Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Numbers 34

Verses 1-15

Numbers 34:1-15

When ye come into the land of Canaan.

The Promised Land

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

1. A reason for contentment.

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

II. The extent of this land was small. 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 a hundred and forty miles in length and barely forty 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 Litany, 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.”

III. The position of this land was secure. 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 fiat 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.

IV. The soil of this land was fertile. 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 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 re-established.”

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

Boundaries

Life is marked all over with boundary lines. Two different views may be taken of such lines--that is to say, in the first place they may be regarded as limitations and partial impoverishments, or, in the next place, they may be regarded as defining rights and liberties, possessions and authorities. Very subtle and delicate things are boundaries oftentimes. They are invisible. Are not all the greatest things invisible, as well as the best and most delicate and tender? Show the line of love. There is no line to show. It is at this point that conscience comes into active play. Where the conscience is dull, or imperfectly educated, or selfish, there will be much dispute about boundaries; but where the conscience is sanctified by the power of the Cross and is alive with the righteousness of God, there will be no controversy, but large concession, noble interpretation, willingness to give, to take, to arrange and settle, without the severity of the law or the cruelty of the sword. What differences there are in boundaries! We read of one, in the seventh verse, whose boundary was “from the great sea”; in the twelfth verse, “the goings out of it shall be at the salt sea.” There is so much sea in some people’s limited possession. What a boundary is the inhospitable sea! We cannot cut it up into acres, and lay it out; we cannot sow it with wheat, and reap the harvest, and enjoy the bread; it is to most of us but a spectacle--great, melancholy, unresponsive, pitiless; a liquid emblem of cruel death. Is not this the case with many men? They know they have great possessions, but their greatness is not the measure of their value. A little garden-plot would be to some men more valuable, for purposes of living, than the freehold of the Atlantic. Sometimes men are born to great estates that have nothing in them--boundless nothings; a proprietorship of infinite bogs and wastes and unanswering sterilities; sand that cannot be ploughed, water that cannot be sown with seed, and bogs that cannot be built upon. Contrast with such allotments the words of music which you find in the fifteenth verse: “toward the sunrising.” That is an inheritance worth having! The morning sun blesses it: early in the morning all heaven’s glory is poured out upon it with the hospitality of God; whatever is planted in it grows almost instantly; the flowers love to be planted there; all the roots of the earth would say, “Put us in this place of the morning sun, and we will show you what we can do in growth and fruitfulness; give us the chance of the sun, and then say what we really are.” We cannot all have our estates “toward the sunrising”; we cannot wholly cut off the north and the northeast--the shady side of the bill: somebody must be there. Does God plant a tabernacle in such sunless districts? Is there any temple of God in the northlands, where the storm blows with a will and the tempests seem to have it all their own way, rioting in their tumultuous strength, and, as it were, accosting one another in reduplications of infinite thunderings and roarings of whirlwinds? Even there God’s footprint may be found. Even a little may be so held as to he much. Quite a small garden may grow stuff enough for a whole household. Look for the bright spots; add up all the excellences; totalise the attractions of the situation; and it is wonderful how things add up when you know how to add them. Boundary is disciplinary. Who would not like to add just one more shelf to his library, and could do it if he were at liberty to take the books from another man’s study? Who does not desire to have just the corner plot to make the estate geometrically complete, and would do it if the owner of the plot were not looking? But to retire within your own boundary!--to have nothing but a ditch between you and the vineyard you covet! Who is stopped by a ditch? To have nothing but one thin, green hedge between proprietorship actual and proprietorship desired! Why not burn the hedge, or transfer it? “Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him,” saith the proverbs of Solomon. To be kept within our own lines, to build our altar steadily there, and to bow down at that altar and confess that “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof,” and that, whether a man has much or little, he may be God’s child, God’s servant, and Christ’s apostle--that is the highest discipline, and it is possible to every man. Boundaries are suggestive. Every boundary, rightly interpreted, means, “Your last estate will be a very little one--a grave in the cemetery, a tomb in the silent place.” Does it come to this, that the man who wanted acres a thousand in number doubled lies down in six feet, or seven, by four? Can a carpenter measure him for his last house? Does there,come a time when a man steals quietly upstairs with a two-foot measure, and afterwards hurries out to build for him in the eventide his last dwelling-place? It is impossible to exclude this thought from all our best reasoning. There is no need to be mawkish, sentimental, foolishly melancholy about it; but there is the fact that there is an appointed time to man upon the earth as well as an appointed place to man upon the earth, and that he is the wise man who looks at that certain fact and conducts himself wisely in relation to it. Men have the power of closing their eyes and not seeing the end; but to close the eves is not to destroy the inevitable boundary. Even the grave can be made beautiful. A man may so live that when he is laid in his grave other men may go to see the tomb and bedew it with tears, and even stoop down and touch it with a loving hand as if it were a living thing. (J. Parker, D. D.)
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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 34". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-34.html. 1905-1909. New York.