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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 34

Introduction

F. FUTURE PROSPECTS IN THE LAND (chapters 26-36).

We now come to the final main section of the book. It will commence with the numbering of Israel, a sign that they were making ready for the final push, and is divided up into rededication and preparations for entering the land (chapters 26-32), and warning and encouragement with respect to it (chapters 33-36). The first section concentrates on the mobilisation and dedication of the people of Yahweh, and the punishment of those who by their behaviour hinder that mobilisation and dedication.

In terms of the overall pattern of the book the first section covers the mobilisation of Israel, the appointment of Joshua on whom was the Spirit and the death of Moses For Sin (chapters 26-27), which compares with the earlier murmuring of Israel, the appointment of elders on whom came the Spirit, and the plague on Miriam because of sin (chapters 11-12). This then followed by the dedication of Israel through Feasts, Offerings and Vows and the purifying of Transjordan through vengeance on the Midianites and settlement of the two and a half Tribes (chapters 28-32) which compares with the purification and dedication of Israel in chapters 5-10.

Analysis of the section.

(I). Preparation for Entering the Land (chapters 26-32).

This can be divided up into:

a Numbering of the tribes for possessing the land (Numbers 26:1-4.26.51).

b Instructions concerning division of the land (Numbers 26:52-4.26.62).

c Vengeance had been brought on those who had refused to enter the land (Numbers 26:63-4.26.65).

d Regulation in respect of land to be inherited by women and others (Numbers 27:1-4.27.11).

e Provision of a dedicated shepherd for the people of Israel (Numbers 27:12-4.27.23).

e Provision of a dedicated people and future worship in the land (Numbers 28-29).

d Regulation in respect of dedicatory vows made by women and others (Numbers 30:0)

c Vengeance to be obtained on Midian (Numbers 31:1-4.31.24).

b Instructions concerning division of the spoils of Midian (Numbers 31:25-4.31.54).

a Settlement of the Transjordanian tribes in possessing land (Numbers 32:0).

(II) Warning and Encouragement of The Younger Generation (chapters 33-36).

a Review of the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-4.33.49).

b Instruction concerning the successful possession of and dividing up of the land in the future (Numbers 33:50 to Numbers 34:15).

c The Leaders who will divide the land for them are appointed (Numbers 34:16-4.34.29).

d Provision of cities for the Levites. (Numbers 35:1-4.35.5)

d Provision of cities of refuge and prevention of defilement of the land (Numbers 35:6-4.35.34).

c The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-4.36.4).

b Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the dividing up of the land which they successfully possess (Numbers 36:5-4.36.12)

a Final summary of the book and colophon. The journey is over. They are in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 36:13).

In this section stress is laid on preparation for entering the land.

II). Warning and Encouragement of The Younger Generation (chapters 33-36).

This final section of the book is full of hope, the kind of hope that was in the hearts of Israel when they first mobilised at Sinai. It reiterates the successful journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab, lays out details of how they were to divide the land that they would soon inherit, as the Gadites, Reubenites and half tribe of Manasseh had already done, describes that land in realistic terms as a goal to aim at, appoints the very leaders who will have responsibility for that task, tells them of the necessity to provide cities for the Levites and cities of refuge for the maintenance of the holiness of the land, and brings the whole to a conclusion with the glorious example of the daughters of Zelophehad, demonstrating how their struggle for fair treatment ended in success because of their faithfulness and trust in Yahweh and their final obedience to His commands. This last human interest story, which also carried within it other valuable lessons concerning the guaranteeing of the land to those to whom it would be allotted, would act like a spur to all the people as they sought to copy the trustfulness and obedience of these courageous daughters of Zelophehad. The inspiration that it was comes out in the constant references to it. It had seized the imagination of Israel (Numbers 26:33; Numbers 27:1; Numbers 27:7; Numbers 36:2-4.36.11), and was thus seen as a suitable ending for the book.

Analysis of the Section.

a Review of the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-4.33.49).

b Instruction concerning dividing up the land by lot in the future so that each man has his lot and for the purifying of the land (Numbers 33:50-4.33.56).

c Description of the land to be inherited (Numbers 34:1-4.34.15).

d The Leaders who will divide the land for them are appointed (Numbers 34:16-4.34.29).

e Provision of cities for the Levites. (Numbers 35:1-4.35.8)

e Provision of cities of refuge and prevention of defilement of the land (Numbers 35:9-4.35.34).

d The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-4.36.2 a).

c Description of the problem relating to the land inherited by the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:2-4.36.4).

b Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the lot in the dividing up of the land (Numbers 36:5-4.36.12)

a Final summary of the book and colophon. The journey is over. They are in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 36:13).

It is quite clear that the book itself sees each of these passages as an encouragement ready for the crossing over into the land. Each of them is a confirmation to them that the conquest will in essence be completed within their lifetime and the lifetime of their leaders. The setting of it in between the journeying to the plain of Moab, and their actually being there stresses the context of the whole. It promises that they will possess a land to divide up after removing those who defile it, describes that land and who will divide it up, guarantees that they will possess sufficient cities to be able to give forty eight to the Levites, and that they will be able to set up Cities of Refuge for the purpose of keeping the land free from defilement, and finally affirms the necessity for each part of the land to remain with the tribe to whom it was allotted, and encourages all by describing how the five women of faith and loyalty, the daughters of Zelophehad, of whom all had now heard, brought their story to a happy ending by fully obeying Yahweh.

This all confirms the purpose of the whole book, encouragement for the battles ahead. If the date of its writing is pushed into the future it loses its main purpose, and we have to ask why some theoretical future writer should have designed it in this way. He would have spent considerable time achieving something that had no significance. It only has significance if the invasion is about to begin.

Verses 1-6

3). Description of The Land To Be Inherited (Numbers 34:1-4.34.15 ).

Having commanded the purifying of the land by the driving out of its inhabitants and their gods, the land in mind is now delineated. This was not just some vague notion, it was a grand plan.

Analysis.

a Command concerning the inheritance of the land which will fall to them (Numbers 34:1-4.34.2).

b Description of the south quarter (Numbers 34:3-4.34.5).

b Description of the western border (Numbers 34:6).

b Description of the northern border (Numbers 34:7-4.34.9).

b Description of the eastern border (Numbers 34:10-4.34.12).

a This is the land which they are to inherit by lot as Yahweh has commanded (Numbers 34:13-4.34.15).

Chapter 34 Delineation of the Land To Be Possessed and the Names of Those Who Will Divide It Up Once It Is Possessed.

The land of Canaan was in general a recognised entity in the ancient world. For long periods it came under the control of Egypt to the south who considered that they had rights over it. When they were strong those rights were exercised. Thus in the Amarna letters Egypt expected to be kept in touch with affairs and were regularly called on to give assistance, and their idea of Canaan corresponds with the description here. Interestingly a later 12th century BC text of Pharaoh Merenptah actually mentions the presence of Israel in the land, boasting that he had got rid of them, ‘Israel lies desolate, its seed are no more’. But they had simply retired to the hills awaiting his departure.

While its exact borders were nowhere mentioned it is made quite clear that it occupies pretty much of what is described here.

Numbers 34:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

Again we are assured that we have Moses’ words given by Yahweh.

Numbers 34:2

Command the children of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land of Canaan, this is the land which shall fall to you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to its borders.”

When they came into the land of Canaan the land that they were to possess was clearly specified. The delineations are much larger than was actually achieved, but that was due to disobedience. Because they failed Yahweh the Canaanites survived as far as Byblos, well to the north, the area from which had previously come the Ugaritic texts.

Description Of The South Quarter (Numbers 34:3-4.34.5 ).

Numbers 34:3-4.34.5

Then your south quarter shall be from the wilderness of Zin along by the border 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 (‘scorpions’), and pass along to Zin. And its goings out shall be southward of Kadesh-barnea; and it shall go forth to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon; and the border shall turn about from Azmon to the Wadi of Egypt, and its goings out shall be at the sea.”

Compare Joshua 15:2-6.15.4. They were not to possess any of the land of Edom (‘along by the border of Edom’ - compare Deuteronomy 2:5). The boundary then goes from the bottom of the Salt Sea (the Dead Sea) across to the Great Sea, (the Mediterranean Sea), passing to the south of Kadesh Barnea (possibly Ain el Qudeirat) which was to be included in the land, and reaching ‘the Wadi of Egypt’ (Wadi el-Arish). The Negeb provided good pasture land, and by judicious use of groundwater could be, and regularly was at times, irrigated.

Numbers 34:6

And for the western border, you shall have the great sea and the border. This shall be your west border.”

The Western border was the Great Sea, the Mediterranean itself.

Verses 7-9

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

This Mount Hor was probably by the sea north of Byblos. The boundary then went across to Lebo-Hamath in the Beqa Valley (probably modern Lebweh, and mentioned in both Egyptian and Assyrian sources), and Zedad (modern Sedad)

Verses 10-12

And you shall mark out your east border from Hazar-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 to the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward; and the border shall go down to the Jordan, and its goings out shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land according to its borders round about.”

The first part of the eastern border cannot now be determined, but it soon became the Jordan valley, alongside the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) and down the Arabah to the Dead Sea. Transjordan was thus outside the delineated land, as Moses now explains.

Verses 13-15

‘And 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; 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.” ’

What he has described was to be seen as the land which was to be divided among them by lot. It was the land which Yahweh had commanded should be given to the nine and a half tribes. The other two and a half tribes have received theirs in Transjordan, east of Jordan. But note the tacit assumption that this had been given to them by Yahweh as well. It is ‘their inheritance’ (see Deuteronomy 2:30-5.2.31; Deuteronomy 3:2; Deuteronomy 3:18).

So the land that they were to possess was marked out before them. It remained for them to take possession in the name of Yahweh, and with His powerful assistance. He had brought them safely from Egypt (Numbers 33:1-4.33.49), now He would take them safely into the promised land (Numbers 33:51-4.33.53).

Verses 16-29

4). The Leaders Who Will Divide the Land For Them Are Appointed (Numbers 34:16-4.34.29 ).

The picture is further enhanced by naming the leaders who will see to the dividing up of the land, which are now given. This was a guarantee that within their lifetime the land would be possessed. This was to be no future dream, it was a present hope. They could look to their leader’s tents and see where the one who would actually do this was dwelling. Here was certainty and encouragement sufficient for all. Those mainly responsible for the division would be Joshua and Eleazar, but they would be assisted by the chieftains of the nine and a half tribes.

Analysis.

a Yahweh declares the names of those who will divide the land (Numbers 34:16-4.34.18).

b The princes names listed (Numbers 34:19-4.34.28).

a These are those whom Yahweh has commanded to divide the land (Numbers 34:29).

Numbers 34:16

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

Once again it is insisted that this was what was commanded to Moses by Yahweh.

Numbers 34:17

These are the names of the men who will divide the land to you for inheritance: Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun.”

The two men mainly responsible for dividing the land would be Eleazar the Priest and Joshua. Eleazar was named first out of deference to his present position. Joshua was still simply the heir elect. But Eleazar is always mentioned first when the two are named together in direct contrast with Moses and Aaron suggesting that Joshua’s status was never quite seen as on a par with that of Moses (Numbers 32:28; Joshua 14:1; Joshua 17:4; Joshua 19:51; Joshua 21:1).

Numbers 34:18

And you shall take one prince of every tribe, to divide the land for inheritance.”

And they were to act through the named chieftains of the tribe. The names of these chieftains is now given. The list is very pointed. The only chieftain remaining of the old chieftains was Caleb. All the others had passed way to be replaced by the new generation. Compare Numbers 1:4-4.1.16; Numbers 13:4-4.13.15. Joshua was the only other exception, but he was no longer available having been made commander-in-chief.

Numbers 34:19-4.34.28

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.”

Numbers 34:29

These are they whom Yahweh commanded to divide the inheritance to the children of Israel in the land of Canaan.”

These chieftains are the ones whom Yahweh has commanded should divide up the inheritance of the children of Israel in the land of Canaan. This was Yahweh’s inheritance, given to the children of Israel. It was to be theirs and would be divided up by their chieftains alive at this day.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 34". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/numbers-34.html. 2013.