Division 3. (Deut. 31 — 34.)

The outcome, as revealed prophetically.

The substance of the third division of Deuteronomy is evidently prophetic — the song of Moses, and the blessing of the tribes, with which we have as introduction the leadership of the people committed to Joshua, and the law to the heads of the people. The last chapter, as an appendix to the whole, and of course by another hand, gives Moses' vision of the land from Pisgah, with his death and burial by the Lord Himself.

1. Again we find, along with the giving of the law to the people, and the inspiriting words to them and their new leader to go in and take possession of the land, the positive assurance of the apostasy that would come, and the judgment of that apostasy. Even so the Church started with the assurance of latter day perilous times, the power of godliness denied, and the coming of Antichrist. Nor, in either case, was the beginning of this state of things far off. One generation only of Israel was faithful under Joshua, and then we have the confusion of the book of Judges. Paul lives to speak of all those in Asia having departed from him, and to find none in Rome to stand with him. While John writes already that it is (in principle) the last time, and that there are many Antichrists.

So little confidence can be placed in man; so surely does testing mean failure, even with the saint. History is a terrible witness against the pride of man; and prophecy, which is but divinely given history written beforehand, emphasizes the lesson. Instead of hiding the darkness of the future from those in the glow of first enthusiasm, God does the very reverse. He holds it up; He bids us never forget it; He sings it in our ears, making with it strange funeral music which shall linger there sweetly though sorrowfully: and why? Is this indeed armor for warriors, strength for a pilgrim path? Yes, it is a SONG; nay, it is a song of praise: "I will publish Jehovah's name," says Moses, "ascribe ye greatness unto our God." Nor does He after all reign among ruins merely: He has a people whom He loves and cares for: "Jehovah's portion is His people." But the lesson needs to be well learnt, and emphasized with all the intensity of a prophet's utterance: "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is." (Jer. 17:5, 7.) Thus we may have still a song over the destruction of all mere human hopes when they leave us the Lord to trust in, and make it our one necessity to trust in Him.

(1) They need not be afraid, then, though Moses' strength is now to fail, nor to faint if even he be stricken of God and set aside. Jehovah abides, and He will go over before them and subdue all their enemies; Joshua too shall go before them: they shall have a leader, that they may learn subjection, and yet it must be God to whom they are really subject. Leader and people, let them be strong: for feebleness dishonors Him whose they are. He will not fail nor forsake.

(2) But they must have the law ever in remembrance. How strengthening and inspiriting a thing is it to have one's life moulded by the declared will of God! What encouragement is there in the consciousness that one is simply obeying, and that the word we obey is perfect as it is authoritative! What a yoke is that which Christ gives, and which gives rest to the soul that takes it! We must not, of course, confuse the type and antitype here. But the principle has always been true, that the path of obedience is that of real strength and blessing and fruitfulness; and we need not wonder if the first psalm begins with this; for in this alone does God find His throne among men aright.

Moses therefore now gives them the law, and ordains it to be solemnly read to all the people every seventh year at the feast of tabernacles. In the midst of that which reminded them of the wilderness-course at an end for them and the land theirs by the favor of God, obedience could be most persuasively pressed upon them.

(3) Joshua is now called with Moses into the presence of the Lord Himself to receive his charge. It is thus with all true leaders. "Am I not an apostle? have I not seen the Lord?" Commissions must thus finally be given by the only One who has right to confer them, and who does not keep at a distance from Himself those whom He sends forth. Moses is also to write out the song which Israel is to learn, — the remedy against the evil it predicts for those who really; learn it; so gladly would divine love have, if it were possible, its prophecy made untrue, and the unrepenting One repent of what He is forced to do. (Jer. 18:7, 8.)

Alas! the book in the side of the ark, and the words of the song, are alike witnesses against the people of His choice.

2. We come now to the Song itself, a song which was, as we see, to have a peculiar place of testimony for God, and of warning to His people. Yet it is a "song," and this we have seen to be significant. A "song" supposes in itself joy, and not sorrow; a battle-song, victory over enemies; a funeral song, victory over death. This of Moses unites these characters; and that it is above all a song of joy in God, explains all, assures that all must be. As joy, it is fitted to live in the heart; as a joy that does not ignore sorrow or make light of sin, the presence of these will only the more tend to preserve and give it power over the soul. It is truly a "song in the night," and for the night, such as God alone could give, — a witness to the Giver.

(1) The real theme is in the first four verses: it is God Himself, the unchangeable One, faithful, just, and right. Well may the heavens hear, and the earth, the blessed words which drop as the rain, and distill as the dew of night, refreshing grass and herb. It is Jehovah's name they publish, that sweet and wonderful name which expresses truly what He is, and which man, dropped out of that knowledge, needs so much to learn. To Him they ascribe greatness; yes, to Him, O man, out of the clay, who hast ruined thyself by thy pretension to it. He is the Rock — the "dwelling-place in all generations," says our Moses elsewhere (Ps. 90:1,) — safe as shelter, strong against storm, clear-shadowy in the noon-tide heat of a desert land. "His work is perfect" — though men and devils have combined in their own persons to dishonor it. "All His ways are judgment" — not wrath, but far-seeing, well-discerning righteousness. "A God of faithfulness without deceit, just and right is He."

(2) But Israel? Alas, they have dealt corruptly with Him. Man, most favored, most blessed, can turn all this into the occasion of deeper condemnation. Adopted as His family, they are no sons of His, but a blot upon them, a generation crooked and perverse.

And will men thus requite Jehovah? and He the Father who has purchased them from captivity for the love He bare them? Foolish and unwise as they were, did they not know Him to be that? Had He not made and established them? Let them look back, then, upon the past, the record of continuous generations. Or let them ask their fathers, and the elders hoary with age. There could be but one answer of whomsoever they inquired.

(3) The song carries them then back to a time beyond these experiences, before the nation existed at all, when the sons of Adam were finding the abodes assigned them of God. Even then, when the Gentiles were receiving their inheritance, He set their bounds according to the needs of such a number as the children of Israel would become. For in truth they were Jehovah's portion — His people, and Jacob (though but "Jacob") the lot of His inheritance.

Where had He found them? In a desert land, yea, a howling wilderness; but where the Lord's care had only the more opportunity for display. Compassed about, watched over, guarded as the pupil of the eye, they had proved this. By the law He had stirred them up like the eagle her nest, while with outstretched wings as in the pillar of cloud, He had sheltered and nestled them, then borne them up and carried them in His feathers. He, He alone did this, asking help of no strange god, and setting them upon the high places of Canaan, amid the abundance of that plenteous land.

(4) Then the song turns from past to future, but which is seen as the past, clear in the vision of God. Jeshurun grew fat and kicked: God's loved, upright one* became rebellious in prosperity — a strange, common case — and gave up his Maker, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. Then the heart estranged from Him turned to those that were His opposites. Strange gods came in, with their abominations, gods newly invented replaced Him who had brought them forth, — a thing continually repeated since, and under every imaginable form.

{* Jeshurun is the diminutive of "Jasher" — "upright."}

(5) God could not forget, and be as man; but He could, and was forced to, hide His face. They had given Him up for gods that were not, and He would move them to jealousy by a people they disdained as none. It is here that the apostle sees the calling of the Gentiles. (Rom. 10:19.) But Moses' object is not to develop this; he goes on to the positive consequences of God's wrath, the wrath of slighted love, and which works out in the end the purposes of love. His anger burns to the bottom of Sheol, for there are cast the objects of it; and with that which reaches down to this the earth and its produce are necessarily consumed. The foundations of the mountains are set on fire by the volcano of wrath; the elements, the teeth of beasts, hunger and plague fight against them; the sword of the enemy bereaves: a full end of them seems impending, but the proud enemy would not recognize Him in this, but only the strength of His own hand. Such is man, the unconscious worker-out of purposes he knows nothing of; and so God reigns, amid unintelligent and hostile powers, yoked to His service in their own despite.

Yet He longs and yearns over them! Let the cross say if He does not. And here His pity breaks out in Moses' words. Oh, that they had been wise! that they had understood, that they had considered the end sure to come! Vanquished, broken by a contemptible enemy, — how should it be unless their Rock had sold them, and the unchangeable Jehovah delivered them into their hands! Was He less a Rock? Was it because their God was as poor a reliance as the common trusts of men? Ah, their bitter enemies could easily themselves decide this. No, alas! it was that the fruit He had looked for from them was but the vine of Sodom, bitter and poisonous; and He who was the Righteous had been forced to be against them.

(6) This is all plain but the end has unexpected disclosures. There was a secret hidden with God, sealed up among His treasures! Not judgment therefore; which every bad conscience could predict, and which He loves not!

Yet vengeance is His, and recompense, and their feet shall slip, the day of their calamity shall come, judgment shall come, Jehovah shall judge His people. Yes, judge; but not destroy! For when He sees them stricken down, helpless, their power gone, none left to help them, and the vanity of their false gods is fully seen, — then will He call them to Himself, with whom no other can be or can compare, and the rod of their correction, having accomplished its work, shall be broken: He will turn His hand against their enemies.

It is the judgment of the living nations when the Lord appears, and which will bring in blessing for more than Israel. Hence the nations too can be bidden to rejoice with Israel His people; the trumpet of their recall is the first note of earth,s jubilee: "for if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15.)

Thus Moses' song vindicates itself as that; and what man is having been seen, evil looked in the face and triumphed over, its theme is fully looked at, and its argument maintained. Greatness belongs to God alone: He is the rock; His way is perfect. Let us remember but our littleness; let us ascribe to Him the greatness; let us hold fast to His perfection: then we have indeed a song which, begun in the night of time, shall last forever.

3. The blessing of the tribes is Moses' last public act, emphasizing what is in the heart of God toward His people; and this is always blessing. But there are two significant things linked with and introductory to this.

(1) First, Moses and Joshua unite in reciting the song in the ears of the congregation, the old leader and the new being thus in that harmony in which all God's agents, all dispensations, ultimately are. The people are then urged to set their hearts to it, as the condition of the accomplishment of obedience, and therein of lengthened days. In fact, for the blessing to come, the song must have done its work. Man must learn his own nothingness and the might of God; and the blessing waits for this. Hence the section here is fully in its place as introductory to what is before us.

(2) Secondly, we have the death of Moses again announced, with the sin for which he was set aside explicitly stated. It was not surely merely casual the connection of this with the song and blessing. Moses is in his own person an example of the condemning power of the law. He can only see from afar, what he is forbidden to possess; and if Moses, whom will it not exclude? For the true blessing, therefore, we must go beyond law, — beyond the old covenant to the new; beyond all past dispensations to that under which Israel is really to enter upon her inheritance.

(3) And, accordingly, when we come to the blessing of the tribes, we find that, after the first, we have really before us their millennial condition, into which the first and the second introduce us. Apart from Reuben, who represents for us the nation on their national footing, all the rest give us unmodified blessing, and which has but only partial connection with the features of their past history. This has perplexed the sober commentators, while leaving much to exercise the imagination of the "higher critics." The real fact relieves all perplexity, while it is in perfect consistency with the character and purpose of all this closing portion of Deuteronomy, and with the general doctrine of Scripture also. It reminds us of the omitted blessings of the twenty-seventh chapter, and the emphasis upon the curse both there and elsewhere; of the memorial of the law set up on Ebal; and of how far already the Song has carried us.

The fullness of the blessing could not be under law, however modified. Here it is full, although Reuben may be an exception to be explained, and Simeon be omitted. This would not infer any omission of Simeon at the end, as the individual tribes, both here and in Jacob's prophecy, stand often for aspects of the whole nation (comp. Gen. 49, notes,) and may even, as in Joseph, contemplate it in its great Head and King.

The blessing divides into six parts, the first speaking of God as their Leader and His power for them, already there in the wilderness; the second, of their salvation by Him; the third, of their portion as thus saved; the fourth, of the Gentiles blessed through them; the fifth, the consequences in the government of God, no more against them; and lastly, the triumph of divine goodness over all their sin. The introduction may seem a strange one to a picture of millennial days. It may remind us in this of what is stated in the opening of the book, that from Sinai to Kadesh — from which they might have entered the land — was only eleven days, journey. In fact, it was nearly forty years that passed before they actually did enter. Even so the long time elapsing before the blessing comes to them has its necessity only in their own condition. He whose power and love had brought them through the wilderness, was even then ready to give them the fall promise, but that they were not prepared for this. And when the time shall come, it will be the completion of what their passage through it then implied. The wings under which they at last come to rest are those that canopied over them in their journeyings of old. All, therefore, is in place, as ever.

Let us look at it in detail.

(a) It is the blessing of Moses, the man of God, poured forth with his full heart in it, but where above all God reigns and thus the eyes are cleared and strengthened and the soul assured, so that what would be prayer becomes prophecy. He sees Jehovah advancing from Sinai with them, His glory flooding the wilderness, Seir radiating it from the east, Mount Paran from the North and West, angelic hosts around Him: out of His right hand came in fire to them the mandate of a King.* Yea, it is He who, God of all, loveth the peoples,** in whose hand His angels are ministering spirits for them, sitting at His feet, receiving, each one, of His words.

{*There are difficulties in this passage, well known to the critics, arising most of all from the abrupt poetic style. What is given above is literal according to the Hebrew, and consistent enough as it would seem with the whole character of what is here. The argument that the unusual word for "law" — dath , the "mandate of a King," — is a word too recent for Moses' time is worth little, as literature of Pentateuchal date is not abundant enough to prove it. Haevernick looks at it as derived from din, to "judge." And Koenig as an Aramaism which may "testify as well of a very early, as of a late composition." (See Schroeder, in Lange's Commentary.)

**The plural form naturally looks beyond Israel; and this is in keeping with the blessing itself which, with all prophecy beside, connects that of the earthly people with that of the world at large.}

The law given to Israel by this glorious God, had yet a human mediator and interpreter; and thus Moses became, as it were, king in Jeshurun, the tribes receiving it from him, formally gathered under their heads. This position of Moses has been often before us; it typified that of the far more wondrous "Mediator of the new covenant." God, seeking to be near, addresses man in form as man.

(b) The blessing of the tribes follows, beginning with Reuben, the rejected first-born, who, as in Jacob's prophecy, receives what seems but little that. He is to live and not die, and his men be numerable. No one doubts that this is the regular force of the words, though exceptions have been pleaded. The argument for the opposite thought, "Let not his men be few" is simply that it appears more like blessing. When we take the whole prophecy into account, however, the grammatical meaning justifies itself. For we have seen already in Gen. 49 how the first-born of nature stands for the nation on the ground of the first covenant, which was really "natural," fleshly, because legal; and here nothing but the blessing of God (which of course is grace) could have preserved the existence of the nation at all. Under the sentence of the law, and rejecting their Deliverer, they have yet been marvelously kept from extinction, while also the subjects of a constant persecution, — "a sword drawn out after them," — which has fulfilled the latter part of the prediction no less clearly.

Then follows Judah, not Simeon or Levi, as with Jacob. Simeon is not found at all, while Levi has gained a new and higher place. Judah, on the other hand, has fallen from that which Jacob pictured for him, and yet with a possible limit — "till Shiloh come." Shiloh, we know, has come, and Judah's staff of magistracy has been taken away. They knew not the day of their visitation. Moses' blessing implies the disastrous consequences. "And he said, 'Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people; let his hands be sufficient for him, and be Thou a help to him from his enemies.'"

Judah, then, has been a wanderer, and separated from his people; his hand has brought him no sufficient help, and his enemies have been busy with him. All this suits exactly with what has long been history, and predicts the deliverance awaiting them in the near future. No tribal name, it is evident, would fill this place but that of Judah, connected with and following, as it does, that of Reuben. Numerically, they are in order, Reuben giving first the continuance, Judah then the deliverance of the people. Levi comes third, as showing the way of this deliverance to be by priesthood and sacrifice, the only way before God at any time for the restoration of the sinner.

We see, then, why Levi has such a special place in the blessing of Moses. We must look through the tribe and its individual history, to see, as in other cases, the One through whom the blessing comes for Israel. Christ is plainly the One with whom God,s Thummim and Urim. are, the Holy One, proved at the place of proof, and striven with where the waters of life gushed out. A Moses and an Aaron might give way under the pressure, but not the One for whom they stood. On the other side, the faithfulness of Levi at the scene of the calf-worship was more than found in Him who could say, "The zeal of Thy house hath eaten Me up." Here Levi falls so much behind that it is proportionately difficult to read the antitype in the type. But there is a double application, Israel as a whole having to turn to God in this spirit to receive their final blessing, while for them none the less, as their day of atonement witnesses, the sacrifice upon the altar is the one means of acceptance. Here Christ is both priest and sacrifice, and through Him alone Thummim and Urim return to the delivered people: divine "perfections" being manifested, divine "light" results, and the voice of God is heard in new and more familiar intercourse with His people than for Israel the past age of law could realize at its best.

And now it is no temporary deliverance that is effected: "Bless, Lord, his substance, and accept the work of his hands: smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again." Here, therefore, a day begins for them which does not set.

(c) Benjamin follows Levi: "And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety near Him: He shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between His shoulders." The reference conceived by some to the tabernacle at Gibeon, or to the temple in Jerusalem in this last expression, is surely a mistake. It is not the Lord who dwells between Benjamin's shoulders, (which would be an inversion of all right thought,) but the reverse. It is Benjamin who dwells in security, covered and sustained by his covenant-God. We see that Levi's sacrifice has opened the sanctuary to him; and this is the way of divine grace, — His redeemed God brings near to Himself. This is true in measure of the earthly as of the heavenly people; and will be Israel's special glory in the days to come. From this centre it radiates over the land, and thus the blessing of Joseph follows and unites with that of Benjamin. Under the smile of God the whole of the fruitful land breaks out into a manifold and continuous harvest. It is the good will of Him who dwelt in the bush that crowns as with a diadem the head of the Nazarite, separated to God and thus from his brethren. It is very plain that Christ it is who brings in this way the blessing down, and how Jacob's word is confirmed in that of Moses here. For it the intruding Gentiles must be banished from the land, giving way to the myriads of "fruitful" Ephraim, and the thousands of Manasseh.

(d) Zebulon and Issachar are joined together. In Jacob's prophecy we see the one stretching out toward the nations round, and the other couching underneath their yoke. We are reminded of this here, though how different is all now. Zebulon may now rejoice in going out, Issachar in the tents of her pilgrimage; and still they stretch out toward the nations; but they are now ambassadors of a present King, and with a joyful invitation to come up and do Him homage. "They shall call the peoples to the mountain: there they shall offer the sacrifices of righteousness." The millennial application of this is as clear as can be: and Isaiah and Micah both develop it: And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. For He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." (Isa. 2:2, 3.) We see in what a connected and orderly manner the prophecy proceeds also. It is another kind of commerce from what in the past has attracted Israel: now the nations are attracted, and Israel sucks of the abundance of the seas (comp. Isa. 60:5), and of the treasures hid in the sand of the seashore (the ports of its coasts?)

(e) Lastly, come the children of the bondmaids, but there is no longer any trace of what is servile in their condition. Their blessing is harder to interpret than what has gone before, although not always so, and that which is most obscure seems to be so from its brevity. In general, it seems to express the moral results of the relationship in which God now stands to His people. First, in Gad power and the ruler's seat, from which is maintained the righteousness of the Lord, and His judgment in the midst of Israel. The meaning of Dan's blessing is not so clear, but we may see in it power that makes itself feared round about: "thine enemies shall cringe before thee" (v. 29). Naphtali shows us the full favor of God enlarging the old limits: they possess as never before the sea — the coast of the Philistines and Phoenicians — and the south — including Edom's territory as far as the Red Sea. Obadiah witnesses to both of these (vv. 19-21). Lastly, Asher completes the blessing of Israel by declaring its preeminence over that of all else, yet not envied, but accepted by their brethren — the nations of the earth, — their feet dipped in the flowing oil which speaks the fatness of the bounteous land. The last two points are differently understood. Many for "shoes" read "bolts," which Keil interprets as "castles;" and the moderns against the ancients read "rest" instead of "strength." In these two there would be doubly expressed their abiding security: and though we may not be willing to give up what we are so familiar with, that "as thy days thy strength shall be," it is certainly not unsuited as the close of this wonderful blessing to have "as thy days shall be thy rest."

(f) The last words celebrate the triumph of divine goodness for them, before which all enemies are helpless and defeated. This is a thing of course: but blessed are the people who are the subjects of such a salvation! And who is like the God of Jeshurun? He rides upon the heavens to thy help. Thy refuge is the eternal God; and underneath are everlasting arms!

4. The last chapter of Deuteronomy is necessarily an appendix by another hand. It is the account of Moses' death on the mount, and his burial by God, after being shown the land into which he cannot enter. Joshua succeeds him as Israel's leader; but as a prophet in the nearness to God to which he was called, he had no successor until He came who in His own Person stood alone, in life, in death, filling all the mediatorial types, and transcending them by the full measure of His infinite glory, in whose light indeed alone they shine.