1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders), 3 your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin alongside Edom, and your southern border shall run from the end of the Salt Sea on the east. 4 And your border shall turn south of the ascent of Akrabbim, and cross to Zin, and its limit shall be south of Kadesh-barnea. Then it shall go on to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon. 5 And the border shall turn from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt, and its limit shall be at the sea.
6 “For the western border, you shall have the Great Sea and its coast. This shall be your western border.
7 “This shall be your northern border: from the Great Sea you shall draw a line to Mount Hor. 8 From Mount Hor you shall draw a line to Lebo-hamath, and the limit of the border shall be at Zedad. 9 Then the border shall extend to Ziphron, and its limit shall be at Hazar-enan. This shall be your northern border.
10 “You shall draw a line for your eastern border from Hazar-enan to Shepham. 11 And the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain. And the border shall go down and reach to the shoulder of the Sea of Chinnereth on the east. 12 And the border shall go down to the Jordan, and its limit shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.”
13 Moses commanded the people of Israel, saying, “This is the land that you shall inherit by lot, which the Lord has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe. 14 For the tribe of the people of Reuben by fathers’ houses and the tribe of the people of Gad by their fathers’ houses have received their inheritance, and also the half-tribe of Manasseh. 15 The two tribes and the half-tribe have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, toward the sunrise.” – Numbers 34:1-15 ESV
As the people prepared to enter the land of promise, Moses provided them with the boundary markers that would establish their future territory. But it is important to note that the description given by Moses is distinctly different than the one God had originally given to Abram at the point of his calling. The borders that Moses outlines in this passage are far more restrictive than the ones God proposed to Abram. At that point in time, God had designated a far larger area as the future homeland for Abram’s descendants.
“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…” – Genesis 15:18 ESV
The two primary boundary markers that God gave Abram were “the river of Egypt,” which most likely refers to the Nile, to “the river Euphrates,” which extends from the southern border of modern-day Turkey all the way to the Persian Gulf.
God had a much larger geographic region in mind when He made His original promise to Abram. But centuries later, by the time the descendants of Abram were ready to cross over the Jordan and occupy the land, the boundaries had shrunk significantly.
Moses provided a detailed description of the eastern, western, southern, and northern boundaries of the Israelite’s future homeland. At this point in their history, there were not ready or equipped to conquer and occupy the much larger region promised by God to Abram. Their army was far too small to attempt a conquest of the original promised land. Even though the nation was comprised of 12 tribes, there were not enough soldiers to take on the armies of “the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:19-21 NLT).
In a sense, God was starting small, but He had every intention of sticking to His original promise if the people of Israel proved obedient and successful at accomplishing His will. The reduced boundaries were not a sign of God reneging on His promise. He was not going back on His word. He was simply asking the people of Israel to prove their willingness to be faithful and obedient.
The borders of the land, while greatly reduced, would prove more than enough territory for the 12 tribes of Israel. In fact, as Moses points out, two and a half of the tribes would end up locating outside those boundaries.
“This territory is the homeland you are to divide among yourselves by sacred lot. The Lord has commanded that the land be divided among the nine and a half remaining tribes. The families of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have already received their grants of land on the east side of the Jordan River, across from Jericho toward the sunrise.” – Numbers 34:13-15 NLT
Technically, according to the original description given by God to Abram, the land occupied by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh was in the land of promise. But their land allotments would be considered separate from the rest of the tribes. Yet, one day, God would extend Israel’s borders under the leadership of King David. Then, when his son, Solomon came to power, the kingdom would expand even further. God would slowly extend the borders of Israel but because of the nation’s disobedience, He would one day spit the kingdom in half and dramatically reduce their land holdings and influence in the region.
But at the point at which Moses was preparing the send the people into the land for the very first time, they were faced with the formidable and seemingly insurmountable task of conquering a vast expanse of enemy-occupied territory. Yet Moses reminded them that the land was as good as theirs.
“This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.” – Numbers 34:15 ESV
It was theirs but they would have to do their part. According to God, it belonged to them but it wouldn’t come without a fight. It was Jesus who declared the need for follow-through in the life of God’s people.
“…a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” – Luke 12:47-48 NLT
The Israelites had their marching orders and a detailed map of their battle zone. Now it was time to exhibit faith and fight for what was rightfully theirs.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.