8. And of Levi he said. This qualification, or modification of the harsher sentence of Jacob was introduced not only for the sake of the tribe of Levi, but rather of the whole people. Jacob had said,
“Simeon and Levi are brethren: instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, my tongue, f313 be not thou united,”
(<014905>Genesis 49:5, 6.)
Assuredly their descendants might have been discouraged, or at least might have been regarded contemptuously, when a patriarch, and the founder of their race, had thus abominated them. God, however, afterwards consecrated this tribe to Himself, so that their sanctity might be communicated to the other tribes; which could not be the case unless their previous opprobrium were removed.
But if any contentious person had objected to this blessing, as if Moses were too much disposed to favor his own tribe, such a suspicion could not justly be harbored against him; first, because he, who now makes such honorable mention of the tribe of Levi, was also the proclaimer of their ignominy; and on many other occasions had not spared his own family, but, whenever it was requisite, had freely inveighed against their vices; and, secondly, he now commends nothing in the Levites except the new dignity, which it had pleased God to confer upon them. On this point, indeed, he ought to have been least of all suspected, inasmuch as he had degraded his own sons, and had exalted the posterity of Aaron alone to the highest place of honor. Now, therefore, he has no other object but that the dignity of the priesthood should not be depreciated on account of the sins of men, and thus their religion itself be despised. For we all know how disposed people are to lay charges against the persons of men which may derogate from the sacredness of their office. Assuredly, if Levi had not been purged from that disgrace which he had incurred, the priesthood would have been altogether deprived of reverence; and thus God’s worship would have been very lightly esteemed. Now, however, when God sanctifies this family to himself, he, as it were, restores it entirely; and hence it is apparent that its punishment was only temporary, since Moses had no intention of retracting what the Spirit had dictated to holy Jacob. Nor does he, indeed, advance anything of himself; but the same Spirit removes the ignominy, which might have disgraced the tribe of Levi, inasmuch as it had only been imposed upon it for a time. We have already seen elsewhere that what Jacob prophesied respecting the dispersion of this family, resulted in its honor; since God posted the Levites in all directions like sentinels, that through their means purity of doctrine might be fostered amongst the whole people. They were, therefore, scattered in such a manner as that their punishment might be productive of benefit. We must, therefore, conclude, that Moses spoke not to gratify his brethren, but made honorable mention of the priesthood, lest those, whom God had chosen as this ministers, should be treated with contempt. And, doubtless, the subsequent grace of their calling should have blotted out the recollection of their previous infamy. Thus Christ, when He would restore Peter to the office of an apostle, cancels his triple denial, by thrice setting him over His sheep. (<432117>John 21:17.)
The address, which follows, must be applied to God; for some translate it improperly, “The Urim and Thummim shall be with thee,” as if Moses were addressing the tribe of Levi. In order, therefore, to avoid ambiguity, it will be well to translate it of Levi, rather than to Levi; and l, lamed, is often used in this sense. Thus, with the purpose of increasing the authenticity of the benediction, Moses addresses God Himself, as if citing Him as a witness, or referring his injunctions to God’s tribunal.
Although in Hebrew the words Urim and Thummim f314 are here used, which were principal parts of the sacred Ephod, I have not hesitated to translate them as common nouns: for it is unquestionable that by these symbols were denoted, the knowledge of the Law which is the only light of our souls, and integrity of life. The sum, however, is that the honor of the priesthood was deposited with Aaron, whom he calls the man of God’s clemency, or, the meek. Jerome, as usual, renders it the holy, but improperly; for f315 dysj, chasid, signifies mild, or humane; and this epithet is constantly applied to the children of God, in order that we may learn to imitate that Father of mercy, who “maketh his sun to rise upon the evil and the good.”
What follows, viz., that God tried him at Massah, I conceive to be added by way of exception;for I have no doubt but that Moses magnifies God’s mercy by this allusion, in that He had dignified Aaron with so great an honor, notwithstanding his having been overcome by impatience, and having fallen. Still it must be remarked that, in reference to the people, the zeal of Aaron is recorded as praiseworthy; as much as to say, that the sin of Aaron flowed from the fountain of virtue, since it was from holy indignation that he fell into the passion of impatience, when he could not endure that the people should rebel against God. Unless perhaps it be preferred to understand these words by way of apostrophe to the people, “Thoudidst try, thou didst provoke him to contention, or didst quarrel with him.” But the context will run better, if we understand that God then had a controversy with Aaron; inasmuch as, although overcome by the trial, he still gave no despicable proof of his piety, and from that time forward did not cease to execute his office with sedulity.
9. Who said unto his father and his mother. In the person of Aaron an example is set before all the Levites for their imitation. And, first, he is said to have renounced his own flesh and blood, in order that he might be more disencumbered for obeying God; and in fact it is necessary that all the pastors of the Church should put off their earthly affections, which would otherwise often keep them back from devoting themselves entirely to God. Aaron, then, is said to have bid farewell to all his family, that he might be at liberty to lay himself out for God. Christ now requires the same thing of His disciples, that sons should forget their fathers, and fathers their sons, and husbands their wives, lest anything should retard their course, and prevent them from earnestly advancing through life and death to the end to which they are called. (<401037>Matthew 10:37.)
Moses afterwards, by using the plural number, embraces the whole Levitical order; and hence we may infer that what had preceded is not to be confined in its application to a single individual. But when he says that they “guarded (custodisse) the word of God, and kept his covenant,” he does not refer to mere ordinary obedience, but to the peculiar care of preserving that which was intrusted to their charge. It is true that in like manner all believers are said to keep the Law, when they zealously devote themselves to live a holy life; but special allusion is here made to the office of teaching. The Levites, therefore, are called guardians of the Law, and keepers of it, as being fu>lakev, since with them was deposited the treasure of Divine instruction, as is more clearly set forth in the next verse, “They shall teach Jacob, etc.” If any should prefer that this observing of the Law should be understood of their life and habits, as though it were said, that the Levites should surpass others in the examples they gave, I do not contend the point, though it seems to me that the second clause is explanatory, and that it more familiarly sets forth what was spoken with some little obscurity, pointing out the way in which the Law is to be observed, viz., by their being the teachers and masters of the people. We must, however, remark the method they are to adopt in teaching; for they are not permitted to introduce their own inventions, or to frame a rule of life out of their own heads; but they are commanded to seek in the Law itself what they are to teach, and to interpret it honestly and faithfully. And this condition was inserted in order that whosoever should desire to be successors in the honor should be mindful of their vocation, and faithfully devote themselves to the office of teaching. Thus, when in a corrupt state of the Church, priests, who had nothing of this sort about them, paraded their mere empty title; their silly vaunt is refuted by Malachi:
“Mycovenant (he says) was with Levi of life and peace;…. for the law of truth was in his mouth, and the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, but ye have corrupted my covenant,”(<390205>Malachi 2:5, 6, 7, 8.)
Let us learn, then, from this passage, that whosoever claims for himself the primacy in the Church must be repudiated, unless he manifests himself to be a faithful teacher.
The third part of the priest’s office follows, viz., that he should apply himself to the performance of the religious services; for God had disencumbered them from the labors of agriculture and other earthly business, that they might be more entirely at liberty for the duties of teaching and sacrifice; and, although this latter might appear to be but an humble occupation, still, if we regard it aright, it was no common honor that they should be mediators and intercessors for the reconciliation of the people to God; for even the very least of the Levites had something to do with making atonement.
Under the words “incense and whole burnt-sacrifice,” the entire legal service is comprehended; and the incense is said to be put before the nose of God; f316 because the odor of this offering was grateful, and, as it were, sweet-smelling to Him, as we have elsewhere seen.
11.Bless, Lord, his substance. This supplication appears to have been intended tacitly to provide against the poverty which awaited the Levites, if God had not supplied them with food from some other source besides the produce of the soil; for they were deprived of a share in the general inheritance, and God alone was their property. Lest, therefore, their condition should be painful to them, Moses offers them consolation, and bids them expect from God abundance for their support, whilst he promises that His blessing shall stand them in stead of the most redundant produce; as it is said in <19D215>Psalm 132:15, “I will abundantly bless her provision, and satisfy her priestsf317with bread.”
What follows, that “thework of his hands may be acceptable to God,” may be either explained generally of the labor which is bestowed for the purpose of obtaining food, or of the service and ministry of the tabernacle; but, inasmuch as God engaged the Levites in sacred occupations, it seems indirectly to promise them that such exercises would be no less profitable to them than as if they were altogether occupied in the pursuit of gain. It was allowable for the rest to employ their industry for the advancement of their domestic interests, whilst the Levites, in order properly to perform their duties, were obliged to neglect their private affairs. Lest, then, they should be afraid of destitution, Moses reminds them that they might expect from God an earthly reward also for their spiritual labors.
The third point appears to be purposely introduced, that “God would smite through or transfix their enemies,” because pious teachers are very much exposed to envy, and ill-will, and persecution; for the complaint which is made by Jeremiah, (<241510>Jeremiah 15:10,) that he was “aman of strife,” is applicable to all the prophets and ministers of God; since the world can hardly bear its affections to be slain by the spiritual sword of God’s word, and hence many contentions arise. Besides, Satan, in order to render their: doctrine contemptible, does not cease to harass them by whatever means he can, and to arm his bands to war against them; so that the pastors of the Church have need of God’s special aid. This point, then, is peculiarly worthy of observation that, although many adversaries always threaten God’s servants, besiege them, provoke them to conflict, in a word, are always plotting their destruction, still God’s succor will be at hand, whereby they may be rendered invincible; as it was said to Jeremiah,
“They shall fight against thee,
but they shall not prevail against thee.” (<240119>Jeremiah 1:19.)
The words I have translated “lest they rise again,” others render “lestthey rise against them;”and, although I do not reject this, still it seems to be less appropriate; for Moses did not wish to exempt the Levites from the annoyances of combat, but only to promise them victory, inasmuch as God would overwhelm and destroy their enemies. f318
12.And of Benjamin he said. It is probable that Moses alludes to the inheritance which fell to the lot of the children of Benjamin; for the part of Jerusalem in which the temple stood was contained in it. Since, therefore, God assigned them a dwelling-place, in which He in a manner protected them, and cherished them beneath His wings, they are not without reason called His beloved, for this was no ordinary pledge of His love To “dwell upon God,” f319 and “between his shoulders,”is equivalent to reposing upon Him; a similitude taken from fathers who carry their children whilst yet they are small and tender. Others extract a different meaning, viz., that God would dwell upon the shoulders of Benjamin; but this is very unnatural. f320
13.And of Joseph he said. Moses repeats some portions of the blessing of Jacob; nor with respect to any other tribe does he approach so closely to the words of the Patriarch. And, although the family of Joseph was already divided into two tribes or nations, still he begins by the head itself, and at the conclusion declares that what had been given to their fathers pertains to Ephraim and Manasseh. First, he celebrates the exceeding fertility of the land, in which the descendants of Joseph were to dwell; and then ratifies his testimony by the authority of God. He promises them, then, that their land shall be fertile, from the best treasures of heaven; for dgm, meged, signifies whatever is best and most precious. I do not, therefore, approve of their translation, who render it fruits, although I know not whether Moses speaks of the excellency of the climate, or commends the beneficence of God; the latter, however, accords best with the context, in which he makes mention of the external means of fertility, viz., the dew, and the deep, by which word I understand the depth of the soil itself. In the next verse I admit that by the word dgm, meged, the choicest fruits are indicated, but without any change of its meaning. Others render it delicacies: others sweet fruits, on account of the peculiar excellency of the fruits. But I do not see why some translate the word çrg, geresh, “influence.” It literally means thrusting out; and is used metaphorically for the fruit, which arises and breaks forth from the earth. But it is not very clear to me what fruits he speaks of respectively as “of the sun, and the moon;” for I cannot tell whether there are any grounds for assigning, as some do, to the sun the produce which springs from seed and the vintage; and to the moon, cucumbers and gourds; nor do I attempt to decide whether their idea is more correct who suppose the latter to be flowers or fruits which appear every month.
15. And for the chief things of the ancient mountains. In these words he shows that no part of the land would be barren. We know that the tops of mountains are generally and uncultivated, or at any rate bear nothing but trees that have no fruit. But Moses affirms that even there also there shall be the richest produce, for which reason, at least in my opinion, he calls the mountains ancient, and the hills lasting, as if being very highly renowned; for their antiquity is not praised, as if they were created before the rest of the world, but these mountains are honorably distinguished as the first-born, because God’s blessing eminently rests upon them. Thus in the blessing of Jacob it is said, “untothe utmost bound of the everlasting hills,” as much as to say, that no corner of these most celebrated mountains should be devoid of fertility. (<014926>Genesis 49:26.)
In the next verse he extends generally to the whole land what he had said of the mountains.
Those are wide of the meaning of Moses, who translate what follows: “Onaccount of the good-will of the dweller in the bush the blessing shall come;” and his rendering is altogether barbarous who gives it, “On account of the piety,” etc. My opinion is that the word ˆwxr, retzon, is in the nominative case; for it is quite in accordance with the context that the “favor of God would come upon the head of Joseph;”for, after Moses had magnified His bounty, he now points out its source or cause, viz., that this extraordinary fertility was the result of God’s gratuitous favor. The words of Jacob, “by the God of thy father,” and “bythe Almighty,” exactly correspond with these; where also I have explained why Joseph was called a Nazarene among his brethren. f321
God is called “the dweller in the bush” by periphrasis, with reference to the vision which was presented to Moses on Mount Sinai; for God then appeared a second time as the Redeemer and Father of His people; after having made His covenant with Abraham and Jacob. And this serves by way of confirmation; as if it were said, that the same God who had formerly blessed Joseph by the mouth of His servant Jacob, now repeated the same prophecy, in order to give fuller assurance of its truth.