God’s Word for You
Numbers 34:7-12 Boundaries, part 2
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, February 2, 2022
7 This will be your northern border: From the Mediterranean Sea you will draw a line for yourselves to Mount Hor. 8 From Mount Hor you will draw a line to Lebo Hamath. The end of the border will be at Zedad. 9 Then the border will go to Ziphron, and it will end at Hazar Enan. This will be your northern border.
There is a confusing place in these northern boundaries: Mount Hor. Earlier we were shown a Mount Hor where Aaron died and was buried, somewhere between Kadesh and the border of Moab (Numbers 20:22-29). Now, the Lord uses a mountain with the same name as part of the northern boundary. Obviously, this is a different Mount Hor. The word itself is almost identical to the Hebrew and Phoenician word har, “mountain.” It is not a superlative, which would be har-harim, “mountain of mountains,” a phrase that does not occur in the Bible, although “chief of mountains” is used for the mountain of God’s temple (rosh ha-harim, Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1). Throughout the Bible, mountain names in Hebrew are written with the term “Mountain” and then the name, such as Mount Zion (Psalm 48:12), Mount Sinai (Exodus 13:18), Mount Horeb (Exodus 33:6), etc. But Mount Hor is always written “Hor, the Mountain” (hor, ha-har), whether in reference to the southern peak or this northern one. For this reason, I take the definite article in this case to be emphatic: “Hor, THE Mountain,” meaning “the big one.” In the south, this would be Mount Seir, the tall mountain of Edom (Joshua 24:4). In the north, it could be Mount Hermon, surely THE mountain to the north. But this can’t be determined with certainty.
Lebo Hamath is quite a bit north of Damascus. When the spies explored the land, they almost went that far to the north (Numbers 13:21). Zedad is only mentioned again in a similar reference to cities of the far north (Ezekiel 47:15). These northern references are outmatched somewhat by the fantastic boundaries of the ideal kingdom in Ezekiel 47:16-17, but clearly both sets of boundaries (Ezekiel’s and Moses’) extend to the region around the Orontes River and the ancient city of Ugarit.
10 You will draw a line to serve as your eastern border from Hazar Enan to Shepham. 11 The border will go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain. The border will go down and meet the eastern slope of the Sea of Galilee. 12 The border will go down to the Jordan and end at the Dead Sea. This will be your land according to its boundaries on all sides.
The eastern border is identical with the eastern shoreline (lit. “shoulder”) of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. The other locations (all north of Galilee) are unknown, but the line is clear enough. The border of God’s gift, Canaan, did not include the territories of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, but they were given permission to settle there. This helps to explain why, in the distribution, no tribes were given eastern Galilee. Southern Galilee went to Issachar, Northern Galilee went to Naphtali, Central Galilee went to Zebulun (cp. Matthew 4:13-15), and western Galilee went to Asher. Moving south, one would cross through the other half of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Benjamin, before arriving at Judah, and within Judah’s borders in the far south was Simeon (Joshua 19:1). The remaining tribe, Dan, was to have occupied Philistine land, but failing to drive out the Philistines, they moved to the far north (but still within the boundaries given here) and settled north of Naphtali.
When we read this chapter, we must remember to take it as more than geography. What exactly was this land, Canaan? It was a gift, “the land I am giving you” (Numbers 13:2, 15:2). It was therefore a physical gift in the same way that salvation is a spiritual gift. God wanted the Israelites to keep Canaan free of false gods, false religion, and false teaching, just as God wants us to keep our faith free from false idols, false religion, and false teaching. He warns us to beware of false teachers just as he warned Israel to beware of false prophets (2 Peter 2:1). “The righteous hate what is false” (Proverbs 13:5). The words of false teachers lead to nothing but hell. When the Catholic is taught to pray to anyone other than God, it is idolatry, for prayer by definition is a form of worship (Isaiah 45:20). When a Methodist is taught to rely on his own deeds for salvation, it is idolatry, for only Christ alone saves (Ephesians 2:8). When the ELCA bishops tell their Buddhist and Muslim friends that they can be saved through their own beliefs, they are damning them to eternal punishment, for there is no other way to heaven except Christ alone (John 14:6). “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The Jordan was a border of Israel’s land. The Bible is the border of our faith, the only source and rule of our doctrine. The Mediterranean was the limit for Israel to the west, just as Christ is the limit and the entirety of our salvation. A stream to the south showed the way into the land just as baptism shows us the entrance into God’s family. And the true limits of the land to the north may have been unreachable for Israel, but God has brought us right up to and through the gates of his heaven by his loving kindness. He has given us everything we need for everlasting life. Keep your faith clear of false teaching of every kind, and look to Jesus, only to Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith