Moses’ Farewell Blessing of Israel
Moses gave a blessing to the people before his death. It was a common practice for the head of a family to bless his family prior to his death. Schultz comments, “The words of a dying father were very significant in ancient Near Eastern culture.” Maxwell notes, “Such blessings were more than empty wishes; once uttered, they carried the promise of fulfillment.” The blessing of Moses praised God for forming the nation of Israel (33:2-3) and giving them His law (33:4-5).
Moses blessed the tribes of Israel before his death.
First, he blessed the tribe of Reuben (33:6). Moses prayed that the tribe, which had once been in danger of dying out, would “live and not die.”
Second, the tribe of Simeon, which is included in the tribal listing in Genesis 49, is omitted. It is possible that the tribe of Simeon was either absorbed by the tribe of Judah or ceased to exist as a tribe by this time.
Third, Moses prayed that the tribe of Judah would be helped to stand against her enemies (33:7).
Fourth, Moses praised the tribe of Levi for their faithfulness to God in the wilderness (33:8) and for placing their loyalty to God above loyalty to family (33:9). Moses prayed that any nation that attacked Levi would never rise again (33:11). Levi’s role in spiritual leadership is addressed in verses 8 and 10. As spiritual leaders, the Levites were to help the people discern God’s will (33:8), teach God’s word to the people (33:10a), and lead the people in worship (33:10b).
Fifth, the blessing on Benjamin is positive and expresses the special care and protection enjoyed by this tribe (33:12).
Sixth, the tribe of Joseph is pictured as being the leader of all the tribes (33:13-17). Just as Jacob had great expectations for Joseph, Moses had great expectations for the tribe of Joseph. Moses prayed that this tribe might enjoy the blessings of fruitful fields (33:13-16) and military victories (33:17). The large tribe of Joseph was divided. The two divisions were named for his sons Manasseh (the firstborn) and Ephraim.
Seventh and Eighth, Moses acknowledged that the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar were blessed with riches (33:18-19).
Ninth, Gad was blessed (33:20-21). The tribe of Gad had some of the best land east of the Jordan.
Tenth, Dan was blessed and pictured as dangerous (33:22).
Eleventh, Naphtali was pictured as “satisfied with favor, and full of the blessings of the Lord” (33:23). The tribe settled in the area around the Sea of Galilee.
Twelfth, Asher (which means “blessed, happy”) was pictured as being both rich and strong (33:24-25).
Moses praised God for the marvelous way in which He had helped and blessed Israel. Moses referred to Israel as “Jeshurun” (33:26), which means “the upright one.” This was, perhaps, an expression of his hope that the people would be upright and true to God.