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Deeper Commentary


Num 34:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
The definition of Canaan stresses that "this is the land" which was their intended inheritance (:2), and it excludes the area east of Jordan which the two and a half tribes chose. Clearly this was not God's ideal intention, and yet He went along with it and worked through it. For as the Father with the prodigal son, He gives us ultimately what we truly want. And then helps us through the consequences, as far as we permit Him to. Such is His grace.

Num 34:2 Command the children of Israel, and tell them, ‘When you come into the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to its borders)-
The land promised to Abraham was from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean Sea, but here God redefines it as much smaller. He perhaps perceived that they simply didn’t have the spiritual vision to possess that vast area. There is so much made possible for us in prospect; maybe we will ultimately receive less than we could have had because of our limited vision in this life. Yet He encouraged the people to go exploring beyond the bounds which He here gave them, right up to the Euphrates, promising to give them whatever land they walked upon (Dt. 11:24). It seems none rose up to that challenge. God invites His people to assume that they would receive this land and make preparations as if they had- for at this time they had not yet crossed Jordan into it. We are likewise asked to believe that we have been moved into the sphere of the Kingdom of God’s Son, and have received an inheritance by reason of our being in Him (Col. 1:13; Eph. 1:11).

Num 34:3 then your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin along by the side of Edom, and your south border shall be from the end of the Salt Sea eastward-
The borders of the land were rewritten by God in accordance with the spiritual vision and response of Israel. Initially the land was to be as in  Ex. 23:31 "I will set your border from the Red Sea even to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River [Euphrates]". But now that is redrawn by God, especially the southern border. And when they actually inherit the land in Joshua's time, there are further redefinitions. And we note the inheritance of the two and a half tribes east of Jordan was not God's ideal intention for them, even though that territory was within that promised to Abraham. God's intentions for His people are therefore open. He desperately wants to save us, even if we turn away from the maximum extent of the great salvation He has potentially prepared.

Num 34:4 and your border shall turn about southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass along to Zin; and the goings out of it shall be southward of Kadesh Barnea; and it shall go forth to Hazar Addar, and pass along to Azmon-
This implies a birds eye perspective, looking at lines on a map. The perspective is clearly God's heavenly one. See on :11.

Num 34:5 and the border shall turn about from Azmon to the brook of Egypt, and the goings out of it shall be at the sea-
The reference is not to the Nile, but to the Wady el Arish. "Egypt" is 'Mizraim' and at that time may not have referred to Egypt as we now know it, but specifically to an area to the east of Egypt.

Num 34:6 For the western border, you shall have the great sea and its border: this shall be your west border-
This simple statement was so hard for Israel to accept; because the coast line of the Mediterranean included Gaza and Ashdod, Philistine strongholds which they never really conquered until David's time.

Num 34:7 This shall be your north border: from the great sea you shall mark out for you Mount Hor-
Most commentators on :7,8 lament that "the geographical description of the northern boundary of the land of Israel is so indefinite, that the boundary line cannot be determined with exactness" (Delitzsch, typical of many). Why the unclarity? I suggest it was because as discussed on :3, the borders were still flexible and God would define them in more detail according to Israel's vision and obedience.

Num 34:8 from Mount Hor you shall mark out to the entrance of Hamath; and the goings out of the border shall be at Zedad-
As discussed on :7, the northern border is unclear, not least because it is not clear whether "Hamath" refers to the town on the Orontes river in Syria, or to a region called "Hamath", as in 2 Kings 23:33; 2 Chron. 8:4.

Num 34:9 and the border shall go forth to Ziphron, and the goings out of it shall be at Hazar Enan: this shall be your north border-
This implies detailed geographical knowledge of the area. It is doubtful anyone from Israel knew that area, and so we have here the direct transmission of fact from God to man through His word. 

Num 34:10 You shall mark out your east border from Hazar Enan to Shepham-
There was an intention that some kind of border fence or marker system should be put up. This was practically important, because many of the Mosaic laws were specifically intended to be obeyed within the land of promise. But there is no evidence Israel ever obeyed this command.

Num 34:11 and the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall go down, and shall reach to the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward-
Literally, "pressed upon the shoulder of the lake of Chinnereth towards the east”. The descriptions are written as if the author has a bird's eye satellite view of the topography. And so that author was ultimately only God. See on :4.

Num 34:12 and the border shall go down to the Jordan, and the goings out of it shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land according to its borders around it’-
The eastern border roughly follows the river Jordan southwards from the sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. This is significant, because it reminds us that the two and a half tribes had chosen territory to the east of that which was not God's ideal intention to give them at that stage. We are reminded of His eagerness to work with us, despite our less than ideal decisions.

Num 34:13 Moses commanded the children of Israel, saying, This is the land which you shall inherit by lot, which Yahweh has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe-
The land within God's ideal territory for Israel at the time was to be distributed to each family by lot. That lot would have been overruled by God (Prov. 16:33). Just as we each have our specific calling and eternal place in His purpose, unique to us, so Israel had a specific inheritance for each family within the land. But those who wanted their land east of Jordan didn't have this gift of individual lots to each family to inherit. They tried to arrange the Kingdom their way, and in the end, it didn't work out well for them. 

Num 34:14 for the tribe of the children of Reuben according to their fathers’ families and the tribe of the children of Gad according to their fathers’ families, have received, and the half-tribe of Manasseh have received, their inheritance-
It is often not appreciated that the extent of the area given to the two and a half tribes on the east of Jordan, as defined in Josh. 13:10-12, was roughly the same as the entire territory given to the nine and a half tribes on the west of Jordan. The two and a half tribes saw good pasture land and wanted it there and then, as a king of short cut to the Kingdom of God. But there are no short cuts to the Kingdom. The conditions they were given demanded even more faith from them. Their men had to leave their flocks and families unprotected on the east of Jordan whilst they fought in the front line vanguard of Joshua's army to secure the territory on the west of Jordan. And the territory they were asked to possess was huge, far larger than the pasture lands they initially coveted, and inhabited by giants (see on Josh. 13:30)- which they probably didn't realize at the time. 

Num 34:15 The two tribes and the half-tribe have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan at Jericho eastward, toward the sunrise-
The triple emphasis here that those who chose immediate inheritance east of Jordan had already received their inheritance may be behind Christ’s triple emphasis that some “have their reward” in this life rather than waiting for the future, eternal reward (Mt. 6:2,5,16).

Num 34:16 Yahweh spoke to Moses saying-
We now have a list of the ten princes of the tribes who were to practically distribute the land allocations. Reuben and Gad aren't listed here as they had taken the land for themselves east of Jordan; and so were excluded from the Divine system of distributing individual inheritances by lot to each family. See on :13.

Num 34:17 These are the names of the men who shall divide the land to you for inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun-
"Divided" is s.w. "inheritance" or "inherit", and also "possessed". I have noted elsewhere the difference between Joshua slaying the kings, and Israel possessing or inheriting the land- which they generally failed to do. But here we read that Joshua also 'inherited' it to them. So much was done for them. We note too the king-priest association, again looking ahead to the work and dual office of the Lord Jesus.

Num 34:18 You shall take one prince of every tribe to divide the land for inheritance-
Apart from Caleb, we don't read of these men elsewhere as leaders. They are called in Josh. 14:1 "the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the children of Israel".

Num 34:19 These are the names of the men: Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh-
The order of the tribes here runs from south to north, especially if we take the tribes as being mentioned in pairs, as if this was the order in which the land was to be possessed. But the original intention to take the land from south to north wasn't followed. Israel were consistently disobedient and short termist in their approach to the conquest of Canaan.

Num 34:20 Of the tribe of the children of Simeon, Shemuel the son of Ammihud-
In contrast to previous lists of names from this period, we find the suffix 'El' common in this list of names. But we note that they had therefore failed to accept or appreciate the revelation of the Yahweh Name which Moses had given to them.

Num 34:21 Of the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon-
'God of love', the son of 'hopeful'. Here we see some spiritual progress. The people had complained that Yahweh sought to slay them in the wilderness, and it seems this family had rejected that terrible idea. They were no longer just hopeful for something better, but had come to appreciate the love of God. See on :23.

Num 34:22 Of the tribe of the children of Dan a prince, Bukki the son of Jogli-
"Bukki" means 'wasteful'. Surely no mother would have named her baby that (as with Mahlon and Chilion). But the Hebrews often had several names, which were reflective of later life experience, character and achievement. So we can assume that this man became known like this, and was likely named this way because he failed to help Dan take the inheritance intended for them but rather wasted it. The name Bukki stands in sharp contrast to the spiritual meanings of the names of most of the other princes.

Num 34:23 Of the children of Joseph: of the tribe of the children of Manasseh a prince, Hanniel the son of Ephod-
'Grace of God', son of 'shortened', perhaps slain prematurely in the wilderness for his apostacy. Here we see some spiritual progress, as in :21. Hanniel realized that the inheritance of the land was by grace alone given the people's spiritual weakness.

Num 34:24 Of the tribe of the children of Ephraim a prince, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan-
'Established by God', the same word used in Ex. 6:4 of how God established His covenant to give Canaan to Israel. The names of the princes are generally reflective of spirituality, but just as Joshua enabled their inheritance of the land, Israel as individuals still had to personally respond to spiritual leadership. And they generally didn't.

Num 34:25 Of the tribe of the children of Zebulun a prince, Elizaphan the son of Parnach-
'Hidden / treasured by God', the same word used for how Moses was hidden and preserved. Again we have the sense that this man appreciated grace, that Israel were only inheriting the land because God had preserved them to do so, despite all their catalogue of rebellions against Him.

Num 34:26 Of the tribe of the children of Issachar a prince, Paltiel the son of Azzan-
'Paltiel', delivered by God, as noted on :25, is another reflection of how God alone had delivered Israel to receive the Kingdom inheritance which they didn't deserve.

Num 34:27 Of the tribe of the children of Asher a prince, Ahihud the son of Shelomi-
Ahihud' is a form of the Hebrew word often used for the glory / majesty of God. He saw the possession of the Kingdom as a manifestation of God's glory, rather than being due to Israel's obedience.

Num 34:28 Of the tribe of the children of Naphtali a prince, Pedahel the son of Ammihud-
'Pedahel' means 'God has ransomed', using the word commonly used for His ransom of Israel from Egypt (Ex. 13:13,15; 21:8 etc.). Nearly all these names reflect an awareness of God's saving grace in giving Israel the Kingdom.

Num 34:29 These are they whom Yahweh commanded to divide the inheritance to the children of Israel in the land of Canaan-
This is emphasized because it was not God's intention that the people just grabbed whatever bit of farmland appeared attractive to them. Likewise we are not to as it were decide how we would like to serve God, but to accept that we have a specific inheritance uniquely prepared for us; and to inherit that, rather than hankering for something else. For God intends only what is best for us in our latter end.