Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Blessing.
The Fathers, St. Augustine, (q. 56,) &c., explain this of the Christian Church, rather than of the Synagogue. (Theodoret)
--- Man of God. A title given to a prophet, 1 Kings ii. 27., and ix. 6. The prophets often speak of things to come,
as if they were past, as we have seen in the conduct of Balaam, Numbers xxiv. 3. Moses here delivers his last testament, and
speaks as one no longer in the world, so that there is no reason to affirm that this chapter has been added by another hand;
(Calmet) though Kennicott thinks it probable. He suggests, that the first verses of this blessing have been corrupted in the
Hebrew and should be translated: 2. He, Jehovah, came from Sinai, and he arose upon them from Seir; (Judges v. 4.)
3. He shone forth from Mount Pharan, and he came from Meriba-Cadesh. (Numbers xx. 1. 13.) From his right hand a fire
shone forth upon them. 4. Truly he loved the people, and he blessed all his saints. 5. For they fell down at
his feet, and they received of his words. 6. He commanded us a law, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. 7.
And He became king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were assembled, together with the tribes of Israel. See (Dis.
i. p. 423,) the arguments which he produces in favour of this version. (Haydock)
Ver. 2. Pharan.
Habacuc iii. 3, mentions this apparition. See also Psalm lxvii. 9. --- Saints. God was accompanied by legions of angels,
when he delivered the law to the Israelites, who are styled a nation of saints, Numbers xvi. 3. Septuagint, "he hastened from
Mount Pharan, with ten thousands to Cades. At his right hand are his angels attending." (Haydock) --- Kodesh does not
mean saints, but holiness, or the city of Cades; and the preceding word, which Protestants translate, with ten thousands,
more probably refers to another title of the city, as it is specified Meriba-Cadesh, chap. xxxii. 51., and Ezechiel xlviii.
28. (Kennicott) --- Law. Chaldean, "from the midst of the fire he has given us a law, written with his own hand." We
may translate, "He hath shone from Mount Pharan, and multitudes accompanied him. The Holy One, who hath in his hand fire and
the law." See Isaias vi. 3. God conducted his people, like a victorious general, through the wilderness, frequently appearing
to them to strike terror into the rebellious. (Calmet) --- When he first descended upon Sinai, his glory shone on Pharan and
Seir, as it were in its progress thither. (Menochius) --- The law is styled fiery, not only because it was given
from the midst of flames, but also because it was to be put in execution with the utmost rigour. (Haydock) --- But doth
is Chaldean, and no where else used for the law in the books written before the captivity, nor is it acknowledged by
the Septuagint, Syriac, &c. Perhaps it was originally aur, as it is in the Samaritan version, "shone forth,"
conformably to a similar passage, Habacuc iii. 4. "His brightness was as the sun, horns, or rather splendours (issuing
forth) from his hand," &c. (Kennicott)
Ver. 3. People,
(populos.) God loves and watches over all, but particularly (Calmet) over the nation which he has chosen. (Chaldean)
See Wisdom iii. 1., and Isaias xlix. 16. --- Doctrine. It was formerly the custom for disciples to sit at their master's
feet, (Acts xxii. 3,) as it is still in the eastern countries. (Bellon. iii. 12.) Septuagint, "and these are under thee;"
(Haydock) subject to thy orders. (Calmet) --- Hebrew is here extremely confused: "Yea, he loved the people; all his saints
are in thy hand, and they eat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words." Moses here addresses
the Lord. How could he say therefore, all his, &c.? whose saints, and in whose hand? The Vulgate and Chaldean
have not the same difficulty, as they read, in his hand, bidu. But the Syriac has, "and he blessed all his saints."
Boroc is not very unlike the present Hebrew bidoc, (Kennicott) r and d being frequently mistaken
for each other, and i as often neglected by the Hebrew copyists. (Haydock) --- The Samaritan version confirms this
alteration; and the text also has the v, and, at the beginning, which makes the whole to be clearly connected, particularly
if we allow that c, which stands for thy, has been substituted for v, his, in the following words, thy
feet and thy words, which ought to be his, as all the context speaks of God in the third person. This is
agreeable to the Vulgate and to the Septuagint also, in the last instance. In the former, the Hebrew is printed thy foot,
though the Samaritan and several manuscripts read thy feet. Instead of yissa, "he shall receive," (Haydock)
the plural ought to be substituted, v being omitted both at the beginning and end, as it is in the name of Benaihu,
1 Paralipomenon xi. 22. See 2 Kings xxiii. 20. The Samaritan, Syriac, and Arabic, read and they received, (Kennicott)
and the Vulgate, they shall receive. The Septuagint seem to refer this to Moses, "And Moses received from his words,
the law which he enjoined to us." (Haydock) --- That Moses should speak of himself, in this manner, seems very unaccountable,
and therefore a word may perhaps have crept in, on account of its resemblance with the following term, Mursse. If it
has not, Moses must have assumed the title of king, (ver. 5,) which he seems nevertheless to have disclaimed; (chap.
xvii. 14,) and there was none in Israel before Saul, 1 Kings viii. 7. (Kennicott) --- We may, however, suppose that he puts
these words in the mouths of the people, who would repeat this blessing after he was dead, and mention with gratitude, how
Moses had delivered to them so excellent a law, and administered the affairs of state with all the power and dignity of a
Ver. 4. Moses.
He expresses himself as if the people were speaking. The change of persons is very frequent in this discourse. --- Inheritance.
So the psalmist (Psalm cxviii. 111,) says, I have purchased thy testimonies for an inheritance for ever. (Calmet)
Ver. 5. He
shall, &c. Erit rex, may perhaps be as well rendered indefinitely, "There shall be a king;" or, with the Septuagint,
"And there shall be over the beloved a ruler," as (Haydock) some understand this of Moses, others of Saul, though it most
probably refers to God himself, who gave the law, and was acknowledged, in the most solemn manner, for the king of Israel.
--- Right. Hebrew yishurun, a term which St. Jerome translates, with the Septuagint, (Calmet) chap. xxxii. 15,
the beloved, as it is supposed to be a diminutive of Israel, to express greater tenderness. Thus Cicero called his
daughter Tulliola. (Haydock)
Ver. 6. Number.
This is conformable to the prophecy of Jacob, who deprived Ruben of his birth-right, on account of incest. He is even treated
with indulgence, in being permitted to form one of the tribes. Yet some copies of the Septuagint, Syriac, (Theodoret q. 42,)
and many interpreters, take this in a quite contrary sense, "let him be numerous, or not few;" the negation being supplied
from the former part of the verse, which is not unusual in Hebrew. See Genesis ii. 6., Psalm ix. 19., and Proverbs xxxi. 1,
&c. The tribe of Ruben was in effect more numerous than those of Gad, Joseph, or Benjamin. Simeon receives no blessing,
probably on account of the crimes for which so many of that tribe were exterminated, (Numbers i. 23., and xxvi. 14.; Calmet,)
and particularly Zambri, one of the chief princes, Numbers xxv. (Worthington) --- But Grabe's Septuagint applies to Simeon
what the rest attribute to Ruben. "And let Simeon be many in number." No solid reason can be given why he should be passed
over entirely, as, notwithstanding the infidelity of some of his children, and his own cruelty in not endeavouring to rescue
Joseph, &c., he was to form a tribe among his brethren. (Haydock) --- Some, therefore, imagine that he was to share in
the blessings of Ruben, or of Levi, (with whom he is joined by Jacob, Genesis xlix. 5,) or of Juda, near whom he had his allotment
of the promised land. Part of the tribe of Simeon afterwards dwelt in the territories of Juda, Josue xix. 1., 1 Paralipomenon
iv. 42., and Judges i. 3. But (Calmet) it is more likely that the name has been omitted or changed in the original, by the
mistake of some early transcriber, in like manner as the tribe of Manasses, included in that of Joseph, seems to have
been placed for that of Dan, which otherwise would be omitted, Apocalypse vii. 6, 8. Some have recourse to a mystery in both
these places. (Haydock)
Ver. 7. Of
Juda, "when he goes to war, and bring him back in peace to his people." (Onkelos) --- The general made a solemn prayer
on such occasions; and the Psalm xix. was composed, and is still used, to draw down God's blessing in times of war. Moses
thus clearly insinuates that the tribe of Juda should obtain the sovereign authority, though it would not be without opposition,
that Israel would submit to David. He begs that God would remove all obstacles. This tribe was always distinguished for its
valour. It was directed by God to attack the Chanaanites, under Othoniel, Judges i. 2. But its chief glory appeared under
the reigns of David and Solomon. The other tribes were scarcely a match for the single tribe of Juda. (Calmet) --- And
he, God. (Menochius) --- If God be for us, who is against us? (Romans viii. 31.) (Haydock)
Ver. 8. Holy
man. Aaron and his successors in the priesthood. (Challoner) --- They were adorned with the Urim and Thummim, which are
here rendered perfection and doctrine. (Calmet) --- Septuagint, "give to Levi his insignia, (délous) and his
truth, to the holy man, the same whom they tried at the temptation, they spoke ill of him at the waters," &c. It was in
consequence of the seditious conduct of the Israelites that the two brothers betrayed a want of confidence in God, and were
excluded from the land of promise, as Moses often reminds them, chap. iii. 26. (Haydock) --- Temptation. The place
which goes by this name is at Raphidim, near Horeb, Exodus xvii. 6. But the word here probably includes all the other places,
where the Hebrews tempted God, and particularly that, where so holy a man as Aaron was permitted to fall. (Calmet) (Numbers
xx. 12.) --- The priesthood is the peculiar blessing and honour of the tribe of Levi. (Menochius)
Ver. 9. Who
hath said, &c. It is the duty of the priestly tribe to prefer God's honour and service before all considerations of
flesh and blood: in such manner as to behave as strangers to their nearest akin, when these would withdraw them from the business
of their calling. (Challoner) --- The Levites shewed no mercy to such of their brethren as had adored the golden calf, Exodus
xxxii. 28, 29. The Chaldean, and many able interpreters, consider them here as judges, who must not be biased in passing sentence,
by any natural affection. (Vatable) --- Others think they must not assist at the funerals of their relations, Leviticus xxi.
10. (Calmet) --- But the two former opinions seem much better. (Haydock) --- Covenant. Priests ought to be more exemplary
in their conduct than other men. (Worthington) --- It is their duty also to instruct others, and to inculcate the observance
of the law, as Hebrew and Septuagint more clearly specify. "They shall teach thy judgments to Jacob, and thy law to Israel."
(Haydock) --- They were appointed judges (chap. xvii. 8., and xix. 17,) and monitors, Osee iv. 6., &c.
Ver. 10. Wrath.
He seems to allude to the action of Aaron, Numbers xvi. 46. (Calmet) --- Hebrew has, "incense before thee," (Haydock) as it
is explained by the Chaldean, Septuagint, &c. --- Holocaust, of flour, &c., calil; that of beasts was
See chap. xiii. 16. (Calmet)
Ver. 11. Rise.
The martial prowess of the Machabees, who were of this tribe, was conspicuous. (Menochius) --- As the Levites had no portion
with the rest, but were to live by tithes, &c., Moses begs that God would bless their labours, (Calmet) and suffer none
to defraud them of their right. (Haydock)
Ver. 12. Shall
dwell, &c. This seems to allude to the temple being built in the confines of the tribe of Benjamin, (Challoner) on
the northern part of Jerusalem. The southern division of the city was in the territory of Juda; and hence Jerusalem is attributed
to both, Josue xv. 63., and Judges i. 21. (Calmet) --- He rest. The temple was situated on Mount Moria, which was higher
than the rest of the city, as the head is above the shoulders. (Menochius) --- Chaldean, "The majesty of the Lord shall
dwell in his land." This was the sure ground of confidence to Benjamin. As long as God continued with his people, they had
nothing to fear, no more than in a bride-chamber, being under the protection of the most High. (Haydock) --- As Benjamin had
been the object of his father's love, so God chose the first king out of his tribe; (Menochius) and by protecting his temple
in a more particular manner, secured him. (Worthington)
Ver. 13. Fruits.
Hebrew, "for the precious things of heaven, for the dew," &c., so also it has precious, ver. 14, &c.
Ver. 14. Moon;
both those which are annual, as wheat, and those which come every month. (Chaldean) The sun and moon greatly contribute to
nourish (Haydock) and to bring fruit to maturity. (Pliny, [Natural History?] ii. 100. (Calmet) --- Both the tribes of Ephraim
and of Manasses inhabited a fertile region. (Menochius)
Ver. 15. Everlasting
hills. Chaldean, "which never fail" to produce an abundant crop. (Haydock) --- The hills of the Israelites were very productive.
But when they rebelled against their God, in very deed the hills were liars, and yielded little or nothing, Jeremias
Ver. 16. Thereof,
whatever the earth can produce, particularly wheat, &c. The fruits of heaven, (ver. 13,) may denote such as grew
on trees. (Calmet) --- Bush; God, who appeared to Moses. (Haydock) --- Nazarite. See the note on Genesis xlix.
26. (Challoner) --- Joseph was distinguished by God, by his father, and by the king of Egypt, in a particular manner.
The high priest was the Nasir in the house of God, (Leviticus xxi. 12,) as Joseph ws the chief officer, at the court
of Pharao. The eastern kings still give this title to their prime minister. (Chardin. Perse. T. ii. 5, p. 136.)
Ver. 17. Bullock,
or cow. Shor, denotes all the species, chap. xv. 19. --- Firstling, is likewise often put for the most excellent.
Thus "his beauty, like the finest bullock." The Egyptians had a high esteem for bulls; and Elian (ii. 10,) informs us that
Mnevis, one of their kings, ordered the people to adore the bull, as the most beautiful of animals. Moses points at the kingdom
of Israel, which was chiefly governed by the tribe of Ephraim; or perhaps he alludes to Josue, (Calmet) who was to succeed
him, and to conquer the nations on the other side of the Jordan, with so much resolution and ability. (Haydock) --- Rhinoceros,
as stronger and more penetrating. See Numbers xxxii. 22. (Calmet) --- Horns, designate strength and beauty, Psalm lxxiv.
(Menochius) --- Push, alluding to the manner in which bulls attack their opponents, and hurl them into the air, sparsâ ad
pugnam proludit arenâ.
(Georg. iii.) (Calmet) --- Some of the Fathers have explained this passage of Jesus Christ, the first-born of the creation,
who is possessed of all the treasures of wisdom (Haydock) and beauty, whose strength drew all things to himself, after he
had lifted up the nations on his cross, as it were with horns, and rescued them from the power of the devil. (St. Augustine,
q. ult.[last]) (Calmet) --- Manasses. To these two tribes, the blessings of their father, Joseph, belong; and their
multitudes shall render them very formidable to the nations around them, as long as they obey their God. (Haydock) --- The
younger brother, Ephraim, is preferred before the elder, Genesis xlviii. (Worthington)
Ver. 18. Out
to sea. (Calmet) --- The territory of Zabulon had the Mediterranean sea on the west, and the lake of Tiberias, into which
the Jordan flowed, on the east. (Haydock) --- By the advantages of their situation, and by the example of the Tyrians, the
people were induced to engage in commerce, and to study the art of navigation. --- Tabernacles. Issachar preferred
staying at home to cultivate his rich soil, Genesis xlix. 13. (Calmet)
Ver. 19. Mountain.
Full of gratitude to God, who has bestowed such advantages upon them, these tribes shall go with zeal to the place which the
Lord shall choose, (Haydock) and invite the people, on the road, to go along with them, to offer sacrifice. (Menochius) ---
Perhaps this may allude also to their conduct in the war against Jabin, in which they were particularly active, appointing
the place of rendezvous at Mount Thabor, where, though the Scripture be silent, it is probable they would offer a sacrifice
of thanks, as they had the prophetess, Debora, along with them, (Calmet) in like manner as Samuel immolated a calf at Bethlehem,
(1 Kings xvi.) and Elias a bullock on Mount Carmel, 3 Kings xviii. (Haydock) See 1 Kings xiii. 12. --- Sands. This
blessing chiefly regarded Zabulon, who received the riches of the sea by commerce, bringing home the gold dust which is found
among the sand of some rivers. The river Belus, near Ptolemais, was particularly famous for a sort of sand, of which glass
was made. Josephus (Jewish Wars ii. 17,) says, that near the tomb of Memnon, a bed of such sand is found, about 100 cubits
long, which, though many vessels have been filled from it, has never been exhausted. See Pliny, [Natural History?] v. 19.,
and Strabo, xvi. --- The discovery of glass is supposed to have been the effect of chance; some merchants having placed a
nitrous stone under their pot, as soon as it grew hot, and mixed with the sand, which is found near the shore of Tyre, a transparent
substance was formed, which the Greeks called ualos, "glass," perhaps in imitation of the Hebrew éul, or "sand," of which it was chiefly
composed. (Calmet) --- The Septuagint render this verse, "They shall destroy the nations, and you shall call thither, and
there you shall sacrifice,....because the riches of the sea shall suckle thee, and the merchandise of those who inhabit the
sea shore." These tribes greatly contributed to overthrow the army of Sisara beside the torrent of Cisson, which divides their
territories, Judges iv., and v. (Haydock)
Ver. 20. Breadth.
The tribe of Gad, &c., slew or drove the Agarites from their neighbourhood, and seized their country, 1 Paralipomenon
v. 18, 22. Hebrew, Septuagint, and Chaldean, "Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad," which was verified in Jephte, Josue xi. 33.
Ver. 21. He
saw, &c. The pre-eminence of the tribe of Gad, to which this alludes, was their having the lawgiver, Moses, buried
in their borders; though the particular place was not known. (Challoner) --- Protestants, "and he provided the first part
for himself; because there, in a portion of the lawgiver, was he seated, and he came with the heads of the people,"
&c. Septuagint, "And he saw his first-fruits," (the first conquered country of Sehon and of Og) because there the land
of the princes was divided, the leaders of the people being assembled, or who were assembled with the leaders. (Haydock)
--- Gad and the two other tribes petitioned for that part of the country, and obtained their request of Moses, Numbers xxxii.
27. --- Israel. This is generally understood of Moses; but it may be explained of the tribe of Gad, which complied
with the conditions imposed on him, and on his brethren, by the Lord, when he allotted the land of Galaad to them, chap. iii.
18. (Calmet) --- Hebrew, "he executed the justice of the Lord," &c. Septuagint, "the Lord did justice and his judgment
with Israel," approving his choice. (Haydock)
Ver. 22. Basan.
As the Jordan rushes with impetuosity (Haydock) from Lais, which was seized by some of this tribe; (Judges xviii.) and as
a lion falls on its prey from the mountains of Basan, so shall this tribe give birth to Samson, who was stronger than a lion,
(Calmet) and terribly harassed the Philistines, Judges xiv. 5, 14, &c. When the Danites found themselves straitened for
room, they sent a colony, (Haydock) which took possession of Lais, and called it after their own name: one of the fountains
of the Jordan was in this place, the other was called Jor, (Menochius) though the river may have a more distant and obscure
source in the lake of Phiala, whence Josephus says (Haydock) it runs by a subterraneous passage, to a fountain of Dan. As
it then takes its course through the promised land, of which it is the principal river, Dan may thus be said to supply waters
abundantly for the whole country. (Menochius) --- But the Hebrew and Septuagint have, "he shall leap from Basan," which must
be understood of the lion, since the territory of Dan was very remote from that mountain. (Haydock)
Ver. 23. The
sea. The lake of Genesareth. (Challoner) --- South. That lake forms the southern extremity of the tribe of Nephthali.
(Haydock) --- The Mediterranean, and the countries south of Palestine, are commonly understood in this manner, but they cannot
be understood here. (Calmet) --- By means of their neighbours of Tyre and Sidon, (Menochius) and of Zabulon, who lay on the
west, (Haydock) they would be supplied with all the luxuries of the sea and of the south. (Menochius)
Ver. 24. Blessed.
He alludes to the name of Aser, which has this signification. (Haydock) --- This tribe had been upon the increase in
the desert, (Calmet) and now comprised 53,000 warriors. (Haydock) --- The province of Galilee, where Aser dwelt, was one of
the most fertile of all Chanaan, and noted for abundance of oil, Genesis xlix. 20. (Josephus, Jewish Wars iii. 2., and ii.
22.) (Calmet) --- Oil. So Job (xxix. 6,) says, When I washed my feet with butter. (Menochius)
Ver. 25. Iron
and brass, to denote the warlike disposition of this tribe. Goliah, and the heroes before Troy, wore boots of brass, 1
Kings xvii. 6. (Homer) --- The greatest part of the army of Antiochus had even golden nails in their shoe soles, (Val. Max.)
while the Romans contented themselves with iron. (Josephus, Jewish Wars vii. 3.) --- But this custom was not peculiar to the
soldiers. People of all descriptions did the like, either for ornament, or to make their sandals last longer. Empedocles wore
brass at the bottom of his sandals; (Laert. viii.) and as one of them was thrown out from the top of Mount Etna, it was discovered
that he had destroyed himself in that volcano, to make people suppose (Calmet) that he was a god, and had gone up to heaven.
(Haydock) --- St. Clement of Alexandria (Pœd. ii.) complains, that some wore such gaudy ornaments in his days. (Calmet)
--- This passage is interpreted in a figurative sense by some, as if Aser would trample under his feet and despise the instruments
of war, (Jansenius) and would turn those metals to the purposes of agriculture. Others render the Hebrew, "Thy bars shall
be of iron and brass, and thy reputation (strength, repose, or sorrow,) shall endure as long as thy life; or May they," &c.,
in the form of a wish. Moses desires that Aser may be secure against his enemies, as if he had a mind to insinuate, that this
tribe would be led captive among the first by Teglathphalasar, 4 Kings xv. 29. Many of the cities of this tribe were strongly
fortified. (Josephus) --- If we adopt thy sorrow shall, &c., we must observe, that the neighbourhood of Phœnicians
exposed the people to continual incursions, (Calmet) and the king of Assyria at last came to complete their ruin. (Haydock)
Ver. 26. Rightest,
(rectissimi.) Hebrew yeshurun, "the beloved," Israel. (Haydock) --- Thither, as messengers. Hebrew, "The
clouds are in his elevation," like so many steps to his throne. Who makest the clouds thy chariot, (ascensum tuum)
who walkest upon the wings of the winds, Psalm ciii. 3. (Calmet) --- Septuagint, "He is the great ornament of the firmament."
None is like to him in power and majesty. (Haydock)
Ver. 27. Underneath
are the everlasting arms. Though the dwelling of God be above in heaven, his arms are always stretched out to help us
here below. (Challoner) --- Hebrew, "The eternal God is thy refuge; or, From eternity is the abode of God, or in
fine, the protection of the Lord is before, and his eternal arms underneath;" so that nothing can hurt you. (Calmet)
Ver. 28. Alone,
without standing in need of the assistance of any other but God. See Numbers xxiii. 9. (Haydock) --- Some of the ancient Germans
would have no communication with any other nation; and they depopulated the country around, to keep all at a distance. (Calmet)
--- The Chinese seem to be at present nearly of the same disposition, as well as those who inhabit Japan, &c. --- The
eye of Jacob. His posterity, by whom he sees the transactions of the world. (Haydock) --- Hebrew the fountain,
is taken in the same sense. The country which his descendants enjoyed, was well watered with springs, Numbers xxiv. 7. ---
Dew, it will be so abundant. Chaldean, The heavens will drop down dew, chap. xxxii. 2.
Ver. 29. Deny
thee. Break their word and most solemn treaties. Hebrew, "shall lie unto thee," which will afford thee a just reason to
seize their effects. (Haydock) --- Some translate, "the efforts of thy enemies shall be frustrated." --- Necks. Thus
Josue ordered the five kings to be treated, (Josue x. 24,) and Tamerlane used Bajazet as a footstool, when he had to mount
his horse. (Calmet) --- This fierce Tartarian conqueror, the enemy of the Christian name, humbled the pride of the Turkish
emperor, by confining him in a cage of iron, A.D. 1403. (Haydock)