Deuteronomy 33 is a wonderful piece of Hebrew poetry in which Moses addresses each one of the twelve tribes of Israel and gives each one a particular blessing, a blessing to sustain them as they experienced Canaan’s great benefits and bounty. After devoting a separate stanza to each tribe he concludes with a summary of the entire faith and hope of Israel concentrated and encapsualted in a few short words. In verses 24 - 29 we have words that are not only beautiful, but also words of real brevity and simplicity that sum up the help and hope experieced by Moses himself from his own relationship with God and also that help that he would pass on in final blessing to the people. This is Moses’ final leave-taking, his last will and testament, his fianl blessing on the twelve tribes of Israel as the leader of the people.
1. God as our Refuge.
Listen to the testimony of this great man of God :
The eternal God is your refuge ...
The word "refuge" here normally refers to the den or lair of a wild animal of the desert, and for that animal it is a place of protection :
- protection from the heat of the sun;
- protection from the sudden flash floods of the desert;
- protection from the constant dangers of other predators.
It was a haven. It is what we would call a home.
For many years Moses was homeless. He was out in the desert trying to bring a multitude of people safely through to the land of Canaan. That desert was no picnic area :
- with its searing heat in the day time;
- and its freezing temperatures at night.
Now, where could Moses find a home in the desert? Well, he didn’t find a place, he found a Person. A Person who was everything to him that we would describe as home being to us. Jehovah, the God of Israel, was his home. Moses is saying that God was his dwelling place, his home, his protection, his haven, his refuge.
Now, how was this true? Well, the presence of God in the camp of Israel was revealed :
- by a cloud by day;
- and a pillar of fire by night.
And that wasn’t to provide some sort of celestial firework display! No, that was intensely practical :
- the cloud kept away the sweltering heat of the sun during the day;
the pillar of fire provided warmth at night from the freezing cold.
God was ministering to His people. Where did Moses find food and water for such an enormous number of people? Well, God led then to different oases and God miraculously brought streams of water out of the rock both at the beginning of the journey and at the end of the journey to make it clear that He was the One who provided for them every step of the way. God gave then the essentials of life. He caused a strange substance to appear in the morning when the dew dried. It tasted like wafers and honey. The people called it manna. They lived on it for forty years. Obviously it was more nutritional than any health pills or vitamins that we have today. It must have been good stuff! God was to Moses a refuge - a place where all needs are met.
What is even more amazing is that this experience of God was not for a day or week or month or even a year. It spanned the end of one generation and the beginning of another. In fact, God was the same refuge from one generation to the next. He was the one reality that lasted beyond death, and Moses had experienced more of death than most. If there were two million people coming out of Egypt, and one generation died in the desert and another grew up to take its place, then in the space of almost forty years Moses must have seen at least eighty people die every day!