Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Deuteronomy 33:8 - 33:8

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Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Deuteronomy 33:8 - 33:8

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Levi. - Deu 33:8, Deu 33:9. “Thy right and Thy light is to Thy godly man, whom Thou didst prove in Massah, and didst strive with him at the water of strife; who says to his father and his mother, I see him not; and does not regard his brethren, and does not know his sons: for they observed Thy word, and kept Thy covenant.” This blessing is also addressed to God as a prayer. The Urim and Thummim - that pledge, which the high priest wore upon his breast-plate, that the Lord would always give His people light to preserve His endangered right (vid., Exo 28:29-30), - are here regarded as a prerogative of the whole of the tribe of Levi. Thummim is placed before Urim, to indicate at the outset that Levi had defended the right of the Lord, and that for that very reason the right of the Urim and Thummim had been given to him by the Lord. “Thy holy one” is not Aaron, but Levi the tribe-father, who represents the whole tribe to which the blessing applies; hence in Deu 33:9 and Deu 33:10 the verb passes into the plural. To define more precisely the expression “Thy holy one,” reference is made to the trials at Massah and at the water of strife, on the principle that the Lord humbles His servants before He exalts them, and confirms those that are His by trying and proving them. The proving at Massah refers to the murmuring of the people on account of the want of water at Rephidim (Exo 17:1-7, as in Deu 6:16 and Deu 9:22), from which the place received the name of Massah and Jeribah; the striving at the water of strife, to the rebellion of the people against Moses and Aaron on account of the want of water at Kadesh (Num 20:1-13). At both places it was primarily the people who strove with Moses and Aaron, and thereby tempted God. For it is evident that even at Massah the people murmured not only against Moses, but against their leaders generally, from the use of the plural verb, “Give ye us water to drink” (Exo 17:2). This proving of the people, however, was at the same time a proof, to which the Lord subjected the heads and leaders of the nation, for the purpose of trying their faith. And thus also, in Deu 8:2., the whole of the guidance of Israel through the desert is described as a trial and humiliation of the people by the Lord. But in Moses and Aaron, the heads of the tribe of Levi, the whole of the tribe of Levi was proved. The two provings by means of water are selected, as Schultz observes, “because in their correlation they were the best adapted to represent the beginning and end, and therefore the whole of the temptations.”

Deu 33:9-11

In these temptations Levi had proved itself “a holy one,” although in the latter Moses and Aaron stumbled, since the Levites had risen up in defence of the honour of the Lord and had kept His covenant, even with the denial of father, mother, brethren, and children (Mat 10:37; Mat 19:29). The words, “who says to his father,” etc., relate to the event narrated in Exo 32:26-29, where the Levites draw their swords against the Israelites their brethren, at the command of Moses, after the worship of the golden calf, and execute judgment upon the nation without respect of person. To this we may add Num 25:8, where Phinehas interposes with his sword in defence of the honour of the Lord against the shameless prostitution with the daughters of Moab. On these occasions the Levites manifested the spirit which Moses predicates here of all the tribe. By the interposition at Sinai especially, they devoted themselves with such self-denial to the service of the Lord, that the dignity of the priesthood was conferred upon their tribe in consequence. - In Deu 33:10 and Deu 33:11, Moses celebrates this vocation: “They will teach Jacob Thy rights, and Israel Thy law; bring incense to Thy nose, and whole-offering upon Thine altar. Bless, Lord, his strength, and let the work of his hands be well-pleasing to Thee: smite his adversaries and his haters upon the hips, that they may not rise!” The tribe of Levi had received the high and glorious calling to instruct Israel in the rights and commandments of God (Lev 10:11), and to present the sacrifices of the people to the Lord, viz., incense in the holy place, whole-offering in the court. “Whole-offering,” a term applied to the burnt-offering, which is mentioned instar omnium as being the leading sacrifice. The priests alone were actually entrusted with the instruction of the people in the law and the sacrificial worship; but as the rest of the Levites were given them as assistants in their service, this service might very properly be ascribed to the whole tribe; and no greater blessing could be desired for it than that the Lord should give them power to discharge the duties of their office, should accept their service with favour, and make their opponents powerless. The enemies and haters of Levi were not only envious persons, like Korah and his company (Num 16:1), but all opponents of the priests and Levites. The loins are the seat of strength (Psa 69:24; Job 40:16; Job 31:1; 17). This is the only place in which מִן is used before a finite verb, whereas it often stands before the infinitive (e.g., Gen 27:1; Gen 31:29).