Numbers 34 Study Notes


34:1-2 Not “if,” but when the Israelites entered the land promised to Abraham (Gn 15:18-21), Isaac (Gn 26:4), and Jacob (Gn 28:13-14), they were to divide the territory among the twelve tribes according to the need dictated by each tribe’s population (Nm 26:52-56). The borders of the promised land represented the limits of the land of Canaan during the late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC) and were the ideal setting for the national boundaries.

34:3-5 The southern side of the border began with the Wilderness of Zin, from which the original scouts returned with their report (13:21). The line extended northeast to the southern end of the Dead Sea (Salt Sea), avoiding the Edomite territory on the west side of the Arabah, and then moved westward from the Wilderness of Zin, gradually turning more northwest. The border ran along the edge of Edomite territory in order to avoid any further conflicts with those who had prohibited passage for the Israelites when they moved into Transjordan. The description continues on a general line south of the Scorpions’ Ascent and on through the south side of Kadesh-barnea (‘Ain Qedeis or ‘Ain el-Qudeirat), and extending toward the Brook of Egypt (modern Wadi el-Arish) just south of Raphia and the Gaza Strip. The border then followed the brook northwest to the Mediterranean Sea (Hazar-addar and Azmon are unknown).

34:6 The western border was the natural barrier formed by the “Great Sea,” the Mediterranean.

34:7-9 The northern border reached from the Mediterranean toward Mount Hor, perhaps today’s Jebel Akkar. The northern border town of Hethlon mentioned in Ezk 47:15 is identified with modern Heitela on the lower slope of Jebel Akkar. The entrance of Hamath (or Lebo-hamath) is generally identified with modern Lebweh near one of the sources of the Orontes River. Hamath was the northernmost extent of the land surveyed by the twelve Israelite scouts, according to 13:21. It was also the northern boundary of the Israelite kingdom during the monarchy of David and Solomon (1Kg 8:65).

34:10-12 The eastern border began with the site of Hazar-enan, which has been associated with either the oasis of Qaryatein or modern Hadr in the vicinity of Mount Hermon. The border continued southeast toward Shepham (location unknown) and then south toward Riblah, then around the east side of Ain, and onward to the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee (Chinnereth). The town of Ain (“spring”) may be identified with one of the springs that serve as the sources of the Jordan River. The boundary extended to the eastern side of the Huleh (upper Jordan) Valley, descending toward the Sea of Galilee, including a narrow strip of land on the eastern side of the Jordan up to the lower slopes of the Golan Heights. From the Sea of Galilee the eastern border then followed the Jordan River down to the Salt Sea (Dead Sea), a distance of about sixty miles, though the river itself meanders back and forth over a distance of more than a hundred miles.

34:13-15 Moses fulfilled the task given to him, and the responsibility to carry out these instructions would fall on Joshua son of Nun, his successor. The distribution of the land by lot and according to the relative size of each of the tribes was completed under Joshua (Jos 13-19). This allotment applied to the nine and one-half tribes who lived on the west side of the Jordan River, whereas the other two and one-half tribes had already received their allotment, according to the description in Nm 32:33-42. The borders reflect the ideal territorial limits for the land of Israel as outlined by divine instruction, but this was not fully realized until the time of the united monarchy under David and Solomon (2Sm 8:1-18; 10:1-19; 2Ch 18:1-20:3).

34:16-29 Of the original twelve spies sent to assess the land, only Caleb remained as a leader of a tribe for the territorial allotments. With the new leadership responsibilities placed on the shoulders of Joshua, his place as the representative for the tribe of Ephraim was assumed by Kemuel son of Shiphtan.