refuge and the saving Help of his people.
There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun. The points and accents direct that this should be read, There is none like God, O Jeshurun; and though all the ancient versions read as does the Authorized Version, the Masoretic punctuation is vindicated here by the following thy help, which shows that Israel is here addressed.
God is the Refuge or Dwelling-place of his people, their Protection amid the storms of life, and the unfailing Source of comfort and blessing to them in their pilgrimage state. Over them is his sheltering protection, and underneath them the support of his everlasting arms.
The clauses of this verse are parallel to each other; their symmetry will be seen if we render and arrange thus—
"And Israel dwelleth securely,
Alone, the fountain of Jacob,
On a land of corn and new wine;
His heavens also drop down dew."
The fountain of Jacob is parallel to Israel. Israel is so designated because they came forth from Jacob as waters from a copious source (Ibn Ezra; cf. Isaiah 48:1; Psalms 68:26).
"This concluding verse comprehends the whole blessing. Israel is to be congratulated and praised because, through the true God, it has unparalleled protection, salvation, and triumph" (Herxheimer). Thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; literally, shall feign unto thee; i.e. shall pretend to be thy friends, in order to obtain favor with thee. The verb conveys the idea of fawning upon a person with a feigned humility and submissiveness (cf. Psalms 18:44; Psalms 66:2; Psalms 81:15). Thou shalt tread upon their high places; i.e. shalt wholly subdue them and triumph over them (cf. Deuteronomy 32:13); "crees eorum in montibus positas, loca eorum inaccessa victor calcabis, its potieris; qua ipsa phrasi Amos 4:13, Micah 1:3, superbe incedens victor describitur" (Rosenmüller).
The general import of this paragraph is clear. Some of its phrases, however, are far from being so easy that we can be quite sure of their meaning. (For a discussion of the points in dispute, see the Exposition; also Keil, Lange, and a work far too little known, Barrett's 'Synopsis of Criticisms,' vol. 1 Peter 2:0.) There is, however, quite enough that is sufficiently clear to furnish us with a topic for valuable pulpit teaching, albeit there may be, in this introductory paragraph and between each blessing, indications of an editor's hand. The whole paragraph has reference to God's august manifestation of himself at the delivery of the Law on Sinai. In it there are eight matters to be noted.
1. The new disclosure of God was as the rising of a bright light in the midst of the darkness (see Gescnius, sub verb, זָרַח (zah-ra‛gh)'), and all the uses of the verb in the Old Testament).
2. The beams of the newly risen light flooded the region of Sinai, Mount Paean, and Mount Serf (Deuteronomy 33:2).
3. In the displays of his glory, Jehovah was attended by ten thousands of his holy ones (Deuteronomy 33:2).
4. From Jehovah thus attended there went forth a Law (Deuteronomy 33:2).
5. This Law thus given was the expression of Jehovah's love (Deuteronomy 33:3).
6. All the holy ones (English Version, "saints") thus surrounding Jehovah, were at his disposal, to serve the people of his choice, and reverently waited for his words of command (Deuteronomy 33:3).
7. The Law thus given in august majesty was the rich inheritance of the people (Deuteronomy 33:4).
8. On a people so honored of God, the man of God is moved to utter a blessing, as his last act ere he quits the scene of toil for the realm of rest (Deuteronomy 33:1). The exposition and illustration of all this will furnish Christian preachers and teachers in every age with abundance of material for the understanding, heart, conscience, and life.
The blessing of Reuben; or, life impoverished through ancestral sins.
For a blessing, there seems something unusually weak in that pronounced on Reuben. Continuance—a preservation from being blotted out of existence—is all that the man of God seems to hope or expect from him. The English reader may wonder to see that the word "not" is in italics, as not being in the Hebrew, but supplied by the translators. It is, however, wisely done in this case, as will be seen if the reader will put stress sufficient on the word "not" in the following rendering to carry the force of the negative on to the end of the sentence:—"Let Reuben live; and not die and his men be few;" i.e. if his men became a mere handful, the tribe would be virtually extinct; and Moses desires that this may not be the case; so that, according to English idiom, the insertion of the italic not is required to preserve the meaning of the original. The gist of the blessing then is, let not the tribe have such a paucity of men as to sink out of sight altogether. Bare continuance;—this is all that is prophesied concerning that tribe. This is, as far as we can follow its history, in strict correspondence with its after experience. There may be noted again and again a decrease in its numbers; cf. Numbers 1:21; Num 26:7; 1 Chronicles 5:18, from which it appears "that the tribe had decreased since the Exodus, and also that in later times its numbers, even when counted with the Gadites and the half of Manasseh, were fewer than that of the Reubenites alone at the census of Numbers 1:1-54. They took possession of a large and fertile district east of Jordan. Occupied with their flocks and herds, they appear soon after the days of Joshua to have lost their early energy: they could not be roused to take part in the national rising against Jabin (Judges 5:15, Judges 5:16). They do not seem to have cared to complete the conquest of their own territory; and even the cities assigned them were wrested from them by the Moabites. While from this tribe no judge, prophet, or national hero arose" to redeem it from insignificance (see 'Speaker's Commentary,' in loc; to which we are indebted for the above details). We are not at a loss to account for this. The gross wickedness of the head of this tribe left a stain upon its name which not generation after generation could wipe out, and "destroyed at once the prestige of birth, and the spirit of leadership" (J.L. Porter £). Hence our topic for homiletic treatment—a topic which no teacher who desires to declare the "whole counsel of God" can forbear to touch upon in due season. It is this—Life impoverished through ancestral sins (see Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:4).
I. THERE ARE CERTAIN SINS—SINS OF THE FLESH—TO WHICH MEN GENERALLY ARE LIABLE; WHICH TO SOME CONSTITUTIONS PRESENT THEMSELVES AS TEMPTATIONS SPECIALLY STRONG. In every one there is some weak point, at which seductive influences may easily enter: "Every one is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust (ὑπὸ τής ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας) and enticed."
II. THERE ARE NO SINS WHICH WORK GREATER HAVOC IN A MAN THAN THOSE TO WHICH REUBEN GAVE WAY. The desperately wicked act recorded of him indicates with too much certainty a previously formed habit of self-indulgence, in which he had suffered the reins of self-control and self-respect to fall from his hands. The effect of such habits in a physiological point of view is disastrous. But more grievous still are their moral issues. They lower the man himself in his own eyes. They lower his view of mankind at large. They lead inevitably to the association of thought with what is lowest in human nature, rather than with what is highest and best. And, unless renounced, these sins will drag the whole man after them, and make of him a wreck and a ruin. Hence the terrific warning of our Savior in Matthew 5:29. Nothing will sooner becloud and deaden the moral sense than indulgence in sensual sins.
III. THE EVIL EFFECT OF SUCH SINS STOPS NOT WITH THE MAN HIMSELF. With regard to those whose good opinion and respect are most worth having, it is impossible for them to look on one who indulges in such sins otherwise than with profoundest pity and shame, and even with disgust! They see that one who by his sex is meant to be the guardian of woman's purity, honor, and joy, is basely tampering with them all! Not even Jacob, though the tenderness of the old patriarch under such circumstances must have been at its height, could bring himself to pronounce a rich blessing even on his firstborn, whose life had been thus disfigured and disgraced. Reuben's whole family and tribe shared in the stigma of their father's sin; not as being guilty in like manner, but because the name of their sire could not henceforth be dissociated from the thought of base and treacherous lust.
IV. NOR DOES THE ILL EFFECT OF SUCH SINS EXPIRE WITH THE GENERATION IN WHICH THEY WERE COMMITTED. The foul odor of Reuben's crime rises up before Moses. 'Tis not named indeed. But he has no blessing for his tribe of any richness or depth. "May he not become so weak as to be lost sight of altogether!" Such is the gist of it. The descendants of Jacob's firstborn were long, long under the gloomy shadow cast on them by the sins of their sire! There is nothing in this record of the Word of God which does not frequently find its counterpart in the generations of men now. Many, many there are who inherit some physical ill, some mental weakness, or some moral incapacity or obliquity, through a constitutional taint from sins long gone by!
1. We know not whence, on the physical and moral side of cur constitution, a mightier argument can be drawn for purity of life and manners, than from such a theme as that suggested by the text. If men have little care for themselves, let them at least guard against shading with sadness or marring with weakness the lives of those who may hereafter owe their existence to them.
2. Maybe some who may read these words may be disposed to say, "If I may possibly be the possessor of an enfeebled constitution on account of some sins which preceded me, then how can I or any one judge of my measure of responsibility before God as to how far it is affected thereby?" We reply:
(1) No living man can gauge exactly another's responsibility, or even his own; but God can. He does, and he makes all allowances that equity requires. He who is most just is most kind.
(2) God invites every man to come to him through his Son Jesus Christ, that sin, as guilt, may be forgiven; and that, as disease, it may be cured.
(3) Wherever God's invitation is accepted, his grace will cancel guilt and cure corruption; thus imparting health and soundness for the life that now is, and promising the life to come.
(4) To this each one may well be urged, not only on the ground of his individual well-being, but also on the ground that the streams of purifying grace, cleansing his nature, may do much to check the onward flow of the poison he inherits, and to help towards a sounder life in those who shall follow him.
The blessing of Judah; or, help needed to fulfill destiny.
It cannot but suggest itself to the student to compare the blessing on Judah pronounced by Moses, with the renowned prophecy of Jacob concerning him and his tribe. That the patriarch's words declared the future pre-eminence of that tribe is well known; consequently, it could not be surprising to the other tribes to find precedence given to Judah in the order of encamping and of marching (cf. Numbers 2:1-4; Numbers 10:14). This thought of Judah's firstness gives its hue to the words uttered respecting him. They take the form of a prayer, which is at once the holy benediction of the dying leader, the pious breathing of the saint, and the prophetic fore-glance of the seer. It could not be a matter of doubt, that being in the front would involve not only eminence in honor, but also precedence in weight of responsibility; and in order to sustain aright great responsibility, there is need for an unusual supply of Divine strength. This it is which forms the contents of the prayer. Jacob had said, "To him shall the gathering of the people be;" Moses prays, "Lord, fulfill that prediction, and
(1) sustain him; so that he may be brought to his people;
(2) give him all the strength he requires to enable him to fulfill his high and holy destiny; 'let his hands be sufficient for him;' and
(3) when the enemy would endeavor to overthrow him, let thine almighty aid be near; 'be thou a Help to him from his enemies.'" That this prophetic blessing and prayer is, in the highest meaning thereof, Messianic, seems to admit of no question. Its complete fulfillment will be realized in the ultimate triumph of him who is at once "the Lion of the tribe of Judah," and yet "the Lamb that was slain." He will be brought "unto his people;" his hands have been and will be "sufficient for him;" and power no less than that of the eternal Father will ensure the defeat of the enemy and the enthronement of the Son, that "in all things he may become the pre-eminent One." For this believers have prayed implicitly ever since the days of Moses; for this they have prayed explicitly ever since the day of Pentecost.
But there is another bearing of this blessing of Judah, perhaps less obvious, though not less real than the one already named; while it equally suggests a topic for pulpit teaching of no small interest and value, viz. Divine help needed for man, that he may realize his true destiny. The following line of thought may serve to press home this truth:—
I. The life of man has a noble destiny before it.
II. According to the greatness of destiny must be the measure of responsibility.
III. According to responsibility, so is the need of Divine help to give unity and directness to life. We need
(1) strength: "let his hands be sufficient for him;"
(2) protection: "be thou a help to him from his enemies."
IV. That such Divine help may be granted may well be made matter of earnest prayer:
(1) of pastors for people;
(2) of parents for children;
(3) of friend for friend.
V. It is a great stimulus to prayer, when the one prayed for is known to pray for himself. Moses was not praying for a prayerless tribe. "Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah."
VI. When prayer has great promises to fall back upon, we may be absolutely sure of its success. The prayer, "Bring him unto his people," was based on the promise, "To him shall the gathering of the people be." It is equivalent to, "Lord, fulfill thine own promise." The great Messianic promise was made through Judah, and through him and in him was it fulfilled.
The blessing of Levi; or, entire devotion to God a necessary qualification for ministerial service.
Moses and Aaron were themselves of the tribe of Levi. Consequently, Moses is here speaking of his own tribe; he forecasts its future; he seems in a remarkable manner to revoke the harsh sentence of the patriarch Jacob upon it. Nor is this altogether unaccounted for. The tribe had manifested a genuine repentance by a remarkable zeal for God's honor on several occasions. It was the tribe, moreover, which God had selected from the rest, to minister in holy things; and these facts, blending themselves with a painful reminiscence of his own breakdown at Meribah, give the character to the blessing of Moses. The points therein which furnish a basis for historic and homiletic teaching are these:
1. Here is an office divinely appointed and assigned to a particular tribe—"thy holy one" (Deuteronomy 33:8).
2. Here is a history, in some sort chequered and sad, connected with the tribe (Deuteronomy 33:8)—"Massah," "Meribah" (Numbers 20:1-13). There had been a grievous failure on Aaron's part too, as well as on that of Moses (Exodus 32:1-35; Exodus 33:1-23.). Still, as a whole, the tribe had been marked by great zeal for God, great concern for his honor, and great devotion to his service (Deuteronomy 33:9; cf. Numbers 8:14-26; Numbers 25:1-15; Exodus 32:26-28). The honor of God was deemed by this tribe paramount to all personal and family considerations.
3. Here is a commission for the discharge of varied duties resting on the tribe (Deuteronomy 33:10)—teaching, incense, sacrifice (see Deuteronomy 10:8; Malachi 2:4-7). The duties of the priesthood were more varied than is generally supposed (cf. Dean Stanley on the Jewish Church, vol. 2. lect. 36.). Whatever a man could be or do to help his people in prayer, work, war, worship, knowledge, or life,—all this was charged upon the priest.
4. Here is a danger espied to which the tribe would be liable (Deuteronomy 33:11)—"them that rise against him;" "them that hate him." This hatred had already manifested itself in jealousy (Numbers 16:3, et seq.). It is very suggestive that we find one of the Reubenites, a tribe which had lost its birthright, concerned in that conspiracy. There always has been and there will be jealousy and odium towards God's ministers, as "taking too much upon them." As Moses had found it out already, he knew by some experience what it was likely to be in the future. Hence:
5. Here is a prayer which takes its shape from a review of the varied facts named above (Deuteronomy 33:11), that a blessing might attend on their consecrated energies: "Bless, Lord, his strength;" that the work might be accepted in God's sight; and that the enemies and haters of the tribe, who rose up in jealousy against the office and those who filled it, might be put to utter shame! £
Here is a mass of truth suggested of great interest and value.
I. There is a ministry appointed by God under the Christian economy.
II. To this office great honor now belongs.
III. Its faithful discharge makes varied demands on those who hold it.
IV. These demands cannot be rightly met without entire and unreserved consecration.
V. However faithful God's ministers may be, they wilt certainly meet with hatred and opposition.
VI. That their work may, in the midst of all difficulty, be divinely accepted and guarded, may well be made matter of earnest prayer.
The blessing on Benjamin; or, safety in the sheltering care of Divine love.
Though not without difficulty in some points of detail, the general tenor of this blessing on Benjamin is tolerably clear. It is well known that Benjamin was the object of his father's special love. The expiring lawgiver seems to see in that a reflection of a tenderer and mightier, yea, a Divine love, which, as it had been manifest to the head of his tribe in time past, would also be manifest to the tribe itself in the ages yet to come. Benjamin had been and would be "the beloved of the Lord." The words, "he shall dwell between his shoulders," are variously interpreted (see the Exposition; also Keil, Calvin, Jameson, the 'Speaker's Commentary,' et al. in loc.). We prefer the simpler meaning accepted by Calvin, that the figure is that of a father carrying on his shoulders a young and feeble child (see Deuteronomy 1:31). During all the changes of Israel's history, a special luster shone forth from this tribe. From hence its first king was chosen. On or by its territory was God's "foundation" in the holy mountains. And as far on as the time of the first century of the Christian era, Paul reckoned it as one of his points of native glorying that he was of the tribe of Benjamin (see Romans 11:1; Philippians 3:5). Our topic for meditation is—Safety it, the sheltering care of Divine love, an inestimable blessing.
I. THERE ARE THOSE WHOM GOD LOVES WITH A SPECIAL LOVE. They are, in a degree to which others are not, "the beloved of the Lord." No doubt there is a sense in which it is true that God loves all mankind. His love to our race is such that he has given us the noblest gift which even Heaven itself could bestow (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4). This is a love of benevolence. But our Lord speaks of something further in John 14:21, John 14:23; John 16:27. And Paul the apostle, in describing the blessings of a justified life, speaks of the "love of God" being "shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost," i.e. a pervading sense of that love.
But who are they who are thus specially loved of God? They do not belong, as such, to any nation, tribe, or tongue. They may be found in all of them. Those who are "in Christ," pardoned, renewed, accepted, justified, sanctified,—these, these are "beloved of God, called to be saints."
II. THEY CAN REJOICE "ALL THE DAY LONG" IN THAT NEW RELATIONSHIP WHICH IS THE CREATION OF REDEEMING LOVE. In the figure used in the text, and in a not dissimilar verse in Deu 1:1-46 :81, there is the underlying thought of a gracious fatherly relation. That is also disclosed in the gospel; and in both cases it has its reciprocal that of "son" (see Romans 8:14-17). This is not that general relation to God indicated in Acts 17:28; that is common to man as man. This is peculiar to those who are born again. The former may be and is marred by sin. The latter will never be; it is roads possible through a propitiation for sin by the blood of Christ, and made actual through the destruction of sin by the power of the Holy Ghost (1 John 3:9). Hence in the perpetuity of this relationship there is matter of constant joy (Romans 8:38, Romans 8:39).
III. IN CONNECTION WITH THIS RELATION THERE IS A CORRESPONDING CARE ON THE PART OF JEHOVAH. The father carries the child "between his shoulders," not only because the child is too young or too weak to go alone—true enough though that may be—but because he feels that the child's safety is its father's care. And the parent would feel it a reproach to himself if the weal of the child were not the care of his heart. Now, we know how our Lord permits, yea, teaches us to look up from human tenderness to the Divine, as if the lower were but the reflection (and consequently the image) of the higher (Matthew 7:9-11). And St. Peter directly' teaches the positive truth, "he careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7). And so does Peter's Lord, in Luke 12:6, Luke 12:7, Luke 12:22-30; Matthew 21:32, Matthew 21:33. How much of loving care is indicated in John 6:38-40; John 10:1-29, words would fail to tell. The believer may meditate thereon to his heart's delight, but he will find no words adequately to express the glories revealed to his faith in the infinite care for him of God the Father and the Son.
IV. HENCE THE BELOVED OF THE LORD ARE IN PERPETUAL SAFETY. "The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him"—"upon him" the word is: God bears him up; he rests safely on God. God is his "Shelterer" all the day long, without let or pause. The Old Testament saints felt this, or they could never have penned Psalms 23:1-6; Psalms 91:1-16; and 121.
1. They are safe in Divine love. None can wrest them thence.
2. They are safe at all hours. "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep."
3. They are safe from all plots, snares, and fiery darts.
4. They are safe under all circumstances of duty, care, trial, affliction, bereavement, death. They may be tossed about on the Rock, but never from it.
1. Let the believer rejoice in the Lord; yea, let him shout aloud for joy (Psalms 33:1; Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:1).
2. If any ask us this question—"If the believer is so safe, how is it that one like Paul can write as he does in 1 Corinthians 9:23-27?"—the answer is, This is one way in which God secures the safety of loyal souls, by giving them to see the danger they are in from themselves, that they may look ever to the Rock that is higher than they are. For:
3. No such security is ever enjoyed as to warrant any departure from duty's path, or any presuming on God's providence. To a temptation in this direction, even our dear Lord was exposed, and his followers must not expect to be free therefrom yet awhile (see Matthew 4:5-7).
4. The great reason why God takes our cares on himself is that he may set us free for the one business of life, which is in loyalty and love to do the work of the day in the day, and to leave all else in his hands. Let us say—
"I have no cares, O Blessed Will;
My cares thou makest thine.
I live in triumph, Lord, for thou
Hast made thy triumphs mine!"
And sooner shall heaven and earth pass than one such beloved one of the Lord shall ever he put to shame.
The blessing of Joseph; or, God's favor the mercy of mercies.
We may see here a reflection of Jacob's blessing, both as in Genesis 48:19 and also Genesis 49:25, et seq. In Dean Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 226-250, there is much interesting information as to the correspondence between this prophecy of Moses on the one hand, and the extent of territory, the beauty and fertility of the district, the dignity, valor, and advance of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh on the other. (For an elucidation of each clause in this somewhat lengthened blessing, see the Exposition.) By way of" opening up," however, the theme of our Homily, we must call the readers' attention to the structure of the verses. We regard them as a blending at once of prophecy and prayer. Both the beginning and the close are prophetic. The beginning, from verse 13 down to the word "thereof," in verse 16; the ending in verse 17. In the intervening clauses we regard (so Calvin, Keil, et al.) the word רְצוֹן. (retzon) as a nominative case. We read thus: "And may the good will of him that dwelt in the bush come upon the head of Joseph," etc. It will be observed that in the English Version the words "for" and "the blessing" are in italics, to show that they are added by the translators. And the fact that there is no "for" in the original at the commencement of this clause seems to show that it is not co-ordinate with the preceding ones, and so to mark a new starting-point; as if Moses had said, "He will have a noble territory, rich in all temporal wealth; his tribe will be an enterprising, hardy, and pushing one; may there be superadded to all, the favor of him who dwelt in the bush, to crown and glorify the whole." The reader will find the varied scriptural senses of the word here translated "good will," in the following passages, where it occurs:—Exodus 28:38; Le Exodus 23:11; Psalms 5:12; Psalms 19:14; Psalms 30:5; Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 60:7; Isaiah 61:2. If in addition to all that earth's varied wealth and tribal renown and conquest could yield, Joseph had the "favor" of the Lord, that would make him rich indeed. Whence our theme suggests itself—God's favor the mercy of mercies.
I. THE STORE OF MERCIES WHICH ARE THE TEMPORAL GIFTS OF GOD'S HAND IS BY NO MEANS SMALL. The land, with its wondrous capacities and its adaptation to this seed and to that; the dew that gently distils, or the vapor that exhales; the lakes that lie sleeping on the bosom of the hills; the variety of beauty, fragrance, and fruitfulness coming through the sunbeams; the produce of the several months, year by year; the wealth stored up in the mountains and hills; the varied productions of the soil;—all these are referred to in the text; and, in a few brief touches, what a conception they give us of the wealth with which God has enriched this globe, and of the series of constant adaptations with which it is made subservient to the use of man! So great are all these blessings which go to make up the enjoyments of life on its temporal side, that meditation thereon may well call up from the soul a grand song of praise such as we find in Psalms 104:1-35.
Nor can we in such an age as this, leave out the additional fact that, owing to the rapid communication between the people of one land and those of another, the productions of one country supply the wants of another; and thus the nations at large share the supplies sent them by a gracious God.
And he it remembered these supplies are not less from God because he uses means in sending them; it is rather a proof of his care for the culture and education of man, that he makes him the means of the cultivation and tillage of the soil. "Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even he shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord."
II. THERE IS A FAR GREATER MERCY THAN ANY OF THESE—one which we have called "the mercy of mercies." It is referred to in Psalms 104:16, "The good will … may it come upon the head of Joseph." Favor, mercy, on Joseph's head, is a boon greater far than plenty on his land I There are three questions which we may appropriately ask concerning it.
1. What is this "good will?" It is not simply that benevolence to which our Savior refers in Matthew 5:45. In this sense God's goodness extendeth to all. "His tender mercies are over all his works." This good will is something special. If the student will compare the several passages (those given ut supra et al.), in which the same word is used which is here translated "good will," he will see how much meaning it conveys. It includes:
(1) acceptance in God's sight—forgiveness, access;
(2) God's delight in the accepted one;
(3) the constant possession of God's special love, which enriches the accepted one with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
2. How can this good will be assured to its possessor?
(1) There is a word of promise which assures us that it is made over to the believer in Christ (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26).
(2) To him who believes, the Spirit is given, confirming to the soul its interest in Christ, and sealing it "to the day of redemption."
3. Why is this the mercy of mercies?
(1) Because the possessor thereof can delight in God himself, ere can realize that in God he has One who is infinitely more than all his gifts, and who will be his joy when all earth's joys have lost their power to charm.
(2) Because all other mercies have new joy stamped upon them when they are enjoyed as coming from a reconciled God and Father.
(3) Because we are then enabled to use other mercies aright. Surely that must be a crowning blessing which teaches the right use of every blessing.
(4) The conscious enjoyment of God's favor and love gives, as nothing else can, strength for the duties of life. "The joy of the Lord is your strength."
(5) With such joy and strength life will be so sanctified as to be rich in influence for good.
(6) God's favor and love will be a source of joy long after we have ceased to dwell below, yea, forever and ever.
Oh, it is not—it is not merely having a wealthy land, or great estates, or splendid revenues, or military prowess, or pushing energy, that can make life a success. We may have all these, and yet life may be a miserable, an unredeemed and irredeemable failure. It may well be a matter for frequent wonder how parents who profess to aim at and to be living the higher life, do seek so earnestly to get the best situations in life for their children, yet never manifest half the same amount of anxiety that their loved ones may have "the good win of him that dwelt in the bush "resting on their heads. And yet, without God's favor, what is life, what is wealth, what are earthly friends, but blessings that disappoint our hopes, and prove, perhaps, anything but blessings in the end?
FINALLY: THIS MOST NEEDFUL OF ALL BLESSINGS IS THE VERY ONE OF WHICH ALL WHO CRAVE IT SUPREMELY MAY MAKE MOST SURE. God may not give us much of this world's goods. He will give us himself. He waits to be gracious. He delights in loving-kindness. He will be the seeker's God forever and ever; his Guide even unto death.
Deuteronomy 33:18, Deuteronomy 33:19
Trade and commerce subservient to evangelization.
There is room for considerable divergence of view with regard to some of the minutiae of this passage, on which the reader will consult the Exposition, and may also refer with great advantage to Keil, Jameson, and Wordsworth, on the blessing of Issachar and Zebulun. The following points, however, stand out with a fair degree of clearness:—
1. Zebulun and Issachar had the territory which corresponds to the Galilee of our Lord's time.
2. They had a fine piece of sea-beard, which would enable them to open up traffic with other nations.
3. They had also a considerable space inland, reaching to the lake of Gennesaret.
4. With this double advantage, there would be scope for the development of foreign and home trade.
5. They, having the inestimable blessings of the knowledge of God, of a pure faith, and of a holy worship, would be in a far better position religiously than any of the nations with whom they would carry on intercourse for the purposes of trade.
6. They would be made rich by the treasures of wealth brought to them from afar. "They shall suck of the abundance of the seas," etc.
7. They would make their traffic with other peoples a reason for and an opportunity of inviting them to join them in the sacrifices of righteousness (see Gesenius, sub verb. זֶבַח). As other nations enriched them in temporal things, they would enrich other peoples in spiritual things (see a fine suggestive note by Bishop Wordsworth, in loc.). This was fulfilled "when the apostles and evangelists of Galilee went forth to evangelize all nations in the ships of the Christian Church." The apostles, "men of Galilee," called all nations to the mountain of the Lord's house on the day of Pentecost. A greater fulfillment awaits this passage (see Isaiah 60:5, Isaiah 60:6, Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 66:11, Isaiah 66:12). Hence the Holy Ghost, by the lawgiver, gives us here a great theme for homiletic teaching. The development of commerce subservient to evangelization.
I. The Church of God is here prospectively regarded as upon a "mountain" (Deuteronomy 33:19; see this figure carried out in Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1).
II. From this mountain an invitation to the nations is to be sent forth; Deuteronomy 33:19, "They shall call," etc. (cf. Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2; Zechariah 8:20-23; Isaiah 55:5).
III. There will be such national intercommunication as shall help to forward these world-wide invitations (Isaiah 60:3, Isaiah 60:4; Daniel 12:4; cf. Acts 2:5-11).
IV. The time will come when the Church of God shall be enriched by the glad inflowing of a people's wealth; Deuteronomy 33:19, "For they shall suck," etc. (cf. Isaiah 60:9, et seq.; Micah 4:13).
V. The nations at large shall then "offer sacrifices of righteousness" (Deuteronomy 33:19; cf. Malachi 1:11; Romans 15:16; Hebrews 13:15, Hebrews 13:16; 1 Peter 2:5).
1. With what interest may believers contemplate the commercial progress of the age, and the increased facility of communication between people and people! Man is seeking to bring about all this, to serve himself. God overrules all for the higher purposes of his race, and governs the world in the interests of the Church.
2. How great a shame is it when men from Christian lands, in carrying on traffic with other nations, make such traffic a means of propagating corruption, lust, and crime!
3. Commerce may be "holiness unto the Lord," and will never reach its true splendor till such is the case (Zechariah 14:20). Its stainless purity is of infinitely more moment than its extent or amount.
Deuteronomy 33:20, Deuteronomy 33:21
Gad; or, a place in the Church and the world for lionlike strength.
"The territory of Gad lay in the east of the Jordan … it included several cities remarkable in the history of the patriarchs and of the judges, as Mahanaim, Ramoth, Mizpeh, Succoth, and Peniel; but it was pre-eminently remarkable because it contained the grave of the great general and lawgiver, Moses—a fact which so decidedly invested the province with a character of holiness that, though situated on the east of the river, it was regarded as one of the most honored parts of the Promised Land, from which the leaders of the people might legitimately arise" (Kalisch on Genesis 49:19).
The blessing of Moses, like that of Jacob, upon Gad, has a warlike ring about it. He is spoken of here as lionlike in courage and strength, and also as being charged with the execution of the justice of the Lord and his ordinances with Israel. "The clause, 'He came to the heads of the people,' expresses the thought that Gad joined the heads of the people to go at the head of the tribes of Israel (camp. Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12, with Numbers 32:17, Numbers 32:21, Numbers 32:32), to conquer Canaan with the whole nation, and root out the Canaanites" (Keil, in loc.). The character of this tribe is described with remarkable vividness in the Book of Chronicles. It was strong, hardy, fierce, warlike, magnificent in heroism, invaluable to friends, terrible to foes. Among them were "strong men of might, men of war for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, their faces the faces of lions, and like rues upon the mountain for swiftness:" "the least of them more than equal to a hundred, and the greatest to a thousand" (1 Chronicles 12:8, 1 Chronicles 12:14). And amid all the conflicts which were inevitable to the Hebrews with the nations round about, such lionlike courage and hardiness would be invaluable in leading them on to victory, and in helping them through great crises of their political and military history. And when such courage and valor are animated by the right spirit, and engaged on the side of righteousness, upon them an aged saint may well pronounce his blessing. It is indicative of the spirit, which pervaded this tribe that such men as Jephthah, Barzillai, and (probably) Elijah were of it. Our theme for homiletic teaching is—That the special qualities of courage and strength have a valuable place in carrying out God's work both in the Church and the world.
I. THERE ARE NOT UNFREQUENTLY GREAT CRISES WHICH ARISE IN THE CHURCH OR IN THE WORLD. Work has to be done which requires no ordinary amount of independence and assurance; as e.g. when a way has to be opened up through new and untried districts; or a step has to be taken on which the weal or woe of ages may depend. Sometimes in the military career of a nation a giant foe has to be grappled with, or, in the progress of a Church, some heresy has to be attacked, and battles, harder than any on a nation's battle-field, have to be fought in the name of the Lord of hosts. Perchance some Ahab with his pride and covetousness, or some Herod or Felix rioting in lust and splendor, may have to be sternly addressed for righteousness' sake. Or there may come a time when the flood-gates of iniquity are burst open, and sin rushes forth in torrents, and the wicked ride high and triumph over the righteous, and the greater part of men are cowed before the storm-blast.
II. THE WORK OF GOD AT SUCH TIMES MAY BE STERN AND HARD. It may be that some special form of service is just then imperatively needed. "Who will rise up for me against the evil-doers? Who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?" The quiet souls, precious as they are, will seem to be at a discount then. There requires:
1. Leadership in the cause of the right.
2. Men who can venture all, to clear the way to an unknown region.
3. Men who can endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
4. Men who can fearlessly rebuke ill, and fear the face of neither man nor devil.
III. FOR THIS SPECIAL FORM OF SERVICE, ENTERPRISE, COURAGE, BRAVERY, AND THE STERNER VIRTUES ARE REQUIRED. Those who are naturally timid and retiring will probably be out of sight at such times. Their work, indeed, is not lost. Their sighs and cries and prayers do enter into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. But still there then is need of the shaggier spirits to come to the front. There was time when evil so overspread Israel, and persecution was so sore, that it seemed as if virtue would soon become extinct unless God arose in his might. There were seven thousand souls hidden in obscurity. But one man, stern and strong, must be to the front. It was Elijah (cf. also John the Baptist).
IV. GOD IN MERCY, AS HE FORESEES THESE CRISES, PREPARES MEN FOR THEM. The Hebrews could not have dispensed with the men of Gad. Their strength was required as much as the sanctity of the Levites. Every virtue, every grace, has its own distinctive sphere of service. God gives some more of the kindlier graces, that they may be comforters; and others more of the hardier ones, that they may be awakeners. One is a Barnabas; another a Boanerges.
V. THEREFORE, WHATEVER OUR NATURAL GIFTS MAY BE, LET US BE SUPREMELY CONCERNED TO SANCTIFY THEM FOR GOD. Let no one reset that he cannot be anybody else. Rather, "as much as in him is," let him use his powers, whatever they may be, for his redeeming God. The meek, quiet, gentle, retiring souls have their work. The rougher, sterner ones have also theirs. "Each one in his place is best." Be it ours every day to ask, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; some to honor and some to dishonor. If a man, therefore, purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work.
Deuteronomy 33:22, Deuteronomy 33:23
The blessing of Dan and Naphtali; the satisfaction which accrues from the enjoyment of the Divine favor.
The word rendered "favor' in this verse, is the same as the one translated "good will" in the blessing of Joseph. (For several instances in which that word is used, see the Homily on that passage.) We are not going beyond the significance attached to the word in the time of Moses, in thinking of it as conveying to us the meaning of that favor, grace, and mercy of God, which is the portion of those who are accepted in his sight. And the Mosaic expression, "satisfied with favor," suggests to us this theme for meditation—Acceptance with God a matter for devout satisfaction.
I. THE BLESSING HERE PRONOUNCED ON DAN AND NAPHTALI SPEAKS OF TEMPORAL MERCIES OF SO MEAN VALUE. To Dan is promised the strength and leaping freedom of young life. Samson was a mighty hero in this tribe. The historical details are not sufficient to enable us to compare the history of the tribe with the blessing upon it. Nevertheless, in general, it is sufficiently obvious that an amplitude of power is a great boon, if, indeed it be attended with the greater one, of wisdom to use it aright. Naphtali, too, was to enjoy "the sunny south" (see Hebrew). To be permitted to know this earthly life on its sunny side is indeed a mercy; how it sweetens our existence when, enjoying the warm sunbeams, we are permitted to feel that life is a privilege. Let such as have the earthly gifts bestowed on Dan and Naphtali—strength and sunshine—not be slow to perceive or to acknowledge their indebtedness and responsibility to God.
II. YET GREAT AS THESE TEMPORAL MERCIES ARE, BY THEMSELVES THEY WILL NOT YIELD SATISFACTION TO THE HIGHER NATURE OF MAN, HOWEVER ABUNDANT THE DEGREE IN WHICH THEY MAY BE POSSESSED. It is true that this is not so much expressed in the text as implied in the form of it. The satisfaction of which Moses speaks arises from something else which neither might nor brightness can secure.
III. THERE IS A GREATER BOON, even "favor"—acceptance with God. This the Hebrews enjoyed who had made a covenant with God through sacrifice. (For the blessedness of this in its ripest Christian form, see Romans 5:1-11). Earthly blessings are the gifts of God's hand. Spiritual blessings are the outflowings of his grace (Ephesians 1:1-3; Ephesians 2:1-6).
IV. THIS GREATER BOON IT IS WHICH YIELDS ENTIRE SATISFACTION. With God's "favor," all who possess it are abundantly satisfied. It must be so. For in this blessed state of acceptance, we enjoy what the Apostle Paul speaks of as a resurrection life. We are in "a new creation," "all things are become new."
(1) The intellect is satisfied. For so much comes into view to delight the soul (1 Corinthians 2:9, 1 Corinthians 2:10).
(2) The conscience is pacified. For the enjoyment of God's favor comes out of Christ's own reconciling work, and is attended with pardon and adoption.
(3) The affections are satisfied. For Divine love is "shed abroad in the heart." Fellowship with God is ever maintained.
(4) A double joy is put into the use of earthly gifts. They are received as a Father's tokens of love. They mean so much more than they can to others.
(5) The expectations are satisfied. In God's love they have an enduring treasury of wealth.
" … when all earthly pleasures fail,—
(And fail they always will to every soul of man),
He sends his hopes on high; reaches his sickle forth,
And reaps the clusters from the vines of God."
Verily such a one is "satisfied with favor, and filled with the blessing of the Lord."
Deuteronomy 33:24, Deuteronomy 33:25
Asher's blessing; strength as the day.
There are several features in this blessing to Asher. He is to have a numerous seed: to enjoy above his brethren the favor of the Lord; to be surrounded with plenty; to be guarded with bars of iron and brass; and to have strength according to the days. (The Hebrew word translated "days" is so rendered or explained by the Targum, Boothroyd, and Parkhurst. The LXX. render it ἰσχυς: the French version has it to force; Gesenius renders it "rest." In this Homily we follow the LXX; and accept our translation, "strength.") However great the temporal blessings may be which are here promised to Asher, this last-named one is surely the greatest of all, yea, greater than any merely earthly blessings could possibly be. And perhaps there is no promise of God's Word which has more deeply touched the hearts of his people, or more frequently proved itself a balm in care, than this one. For that it was made to Asher first, need not shut off any child of God from taking the comfort of it. There is a distinct promise made to Joshua, "I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee;" but yet the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews bids the people whom he is addressing to make that promise their own. And so assuredly may the people of God in every age and land do with the promise before us. They have done so hitherto, and will do so till the end. Let us meditate on it now, presenting, as it does, this topic—Strength promised for the day.
I. WHAT DOES THE PROMISE INCLUDE? It suggests truths of which we are often reminded, viz.: That we have to live by the day. In one sense we can do no otherwise. We can never with certainty look over the rim of one day so as to see what will happen tomorrow. Then each day has its own peculiar alternations and variations of light and shade. One day all is smiling; the next, perchance, all is in gloom. Every hour, every place has "hues of its own fresh borrowed from the heart." Consequently, each day bring, s its own demands with it. And for each day we require new self-adaptedness. Moreover, the strength of each day will not serve for the next. Now, these are the facts which this promise is intended to meet. How does it meet them?
1. It assures us of strength as varied as the day. Whatever kind of strength is wanted, that kind of strength will be given—whether for work or war, pain or sickness, poverty or temptation, bereavement or death. "They that wait on the Lord shall renew [i.e. change] their strength."
2. It is a promise of strength as sure as the day. No day shall come without its due measure of might to enable us to meet its demands. He who hath taught his children to cry, "Give us day by day our daily bread," in teaching them so to pray reveals his purpose to fulfill the prayer he has taught. We shall never find a day when the Savior's grace is a-wanting.
3. It pledges strength as long as the days shall last. So long as any demands are made upon us, so long will God's grace be sufficient to enable us to meet them. We need not look wistfully and anxiously ahead. Our Father cares. One whose words are more to us than thousands of gold and silver has said, "Take no thought for the morrow," etc. And an inspired writer has given us an impregnable argument, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" But let us inquire—
II. WHAT IT IS WHICH GIVES THIS PROMISE A SPECIAL VALUE? "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." The words remind us of a picture drawn by Mrs. Stowe, in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' of a slave weary and worn with toiling in the sultry sun. One quotes the words, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" "Them's good words," is the reply, "but who says 'em?" Obviously all depends on that—so it is here. The words are said by
1. One who knows what our days will be.
2. One who orders our days.
3. One who measures our days.
4. One who loved us from everlasting days.
5. One whose love changes not with the days.
6. One who has infinite resources on which we can draw throughout the days.
7. One whose love as revealed in Christ is a pledge that he will be with us to the end of the days.
Is anything wanting to heighten the value of a promise if it comes from such a Promiser?
III. OUGHT NOT SUCH A PROMISE TO HAVE GREAT POWER OVER US? Yea, verily. A triple power.
1. It should stimulate to holy obedience.
2. It should prepare us to look onward with holy calmness. "I will trust, and not be afraid."
3. It should embolden us to meet emergencies with a valiant heart.
4. It should lead us to look upward with a waiting, expectant eye.
The glory of Israel's God, and the blessedness of God's Israel.
Ere Moses quite throws up his task, he gives us his view of Israel as a whole. He has had a word of blessing for tribe by tribe, and now he takes one last look at the whole nation, and viewing it in the light of that eternal world on which he is so soon to enter, his words are richer, riper, sweeter than any we yet have read. The name he gives to the people is very significant—"Jeshurun." The word is found but four times in the Scriptures, viz. in Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 33:5, Deuteronomy 33:26; Isaiah 44:2. It seems to be a kind of diminutive from יָשַׁר, and in the passage before us it appears to be used as a term of admiration and endearment; some would think it equivalent to "a righteous little people" (see Gesenius). Anyway, the root-notion of the word is connected with righteousness. And the fundamental conception which Moses has of the nation is that it is a nation in covenant with Jehovah on the righteous basis of sacrifice, and that it is one, moreover, which has righteousness for the corner-stone of its constitution and polity. And he pronounces them blessed in two senses: they have a God who is infinitely greater than all gods; they have privileges which make them greater than all other peoples. Hence we have a double theme to meditate upon, from the evangelic standpoint.
I. NONE IS SO GLORIOUS AS ISRAEL'S GOD. It is one mark of Divine condescension that our God lets his people speak of him in language they can best understand; e.g. "None like unto the God of Jeshurun" is a phrase which would seem to imply that there may be some other gods, but none equal to the one God (cf. Micah 7:18; 1 Samuel 2:2), whereas in fact there is no other. Still, men of other nations worshipped other beings whom they deemed to be gods; and Israel's God, in his infinite condescension, suffers himself to be put in contrast from them, although he is God alone.
1. He is "the eternal God." The word rendered "eternal" here is one which refers to God's having existed from the eternal past. "From everlasting" he is God—he is Jehovah. He changes not.
2. He is one who "rideth above the heaven," etc.; he is over all. In the glory of his transcendent majesty, all things are under his feet. "He maketh the clouds his chariot; he walketh upon the wings of the wind."
3. He is one who bears up Israel and all things in his arms. "Underneath are the everlasting arms"—arms spread out, expanded with the intent of bearing all. "Everlasting arms," that will remain thus spread out and bearing all to eternity, without weariness, though they have borne the weight of all things from eternity.
4. He is one whose active energies are ever going before his people, to "thrust out" their enemies. Whatever would obstruct them shall be taken out of the way.
5. He himself is and will be the Dwelling-place in which his people can abide. "Thy Refuge" (see Psalms 90:1; Psalms 91:2, Psalms 91:9; Isaiah 4:6). It is not at all unlikely that the figure of God as a permanent Home to his people suggested itself to Moses by way of contrast, as the people had lived such a wandering life, and abode in tabernacles (so Keil). Let these five features which mark Israel's God be put together. May we not well say, "Who is like to the God of Jeshurun?"
II. NONE CAN BE SO BLESSED AS GOD'S ISRAEL. This is seen whether we consider what God is to them, or what they have and are in, through, and from God.
1. Their blessedness arises from what God is to them; it is an incomparable blessedness. For:
(1) Who else has an eternal God?
(2) Who else has one so great in majesty?
(3) Who else has one so strong to bear?
(4) Who else has one so mighty to defend?
(5) Who else has one in whom is such a home?
Each of these five points, the correlatives of those under the first head, requires expansion.
2. It arises also from what they have and are in and through God.
(1) They have security. "Israel shall dwell in safety."
(2) Plenty shall be theirs. "The fountain Of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine." "They that fear the Lord shall not want any good thing."
(3) They shall have refreshment. "His heavens shall drop down dew." God will be "as the dew unto Israel."
(4) Victory shall be theirs.
(a) "Thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee: i.e. they threatened to destroy, and they are proved false.
(b) "Thou shalt tread upon their high places;" i.e. the high and fortified places in which they gloried shall be as ramparts over which you shall walk.
Who can desire to be more blessed than this? Yea, who can conceive of a greater blessedness? Is it not enough to set the heart a-longing? May not the remark be appropriately made in closing, that—
It behooves each one of us to make sure that we are of the Israel of God, so that we may know this blessedness is ours!
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
A fiery Law.
The fieriness of the Law, significant:
1. Of the holiness from which the Law emanated.
2. Of the fiery sanctions by which it is guarded.
3. Of the threatening aspect which it wears to sinners.
4. Of the purifying effects which it exerts in the hearts and consciences of believers.—J.O.
1. Their happiness—loved of God.
2. Their safety—in God's hand.
3. Their attitude—sitting at God's feet—at the feet of God's Son (Luke 10:3, Luke 10:9).
(1) Willing to know God's will.
(2) Seeking instruction in it.
(3) Waiting on God for that instruction.
(4) Their duty—to receive of God's words.
The receiving to be of the practical kind of hiding God's words in the heart, and going on to put them in practice (Matthew 13:23).—J.O.
Deuteronomy 33:6, Deuteronomy 33:7
Reuben and Judah.
The tribe without a destiny and the tribe with one.
I. THE PRESERVATION AND INCREASE OF EVERY PART OF THE CHURCH IS OF INTEREST TO EVERY OTHER. Reuben's sins had incurred the forfeiture of privilege. His numbers were diminishing. It had been predicted of him that he would not excel (Genesis 49:4). But Moses desires that his tribe should not perish. He prays for its preservation and revival. Or, on another view, he prays that, though its numbers are few, it may not utterly die out. So ought we to pray for any part of the Church that seems in a dwindling condition.
II. THE STRENGTH OF THE STRONG IS STILL TO BE SOUGHT FROM GOD. Judah, though strong, with great promises behind and great hopes before, was yet to recognize that his help and sufficiency were of God. That there may be strength, there must be prayer, "Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah," etc.—J.O.
The priestly tribe. Its curse (Genesis 49:7) turned into a blessing. Repentance and zeal cut off the entail of a curse, or so transform it that out of the very curse God evokes a blessing (cf. Exodus 32:29; Psalms 106:31).
I. THE GROUND OF THE BLESSING.
1. Levi's fidelity (Deuteronomy 33:8). "Among the faithless, faithful only he." The zeal and constancy of the tribe on critical occasions had been remarkable. Learn how the wicked, returning to God and proving zealous in his service, may retrieve past forfeitures and win great honor.
2. Levi's renunciation of earthly ties (Deuteronomy 33:9). Christ also requires that no earthly tie be allowed to stand between his disciples and the allegiance they owe to him (Matthew 10:37).
II. THE BLESSING ITSELF.
1. Great privileges were conferred.
(1) Levi was to be the medium of God's revelations. Urim and Thummim (Deuteronomy 33:8). This privilege of the tribe receives its highest fulfillment in Christ—God's "Holy One," by pre-eminence, and the Revealer of all his counsel to men. Note: The Urim and Thummim is attributed to the whole tribe, equally with burning incense and offering sacrifice (Deuteronomy 33:10), though no one pretends that the prerogative of consulting through the oracle belonged to any other than the high priest. This shows the futility of the argument that in Deuteronomy all Levites must be held as priests because priestly functions are in Deuteronomy 10:8, etc; attributed to the tribe as such.
(2) They were to teach the Law to Israel (Deuteronomy 10:10). This privilege now preserved by ministers of the gospel, and other teachers in the Christian Church. In Levi's fidelity and spirit of consecration we see the qualifications required for such work.
(3) They were to burn incense and offer sacrifice. This privilege has its fulfillment in Christians in general, in whose personal consecration and offering of spiritual sacrifices, with the incense of prayers, the character of a "royal priesthood" is maintained (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9). Their sacrifices are acceptable through the High Priest, Christ.
2. Great promises were given (Deuteronomy 10:10). His substance would be blessed, and special protection afforded him. God's servants have all an interest in these promises, especially those whose sacred calling deprives them of the ordinary means of livelihood.—J.O.
Benjamin and Joseph.
The name given to one of these sons of Rachel (Deuteronomy 33:12) would apply to both—"Beloved of the Lord."
I. WHOM GOD CHOOSES TO PRESERVE NO FOE CAN INJURE. Benjamin would dwell in safety as between the shoulders of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 33:12). The Lord would cover him all the day long. This is true of every good man. No power can separate him from God's love. No enemy can reach him to harm him (Psalms 121:1-8.). Christ's sheep are in the Father's hand, whence no man can pluck them (John 10:29).
II. WHOM GOD CHOOSES TO BLESS ALL THINGS CONSPIRE TO POUR BLESSING UPON, (Deuteronomy 33:13-16.) All things would "work together" for the good of Joseph—would combine to fill his lap with treasures. They would unite to benefit and enrich him. Precious things of heaven and of the deep, precious things of sun and moon, precious things of the hills, precious things of the earth, and with these "the good will of him that dwelt in the bush"—a better portion than all, would be multiplied to this favored tribe. So all things in the spiritual respect work for the believer's good (Romans 8:28), even afflictions turning to his salvation through prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:19).
III. WHOM GOD CHOOSES TO HELP NO ADVERSARY CAN WITHSTAND. (Deuteronomy 33:17.)—J.O.
The good will of him that dwelt in the bush.
God chose a bush of the desert as the medium of his appearance to Moses (Exodus 3:2), which, burning, was not consumed. A symbol:
1. Of Divine condescension. God stooping to dwell with men (1 Kings 8:27), using humble and despised instruments (1 Corinthians 2:1-18; 1 Corinthians 2:1-18-31; 2 Corinthians 4:7). The bush, "a neglected manifestation of God."
2. Of indwelling presence. A symbol of the Church, and of the individual believer, indwelt in by God. Inconspicuous and contemned, yet the seat of the Divine presence—a medium of the Divine manifestation.
3. Of miraculous preservation.
1. God's presence is a fire in the midst of his Church—flaming out upon the adversaries.
2. God's presence preserves the Church amidst fires of persecution and affliction.—J.O.
Deuteronomy 33:18, Deuteronomy 33:19
Zebulun and Issachar.
I. TWO FORMS OF THE BLESSING OF THE ALMIGHTY.
2. Agriculture (Deuteronomy 33:18).
1. Some are fitted for one kind of life, some for another. Varieties of disposition and talent. Variety of situation, giving scope for innate gifts. Divine providence, as here in allotment of the tribes, fits the one to the other.
2. God's blessing is needed in one kind of life as well as in another. Neither in commerce nor in agriculture can that blessing be dispensed with. It may rest on us in both, both being legitimate lines of human activity. It is in both equally efficacious.
3. Prosperity flowing to us from God's blessing is a just cause for rejoicing. Unblessed prosperity is not to be rejoiced in, but prosperity with God's blessing attending it is riches indeed.
II. WEALTH DERIVED FROM GOD'S BLESSING IS TO BE SANCTIFIED TO HIS GLORY. (Deuteronomy 33:19.)
1. The nations are to be invited to share the blessing. Note here: Commercial nations have peculiar opportunities for being missionary nations. Cosmopolitan in spirit. Come in contact with many nationalities. Usually possess the means. The preaching of Christ was largely in the region of Zebulun and Issachar, ourselves, and duty of consecrating wealth to missionary enterprise.
2. Sacrifices of righteousness are to be offered in:
(1) recognition of God's gift;
(2) dedication of wealth to God's service;
(3) personal surrender of the offerer to God.—J.O.
Gad, Dan, Naphtali, Asher.
The blessings on these tribes are connected with—
I. PROWESS. (Deuteronomy 33:20, Deuteronomy 33:21.) The chivalrous heroic spirit, which, as well as in bloodier conflicts, finds scope for its exercise in the battles of the cross, has here its appropriate recognition. A first portion is reserved for it.
II. ACTIVITY. Dan's characteristic was agility. In Genesis, the dart of the serpent (Genesis 49:17); here, the leap of the lion's whelp (verse 22). A counterpart in minds of bold, nimble, adventurous type; prompt in decision, subtle in thought, swift in action. Such minds, if to the wisdom of the serpent is added the dove's harmlessness (Matthew 10:16), are of immense service in Christian enterprises needing bold pioneers or swift and decided action.
III. CONTENTMENT. (Verse 23.) Naphtali was less active than receptive. Did less, but received more. Possessed a region of great sweetness and beauty, and dwelt in it with unambitious satisfaction. Such dispositions are needed as a balance to the others.
IV. SKILL IN THE ARTS. (Verses 24, 25.) Iron and brass. Asher appears to have wrought these metals, whether from mines in its own district or brought from a distance does not appear.
1. Talents are diverse.
2. All have their place.
3. A community needs all.
4. The blessing of God rests on a faithful use of all.
5. All should cooperate.—J.O.
A noble climax! The round of blessing has been completed, and the dying lawgiver revels in the thought of the greatness and felicity thence resulting to favored Israel. One by one the tribes have passed before his eye, and he has sketched in outline, not indeed their actual future, but what might have been, what would have been their future, had they remained faithful to their God. The picture is largely an ideal one, though in the after-history of the tribes, in the lots assigned to them in Canaan, in the types of character exhibited by them, in the variety of their callings and destinies—as in the ruins of a temple we may trace something of its original design—we discern the fulfillment of many features of the prophecy. Moses' blessing on the tribes is at once a wish, a prayer, and a prediction: a wish that certain blessings may be theirs; a prayer that the blessings may be given; and a prediction of what, conditionally on obedience, would actually be realized. Reading the blessings, we think, as in the parable, of servants entrusted with certain talents to be used in their Lord's service, but capable of making a bad as well as a good use of them (Matthew 25:14-31). The tribes, speaking generally, used theirs badly, and the blessings were not fulfilled. What applies to the blessing as a whole applies especially to this magnificent concluding passage. It is the ideal, not the actual Israel which stands here before the great lawgiver's eye, and the language applies to the actual, only in so far as it was also the ideal, people of Jehovah. Its full application is to the Church of Christ—the Church catholic and invisible.
I. THE BASIS OF ISRAEL'S HAPPINESS, viz. the relation which the tribes sustained to the eternal God. He was the God of Jeshurun—of the righteous people. He was a God bound to them by covenant. They had been saved by him. He was their changeless Dwelling-place, Defender, and Support. All power in heaven and earth was at their service, and engaged for their defense. They had nothing to fear with a Protector so almighty; they had everything to hope for from one so able to save and bless. Precisely similar is the relation of God in Christ to the Church of believers.
II. THE GREATNESS OF IT.
1. Complete as regards its elements. No element of good a-wanting. Rising from natural blessings, and safety and protection against enemies, they had also, in the favor of God and communion with him, every pledge of spiritual blessing.
2. Permanent. Enduring as the eternal God.
3. Exalting and ennobling to the soul of its possessor. Such a relation to God as Israel sustained should have wrought in the people, did in part work in them, a surpassing elevation of consciousness; was fitted to raise thought and feeling to the pitch of sublimity; should have made of them a great nation, in the best sense of the words, a nation great in thought, aspiration, and endeavor—heroically great. A like elevation of spirit should characterize the people of Christ.—J.O.
The eternal God a Refuge.
I. THE SUBLIMITY OF THIS PROMISE. IS there one who can open his mind sufficiently to take in anything like the grandeur of this thought? To think realizingly of God at all is to many a difficulty. It shows how little we do think of him; how habitually our minds are occupied with other objects; that when we wish to bring even his existence clearly before our minds, we find it difficult to do so. It is not a difficulty which would be felt if our relations with God were close and intimate, if our communion with him was habitual, if we were trying to live continually as in his presence and under his eye. "I believe in God the Father Almighty!" Is not that just what most of US do not do? Is there one who would not tremble far more in the presence of many of his fellow-mortals than he ever does at the thought of standing in the presence of his God? What sort of a belief is it which leaves us so destitute of all real apprehension of what God is, and even of a habitual realization of the feeling that he is? We think of him, but often how coldly, how distantly, how notionally, how unbelievingly! We speak of "revivals," but, sooth to say, we need a revival of living belief in the first article of the Creed. We need to have our eyes opened, thought set to work, faith made more real. If that were given, then should we know, as we had never known before, how wonderful, how sublime, how infinitely grand a thing it was to have this God as our Refuge, and to know that underneath us were these everlasting arms. If it is difficult to attain to a steady persuasion even of God's existence, vastly more difficult is it to frame a just conception of his eternity. Before worlds were, God existed; when they shall have waxed old and disappeared, he shall exist still. Time flows, but, like the rock in the midst of the stream, which, from its stable base, laughs at the flood whose impetuous course it overlooks; so, amidst the flow of ages, God endures, "the same yesterday, today, and forever." Does it not, then, seem as something incredible that this eternal God should constitute himself a Home and Refuge for weak, sinning, mortals; should even stoop to press himself on such mortals as a Friend, Savior, Protector, Support, Helper? If we see nothing strange in this, it is impossible that anything should seem strange to us; if we can believe this, we need not stumble at much else in revelation. For this is just the central truth the Bible has to tell. It tells of a God, infinite, everlasting, almighty, inflexibly righteous, unutterably pure, incomprehensibly great and wise and good; from whom men have indeed wandered in numberless paths of error; but who has revealed himself for the very purpose of bringing them back to himself, that they may be saved from death and may enjoy eternal life; who will by no means clear the guilty, but who waits to be gracious to every penitent sinner returning to his care; and who has provided all means for that return in the atonement of his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and in the grace of his Holy Spirit. That is the message the Bible has to bring, and it is nothing else than the almighty and eternal God offering himself, in his grace, as a Refuge for our otherwise defenseless souls; stretching out, those everlasting arms of which the text speaks, to draw us to himself and save us from otherwise inevitable ruin. Say not, you do not need this refuge! The son of man is not yet born who does not need it, and who will not one day, whether he does so now or not, acknowledge that he needs it. And say not, you will delay in seeking it! for even could a day or a year be guaranteed in which to rethink the question now proposed, it is plainly folly in itself, and grievous dishonor done to God, that so vast and glorious an opportunity should stand for a single day unimproved; that God should sue to you, and you refuse his gracious invitations. Rather, "seek the Lord while he may be found," etc. (Isaiah 55:6).
II. THE COMPREHENSIVENESS OF THIS PROMISE. View it in three relations. In relation:
1. To our temporal existence. Having God as our Refuge does not indeed imply that we are to have a great abundance of this world's possessions, or be absolutely free from cares and sorrows. It does not secure that we are to be either the richest or the least tried of all around us. God knows how often it is otherwise. Some of the best of God's saints have been, like Paul, the worst off of humankind. "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder," etc. (Hebrews 11:37). Was God therefore not the "Refuge" of those saints because they were so ill off in this life, or did the "everlasting arms" not sustain them? Or was it not in the midst of these "great fights of afflictions" that they first realized how true a Refuge God was to them? When Paul was at his work, "in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of his countrymen, in perils of the heathen, in perils of the city, in perils of the wilderness, in perils of the sea, in perils of false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in lastings often, in cold and nakedness" (2 Corinthians 11:24-28), had God in these circumstances falsified his promise, and failed to be a Refuge to him? The question needs only to be put to be its own answer. Yet it is certain that, even in outward things, God is a Refuge for his people, and that under his care they ordinarily enjoy both unusual blessing and a quite especial protection. Jesus teaches us to trust our Father in heaven, while of course using the means he gives us, for all our temporal necessities (Matthew 6:25-34). He pledges himself that, so long as it is the Father's will that we should live in the world, we shall be protected from harm, and suitably provided for. This was David's confidence, expressed in many of the psalms, and it has been the confidence of all God's people. Experience verifies that the good man's dwelling is the "munitions of rocks;" his bread is given him, his water is sure (Isaiah 33:16).
2. To our spiritual existence. God is the soul's
(1) spiritual Savior. Though our Lord and Judge, it is only in his bosom, in his forgiving grace, we can find refuge from our sins, from the unhappiness they cause us, and from the ruin they have brought upon us. The child that has offended his parent may seek the whole world through in vain for the rest he can find at once by coming back, confessing his sin, and being forgiven. God has devised means "that his banished be not expelled from him" (2 Samuel 14:14). The way is open. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help" (Hosea 13:9).
(2) Unfailing Retreat in trouble. No matter what storms beat without, what blessings of an outward kind are given or withheld, what threatening forms the enmity of man may assume, the soul has in God a Retreat, a place of resort and Refuge, which never fails it. There it dwells in a region of love, breathes an atmosphere of peace, holds a communion with the Father of spirits, which only grows the sweeter the longer life lasts, and the more the outward cup is bitter to the taste. In this inward home of the spirit it renews its strength and drinks of living waters, has meat to eat which the world knows not of, finds satisfaction for its deepest needs (Habakkuk 3:17, Habakkuk 3:18).
(3) Unfailing Support. He upholds the soul. Has the believer trials to come through? He is upheld to bear them. Has he temptations to face? He is upheld to conquer in them. Has he work to do? He is upheld and strengthened to perform it. Has he enemies to fight? His courage is sustained, and he is made "more than conqueror." But for the upholding of the "everlasting arms," how many of God's saints would never have come through what they have experienced!
3. To our eternal existence. "The eternal God," etc. Heavenly and eternal existence are wrapped up in this promise. God does not make his eternity a refuge for beings of a day. There would be an utter disproportion between an everlasting dwelling-place and a creature of some three score years and ten. All eternal good is here implied, and this crowns the promise and carries it beyond all comprehension of its greatness. "Eye hath not seen," etc.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The King and his viceroy.
Moses, having received the direction about his death, proceeds next to formally bless the tribes. We have in these verses the introduction to the blessing. It brings under our notice the Great King himself, and the minor king, Moses, the viceroy. As the parting blessing of him whom God had made "king in Jeshurun," it has more weight and significance than anything which ever came out of the lips of kings. Even David's dying words are not so sublime as these of Moses (cf. 2 Samuel 23:1-7). Let us look first at the Great King, and then at his viceroy who reigned in Jeshurun.
I. THE ADVENT OF GOD. He is represented as rising at Sinai, as scattering rays from Seir, and as riding forth in sunlike majesty from Mount Paran. The idea is borrowed from the dawn. Just as, before the sun appears in splendor, the mountaintops are tipped with gold, and then the dawn gathers into glory, and the sun at last steps forth in might, so the Lord made his proximity felt on the top of Sinai; there was a still greater impression made at Self, with the mercy of the brazen serpent; and last of all in Paran, in whose wilderness was Kadesh, the scene of chequered experience and yet abundant blessing, the sunlight having then fully come. God had come as the Light-giver. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).
Next let us notice his court—"myriads [רִבְבוֹת, which may mean a million] of saints." This cannot refer to Israel, as some suggest, but to the holy ones accompanying the Lord from heaven. What a magnificent array! Only the holy can stand in his sight or constitute his train.
Next let us notice his gift to men—"from his-right hand went a fiery. Law for them." This fiery Law can only mean that moral law which penetrates unto the heart with its fiery heat.
And all was in love (Deuteronomy 33:3), for the God who is light and fire is also love. The saints are safe in his hand, and they gather round his feet.
II. THE VICEROY. He is called here "the man of God," and justly so. He was the man who recognized himself as God's property, as God's servant, as God's minister.
And this is why he was "king in Jeshurun." It is consecration to God's glory which secures the real kingship. No kingship is worth the name which consists not in holy influences; and every man is a "king of men" who reigns over them by the sovereignty of intelligent consecration.
In these respects Moses was a type of Jesus. Pilate could not understand his kingship through truth; but the world recognizes it. He was so devoted to the Father's glory, and so bent on the good of men, that increasing multitudes every year are owning his sway and accepting of the Law at his mouth. Fiery it is doubtless, fitted to kindle the coldest heart to rapture. As it dwells within us, it molds to highest good the life.—R.M.E.
Watchwords for the tribes.
The blessings authoritatively pronounced by these old worthies amounted to watchwords for their future development. They were divinely suggested ideas regarding their future courses. We shall look at the ideals thus presented in their order.
I. THE UNOSTENTATIOUS DEVELOPMENT OF REUBEN. Deposed from the primacy among the brethren, because of his self-indulgence, he is to content himself with pastoral progress amid the mountains of Moab. The blessing is a good one, quiet life and progress.
II. THE SOVEREIGNTY THROUGH SUFFERING OF JUDAH. In Deuteronomy 33:7 we have clearly the regal strain. It is the struggle and the victory and the reign. The brunt of battle is to fall on Judah, and the sovereignty in the end. That it refers to Messiah ultimately is, we think, quite reasonable. Indeed, Kennicott regards Deuteronomy 33:5 as referring to the Messiah and not to Moses, and consistently therewith he would have the words "bring him to his people" to refer to the king, Shiloh, of Judah's tribe. However this may be, we can discern in this watchword of Judah the keynote of the Savior's suffering life.
III. THE SELF-DENIAL AND DEVOTEDNESS OF LEVI. The treasure of the oracle was to be with the Levites, and, in prosecuting the work of God, they were to show that they loved their Master more than even father or mother, sister or brother, sons or daughters. In prosecuting their ministerial work, they were to illustrate discipleship as a giving unto God the first place above the nearest and the dearest (cf. Luke 14:26). Moreover, in this holy work the sons of Levi shall need the Lord's blessing on their substance, since they lived by voluntary contributions, and the Lord's help against calamities. A special blessing is thus locked for in connection with special work, of a self-denying character. And the same is applicable to the ministry still.
IV. THE SHADOW OF GOD FOR BENJAMIN. This powerful tribe was to afford shelter to the central government and worship in the time of the monarchy. The Divine presence thus was specially to overshadow the descendants of Benjamin. As Joseph so tenderly overshadowed his brother, so will the central government and worship his seed.
V. THE SPLENDID SUCCESS AND PROWESS OF JOSEPH. All the fatness of the earth and the favor of God and the power to push successfully their way against all opposing forces are to belong to Ephraim and to Manasseh. From Joppa unto Carmel, on the sea across to the pastures of Gilead, the two half-tribes were destined to hold sway, and to enjoy all the wealth this encircled. It was the magnificent central province of Samaria, with any amount of pasture-land beyond the Jordan.
VI. THE HIGHWAY OF ZEBULUN. Its outlets are to be peculiarly important, as we know they proved between the Great Sea and the sea of Tiberias. Through Zebulun the traffic passed from the great Eastern kingdoms. Their situation, mercantilely regarded, was superb.
VII. THE CONFIDENCE AND CONSOLIDATION OF ISSACHAR. Settled beside Zebulun, with a series of mountain fastnesses behind, and Esdraelon's plain down to the sands of the Mediterranean as their coast, the children of Issachar were to feel settled and secure in their tents. The mountain tracts will nurse the piety of the people, while the sea shall yield its abundance, and the sand become a source of treasure. No better home could be found for a trading, manufacturing people.
VIII. THE VANTAGE-GROUND OF GAD. This tribe is represented as hemmed in like a lion at bay, and thus compelled to take a prominent part in critical affairs. Lying between the mountains and the Jordan, it became the battle-ground of the monarchy, and at Ramoth-Gilead and Mahanaim important issues were decided. The watchword was vigilance, because of the vantage-ground.
IX. THE COURAGE OF DAY. He is represented as a lion's whelp, full of courage, though small in size. Leaping from Bashan, he made his lair northwards, but ever ready to shift to better quarters if he heard of them. He found a lair too at the sea, in the borders Of Philistia.
X. EASY-GOING NAPHTALI. This tribe is represented as taking a south-west location after the northernmost Danites, and as rejoicing there in the manifold goodness of God.
XI. BLESSED BY DAME AND NATURE AS ASHER. This tribe is to be blessed, as the very name implies, in domestic relations, in fraternal relations, in the olive-yards yielding such magnificent oil, and in the iron and brass with which, instead of the ordinary wooden bars, they could protect themselves. To this tribe was given the oft-quoted promise, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." They were to have "strength proportioned to their work."
It does not appear why to Simeon no blessing is assigned; and yet it is noticeable that this tribe played but a small part in the drama of Israelitish history.—R.M.E.
The incomparable Savior.
In finishing the blessing of the people, Moses cannot refrain from bursting into a tribute of admiration for him who had brought them thus far. He speaks of God's incomparable excellency, and how happy Israel was in relying upon his power. We shall notice the two thoughts in this order as cause and effect.
I. THE INCOMPARABLE EXCELLENCY OF GOD. This is brought out in several particulars. And:
1. God is incomparably excellent in himself. He "rideth upon the heaven in his help, and in his excellency on the sky." The reference is believed to be to the Shechinah cloud, which passed in calm majesty along the upper heavens to indicate to Israel, or "Jeshurun," as Israel is here called, the way they should take. In no more beautiful way could God's essential sovereignty be brought out. He moves in calm majesty among the spheres, the Ruler because Maker of them all. No one can for a moment be compared with him.
2. God is incomparably excellent as the Savior of his people. Israel experienced his help in the deliverance from Egypt, in the pilgrimage to Palestine, and they were about to experience still further favor in the success of the invasion. The language is most beautiful by which all this is conveyed. "The eternal God is thy Refuge;" to him who dwells in the eternities and who orders their processions, the difficulties of time must be as nothing. "Underneath are the everlasting arms," no weariness ever overtaking arms which are full of everlasting strength. "He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them." Now, in all this we have a figure of the salvation which God extends still to men.
(1) He delivers us from the bondage of sin;
(2) he justifies us freely from all things;
(3) he sanctifies us by his Spirit;
(4) he protects and delivers us from all our enemies.
II. THE CONSEQUENT HAPPINESS OF ISRAEL. What distinguishes Israel and renders them a happy people is the possession of such an incomparable Savior. It is not in Israel themselves, but in their God, that the cause of their happiness dwells. And is is well to remember this.
1. Frames and feelings are no proper foundation for our spiritual confidence. Anxious souls prolong their anxiety and postpone their peace by excessive introspection. Instead of occupying themselves with the incomparable excellency of their Savior, they occupy themselves with the incomparable vileness of their own hearts. No peace and joy can come from within.
2. The changeless Savior is a true Foundation for our confidence and hope. It is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever," in whom we are asked to confide. He has every excellency which our necessities demand. He has the atonement and the sympathy and the intercessory powers we need to free us from deserved penalties and fit us for undeserved blessing.
3. We stand in consequence as an expectant people awaiting our entrance to the land of promise. For it is to be noticed that Israel were not only happy in their experience, but happy also in their hopes. They were about to enter the Promised Land. There they were to dwell safely alone, like the heavenly state where "the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest." They are to have plenty of corn and wine, as the redeemed have in heaven, where they eat angels' food and drink the new wine of the kingdom. They are to dwell under the fertilizing dews of heaven, as the redeemed shall under the benedictions of God. In hope, then, Israel was happy: and we too may "rejoice in hope of the glory of God."—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
The Godlike act of blessing.
Moses is finely described as "the man of God." Among his contemporaries there was no man who bore so much of the Divine image. In character, in office, in deed, he was eminently Godlike. As his earthly life drew to a close, the real man came more fully into view. Death is a clever unveiler of a man—it strips off shams and masks, it discovers the reality. Like his great Antitype, Moses forgets himself in the crisis of death, and concerns himself about others. As his hours are few, he will crowd into them as many acts of blessing as he can. It is in the power of one man to bless many. This is Godlike.
I. BLESSING CAN COME TO LIES ONLY THROUGH THE CHANNELS OF LAW. It is useless to wish a man some good fortune, unless he is prepared to follow the lines along which good fortune comes. It is useless to wish a man health, while we know that he is wedded to the wine-cup. The only real blessing we can confer is to put men into connection with God's channels of blessing. The man who unveils to us the law of God respecting the expansion of steam, confers real blessing on the race. Similarly, the man who reveals to us the law, or method, through which God's favor flows to sinners, imparts solid blessing. Respecting blessing, God is the only primal Source, but men can be subordinate agents in distributing it. "Order is Heaven's first law;" and, in blessing others, we must observe God's order of procedure. Submission to law is an essential condition of blessing.
II. BLESSING TO MEN HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE PURPOSE OF GOD'S SUBLIMEST MANIFESTATIONS. Desiring to bless the tribes, Moses at once reverted to Sinai, and to God's grand plan for blessing men. Heart and soul, Moses was a legislator. He saw the grandeur, the eternity, the utility of Law. The "ruling passion was strong in death." The splendid manifestation of God's majesty at Sinai again passed before the eye of memory. All those splendors of royal state were destined to illustrate the intrinsic majesty of Law. That magnificent retinue of consecrated ones illustrated the native glory of the Divine Law. That entire epiphany of God culminated in this significant act: "from his right hand went a fiery Law"—a Divine force to soften, melt, purify, and consume. Those honored beings that found a place in the retinue of God received that exaltation and that Grace by virtue of submission to Law; "they sat down at thy feet." To reveal to men his Law is a Divine equivalent for largest blessing. God's Law is the outcome of his love. The spring and motive of this stately display of Law is deep and generous love. "Yea, he loved the people."
III. TO BLESS MEN, THROUGH THEIR OBSERVANCE OF LAW, IS THE AMBITION OF EVERY REAL KING. God is supreme Sovereign of all intelligent beings. The supreme Monarch manifests irrepressible desire to bless his subjects. Amidst impressive solemnities, he declares that blessing can only come through the channels of righteous Law. Moses, too, is a subordinate king—king in Jeshurun—God's vicegerent. Moses, too, desires to bless the people. His life had been spent in their interests. Even during the forty years he spent as a shepherd in Midian, he was undergoing preparation for his great undertaking. But Moses likewise knew that the greatest blessing he could confer on Israel was love of God's Law. No wishes, or hopes, or aspirations, which he could cherish for them would be of any practical value apart from their dutiful obedience to God. Therefore, his legacy was counsel and prayer: "He commanded a Law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." This is the richest heritage we can acquire on earth, viz. God's Law enshrined in the heart. Then are we living temples, the "habitation of God through the Spirit."—D.
A prayer for the firstborn.
The personal character of Reuben had not been exemplary. His salient features were coarse. Moral qualities were entailed to posterity; and the tribe, generation after generation, occupied a low place in the history of the nation. Nothing noble seems ever to have been achieved by it.
I. PRIORITY OF PLACE DOES NOT ENSURE NOBLENESS OF CHARACTER. Reuben was, in Jacob's household, first in the order of time, but not first in native dignity. "Many that are first shall be last." The king has not always the most royal character in the empire. The palace does not always contain the noblest society. The most obscure may yet become the purest and the best. Moral rottenness has often been on the throne, and real royalty on the gibbet.
II. PRESENT LIFE DOES NOT SECURE CONTINUOUS LIFE. Human life is not self-created; it is sustained through every hour by a Divine hand; and whenever Divine wisdom sees Best, that life is brought to a close. As life, with all its advantages, is a trust from God, which may be terminated any moment, we should use every moment well, in order to deserve its continuance. In proportion to the precariousness of life is the value of every moment increased. So, too, in the life beyond the grave, the same dependence on God remains. We hang on him for continued life. Christ is our life. Through eternity we live (if we live at all) by faith on the Son of God. Hourly the prayer ought to ascend, "Let me live, and not die."
III. PRESENT UNITS MAY BECOME FUTURE MYRIADS. At the time of Moses' dissolution, the number of Reuben seems to have been small. Possibly this may have been a penalty for Reuben's incest. In this case it would be an appeal to God's mercy to remove the curse. Beneath the benediction of God, "a little one soon becomes a thousand." Prolific increase is a sign of Divine approval. All the oak forests on the globe sprang from a single germ.—D.
The royal house of Judah.
The name Judah signifies praise. Here Moses represents Judah as the praying tribe—in this respect inheriting the spirit of its great father, Jacob. Prayer and praise usually wed; they make a happy pair in the habitation of the heart, and the offspring is royal nobleness.
I. TRUE PRAYER PLEADS FOR AN APPOINTED DESTINY. What God has designed and destined for us—this is a proper object of prayer. For although God has designed some good for us, our prayer is the last link in the succession of causes which brings us into actual possession. "For all these things," saith God, "I will be inquired of … to do it for them." Prayer has respect to the will of God. The purpose and oath of God have prepared the blessing. The hand of faith is stretched forth to take it.
II. TRUE PRAYER IS SUPPORTED BY OTHERS' INTERCESSIONS. The prayer of a good man on our behalf is an inestimable boon. Here Moses prayed that Judah's petition might be heard. Example is contagious. When good men see us praying, they will pray with us, and for us too. If only combustible material be at hand, the fiery flame will spread. It is always an inspiration to us, if we remember that while we pray, Christ our Elder Brother is praying for us above.
III. TRUE PRAYER IS ALWAYS SECONDED BY PERSONAL ENDEAVOR. "Let his hands be sufficient for him." What we can do to gain the blessing, God will not do for us. What we cannot do, God will, if we meekly ask him. Prayer without effort is hypocrisy. We are not sincere in our request. Labor without prayer is stark atheism. The boat of human progress must be rowed with two oars—prayer and effort. Unless both wings are in motion, the eagle cannot rise.
IV. TRUE PRAYER OBTAINS THE HELP OF GOD, It obtains help for every undertaking—husbandry, commerce, art, and war. Prayer always has prevailed—it always will. Prayer and painstaking can accomplish anything. Prayer secures for us the best help, the presence of God himself. "Be thou a Help to him." This is an Ally worth having—an Ally who, by a breath, secures success. If the Lord be our Helper, we can wisely speak the challenge," What can man do unto me?" God with me, God in me, inspiring every thought, and purpose, and desire and deed,—this makes a mean man royal indeed. Thus we may all obtain a place in the honored tribe of Judah, and be "kings unto God."—D.
The priestly tribe.
The abuse of the priestly office has brought the name of priest into contempt. Best things, when corrupt, become the worst. Sour milk and rotten grapes and stained snow are things most obnoxious. Yet a true priest is the noblest form of man—the greatest benefactor of his species. A pompous, bedizened, arrogant ecclesiastic, is not a true priest. God's priest is meek, self-forgetful, saintly, Christlike.
I. PURITY AND CONSECRATION ARE THE ESSENTIAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE PRIESTHOOD. Levi is here described as "thy holy one." This was God's ideal, though never fully realized except in Christ. If there was not perfect purity of character, there was the nascent germ within—the inner yearning and desire after holiness. Levi was the rude type, the rough outline of the perfect priest. A further qualification was consecration. This personal righteousness was to be practical. It was required to be actively devoted to the service of God. Regard for God was to dominate regard for earthly relatives. When called to God's service, the Levite was to regard his parents as if he had them not; he was to forget his brethren and his father's house; yea, he must love his children as though he loved them not. God first; every one else must find a subordinate place (Deuteronomy 33:9). Here we have the forecast of Christ's axiom, "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me.' Further, this character was a tested one. To an office so responsible, God does not admit a novice. Mere innocence is not a qualification. There must be tried and tested character—character tried in the furnace of temptation. So with respect to this tribe of Levi; him "thou didst prove at Massah," with him "thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah."
II. PRIESTLY CONSECRATION IS A CONDITION FOR RECEIVING REVELATION FROM GOD. "Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one." Although it is confessedly difficult to determine precisely what the Urim and the Thummim were, it is obvious that it was God's ancient method for revealing his will to Israel. In emergencies, whether personal or national, it was the practice to ask counsel of God by means of the Urim and Thummim. It is a necessity that there should be internal fitness in order to receive and transmit the will of God. Light can only circulate through a fitting medium. Music can only be transmitted by a specific conductor. As it is in the natural world, so in the spiritual, only the pure in heart can see God. His will is revealed only to the dutiful. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." On this account, God's priests have often been God's prophets; e.g. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Samuel, and John the Baptist. Moses too belonged to the tribe of Levi.
III. PRIESTLY CONSECRATION INCLUDES SERVICE GODWARD AND MANWARD. (Verse 10.) Every true priest is a mediator between God and men. He receives of God and imparts to men; be receives from men and presents unto God. The only perfect Mediator is the "Son of the Highest;" but, in a humbler sphere, earthly priests are also mediators. They receive God's Law from the fountain of his lips, and they convey it unto their brethren. Every real teacher is a real mediator. He delivers unto others that which he has first received. The priest has also a service to perform Godward. He brings human offerings before the Most High—the offerings of gratitude and praise. But men have sinned, and this sad fact must be recognized. They stand in urgent need of Divine mercy. Hence substantial proofs of penitence and confession are required. God has a proper and prescribed method for conveying his mercy. He will be approached in the way of sacrifice, and it is part of the priest's vocation to present "whole burnt sacrifice upon God's altar."
IV. COMPLETE CONSECRATION ENSURES COMPLETE SALVATION. Salvation is many-sided; it is negative and positive. It embraces deliverance from every evil, present and future; it embraces every good that can enrich and ennoble the man. While we care wholly for God's interests, he will most completely care for ours. No external substance will bring us any real advantage unless God's blessing be upon it, ay, pervade it. The Levites were compelled by official duties to be often absent from their families and homesteads, which needed therefore special protection from God. "Bless, Lord, his substance." But more important yet was it for the whole nation that the offerings and intercessions of the priests might find acceptance with God. If anything upon their part should nullify the offices of religion, the effect would be unspeakably disastrous. Therefore, looking along the vista of the future in fervent anticipation, Moses prays, "Accept the work of his hands." It is as if he had said, "Let thy gracious plan for pardoning and saving men completely succeed!" And lastly, he prays for the priest's security against all foes. We may not here confine our thoughts to foreign adversaries. The true and faithful priest will always, find enemies in proportion to his fidelity. His foes shall be those of his own household. They will assail his earnestness, suspect his motives, attack his reputation. But God shall undertake his servant's cause. He will, in his own way, so smite his foes, that they shall be completely silenced; "they shall not rise again."—D.
God's fatherly interest in Benjamin.
The circumstance of Benjamin's birth has a melancholy interest. His birth was the occasion of Rachel's death. If we may argue back from the qualities of Rachel's children to the qualities of Rachel, she must have been a woman deserving high esteem. Rare excellences embellish the characters of her sons. To Joseph and to Benjamin were assigned territory in the very heart of Canaan. In the benediction of Moses we have—
I. AN ENDEARING NAME. A name given by God is pregnant with meaning. It is no empty compliment. If God regarded Benjamin as his "beloved," there was sufficient ground and reason for it. This tribe may not have been conspicuous for robust energy or for martial enterprise, but it was distinguished for its genuine piety and its devout attachment to the cause of God. If we cannot all be great, we can all be good. To be consistently and thoroughly pious is within the reach of all. Each of us can be knighted and ennobled with this title, "The beloved of the Lord." We have indicated here—
II. THE BEST SOCIETY. "He shall dwell in safety by him." This promise, in all likelihood, alludes to the position of Benjamin's inheritance. His portion in Canaan included the hill of Moriah, on which, in later days, the temple was erected. This was no insignificant honor—no mean token of Jehovah's favor. The successive generations of Benjamin would dwell in closest vicinity to the oracle of God, and would enjoy easy access to the public ordinances of worship. So long as man needs the aid and inspiration of external ordinances, so long will this vicinity to the temple be a real advantage. In our folly we may despise the privilege, but this foolish contempt no way derogates from its value. They who most prize the house of God most prize God himself. We have also—
III. COMPLETE PROTECTION PROMISED. "The Lord shall cover him all the day long." God was pleased, in a very remarkable manner, to disclose himself to the Hebrews by metaphors easily interpreted. In a climate where men suffered most from a scorching sun, a covert from the burning heat was most appreciated. Therefore God was to them just what they needed, "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." The fervent heat was tempered with a cloud. From every evil thing God covers his saints—from the heat of trial, sorrow, care, excessive prosperity. He never fails as does a passing cloud. He covers his chosen "all the day long." We have promised likewise—
IV. UNERRING GUIDANCE. "He shall dwell between his shoulders." As the temple of God was to rest on Moriah, and the visible Shechinah be enshrined within, this would properly seem as a crown of glory on the head of Benjamin; or, what the head is to the human body, that God would be to this favored tribe. The head informs, enlightens, directs the whole body; so, saith God, "I will guide thee with my eye." That man has reached the perfection of being when Christ dwells in him, as "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification," life. To be most godly is to be most manly.—D.
Royal donations on Joseph.
It is instructive to observe with what loving ardor Moses speaks of Joseph. No sooner does he mention this name than his tongue, the ready servant of his heart, gives vent to a flood of eloquence. No good is too great to predict for Joseph. No benediction is too costly for him. The finest imagery that his fancy can invent is employed to foreshadow his greatness. The imagination of the dying saint fondly revels in the prospect of Joseph's prosperity and power. Touching Joseph, we have mentioned—
I. HIS FAITHFUL IMPROVEMENT OF TRIAL. The description of Rachel's firstborn is truly pathetic. He is pictured to us as he "that was separated from his brethren." In a sense he had always been separate. In youth, his temper and tastes and predilections were all superior to theirs. They were coarse, vulgar, cruel; he was refined, thoughtful, gentle—cast in a nobler mold. But the reference made by Moses to separation is, doubtless, to that violent and murderous separation, when by his brothers' hands he was sold as a bond-slave and carried into Egypt. How nobly he had borne that treatment is a matter of historic fact. How Joseph's behavior in captivity had led to the development of Israel's fortunes could never be erased from Jewish memory. His affectionate treatment of his aged father, and his generous forgiveness of his brethren, marked him as "separate" from the common herd of men. This is a kind of separateness we may aspire to emulate. Here is a pattern man.
II. HIS FORESEEN PROSPERITY. This forecast of prolific prosperity was founded on a double basis, viz. on the native resources of the district which was to be his favored portion; and on the abiding benediction of Jehovah. Yet these two sources of prosperity were in reality one—one source flowing through many channels. His hills should laugh in fertility and gladness beneath the sunny smile of God. The vale of Shechem has always enjoyed a wide celebrity for its beauty and fruitfulness. Samaria was the paradise of Canaan. Its hills were covered with olives and vines and figs. Its valleys waved with golden corn. One natural source of abundance is its perennial fountains and flowing streams—the "deep that coucheth beneath." Here it was that Jacob made his first purchase of land, and here he digged the well which to this hour bears his name. To this verdant district Jacob's sons led their flocks when drought and barrenness covered the land. And in this district occurred the shameful deed when Joseph was imprisoned in the pit and then sold to Ishmaelites. By a generous retribution of God's sagacious providence, Joseph obtained his permanent portion in this very territory, and with all the energy of his soul Moses prayed, "Blessed of the Lord be his land."
III. HIS FUTURE POWER. A double portion of property and power fell to Joseph. By the dying bequest of his father Jacob, each of Joseph's sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, was to rank in the first degree, adopted by Jacob in the place and rank of his own. Yet the two sons were destined not to grow in the same proportion of power. While there were to be the "thousands of Manasseh," there were to be the "ten thousands of Ephraim." God "divideth to every one severally as he will." The glory of these young men was to be "their strength," and this would be fostered by the fatness of their land. Yet their strength was not pictured under the image of a lion or an eagle. It was to be rather the quiet, patient strength of the ox—the strength which endures, as did Joseph's in the land of Egypt. Horns are the bullock's natural weapons of defense, and these are significant emblems of power. But Joseph's horns were to be like those of the unicorn. His was to be royal authority and strength. Evidently Moses foresaw the day when the sovereignty of the Hebrews would be divided, and when Joseph should wield a scepter in Israel. The royal emblazonry of Britain thus corresponds, in part, with the heraldry of ancient Samaria. "With the horns of unicorns" he was destined "to push the people together to the ends of the earth." His "horn God exalted mite honor." To this hour, a remnant of Joseph's power remains in Samaria. There still in the synagogue is enshrined the ancient Law, and there yet is observed the Paschal feast.—D.
Deuteronomy 33:18, Deuteronomy 33:19
Combined work and worship.
Some tie of affinity bound these two tribes in peculiar intimacy. We cannot find this cementing link in the fact that their landslay in close contiguity; this fact was not unique. Other tribes bordered on their coasts, with whom no such intimate alliance prevailed. Neither were their secular occupations alike. It was an affinity springing out of congenial character. The same tastes and purposes and aims were dominant in both. To their honor, it is handed down to distant posterity that they were zealous for the worship of God.
I. SECULAR PURSUITS SHOULD BE FOLLOWED IN A SPIRIT OF GLADNESS. The man of God leaves it as a charge upon these tribes to rejoice in their several avocations. The earthly callings of Zebulun and Issachar seem to have been quite distinct the one from the other. Zebulun's territory abutted on the sea-coast, and enjoyed the advantage of a small harbor under shelter of Mount Carmel. Hence the people had access to the sea; they had a fishery; they possessed opportunities for commerce. Though they had no maritime tastes (like the Phoenicians), yet the ships of other nations would visit their coast, and the merchandise of distant lands would find their way thither. "They shall suck of the abundance of the seas." Issachar was an agricultural tribe. The people dwelt in tents, and their possessions consisted in flocks and herds. But whatever their occupation, it ought to be an occasion for joy. It gave scope to the pleasant exercise of their powers. It furnished them with the means of family subsistence. It was a fine field for the discipline of their virtues, for the exercise of brotherly help and mutual kindness. It enabled them to trace in their daily walk the footsteps of Jehovah, and provided material for daily praise. Whatever our work be, it should be fulfilled with gladness. Happy is the man who sings at his work.
II. SECULAR PURSUITS ARE NOT INCOMPATIBLE WITH DIVINE WORSHIP. "They shall call the people unto the mountain." Although their abodes were far away among the northern hills, they did not hold themselves free to abstain from public ordinances of worship. Yea, not only did they stir themselves up to this delightful duty, but they summoned the surrounding tribes also to keep the sacred festivals. In the absence of modern reminders of the scions—in the absence of almanacs and clocks—these twin tribes noted the revolutions of sun and moon, became the timekeepers of the nation, and called the tribes to prayer and sacrifice. Probably their secular duties as fishermen and as shepherds furnished the opportunities for observing the phases of the moon. New moon or full was the signal in the heavens for the recurrence of the special festivals; then the silver trumpets would ring out the summons from hill to hill, and from hamlet to hamlet. If there be the disposition to worship God, facilities will be found or made.
III. SECULAR PURSUITS FURNISH THE MEANS FOR ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE. "They shall offer sacrifices of righteousness." Secular pursuits will never satisfy all the yearnings of the human heart. There is a hunger within which no material banquet can relieve. There is a thirst of soul which can be slaked only by the water of eternal life. To gratify all the cravings of the mind we must come to God. But he will be approached by means of sacrifice. This furnishes a test of our sincerity. This awakens a sense of our deepest need. This provides a channel for our highest joy. Whatever form our sacrifices may take—whether corn, or oil, or fruit—whether lambs or doves—whether contrition, praise, or gratitude—it must be a sacrifice of righteousness, or it cannot be accepted. As the act of devout obedience to Divine command, or as the outgoing of desire after holiness, or as the expression of righteous obligation, it will find acceptance on God's altar.
IV. SECULAR SUCCESS IS PROMOTED BY GENEROUS CONSECRATION OF SUBSTANCE TO GOD. "Them that honor me I will honor.' God is the most generous of Masters, but he hates empty pretensions of loyalty. He will not accept words where deeds are possible. The honor is conferred, not on the God who receives, but on the mar, whose gift finds acceptance. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," is a lesson not easily learnt—an experience not common enough. This is not a firstfruit, but one of the latest fruits of Christian living. Yet without the favoring smile of Jehovah no secular pursuit can succeed. Men often sow a bushel and reap a peck. But when God is on our side, our seed multiplies a hundredfold: "a little one becomes a thousand;" "godliness is profitable unto all things." The only real insurance for successful enterprise is the benediction of God. The treasures remain in the land (Deuteronomy 33:19) until God teaches us how to draw them forth. The eye of faith is clearer-sighted than the eye of expediency.—D.
Deuteronomy 33:20, Deuteronomy 33:21
Gad's valor and chivalry commended.
Gad had been prematurely hasty in seeking an allotment in Canaan. When the heads of this tribe perceived how suitable were the hills of Gilead for pasturing their extensive flocks, they clamored at once for this possession, ere yet an inch of land had been gained on the west of Jordan. Moses yielded to their request, on condition only that they should go over Jordan armed with their brethren, and should fight in the front of battle. This they nobly did, and returned to their families and flocks only when Joshua released them from further service. We see—
I. A HASTY CHOICE OVERRULED FOR GOOD. There can be little doubt that selfishness was the originating motive for this choice. The well-being of other tribes was not, for the time, weighed. Yet it was a choice beset with perils. The district coveted lay on the borders of the wilderness, and was exposed to raid and depredation from foes. It is wiser always to look heavenward and to say, "Thou shalt choose our inheritance for us." Yet, though selfishness was for the hour dominant, other and better qualities dwelt in the tribe. As often happens, God allowed their choice, and then led them through severe discipline to enable them to enjoy it.
II. THEIR CHOICE WAS PURCHASED BY HARD AND PERILOUS WARFARE. "He came with the heads of the people, he executed the justice of the Lord, and his judgments with Israel." To acquire this territory, Moses stated at once the simple condition, viz. that they should fight in the van of Israel's battalions. This condition they accepted, and bravely they acquitted themselves. The event taught them valuable lessons. It taught them that they were an integral part of a great commonwealth, and could not separate themselves, without injury, from it. It taught them to look, not only on their own welfare, but also to consult for the welfare of others. It taught them that rest and quiet possession were more valued after a hard-fought campaign than before.
III. THEIR CHIVALROUS CONDUCT DEVELOPED THEIR LATENT QUALITIES OF MARTIAL PROWESS. The greatest advantage resulting from their military encounters was the personal strength and heroism which were developed in themselves. They were better, braver, nobler men afterwards than ever before. Now, and not till now, they were qualified to protect their own hills and flocks. This advantage they had not foreseen, yet it was the best and most enduring. Now the men of Gad "dwelt like a lion" in fearless possession; now they were able, when assailed," to tear the arm" of a foe, "with the crown of the head." This heroic quality reappeared, in brighter form, in the person of Elijah, and probably also in the forerunner of our Lord.
IV. THIS FEARLESS COURAGE OBTAINS A PRAYER FOR STEADY ENLARGEMENT. "Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad." It was a boon to the whole of Israel to have such a martial tribe occupying an outpost in the land. To enlarge and strengthen Gad was to strengthen their military defense, was to increase their own safety, was to perpetuate their own peace. So long as the lion-hearted tribe of Gad had a numerous generation, no foe could invade Israel from that side. The very reputation of Gad eastward kept the nations in salutary awe. The welfare of Gad was the welfare of all.—D.
The blessing of strength.
From the tribe of Dan sprang Samson, whom we may regard as a typical child of Dan. In all probability the whole tribe was noted for strong men, and their pride was to cultivate and increase muscular strength. We have here promised—
I. YOUTHFUL STRENGTH. This is confessedly not the highest form of blessing; yet, in some conditions of civic society, it is essential to the preservation of independence, property, and life. The picture is that of a young lion.
II. DESTRUCTIVE STRENGTH. This has its place in God's kingdom. The destructive strength of Samson was an inestimable boon, when the Philistines threatened to overwhelm the land. We cannot otherwise regard the prodigious strength of Samson but as God's scourge for the chastisement of gross idolaters. Yet, what prodigies of good might such strength accomplish if directed into beneficent channels!
III. STRENGTH UNDER THE DIRECTION AND CONTROL OF SAGACITY. "He shall leap from Bashan." Strength is ofttimes wasted from want of prudence. The strength of Dan was reserved for suitable occasions. It displayed itself in forms surprising and unexpected. The close vicinity of the Philistines to one part of Dan's allotment necessitated this training of muscular strength. It is instructive to note what latent energies there reside in man, which come into view only when great occasions require.—D.
Naphtali's goodly choice.
Naphtali's position was in the north of Canaan, and had its southern border adjacent to the sea of Galilee. A large proportion of our Lord's ministrations were bestowed on the inhabitants within this district. Obviously the heads of this tribe in Moses' day aspired after the best possessions.
I. WE OBSERVE HERE THE BEST HUMAN AMBITION, "Satisfied with favor." It is scarcely conjecture that imports into Moses' words the meaning, "the favor of God;" for in the next clause he mentions distinctly the "blessing of the Lord." No other favor can satisfy save the "favor of Jehovah." This is all-sufficient—an ocean, in which the soul of man can bathe itself with amplest delight. This phrase, "the favor, or grace, of God," includes everything which God can supply for human need. In it is embraced light, pardon, Divine friendship, purity, peace, strength, liberty, rest. A comprehensive prayer is this, "Oh, satisfy me early with thy mercy!"
II. WE NOTE THE BEST AMBITION SATISFIED. "Full with the blessing of the Lord." We often desire inferior good, and desire in vain. The love of God is too deep and wise to indulge our foolish requests. But when we ask for highest good, and desire it earnestly, we never fail to obtain. What man ever sued for grace and was sent empty away? No; God's chief complaint is that we come too seldom, and ask too little at his hands. Still he says to us, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." The possession and wise use of God's grace enlarges our capacity to receive. It is a cure for all murmuring and discontent.
III. WE SEE HOW, WITH THE HIGHEST BLESSING, GOD GIVES THE LOWER UNASKED. Naphtali desired to be satisfied with the Divine favor; and a voice was commissioned to say, "Possess thou the sea and the south." It is a recognized method of God's procedure that when men ask for spiritual riches, God grants both spiritual and temporal good. In Gibeah, God appeared to Solomon, and proposed to him, "Ask what I shall give thee;" and when Solomon craved to possess the gift of wisdom, his generous God assured him that not only should wisdom be his, but things he had not asked-even unprecedented riches and honor. To the same effect, our Lord affirmed, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all other (needed) things shall be added unto you." He is" able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think."—D.
Deuteronomy 33:24, Deuteronomy 33:25
The comprehensive benediction of Asher.
No one can read this series of poetical benedictions without cherishing the conviction that Moses "spoke as moved by the Holy Ghost." The peculiar fitness of his aspirations for the future exigencies of the tribes, and his clear foresight of their distant fortunes, indicate unmistakably that a supernatural light suffused his understanding. This benediction of the dying prophet foretokens—
I. NUMERICAL INCREASE. By a natural law of God's providence, rapid increase of the people is a fruit of material prosperity. When scarcity of food is a permanent condition, infanticide prevails, or children perish for lack of nutritious food. This increase of children was, in former times, a distinct token of God's favor, and a frequent subject of promise. As the numbers of Israel increased, so would their strength to resist aggression. It was when Israel's numbers were diminished by intestine wars, that the Eastern potentates gained decisive triumphs. Occupying, as Asher did, the extreme north-west of Canaan, numerical increase was a source of defensive strength. To the Christian parent—to the Church, children are a blessing. "Happy they who have their quiver full" of these Divine arrows.
II. THERE IS SET FORTH SOCIAL REPUTATION AND GOOD WILL. "Let him be acceptable to his brethren." So long as the tribal relationship was maintained in strength, there was a constant danger of mutual jealousies and animosities. Occasionally this evil passion took fire and broke into open flame. From tribal suspicion and dislike Asher would be free. It is an honor and a joy to live in the esteem and good will of brethren. The outward reach of influence is enlarged. Life is felt to have nobler interests. The better part of human nature finds development.
III. THERE IS FORESHADOWED AGRICULTURAL PROSPERITY. Upon the northern hills of Palestine the olive tree flourishes, and authorities affirm that no agricultural produce is so abundant and so remunerative as that of the olive. It is hardy, will flourish in rocky soil, and attains venerable age. Its fruit is valuable, is utilized for domestic purposes, and has always been a staple commodity of commerce. So prolific were the olives of Asher to become, that the people should have, not only the head, but the feet also, in the abundant oil; or the language may be designed as a bold figure, to indicate that so full should be the oil-vats at the base of every olive-clothed hill, that the very land should seem to be foot-deep in golden oil.
IV. THERE IS PREDICTED IMPREGNABLE DEFENSE. The poetical imagery here may be better translated, "Thy bars shall be iron and brass." It may be that these metals were found in veins among the hills, or rather iron and copper, it may that the gates of their cities were, in some cases, fashioned with these metals. Doors and gates of iron are still to be seen in the district of Bashan. But it is better to treat the language as elegant imagery, to indicate the matchless strength of Asher's fortresses. Over all her internal wealth there shall be a sure defense. The Chaldee paraphase reads, "Thou shalt be strong and bright, like iron and brass."
V. THERE IS PLEDGED INTERNAL STRENGTH PROPORTIONED TO NEED. "As thy days, thy strength." A precious promise this of universal application. Our days are under Divine inspection; our circumstances are under Divine control. It is better for the man every way that his strength should be increased than that the trial should be abated. The outcome is that the man emerges stronger, nobler, more highly developed. The supply is always adjusted to the particular need. God is the model of frugal economy. In his administration there is no waste. But there would be waste if the supply of strength daily given were in excess of the requirement. This would be a blot upon his wisdom. What should we say of the water company that sent daily into our houses ten times the quantity of water that is required? Or, what advantage would it be to us if the supply of light from the sun daily were a hundredfold in excess of this world's need? Our God is perfect wisdom, as well as infinite love. Strength shall be supplied, not in superabundant waste, but in exact proportion to our need. "As our days, our strength." The infant would be crushed with the strength of the full-grown man.—D.
God, the crown of Israel's glory.
As soon as Moses touches upon ills theme, language seems too poor to express the greatness of his thought—too cold to convey the glowing ardor of his love. Here all metaphors fail; all comparisons are vain. God is above all imagery, or metaphor, or illustration. As there is none like him, so nothing can fitly express his deeds towards his chosen, tits conduct is, like himself, ineffable. As heaven is loftier than earth, so do God's thoughts and ways transcend human conception.
I. OBSERVE ISRAEL'S SOURCE OF GREATNESS. Without question, Israel's source of greatness is God. Inconceivable as it is to mortal minds, the eternal Sovereign of the universe has come into intimate alliance with his chosen people. He is not simply God—the abstract Deity—he is the "God of Jeshurun." His eternity is brought into human use—is available for human needs. In the eternal and unchangeable God we may dwell. He is our Refuge, our Dwelling-place, our Sanctuary. All the resources of his omnipotence are for us: beneath us "are the everlasting arms." But hath God arms? Hath he human members and organs? "He that formed the eye, shall he not see?" He that fashioned our arms and hands, hath he no instruments with which to support our sinking frame? Yea, "in him we live."
All the activities of his providential government are for us. "He rideth upon the heavens," like a king in his chariot, for our help. This is true, both for Israel collectively, and for every individual believer. In every decree that issues from his throne, he has us in view. All the machinery of his extended providence works with one design, viz. our advantage. He thinks, and plans, and executes, and overturns for one main end—the final redemption of his people. God and we are one.
II. ISRAEL'S SAFETY. "Thou shalt dwell in safety alone." From the foregoing premise, this is a sound and certain conclusion. "If God be for us," who can assail us successfully? What can prevail against omnipotence? What can penetrate the thick bosses of Jehovah's shield? Fear in suck a case is unreasonable disloyalty. This globe must be shivered into a thousand atoms, all the forces in God's universe must be rendered powerless and ineffective, the scepter of Jehovah must be broken, before any danger can touch the elect of God. Safe, beyond the specter of a fear, are hose whom God defends.
III. ISRAEL'S ABUNDANCE. "The fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine." Jacob is represented as the fount or source of many people, all of whom shall find an abode in the land of corn and wine. Every want shall be met. In this "mountain, shall the Lord of hosts prepare a feast of fat things." In the paradise of God there flourishes on both sides of the stream, the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, and yieldeth her fruit every month. Here is a perennial supply and satisfying variety. And though this is expressed by material images, it sets forth substantial and eternal truth—the very truth of God. In the kingdom of God there is provided whatever can please the eye, delight the ear, regale the appetite, relieve a need, gratify a sense. For perpetually does the voice of the King ring out a hearty welcome, "Eat, O friends; yea, drink abundantly, O beloved."
IV. ISRAEL'S TRIUMPH. God's triumph is Israel's triumph also. God will not dissociate himself from his people. "His covenant is an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure." Yea, God's conquests are not separate and distinct from ours. He conquers through us—yea, by means of us. If we belong to the true Israel, God's foes are our foes, God's weapons are our weapons, God's interests are our interests. Our excellent Sword in this warfare is God; he himself is" the Shield of our help." The contest may be protracted, severe, wavering; success may seem to hang in suspense; but beyond the smoke and dust and uncertainty of battle, faith clearly sees the final triumph, and hears the immortal pen, "Thou shalt tread upon their high places."
V. ISRAEL'S TRANSCESDEST HAPPINESS. "Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee?" Surely, their happiness is complete, and impossible of enlargement, who repose themselves in the very heart of God, and dwell perpetually in his love! The utmost capacity of human speech is impotent to express their deep and satisfying joy. It is a thing to be experienced, not expressed. Such joy hath no vocabulary, no tongue. It is "joy unspeakable, and full of glory." What the noonday sun is to a glowworm's spark, so is the joy of the righteous compared with the joys of earth. God's own joy is conveyed to godly hearts.—D.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany