Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 33:8 - 33:9

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 33:8 - 33:9

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Deu_33:8-9. And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant.

AS the father of his people, Moses desired to bless them before his death; and the pronouncing of this blessing, in which he was endued with a spirit of prophecy, was the last act of his life. The grounds on which the blessing was bestowed on the tribe of Levi, are so peculiar, that they deserve a distinct consideration. There is manifestly a testimony given them of decided approbation: and from this circumstance commentators have been led to regard the whole of what is spoken in the text as of the same import; and to supply from conjecture what is nowhere noticed in the Mosaic history, or rather to contradict altogether what is plainly noticed. The conduct of Levi both at Massah (which was also called Meribah), and, above thirty-eight years afterwards, at another place called Meribah, was exceeding sinful [Note: Compare Exo_17:7 with Num_20:10-13.]. At the latter place in particular, both Moses and Aaron, as well as the people, offended God; and were for that offence doomed to die in the wilderness, and never to enter into the promised land. Hence it might have been supposed that God would punish the tribe of Levi and the house of Aaron by withdrawing from them the peculiar honours he had conferred upon them; but as on one occasion they had signalized themselves by a very exalted act of obedience, he was pleased to record what they had done, and to make it an occasion of continuing in their line the most distinguished testimonies of his regard. This sense accords with the history; to the very terms of which the text seems specifically to refer [Note: Compare the language in Num_20:13 with the text.].

In the words before us there are two things particularly to be noticed;

1.       The commendation of Levi—

The act for which they were commended was truly laudable—

[When the people throughout the camp of Israel were worshipping the golden calf, Moses, filled with indignation, called the Levites to him, and bade them gird on swords and slay the ringleaders in idolatry throughout the whole camp: and this order they executed immediately, without any respect of persons whatever: they spared not either their nearest relatives or their dearest friends; but slew of the people three thousand men [Note: Exo_32:25-29.].

This would be thought by many to be a savage act, and to deserve censure rather than praise: but it must be remembered, that God was, if I may so speak, their earthly Governor (they lived under a theocracy); and; that they acted in obedience to their supreme Magistrate: nor could cruelty be imputed to them any more than to any person who executes the laws amongst ourselves. They were justified in what they did, precisely as Phinehas was justified in destroying Zimri and Cozbi. The law itself required, that, if their nearest relative only enticed them to idolatry, even where there was no overt act committed, they should instantly give information against him, and with their own hands put him to death [Note: Deu_13:6-10.]. But here was the overt act visible to all; and the civil magistrate was present to sanction their conduct: and therefore they were bound to obey the order given them, and to execute the laws with impartial severity. Hence their conduct is marked in our text as an act of obedience to God, and a “vindication of the quarrel of his covenant [Note: Lev_26:25 with the text.].”]

Nor is it by any means unconnected with our duty as Christians—

[Certainly we have nothing to do with the judgment of zeal, nor any right to take the execution of the laws into our own hands. But we should be zealous for the honour of God; and we ought, in subserviency to the laws, to exert ourselves for the suppression of open impiety and profaneness. More particularly are we bound to serve God ourselves, and to account all personal sacrifices as unworthy of a thought in comparison of our duty to him. Our Lord tells us, not only that “if we love father or mother more than him, we are not worthy of him;” but that we must “hate father and mother, yea, and our own lives also, if we would be his disciples [Note: Mat_10:37 and Luk_14:26.].” Of course this must not be understood positively; (for the Gospel inspires nothing but love, and that even to our bitterest enemies:) but it must be taken comparatively; and be explained as intimating, that we should be so firm and decided in our obedience to him as to be altogether unmoved by the affection or menaces of our dearest friends, or even by the apprehensions of the most cruel death. Our Lord himself has set us an example in this respect: for, when some persons told him that his “mother and his brethren were standing without, and desirous to speak with him, he replied, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, the same is my brother and sister and mother [Note: Mat_12:47-50.].” Thus must love to the Creator be the predominant affection in our hearts; and all inferior considerations must be subordinated to his glory.]

From the commendation given them we proceed to notice,

II.      Their reward—

This may be considered as of two kinds;

1.       Official honour—

[The Urim and Thummim were in some way united to the breast-plate of the high-priest; and by means of them he was enabled to discover the mind and will of God when he went in before the Lord to consult him on any particular occasion. What they were, and how they answered the purpose for which they were made, we are not informed: and therefore it is in vain to waste time in conjectures. Suffice it to say, that the high-priest who wore them was authorized to consult God in all public matters, and enabled to discover his mind and will [Note: Exo_28:29-30.]. Now Moses prays, and indeed prophetically declares, that this high honour should descend to the posterity of Aaron: and that the service of the tabernacle should continue to be administered by the tribe of Levi [Note: Deu_33:11-12.]. This was a most exalted privilege; and, above a thousand years afterwards, it was expressly declared to have been given as a reward of the obedience before referred to [Note: Mal_2:5.]. What a glorious testimony was this, that God will suffer nothing that we do for him to pass unnoticed even here: much less shall it go unrewarded in a future world. Truly “them that honour God, God will honour;” and every one that will serve him shall receive an abundant “recompence of reward” — — —]

2.       Personal benefit—

[The official honour was conferred on the posterity of those whose conduct was approved. But do we suppose that the immediate agents were overlooked, and that no blessing was bestowed on them? We can have no doubt but that they also had a recompence in their own bosoms. The import of the words Urim and Thummim is, Illuminations and Perfections: and these are the special benefits which God will confer on all his faithful servants. There is indeed a manifest connexion between the work and the reward. The work in this present instance was a vigorous maintenance of God’s honour, with an utter disregard of every consideration in comparison of it: and where that is, there will be a clear insight into the divine will, and a growing conformity to the divine image. Where internal rectitude is wanting, the mind will be obscured, and the feet will stumble: but “where the single eye is, there will the whole body be full of light,” and the conversation be regulated agreeably to the commands of God. Light in the mind, and holiness in the life, are mutually influential on each other: each will languish or be advanced, according as the other flourishes or decays: illumination and perfection will be the portion of the decided Christian: but darkness and inconsistency will be the fruit of a temporizing and timid conduct.]

To prevent misapprehension or misconduct, we shall subjoin a word,

1.       Of caution—

[Let not any one imagine that religion countenances a fiery zeal on any occasion whatever. The conduct of the Levites has not been proposed for imitation under the gospel dispensation, any further than is necessary for the maintaining of steadfastness in our allegiance to God. We are not to wage war, except against our spiritual enemies: and even then the weapons of our warfare must not be carnal, but spiritual. In all the opposition which it may be necessary to make to our earthly friends or relatives, we must maintain a holy meekness and patience, not attempting to oppose evil by evil, but to “overcome evil with good.” The civil magistrate indeed may use the sword, and ought to be “a terror to evil-doers;” and all Christians should be ready to aid him in the suppression of iniquity: but in all private and personal concerns our only armour must be that which God himself has provided for us [Note: Eph_6:11-17.], and we must “overcome our enemies by the blood of the Lamb [Note: Rev_12:11.].”]

2.       Of direction—

[Let a concern for God’s honour and your own spiritual advancement be paramount to all other considerations whatever. You must “not account even life itself dear to you, so that you may but finish your course with joy.” It must never be a question with you, whether you will perform any particular duty, however difficult it may be, or whatever self-denial it may require: your mind must be made up to “follow the Lord fully,” and to observe the commandments of God “without preferring one before another, and doing nothing by partiality.” This is the way to entail the blessing of God upon your souls, and to “grow both in knowledge and in grace.” But you must not attempt these things in your own strength: in order that you may be enabled to act thus, you must pray to “the God of peace to sanctify you wholly,” and to “make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ: to whom be glory for ever and ever: Amen [Note: 1Th_5:23; Heb_13:20-21.].”]