The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.
Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).
Outline of Deuteronomy:
I. Introduction: Moses will explain the law (1:1 – 5)
II. Moses’ First Sermon – a Recounting of the LORD’s Faithfulness (1:6 – 4:43)
III. Introduction to Second Sermon on expositing the Law (4:43 – 49)
IV. Moses’ Second Sermon – an Exposition of the Law Given at Mt. Sinai (5:1 – 26:19)
V. Script for Covenant Renewal Ceremony Once they enter the land (27:1 – 29:1)
VI. Moses’ Third Sermon – a Call to Obedience (29:2 – 30:20)
VII. The Last Acts of Moses (31:1 – 34:12)
Deuteronomy 33 records Moses’ final blessings on the tribes of Israel, just prior to his death (Deuteronomy 34:5). They are expressed using poetry (as in Deuteronomy 32:1-43). It was customary for a father to proclaim a blessing on his children just before his death (see Jacob’s blessing in Genesis 49). Here Moses, acting like a father having guided and disciplined the Israelites for forty years, now bestowed his blessing just prior to his death.
The chapter contains ten separate blessings for the twelve tribes. Interestingly, the tribe of Simeon is missing from these blessings. It could be that Simeon is omitted because his prophecy given by Jacob was that he would be scattered, and this is a prophetic word for Israel being gathered. In other lists, other tribes are omitted, as in Revelation 7:4-7, where Dan is omitted. Dan is a stumbling block, and could be omitted in Revelation 7 to indicate that there will be no more stumbling blocks in Israel in the last days.
In this list the tribe of Joseph is divided into Ephraim and Manasseh (vv. 13–17). Zebulun and Issachar share the same blessing, making a total of twelve tribes. In the various lists of tribes, there are always twelve, but they are accounted differently. Twelve tribes were allotted land, with Joseph’s two sons each being given an allotment, and Levi omitted. In this list, Simeon is omitted, and Joseph’s two sons counted. In the Revelation 7 list, Manasseh is included, and Joseph is counted instead of Ephraim, but Dan is omitted.
Deuteronomy 33 can be outlined as follows: