In this chapter we see how God cares for His people in all respects. He establishes the borders of the land they will possess. He also regulates the way in which the division should take place. The hand that has led the people through the wilderness is also the hand that sets the borders of the land to which He leads His people.
1 - 2 The Inheritance of Israel
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land of Canaan, this is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance, [even the] land of Canaan according to its borders.
The LORD assigns Canaan as an inheritance to Israel. The boundaries that the LORD further indicates do not correspond to those which He has named to Abraham (Gen 15:18). The area He promised Abraham is much larger.
The border is already indicated here. The border separates what is of God from what is not of Him. It is necessary that we know what to conquer and what not to conquer. A border indicates an area, but at the same time it delimits to what is outside. If God indicates the borders of what we should conquer, we should not conquer the wrong pieces. Here we see that the wilderness side of the Jordan falls outside. We should not make things our property that God has not given us as inheritance.
For example, the borders of our spiritual land are indicated in the letter to the Colossians. There we see that we have died and been raised with Christ. We are called to seek “the things above” (Col 3:1). We have part “in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Col 1:12-13). It is about Christ in us, He is our life.
The border of the land is what belongs to Christ. We are warned of what lies outside, so that we do not allow ourselves to be captured by it: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8). Here we speak of philosophy and the traditions of men. That is beyond the borders. We should not get involved in this. Philosophy and tradition impair the fullness of God in Christ in Whom we are brought to fullness.
Canaan itself is called “the Beautiful [Land]” (Dan 8:9). It borders on wildernesses and seas and is surrounded by unattractive landscapes. The inheritance given to the church in Christ is connected to the Father. This inheritance is in stark contrast to everything that the world contains and has to offer: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1Jn 2:16; cf. Acts 26:17-18).
We must not go beyond what God has revealed to us. The borders within which we can enjoy everything God has given us are set by God’s Word. These borders are there, so that we may respect them, so that we may remain in the enjoyment of the blessing. Exceeding God’s borders means losing the blessing.
3 - 5 The Southern Border of the Land
3 Your southern sector shall extend from the wilderness of Zin along the side of Edom, and your southern border shall extend from the end of the Salt Sea eastward. 4 Then your border shall turn [direction] from the south to the ascent of Akrabbim and continue to Zin, and its termination shall be to the south of Kadesh-barnea; and it shall reach Hazaraddar and continue to Azmon. 5 The border shall turn [direction] from Azmon to the brook of Egypt, and its termination shall be at the sea.
The first border given is that on the south sector. South sector is literally ‘the right sector’. The right side speaks in the Scriptures of dignity of position. The Lord Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” after He accomplished the work of purification of sins (Heb 1:3). In a spiritual sense this means that the believer who lives in the south sector knows the position of the Lord Jesus. That believer also knows that it is his own position, for he is in Christ. We are conquering within that border if we involve ourselves with the place of honor that the Lord Jesus received at God’s right hand.
The description of the border starts in the south at the Salt Sea. The description ends there also (verse 12). The Salt Sea, or Dead Sea, is the constant reminder of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Crossing the border at the Salt Sea means opening up to the sins that have caused the destruction of Sodom. The once so beautiful and fertile valley, in which these cities have been situated, is in its present state a warning to the people of God. Unfortunately, the iniquity of Sodom is later found in Israel (Eze 16:49).
6 The Western Border of the Land
6 ‘As for the western border, you shall have the Great Sea, that is, [its] coastline; this shall be your west border.
The western border is formed by “the Great Sea”, which is the Mediterranean Sea. The sea in the Bible is usually the picture of the sea of nations, the world outside of Israel, the world outside of God. As believers, we live in the midst of a world that is indifferent to God. This leads to difficulties and trials. We are conquering within that border if we overcome every trial or difficulty in the power of the Lord. Crossing that border exposes us to the danger of what the peoples of which the sea is a picture have to say.
7 - 9 The North Border of the Land
7 ‘And this shall be your north border: you shall draw your [border] line from the Great Sea to Mount Hor. 8 You shall draw a line from Mount Hor to the Lebo-hamath, and the termination of the border shall be at Zedad; 9 and the border shall proceed to Ziphron, and its termination shall be at Hazar-enan. This shall be your north border.
When we think of the north, we think of cold and darkness. We can make the application that crossing that border exposes us to the danger of man’s darkened thinking: “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart” (Eph 4:17-18).
10 - 12 The Eastern Border of the Land
10 ‘For your eastern border you shall also draw a line 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 slope on the east side of the Sea of Chinnereth. 12 And the border shall go down to the Jordan and its termination shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land according to its borders all around.’”
The east side is the side where the sun rises. Living on the east side means living in the expectation of the coming of the Lord Jesus, Who is like the rising sun in her power. Crossing that border means exposure to demonic and impure influences. In Scripture evil powers also come from that side: “The sixth [angel] poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw [coming] out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:12-14; cf. Jdg 6:3;).
13 Moses Confirms the Commandment
13 So Moses commanded the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the land that you are to apportion by lot among you as a possession, which the LORD has commanded to give to the nine and a half tribes.
In verse 1 the LORD tells Moses which borders of the land he should command to the Israelites. Then the LORD says how the border runs. Now Moses acts according to the commandment of the LORD and tells them that this is their inheritance. He expressly states that this applies to “the nine and a half tribes”. That is for the LORD the whole people.
14 - 15 The Inheritance of the Two and a Half Tribes
14 For the tribe of the sons of Reuben have received [theirs] according to their fathers’ households, and the tribe of the sons of Gad according to their fathers’ households, and the half-tribe of Manasseh have received their possession. 15 The two and a half tribes have received their possession across the Jordan opposite Jericho, eastward toward the sunrising.”
The ‘two and a half tribes shall not be taken into account in the division of the land within the borders laid down. They have already received an inheritance, namely the inheritance which they themselves have preferred, over the LORD’s preference.
Their inheritance is connected to the city of Jericho and to the east, with the additional mention that it is the side where the sun rises. Perhaps this indicates the semi-hearted position of these tribes. On the one hand they are connected to the world, of which Jericho is a picture. They live at that level, at the level of the world. On the other hand, they also have a certain expectation for the future and look forward to the coming of Christ, but to judge and rule rather than to His coming for the church.
16 - 29 The Men Who Apportion the Land
16 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “These are the names of the men who shall apportion the land to you for inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun. 18 You shall take one leader of every tribe to apportion the land for inheritance. 19 These are the names of the men: of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh. 20 Of the tribe of the sons of Simeon, Samuel the son of Ammihud. 21 Of the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon. 22 Of the tribe of the sons of Dan a leader, Bukki the son of Jogli. 23 Of the sons of Joseph: of the tribe of the sons of Manasseh a leader, Hanniel the son of Ephod. 24 Of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim a leader, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan. 25 Of the tribe of the sons of Zebulun a leader, Elizaphan the son of Parnach. 26 Of the tribe of the sons of Issachar a leader, Paltiel the son of Azzan. 27 Of the tribe of the sons of Asher a leader, Ahihud the son of Shelomi. 28 Of the tribe of the sons of Naphtali a leader, Pedahel the son of Ammihud.” 29 These are those whom the LORD commanded to apportion the inheritance to the sons of Israel in the land of Canaan.
The men who have to divide the land and will give each tribe an inheritance belong, except Joshua and Caleb, to the second generation. The leaders of the tribes, mentioned in Numbers 1, are no longer there. Here we are dealing with new leaders. God always takes care of everything that is necessary for His people.
The leaders are a picture of the gifts the Lord Jesus gave to His church to introduce God’s people to the blessings of the land. Each leader of a tribe gets an inheritance and he must divide that inheritance among the families that make up the tribe. As an application we can see a local fellowship of brothers and sisters in a tribe. In practice, in our lives we are not dealing with the whole church, the whole people of God, but with their local expression. It is to be hoped that there will be such leaders in every local church.
The land belongs to the whole people, but the enjoyment is different for each member of the people. They all listen to the Word, but each gets its own blessing through it. A leader is at the forefront of the battle. Leaders represent the character of the victor. They are used by the Lord to make the right decision in distributing the blessing and holding it. They are all in the church who ensure that the believers come and remain in possession of the blessings with which they are blessed in Christ in the heavenly places.
The leaders themselves are again under the authority of Eleazar and Joshua. All service of leaders in the midst of the believers depends on the Lord Jesus as High Priest and Commander (Heb 3:1; 12:1b-2).