In blessing the tribe of Levi, Moses expresses himself more at large, not so much because it was his own tribe (for he takes no notice of his relation to it) as because it was God’s tribe. The blessing of Levi has reference.
I. To the high priest, here called God’s holy one (Deut. 33:8), because his office was holy, in token of which, Holiness to the Lord was written upon his forehead. 1. He seems to acknowledge that God might justly have displaced Aaron and his seed, for his sin at Meribah, (Exod. 17:7), which might be very remarkable, and which God might have an eye to in conferring the priesthood upon him, though no mention is made of it there. All the Chaldee paraphrasts agree that it was a trial in which he was found perfect and faithful, and stood in the trial; therefore not that, Num. 20:2. He prays that the office of the high priest might ever remain: Let thy thummim and thy urim be with him. It was given him for some eminent piece of service, as appears, Mal. 2:5. “Lord, let it never be taken from him.” Notwithstanding this blessing, the urim and thummim were lost in the captivity, and never restored under the second temple. But this prayer has its full accomplishment in Jesus Christ, God’s Holy One, and our great high priest, of whom Aaron was a type: with him who had lain in the Father’s bosom from eternity the urim and thummim shall remain; for he is the wonderful and everlasting counsellor. Some translate the thummim and urim appellatively, the rather because the usual order is here inverted, and here only. Thummim signifies integrity, and Urim illumination: Let these be with thy holy one, that is, “Lord, let the high priest ever be both an upright man and an understanding man.” A good prayer to be put up for the ministers of the gospel, that they may have clear heads and honest hearts; light and sincerity make a complete minister.
II. To the inferior priests and Levites, Deut. 33:9-11.
1. He commends the zeal of this tribe for God when they sided with Moses (and so with God) against the worshippers of the golden calf (Exod. 32:26-28), and, being employed in cutting off the ring-leaders in that wickedness, they did it impartially: the best friends they had in the world, though as dear to them as their next relations, they did not spare if they were idolaters. Note, Our regard to God and to his glory ought always to prevail above our regard to any creature whatsoever. And those who not only keep themselves pure from the common iniquities of the times and places in which they live, but, as they are capable, bear testimony against them, and stand up for God against the evil-doers, shall have special marks of honour put upon them. Perhaps Moses may have an eye to the sons of Korah, who refused to join with their father in his gain-saying, Num. 26:11. Also to Phinehas, who executed judgment, and stayed the plague. And indeed the office of the priests and Levites, which engaged their constant attendance, at least in their turns, at God’s altar, laid them under a necessity of being frequently absent from their families, which they could not take such care of, nor make such provision for, as other Israelites might. This was the constant self-denial they submitted to, that they might observe God’s word, and keep the covenant of priesthood. Note, Those that are called to minister in holy things must sit loose to the relations and interests that are dearest to them in this world, and prefer the gratifying of the best friend they have, Acts 21:13; Acts 20:24. Our Lord Jesus knew not his mother and his brethren when they would have taken him off from his work, Matt. 12:48.
2. He confirms the commission granted to this tribe to minister in holy things, which was the recompence of their zeal and fidelity, Deut. 33:10. (1.) They were to deal for God with the people: “They shall teach Jacob thy judgments and Israel thy laws, both as preachers in thy religious assemblies, reading and expounding the law (Neh. 8:7, 8), and as judges, determining doubtful and difficult cases that were brought before them,” 2 Chron. 17:8, 9. The priests’ lips kept this knowledge for the use of the people, who were to ask the law at their mouth, Mal. 2:7. Even Haggai, a prophet, consulted the priests in a case of conscience, Hag. 2:11-13 Note, Preaching is necessary, not only for the first planting of churches, but for the preserving and edifying of churches when they are planted. See Ezek. 44:23, 24. (2.) They were to deal for the people with God, in burning incense to the praise and glory of God, and offering sacrifices to make atonement for sin and to obtain the divine favour. This was the work of the priests, but the Levites attended and assisted in it. Those that would have benefit by their incense and offerings must diligently and faithfully observe their instructions.
3. He prays for them, Deut. 33:11. (1.) That God would prosper them in their estates, and make that which was allotted them for their maintenance comfortable to them. Bless, Lord, his substance. The provision made for them was very plentiful, and came to them easily, and yet they could have no joy of it unless God blessed it to them; and, since God himself was their portion, a particular blessing might be expected to attend this portion. Bless, Lord, his virtue; so some read it. “Lord, increase thy graces in them, and make them more and more fit for their work.” (2.) That he would accept them in their services: “Accept the work of his hands, both for himself and for the people for whom he ministers.” Acceptance with God is that which we should all aim at, and be ambitious of, in all our devotions, whether men accept us or no (2 Cor. 5:9), and it is the most valuable blessing we can desire either for ourselves or others. (3.) That he would take his part against all his enemies: Smite through the loins of those that rise against him. He supposes that God’s ministers would have many enemies: some would hate their persons for their faithfulness, and would endeavour to do them a mischief; others would envy them their maintenance, and endeavour sacrilegiously to deprive them of it; others would oppose them in the execution of their office and not submit to the sentence of the priests; and some would aim to overthrow the office itself. Now he prays that God would blast all such attempts, and return the mischief upon the heads of the authors. This prayer is a prophecy that God will certainly reckon with those that are enemies to his ministers, and will keep up a ministry in his church to the end of time, in spite of all the designs of the gates of hell against it. Saul rose up against the Lord’s priests (1 Sam. 22:18), and this filled the measure of his sin.