Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
deu 33:1Moses blessed Israel - He is said to bless them, by praying to God with faith for his blessing upon them; and by foretelling the blessings which God would confer upon them. And Moses calls himself here the man of God, that is, the servant or prophet of God, to acquaint them that the following prophecies were not his own inventions, but divine inspirations. The children of Israel - The several tribes: only Simeon is omitted, either in detestation of their parent Simeon's bloody carriage, for which Jacob gives that tribe a curse rather than a blessing, in Gen 49:5-7. Or, because that tribe had no distinct inheritance, but was to have its portion in the tribe of Judah, Jos 19:1.
deu 33:2The Lord came - Namely, to the Israelites, manifested himself graciously and gloriously among them. From Sinai - Beginning at Sinai, where the first appearance of God was, and so going on with them to Seir and Paran. And rose up - He appeared or shewed himself, as the sun doth when it riseth. From Seir - From the mountain or land of Edom, to which place the Israelites came, Num 20:14, &c. and from thence God led them on towards the land of promise, and then gloriously appeared for them in subduing Sihon and Og before them. But because the land of Edom is sometimes taken more largely, and so reacheth even to the Red - sea, and therefore mount Sinai was near to it, and because Paran was also near Sinai, being the next station into which they came from the wilderness of Sinai: all this verse may belong to God's appearance in mount Sinai, where that glorious light which shone upon mount Sinai directly, did in all probability scatter its beams into adjacent parts, such as Seir and Paran were. And if so, this is only a poetical expression of the same thing in divers words, and God coming or rising or shining from or to or in Sinai and Seir and Paran note one and the same illustrious action of God appearing there with ten thousands of his saints or holy angels, and giving a fiery law to them. Paran - A place where God eminently manifested his presence and goodness both in giving the people flesh which they desired, and in appointing the seventy elders and pouring forth his spirit upon them. With ten thousands of saints - That is, with a great company of holy angels, Psa 68:17; Dan 7:10, which attended upon him in this great and glorious work of giving the law, as may be gathered from Act 7:53; Gal 3:19. From his right hand - Which both wrote the law and gave it to men. An allusion to men who ordinarily write and give gifts with their right hand. A fiery law - The law is called fiery, because it is of a fiery nature purging and searching and inflaming, to signify that fiery wrath which it inflicteth upon sinners for the violation of it, and principally because it was delivered out of the midst of the fire.
deu 33:3The people - The tribes of Israel. The sense is, this law, though delivered with fire and smoke and thunder, which might seem to portend nothing but hatred and terror, yet in truth was given to Israel, in great love, as being the great mean of their temporal and eternal salvation. Yea, he, embraced the people, and laid them in his bosom! so the word signifies, which speaks not only the dearest love, but the most tender and careful protection. All God's saints or holy ones, that is, his people, were in thy hand, that is, under God's care to protect, direct and govern them. These words are spoken to God: the change of persons, his and thy, is most frequent in the Hebrew tongue. This clause may farther note God's kindness to Israel, in upholding them when the fiery law was delivered, which was done with so much terror that not only the people were ready to sink under it, but even Moses did exceedingly fear and quake. But God sustained both Moses and the people, in or by his hand, whereby he in a manner covered them that no harm might come to them. At thy feet - Like scholars to receive instructions. He alludes to the place where the people waited when the law was delivered, which was at the foot of the mount. Every one - Of the people will receive or submit to thy instructions and commands. This may respect either, the peoples promise when they heard the law, that they would hear and do all that was commanded. Or, their duty to do so.
deu 33:4Moses - He speaks this of himself in the third person, which is very usual in the Hebrew language. The law is called their inheritance, because the obligation of it was hereditary, passing from parents to their children, and because this was the best part of their inheritance, the greatest of all those gifts which God bestowed upon them.
deu 33:5He was king in Jeshurun - Moses was their king not in title, but in reality, being under God, their supreme governor, and law giver. Gathered together - When the princes and people met together for the management of public affairs, Moses was owned by them as their king and lawgiver.
deu 33:6Let Reuben live - Though Reuben deserve to be cut off or greatly diminished and obscured, according to Jacob's prediction, Gen 49:4, yet God will spare them and give them a name and portion among the tribes of Israel, and bless them with increase of their numbers. All the ancient paraphrasts refer this to the other world, so far were they from expecting temporal blessings only. Let Reuben live in life eternal, says Onkelos, and not die the second death. Let Reuben live in this world, so Jonathan and the Jerusalem Targum, and not die that death which the wicked die in the world to come.
deu 33:7Hear, Lord - God will hear his prayer for the accomplishment of those great things promised to that tribe, Gen 49:8-12. This implies the delays and difficulties Judah would meet with, that would drive him to his prayers, which would be with success. Unto his people - When he shall go forth to battle against his enemies and shall fall fiercely upon them, as was foretold, Gen 49:8-9. Bring him back with honour and victory, to his people, to the rest of his tribe who were left at home when their brethren went to battle: and to his brethren the other tribes of Israel. Let his hands be sufficient for him - This tribe shall be so numerous and potent that it shall suffice to defend itself without any aid, either from foreign nations or from other tribes; as appeared when this tribe alone was able to grapple with nine or ten of the other tribes. From his enemies - Thou wilt preserve this tribe in a special manner, so that his enemies shall not be able to ruin it, as they will do other tribes, and that for the sake of the Messiah who shall spring out of it.
deu 33:8Let thy Urim - The Thummim and the Urim, which are thine, O Lord by special institution and consecration, (by which he understands the ephod in which they were put, and the high priesthood, to which they were appropriated, and withal the gifts and graces signified by the Urim and Thummim, and necessary for the discharge of that high - office) shall be with thy holy one, that is, with that priest, whom thou hast consecrated to thyself, and who is holy in a more peculiar manner than all the people were; that is, the priesthood shall be confined to and continued in Aaron's family. Whom thou didst prove - Altho' thou didst try him, and rebuke him, yet thou didst not take away the priesthood from him. At Massah - Not at that Massah mentioned Exo 17:7, which is also called Meribah, but at that other Meribah, Num 20:13. Thou didst strive - Whom thou didst reprove and chastise.
deu 33:9I have not seen him - That is, I have no respect unto them. The sense is, who followed God and his command fully, and executed the judgment enjoined by God without any respect of persons, Exo 32:26-27. They kept thy covenant - When the rest broke their covenant with God by that foul sin of idolatry with the calf, that tribe kept themselves pure from that infection, and adhered to God and his worship.
deu 33:11His substance - Because he hath no inheritance of his own and therefore wholly depends upon thy blessing. The work of his hands - All his holy administrations, which he fitly calls the work of his hands, because a great part of the service of the Levites and priests was done by the labour of their hand and body, whereas the service of evangelical ministers is more spiritual and heavenly. Smite - He pray's thus earnestly for them, because he foresaw they who were to teach and reprove, and chastise others would have many enemies, and because they were under God, the great preservers and upholders of religion, and their enemies were the enemies of religion itself.
deu 33:12Of Benjamin - Benjamin is put next to Levi, because the temple, where the work of the Levites lay, was upon the edge of the lot of this tribe. And 'tis put before Joseph, because of the dignity of Jerusalem, (part of which was in this lot) above Samaria, which was in the tribe of Ephraim: likewise because Benjamin adhered to the house of David and to the temple of God, when the rest of the tribes deserted both. The beloved of the Lord - So called in allusion to their father Benjamin who was the beloved of his father Jacob; and because of the kindness of God to this tribe which appeared both in this, that they dwelt in the best part of the land, as Josephus affirms, and in the following privilege. Shall dwell in safety by him - Shall have his lot nigh to God's temple, which was both a singular comfort and safeguard to him. Shall cover - Shall protect that tribe continually while they cleave to him. He - The Lord shall dwell, that is, his temple shall be placed, between his shoulders, that is, in his portion, or between his border's as the word shoulder is often used. And this was truly the situation of the temple, on both sides whereof was Benjamin's portion. And though mount Sion was in the tribe of Judah, yet mount Moriah, on which the temple was built, was in the tribe of Benjamin.
deu 33:13And of Joseph - Including both Ephraim and Manasseh. In Jacob's blessing that of Joseph's is the largest. And so it is here. His land - His portion shall be endowed with choice blessings from God. Of heaven - That is, the precious fruits of the earth brought forth by the influences of heaven, the warmth of the sun, and the rain which God will send from heaven. The deep - The springs of water bubbling out of the earth: perhaps it may likewise refer to the great deep, the abyss of waters, which is supposed to be contained in the earth.
deu 33:14By the sun - Which opens and warms the earth, cherishes and improves and in due time ripens the seeds and fruits of it. The moon - Which by its moisture refreshes and promotes them. Heb. Of the moons, or months, that is, which it bringeth forth in the several months or seasons of the year.
deu 33:15The chief things - That is, the excellent fruits, as grapes, olives, figs, &c. which delight in mountains, growing upon, or the precious minerals contained in, their mountains and hills called ancient and lasting, that is, such as have been from the beginning of the world, and are likely to continue to the end of it, in opposition to those hills or mounts which have been cast up by man.
deu 33:16And for - And in general for all the choice fruits which the land produceth in all the parts of it, whither hills or valleys. Fulness thereof - That is, the plants and cattle and all creatures that grow, increase, and flourish in it. The good will - For all other effects of the good will and kindness of God who not long since did for a time dwell or appear in the bush to me in order to the relief of his people, Exo 3:2. Of Joseph - That is, of Joseph's posterity. Him that was separated from his brethren - His brethren separated him from them by making him a slave, and God distinguished him from them by making him a prince. The preceeding words might be rendered, My dweller in the bush. That was an appearance of the divine majesty to Moses only, in token of his particular favour. Many a time had God appeared to Moses; but now he is just dying, he seems to have the most pleasing remembrance, of the first time that he saw the visions of the Almighty. It was here God declared himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and so confirmed the promise made to the father, that promise which our Lord shews, reaches as far as the resurrection and eternal life.
deu 33:17His glory is like the firstling of his bullock - Or young bull, which is a stately creature, and was therefore formerly used as an emblem of royal majesty. This seems to note the kingdom which Ephraim should obtain in Jeroboam and his successors. His horns - His strength and power shall be very great. The people - All that shall oppose him, and particularly the Canaanites. The ten thousands - Of the land of Canaan. Though Manasseh be now more numerous, yet Ephraim shall shortly outstrip him, as was foretold Gen 48:17-19.
deu 33:18Rejoice - Thou shalt prosper and have cause of rejoicing. In thy going out - To war, as this phrase is often used. To sea, in way of traffick, because their portion lay near the sea. And in both respects his course is opposite to that of Issachar, who was a lover of peace and pasturage. He is here joined with Zebulun, both because they were brethren by father and mother too, and because their possessions lay near together. In thy tents - Thou shalt give thyself to the management of laud and cattle, living quietly in thy own possessions.
deu 33:19They - Zebulun of whom Moses takes more special notice. And so having dispatched Issachar in two words, he returns to Zebulun. The people - the Gentiles, either those of Galilee, which was called Galilee of the Gentiles, who were their neighbours; or people of other nations, with whom they had commerce, which they endeavoured to improve in persuading them to worship the true God. The mountain - That is, to the temple, which Moses knew was to be seated upon a mountain. Sacrifices of righteousness - Such as God requires. Their trafficking abroad with Heathen nations shall not make them forget their duty at home, nor shall their distance from the place of sacrifice hinder them from coming to it to discharge that duty. Of the abundance of the sea - They shall grow rich by the traffick of the sea, and shall consecrate themselves and their riches to God. Hid in the sand - Such precious things as either Are contained in the sand of the sea and rivers, in which sometimes there is mixed a considerable quantity of gold and silver. Or, Such as grow in the sea, or are fetched from the sandy bottom of it, as pearls, coral, ambergrease. Or, Such as being cast into the sea by shipwreck are cast upon the shore by the workings of the sea. It were well, if the enlargement of our trade with foreign countries, were made to contribute to the spreading of the gospel.
deu 33:20Enlargeth - That bringeth him out of his straits amid troubles, which he was often engaged in, because he was encompassed with potent enemies. As a lion - Safe and secure from his enemies, and terrible to them when they rouse and molest him. Teareth the arm - Utterly destroys his enemies, both the head, the seat of the crown, their dignity and principality, and the arm, the subject of strength and instrument of action; both chief princes, and their subjects.
deu 33:21The first part - The first fruits of the land of promise, the country of Sihon, which was first conquered, which he is said to provide for himself, because he desired and obtained it of Moses. Of the law - giver - Of Moses, whose portion this is called, either because this part of the land beyond Jordan was the only part of the land which Moses was permitted to enter upon: or because it was given him by Moses, whereas the portions beyond Jordan were given to the several tribes by Joshua according to the direction of the lot. Seated - Heb. hid or protected: for their wives and children were secured in their cities, while many of their men went over to the war in Canaan. He came - He went, or he will go, to the war in Canaan, with the princes, or captains, or rulers of the people of Israel, that is, under their command and conduct, as indeed they did; or with the first of the people; or, in the front of the people, as the Syriack renders it; for this tribe and their brethren whose lot fell beyond Jordan, were to march into Canaan before their brethren. He executed - The just judgment of God against the Canaanites, as the rest of the Israelites did.
deu 33:22A lion's whelp - Courageous, and generous, and strong, and successful against his enemies. Which leapeth - From Bashan, because there were many and fierce lions in those parts, whence they used to come forth and leap upon the prey. Or this may refer either to the particular victories obtained by Samson, who was of the tribe of Dan, or to a more general achievement of that tribe, when a party of them surprised Laish, which lay in the farthest part of the land of Canaan from them. And the mountain of Bashan lying not far from that city, from whence they probably made their descent upon it, thus leaping from Basham.
deu 33:23Satisfied with favour - With the favour of God. That only is the favour that satisfies the soul. They are happy indeed that have the favour of God; and they shall have it, that place their satisfaction in it. And full with the blessing of the Lord - Not Only with corn, wine and oil, the fruit of the blessing, but with the blessing itself, the grace of God, according to his promise and covenant. Possess thou the west and the south - Or, the sea and the south. This is not to be understood of the place, that his lot should fall there, for he was rather in the east and north of the land; but of the pleasures and commodities of the west or of the sea, which were conveyed to him from his neighbour Zebulun; and of the south, that is, from the southern tribes and parts of Canaan, which were brought to him down the river Jordan, and both sorts of commodities were given him in exchange for the fruitful rich soil which he had in great abundance.
deu 33:24Let Asher - Who carries blessedness in his very name, be blessed with children - He shall have numerous, strong and healthful children. Acceptable to his brethren - By his sweet disposition and winning carriage. In oil - He shall have such plenty of oil that he may not only wash his face, but his feet also in it.
deu 33:25Iron and brass - The mines of iron and copper, which were in their portion, whence Sidon their neighbor was famous among the Heathens for its plenty of brass, and Sarepta is thought to have its name from the brass and iron which were melted there in great quantity. Thy strength shall be - Thy strength shall not be diminished with age, but thou shalt have the vigor of youth even in thine old age: thy tribe shalt grow stronger and stronger.
deu 33:26There us none - These are the last words that ever Moses wrote, perhaps the greatest writer that ever lived upon the earth. And this man of God, who had as much reason to know both as ever any mere man had, with his last breath magnifies both the God of Israel, and the Israel of God. Unto the God of Jeshurun, who to help thee, rideth upon the heaven, and with the greatest state and magnificence, on the sky. Riding on the heaven denotes the greatness and glory, in which he manifests himself to the upper world, and the use he makes of the influences of heaven and the products of the clouds, in bringing to pass his own counsels in this lower world. All these he manages and directs, as a man doth the horse he rides on.
deu 33:27The eternal God - He who was before all worlds, and will be, when time shall be no more: Is thy refuge - Or, thy habitation or mansion - house (so the word signifies) in whom thou art safe, and easy, and at rest, as a man is in his own house. Every true Israelite is at home in God: the soul returns to him, and reposes in him. And they that make him their habitation shall have all the comforts and benefits of an habitation in him. And underneath are the everlasting arms - The almighty power of God, which protects and comforts all that trust in him, in their greatest straits and distresses. He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee - Shall make room for thee by his resistless power, and shall say, Destroy them - Giving thee not only a commission but strength to put it in execution. And, has he not given the same commission and the same strength to believers, to destroy all sin?
deu 33:28Alone - Either Tho' they be alone, and have no confederates to defend them, but have all the world against them, yet my single protection shall be sufficient for them. Or, Distinct and separated from all other nations, with whom I will not have them mingle themselves. The fountain - That is, the posterity of Jacob, which flowed from him as waters from a fountain, in great abundance. The fountain is here put for the river or streams which flow from it, as Jacob or Israel who is the fountain is often put for the children of Israel. His heavens - That is, those heavens or that air which hangs over his land.
deu 33:29The shield of they help - By whom thou are sufficiently guarded against all assailants; and the sword of thy excellency - Or, thy most excellent sword, that is, thy strength and the author of all thy past or approaching victories. Those in whose hearts is the excellency of holiness, have God himself for their shield and sword. They are defended by the whole armour of God: His word is their sword, and faith their shield. And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee - Who said they would destroy thee: or at least, that they would never submit: and thou shalt tread upon their high places - Their strong holds, palaces and temples. Thus shall the God of peace tread Satan under the feet of all believers, and that shortly.