TRIBAL BLESSINGS AS THE LAST WORDS OF MOSES PROVIDE ENCOURAGEMENT IN COVENANT RENEWAL AND CONQUEST PREPARATION
Daniel Block: Moses’ death looms over the congregation of Israel and the book of Deuteronomy. Having delivered his final pastoral addresses, installed Joshua as successor, taught the people the Song, and received Yahweh’s command to climb Mount Nebo, all that remains in the extended liturgical event reflected by Deuteronomy is the blessing of the congregation. . . Deuteronomy 33 consists of a series of benedictory fragments strung together like a string of pearls. . .
Deuteronomy 33 exhibits several marks of intentional and artful design.
(1) The tribal benedictions are framed by hymnic pieces virtually identical in size (33:1–5, 26–29).
(2) Within the collection of blessings, Levi and Joseph represent the tribal center of gravity, receiving as much attention as all the rest combined. This interest not only anticipates the future religious and political significance of these tribes, but also reflects their significance within Israel in the recent past (cf. Gen. 45–50; Ex. 32:25–29; Num. 25:7–13). At the same time, given the tribe of Judah’s later significance of the Davidic monarchy and its separate existence as a nation, the relatively little attention that Judah receives is striking.
Duane Christensen: Though this chapter is titled “The Blessing,” many interpreters give it the title “The Testament of Moses.” I call the poem a “Testamentary Blessing” to bring out its character as a final pronouncement on the part of Moses within the literary genre of “blessings” (cf. Gen 48:21 in relation to 49:1–28). . .
The poem in vv 1–5 and 26–29, which makes up the framework around the blessing itself (vv 6–25), “reflects a rare tranquility and sustained optimism” that stands in sharp contrast with what precedes it in Deut 31–32. “As in the great prophetic books, where the record of unrelieved defection was mitigated by a happier editorial addition at the close, so Deuteronomy now comes out from the storms of sin, ingratitude, and apostasy into the still waters of hope. . . . While the human spirit needs the discipline of facing up to its shortcomings, it also needs encouragement to call forth its best efforts” (H. H. Shires and P. Parker, IB 2:528).
Gerald Gerbrandt: As Moses prepares to die, he gives a final blessing to all of the tribes, both as their “father” and as a prophet with a view into the future. An opening and closing frame enclose blessings for eleven tribes (Simeon is missing; vv. 1-5, 26-29) that emphasize “the ideal unity of the tribes as a single people and places their security and prosperity in the broader context of God’s benefactions to Israel” (Tigay: 318). Prosperity and security also are the central themes of the blessings for the individual tribes. A unique God (v. 26) will protect and provide generously for a united, unique people (v. 29). That is a formula for a happy or blessed (NIV) people.
Michael Grisanti: It is also important to notice that the chapter does not delineate Israel’s responsibility to the exclusion of Yahweh’s role. As a matter of fact, the idea of blessing in ch. 33, according to Barker (“The Theology of Deuteronomy 27,” 293), “is not bound to the law but ultimately derives from Yahweh’s grace. Thus Deuteronomy 33. . . is an expression of optimism, with confidence placed not in Israel’s possibility of covenantal obedience, but in Yahweh’s grace.”
I. (:1-5) DIVINE AUTHORITY INFUSES THE TRIBAL BLESSINGS
(:1) Divine Source of Authority for the Blessings Issued by Moses
“Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God
blessed the sons of Israel before his death.”
Duane Christensen: The scene of Moses blessing the twelve tribes of Israel evokes the image of another scene of the “prophet like Moses” who spoke with his twelve disciples the night before his crucifixion to encourage them, concluding with an affectionate prayer for them (John 14–17), and blessed them when he parted from them on the Mount of Olives to ascend into heaven (see Luke 24:50–53).
Gerald Gerbrandt: The phrase “man of God” is frequently applied to prophets in the Old Testament, such as Samuel, in 1 Samuel 9:6-10; Shemaiah, 1 Kings 12:22; Elijah, 1 Kings 17:18; Elisha, 2 Kings 1:9. Sometimes it serves as a formal title for someone whose name is not given but who is recognized as a spokesperson of God with regard to the future (Judg 13:6, 8; 1 Sam 2:27; 1 Kings 13:1-31; 20:28; cf. 1 Sam 9:6-10). The identification fits with the closing passage of the book (Deut 34:10) and serves to give special authority to the blessing.
Peter Craigie: It should be noted that in blessing the tribes of Israel, Moses was assuming the role of a father. In Gen. 49, the parallel passage to Deut. 33, Jacob/Israel blesses his sons. Moses acts in a similar fashion, for though the tribes were not literally his sons, he had acted as a father to them.
A. (:2) Divine Theophany in Historical Reflection
“And he said, ‘The LORD came from Sinai,
And dawned on them from Seir;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones;
At His right hand there was flashing lightning for them.’”
Daniel Block: The exordium proper takes up verses 2–5, portraying Yahweh in glorious theophanic form, coming from the mountains in the desert, presumably to deliver his people and to be acknowledged as king over all the tribes of Israel. Verse 2 describes in cryptic form the divine warrior’s appearance to Israel. In this and other poems celebrating Yahweh’s military actions,10 he fights on Israel’s behalf, rescuing them from enemies who hold them in bondage (Egypt) and who interfere in their march toward destiny (Amalekites, Moabites, Amorites, etc.). Accompanied by his heavenly host, nothing can stop him. . .
Taken together verses 2–3 paint a picture of Yahweh’s universal authority, balancing his superiority over the heavenly hosts with his sovereignty over Israel. Moses emphasizes Israel’s role in Yahweh’s earthly agenda. What the angels are to his cosmic administration, the Israelites are to the earthly. This idealized picture of Yahweh’s holy ones investing their energies in the divine agenda provides significant background for interpreting the blessings.
Gerald Gerbrandt: God is depicted as coming from the region south of the Promised Land to deliver and lead the united tribes of Israel (vv. 2-3, 5). Sinai (the only reference to Sinai in the book of Deuteronomy), Seir, and Mount Paran are in desert regions of the Sinai Peninsula and Edom, southwest of the Dead Sea. . . the terminology (came, dawned, and shone forth; cf. Ps 50:2) does suggest a theophany, a divine encounter between God and human. Accompanying God are myriads of holy ones, a host, and all his holy ones (accepting NRSV here), probably a reference to the heavenly forces at God’s disposal (cf. 1 Kings 22:19; 2 Kings 6:17; 19:35). The nature of the theophany is one in which God with his heavenly army wondrously delivers and protects his people.
Eugene Merrill: The imagery here is that of the Divine Warrior marching at the head of his armies on behalf of those whom he had chosen for protection and blessing. The same motifs appear elsewhere, especially in the Song of the Sea following the exodus (Exod 15:1b-18); the Song of Deborah (Judg 5:2-5); Ps 68 (esp. vv. 7-10); and the prayer of Habakkuk (Hab 3:2-15). Particularly noteworthy are the allusions to Sinai (Deut 33:2; Judg 5:5; Ps 68:8); Seir (Deut 33:2; Judg 5:4) or Edom (Exod 15:15; Judg 5:4); Paran (Deut 33:2; Hab 3:3); and mountains (Exod 15:17; Deut 33:2; Judg 5:5; Ps 68:15-16; Hab 3:6,10).
What all these descriptions share in common in addition to the literary motifs just listed is an explicit or implicit (as here in Deut 33) polemic against all hostile forces that seek to frustrate the Lord’s purposes for creation and especially for his elect people Israel. In historical terms that purpose was to bring them out of Egyptian bondage, deliver them from the Red Sea, engage them in covenant at Sinai, transport them safely through the desert, and at last lead them to a successful conquest and occupation of the Promised Land. To achieve this Yahweh must act as a warrior in command of a heavenly host. As such, nothing could withstand his forward march, nor could any foe prevent his people from achieving the success and prosperity he had promised them (cf. Deut 4:32-40; 7:17-24; 20:1-20).
B. (:3) Divine Relationship in Covenant Commitment
1. God’s Love for His People
“Indeed, He loves the people;”
2. God’s Guidance and Israel’s Submission
“All Thy holy ones are in Thy hand,
And they followed in Thy steps;”
3. God’s Revelation to His People
“Everyone receives of Thy words.”
Michael Grisanti: Yahweh loves his chosen people (evidenced in his election of and care for them), and they should respond in submission by gladly accepting his instruction (v.3), mediated to them through Moses (v.4). Their reception of this special provision from Yahweh is part of what has made them his special possession in the world (Ex 19:5–6; Dt 7:6). A fundamental element of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh is to recognize and submit to his kingship. He is sovereign over them, i.e., over Jeshurun. As their king he can lay before them his requirements, demand their submission, and provide the blessings (or curses) he promised them.
Wright (Deuteronomy, 309–10) helpfully summarizes three key themes in these verses:
– Yahweh’s transcendent power (clearly demonstrated at Sinai),
– the reciprocal nature of this covenantal relationship (Yahweh’s love and Israel’s obedience or loyalty), and
– Yahweh’s kingship, which rested on three basic premises:
o his deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Ex 15:18),
o his provision of the law at Sinai, and
o the victory over Canaan he is about to give to Israel (see also Craigie, 394).
C. (:4) Divine Law as Unique Authority for Governance
“Moses charged us with a law,
A possession for the assembly of Jacob.”
D. (:5) Divine Kingship in Celebration of Sovereign Dominion
“And He was king in Jeshurun,
When the heads of the people were gathered,
The tribes of Israel together.”
Eugene Merrill: The basis and culmination of this privileged relationship was the Lord’s sovereignty (v. 5). He was king over Jeshurun, a pet name for Israel (cf. Deut 32:15; 33:26; Isa 44:2), suggesting its uprightness (Heb. y ar, “be right”), at least as an ideal. It was because he was king that he had the power and authority to convene the leaders and people of the tribes together at the time of covenant making (cf. Exod 19:7-8;
34:31-32; Deut 29:10), and likewise it was his sovereignty that gave efficacy to the promised benefits about to be articulated to the tribes.
II. (:6-25) LISTING OF TRIBAL BLESSINGS
Gerald Gerbrandt: The statements are of three types:
– general undirected statements of blessing or wishes for a tribe (Reuben, Gad, and Joseph),
– prayers directed to God (Judah, Levi), and
– descriptions of a tribe’s situation or way of life (remainder).
Unlike the blessing of Jacob upon his twelve sons (Gen 49), all statements are positive, with no accusations of wrongdoing included.
Michael Grisanti: The order in which the blessings are pronounced departs from that found in Genesis 49. It appears roughly to follow their divinely intended geographic distribution of the land, from south to north.
A. (:6) Blessing of Reuben
“May Reuben live and not die,
Nor his men be few.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Although Reuben was the oldest and thus the one who normally should have received a double share (21:15-17), his blessing promises nothing but is merely a wish that he survive. This may be intended as a retribution for his earlier misdeeds (cf. Gen 35:22; 49:3-4), but more likely simply reflects the struggle the tribe of Reuben had to survive.
B. (:7) Blessing of Judah
“And this regarding Judah; so he said,
‘Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah, And bring him to his people.
With his hands he contended for them;
And mayest Thou be a help against his adversaries.’”
Daniel Block: The tribe’s fate and fortune are in the hands of Yahweh, the nation’s divine Warrior.
C. (:8-11) Blessing of Levi
1. (:8-9) Reflection on Key Historical Events
“And of Levi he said, ‘Let Thy Thummim and Thy Urim belong to Thy godly man, Whom Thou didst prove at Massah, With whom Thou didst contend at the waters of Meribah; 9 Who said of his father and his mother, ‘I did not consider them’; And he did not acknowledge his brothers, Nor did he regard his own sons, For they observed Thy word, And kept Thy covenant.’”
Peter Craigie: In vv. 8–9, the tribe is characterized representatively, in the person of Moses and (perhaps) Aaron (v. 8), and collectively (v. 9). The characterization refers to a number of different events which are blended together in the structure of the poetry; the testings of the representatives of the tribe at both Rephidim (Exod. 17:1–7) and Kadesh (Num. 20:1–13) are noted first (v. 8). Then the collective action of the tribe, which resulted in its being set aside for divine service (see Exod. 32:26–29), is recalled (v. 9). After Israel’s apostasy in the incident of the “Golden Calf,” the Levites had executed God’s judgment even on their own brethren, their neighbors and their companions (Exod. 32:27), and it is this incident that is expressed in different language in v. 9.
Daniel Block: The length of the Levites’ blessing reflects Moses’ relationship to this tribe (Ex. 6:16–27) and their spiritual role among the people. While verse 11 hints at a military role for this tribe, the emphasis is on their spiritual ministry among the people. This blessing envisions four responsibilities for the Levites, all of them custodial:
– of the Thummim and Urim (v. 8),
– the covenant (v. 9),
– divine revelation (v. 10a–b), and
– the sacrificial liturgy (v. 10c–d).
Thummim and Urim identify the two small stones carried by the high priest in a pouch in his pectoral (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8). The Old Testament does not give a clear picture of their nature or the manner in which they were to be manipulated. They seem to have been small stones or sticks cast like lots for binary decisions (cf. Num. 27:21; Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65).
2. (:10) Role of the Levites
a. Role in Indoctrination
“They shall teach Thine ordinances to Jacob,
And Thy law to Israel.”
b. Role in Liturgy
“They shall put incense before Thee,
And whole burnt offerings on Thine altar.”
3. (:11) Reward of the Levites
a. Prosperity — Material Blessing
“O LORD, bless his substance,
And accept the work of his hands;”
b. Protection against Enemies
“Shatter the loins of those who rise up against him,
And those who hate him, so that they may not rise again.”
Eugene Merrill: To “smite the loins” most likely refers to rendering one impotent, unable to produce progeny, and certainly to undermine his strength (cf. 1 Kgs 12:10; Prov 31:17; Nah 2:2).
D. (:12) Blessing of Benjamin
“Of Benjamin he said,
‘May the beloved of the LORD dwell in security by Him,
Who shields him all the day,
And he dwells between His shoulders.’”
Daniel Block: The blessing proper focuses on Benjamin’s security under Yahweh’s protective care.
Michael Grisanti: Moses pronounces a tender blessing on Benjamin—one reminiscent of Benjamin’s close relationship with his father, Jacob (Ge 42:4, 38; 44:18–34). The term “beloved” refers to someone who enjoys a special relationship with Yahweh or with another person (2Sa 12:25; Ps 127:2; Isa 5:1; Jer 11:15). Benjamin can rest securely in Yahweh, who shields him from all threats.
E. (:13-17) Blessing of Joseph
1. (:13-16) Material Blessings of Joseph
“And of Joseph he said,
‘Blessed of the LORD be his land,
With the choice things of heaven, with the dew,
And from the deep lying beneath,
14 And with the choice yield of the sun,
And with the choice produce of the months.
15 And with the best things of the ancient mountains,
And with the choice things of the everlasting hills,
16 And with the choice things of the earth and its fulness,
And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush.
Let it come to the head of Joseph,
And to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.’”
Daniel Block: In the blessing of Joseph we reach a second center of gravity. Past and present history offer sufficient warrant for the amount of attention given to Joseph and the tribe’s status reflected here:
(1) the benediction exhibits conceptual and lexical links with Genesis 49:22–26;
(2) Joseph was the tribe of Joshua;
(3) the narratives of Joseph dominate the last fifteen chapters of Genesis. The fact this blessing is identical in length to that of Levi (52 words) may reflect the nature of Israel’s leadership under Josephite and Levite tribes after Moses’ death (Joshua was an Ephraimite).
Although the opening line of this litany recognizes Yahweh as the source of all good things, the picture involves the covenantal triangle, with deity, people, and land all fulfilling their functions within this relationship.
Eugene Merrill: In most arresting imagery Moses implored God to make all of these blessings a crown on Joseph’s head, a diadem attesting to his preeminence among the tribes (v. 16c, d). This role already was apparent to Jacob (Gen 49:26), who no doubt remembered well the dream in which Joseph saw his entire family bow low before him (Gen 37:5-11). Subsequent events revealed the fulfillment of the dream, both in terms of Joseph’s personal rise to power (Gen 42:6-9) and the importance of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh in the era of Israel’s monarchy.
Michael Grisanti: The parallelism of the places or topographical features emphasizes the comprehensive nature of these blessings. All parts of creation, under the control of Yahweh, will produce abundantly for Joseph’s descendants. In light of the relatively arid climate, rain, dew, and springs are of the utmost importance. The sun (with the moon as a parallel) is essential to a productive harvest. The hills and mountains are valuable not only as sources for needed minerals but also for their slopes, on which are planted vineyards and olive trees.
2. (:17) Majesty of Joseph
“As the first-born of his ox, majesty is his,
And his horns are the horns of the wild ox;
With them he shall push the peoples,
All at once, to the ends of the earth.
And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
And those are the thousands of Manasseh.”
F. (:18-19) Blessing of Zebulun and Issachar
“And of Zebulun he said,
‘Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going forth,
And, Issachar, in your tents.
19 They shall call peoples to the mountain;
There they shall offer righteous sacrifices;
For they shall draw out the abundance of the seas,
And the hidden treasures of the sand.’”
Daniel Block: The harvest would include primary marine resources like fish and shells (used for making jewelry, lamps, and dyes), as well as products of maritime trade: timber, precious metals, pottery, and agricultural products from abroad. He describes the mercantile enterprise strangely as “sucking” (NIV “feast on”) abundance from the seas and the hidden treasures of the sand. Like Genesis 49:13, this blessing envisions Zebulun and Issachar along the coast in Phoenician territory rather than inland as described in Joshua 19:10–23.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Zebulun and Issachar were consecutive sons of Jacob by his wife Leah. Their tribes settled in bordering territories in southern Galilee, resulting in their being treated next to each other more than once in the story (blessing of Jacob, Gen 49:13-14; Song of Deborah, Judg 5:14-15). Their territories extended to the Mediterranean Sea, allowing these tribes to participate in fishing and other marine activities. The reference to inviting peoples to the mountain to offer the right sacrifices presumably is to either Mount Tabor or Mount Carmel, perhaps reflecting a time before Jerusalem gained its preeminent status.
G. (:20-21) Blessing of Gad
1. (:20) Characterization of Gad – Aggressive and Expansive
“And of Gad he said,
‘Blessed is the one who enlarges Gad;
He lies down as a lion,
And tears the arm, also the crown of the head.’”
Daniel Block: The two verbs reflect the two activities for which these large felines are known: sleeping and devouring prey.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The tribe of Gad is characterized as aggressive and expansive, with a political and possibly even judicial role in relationship to other tribes.
2. (:21) Conduct of Gad – Governing in Justice
“Then he provided the first part for himself,
For there the ruler’s portion was reserved;
And he came with the leaders of the people;
He executed the justice of the LORD,
And His ordinances with Israel.”
Daniel Block: “justice of the Lord” — this term does include the notion of social justice, but it should be interpreted more broadly as “righteousness” as laid down in the Sinai revelation and the Mosaic Torah (cf. 16:20). To be sure, righteousness involves justice, but it refers to conduct according to all his righteous “decrees” and “laws” (Deut. 4:8) and “walking in all the ways of the LORD,” which include religious, ceremonial, civil, social, and personal prescriptions as well.
H. (:22) Blessing of Dan
“And of Dan he said,
‘Dan is a lion’s whelp,
That leaps forth from Bashan.’”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Dan may have been small, forced to relocate in the north when its original location on the coast proved unsuccessful (Josh 19:40-48), but as a lion’s whelp (i.e., cub), it is characterized as surprisingly strong. Bashan was not part of Dan, but its reputation for fertile land and strong herds may support the image of a vigorous and aggressive lion.
I. (:23) Blessing of Naphtali
“And of Naphtali he said,
‘O Naphtali, satisfied with favor,
And full of the blessing of the LORD,
Take possession of the sea and the south.’”
Eugene Merrill: Naphtali appears as a highly favored people, “a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns” in the colorful language of Jacob’s prediction (Gen 49:21). Here the tribe is seen as one satiated (so Heb. ba ) with the Lord’s good pleasure (r ôn), filled up (so m l ) with his blessing. A token of this special grace was Naphtali’s favorable location, one that extended “southward to the lake.” This difficult phrase (lit., “take possession of sea and south”) probably is to be construed as in the NIV, “southward to the lake” (the Heb. construction being epexegetical). This in any case eliminates the Mediterranean and suits Chinnereth very well. The Galilee region embraced by Naphtali did indeed enjoy many temporal and material riches (cf. Josh 20:7; 2 Chr 16:4; Isa 9:1), but by far the most abundant blessing was the fact that the Messiah spent most of his life and exercised much of his ministry there or in nearby Zebulun (cf. Matt 4:12-17). One can scarcely imagine greater evidence of divine favor.
J. (:24-25) Blessing of Asher
“And of Asher he said,
‘More blessed than sons is Asher;
May he be favored by his brothers,
And may he dip his foot in oil.
25 Your locks shall be iron and bronze,
And according to your days, so shall your leisurely walk be.’”
Daniel Block: In the blessing of Asher Moses prays for both fertility and security. The first two lines request for Asher’s supremacy among the tribes in the blessing and favor with God. The material dimension of that favor is expressed by a curious idiom, “let him bathe his feet in oil.” The expression imagines the olive trees of Galilee so productive that streams of oil run down the hills.
Michael Grisanti: This pronouncement of “blessing” (brk) on Asher is likely related to the meaning of “Asher” as “happy, blessed.” Not only is this tribe blessed above all others, but it is also regarded highly by its brother tribes. The hyperbolic metaphor of bathing one’s foot in oil suggests abundant prosperity. Even though olive groves were abundant in the territory of Asher, it seems that here the oil, which often symbolizes blessing in the OT (Dt 32:13; Job 29:5–6, 11), provides a metaphor of prosperity in general.
The iron and bronze bolts refer to bolts that held a city gate in place as an essential component to the city’s defense. The basic idea of this line may be: “May your land be as secure as if it were locked with bolts of iron or bronze” (Tigay, Deuteronomy, 333). As long as the tribe lives, they will enjoy Yahweh’s protection.
III. (:26-29) INCOMPARABLE STANDING OF BOTH GOD AND ISRAEL AS SEEN IN DELIVERANCE FROM ENEMIES
Daniel Block: The CODA picks up where the exordium had left off, praising Yahweh for his lavish support for Israel (vv. 26–27) and congratulating Israel for having a God like Yahweh (vv. 28–29). This stanza divides into three artfully composed parts, with the first (vv. 26–27) and last (v. 29) being identical in length by word count (19 words) framing the shorter center (v. 28). The outer parts both begin with a vocative address and highlight Yahweh’s rescue of Israel from her enemies, while the center focuses on Israel enjoying the security he has provided.
A Who is like God, O Jeshurun? 33:26
B God is a refuge and undergirding presence 33:27a
X He drove out the enemy before you 33:27b
B´ Israel settled securely in a land of plenty 33:28
A´ “Who is like you? A people delivered by YHWH” 33:29
A. (:26-27) Deliverance from Enemies Secured by the Incomparable God
1. (:26) Incomparable God
“There is none like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to your help,
And through the skies in His majesty.”
Eugene Merrill: The image of Yahweh riding on the heavens and clouds (mayîm and qîm) is mythopoeic anthropomorphism adapted, no doubt, from pagan epic sources but with intensely polemic overtones against the depravity of pagan religious conception. The point was that it was not really Baal (or any other god) who rode in triumph in the heavens above, but it was the Lord alone who did so, he who is unique and solitary (cf. Pss 18:10; 68:33; 104:3).
2. (:27) Deliverance from Enemies
“The eternal God is a dwelling place,
And underneath are the everlasting arms;
And He drove out the enemy from before you,
And said, ‘Destroy!’”
B. (:28) Results of Deliverance from Enemies: Security and Prosperity of Israel
“So Israel dwells in security,
The fountain of Jacob secluded,”
“In a land of grain and new wine;
His heavens also drop down dew.”
C. (:29) Deliverance from Enemies Enjoyed by Incomparable Israel
1. Incomparable Israel
“Blessed are you, O Israel;
Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD,
Who is the shield of your help, And the sword of your majesty!”
2. Deliverance from Enemies
“So your enemies shall cringe before you,
And you shall tread upon their high places.”
Duane Christensen: It is not only the God of Israel who is incomparable; the same is true of the Israel of God. No words can adequately express the excellence of the God of Jeshurun, or the privileges and blessing of his people (v 26). The righteousness with which they are clothed is everlasting. The eternal God is their dwelling place and his undergirding arms form their unfailing support (v 27). He is the one who defeats the enemy so that Israel may settle securely in a fertile land, whose “skies drip moisture” (v 28). Israel is “a people delivered by YHWH,” whose “enemies come cringing to you” as you tread upon their backs (v 29). God help us to know the happiness of Israel as portrayed here, so that we too may find our dwelling place in the everlasting arms of the God of Jeshurun.
Eugene Merrill: The blessing of all Israel ends with a note of triumphant hope for the nation, a people unique in all the earth for having been delivered from bondage by the Lord (v. 29a; cf. Deut 4:32-40). Salvation in the past provides confidence for the present, for the God who redeemed is the Shield, Helper (cf. v. 26), and Sword of Israel. He not only provides these things but in himself he embodies them (cf. Ps 115:9-11). The future was, therefore, bright as well. On the eve of conquest it was assuring to know that Yahweh, the Divine Warrior (cf. v. 27), would lead his elect nation to victory. Their enemies would submit to them, and they would tread upon the high places of their foes (v. 29b, c).
This last figure is that of a conqueror who places his foot upon his vanquished and fallen adversary as a sign of absolute dominion (cf. Gen 49:8; Josh 10:24). The verb “trample” (Heb. d rak) occurs frequently to speak of the exercise of sovereignty over peoples and lands or even over nature itself (Deut 1:36; 11:24-25; Josh 1:3; 14:9; Amos 4:13; Mic 1:3; 5:4; Hab 3:15; cf. Job 1:7; 2:2). In light of the combination of conquest and dominion, it is better to understand b môt not as “high places” but as “backs,” a rendering supported by comparative Semitic lexicography (cf. Ug. bmt, Akk. b mtu; KB, 132). The mythopoeic language of the passage as a whole (cf. v. 26) favors this view as does the parallelism of cringing (“cower”; Heb. k a ) and trampling on the back. The couplet may perhaps be rendered:
Your enemies will be forced to prostrate before you;
You will then trample upon their backs.
In any case, Israel’s prospects, despite their historical shortcomings, were optimistic indeed, for the Lord would assure ultimate triumph.
Michael Grisanti: Moses brings his conclusion to a climax by exulting over Israel’s blessed position. Because of their special relationship with Yahweh, demonstrated by his deliverance of them from Egypt (and other calamities), they are unique among all the nations of the world. The question “Who is like you?” is normally addressed to God (Ex 15:11; Pss 35:10; 71:19; 89:8 ) to emphasize his incomparability.
Another demonstration of the unparalleled relationship between Israel and Yahweh is God’s consistent care for them. He is their shield, helper, and sword. Those metaphors describe not only what Yahweh does for his chosen people but also his very character (Ps 115:9–11). Israel’s enemies will be enemies of Yahweh, who will cower before this God-enabled nation.