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Deuteronomy: Chapter 33

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Text view alone

1This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, blessed the Israelites before his death. 2He said:

The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned from Seir upon us; a Cn Compare Gk: meaning of Heb uncertain he shone forth from Mount Paran. With him were myriads of holy ones; b Or O lover of the at his right, a host of his own. c Cn: Heb with his hands he contended 3 Indeed, O favorite among d Q Ms Gk: MT lacks Give to Levi peoples, all his holy ones were in your charge; they marched at your heels, accepted direction from you. 4 Moses charged us with the law, as a possession for the assembly of Jacob. 5 There arose a king in Jeshurun, when the leaders of the people assembled— the united tribes of Israel.


May Reuben live, and not die out, even though his numbers are few.

7And this he said of Judah:

O LORD, give heed to Judah, and bring him to his people; strengthen his hands for him, e Heb above him and be a help against his adversaries.

8And of Levi he said:

Give to Levi f Heb he your Thummim, and your Urim to your loyal one, whom you tested at Massah, with whom you contended at the waters of Meribah; 9 who said of his father and mother, “I regard them not”; he ignored his kin, and did not acknowledge his children. For they observed your word, and kept your covenant. 10 They teach Jacob your ordinances, and Israel your law; they place incense before you, and whole burnt offerings on your altar. 11 Bless, O LORD, his substance, and accept the work of his hands; crush the loins of his adversaries, of those that hate him, so that they do not rise again.

12Of Benjamin he said:

The beloved of the LORD rests in safety— the High God g Cn: Heb in the bush surrounds him all day long— the beloved h Q Ms Gk Syr Vg: MT His firstborn rests between his shoulders.

13And of Joseph he said:

Blessed by the LORD be his land, with the choice gifts of heaven above, and of the deep that lies beneath; 14 with the choice fruits of the sun, and the rich yield of the months; 15 with the finest produce of the ancient mountains, and the abundance of the everlasting hills; 16 with the choice gifts of the earth and its fullness, and the favor of the one who dwells on Sinai. a Cn: Heb the peoples, together Let these come on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers. 17 A firstborn b Or The eternal God is a dwelling place bull—majesty is his! His horns are the horns of a wild ox; with them he gores the peoples, driving them to c Cn: Heb from underneath the ends of the earth; such are the myriads of Ephraim, such the thousands of Manasseh.

18And of Zebulun he said:

Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out; and Issachar, in your tents. 19 They call peoples to the mountain; there they offer the right sacrifices; for they suck the affluence of the seas and the hidden treasures of the sand.

20And of Gad he said:

Blessed be the enlargement of Gad! Gad lives like a lion; he tears at arm and scalp. 21 He chose the best for himself, for there a commander's allotment was reserved; he came at the head of the people, he executed the justice of the LORD, and his ordinances for Israel.

22And of Dan he said:

Dan is a lion's whelp that leaps forth from Bashan.

23And of Naphtali he said:

O Naphtali, sated with favor, full of the blessing of the LORD, possess the west and the south.

24And of Asher he said:

Most blessed of sons be Asher; may he be the favorite of his brothers, and may he dip his foot in oil. 25 Your bars are iron and bronze; and as your days, so is your strength.


There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, majestic through the skies. 27 He subdues the ancient gods, d Or the everlasting arms shatters a Or fountain the forces of old; b Or Sea of Reeds he drove out the enemy before you, and said, “Destroy!” 28 So Israel lives in safety, untroubled is Jacob's abode c Heb Salt Sea in a land of grain and wine, where the heavens drop down dew. 29 Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! Your enemies shall come fawning to you, and you shall tread on their backs.


c Cn Compare Gk: meaning of Heb uncertain

d Or O lover of the

e Cn: Heb with his hands he contended

f Q Ms Gk: MT lacks Give to Levi

g Heb above him

h Heb he

a Cn: Heb in the bush

b Q Ms Gk Syr Vg: MT His firstborn

c Cn: Heb the peoples, together

d Or The eternal God is a dwelling place

a Cn: Heb from underneath

b Or the everlasting arms

c Or fountain

a Or Sea of Reeds

a Heb Salt Sea

Text Commentary view alone

33.1–29 : The blessing of Moses.

In form a father's blessing of his progeny when death is imminent (Gen 27.27–29; 48.15–16; 49.1–28; cf. 1 Kings 2.1–4 ), Moses’ address to the tribes arrayed before him ( 29.2,10; 31.7,30 ) treats all Israel as his own progeny, gathered before the deathbed (Gen 48.2; 49.33 ). Following the model of other blessings, the speaker addresses the tribes in the singular, as if they were individual sons (contrast v. 19 ). This poem is clearly an insertion, intruding between God's command to Moses to ascend Nebo to prepare for his death ( 32.49–50 ) and Moses’ compliance ( 34.1–5 ). The literary model of the patriarchal blessing of the twelve tribes (vv. 6–25 ) has been consciously embedded in a framing poem addressed to a united Israel (vv. 1–5,26–29 ) that imitates victory hymns to the divine warrior (Judg 5; Ps 18.7–15; Hab 3; cf. Ex 15 ). That older model has been significantly transformed, however. In vv. 1–4 , the expected climax of the divine theophany in the military defeat of the enemy has been totally eclipsed (cf. vv. 26–29 ), although it is the logical precondition for the proclamation of God as king (v. 5 ). The new climax is instead Moses’ proclamation of Torah (v. 4n. ). The reference here to Sinai instead of Deuteronomy's usual Horeb (see 1.2n. ) is an attempt to integrate Deuteronomy with the other literary sources of the Pentateuch (Ex 19–20; Lev 25.1; Num 10.12 ). The editors have used an inclusio pattern to embed the blessing (with its focus upon the individual tribes) into the framing hymn to the divine warrior (where united Israel is the focus). Thus the word symmetry LORD:Jacob:Jeshurun::Jeshurun′:Jacob′:LORD′ (A:B:C::C′:B′:A′; vv. 2,4,5,26,28,29 ) brackets the inserted blessing. Older hymns to the divine warrior sometimes list the tribes’ contributions to the battle (Judg 5.14–18 ), which facilitates the combination of the two models. Although it draws upon older textual traditions, the poem in its present form is almost certainly exilic or postexilic. The combination of two separate literary models and the emphasis on Torah rather than the divine warrior's manifestation in battle suggest the later literary setting.

1 :

Man of God, a type of prophet (Josh 14.6; 1 Sam 9.6; 1 Kings 13.1–32; 17.18,24; 2 Kings 4.7–41 ); this term is not used earlier of Moses in Deuteronomy.

2 :

The Lord … dawned, God's departure from his distant mountain stronghold, dramatically coming to the rescue of his people, closely follows the model of Judg 5.4; Hab 3.3 . Myriads of holy ones, the divine council who accompany God into battle (32.8n.; Ps 68.17; 89.7 ). Sinai … Seir, the parallelism locates Sinai near Seir, associated with Edom (Judg 5.4 ), in southern Transjordan. This tradition diverges from the one placing the mountain in the Sinai Peninsula, far to the southwest.

3 :

His holy ones, originally, the divine council of v. 2 , reinterpreted to refer to Israel ( 7.6; 14.2, 21; 26.19; 28.9; Lev 19.2; Num 16.3 ) to provide a transition to v. 4 .

4 :

Moses charged us, since Moses is himself the speaker (v. 1 ), this verse is an insertion that presents the promulgation of the Torah as the climax of the divine warrior's theophany.

5 :

A king, almost certainly God as divine king of Israel (Ex 15.18; Num 23.21; Judg 8.22–23; 1 Sam 8.7; Isa 33.22; Ps 29.10 ). Jeshurun, see 32.15n.

6 :

Reuben, who once had the leadership of the firstborn (see Gen 49.3–4 ), is apparently threatened with extinction. (Simeon, Jacob's second‐born, is entirely missing.)

7 :

Judah, in sore trouble because of an unnamed adversary, should be helped by other tribes.

8–11 :

Levi, once a warlike tribe (Gen 49.5–7 ), is to receive the prerogatives of the priesthood: to teach law, or Torah (v. 10 ), and to officiate at the altar.

8 :

Thummim and Urim, the priestly divination devices (Ex 28.30; Ezra 2.63 ). Massah and Meribah, see Ex 17.1–7; Num 20.2–13 .

9 :

On Levi's zealous loyalty to the covenant, at the expense of father and mother … kin, and … his children, thus complying with 13.7, see Ex 32.25–29 .

13–17 :

See Gen 49.25–26 .

16–17 :

By ascribing primacy of rule and the status of firstborn to Joseph, this blessing conflicts with the law affirming the norm of primogeniture ( 21.15–17 ).

16 :

Who dwells on Sinai refers to Ex 3.1–6 (see text note a); 19.1–20.21 . Prince, Joseph (the Northern Kingdom, destroyed in 722 BCE) enjoyed greater prestige than Judah (v. 7 ).

17 :

Ephraim and Manasseh, the two tribes making up “the house of Joseph” (Gen 48.13–14 ).

18–19 :

Zebulun and Issachar will enjoy great influence owing to the resources of the Mediterranean and Lake Chinnereth, later known as the Sea of Galilee (Gen 49.13 ).

20–21 :

Gad occupied the best tableland in Transjordan but aided the other tribes in the occupation of Canaan (Num 32 ).

22 :

Dan, vigorous as a lion's whelp, must here already have migrated from its original tribal allotment on the coastal plain to the far north at the base of Mount Hermon (Judg 18 ). Bashan, see 32.14n.

23 :

Naphtali, located in the region of the Sea of Galilee west and south of Dan.

24–25 :

Asher, located below Phoenicia, is to be strong and prosperous.

26–29 :

The resumption of the hymn to the divine warrior (vv. 2–5 ), and a return to the focus upon Jeshurun (v. 26 ), meaning all Israel (v. 28 ).

26 :

Much like the Canaanite storm god Baal, Israel's divine warrior rides upon the clouds (Ps 18.10; 68.33; Isa 19.1 ).

27 :

NRSV justifiably reinterprets the Hebrew (see text notes a, b) in order to continue the mythic imagery of v. 26 .

28 :

As in Ugaritic epic, the theophany of the divine warrior and his proclamation as king results in the fertility of the land.

29 :

Tread on their backs, a standard symbol of military triumph (Josh 10.24; Ps 110.1 ; also attested in Neo‐Assyrian reliefs).

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