Here is, I. The blessing of Benjamin, Deut. 33:12. Benjamin is put next to Levi, because the temple, where the priests’ work lay, was just upon the edge of the lot of this tribe; and it is put before Joseph because of the dignity of Jerusalem (part of which was in this tribe) above Samaria, which was in the tribe of Ephraim, and because Benjamin adhered to the house of David, and to the temple of the Lord, when the rest of the tribes deserted both with Jeroboam. 1. Benjamin is here called the beloved of the Lord, and the father of this tribe was Jacob’s beloved son, the son of his right hand. Note, Those are blessed indeed that are beloved of the Lord. Saul the first king, and Paul the great apostle, were both of this tribe. 2. He is here assured of the divine protection: he shall 8000 dwell safely. Note, Those are safe whom God loves, Ps. 91:1. 3. It is here intimated that the temple in which God would dwell should be built in the borders of this tribe. Jerusalem the holy city was in the lot of this tribe (Josh. 18:28); and though Zion, the city of David, is supposed to belong to Judah, yet Mount Moriah, on which the temple was built, was in Benjamin’s lot. God is therefore said to dwell between his shoulders, because the temple stood on that mount, as the head of a man upon his shoulders. And by this means Benjamin was covered all the day long under the protection of the sanctuary (Ps. 125:2), which is often spoken of as a place of refuge, Ps. 27:4, 5; Neh. 6:10. Benjamin, dwelling by the temple of God, dwelt in safety by him. Note, It is a happy thing to be in the neighbourhood of the temple. This situation of Benjamin, it is likely, was the only thing that kept that tribe in adherence with Judah to the divine institutions, when the other ten tribes apostatized. Those have corrupt and wicked hearts indeed who, the nearer they are to the church, are so much the further from God.
II. The blessing of Joseph, including both Manasseh and Ephraim. In Jacob’s blessing (Gen. 49:1-27) that of Joseph is the largest, and so it is here; and thence Moses here borrows the title he gives to Joseph (Deut. 33:16), that he was separated from his brethren, or, as it might be read, a Nazarite among them, both in regard of his piety, wherein it appears, by many instances, he excelled them all, and of his dignity in Egypt, where he was both their ruler and benefactor. His brethren separated him from them by making him a slave, but God distinguished him from them by making him a prince. Now the blessings here prayed for, and prophesied of, for this tribe, are great plenty and great power.
1. Great plenty, Deut. 33:13-16. In general: Blessed of the Lord be his land. Those were very fruitful countries that fell into the lot of Ephraim and Manasseh, yet Moses prays they might be watered with the blessing of God, which makes rich, and on which all fruitfulness depends. Now,
(1.) He enumerates many particulars which he prays may contribute to the wealth and abundance of those two tribes, looking up to the Creator for the benefit and serviceableness of all the inferior creatures, for they are all that to us which he makes them to be. He prays, [1.] For seasonable rains and dews, the precious things of heaven; and so precious they are, though but pure water, that without them the fruits of the earth would all fail and be cut off. [2.] For plentiful springs, which help to make the earth fruitful, called here the deep that coucheth beneath; both are the rivers of God (Ps. 65:9), and he made particularly the fountains of waters, Rev. 14:7. [3.] For the benign influences of the heavenly bodies (Deut. 33:14), for the precious fruits (the word signifies that which is most excellent, and the best in its kind) put forth by the quickening heat of the sun, and the cooling moisture of the moon. “Let them have the yearly fruits in their several months, according to the course of nature, in one month olives, in another dates,” etc. So some understand it. [4.] For the fruitfulness even of their hills and mountains, which in other countries used to be barren (Deut. 33:15): Let them have the chief things of the ancient mountains; and, if the mountains be fruitful, the fruits on them will be first and best ripened. They are called ancient mountains, not because prior in time to other mountains, but because , like the first-born, they were superior in worth and excellency; and lasting hills, not only because as other mountains they were immovable (Hab. 3:6), but because the fruitfulness of them should continue. [5.] For the productions of the lower grounds (Deut. 33:16): For the precious things of the earth. Though the earth itself seems a useless worthless lump of matter, yet there are precious things produced out of it, for the support and comfort of human life. Job 28:5. Out of it cometh bread, because out of it came our bodies, and to it they must return. But what are the precious things of the earth to a soul that came from God and must return to him? Or what is its fulness to the fulness that is in Christ, whence we receive grace for grace? Some make these precious things here prayed for to be figures of spiritual blessings in heavenly things by Christ, the gifts, graces, and comforts of the Spirit.
(2.) He crowns all with the good-will, or favourable acceptance, of him that dwelt in the bush (Deut. 33:16), that is, of God, that God who appeared to Moses in the bush that burned and was not consumed (Exod. 3:2), to give him his commission for the bringing of Israel out of Egypt. Though God’s glory appeared there but for a while, yet it is said to dwell there, because it continued as long as there was occasion for it: the good-will of the shechinah in the bush; so it might be read, for shechinah signifies that which dwelleth; and, though it was but a little while a dweller in the bush, yet it continued to dwell with the people of Israel. My dweller in the bush; so it should be rendered; that was an appearance of the divine Majesty to Moses only, in token of the particular interest he had in God, which he desires to improve for the good of this tribe. Many a time God has appeared to Moses, but now that he is just dying he seems to have the most pleasing remembrance of that which was the first time, when his acquaintance with the visions of the Almighty first began, and his correspondence with heaven was first settled: that was a time of love never to be forgotten. It was at the bush that God declared himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and so confirmed the promise made to the fathers, that promise which reached as far as the resurrection of the body and eternal life, as appears by our Saviour’s argument from it, Luke 20:37. So that, when he prays for the good-will of him that dwelt in the bush, he has an eye to the covenant then and there renewed, on which all our hopes of God’s favour must be bottomed. Now he concludes this large blessing with a prayer for the favour or good-will of God, [1.] Because that is the fountain and spring-head of all these blessings; they are gifts of God’s good-will; they are so to his own people, whatever they are to others. Indeed when Ephraim (a descendant from Joseph) slid back from God, as a backsliding heifer, those fruits of his country were so far from being the gifts of God’s good-will that they were intended but to fatten him for the slaughter, as a lamb in a large place, Hos. 4:16, 17. [2.] Because that is the comfort and sweetness of all these blessings; then we have joy of them when we taste God’s good-will in them. [3.] Because that is better than all these, infinitely better; for if we have but the favour and good-will of God we are happy, and may be easy in the want of all these things, and may rejoice in the God of our salvation though the fig-tree do not blossom, and there be no fruit in the vine, Hab. 3:17, 18.
2. Great power Joseph is here blessed with, Deut. 33:17. Here are three instances of his power foretold: (1.) His authority among his brethren: His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, or young bull, which is a stately creature, and therefore was formerly used as an emblem of royal majesty. Joshua, who was to succeed Moses, was of the tribe of Ephraim the son of Joseph, and his glory was indeed illustrious, and he was an honour to his tribe. In Ephraim was the royal city of the ten tribes afterwards. And of Manasseh were Gideon, Jephthah, and Jair, who were all ornaments and blessings to their country. Some think he is compared to the firstling of the bullock because the birthright which Reuben lost devolved upon Joseph (1 Chron. 5:1, 2), and to the firstling of his bullock, because Bashan, which was in the lot of Manasseh, was famous for bulls and cows, Ps. 22:12; Amos 4:1. (2.) His force against his enemies and victory over them: His horns are like the horn of a unicorn, that is, “The forces he shall bring into the field shall be very strong and formidable, and with them he shall push the people,” that is, “He shall overcome all that stand in his way.” It appears from the Ephraimites’ contests, both with Gideon (Jdg. 8:1) and with Jephthah (Jdg. 12:1), that they were a warlike tribe and fierce. Yet we find the children of Ephraim, when they had forsaken the covenant of God, though they were armed, turning back in the day of battle (Ps. 78:9, 10); for, though here pronounced strong and bold as unicorns, when God had departed from them they became as weak as other men. (3.) The numbers of his people, in which Ephraim, though the younger house, exceeded, Jacob having, in the foresight of the same thing, crossed hands, Gen. 48:19. They are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and the thousands of Manasseh. Jonathan’s Targum applies it to the ten thousands of Canaanites conquered by Joshua, who was of the tribe of Manasseh. And the gloss of the Jerusalem Targum upon the former part of Deut. 33:17 is observable, that “as the firstlings of the bullock were never to be worked, nor could the unicorn ever be tamed, so Joseph should continue free; and they would have continued free if they had not by sin sold themselves.”