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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 34

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-29

Determination of the Boundaries of the Land of Israel. List of the Men appointed to Distribute it for the Individual Tribes

Numbers 34:1-29

1And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 2Command 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 with the coasts thereof:) 3Then your south quarter shall be from the wilderness of Zin along by the coast of Edom, and your south border shall be the outmost coast of the salt sea eastward: 4And your border shall turn from the south to the ascent of1 Akrabbim, and pass on to Zin: and the going forth thereof shall be from the south to Kadesh-barnea, and shall go on to Hazar-addar, and pass on to Azmon: 5And the border shall fetch a compass from Azmon unto the river of Egypt, and the goings out of it shall be at 6the sea. And as for the western border, ye shall even have the great sea for a border: this shall be your west border: 7And this shall be your north border: from the great sea ye shall point out for you mount Hor: 8From mount Hor ye shall point out your border unto the entrance of Hamath; and the goings forth of the border shall be to Zedad:

9And the border shall go on to Ziphron, and the goings out of it shall be at Hazar-enan: this shall be your north border. 10And ye shall point out your east border from Hazar-enan to Shepham: 11And the coast shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall descend, and shall reach unto the 2side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward: 12And the border shall go down to Jordan, and the goings out of it shall be at the salt sea: this shall be your land with the coasts thereof round about. 13And Moses commanded the children of Israel, saying, This is the land which ye shall inherit by lot, which the Lord commanded to give unto the nine tribes, and to the half tribe: 14For the tribe of the children of Reuben according to the house of their fathers, and the tribe of the children of Gad according to the house of their fathers, have received their inheritance; and half the tribe of Manasseh have received their inheritance: 15The two tribes and the half tribe have received their inheritance on this side Jordan near Jericho eastward, toward 16, 17the sunrising. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, These are the names of the men which shall divide the land unto you: Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun. 18And ye shall take one prince of every tribe, to divide the land by inheritance. 19And the names of the men are these: Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh. 20And of the tribe of the children of Simeon, Shemuel the son of Amihud. 21Of the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon. 22And the prince of the tribe of the children of Dan, Bukki the son of Jogli. 23The prince of the children of Joseph, for the tribe of the children of Manasseh, Hanniel the son of Ephod. 24And the prince of the tribe of the children of Ephraim, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan. 25And the prince of the tribe of the children of Zebulun, Elizaphan the son of Parnach. 26And the prince of the tribe of the children of Issachar, Paltiel the son of Azzan. 27And the prince of the tribe of the children of Asher, Ahihud the son of Shelomi. 28And the prince of the tribe of the 29children of Naphtali, Pedahel the son of Ammihud. These are they whom the Lord commanded to divide the inheritance unto the children of Israel in the land of Canaan.


[Numbers 34:3. The מ denotes the starting point, from the extreme point of the salt sea.—A. G.]

[Numbers 34:5. נסב, turned.—A. G.]

[Numbers 34:7. תְּתָאוּ, from תָּאָח, to mark or delineate, but with the added idea of irregularity. The wavy, shaken line reaching from one point to another. הר הָהָר. Sept.: τὸ ὅρος τὸ ὅρος—the mountain of the mountain, i.e., the great mountain.—A. G.]


The lawgiver now passes in the most logical method, to define the limits of the land which Israel should regard as its inheritance, so that it should not seek to go out beyond these limits and found a world empire (2 Samuel 24:0), nor rest within these boundaries until it has acquired and occupied all the territory within them. The foundation for this direction is contained in Genesis 15:18-21; Exodus 23:31—and their actual application of them is related in Joshua 13:0. sqq. It is assumed that the east Jordan region belongs within these limits.

1.Numbers 34:2. The inheritance is defined generally as the land of Canaan with the coasts thereof, or according to its boundaries.

2.Numbers 34:3-5. The southern boundary. The general description. The southern limit is the wilderness of Zin. The added clause along by the coast (side) of Edom represents this line as a somewhat extended one, which, like the desert of Zin itself, stretches by the side of Edom southwards below the Dead Sea. The more detailed description indicates a line drawn from the east to the west, beginning at the southern point of the eastern salt or dead sea, and from this point bending southwards in Israel’s favor (לָכֵס) to the heights of Akrabbim, thence inward in a curve through the wilderness of Zin, enclosing Kadesh-Barnea (the thirty-eight years’ camping ground), stretching onwards by the unknown places, Addar and Azmon, turns to the river of Egypt (Rhinocolura), and down this to the Mediterranean sea. Keil holds that the border turned (נָסַב, Numbers 34:4) at the heights of Akrabbim and then went in a straight line from east to west. The line seems to be more fully described in Joshua 15:0. (from Kadesh-Barnea to Hezron, ascending farther to Addar, Karkan, Azmon). For the brook of Egypt see 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 24:7; 2 Chronicles 7:8; Isaiah 27:12. [While we cannot identify certainly all the localities here mentioned, the general direction of the south border, and even its more special features as here defined “are in strict accordance,” as Palmer (The Desert of the Exodus) says, “with the natural geographical limits of the country.” The Edom along which the border lay is plainly not the Edom east of the Arabah, but the region south of the wilderness of Zin, and which still bears the name of Seir or Sen among the Arabs. The limits of the south quarter which reached to the wilderness of Zin were defined by a line starting from “the southern extremity of the Dead sea, and running southwards up the Ascent from the Ghor”—whether this ascent was up the Wady El-Fikreh, which opens into the Ghor nearly at its south-west corner, or a pass opening into the Arabah still lower down, perhaps the wady Murreh, is uncertain—“along the Arabah to the south of the Azazimeh mountains, turning to Gadis (Kadesh), round the south-east of that mountain plateau, from the west of which it shall extend (taking in all the fertile valleys at the foot) as far as wady El Arish,(the brook of Egypt), running northward to the Mediterranean. The Hazar-Addar here corresponds probably to Hezron and Addar in Joshua 15:3-4, the two places lying so close to each other that they are here named together. Hazar-Addar is probably, though from geographical rather than etymological considerations, to be sought in Ain-el-Kudeirat on the northern side of the ridge which here forms the natural demarcation between Canaan and the Desert. The fountain is still the source of fertility to the neighboring fields.” Bib. Com.—A. G.]

3. The western border, Numbers 34:6. The great sea, Deuteronomy 3:16 and Joshua. But it was the sea with its border or territory set over against Canaan, so that this did not reach throughout to the sea.

4. The northern limit, Numbers 34:7-9. The general description. A line was to be drawn—somewhat undefined, however—from the sea on the west to Mount Hor on the east. That this mountain cannot lie in northern Phœnicia, as Knobel thinks, perhaps Mount Casius to the southwest of Antioch on the Orontes, is evident from the fact, that on that supposition a line would have to be drawn northwards, and not from west to east. Mount Hor therefore must be sought to the eastward. It is more probably a western spur of Anti Lebanon than of Lebanon, and is perhaps Hermon. From Mount Hor onwards the line is more exactly defined. At first it crosses obliquely the repeatedly mentioned way to Hamath, in the direction of Zedad. That לבא חֲמָת cannot mean until one comes to the town Hamath, is clear, as Keil holds from the fact that Hamath (the present Epiphanius on the Orontes) never belonged to Canaan. [Keil holds “that in all the passages in which Hamath is so referred to, Joshua 13:5; Judges 3:3; 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 14:25, etc., it denotes not the town, but the kingdom of Hamath named from its capital, and refers to 2 Chronicles 8:4, where Solomon is said to have built store cities in Hamath as the proof of his position. How far this kingdom may have extended southward in the time of Moses, we do not know.”—A. G.] Zedad lies southward from Hums or Emesa, or between Hums and Damascus. This description involves an important curve northward in the boundary, since it passes over the scarcely known Ziphron (Ezekiel 47:16, Zifran) to Hazar-Enan, the fountain-court, which some conjecture is found in Bekaa. This character of the boundary seems to be intimated in the תּוֹצְאוֹת. The boundary crosses the roadway from Hamath to Ziphron, and then goes from Ziphron to Hazar-Enan. The whole description would thus seem to show that the line ran far up into the region of Anti-Libanus, while the main part of the line from the sea to Mount Hor is not more clearly defined. Joshua 11:17 names besides as of special importance “Baal-gad,” which lay in the valley of Lebanon at the foot of Mount Hermon. We may observe that Moses probably did not possess the most exact knowledge of these northern regions. [It is much better to acknowledge our own ignorance, and wait for the light which geographical researches are sure to cast upon these questions than to impute ignorance to Moses.—A. G.] The main line from the sea to the mountain lay clearly in his mind; and besides, the special places in Anti-Lebanon along the great caravan mountain were known to him. [The northern border, especially in its northeastern portion, is involved in some obscurity, which, however, is fast disappearing. It is well nigh certain that the Mount Hor here referred to cannot be, as Lange conjectures, Hermon. The name denotes the whole western crest of Lebanon, to some point of which the line from the sea would be drawn. Porter, Giant Cities of Bashan, pp. 307–324. “Standing on the top of the ruined citadel at Hums, I saw on the western side of the plain a great opening or pass through the mountains. On its southern side the ridge of Lebanon rises abruptly to a height of ten thousand feet, and on its northern the lower ridge of Bargylus terminates in a bluff-promontory. Between the two lies the only opening from the land of Hamath to the coast of the Mediterranean. This is unquestionably the entrance of Hamath. From Mount Hor ye shall point out your border unto the entrance of Hamath. Afterwards, both when sailing along the Syrian coast, and when standing on the plain of Phœnicia, I saw with still more distinctness this remarkable pass. I saw then how graphic was the description of Moses. From the great sea ye shall point out for you Mount Hor. It was there before me—the majestic northern peak of Lebanon, the loftiest mountain in Syria, its glittering crown encircled by a halo of silvery clouds. The pass between Lebanon and Bargylus is the only opening from the coast into the land of Hamath.” From the entrance the border-line was drawn northeast to Hamath, then south-east by Ziphron about three miles east of Aretheusa, through Zedad, the present Sudud, about eight hours east of Hums, to Hazar-Enan.” This place, which was the northeastern point in the land, must have been a place marked by abundant springs. It was a village of fountains. Porter identifies this place with the present Kuryetein, lying about six miles southeast from Sudud, and about midway between Palmyra and Damascus. “Here are copious fountains—the only ones of any note in the whole of that vast arid region.” Keil places Hazar Enan near the fountain of Lebweh, at what Robinson regards as the water-shed between the Orontes and the Leontes. The fountain is large, and furnishes the finest water, springing at different points from underneath a broad piece of coarse gravel. He urges in favor of this locality, that it is incredible that the line should have run so far to the north, embracing a country which never really belonged to the kingdom of Israel, and that the more southern line agrees better with the eastern boundary. It is no real objection, however, to the larger limits, that they were actually never reached permanently by the Israelitish power, since the original grant extends even to the Euphrates, Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:31, on condition that the people should be faithful and obedient. The conditions were not fulfilled, and hence the whole land granted was not occupied. So far, therefore, we may take Porter’s location of the northern boundary as the correct one.—A. G.]

5. The eastern border, Numbers 34:10-12. From Hazar-Enan to Shepham. From that point the line descends from the mountains southwards to Riblah to the east of Ain, and going down still further, strikes the east side of the sea of Chinnereth. Still further it runs down to the Jordan, and thence along that river to the Dead Sea. Shepham and Riblah (to be distinguished from the Riblah in the land of Hamath) cannot be precisely located. But Riblah lies east of Ain, and is supposed to have been brought to light in the great fountain Neba Anjar at the foot of Anti Lebanon (Robinson, Researches, Vol. IV., p. 498). [Robinson, however, identifies Riblah here with the Riblah in Hamath and which appears in the later history. Porter also: “Has my reader ever remarked the accuracy of Biblical topography even in the minutest details? Moses speaks of Riblah on the east side of Ain, or of the fountain. Ten miles west of Riblah is the great fountain of the Orontes, which I also visited, and which is to this day called by all the people in the neighborhood El Ain, ‘the fountain.’ ” For the opposite side, see the Bib. Com., which, however, to sustain its theory, resorts to the violent supposition, that there is no Riblah in the text; and laying aside the Masoretic pointing, constructs a word which will favor its theory, p. 782.—A. G.] It is noteworthy that the sea of Galilee is not the boundary, but is enclosed within it, as belonging to the Holy Land, as even the Jordan also. [The description, however—pressed upon the shoulder of the sea—seems to imply that while the border had not run along the Jordan previously, it now rested upon the north-eastern shore of the sea of Galilee, and then skirted that sea, and so down the Jordan. The heritage of the two tribes and a half belonged to the Holy Land, though not included within these bounds. We are not to limit the land to less than that which was actually occupied, nor are we to exclude from it regions which may never have been permanently occupied.—A. G.] This land of Canaan was still now to be distributed by lot, as the land of the inheritance in the narrower and stricter sense. Still the inheritance of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, the east Jordan region, was included. For here it treats specially of that part of the inheritance which was yet to be conquered and distributed.

[Numbers 34:15. On this side Jordan near Jericho, literally, on this side of the Jericho Jordan. The expression here is remarkable, because applied here, not as elsewhere to a limited space, but to the whole territory of the two and a half tribes. It is, too, geographically more accurate than would have been the simple phrase: “on this side of the Jordan,” for the Jordan did not divide the western and eastern tribes throughout the whole of its course. That the inheritance of the tribe of Naphtali was not bounded by the Jordan on the east may be inferred from the sites of some of the Naphtalite cities (Joshua 19:36; Joshua 19:38), as well as from the assertion of Josephus (Antiq. V. 22).” Bib. Com., p. 783.—A. G.]

Numbers 34:16-29. The appointment to distribute the land. To the two leaders of the people and who therefore represented the people, a prince from each of the tribes was added, to whom the special interests of the tribes were entrusted. [“The positions of the several inheritances seem to be determined by lot; but their dimensions were proportioned to the wants of the tribes to which they fell.” Keil, p. 258. The list of tribes in the order named corresponds, with some exceptions, to the situation of the territory which the tribes received in Canaan, reckoning from the south to the north.” There are some singular omissions in the enumeration. The phrase of the children, or sons, does not occur with reference to Judah and Benjamin; and the word prince, which describes the distributors chosen from the several tribes, does not appear with reference to Judah, Simeon and Benjamin. Hirsch suggests as an explanation, “that as the phrase ‘tribe of the children’ represents the idea of the unity of the tribe as composed of the individual בני, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, on whose borders the national sanctuary was to be established, are not thought of as a unity made up of the individual members of the tribe, but as belonging to the entire community, a branch of the whole nation, and so representing its unity. So also as the sanctuary represented the dominion of God and His law, no prince appears for these tribes, nor even for Simeon, whose inheritance lay enclosed in that of Judah.”—A. G.] The names of those appointed—all of them unknown to us save Caleb—are Caleb, attacker, seizer; Furst, Ges., dog-barker; Shemuel, heard of God, asked; Elidad, loved of God (Theophilus); Bukki, reverer of Jehovah [Ges. poured out of Jehovah]; Hanniel, grace of God; Kemuel, assembly of God; Elizaphan, whom God shields or hides; Paltiel, whom God rescues; Ahihud, friend of union [brother, friend of Jews]; Pedahel, whom God redeems or saves.


The pre-determination of the boundaries of Canaan in a certain measure reflects the limitations of the Old Testament. In this narrow, consecrated space, should the people attain its full greatness, not with faint hearts neglect the possession granted to them, but also not to overleap its bounds and seek to found a world-empire (2 Samuel 24:0). The division of the land among the tribes is so ordered that it is partly to be decided by lot or the decree of God, and partly by the considerations of human righteousness, the sense of duty, as these are always the two factors which work and secure a righteous distribution of human property.

[The distinction between the grant and the actual possession, and that distinction as grounded, not in any failure on the part of God, nor in any want of power on the part of Israel, to subdue and occupy the land to its widest limit, but to the want of obedience, Judges 2:20-23; Joshua 23:13-16; Leviticus 26:32-34. The geographical and historical relations of the land.—A. G.]


Arrangements for the land of Canaan. Its division. The Mosaic system has imprinted itself upon the land of Canaan. The indefiniteness of the northern and eastern boundaries may be regarded as an evidence of the Mosaic antiquity of the narrative. Israel itself must restrict itself and its outlines within the most determinate limits externally, in order to its spiritual conquest of the world. This self-restriction re-appears in the New Testament directions in a spiritual sense. The evil condition of a church, which seeks to extend itself indefinitely as to its outward size and numbers, while as to its inward qualities, its spiritual life, it is dead, and indeed falling into dissolution. How indeed in the last instance what purports to be an angelic renunciation of the world, becomes truly a demonic seeking of the world. The executors of the Mosaic testament with respect to Canaan: all is clear, definite, public, righteous. The confessional legacy-hunting of every kind is directly the contrary.
[Wordsworth: “Almighty God describes the limits of the promised land, and thus declares that it is He who is the Lord of all the earth; that all nations are His feudatories and vassals, and hold their territories from Him who sets the borders of the earth, and determines the bounds of their habitations (Acts 17:26).” Henry: “Their borders are set then 1. That they might know whom they were to dispossess, and how far the commission given them (Numbers 33:53) extended. 2. That they might know what to expect, the possession of themselves. How little a share of the world God often gives to His own people! Public affairs should be so managed as not only to give their right to all, but if possible, to give satisfaction to all that they have right done them.”—A. G.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 34". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/numbers-34.html. 1857-84.
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