In the last chapter, Moses had thundered out the terrors of the Lord against Israel for their sin. But now, in order to soften those terrors (and also so that he might not seem to part from them in anger), he here pronounced blessings and peace upon the people. Similarly, Christ’s last work on earth (Luke 24:50) was to bless His disciples, in token of parting as friends.
Moses began with a description of the glorious appearances of God when He gave the law at Mount Sinai. His law works like fire (verse 2). It melts, warms, purifies, and burns up the dross of corruption if it is received; but it hardens, burns, pains, and destroys if it is rejected. The giving of the law was an example of the special kindness and love (verse 3) that the Lord showed to His people; the law of God written in our hearts is a certain proof that His love is shed abroad there. We must reckon His law to be one of the gifts of His grace.
The order in which the tribes of Israel were blessed is not the same as the order of the tribes that is observed elsewhere in the Scriptures. Let us briefly look at each of these blessings. Reuben had lost the honor of his birthright, but Moses still began with his tribe; he prayed that they would be preserved in safety, even though they were a frontier tribe on the east side of the Jordan River – especially since their men of war were even now ready to march over in front of their brethren in the conquest of Canaan (Num. 32:27).
Judah’s blessing was put before Levi’s, because our Lord “sprang out of Judah.” Moses prayed for the general prosperity of the whole tribe; but there was a particular reference here to David (as a picture of Christ), that the Lord would hear his prayers (Ps. 20:1) and give him successful victories over his enemies. And the prayer that the God would “bring him unto his people” seems to refer to Jacob’s prophecy (Gen. 49:10) concerning Shiloh – that “to him [that is, Christ] should the gathering of the people be.”
The tribe of Simeon was omitted in these blessings. Jacob had left both Levi and Simeon under a brand of dishonor (Gen. 49:5-7); and unlike Levi, the people of Simeon had never done anything to retrieve their honor. When the land of Canaan was settled, Simeon was given a portion of the land belonging to Judah; and so, in a sense, they may be said to be included in Judah’s blessing.
The blessing on the Levites refers to the high priest. Moses prayed that the Urim and Thummim would always be with the high priest (in other words, he prayed that the high priest’s office would always remain). But this prayer has its full accomplishment in Jesus Christ – the Lord’s Messiah (“Anointed One”) and our Great High Priest, of whom Aaron was only a foreshadow.
Benjamin was called the “beloved of the Lord,” and those persons are blessed indeed who are beloved of the Lord. King Saul and the Apostle Paul both descended from this tribe. The Benjamites were assured that they were under the Divine protection, for those whom God loves are safe (Ps. 91:1).
The blessing of Joseph included both of the “sub-tribes” of Manasseh and Ephraim. Joseph was one of the most eminent pictures of Jesus in the Scriptures. Moses prayed for many physical blessings for the descendants of Joseph, and these blessings of precious things were pictures of the spiritual blessings in heavenly things that we enjoy through Christ.
The blessings of Zebulun and Issachar were put together. They would both have a comfortable settlement and employment; Zebulun would be able to rejoice in their going out to sea (compare Gen. 49:13); and Issachar would rejoice in their tents (that is, in their business at home in their fields).
The tribe of Gad also had a portion on the east side of the Jordan River. Moses foretold that this tribe would be enlarged – which would be a reason to glorify God – and also that they would be a valiant and victorious tribe.
Moses compared Dan to a lion, for courage and resolution. Perhaps this was referring to the particular victories over the enemies of God’s people, which were obtained by Samson when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.
As for Naphtali, Moses looked upon this tribe with wonder and applauded it. They would be satisfied with favor – possibly that of men, but certainly that of God! They would be filled with the blessing of the Lord.
Moses prayed for the increase of Asher’s numbers, and he prayed for the continuance of their strength and vigor: “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” This is a promise that may be taken up by all God’s people, assuring us that He will graciously support us under our trials and troubles – whatever they may be!
No nation ever had such a God as Israel did! None of the heathen idols were ever capable of doing for their people what Jehovah did for His. Truly, it was a blessing to them to be taken into covenant with such a God. The eternal God is the refuge of His people; for in the Covenant of redemption – in the blood and righteousness of Jesus – all the perfections of the Godhead are pledged to His people in an everlasting covenant (which cannot be broken), for their eternal security. He will protect, govern, bless, and rejoice over us; and He will also destroy our enemies. And then we shall dwell securely in our God, in love and eternal happiness; and we shall abound with a fullness of all blessings!
Lord, we give thanks for the merits and intercession of our Redeemer, and we thank You for the assurance that “underneath us are the everlasting arms!” Amen.
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