In the introduction Moses depicts the elevation of Israel into the nation of God, in its origin (Deu 33:2), its nature (Deu 33:3), its intention and its goal (Deu 33:4, Deu 33:5).
“Jehovah came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shone from the mountains of Paran, and came out of holy myriads, at His right rays of fire to them.” To set forth the glory of the covenant which God made with Israel, Moses depicts the majesty and glory in which the Lord appeared to the Israelites at Sinai, to give them the law, and become their king. The three clauses, “Jehovah came from Sinai...from Seir...from the mountains of Paran,” do not refer to different manifestations of God (Knobel), but to the one appearance of God at Sinai. Like the sun when it rises, and fills the whole of the broad horizon with its beams, the glory of the Lord, when He appeared, was not confined to one single point, but shone upon the people of Israel from Sinai, and Seir, and the mountains of Paran, as they came from the west to Sinai. The Lord appeared to the people from the summit of Sinai, as they lay encamped at the foot of the mountain. This appearance rose like a streaming light from Seir, and shone at the same time from the mountains of Paran. Seir is the mountain land of the Edomites to the east of Sinai; and the mountains of Paran are in all probability not the mountains of et-Tih, which form the southern boundary of the desert of Paran, but rather the mountains of the Azazimeh, which ascend to a great height above Kadesh, and form the boundary wall of Canaan towards the south. The glory of the Lord, who appeared upon Sinai, sent its beams even to the eastern and northern extremities of the desert. This manifestation of God formed the basis for all subsequent manifestations of the omnipotence and grace of the Lord for the salvation of His people. This explains the allusions to the description before us in the song of Deborah (Jdg 5:4) and in Hab 3:3. - The Lord came not only from Sinai, but from heaven, “out of holy myriads,” i.e., out of the midst of the thousands of holy angels who surround His throne (1Ki 22:19; Job 1:6; Dan 7:10), and who are introduced in Gen 28:12 as His holy servants, and in Gen 32:2-3, as the hosts of God, and form the assembly of holy ones around His throne (Psa 89:6, Psa 89:8; cf. Psa 68:18; Zec 14:5; Mat 26:53; Heb 12:22; Rev 5:11; Rev 7:11). - The last clause is a difficult one. The writing דַּת אֵשׁ in two words, “fire of the law,” not only fails to give a suitable sense, but has against it the fact that דַּת, law, edictum, is not even a Semitic word, but was adopted from the Persian into the Chaldee, and that it is only by Gentiles that it is ever applied to the law of God (Ezr 7:12, Ezr 7:21, Ezr 7:25-26; Dan 6:6). It must be read as one word, אשׁדת, as it is in many MSS and editions - not, however, as connected with אֶשֶׁד, אֲשֵׁדֹות, the pouring out of the brooks, slopes of the mountains (Num 21:15), but in the form אִשֶּׁדֶת, composed, according to the probable conjecture of Böttcher, of אֵשׁ, fire, and שָׁדָה (in the Chaldee and Syriac), to throw, to shoot arrows, in the sense of “fire of throwing,” shooting fire, a figurative description of the flashes of lightning. Gesenius adopts this explanation, except that he derives דַּת from יָדָה, to throw. It is favoured by the fact that, according to Exo 19:16, the appearance of God upon Sinai was accompanied by thunder and lightning; and flashes of lightning are often called the arrows of God, whilst shaadaah, in Hebrew, is established by the name שְׁדֵיאוּר (Num 1:5; Num 2:10). To this we may add the parallel passage, Hab 3:4, “rays out of His hand,” which renders this explanation a very probable one. By “them,” in the second and fifth clauses, the Israelites are intended, to whom this fearful theophany referred. On the signification of the manifestation of God in fire, see Deu 4:11, and the exposition of Exo 3:2.
“Yea, nations He loves; all His holy ones are in Thy hand: and they lie down at Thy feet; they rise up at Thy words.” עַמִּים חֹבֵב is the subject placed first absolutely: “nations loving,” sc., is he; or “as loving nations - all Thy holy ones are in Thy hand.” The nations or peoples are not the tribes of Israel here, any more than in Deu 32:8, or Gen 28:3; Gen 35:11, and Gen 48:4; whilst Jdg 5:14 and Hos 10:14 cannot come into consideration at all, for there the word is defined by a suffix. The meaning of the words depends upon whether “all His holy ones” are the godly in Israel, or the Israelites generally, or the angels. There is nothing to favour the first explanation, as the distinction between the godly and the wicked would be out of place in the introduction to a blessing upon all the tribes. The second has only as seeming support in Dan 7:21. and Exo 19:6. It does not follow at once from the calling of Israel to be the holy nation of Jehovah, that all the Israelites were or could be called “holy ones of the Lord.” Least of all should Num 16:3 be adduced in support of this. Even in Dan 7 the holy ones of the Most High are not the Jews generally, but simply the godly, or believers, in the nation of God. The third view, on the other hand, is a perfectly natural one, on account of the previous reference to the holy myriads. The meaning, therefore, would be this: The Lord embraces all nations with His love, He who, so to speak, has all His holy angels in His hand, i.e., His power, so that they serve Him as their Lord. They lie down at His feet. The ἄπ. λεγ. תֻּכּוּ is explained by Kimchi and Saad. as signifying adjuncti sequuntur vestigia sua; and by the Syriac, They follow thy foot, from conjecture rather than any certain etymology. The derivation proposed by modern linguists, from the verb תָּכָה, according to an Arabic word signifying recubuit, innixus est, has apparently more to support it. יִשָּׂא, it rises up: intransitive, as in Hab 1:3; Nah 1:5; Hos 13:1, and Psa 89:10. מִדַּבְּרֹתֶיךָ is not a Hithpael participle (that which is spoken); for מִדַּבֵּר has not a passive, but an active signification, to converse (Num 7:89; Eze 2:2, etc.). It is rather a noun, דַבְּרֹת, from דַּבְּרָה, words, utterances. The singular, יִשָּׂא, is distributive: every one (of them) rises on account of thine utterance, i.e., at thy words. The suffixes relate to God, and the discourse passes from the third to the second person. In our own language, such a change in a sentence like this, “all His (God's) holy ones are in Thy (God's) hand,” would be intolerably harsh, but in Hebrew poetry it is by no means rare (see, for example, Psa 49:19).
“Moses appointed us a law, a possession of the congregation of Jacob. And He became King in righteous-nation (Jeshurun); there the heads of the people assembled, in crowds the tribes of Israel.” The God who met Israel at Sinai in terrible majesty, out of the myriads of holy angels, who embraces all nations in love, and has all the holy angels in His power, so that they lie at His feet and rise up at His word, gave the law through Moses to the congregation of Jacob as a precious possession, and became King in Israel. This was the object of the glorious manifestation of His holy majesty upon Sinai. Instead of saying, “He gave the law to the tribes of Israel through my mediation,” Moses personates the listening nation, and not only speaks of himself in the third person, but does so by identifying his own person with the nation, because he wished the people to repeat his words from thorough conviction, and because the law which he gave in the name of the Lord was given to himself as well, and was as binding upon him as upon every other member of the congregation. In a similar manner the prophet Habakkuk identifies himself with the nation in ch. 3, and says in Hab 3:19, out of the heart of the nation, “The Lord is my strength,...who maketh me to walk upon mine high places,” - an expression which did not apply to himself, but to the nation as a whole. So again in Psa 20:1-9 and Psa 21:1-13, which David composed as the prayers of the nation for its king, he not only speaks of himself as the anointed of the Lord, but addresses such prayers to the Lord for himself as could only be offered by the nation for its king. “A possession for the congregation of Jacob.” “Israel was distinguished above all other nations by the possession of the divinely revealed law (Deu 4:5-8); that was its most glorious possession, and therefore is called its true κειμήλιον” (Knobel). The subject in Deu 33:5 is not Moses but Jehovah, who became King in Jeshurun (see at Deu 32:15 and Exo 15:18). “Were gathered together;” this refers to the assembling of the nation around Sinai (Deu 4:10.; cf. Exo 19:17.), to the day of assembly (Deu 9:10; Deu 10:4; Deu 18:16).