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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 34

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter features just two things: (1) the God-given boundaries of the Promised Land; and (2) the appointment of the men who would divide the land among the tribes of Israel. Here is the text of the chapter.

Verses 1-5

“And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land of Canaan, (this is the land that shall fall unto you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to the borders thereof,) then your south quarter 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; and your border shall turn about southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass along to Zin; and the goings out thereof shall be southward of Kadesh-barnea; and it shall go forth to Hazar-addar, and pass along the Azmon; and the border shall turn about from Azmon unto the brook of Egypt, and the goings out thereof shall be at the sea.”

The only surprising thing about the southern border is that it made somewhat of a detour to the south in order to encompass Kadesh-barnea. Aside from this, the southern border of Canaan as defined by God Himself originated eastward from the southern tip of the Dead Sea (how far eastward was not stated) and moved southwestward to its terminus at the Mediterranean. In the terminology used in these verses, “The goings forth (Numbers 33:2) and the goings out (as in Numbers 34:5) have the meaning of `starting point’ and `termination’.”(F1)

Verse 6

“And for the western border, ye shall have the great sea and the border thereof: this shall be your west border.”

The western border required no further description. The Mediterranean Sea was the western border of the Holy Land. Strangely enough, the children of Israel were never able to possess that seacoast. Not even in the glorious reigns of David and Solomon did the land of the Philistine belong to Israel. As we noted in Numbers 32, the settlement of a very large part of Israel east of Jordan must have proved to be a key factor in that failure. “Not a single spot on the coast was ever in Hebrew occupation, until in the second half of the second century B.C., Simon captured Joppa. (1 Maccabees 14:5).”(F2)

Verses 7-9

“And this shall be your north border: from the great sea ye shall mark out for you mount Hor; from mount Hor ye shall mark out unto the entrance of Hamath; and the goings out of the border shall be at Zedad; and the border shall go forth to Ziphron, and the goings out thereof shall be at Hazar-enan: this shall be your north border.”

The indefinite nature of this boundary derives from the fact that the precise point on the Mediterranean where this “marking” was to begin is not given. Also, “the Mount Hor” here cannot be the one in Numbers 20:22, therefore unknown.(F3) It is also uncertain as to how far eastward the boundary reached. Gray thought it came to the vicinity of Damascus.(F4) Thompson placed the eastern terminus of the northern border near the headwaters of the Orontes river,(F5) but the exact location is unknown.

Verses 10-12

“And ye shall mark out your east border from Hazer-enan to Shepham; 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 unto the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward; and the border shall go down to the Jordan, and the goings out thereof shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land according to the borders thereof round about.”

It should be particularly noted that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh had requested their inheritance altogether outside the boundaries of the sacred land God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to the boundaries here, the eastern bank of the Jordan was the eastern boundary of the Land of Promise.

“Chinnereth” This is one of the several names of Lake Galilee. That body of water actually had four names: Gennesaret, Tiberius, Chinnereth, and Galilee, all four names sometimes being combined with “Lake” or with “Sea of,” actually giving us eight combinations (all used in the Bible). The word “Chinnereth” means harp-shaped, taken from the shape of the lake.(F6)

This small area of Canaan would have been fully ample for all Israel, if God’s people had only stayed together and had driven out the pagan populations. Due to the selfishness of some of the tribes, however, God’s plan was thwarted to some extent. The whole land of Canaan was about 150 miles long and about 50 miles wide, but it was an exceedingly productive, fertile area.

Verses 13-15

“And Moses commanded the children of Israel, saying, This is the land which ye shall inherit by lot, which Jehovah hath commanded to give unto the nine tribes, and to the half-tribe: for the tribe of the children of Reuben according to their fathers’ houses, and the tribe of the children of Gad according to their fathers’ houses, have received, and the half-tribe of Manasseh have received, their inheritance: the two tribes and the half-tribe have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan at Jericho eastward, toward the sunrising.”

“They have received their inheritance” What ominous words are these! Alas, it is true that many a man today who has renounced his inheritance as a Christian has turned his back upon the holy teachings of the Lord to devote all of his energies to secular and temporal pursuits… it is true that he likewise has “received his inheritance”! But it is on the wrong side of Jordan! In the last analysis, it is what he preferred and not what God called him to win. The ultimate issue of life must inevitably end in shame and defeat for all who prefer their own ways to the ways of the Lord. This paragraph seems to carry a tone of sorrow as Moses uttered it. The decision of the two and one-half tribes was here made final and irrevocable. Their fate forever afterward would lie “beyond the Jordan”! Jesus used words similar to these when he said concerning sinful people, “They have received their reward,” applying the words to several classes of people in Matthew 6:2-3; Matthew 6:16, etc.

Verses 16-29

“And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, These are the names of the men that shall divide the land unto you for inheritance: Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun. And ye shall take one prince of every tribe, to divide the land for inheritance. And these are the names of the men: Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh. And of the tribe of the children of Simeon, Shemuel the son of Ammihud. Of the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon. And of the tribe of the children of Dan a prince, Bukki the son of Jogli. Of the children of Joseph: of the tribe of the children of Manasseh a prince, Hanniel the son of Ephod. And of the tribe of the children of Ephraim a prince, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan. And of the tribe of the children of Zebulun a prince, Elizaphan the son of Parnach. And of the tribe of the children of Issachar a prince, Paltiel the son of Azzan. And of the tribe of the children of Asher a prince, Ahihud the son of Shelomi. And of the tribe of the children of Naphtali a prince, Pedahel the son of Ammihud. These are they whom Jehovah commanded to divide the inheritance unto the children of Israel in the land of Canaan.”

Led by the high priest, Eleazar, and the commanding general of the Israeli armies, Joshua, the twelve men selected, one from each tribe, gave every assurance that the land would be divided fairly and that the tribes would accept their allotments without complaint. Evidently, that is what happened. All twelve of the names of the men chosen by God to divide the land are given below, with the meaning of each name as determined by Herbert Lockyer.Herbert Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958).

Listed Alphabetically.

ELEAZAR… God is helper.

JOSHUA… Jehovah is salvation.

CALEB… Bold (also “dog” as applied to animals).

SHEMUEL… Heard of God.

ELIDAD… God has loved.

BUKKI… Mouth of Jehovah.

HANNIEL… Grace of God.

KEMUEL… Congregation of God.

ELIZAPHAN… God is protector.

PALTIEL… Deliverer of the Lord.

AHIHUD… Brother of honor.

PEDAHEL… God has saved.

None of these names is connected with a pagan god, and what a contrast this affords with the days of the monarchy under Saul when two of the king’s sons were Esh-Baal and Meri-Baal, named after the Canaanite pagan god, Baal.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Numbers 34". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/numbers-34.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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