“And the LORD spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying, Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession: And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people: Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel. Yet thou shalt see the land before thee; but thou shalt not go thither unto the land which I give the children of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:48-52)
The same day Moses finished reviewing the law and taught Israel his song, God directed him to go up on Mount Nebo, also known as Mount Abarim, located just across the Jordan from Jericho. From the top of the mountain, Moses was to view the land God had promised, then die there. Forty years before, frustrated by Israel’s complaining, on their second visit to Kadesh, Moses had taken the credit for what God would do. Aaron had already died, and now Moses would be killed before Israel entered Canaan so no one could credit Moses with having given the victory. The credit all belongs to God.
“And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them. Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words.
Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. And he was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together.” (Deuteronomy 33:1-5)
Just before their death, it was customary for a father to pronounce a blessing on his children. The blessing was sort of a prophecy as to what would happen to them, based on their attitudes and past actions. As the father figure of Israel, effectively their king, Moses pronounces a blessing on each of the tribes, just as the patriarchs had on their sons.
“Let Reuben live, and not die; and let not his men be few.” (Deuteronomy 3:6)
More than five hundred years before, Jacob’s son Reuben had been caught between Rachel and Leah’s jealousy and become afraid to take a stand. That same desire to please everybody had been learned by his descendants, and characterized their tribe. It would prevent them from ever being real leaders in Israel, despite having plenty of people. They were one of the tribes tribes which claimed the land east of the Jordan..
“And this is the blessing of Judah: 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 an help to him from his enemies. ” (Deuteronomy 3:6)
Judah refused to be caught between Rachel and Leah, simply going his own way, regardless what the others thought, As Moses blessing points out, the tribe of Judah would not be dependent on the others, depending on the Lord to help them. Centuries later they would form a separate nation.
“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. They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar. 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. ” (Deuteronomy 3:7-11)
The tribe of Levi had a very strong commitment to their ideals, even to the point of ignoring their own family relationships to enforce them. God had placed them in the position of teaching the rest of the people God’s laws. The Urim and Thummim were symbolic of their authority from God. There was concern that they stay true to God in their commitment, rather than going after other Gods.
“And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by him; and the LORD shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders.” (Deuteronomy 3:12)
As a Jacob’s youngest and favored son, Benjamin had been protected from a lot of the strife between Rachel and Leah. Like Judah they were inclined to not worry what the other tribes thought, and would side with Judah when the tribes split.
“And of Joseph he said, Blessed of the LORD be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, And for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon, And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills, And for the precious things of the earth and fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush: let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren. His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” (Deuteronomy 3:13-17)
Despite their having sold him as a slave, Joseph had been concerned for his family’s welfare, attaining power and prestige while still staying focused on God. That attitude was learned by his sons, and the tribes descended from him would be blessed accordingly.
“And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand.” (Deuteronomy 3:18-19)
Zebulon would be known for their shipping and fishing skills while Issachar would mine the minerals of the sands and mountains.
“And of Gad he said, Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad; he dwelleth as a lion, and teareth the arm with the crown of the head. 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, he executed the justice of the LORD, and his judgments with Israel.” (Deuteronomy 3:20-21)
As another of the Trans Jordan tribes, Gad would be especially exposed to foreign attackers, although it was the land they had chosen, even before they crossed Jordan.
“And of Dan he said, Dan is a lion's whelp: he shall leap from Bashan.” (Deuteronomy 3:22)
Like a lion’s cub pouncing, Dan would frequently act unexpectedly.
“And of Naphtali he said, O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the LORD: possess thou the west and the south.” (Deuteronomy 3:23)
Naphtali would tend to be contented with what they had, not always wanting more. They were to inherit the south western area.
“And of Asher he said, Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil. Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” (Deuteronomy 3:24-25)
Asher was to have many children and a good relationship with all the other tribes, blessed with plenty, as demonstrated by his dipping his foot in olive oil, as compared to just rubbing some on. They would grow stronger as time passed and not be defeated by small obstacles.