Verses 18–21

Here we have, I. The blessings of Zebulun and Issachar put together, for they were both the sons of Jacob by Leah, and by their lot in Canaan they were neighbours; it is foretold,

1. That they should both have a comfortable settlement and employment, Deut. 33:18. Zebulun must rejoice, for he shall have cause to rejoice; and Moses prays that he may have cause in his going out, either to war (for Zebulun jeoparded their lives in the high places of the field, Jdg. 5:18), or rather to sea, for Zebulun was a haven of ships, Gen. 49:13. And Issachar must rejoice in his tents, that is, in his business at home, his husbandry, to which the men of that tribe generally confined themselves, because they saw that rest was good, and when the sea was rough the land was pleasant, Gen. 49:14, 15. Observe here, (1.) That the providence of God, as it variously appoints the bounds of men’s habitation, some in the city and some in the country, some in the seaports and some in the inland towns, so it wisely disposes men’s inclinations to different employments for the good of the public, as each member of the body is situated and qualified for the service of the whole. The genius of some men leads them to a book, of others to the sea, of others to the sword; some are inclined to rural affairs, others to trade, and some have a turn for mechanics; and it is well it is so. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? 1 Cor. 12:17. It was for the common good of Israel that the men of Zebulun were merchants and that the men of Issachar were husbandmen. (2.) That whatever our place and business are it is our wisdom and duty to accommodate ourselves to them, and it is a great happiness to be well pleased with them. Let Zebulun rejoice in his going out; let him thank God for the gains and make the best of the losses and inconveniences of his merchandise, and not despise the meanness, nor envy the quietness, of Issachar’s tents. Let Issachar rejoice in his tents, let him be well pleased with the retirements and content with the small profits of his country seats, and not grudge that he has not Zebulun’s pleasure of travelling and profit of trading. Every business has both its conveniences and inconveniences, and therefore whatever Providence has made our business we ought to bring our minds to it; and it is really a great happiness, whatever our lot is, to be easy with it. This is the gift of God, Eccl. 5:19.

2. That they should both be serviceable in their places to the honour of God and the interests of religion in the nation (Deut. 33:19): They shall call the people to the mountain, that is, to the temple, which Moses foresaw should be built upon a mountain. I see not why this should be confined (as it is by most interpreters) to Zebulun; if both Zebulun and Issachar received the comforts of their respective employments, why may we not suppose that they both took care to give God the glory of them? Two things they shall do for God:—

(1.) They shall invite others to his service. Call the people to the mountain. [1.] Zebulun shall improve his acquaintance and commerce with the neighbouring nations, to whom he goes out, for this noble purpose, to propagate religion among them, and to invite them into the service of the God of Israel. Note, Men of great business, or large conversation, should wisely and zealously endeavour to recommend the practice of serious godliness to those with whom they converse and among whom their business lies. Such are blessed, for they are blessings. It were well if the enlargement of trade with foreign countries might be made to contribute to the spreading of the gospel. This prophecy concerning Zebulun perhaps looks as far as the preaching of Christ and his apostles, which began in the land of Zebulun (Matt. 4:14, 15); then they called the people to the mountain, that is, to the kingdom of the Messiah, which is called the mountain of the Lord’s house, Isa. 2:2. [2.] Issachar that tarries at home, and dwells in tents, shall call upon his neighbours to go up to the sanctuary at the times appointed for their solemn feasts, either because they should be more zealous and forward than their neighbours (and it has been often observed that though those that with Zebulun dwell in the haven of ships, which are places of concourse, have commonly more of the light of religion, those that with Issachar dwell in tents in the country have more of the life and heat of it), and may therefore with their zeal provoke those to a holy emulation that have more knowledge (Ps. 122:1); or because they were more observant of the times appointed for their feasts than others were. One of the Chaldee paraphrasts reads the foregoing verse, Rejoice, Issachar, in the tents of thy schools, supposing they would many of them be scholars, and would use their learning for that purpose, according to the revolutions of the year, to give notice of the times of the feasts; for almanacs were not then so common as they are now. And Onkelos more particularly, Rejoice, Issachar, when thou goest to compute the times of the solemnities at Jerusalem; for then the tribes of Israel shall be gathered to the mountain of the house of the sanctuary. So he reads the beginning of this verse; and many think this is the meaning of that character of the men of Issachar in David’s time, That they had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do, 1 Chron. 12:32. And the character which follows (v. 33) of the men of Zebulun, that they were such as went forth to battle, expert in war, perhaps may explain the blessing of that tribe here. Note, Those that have not opportunity as Zebulun had of bringing into the church those that are without may yet be very serviceable to its interest by helping to quicken, encourage, and build up, those that are within. And it is good work to call people to God’s ordinances, to put those in remembrance that are forgetful, and to stir up those that are slothful, who will follow, but care not to lead.

(2.) They shall not only invite others to the service of God, but they shall abound in it themselves: There they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness. They shall not send others to the temple and stay at home themselves, under pretence that they cannot leave their business; but, when they stir up others to go speedily to pray before the Lord, they shall say, We will go also, as it is Zech. 8:12. Note, The good we exhort others to we should ourselves be examples of. And, when they come to the temple, they shall not appear before the Lord empty, but shall bring for the honour and service of God according as he has prospered them, 1 Cor. 16:2. [1.] It is here foretold that both these tribes should grow rich. Zebulun that goes abroad shall suck of the abundance of the seas, which are full breasts to the merchants, while Issachar, that tarries at home, shall enrich himself with treasures hid in the sands, either the fruits of the earth or the underground treasures of metals and minerals, or (because the word for sand here signifies properly the sand of the sea) the rich things thrown up by the sea, for the lot of Issachar reached to the sea-side. Perhaps their success in calling the people to the mount is intimated by their sucking of the abundance of the seas, for we have a like phrase used for the bringing in of the nations to the church (Isa. 60:5), The abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, and (Deut. 33:16), Thou shalt suck the milk of the Gentiles. It is foretold, [2.] That these tribes, being thus enriched, should consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth, Mic. 4:13. The merchandise of Zebulun, and the hire of Issachar, shall be holiness to the Lord (Isa. 23:18), for thereof they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness, that is, sacrifices according to the law. Note, We must serve and honour God with what we have; and where he sows plentifully he expects to reap accordingly. Those that suck of the abundance of the seas, and of the treasures hid in the sand, ought to offer sacrifices of righteousness proportionable.

II. The blessing of the tribe of Gad comes next, Deut. 33:20, 21. This was one of the tribes that was already seated on that side Jordan where Moses now was. Now,

1. He foretels what this tribe would be, Deut. 33:20. (1.) That it would be enlarged, as at present it had a spacious allotment; and he gives God the glory both of its present and of its future extent: Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad. We find how this tribe was enlarged by their success in a war which it seems they carried on very religiously against the Hagarites, 1 Chron. 5:19, 20, 22. Note, God is to have the glory of all our enlargements. (2.) That it would be a valiant and victorious tribe, would, if let alone, dwell secure and fearless as a lion; but, if provoked, would, like a lion, tear the arm with the crown of the head; that is, would pull in pieces all that stood in his way, both the arm (that is, the strength) and the crown of the head (that is, the policy and authority) of his enemies. In David’s time there were Gadites whose faces were as the faces of lions, 1 Chron. 12:8. Some reckon Jehu to be of this tribe, because the first mention we have of him is at Ramoth Gilead, which belonged to Gad, and they think this may refer to his valiant acts.

2. He commends this tribe for what they had done and were now doing, Deut. 33:21. (1.) They had done very wisely for themselves, when they chose their lot with the first, in a country already conquered: He provided the first part for himself; though he had a concern for his brethren, yet his charity began at home, and he was willing to see himself first served, first settled. The Gadites were the first and most active movers for an allotment on that side Jordan, and therefore are still mentioned before the Reubenites in the history of that affair, Num. 32:2. And thus, while the other tribes had their portion assigned them by Joshua the conqueror, Gad and his companions had theirs from Moses the law-giver, and in it they were seated by law; or (as the word is) covered or protected by a special providence which watched over those that were left behind, while the men of war went forward with their brethren. Note, Men will praise thee when thou doest well for thyself (when thou providest first for thyself, as Gad did), Ps. 49:18. And God will praise thee when thou doest well for thy soul, which is indeed thyself, and providest the first part for that in a portion from the law-giver. (2.) They were now doing honestly and bravely for their brethren; for they came with the heads of the people, before whom they went armed over Jordan, to execute the justice of the Lord upon the Canaanites, under the conduct of Joshua, to whom we afterwards find they solemnly vowed obedience, Josh. 1:12, 16. This was what they undertook to do when they had their lot assigned them, Num. 32:27. This they did, Josh. 4:12. And, when the wars of Canaan were ended, Joshua dismissed them with a blessing, Josh. 22:7. Note, It is a blessed and honourable thing to be helpful to our brethren in their affairs, and particularly to assist in executing the justice of the Lord by suppressing that which is provoking to him: it was this that was counted to Phinehas for righteousness.