Deuteronomy ends with the death of Moses in chapter 34, but in chapter 33 we see Moses blessing each of the twelve tribes in turn.
- Reuben (v.6)
- Judah (7)
- Levi (8)
- Benjamin (12)
- Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh – 13)
- Zebulun (18)
- Issachar (18)
- Gad (20)
- Dan (22)
- Naphtali (23)
- Asher (24)
A few things are of particular interest to me here. First of all, Simeon is curiously missing from the list. Second, the order in which Moses blesses the tribes is a bit odd – Reuben was the oldest of Jacob’s sons, but Benjamin was the youngest. In fact, Benjamin was younger than Joseph, with whom he at least shared a mother also. And most interesting to me is that only one pair of brothers shares a verse, and it just happens to be today’s verse (18):
About Zebulun he said: ‘Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, and you, Issachar, in your tents.’
The footnotes in my Bible instruct careful comparison between this passage and Jacob’s blessing of his sons at the end of Genesis. It is perhaps there that I find a clue for Simeon’s absence in Deuteronomy; he is grouped with his brother Levi for the paternal blessing, so perhaps the association is implied in Moses’ benediction. Joseph’s tribe is actually divided into two, and while it is still the twelve tribes of Israel, the thirteenth group is Levi, the priestly tribe that does not have a land of their own and are not often counted as one of the twelve.
Jacob had two wives and two concubines. Here is the order in which his sons were born, and to which of these women:
- Reuben (Leah)
- Simeon (Leah)
- Levi (Leah)
- Judah (Leah)
- Dan (Bilhah, Rachel’s servant girl)
- Naphtali (Bilhah)
- Gad (Zilpah, Leah’s servant girl)
- Asher (Zilpah)
- Issachar (Leah)
- Zebulun (Leah)
- Joseph (Rachel)
- Benjamin (Rachel)
Such a different order! But God throughout scripture upends the normal human ways of doing things. Jacob himself, the father of all of these boys, was not the firstborn. He did, however, receive the firstborn’s blessings and benefits. Joseph, the almost-youngest, rose to a position of power in Egypt. And it is Judah, the 4th son, whose line eventually produces the promised Messiah.
In all my years of knowing these brothers, I’ve found myself with “favorites.” But today, for the first time, I am zeroed in on Zebulun and Issachar, the two youngest sons of Jacob and Leah, all because Moses blessed them to rejoice. And it makes me smile.