Last words of Moses
Moses blesses the 12 tribes1 When Moses, a godly man, said goodbye to the people of Israel before he died, he left them with blessings—words of kindness and hope. 2 He said:
The LORD came from Mount Sinai.
But he rose like dawn over rocky Edom.
He glowed in glory over Mount Paran.
He arrived in a blur of countless angels,
From mountain slopes of the southland.
3 He loves his people. No doubt at all.
He takes care of those devoted to him.
These holy people follow where he leads,
And accept his words as law.
4 Moses gave these laws to the people.
They belong to descendants of Jacob.
5 God was king of Israel
When all the leaders met,
And brought their tribes with them.
Reuben6 May Reuben’s tribe survive, and not die,
Though they’re a small tribe now.
Judah7 Moses said this about Judah’s tribe:
LORD, listen to Judah when they pray.
Take them safely back to their homes.
They’ll defend themselves as well as they can.
Help them when they face their enemies.
Levi8 He said this about Levi’s tribe:
You gave Lights and Perfection
To Levi’s tribe, people you love.
You tested them when they stopped for water
At the site called Pushy Complainers.
9 They didn’t give their parents top priority.
“They’re not a factor,” they said.
They didn’t favor their brothers,
And they didn’t favor their children.
They gave top priority to your laws.
They kept their agreement with you.
10 They’ll teach those rules to Jacob’s descendants.
They’ll show Israel how to follow the law.
They’ll burn sweet incense for you to smell.
They’ll burn entire animals as offerings on your altar.
11 LORD, make these people strong.
Help them in everything they do.
Defeat their enemies; knock them down.
And don’t let them get up again.
Benjamin12 He said this about Benjamin’s tribe:
Let these people the LORD loves
Rest in the peace he gives them.
He’s always on duty protecting them.
They rest in the safety of his strength.
Joseph13 He said this about Joseph’s tribes:
May the LORD be kind to this land.
May he cover it in blankets of dew
And rest it upon lakes of underground water.
14 May sunshine give them bumper crops,
And the harvests come on time.
15 May the mountains give the best it has,
Wonderful gifts from those ancient hills.
16 Let the ground give the best it has to offer,
Land blessed by the One who appeared in the bush.
Give all of this to Joseph’s family,
For they are the chosen tribes of the chosen nation.
17 Joseph’s descendants are strong as a bull,
With horns of a wild ox.
They can attack like one, too.
They can stop nations near and far.
May these blessings come to the huge tribe of Ephraim,
And to the countless people of Manasseh’s tribe.
Zebulun and Issachar18 He said this to Zebulun’s tribe:
Zebulun, celebrate your time on the road.
Issachar, enjoy your time at home in your tents.
19 These tribes will invite others to their mountains.
There, they’ll offer the right kind of sacrifices.
They’ll make a good living from the sea
And find treasures hidden along sandy beaches.
Gad20 He said this about Gad’s tribe:
May the sprawling land of Gad be blessed.
Gad crouches like a lion ready to attack
And tear off arms and heads.
21 He chose the best land for his needs,
Premium property fit for a commander.
He does right by the LORD, true to his word.
He is fair in the way he treats Israel.
Dan22 He said this about Dan’s tribe:
Dan is a young lion,
Leaping from the plains of Bashan.
Naphtali23 He said this about Naphtali’s tribe:
Naphtali’s tribe is soaked in God’s kindness.
The LORD is showing how delighted he is with them.
You get the land west and south.
Asher24 He said this about Asher’s tribe:
Asher’s tribe enjoys the kindness of God.
May they experience kindness from Israel, as well.
May they find comfort,
With olive oil to soothe their feet.
25 May they find security
Behind locks of iron and bronze,
Which keep them safe for all of their life.
God is one of a kind26 There’s no one like Israel’s God.
He rides the sky to your rescue,
On clouds of majesty.
27 You’re safe with God.
He lifts and holds you in his arms.
He runs off your enemies
With a single word: “Attack!”
28 Now Israel will live in safety.
There will be peace in the land
Of grain and wine,
Beneath a sky of dew.
29 Blessed Israel, there’s no one like you.
What other nation has the LORD saved?
He’s your defensive shield
And your attacking sword of victory.
Your enemies come to you high on anxiety.
You lay them low and step on their backs.
Scholars complain that 33:2-5 are mysterious and impossible to accurately interpret. The passage starts with Moses recalling his first encounter with God at a fiery bush that didn’t burn up (Exodus 3:1-9). But starting with the second half of verse 3, the words sound like a response from the people, as though this may have been a responsive reading at some point in time.
“Israel” in Hebrew is Jeshurun, a poetic nickname for Israel. It means honest, honorable, upright. See also 32:15 and 33:26.
This hints that the tribe took heavy losses in the battles east of the Jordan River.
When the tribes were on the move, Judah took point—the most dangerous position (Numbers 2:9).
The Hebrew names are Urim and Thummim, described as meaning “lights” and “perfection.” These were two objects never described in the Bible. They might have been stones, marked or colored in different ways. The high priest used them to answer questions with a “yes” or “no” or “wait.” It might have worked a bit like tossing two coins in the air and seeing how they land. Two heads for “yes.” Two tails for “no.” One of each for “wait.” It might seem foolish to make an important decision that way, such as whether to go to war. But the people of Israel seemed to believe that God controlled the objects the priests used. That doesn’t mean the Bible endorses making decisions that way today. As in, two heads up for a four-wheeler or two tails up for retirement savings.
The story appears in Exodus 17:1-7. Moses gave the site a double-trouble name, in Hebrew: Massah and Meribah. Massah means “test,” as in getting pushy with God. Meribah means “complain,” “argue,” or “fight.” The Israelites continued their pattern of pushing against God. That got them sentenced to 40 years in the desert badlands, south of what is now Israel.
Some Jewish scholars say this is more literally, “They put incense in your nostril.”
These are “burnt offerings,” the most common animal sacrifice. Worshipers burned the entire animal. See Leviticus 1.
In Hebrew, the people are resting bayin katep. Many translate that as “between his shoulders.” But a katep can also mean the slope of a hill, a person’s arm, the part of a person that carries a heavy load, and weapons. The context and the general idea seem to be that the people are well protected by God. It’s anyone’s guess if the writer intended a word picture of God carrying them on his shoulder, or using his power against their enemies, or hiding them in a safe valley between the hills. Whatever the case, the people are safe.
The 12 tribes of Israel were named, for the most part, after Jacob’s 12 sons. Each son’s descendants became an extended family that grew into tribes. Joseph was the exception. He got two tribes, each named after one of his sons: Ephraim and Manasseh.
Gifts from the hills may have referred to forests of timber and to the home of animals Israelites would hunt for food.
Some scholars say this is the ancient version of the phrase “coming or going.” Whether they are coming or going, they have reason to celebrate life and enjoy it.
Zebulun and Issachar were both located a few miles from the Mediterranean Sea in the west and from the Sea of Galilee to the east. Israelites, with their long history as herders, seemed more sea-fearing than seafaring. But they certainly learned to fish in the lake called the Sea of Galilee. Several of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, including Peter, James, and John. Israelites could also make a living fishing near the coast and collecting seashells and sea animals used to produce expensive dies. Purple dye, the most expensive of them all, came from the murex shellfish. The city of Tyre was the first place on record to produce this dye. They started producing it in the Bronze Age, when Israelites moved into the area. Tyre was on the Mediterranean coast of Phoenicia, in what is now the country of Lebanon. It was about 30 miles (48 km) north of Zebulun’s border, and about a day and a half’s walk.
Gad’s footprint on the land was possibly one of the largest. They settled east of the Jordan River, in what is now the country of Jordan. They chose that area because “They had huge herds and flocks. They could see that the land they captured in Jazer and Gilead would make good grazing fields for their animals” (Numbers 32:1-2). The tribe of Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh settled east of the River, too. But they all pledged to help the other tribes conquer Canaan on the other side of the River.
This may refer to the promise all the tribes east of the Jordan River made to join the other tribes in conquering Canaan west of the Jordan. It was a fair agreement because the other tribes helped them capture their land east of the River (Numbers 32:28-33).
It’s a mystery why the writer says Dan leaps from Bashan, a territory east of the Sea of Galilee. Israelites conquered that land and gave much of it to half the tribe of Manasseh. Dan, however, settled along the Mediterranean seacoast, too close for comfort to the powerful Philistines. Dan later “leaped” from the seacoast to the foot of Mount Hermon. That was on Israel’s northern border, far from the menacing Philistines.
They settled on Israel’s northern border, west and south of where the tribe of Dan eventually landed, at the foot of Mount Hermon.
The Hebrew word for “attack” is samad. It can mean much more than attack: annihilate, destroy, crush, shatter. It’s a vicious word for what the Bible describes enemies of God and Israel who deserved no mercy. “Wipe them out by killing them all. Don’t make any peace treaty with them. Don’t show them mercy” (Deuteronomy 7:2).
The final two lines are more literally, “Enemies cringe. You walk on heights.” The “heights” could mean idolatrous shrines, which people tended to erect on hilltops. Or it could mean they did something comparable to what Joshua told his army commanders to do with the enemy kings they captured: stand on their necks (Joshua 10:24).
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