The Deut. 33:1 is the title of the chapter: it is a blessing. In the foregoing chapter he had thundered out the terrors of the Lord against Israel for their sin; it was a chapter like Ezekiel’s roll, full of lamentation, and mourning, and woe. Now to soften that, and that he might not seem to part in anger, he here subjoins a blessing, and leaves his peace, which should descend and rest upon all those among them that were the sons of peace. Thus Christ’s last work on earth was to bless his disciples (Luke 24:50), like Moses here, in token of parting as friends. Moses blessed them, 1. As a prophet—a man of God. Note, It is a very desirable thing to have an interest in the prayers of those that have an interest in heaven; it is a prophet’s reward. In this blessing Moses not only expresses his good wishes to this people, but by the spirit of prophecy foretels things to come concerning them. 2. As a parent to Israel; for so good princes are to their subjects. Jacob upon his death-bed blessed his sons (Gen. 49:1), in conformity to whose example Moses here blesses the tribes that were descended from them, to show that though they had been very provoking yet the entail of the blessing was not cut off. The doing of this immediately before his death would not only be the more likely to leave an impression upon them, but would be an indication of the great good-will of Moses to them, that he desired their happiness, though he must die and not share in it.
He begins his blessing with a lofty description of the glorious appearances of God to them in giving them the law, and the great advantage they had by it.
I. There was a visible and illustrious discovery of the divine majesty, enough to convince and for ever silence atheists and infidels, to awaken and affect those that were most stupid and careless, and to put to shame all secret inclinations to other gods, Deut. 33:2. 1. His appearance was glorious: he shone forth like the sun when he goes forth in his strength. Even Seir and Paran, two mountains at some distance, were illuminated by the divine glory which appeared on Mount Sinai, and reflected some of the rays of it, so bright was the appearance, and so much taken notice of by the adjacent countries. To this the prophet alludes, to set forth the wonders of the divine providence, Hab. 3:3, 4; Ps. 18:7-9. The Jerusalem Targum has a strange gloss upon this, that, “when God came down to give the law, he offered it on Mount Seir to the Edomites, but they refused it, because they found in it, Thou shalt not kill. Then he offered it on Mount Paran to the Ishmaelites, but they also refused it, because they found in it, Thou shalt not steal; and then he came to Mount Sinai and offered it to Israel, and they said, All that the Lord shall say we will do.” I would not have transcribed so groundless a conceit but for the antiquity of it. 2. His retinue was glorious; he came with his holy myriads, as Enoch had long since foretold he should come in the last day to judge the world, Jude 1:14. These were the angels, those chariots of God in the midst of which the Lord was, on that holy place, Ps. 68:17. They attended the divine majesty, and were employed as his ministers in the solemnities of the day. Hence the law is said to be given by the disposition of angels, Acts 7:53; Heb. 2:2.
II. He gave them his law, which is, 1. Called a fiery law, because it was given them out of the midst of the fire (Deut. 4:33), and because it works like fire; if it be received, it is melting, warming, purifying, and burns up the dross of corruption; if it be rejected, it hardens, sears, torments, and destroys. The Spirit descended in cloven tongues as of fire; for the gospel also is a fiery law. 2. It is said to go from his right hand, either because he wrote it on tables of stone, or to denote the power and energy of the law and the divine strength that goes along with it, that it may not return void. Or it came as a gift to them, and a precious gift it was, a right-hand blessing. 3. It was an instance of the special kindness he had for them: Yea, he loved the people (Deut. 33:3), and therefore, though it was a fiery law, yet it is said to go for them (Deut. 33:2), that is, in favour to them. Note, The law of God written in the heart is a certain evidence of the love of God shed abroad there: we must reckon God’s law one of the gifts of his grace. Yea, he embraced the people, or laid them in his bosom; so the word signifies, which denotes not only the dearest love, but the most tender and careful protection. All his saints are in his hand. Some understand it particularly of his supporting them and preserving them alive at Mount Sinai, when the terror was so great that Moses himself quaked; they heard the voice of God and lived, Deut. 4:33. Or it denotes his forming them into a people by his law; he moulded and fashioned them as a potter does the clay. Or they were in his hand to be covered and protected, used and disposed of, as the seven stars were in the hand of Christ, Rev. 1:16. Note, God has all his saints in his hand; and, though there are ten thousands of his saints (Deut. 33:2), yet his hand, with which he measures the waters, is large enough, and strong enough, to hold them all, and we may be sure that none can pluck them out of his hand, John 10:28.
III. He disposed them to receive the law which he gave them: They sat down at thy feet, as scholars at the feet of their master, in token of reverence, in attendance and humble submission to what is taught; so Israel sat at the foot of Mount Sinai, and promised to hear and do whatever God should say. They were struck to thy feet, so some read it; namely, by the terrors of Mount Sinai, which greatly humbled them for the present, Exod. 20:19. Every one then stood ready to receive God’s words, and did so again when the law was publicly read to them, as John 8:34. It is a great privilege when we have heard the words of God to have opportunity of hearing them again. John 17:26; I have declared thy name, and will declare it. So Israel not only had received the law, but should still receive it by their prayers, and other lively oracles. The people are taught (Deut. 33:4, 5), in gratitude for the law of God, always to keep up an honourable remembrance both of the law itself and of Moses by whom it was given. Two of the Chaldee paraphrasts read it, The children of Israel said, Moses commanded us a law. And the Jews say that as soon as a child was able to speak his father was obliged to teach him these words: Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.
1. They are taught to speak with great respect of the law, and to call it the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. They looked upon it, (1.) As peculiar to them, and that by which they were distinguished from other nations, who neither had the knowledge of it (Ps. 147:20), nor, if they had, were under those obligations to observe it that Israel were under: and therefore (says bishop Patrick), “when the Jews conquered any country, they did not force any to embrace the law of Moses, but only to submit to the seven precepts of Noah.” (2.) As entailed upon them; for so inheritances are to be transmitted to their posterity. And, (3.) As their wealth and true treasure. Those that enjoy the word of God and the means of grace have reason to say, We have a goodly heritage. He is indeed a rich man in whom the word of Christ dwells richly. Perhaps the law is called their inheritance because it was given them with their inheritance, and we so annexed to it that the forsaking of the law would be a forfeiture of the inheritance. See Ps. 119:111.
2. They are taught to speak with great respect of Moses; and they were the more obliged to keep up his name because he had not provided for the keeping of it up in his family; his posterity were never called the sons of Moses, as the priests were the sons of Aaron. (1.) They must own Moses a great benefactor to their nation, in that he commanded them the law; for, though it came from the hand of God, it went through the hand of Moses. (2.) He was king in Jeshurun. Having commanded them the law, as long as he lived he took care to see it observed and put in execution; and they were very happy in having such a king, who ruled them, and went in and out before them at all times, but did in a special manner look great when the heads of the people were gathered together in parliament, as it were, and Moses was president among them. Some understand this of God himself; he did then declare himself their King when he gave them the law, and he continued so long as they were Jeshurun, an upright people, and till they rejected him, 1 Sam. 12:12. But it seems rather to be understood of Moses. A good government is a great blessing to any people, and what they have reason to be very thankful for; and that constitution is very happy which as Israel’s, which as ours, divides the power between the king in Jeshurun and the heads of the tribes, when they are gathered together.