In Deuteronomy 33, Moses addresses the tribes of Israel with words of blessing. The blessing for each tribe is custom-made. God does not offer one-size-fits-all blessings to his people; but, rather, tailors them to their circumstances and need. But what is so striking about these blessings is the ‘bookends’ between which they are sandwiched. They speak of the very essence of the God from whom these blessings flow.
For those of us who are pastors, one of our regular responsibilities is to use scripture to minister to the specific needs of our people. This should never merely be spiritual equivalent of offering placebos to those who are struggling – a kind of psycho-spiritual pick-me-up to make them feel better about themselves. Quite the opposite, the verse or passage we may read to our members should be explained and applied in a way that shows them there is substance in the words offered to them.
One such verse is found in Moses’ final words to the Israelites at the end of Deuteronomy. As he faces the sobering reality that he himself will not enter the Promised Land, but only see it from a distance (Dt 32.48-52), he addresses the tribes of Israel with words of blessing (Dt 33.1-29).
These were poignant words both for the man of God and for the people he had led through the wilderness these past 40 years. Together they had faced all manner of fears and challenges, yet through it all God had been true to his promise and now they were within sight of Canaan. The people were on the verge of entering the land, but Moses could only see it from a distance. Yet, whatever personal sadness he may have felt under the circumstances, Moses could rest in the knowledge that the future of Israel was secure in God’s care.
This comes out quite pointedly in the way Moses blesses the 12 tribes. The blessing for each tribe is custom-made. God does not offer one-size-fits-all blessings to his people; but, rather, tailors them to their circumstances and need. But what is so striking about these blessings is the ‘bookends’ between which they are sandwiched. They speak of the very essence of the God from whom these blessings flow. In that sense the spotlight is not focused so much on the detail of each tribe’s benediction; but the God who gave it – in particular, his love and care for his people Several things are worth noting about how Moses describes God in relation to the blessing he confers on his people (Dt 33.26-27).
The God who is One-of-a-Kind
Moses says of this God, ‘There is no-one like the God of Jeshurun’ (Dt 33.26). This was an unusual way to speak of God, at least from where we stand. However, ‘Jeshurun’ was a kind of pet name God used for his people Israel – one that spoke of the special relationship he enjoyed with them. So for Moses to say there was no-one – no other god – who was like the God of Israel was a reminder to them that he was and is unique.
The name ‘Jeshurun’ meant ‘upright one’. It clearly harked back to Abraham as the Father of Israel who ‘believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness’ (Ge 15.6). His ‘righteousness’ [uprightness] was not earned by his own good works; but imputed by an act of divine grace. In that sense, Yahweh was immediately set apart from all the other gods and demigods of the Ancient Near East. He alone freely provided what was needed for salvation; whereas all his pretended rivals expected it to be earned.