Saturday, May 15, 2010


Chapter 33
Summary:Moses, "the man of God", gave the people of Israel a blessing before his death:
"The Lord came from Mount Sinai, and rose up from Mount Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints - from his right hand went a fiery law for them.

"He loved his people; all of his saints are in his hand, following in his footsteps, every one of them receiving his words. Moses commanded us a law, an inheritance for the congregation of Jacob. He was king in Jeshurun*, when the leaders of the people and of the tribes of Israel were gathered together.

"Let the tribe of Reuben live, and not die; and let his men not be few."
He then blessed the tribe of Judah, saying:
"Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people - let his hands be sufficient for him, and help defend him from his enemies."
Of the Levites, Moses said:
"Let the Thummim and the Urim be with these holy ones, whom you tested at Massah, and with whom you strove against at the waters of Meribah. They spared not even their father, mother, siblings, nor their children; instead, they kept their word and your covenant. They shall teach Jacob your judgments, and your law to Israel. They shall place incense before you and burnt animal sacrifices upon your altar. Lord, bless them, their skills, and the work of their hands. Smite through the loins those who rise against them, and do not allow those who hate them to rise again."
Of Benjamin he said:
"The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover them all day long, and they shall dwell between his shoulders."
Of Joseph he said:
"May the Lord bless their land, from the precious dew from the sky, to the deep waters beneath; for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon; for the choice materials of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills; for the precious things of the earth and its fulness; and for the good will of the Lord who dwelt in the burning bush - let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, the crown upon his head that separated him from his brothers. His glory is like a firstborn bull, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns - with them he shall gore his enemies to the end of the earth - they are the tens of thousands of Ephraim, and the thousands of Manasseh."
Of Zebulun and Issachar he said:
"Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, and you Issachar, in your tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness - for they shall feast upon the abundance of the seas, and of the treasures hidden in the sand."
Of Gad he said:
Blessed be he that enlarges Gad's land - he dwells there like a lion, and tears the arm with the crown of his head. He chose the best land for himself, because he was seated as the lawgiver. He lead the people and executed the justice of the Lord, and his judgments with Israel."
Of Dan he said:
"Dan is a lion's cub - he shall leap from Bashan."
Of Naphtali he said:
Naphtali is satisfied with his favor and blessing from the Lord. They will possess the land in the south west."
Of Asher he said:
Let Asher be blessed with many children and be favored by the other tribes, and let him dip his feet in oil.

"The bolts of your gates shall be of iron and brass; and your strength shall equal your days.

"There is none like the God of Jeshurun*, who descends from the heaven to help you from his majesty in the sky. The eternal God is your refuge, underneath his everlasting arms. He shall thrust out your enemies before you and shall say 'Destroy them.'

"Israel shall dwell safely alone - the fountain of Jacob shall prosper in a land of corn and wine; and the heavens will drop dew. You should be happy, Israel, for who else is like you? People saved by the Lord, by the shield of his help and the sword of his excellency. Your enemies will be found to be wrong, and you shall tread upon their highest places"
Notes:1.)As noted in the previous chapter, "Jeshurun" is an alternate poetic equivalent for "Israel". It can mean the people of Israel (as it is used here), the land of Israel, or as an alternate name for Jacob/Israel.
Thoughts:This chapter sort of reads out like a will for the twelve (or thirteen, depending on how you're counting) tribes of Israel, with Moses giving each of them a final blessing before he prepares to die.

Some of the tribes, such as Reuben, who gets the first blessing, are short and to the point - he blesses the tribe of Reuben "to live, and not die" and for their numbers to not be few; and the blessing which follows that for the tribe of Judah goes similarly - to bless their handiwork and to help defend them from their enemies. Whereas Moses rambles on much longer with his blessing for other more important tribes like the tribe of Levi.

When giving his blessing for the tribe of Levi, Moses again mentions the Thummim and the Urim - two stones that basically serve as a sort of Magic 8-ball to answer "yes" or "no" questions, that we first encountered in Leviticus: Chapter 8. I've discussed my numerous problems with these Magic 8-Ball stones in my commentary for both Leviticus: Chapter 8 and Numbers: Chapter 27, so I don't feel that I need to go into further detail here.

Continuing on with his blessing for the Levites, he references God "testing them" at Massah (which the name is said to mean "tempting God to kill us all") when the Israelites were whining for water and almost stoned Moses to death until he drew water from a rock, and the second time that they complained about not having any water where Moses struck the rock like he had done before instead of "speaking to it". He then commends the Levites for not even sparing their own families - parents, siblings, and children - when they were ordered to slaughter them to prove their allegiance to God. He states that they are the ones chosen to teach the people God's laws and judgments, burn incense, and sacrifice animals upon the altar of the sanctuary. He asks God to bless them in their works and deeds, and to "smite through the loins" anyone who opposes the Levites, and to ensure that such people aren't allowed to "rise again".

Although Moses states that the tribe of Benjamin is "beloved" to God, they only get a short blessing asking God to keep them safe.

Next Moses blesses the "half tribes" of Ephraim and Manasseh under the blanket of the single tribe of Joseph. Because the Levites are included in these blessings, the half tribes must be counted as the single tribe of Joseph to preserve the bible's obsession with the significance of number twelve. When the tribe of Levi is omitted from a count or census, such as when they are prohibited from possessing land in Canaan, the "half tribes" are treated separately as if they were "full tribes". Moses asks God to bless the land of the two "half tribes", as well as everything contained and that grows within it. One odd thing Moses mentions in his list of things are "precious things put forth by the moon", which the only possible thing that I'm aware of that this might be would be mushrooms. This is interesting in light of the role that hallucinogenic mushrooms have played in many early religions - some have even theorized that manna may actually have been describing psilocybe mushrooms. The use of hallucinogenic mushrooms by the Israelites could certainly better explain some of the more bizarre occurrences such as God's appearance as a burning bush (which is also coincidentally mentioned in this blessing) or the intense fear of the Israelites due to God's appearance as a smoking, lightning encrusted, mountain top. Moses asks that the tribes of Joseph are blessed due to the "crown" that separates them from the other eleven tribes, reasoning that the glory of Joseph is like a firstborn bull, and that his "horns are like those of a unicorn(!)" that will gore the enemies of Israel to the ends of the earth, for there are tens of thousands of people belonging to the tribe of Ephraim (32,500 according to the census taken in Numbers: 26), and thousands of people belonging to the tribe of Manasseh (52,700 according to the census taken in Numbers: 26). Even though the tribe of Manasseh outnumbers the tribe of Ephraim in the previous census, Moses seems to imply the opposite here.

The tribes of Zebulun and Issachar get a combined blessing, where Moses asks God to bless them in their outdoor activities of camping and hunting.

For the tribe of Gad, Moses asks God to enlarge their land, and states that they had picked out the best land for themselves since they were "seated as the lawgiver", meaning that they had been selected to enforce criminal punishments.

The tribe of Dan gets the briefest blessing with Moses simply stating that they are "a lion's cub - and [they] shall leap from Bashan".

The tribe of Naphtali gets the most boring blessing stating that they're basically happy with what they've got and will inhabit the south west portion of the "promised land".

Finally, Moses blesses the tribe of Asher by asking God for them to be blessed with fertility, to be favored by the other tribes, and for them to wash their feet in oil.

Moses then states that the defense of the Israelites shall be strong, and that their strength will last through their lifetimes. He adds that God will help them in battle, bringing their enemies before them to destroy. Moses states that they will be safe and unbothered in their dwellings, and will prosper in crops. He finishes off stating that the enemies of Israel will be proven wrong, and that the Israelites will dominate over them.

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