Numbers 34 – The Boundaries of the Land, Men Chosen to Portion the Land
This chapter is a celebration of God’s gifting, a liturgy of geography. It presents a trust deed, a legal document from God to his people. (Ronald Allen)
A. The boundaries of the land of Canaan.
1. (1-2) Introduction.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land of Canaan, this is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance; the land of Canaan to its boundaries.
a. This is the land that shall fall to you: Numbers 34 describes to Moses and the children of Israel the borders of the land of Canaan. Though the lands on the eastern side of the Jordan River belonged to Israel, those lands were not considered to be Canaan.
i. The land of Canaan: “Canaan was a recognized geographical entity from the 15th century BC onwards and is mentioned frequently in texts from Egypt of the following centuries, a period it was under nominal Egyptian control. These extra-biblical texts do not spell out the boundaries of Canaan as this chapter does, but they evidently presuppose much the same limits to Canaan as the Bible.” (Wenham)
ii. It will be helpful for the reader to consult a good Bible map. “All description here is useless. The situation and boundaries of the land of Canaan can only be known by actual survey, or by consulting a good map.” (Clarke)
b. As an inheritance: Israel had to take control of the land of Canaan by conquest; they would have to drive out the inhabitants to take possession. Yet, they should never believe that the land was given to them because they earned it. It was given to them by God as an inheritance. Inheritances are freely given, not earned.
i. Matthew Poole gave three reasons why God detailed the boundaries of Canaan for Israel: “1. To direct and bound them in their wars and conquests, that they might not seek the enlargement of their empire, after the manner of other nations, but be contented with their own portion. 2. To encourage them in their attempt upon Canaan, and assure them of their success. 3. To guide them in the approaching distribution of the land.”
ii. “It is God that assigns us our quarters, and cuts us out our several conditions, ‘appointing the bounds of our habitation.’ (Acts 17:26) This should make us rest contented with our lot, and, having God our portion, say howsoever, as David did, ‘The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places.’ (Psalm 16:6) It is what our Father sees fit for us.” (Trapp)
2. (3-5) The southern border of the land of Canaan.
Your southern border shall be from the Wilderness of Zin along the border of Edom; then your southern border shall extend eastward to the end of the Salt Sea; your border shall turn from the southern side of the Ascent of Akrabbim, continue to Zin, and be on the south of Kadesh Barnea; then it shall go on to Hazar Addar, and continue to Azmon; the border shall turn from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt, and it shall end at the Sea.
a. The Ascent of Akrabbim: This place, “Scorpion Pass,” is also mentioned in Joshua 15:3 and Judges 1:36. It was likely a well-known landmark of the desert.
i. “The southern border passed just south of the famous ‘Scorpion Pass,’ a winding road from the Nahal Zin basin into the Negeb south of Mampsis, that continued to be known by that name through the Roman period and is so even until today.” (Cole)
b. To the Brook of Egypt: A few different small streams have been proposed as marking this portion of the southern boundary. A few have suggested that this describes some branch of the Nile.
i. “The river of Egypt: The eastern branch of the river Nile; or, according to others, a river which is south of the land of the Philistines, and falls into the gulf or bay near Calieh.” (Clarke)
3. (6) The western border of the land of Canaan: The Mediterranean Sea.
‘As for the western border, you shall have the Great Sea for a border; this shall be your western border.
4. (7-9) The northern border of the land of Canaan.
‘And this shall be your northern border: From the Great Sea you shall mark out your border line to Mount Hor; from Mount Hor you shall mark out your border to the entrance of Hamath; then the direction of the border shall be toward Zedad; the border shall proceed to Ziphron, and it shall end at Hazar Enan. This shall be your northern border.
a. This shall be your northern border: These landmarks fall well north of the northern border of modern Israel, north of the ancient cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos.
i. “The only points on the northern border that can be positively identified are Lebo-Hamath [the entrance of Hamath] (13:21), probably modern Lebweh, and Zedad which can be equated with Sedad.” (Wenham)
ii. “Lebo Hamath [the entrance of Hamath] is also the northern boundary of the Israelite kingdom during the monarchy of David and Solomon (1 Kgs 8:65), from which the people were summoned to celebrate the great feast during the dedication of the Temple to the Lord in Jerusalem.” (Cole)
5. (10-12) The eastern border of the land of Canaan.
‘You shall mark out your eastern border from Hazar Enan to Shepham; the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain; the border shall go down and reach to the eastern side of the Sea of Chinnereth; the border shall go down along the Jordan, and it shall end at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land with its surrounding boundaries.’”
a. You shall mark out your eastern border: The eastern border starts southward from eastern point of the northern border, Hazar Enan. It then extends southard on an uncertain line until reaching the Sea of Chinnereth (also known as the Sea of Galilee), and the Jordan and Salt Sea afterward.
i. “The eastern border until it reaches the eastern slopes of the sea of Galilee…is quite problematic: Shepham, Riblah and Ain cannot be located.” (Wenham)
6. (13-15) The land the nine and one-half tribes settling on the western side of the Jordan River would divide.
Then Moses commanded the children of Israel, saying: “This is the land which you shall inherit by lot, which the LORD has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe. For the tribe of the children of Reuben according to the house of their fathers, and the tribe of the children of Gad according to the house of their fathers, have received their inheritance; and the half-tribe of Manasseh has received its inheritance. The two tribes and the half-tribe have received their inheritance on this side of the Jordan, across from Jericho eastward, toward the sunrise.”
a. The land which you shall inherit: This was the land God promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21), Isaac (Genesis 26:4), Jacob (Genesis 28:13-14), and the children of Jacob. It was to be divided by lot, guided by God’s providential hand according to the general principle that the larger tribes received a larger inheritance.
i. “Nevertheless Canaan as defined here is a much larger area than ever Israel settled. David controlled most of Canaan and much of Transjordan as well, but the land defined here does not correspond to Israel’s actual boundaries at any time in her history.” (Wenham)
ii. By lot: “Such was the land, and such were the advantages that this most favoured people were called to possess. They were called to possess it by lot that each might be satisfied with his possession, as considering it to be appointed to him by the especial providence of God; and its boundaries were ascertained on Divine authority, to prevent all covetousness after the territories of others.” (Clarke)
iii. This was a wonderful and prosperous land, but in comparison with other places in the world, there was much it did not have, and God expected His people to be content with what He allotted to them. “As Canaan had neither gold nor silver, neither coal nor iron mines, as its seaboard was not well supplied with harbours, nor its rivers and lakes of great use for inland navigation, so we may say the life open to the Christian has its limitations and disabilities.” (Watson)
b. The two tribes and half tribe have received their inheritance on this side of the Jordan: The land divided by lot described in this chapter was for the nine and a half tribes west of the Jordan River. The two and a half tribes east of the Jordan have received their inheritance, as described in Numbers 32.
i. Have received: “Thrice over the words are repeated in reference to them, they ‘have received.’ They had made their own choice and it was now ratified.” (Morgan)
B. Leaders appointed to divide the land.
1. (16-17) Joshua and Eleazar appointed to divide the land.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “These are the names of the men who shall divide the land among you as an inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun.
a. Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun: The division of the land of Canaan was, in fact, a potentially divisive – even explosive – issue among the people of Israel. It was right to take the two most godly and prominent leaders of the nation to direct this essential and controversial duty.
b. Eleazar the priest: The mention of the high priest reminds the modern believer that our inheritance is allotted and guaranteed by Jesus Christ, our High Priest.
i. “Pointing to the High Priest of the new covenant, by whom we have entrance into the promised inheritance, whither he is gone before to prepare a place for us, and hath told us, that in his ‘Father’s house are many mansions,’ room enough.” (Trapp)
2. (18-29) Leaders from each of the twelve tribes are appointed to help Joshua and Eleazar divide the land.
And you shall take one leader of every tribe to divide the land for the inheritance. These are the names of the men: from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of the children of Simeon, Shemuel the son of Ammihud; from the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon; a leader from the tribe of the children of Dan, Bukki the son of Jogli; from the sons of Joseph: a leader from the tribe of the children of Manasseh, Hanniel the son of Ephod, and a leader from the tribe of the children of Ephraim, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan; a leader from the tribe of the children of Zebulun, Elizaphan the son of Parnach; a leader from the tribe of the children of Issachar, Paltiel the son of Azzan; a leader from the tribe of the children of Asher, Ahihud the son of Shelomi; and a leader from the tribe of the children of Naphtali, Pedahel the son of Ammihud.”
These are the ones the LORD commanded to divide the inheritance among the children of Israel in the land of Canaan.
a. You shall take one leader of every tribe: As expected, this list includes only ten tribal leaders. Two of the tribes (Reuben and Gad) received all their inheritance on the easter side of the Jordan River.
i. “The tribes are listed in rough order of their settlements, beginning with Judah and Simeon in the south and ending with Asher and Naphtali in the north (cf. Joshua 14–19).” (Wenham)
b. These are the ones: The description of a definite land with definite boundaries, to be divided under the leadership of definite men emphasizes the real nature of God’s promises. There is a spiritual aspect of these promises and this inheritance, but for ancient Israel on the plains of Moab, these were plain and literal promises.
i. F.B. Meyer reflected on the truth that the description of the boundaries of the land reminds us not only of our inheritance, but also of our borders, our limits. “We may expect to be blameless, but not faultless, till He present us to Himself: to be delivered from temptation, but not freed from its assaults: to be kept in perfect peace, but not secured from the pressure of adversity: to be dead to sin and self, but not daring to say that either is dead within us: to be delivered from this present evil world, as to spirit and temper, though still called to inhabit it as its salt and light. Take possession of every inch of God-given territory in Jesus, but beware of going beyond it.”