Here we have a particular description of the boundaries which defined the edges of the Promised Land of Canaan on all sides. God directed Moses to write this description down in this chapter – not in the same way that a geographer draws on his map, merely to please the curious; but as a prince marking out his land-grant, so that it may be clearly known what is being conveyed by the grant. There was actually a much larger possession of land – reaching even to the Euphrates River – that was promised to God’s people, and they would have eventually possessed if they had been obedient to Him (Gen. 15:18; Deut. 11:24). And in David and Solomon’s time, the dominion of the nation of Israel did extend that far. But the land which is described here in this chapter is the land of Canaan alone. This area became the inheritance of 9½ tribes of Israel, for the other 2½ had already been promised land on the east side of the Jordan River (verses 14, 15).
If we read this chapter with a spiritual eye of discernment, we will see much of the Gospel in it! Let us first observe how the Lord pointed out the bounds of His people’s inheritance upon earth, even before they were called upon to take possession of them. And if such was the case with the physical land of Israel, can we imagine that the heavenly inheritance of the Lord’s people is not already ascertained and known? Our Jesus has gone before us so that He might take possession of it in our name. How sweet it is when our troubled soul are assured that all our boundaries in this life are fixed, and that a sure mansion is prepared for us in the world which is to come! (Deut. 32:8; John 14:1-4)
Let us also observe how little a share of the world God gives to His own people, for Canaan was a very small portion of land – not over 160 miles in length, and no more than 50 miles wide. But those who have their portion in heaven have good reason to be content with a tiny portion of this earth. A little that a righteous man possesses – having it from the love of God, and with His blessing – is far better and more comfortable than the riches of many wicked persons combined! (Ps. 37:16)
This little spot which the Lord had chosen from the midst of the whole earth was the place that He was peculiarly pleased to mark out for His people, and to make the glory of all lands. And this is what Jesus has done with His Church. She is a little Church, and she is surrounded (as Canaan was) by the idolatrous and profane world – but she is safely preserved by her Lord.
Is there not also a striking spiritual memorial arising out of a look at the boundaries of the land belonging to the Lord’s people? The southern region was bordered by the wilderness of Zin – that memorable wilderness where God’s mercies and Israel’s ingratitude and rebellion had so often been seen. The Salt Sea (or Dead Sea) on the east side – did it not remind the people of God’s judgments upon Sodom and Gomorrah, when Lot was sent out of the overthrow of those cities? And was it possible for Israel to look towards Kadesh-barnea or the river of Jordan or the “great sea” westward (the Mediterranean Sea) without having all the memories of the Lord’s mercies in these histories being brought afresh unto them – again and again? As we think of these memorials of God’s mercies, let us examine our own lives and see whether there are similar monuments of our Lord’s mighty hand bringing us through the wilderness all these many years, in order to humble us and prove us! How sweet and precious it is to thus look back and look around, and view the tokens of Jesus’ love! Let us set up our Bethels (Gen. 28:18, 19) and our Ebenezers (1 Sam. 7:12); for hitherto, the Lord has indeed helped us!
In the second section of this chapter, God appointed commissioners to divide the land among the tribes. The conquest of the land is already taken for granted, although – as of yet – there had not even been one stroke struck against it. We do not read of any nomination of generals and commanders-in-chief who would carry on the war; for the people were not to get the land by their own sword or bow, but by the power and favor of their God. And in order that they would be confident indeed of victory and success while the Lord fought for them, He now named the persons who would be entrusted with the dividing of the land – that is, the persons who would preside in casting the lots, in determining controversies that might arise, and in seeing that all was done fairly. First, there were the principal commissioners, who were Eleazar the high priest and Joshua (verse 17). They pictured Christ acting as both Priest and King – dividing the heavenly Canaan to the spiritual Israel. In addition to these two men, a prince from each tribe was appointed to inspect the matter. This helped to ensure that there would be no suspicions of partiality, for each of these men was to make sure that the tribe he represented was not injured in any way.
Lord, You had promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit Canaan, and here we behold the assurance of Your promises. O for the faith of Abraham, to trust You in the certainty of the heavenly Canaan! Throughout every journey of our pilgrimage-state toward that better land, we beseech You to establish the bounds of our habitation, so that all our desires may center in You. Lord Jesus, be our High Priest, like Eleazar; and be the Captain of our salvation, like Joshua – going on ahead of us to the Promised Land! Amen.
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sunset in Israel | photo by Ryan Wakefield | Lightstock.com