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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Numbers 34

Verses 1-29


This chapter consists of two portions:

(1) the boundaries of the Promised Land (Numbers 34:1-15), and

(2) the names of the persons who were appointed to distribute the land (Numbers 34:16-29).

Numbers 34:2. Canaan with the coasts thereof. Keil and Del.: “Canaan according to its boundaries.”

Numbers 34:3-5. “Render: ‘Then your south quarter shall extend from the wilderness of Zin which resteth upon the side of Edom. And your south border shall start from the extremity of the salt sea on the east; and your border shall turn on the south to Maaleh-akrabbim, and shall pass on toward Zin, and the extent of its reach on the south shall be to Kadesh-barnea; and it shall reach forth thence to Hazar-addar, and shall pass on to Azmon, and from Azmon the border shall turn to the river of Egypt, and its reach shall be to the sea.’ ”—Speaker’s Comm.

Numbers 34:3. In the former part of this verse we have a general description of the southern boundary, which is afterwards more particularly defined.

The wilderness of Zin. See on Numbers 12:16; Numbers 13:21.

The utmost coast of the Salt Sea, &c.; i.e. from the southern extremity of the Dead Sea in a south-westerly direction.

Numbers 34:4. The ascent of Akrabbim, or Maaleh-akrabbim, the ascent of scorpions, or “the scorpion pass.” Probably the pass of Sâfeh. So Stanley, Robinson, Grove. Scorpions abound in the whole of this district.

Kadesh-barnea. See on Numbers 13:26.

Hazar-addar = village of Addar. In Joshua 15:3, it is mentioned as two places, “Hezron and Adar.” The former was probably “the general name of a district of Hazers, or nomad hamlets, of which Addar was one.” The site of neither of them has been discovered as yet. Azmon also has not yet been identified.

Numbers 34:5. The river of Egypt. The brook of Egypt is the Wady el Arish, which is about seventy miles distant in a westerly direction from Kadesh.

Numbers 34:6. The great sea, i.e., the Mediterranean.

For a border. Lit., “with its border,” i.e., “with the border which it makes.”—Speaker’s Comm.

Numbers 34:7-9. “The northern boundary cannot be determined with certainty.”—Keil and Del.

Numbers 34:7. Mount Hor. This is quite distinct from the Mount Hor upon which Aaron died (see p. 363). “The northern boundary started from the sea. Since Sidon was subsequently allotted to the most northern tribe—Asher (Joshua 19:28), and was, so far as we know, the most northern town so allotted, it would seem probable that the northern boundary would commence at about that point; that is, opposite to where the great range of Lebanon breaks down to the sea. The next landmark, the entrance to Hamath, seems to have been determined by Dr. Porter as the pass at Kalat el-Husn, close to Hums, the ancient Hamath—at the other end of the range of Lebanon. Surely Mount Hor, then, can be nothing else than the great chain of Lebanon itself.”—Bibl. Dict.

Numbers 34:8. The entrance of Hamath. Hamath here is the kingdom of Hamath, which was named after its chief city. “By ‘the entrance of Hamath,’ is to be understood the southern approach to Hamath, from the plain of Cœle Syria, lying between those two ranges of Lebanon, called Libanus and Antilibanus. Robinson and Porter understand it of the western approach to Hamath, from the Mediterranean.”—Speaker’s Comm. See on Numbers 13:21, p. 228.

Zedad, now a large village, still bearing its ancient name (Sadad), about thirty miles east of the entrance of Hamath.”—Ibid.

Numbers 34:9. “Ziphron, now Zifrân, has not been as yet visited by modern travellers, but is reported to lie about forty miles north-east of Damascus, near the road to Palmyra, and to contain extensive ruins.”—Ibid.

Hazar-enan,—“the fountain village.” Probably “Ayûn ed-Dara, a fountain situate in the very heart of the great central chain of Antilibanus.”—Ibid. Most, if not all, of these conjectures or conclusions concerning the northern frontier are, however, disputed.

Numbers 34:10-12. The eastern boundary.

Numbers 34:10. Shepham. The site of this place has not been identified.

Numbers 34:11. Riblah, on the east tide of Ain. Not Riblah in the land of Hamath. Its exact site is unknown.

Sea of Chinnereth, i.e., Sea of Gennesaret, or of Galilee.

Numbers 34:12. Down to Jordan, &c. From the sea of Gennesaret the boundary was the Jordan and the Dead Sea.

Numbers 34:13-15. Unto the nine tribes, &c. Comp. Numbers 32:20-33.

Numbers 34:16-29. Names of the men appointed to distribute the land. Of these, three only are known, viz., Eleazar, the high priest, head of the religious orders; Joshua, the general, head of the military order; and Caleb, the representative prince of the tribe of Judah.

Numbers 34:18. One prince of every tribe. These princes were “the heads of the fathers of the tribes” (Joshua 14:1), not heads of tribes (see on Numbers 13:2; p. 228).


(Numbers 34:1-15)

Let us consider the following facts which are here either suggested or stated concerning the Promised Land.

I. The boundaries of this land were determined by God.

He here directs His servant Moses in this matter. “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel,” &c. We have in this an illustration of His providential ordering of human life. “He hath determined the bounds of their habitation.” “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” This may be regarded as—

1. A reason for contentment.—He shall choose our inheritance for us.” “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.” (a)

2. A rebuke of selfish greed, whether on the part of individuals or of nations. (b)

II. The extent of this land was small.

Authorities are not agreed as to its extent; but even if we take the largest estimate, it was a small land, and remarkably narrow. Mr. Grove thus speaks of its size, and briefly sets forth its boundaries: “The Holy Land is not in size or physical characteristics proportioned to its moral and historical position, as the theatre of the most momentous events in the world’s history. It is but a strip of country about the size of Wales, less than 140 miles in length, and barely 40 in average breadth, on the very frontier of the East, hemmed in between the Mediterranean Sea on the one hand, and the enormous trench of the Jordan valley on the other, by which it is effectually cut off from the mainland of Asia behind it. On the north it is shut in by the high ranges of Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, and by the chasm of the Litâny, which runs at their feet, and forms the main drain of their southern slope. On the south it is no less enclosed by the arid and inhospitable deserts of the upper part of the peninsula of Sinai, whose undulating wastes melt imperceptibly into the southern hills of Judea.… The country thus roughly portrayed, and which, as before stated, is less than 140 miles in length, and not more than 40 in average breadth, is to all intents and purposes the whole Land of Israel. The northern portion is Galilee; the centre, Samaria; the south, Judea. This is the Land of Canaan which was bestowed on Abraham; the covenanted home of his descendants.” (Bibl. Dict.) Dean Stanley, however, makes it to be larger than this. “The breadth of the country from the Jordan to the sea, is rarely more than 50 miles. Its length, from Dan to Beersheba, is about 180 miles.” But, whatever may be its measurements, the glory of this land consists in its having been the theatre of the most marvellous and momentous events in the history of the world, and is in inverse ratio to its size. (c)

III. The position of this land was secure.

An examination of its boundaries as they are here laid down, shows that it was surrounded by natural fortifications. In one particular only was the position of this land perilous. “The only road by which the two great rivals of the ancient world could approach one another—by which alone Egypt could go to Assyria, and Assyria to Egypt—lay along the broad flat strip of coast which formed the maritime portion of the Holy Land, and thence by the plain of the Lebanon to the Euphrates.” This road was undoubtedly a dangerous one for the Israelites. And through this channel the destruction of the nation came at length. But, with this exception, this land was naturally surrounded by almost impregnable defences. (d)

IV. The soil of this land was fertile.

Its present condition is not to be regarded as a representation of its condition when it was inhabited and cultivated. At present the face of the country presents a rocky and barren aspect. For this there are two causes. “The first is the destruction of the timber in that long series of sieges and invasions which began with the invasion of Shishak (B.C. circa 970), and has not yet come to an end. This, by depriving the soil and the streams of shelter from the burning sun, at once made, as it invariably does, the climate more arid than before, and doubtless diminished the rainfall. The second is the decay of the terraces necessary to retain the soil on the steep slopes of the round hills. This decay is owing to the general unsettlement and insecurity which have been the lot of this poor little country almost ever since the Babylonian conquest. The terraces once gone, there was nothing to prevent the soil which they supported being washed away by the heavy rains of winter; and it is hopeless to look for a renewal of the wood, or for any real improvement in the general face of the country, until they have been first reestablished.”—Grove. Its condition in ancient times is thus portrayed by the inspired lawgiver: “A good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains,” &c. (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). “The land whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt,” &c. (Deuteronomy 11:10-12). (e)

V. The Israelites failed to take possession of the whole of this land assigned to them by God.

The territory here marked out for them greatly exceeded that which they actually conquered. For example, it appears that the north-western boundary was to reach “unto great Zidon” (Joshua 19:28), but neither that city nor even Tyre, which is about 20 English miles further south, was ever acquired by Israel. Accho was “the northernmost city of the Holy Land on the western coast.” In order to discover the difference between the extent of the territory allotted and that actually taken, in this district of the land, contrast Joshua 19:24-31, and Judges 1:31-32. Other instances of the failure of the Israelites to take possession of the territory given to them by God are recounted in Judges 1:27-36. From this failure arose many of the sins and sufferings of their subsequent history. In this we have an illustration of the failure of the people of God in this day to rise to the height of their Christian calling, or to realise the fulness and wealth of their Christian privileges. The treasures of the Divine blessing immeasurably exceed our aspiration and faith, and consequently, our realization of them. Comp. Psalms 81:13-16; Isaiah 48:17-19.

In conclusion, the subject presents an impressive illustration of the great goodness of God to His people. And His goodness is even more manifest in the spiritual privileges and possessions to which He calls us in Jesus Christ. Let us show our appreciation of His goodness by striving to attain unto our high calling.


(a) On this point we have given illustrations on pp. 43, 70.

(b) The ambition and insatiable greediness of great men hath put all out of order, and nothing is so holy which can stay them creeping and encroaching upon the bounds and borders of their neighbours. Thus they break the law of God and nature, in seeking to enlarge and increase their own dominions. These justly incur the curse of the prophet, Woe unto them that join house to house, and lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth” (Isaiah 5:8; Habakkuk 2:9-12; Jeremiah 22:23; Micah 2:2). For wherefore hath God separated nation from nation, and one kingdom from another people, but that all should live quietly and communicate one with another, and that there might be no confusion or divisions? And, therefore, ought all to be contented with their own bounds. God hath made them great, but they always seek to make themselves greater: He hath set them bounds, but they will know no bounds. So, then, from thence we may gather that the wars which are taken in hand upon ambition, and the enlarging of the bounds of their empire only, are a despiting of God, a shedding of innocent blood, and a perverting of the order which He hath set in nature and nations. Every man therefore, ought to abide in his own possession and inheritance, and not to trouble or molest one another.…

This reproveth the greedy and covetous affections of private new that covet to be rich, they care not by what means. But as soon as the desire of getting gain is settled in them, they are inflamed to rake to themselves by hook or by crook. “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.” Covetousness is a corrupt affection of the mind, greedily desiring, and too much gaping after, the riches of this life. They dream of long life, forgetting that no man’s life consisteth in the abundance of his riches (Luke 12:15). They think they shall exceedingly profit them, but by the just judgment of God they turn to their hurt. They think they will be as a shield or buckler to defend them from the injuries of this life, but they are turned into swords whereby they are wounded or destroyed. They have conceived a strong opinion that they will be as a wall on every side to underprop the house, but they prove as a double cannon to cast it down to the ground. As then, he that eateth moderately is nourished by the meat, and it abideth in the stomach, but when it is taken immoderately the stomach is choked, and it is vomited up again; so he that greedily heapeth up riches shall be constrained to “vomit them up again” (Job 20:15). Covetousness, therefore, is a sin, when a man is discontented with the estate wherein God hath set him, and with those things that God hath given for the sustenance of this present life; when he murmureth against God, and the more he hath, the more he desireth; when he heapeth them up and keepeth them, and bringeth them not forth to any godly or necessary uses; but he distrusteth the Providence of God, and putteth his trust and confidence in his riches, as if he could not live without abundance of them, neither be sustained by the hand of God.—W. Attersoll.

(c) In Palestine, as in Greece, every traveller is struck with the smallness of the territory. He is surprised, even after all that he has heard, in passing, in one long day, from the capital of Judea to that of Samaria; or at seeing, within eight hours, three such spots as Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. The breadth of the country from the Jordan to the sea is rarely more than fifty miles. Its length from Dan to Beersheba is about a hundred and fifty miles. The time is now gone by when the grandeur of a country is measured by its size, or the diminutive extent of an illustrious people can otherwise than enhance the magnitude of what they have done. The ancient taunt, however, and the facts which suggested it, may still illustrate the feeling which appears in their own records. The contrast between the littleness of Palestine, and the vast extent of the empires which hung upon its northern and southern skirts, is rarely absent from the mind of the Prophets and Psalmists. It helps them to exalt their sense of the favour of God towards their land, by magnifying their little hills and dry torrent beds into an equality with the giant hills of Lebanon and Hermon, and the sea-like rivers of Mesopotamia. It also fosters the consciousness that they were not always to be retrained within these earthly barriers, “The place is too strait for me; give me place where I may dwell” (Isaiah 49:20). Nor is it only the smallness, but the narrowness, of the territory which is remarkable. From almost every high point in the country its whole breadth is visible, from the long wall of the Moab hills on the east, to the Mediterranean Sea on the west. Whatever may be the poverty or insignificance of the landscape, it is at once relieved by a glimpse of either of these two boundaries.

“Two voices are there—one is of the sea,

One of the mountains,”—

and the close proximity of each—the deep purple shade of the one, and the glittering waters of the other—makes it always possible for one or other of those two voices to be heard now, as they were by the Psalmists of old—“The strength of the mountains is His also—The sea is His, and He made it.”—A. P. Stanley, D.D.

(d) Look at its boundaries. The most important will be that on the east. For in that early time, when Palestine first fell to the lot of the chosen people, the East was still the world. The great empires which rose on the plains of Mesopotamia, the cities of the Euphrates and the Tigris, were literally then, what Babylon is metaphorically in the Apocalypse, the rulers and corrupters of all the kingdoms of the earth. Between these great empires and the people of Israel, two obstacles were interposed. The first was the eastern Desert, which formed a barrier in front even of the outposts of Israel—the nomadic tribes on the east of the Jordan; the second, the vast fissure of the Jordan valley, which must always have acted as a deep trench within the exterior rampart of the Desert and the eastern hills of the Trans-Jordanic tribes.

Next to the Assyrian empire in strength and power, superior to it in arts and civilization, was Egypt. What was there on the southern boundary of Palestine, to secure that “the Egyptians whom they saw on the shores of the Red Sea, they should see no more again”? Up to the very frontier of their own land stretched that “great and terrible wilderness,” which rolled like a sea between the valley of the Nile and the valley of the Joroan. This wilderness itself—the platform of the Tîh—could be only reached on its eastern side by the tremendous pass of ’Akaba at the southern, of Sâfeh at the northern end of the ’Arabah, or of the no less formidable ascents from the shores of the Dead Sea.
On these, the two most important frontiers the separation was most complete. The two accessible sides were the west and the north. But the west was only accessible by sea, and when Israel first settled in Palestine, the Mediterranean was not yet the thoroughfare—it was rather the boundary and the terror of the eastern nations. From the north-western coast, indeed, of Syria, the Phœnician cities sent forth their fleets. But they were the exception of the world, the discoverers, the first explorers of the unknown depths; and in their enterprises Israel never joined. In strong contrast, too, with the coast of Europe, and especially of Greece, Palestine has no indentations, no winding creeks, no deep havens, such as in ancient, even more than in modern times, were necessary for the invitation and protection of commercial enterprize. One long line, broken only by the bay of Acre, containing only three bad harbours, Joppa, Acre, and Caipha—the last unknown in ancient times—is the inhospitable front that Palestine opposed to the western world. On the northern frontier the ranges of Lebanon formed two not insignificant ramparts. But the gate between them was open, and through the long valley of Cœle-Syria, the hosts of Syrian and Assyrian conquerors accordingly poured. These were the natural ortifications of that vineyard which was “hedged round about” with tower and trench, sea and desert, against the “boars of the wood,” and “the beasts of the field.”—Ibid.

(e) There is this peculiarity which distinguishes Palestine from the only countries with which it could then be brought into comparison. Chaldea and Egypt—the latter of course in an eminent degree—depend on the course of single rivers. Without the Nile, and the utmost use of the waters of the Nile, Egypt would be a desert. But Palestine is well distinguished, not merely as “a land of wheat and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates, of oil-olive and honey,” but emphatically as “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of plains and mountains,”—“not as the land of Egypt, where thou sowedst thy seed and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs; but a land of mountains and plains which drinketh water of the rain of heaven.” This mountainous character; this abundance of water both from natural springs and from the clouds of heaven, in contradistinction to the one uniform supply of the great river; this abundance of “milk” from its “cattle on a thousand hills,” of “honey” from its forests and its thymy shrubs, was absolutely peculiar to Palestine amongst the civilized nations of the East. Feeble as its brooks might be—though, doubtless, they were then more frequently filled than now—yet still it was the only country where an Eastern could have been familiar with the image of the Psalmist: “He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the mountains.” Those springs, too, however short-lived, are remarkable for their copiousness and beauty. Not only in the East, but hardly in the West, can any fountains and sources of streams be seen so clear, so full-grown even at their birth, as those of the Kishon, the Jordan, and the whole of the Jordan valley. Wales or Westmoreland are, doubtless, not regarded as fertile regions; and the green fields of England to those who have come fresh from Palestine, seem, by way of contrast, to be indeed “a land of promise.” But transplant Wales or Westmoreland into the heart of the Desert, and they would be far more to the inhabitants of the Desert than to their inhabitants are the richest spots of England. Far more: both because the contrast is in itself greater, and because the phenomena of a mountain country, with wells and springs, are of a kind almost unknown to the dwellers in the deserts or river plains of the East.

Palestine therefore, not merely by its situation, but by its comparative fertility, might well be considered the prize of the Eastern world, the possession of which was the mark of God’s peculiar favour; the spot for which the nations would contend: as on a smaller scale the Bedouin tribes for some “diamond of the desert,” some “palm-grove islanded amid the waste.” And a land of which the blessings were so evidently the gift of God, not as in Egypt of man’s labour; which also, by reason of its narrow extent, was so constantly within reach and sight of the neighbouring Desert, was eminently calculated to raise the thoughts of the nation to the Supreme Giver of all these blessings, and to bind it by the dearest ties to the land which He had so manifestly favoured.—Ibid.


(Numbers 34:16-29)

The two chief rules for the Distribution of the Land have already been noticed by us (see p. 502). We have here the names of the persons to whom this distribution was committed. Notice,—

I. The co-working of the Divine and the human in the distribution of the land.

1. Here is the Divine agency. “This is the land which ye shall inherit by lot” (Numbers 34:13); i.e., the situation of the territory of each tribe, and probably of each family, was to be determined by lot. The use of the lot was regarded by most ancient peoples as an appeal to God, and the result was viewed as determined by Him. There are numerous instances of this in Jewish history (Leviticus 16:8-10; Joshua 7:14-18; Judges 1:1-3; Judges 20:8-10; 1 Samuel 10:20-21; 1 Samuel 14:41-42; 1 Chronicles 24:3-31). There is a striking and important example of its use in the very early Christian Church (Acts 1:24-26). The estimate of it may be gathered from Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 18:18. By its use on this occasion, the families of Israel would regard their respective inheritances as allotted to them by Jehovah.

2. Here is human agency. “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, These are the names of the men which shall divide the land unto you.” The situation of the inheritances having been determined by lot, the extent of the inheritance of each tribe was to be determined according to their respective numbers and needs, by the persons whose names are here recorded. In this, as in many other things, God calls man to work, and to work in harmony with Himself. This is the case in the cultivation of the earth, in working out our own salvation, in the conversion of sinners, &c. We are “workers together with him” (2 Corinthians 6:1). (a)

II. The wise arrangements for the performance of man’s duties in the division of the land.

It is worthy of notice that in the persons appointed to this work—

1. Each class was represented. On the commission were “Eleazar the priest,” the head of the religious orders; “Joshua the son of Nun,” the head of the military order; and “one prince of every tribe,” representing the civilian order.

2. Each tribe was represented, with the exception of Reuben and Gad, which had received their inheritance on the east of the Jordan. This arrangement, by which each class and each tribe was represented on the commission, was calculated to inspire the confidence of the people as to the equitable division of the land, and to prevent dissatisfaction on the part of any tribe or class of the nation.

3. Faithful services already rendered were recognised. Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, had already served the nation well and bravely. Their employment on this commission may be viewed—

(1) as an acknowledgment of the value of their former services; and
(2) as a judicious use of persons of approved fidelity.
4. Distinguished abilities were called into use. Joshua and Caleb were not only faithful but remarkably able men. For wisdom and courage they would have been eminent amongst any people. Their abilities would be very valuable in the distribution of the land.

Learn; that in the arrangements for the services of God the highest wisdom should be embodied, and in carrying out those arrangements the most approved fidelity and the most conspicuous ability should be employed. The work of God demands our best efforts both of head and of heart. (b)


(a) If men say, “You do not believe in conversion,” I do. If they say, “You do not believe in conversion by Divine influences,” I do. If they say, “But you act as though you were to produce it yourself,” I reply, “Not any more than I produce flowers myself.” I believe that God made the earth, I believe that he made the seed, I believe that He made the germ in the seed, I believe that He made the sun and the atmospheric conditions needful to the development of that germ, but I believe that I shall have no flowers without my interposition and skilful agency. I prepare the soil, I plant the seed, I remove the weeds from them and nourish them; and yet, after I have done that, I shall not have flowers by any power that is in me. Thou, O Sun! hast alone that secret alchemy, thou alone hast that involving power, by which blossoming can come after my skill ceases, and by which the flower shall reward my toil. And Thou, O Sun of Righteousness! hast alone the power to cause the seed to blossom out. For though man may plant the seed, and till the soil, the final form of development comes from the influence of the Divine Spirit upon the human soul. We work together. Man carries on his work, and God adds His influence; and the two are not in antagonism, but are coincident and co-operative. They are not in conflict, but concurrent. Some men are shocked when we say, “Such a man was converted by the minister.” You may say that in an irreverent way, but you may say it so as to be conformable to truth. I say, “I raised a harvest.” A person listening to me says, “No, you did not; God raised it.” I say, by way of explanation, “I went out and planted my fields, and brought my orchard into the right condition, and all this wealth of grain and fruit is the result of my pains-taking;” and in a proper sense that does not imply conceit or pride, and that does not exclude the agency of nature or the Divine constitution of things. I did raise that harvest. We are accustomed to talk so, and without irreverence; and there is a sense in which I am instrumental in implanting correct views in a soul, and impressing right influences upon it, and it is not irreverent for me to say that I have converted men from the error of their ways.—H. W. Beecher.

(b) Men have naturally such slight thoughts of the majesty and law of God, that they think any service is good enough for Him, and conformable to His law. The dullest and deadest time we think fittest to pay God a service in; when sleep is ready to close our eyes, and we are unfit to serve ourselves, we think it a fit time to open our heart to God. How few morning sacrifices hath God from many persons and families! Men leap out of their beds to their carnal pleasures or worldly employments without any thought of their Creator and Preserver, or any reflection upon His will as the rule of our daily obedience. And as many reserve the dregs of their lives—their old age—to offer up their souls to God, so they reserve the dregs of the days—their sleeping time—for the offering up their service to Him. How many grudge to spend their best time in serving the will of God, and reserve for Him the sickly and rheumatic part of their lives—the remainder of that which the devil and their own lusts have fed upon! Would not any prince or governor judge a present, half eaten up by Wild beasts, or that which died in a ditch, a contempt of his royalty? A corrupt thing is too base and vile for so great a King as God is, whose name is dreadful. Alas! God calls for our best, and we give Him our worst!Charnocks.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 34". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.