BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 114 (July, 1957): 225-34

[Copyright © 1957 Dallas Theological Seminary; cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon College] 

 

 

          THE LAST WORDS OF MOSES:

                    DEUTERONOMY 33

 

                                  By Carl Armerding, D. D.

 

            Anyone at all conversant with the commentaries on this

chapter must be aware of the fact that there are difficulties

in it which are not easy to solve. But even though we may

not be able to solve all the difficulties, we need not on that

account miss the blessings which it contains. After all, the

last words of Moses are "the blessing wherewith Moses, the

man of God, blessed the children of Israel before his death."

 

     RELATION TO THE VALEDICTORY OF JACOB

 

            In a previous article on "The Last Words of Jacob"

(Bibliotheca Sacra, 112:320-29, October-December, 1955),

we considered the valedictory of Jacob as he commanded his

sons to gather themselves together that he might tell them

that which would befall them "in the last days." In the por-

tion now before us, they are addressed as "the sons of Isra-

el." When addressed as the sons of Jacob, the emphasis

appears to be on the natural side of things. But when they

are addressed as the sons of Israel we note quite a different

emphasis. The valedictory of Jacob was uttered when the

people were still in Egypt. The blessing of Moses was pro-

nounced as they were on the point of entering the land of

promise. There is a lapse of more than two centuries be-

tween the two. The blessing of Moses has a background of

experience which the valedictory of Jacob could not have even

though his personal experience may, in a sense, foreshadow

that of the nation of which he was a patriarch.

 

                                                (225)

 



226                             Bibliotheca Sacra July, 1957

William Kelly says that the blessing of Moses "is alto-

gether in reference to the land which the people were on the

point of entering. This is perhaps the chief difference as

compared with Jacob's blessing. In the latter case, notice

was taken of the tribes from the beginning of their history to

the end, and apart from their possessing the land or not;

whereas the blessing that Moses pronounces here is in strict-

est subordination to the great object of Deuteronomy. . .

Moses does not therefore show us historically the course of

things as when Jacob prophesied, but a more specific bene-

diction of the people in view of their place in relation to Je-

hovah in the land" (William Kelly, Lectures Introductory

Pentateuch, pp. 519 -20). "Nothing can exceed the gran-

deur of the closing words of Moses; and they will assuredly

be fulfilled in the future brightness and glory of restored

Israel" (ibid., p. 523).

Unlike the blessing of Jacob which begins with an address

to Reuben his firstborn, that of Moses begins with a majestic

vision of the Lord coming from Sinai, rising up from Seir,

and shining forth from Mount Paran. In addition to the fact

that the places here mentioned are related to Israel, Esau,

and Ishmael respectively, we may also note progress in the

coming, the rising up, and the shining forth. It is the Lord

in His government coming from, or with, His holy ones and

having a law of fire in His right hand. The fact that reference

is made to His coming from Sinai would seem to connect this

with the initial giving of the law and all of the fiery phenom-

ena, symbols of His holiness, which attended that solemn

occasion.

But the same one who is light is also love (1 John 1:5;

4:8), and in that order. "Yea, he loveth the peoples, all his

saints are in thy hand, and they sit down at thy feet; each

receiveth of thy words" (J. N. Darby's translation). The

change from the third person "his" to the second person "thy"

is not easy to explain. But we have a striking parallel to this,

in Exodus 15:1-8. In any case, how reassuring to note that

even though He comes to them with a law of fire He loves

them and they are in His hand, the place of perfect safety.



The Last Words of Moses                            227

 

Moreover, they sit down at His feet with perfect confidence,

Just as Mary did when the Lord was here on earth; and like

her, each one receives of His words. These are words

suited to the needs of each one. And they not only hear His

words, they receive them (cf. Mark 4:20).

The mediator of this covenant is next brought before us.

Scripture tells us that the law "was ordained by angels in the

hand of a mediator" (Gal. 3:19) and that mediator was Moses.

"Moses commanded us a law" and it became "the inheritance

of the congregation of Jacob." Moreover, "he was king in

Jeshurun when the heads of the people and the tribes were

gathered together." "Jeshurun. . . seems to be used as an

expression of particular affection; hence Calmet understands

it as a diminutive of the word Israel. . . the Septuagint

seem to have apprehended the full force of the word by trans-

lating it tou egapemenou, the beloved one, the object of God's

especial delight" (Clarke's Commentary, in loco.). The fact

that Moses also exercised the functions of the priesthood on

occasion makes him one of the most unusual characters in

the Old Testament. In his divinely appointed services for

the Lord, he combined the offices of prophet, priest, and

king.

 

MESSAGES TO THE TRIBES

 

We have already noticed that Moses blessed the people

as the sons of Israel rather than as the sons of Jacob. His

arrangement of their names is also different. Jacob ar-

ranged them in three groups; first, the sons of Leah; then the

sons of the bondmaids; and, finally, the sons of Rachel.

Moses also begins with the sons of Leah but before he com-

pletes the list he introduces the sons of Rachel, parentheti-

cally as it were. We see a similar arrangement in the

naming of the sons of the bondmaids. Gad was the son of

Zilpah, Leah's maid. His name is followed by the names of

the two sons of Bilhah, Rachel's maid. The list closes with

the name of Asher, son of Zilpah, Leah's maid.

It is also of interest to notice that apart from Reuben



228                             Bibliotheca Sacra July, 1957

 

the names are grouped in pairs, and in each case we find that

the natural order is reversed. We get an example of a sim-

ilar procedure in Hebrews 11:32. But an earlier example of

the same is found in Genesis 48:12-20 where Jacob is seen

putting Ephraim before Manasseh in spite of Joseph's pro-

test. We are told that Jacob guided "his hands wittingly" or

intelligently in blessing the lads. In other words, he knew

exactly what he was doing. And Moses follows the same pro-

cedure in Deuteronomy 33:17.

The omission of Simeon's name from this list has been

the subject of much comment as well as speculation. If it

had been included, and if the same procedure had been fol-

lowed which we have noted in connection with the arrange-

ment of the other names, then Simeon's name would have

headed the list. The fact that his name comes from a He-

brew root which means to hear is suggestive. One may hear

without being seen or named. But "faith cometh by hearing,

and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). And the hear-

ing of faith will be the first step in the restoration of Israel.

When the "dry bones hear the word of the LORD" (Ezek. 37:

4), their national revival will begin. Until they are like

branches "broken off" (Rom. 11:17-21). And it may be that

the unnamed Simeon here represents them in this phase of

their national history.

Then, just as life follows the hearing of faith, for "they

that hear shall live" (John 5:25), so now we find the prayer

that Reuben may live and not die. The wording of this prayer

suggests the idea of never-ending or eternal life. "If the

casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what

shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?"

(Rom. 11:15). The "fiery law" took its toll even in Moses'

day. And except the Lord of hosts had left unto them a very

small remnant, they would have been like unto Sodom and

Gomorrah (Isa. 1:9; Rom. 9:29). Like Reuben, they have

been diminished and their men have been few. But "Israel as

a nation is imperishable, in virtue of the divine promise, but

the mass of the people is henceforth destined to destruction

because of the divine sentence of judgment; and only a rem-



The Last Words of Moses                                        229

 

nant which turns again will finally propagate Israel's nation-

ality and inherit the glorious future" (Franz Delitzsch,

Commentary on Isaiah, I, 159).

In Judah (v. 7) we hear the cry of those who long to be

brought again to their own people. "Judah. . . has been a

wanderer, and separated from his people; his hand has

brought him no sufficient help, and his enemies have been

busy with him. All this suits exactly with what has long been

their history, and predicts the deliverance awaiting them in

the near future. No tribal name, it is evident, would fill that

place but that of Judah, connected with and following, as it

does, that of Reuben" (F. W. Grant, The Numerical Bible,

I, 619). As we all know, anti-Semitism has used that par-

ticular tribe as its chief target, separated for the time being

from the rest of the nation which is so often referred to as

the lost ten tribes." Again and again they have been threat-

ened with extinction as in the days of Pharoah and Haman,

and more recently in the days of Hitler. But the same one

who heard their sighs and their groanings then will hear again

and He will deliver them.

But in order to deliver them righteously His own right-

eousness and holiness must be vindicated. "How God can

save, yet righteous be" is clearly seen in the section dealing

with Levi (vv. 8-11). "We see, then, why Levi has such a

special place in the blessing of Moses. We must look through

the tribe and its individual history, to see, as in other cases,

the One through whom the blessing comes for Israel. Christ

is plainly the One with whom God's Thummim and Urim are,

the Holy One, proved at the place of proof, and striven with

where the waters of life gushed out. A Moses and an Aaron

might give way under pressure, but not the One for whom

they stood" (ibid.).

The Levites had this to their credit: they observed the

Word of God, and they kept His covenant. In a sense, they

were worthy disciples of Jehovah in that they put His claims

upon them above the claims of all other relationships, no

matter how near and dear they might be (cf. Matt. 10:37).

Thus they were spiritually qualified on the one hand to teach



230                             Bibliotheca Sacra July, 1957

 

their brethren the judgments and the law of the Lord; on the

other hand they were privileged to put incense before Him

and whole burnt sacrifice upon His altar. They had a minis-

try manward as well as Godward. And all of this, we be-

lieve, is prophetic of a day yet to come. The section closes

quite appropriately with a prayer for blessing, acceptance,

and victory.

 

MESSAGES TO THE SONS OF RACHEL

 

The portion dealing with Benjamin and Joseph (vv. 12-

19) gives us the blessed results of all this. The description

of Benjamin as given here stands out in vivid contrast to that

given in Genesis 49:27. Here we read: "The beloved of the

LORD shall dwell in safety by him; and the LORD shall cover

him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoul-

ders." Keil and Delitzsch remind us that "there is nothing

strange in the change of subject in all three clauses, since it

is met with repeatedly even in plain prose (e. g., 2 Sam. 11:

13)." This, too, is prophetic of that day when Israel shall

again dwell in safety as "the beloved of the LORD. "

The main theme of the blessing of Joseph is fruitfulness,

an appropriate conclusion to this division of the valedictory

of Moses. This section deserves much fuller treatment than

we can give it here. But a few suggestions which may be

useful in further study of the subject are in order.

To begin with, we note that the blessings are both heav-

enly and earthly. But strictly speaking "every good gift and

every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the

Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shad-

ow of turning" (Jas. 1:17). Accordingly, "the precious things

of heaven" are here connected with "the deep that coucheth

beneath." In a similar way, "the precious fruits brought

forth by the sun" are linked with "the precious things put

forth by the moon," suggesting their regular recurrence

whether by day or by night.

These heavenly blessings are here followed by earthly

blessings described as "the chief things of the ancient moun-



The Last Words of Moses                            231

tains" and "the precious things of the lasting hills." "The

precious things of the earth and the fulness thereof" remind

us of Psalm 24:1 and are therefore suggestive of the millen-

nial reign of our Lord.

The crowning blessing of all is "the good will of him

that dwelt in the bush." The Hebrew word here used for

is the same as that found in Exodus 3:2-4. It is literally a

thorn bush, reminding us of the curse pronounced in Eden

(Gen. 3:18). It was out of the burning thorn bush that Moses

heard God say: "I have surely seen the affliction of my peo-

ple which are in Egypt. . . and I am come down to deliver

them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up

out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land

flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:7-8). It is the good will

of this one that is to "come upon the head of Joseph, and upon

the top of the head of him that was separated from his breth-

ren." The reader of the original will recognize in the "sep-

arated one" the "Nazirite." And one has but to mention this

to show how suggestive of the Messiah and His reign is all

that we have here in the blessing of Joseph.

Much of the foregoing is quite similar to Jacob's bless-

ing of Joseph as given in Genesis 49:22-26. But Moses con-

cludes his blessing of Joseph with a prediction which goes

far beyond that. Looking ahead to a day yet to come he says:

"His glory [or "his majesty"] is like the firstling of his bul-

lock, and his horns are like the horns of Unicorns: with them

shall he push the people together to the ends of the earth" (v.

17). Consistent with the scheme of interpretation which we

have used thus far, we can see in these words the ultimate

triumph of the Messiah, of whom Joseph was the type in his

day. Nothing like this ever happened in Joseph's day. But a

greater than Joseph is here.

The introduction of Ephraim and Manasseh at this point

reminds us that in blessing these two sons of Joseph Jacob

said: "In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as

Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Ma-

nasseh" (Gen. 48:20). Ephraim means double fruitfulness,

and Manasseh means forgetting (cf. Gen. 41:51-52). The



232                             Bibliotheca Sacra July, 1957

 

fact that "the ten thousands of Ephraim" far outnumber "the

thousands of Manasseh" indicates that the prophecy of Jacob

will be abundantly fulfilled when Messiah "shall see of the

travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied. "

After the long parenthesis which deals with the sons and

grandsons of Rachel the beloved, Moses returns again to the

sons of Leah. Zebulun, her sixth son, is told to rejoice in

his going out. If this is also prophetic, as we have reason to

believe that it is, then we have here a preview of the ministry

of restored Israel to the Gentiles in a day yet to come (cf.

Isa. 66:19; Matt. 24:14). And since Issachar's name means

hire or reward (cf. Gen. 30:18), we can see how appropriate

is the order of the names here.

In the blessing of these two brethren, we see two lines

of ministry. The one goes forth, as it were, with the gospel

of the kingdom. The other, rejoicing in his tents or taber-

nacles, is presumably engaged in a ministry which will com-

plement that of his brother. Together they will invite the

peoples (Gentiles) to the mountain where they offer the sac-

rifices of righteousness. The language here is so similar

to that of Isaiah 2:2-3 and Micah 4:1-2 that we are bound to

conclude that here also we have that which looks on to the

millennium. The sacrifices to be offered then (Ezek. 43:18

ff.) will be offered as memorials of the infinitely greater

sacrifice of Him who fulfilled them all in the offering up of

Himself. And these memorials will serve to keep that blessed

fact always before the worshippers.

Finally, "the abundance of the seas, and of treasures

hid in the sand," show how that which is largely unproductive

today will then yield its hidden riches, when all nature is

brought under the beneficent sway of the King of kings and the

Lord of lords. And with this we come to the conclusion of

the second major division of our chapter.

 

 MESSAGES TO THE SONS OF THE BONDWOMEN

 

The third division deals with the blessing on the sons of

the bondmaids. It is arranged according to the pattern used,



The Last Words of Moses                            233

 

as we have seen in verses 6-19, for the sons of the free

women, the sons of Rachel's maid coming in between the sons

of Leah's maid. The keynote of this portion is the execution

of "the justice of the LORD, and his judgments with Israel."

But it is evident as we read these verses that it is not His

judgment upon Israel, but rather in their behalf. According-

ly, the section begins with a note of praise to Him who "en-

largeth Gad" (cf. Isa. 49:19-20). And the verses which

follow this show how it will be done. "Like as the lion and

the young lion roaring on his prey. . . so shall the LORD of

hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill

thereof" (Isa. 31:4). "And he provided the first part for him-

self, because there, in a portion of the lawgiver, was he

seated." He Himself had buried Moses in the portion of Gad,

and because of that it is here called the "portion of the law-

giver." When this is finally fulfilled, the present dispensa-

tion will have ended and the dispensation of law will be

resumed. Absolute righteousness will prevail because "the

sceptre of his kingdom is a right sceptre" (cf. Ps. 45:6).

Dan, the son of Bilhah, Rachel's maid, is also likened

to a lion, or "a lion's whelp." The fact that "he shall leap

from Bashan" leads us to believe that here" we have one who

will oppose "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." It will not be

the first time that opposition to Messiah has come from that

quarter. According to Psalm 22:12, Bashan's strong ones

beset Him round as He hung on the cross, forsaken of God

and man. Typical of these was Og, king of Bashan, who was

the last of the giants for which that land was noted (Deut. 3:

11). Bashan was the last country to be subdued before the

Israelites actually entered the land of Canaan. Some com-

mentators discern in these giants types of the wicked spirits

which oppose the child of God even now (cf. Eph. 6:12). In

any case, we know that "antichrist shall come” (1 John 2:18)

"whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth,

and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming" (2 Thess.

2:8). And we believe Dan to be a type of that one. His de-

struction prepares the way for the satisfaction and the full

blessing of Jehovah which we see in the blessing of Naphtali,



234                             Bibliotheca Sacra July, 1957

 

the son of Bilhah, Rachel's maid. And this blessing will be

so full that he is commanded to possess the west and the

south in order to make room for it.

Finally, in Asher we reach a happy climax. These

blessings are not confined to that generation. Asher shall

be blessed with children for "the mercy of the LORD is from

everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his

righteousness unto children's children" (Ps. 103:17). The

fact that Asher is to be acceptable to his brethren may indi-

cate that there is to be no feeling against him because he was

one of those who were chosen to stand on mount Ebal to curse

(Deut. 27:13). He is to be allowed to dip his foot in oil, beau-

tiful figure of a walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). His shoes

shall be of iron and brass, the symbols of strength and en-

durance. And as his days so shall his strength or rest be.

And it is on that note that Moses concludes his blessing of

the sons of Israel.

In the last major division of this valedictory, Moses re-

turns to the same theme with which he began, the one who is

incomparable in His glory and in His grace. "There is none

like the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy

help, and in his excellency on the sky." He is the eternal

one, the immutable one, who has ever been a refuge of His

own. And His never-failing arms are their constant support

and protection. And He shall not only thrust out the enemy

before them, but command his destruction. "Israel shall then

dwell in safety alone." His land will be known then as a land

of corn and wine, with the heavens dropping down refreshing

dew upon it, thus insuring its continued freshness. Well may

we join with the patriarch in saying: "Happy art thou, O Isra-

el who is like unto thee, O people saved by the LORD, the

shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency!"

And triumphant over every foe she may now enter "the rest

that remaineth for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9).

 

Wheaton, Illinois

 

 

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            Dallas, TX   75204

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