The Word Made Fresh
1Moses, the man of God, made these pronouncements to Israel before he died: He said,
2“From Sinai the LORD came at dawn, shining from Mount Paran, approaching from Seir. 3Surely, LORD, you love your people. You took charge of them and they followed behind you.”
4Moses gave the law for the people of Jacob to possess, 5and as the leader of the people he gathered the tribes of Israel and said,
6“Let Reuben survive and never die away even when his numbers are diminished.
7“LORD, attend to Judah. Bring his people together and make him strong against his enemies.”
8Then he said of Levi, “Your Urim and Thummim belong to the ones whom you tested at Massah and challenged at Meribah; 9the ones who did not claim their ancestry or insist on advantage for their children but obeyed your word and kept their agreement with you. 10They will teach Jacob your rules. They will explain your laws to Israel. They will burn the incense before you and burn sacrifices on your altar. 11Lord, reward their diligence and accept the work of their hands. Crush the strength of their enemies and all who hate them until they rise no more.”
12Then he spoke of Benjamin and said, “He is the LORD’s beloved and he will rest safely because the One above him protects him all day long, and he is carried on the LORD’s shoulders.
13Of Joseph, he said, “The LORD will bless your land with rain from above and the fertile earth below; 14with the sun making your crops grow month by month 15to produce the best harvest the ancient hills can provide with abundance. 16You will have the best the earth has to give and the favor of the One who spoke from the burning bush. Let Joseph have all this, for he is a prince among his brothers — 17his mother’s firstborn, with the strength of a bull, as majestic as the horns of an ox, and he will gore the people and drive them to the far corners of the earth. That is the future of the hosts of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh.”
18Then of Zebulun and Issachar he said, “Take joy in all your endeavors, Zebulun. Be joyful in your tents, Issachar. 19You will summon the people to the mountain where you will offer right sacrifices. You will enjoy the wealth of the seas and the treasures beneath the soil.”
20Then he addressed Gad: “Gad will grow in number. He is like a lion that claws the arm and tears the head. 21He chose what is best, reserving the leader’s part for himself. He rose as the head of the people and carried out the LORD’s judgements and laws for Israel.”
22Of Dan he said, “Dan is a lion cub leaping out of Bashan.”
23Of Naphtali he said, “Naphtali is filled with rewards from the LORD, possessing territory south and west.”
24Then he spoke of Asher, and said, “Asher is the most fortunate of the sons, his brothers’ favorite whose paths are oiled, 25whose gates are barred with iron and bronze, and whose strength will last all his days.”
1-5: The last chapter contained the words God gave Moses for the tribes. This chapter has Moses blessing the tribes in his own words. Much in these five verses is difficult to translate, and you may find a wide variety of renditions if you consult various versions of the Bible. Some of what is said here sounds like someone speaking about Moses (verse 4), rather than by him. Still, the stage is set for the following blessings: Israel is God’s favorite.
6-25: The blessing of the twelve tribes. Their individual identities gradually pass away through the years that follow, but the memory of twelve tribes is preserved. Simeon, the second son of Jacob (Leah was his mother) is not mentioned here, but the number 12 is preserved by dividing the tribe of Joseph into two — Ephraim and Manasseh. The most prominent tribes in later history were: Judah, which became a kingdom of its own after the reign of Solomon; Ephraim, the most influential tribe in the north (after Solomon’s reign, the northern kingdom of Israel was sometimes referred to as Ephraim); and Levi, from which the priesthood was formed.
8-11: Levi gets the longest “blessing,” probably because of their significance in maintaining the worship life of Israel and thus the covenant with God. Much of Moses’ blessing alludes to military conquest, and to the wealth of wildlife in the land.
26-29: After blessing the tribes, Moses returns to the praise of God, and ends with a blessing for the collective people of Israel.
Moses’ blessing served to give the community an identity — it told them who they were. In some ways it is a natural aspect of family life; our lives are shaped to some extent by the identity given to us — spoken out, sometimes — by our parents and grandparents, etc. Perhaps you can think of examples from your own family history. What did your parents and grandparents tell you that helped shape who you are today?