What Happened To The Boundaries Of The Promised Land?

Moses assigns the general boundaries of Canaan and leaders to distribute the land.


Read Numbers 34


The first 12 verses are simply the boundaries of the Promised Land. Many of the points given are not known today, but many are. Unquestionably the eastern-most part (the Jordan River), and the western-most part (the Mediterranean Sea) are easy to identify. Even the north is fairly sure, but the southern boundary is a little less so.


Look at this map, because it is by far the easier way to understand these boundaries.


Boundaries of Canaan


Now, there are Egyptian records from approximately this same period (14th century BC) that are virtually identical in describing the boundaries of the land of Canaan as we read here in Numbers; which means that we can know that these are correct.


In other words, what the Lord describes here in Numbers 34 was the recognized territorial boundaries of the Land of Canaan in those days leading up to Israel occupying that area.


Yehoveh did not redefine the boundaries of the land of Canaan; He neither added to nor subtracted from them.


But, as for the southern border, identified in verse 5 as the nahlah Mishrayim (often translated in semi-English as the Wadi of Egypt), this is probably the greatest of the controversies. I do not for a minute buy that this southern boundary is the Nile River.


  1. First, nowhere do we find the Hebrew term nahlah Mishrayim EVER used to denote the Nile.

  3. Second, the term,nahlah, more means a watercourse. It doesn’t necessarily mean a desert Wadi that is a dry riverbed except when a thunderstorm suddenly fills it; because it can also refer to a brook or a small watercourse that is sometimes but a trickle, seasonally a stream, and occasionally a temporary torrent. That in no way is a term used to describe the Mississippi sized Nile River.

  5. Third, these Egyptian records are so explicit and nearly identical to the record here in Numbers regarding the boundaries of Canaan that if one took the nahlah Mishrayim to mean the Nile, that would assert that Canaan at one time included the entire Sinai Peninsula. And even extended well onto the African Continent, taking in much of the land that has always been ascribed to Egypt.

  7. Fourth, as these Egyptian records are from about the same period as the Exodus, had Canaan included the Sinai Peninsula (or even the eastern bank of the Nile, if the Nile was that southern boundary), then that means that the Sinai Peninsula was part of the Promised Land. So, it would have been a rather short journey…maybe a couple of days…out of Egypt into Canaan and the journey would have been practically over before it started, right?


So, you can see how none of that makes much sense. Now, there are more serious and reasonable disagreements over exactly where that nahlah Mishrayim is, but it could NOT have extended into the Sinai, which was always known as Egyptian territory.


Now, the next thing that people can get confused over when discussing the boundary of the Promised Land is when one looks at this in Numbers, and then goes on to read Ezekiel. The Ezekiel 47 property division is somewhat different that what we read of in Numbers.


Let’s turn to Ezekiel 47:13-23, and then move right into Ezekiel 48:1-14.


boundaries map 2


Now, if you’ll look at this map, you’ll see that the territorial allotment is little different. It is somewhat bigger, the Levites ARE given territory (but they are not given any in the Numbers allotment), and they are stacked like a totem pole with the boundary lines primarily starting in the west at the Mediterranean and extending a bit farther east, especially in the north. So what gives?


There are some captivating transformations at a certain point in Ezekiel; not the least of which is the re-institution of sacrificial worship at a rebuilt Temple. But also a change in the ritual procedures that seem to reduce the role and importance of the priesthood to one of the religious emcees over commemorative (rather than effectual) ceremonies.


In other words, just as we celebrate Passover or Resurrection Day or even Communion, these observances are not some ritual that affects some ordained response from God. We don’t have our sins forgiven as a result of those ceremonies; we don’t get into better standing with God, we aren’t purified, etc.


These rather standard Christian and Messianic Jewish traditions are simply joyful commemorations of gratitude to our Lord in remembrance of the great things He has done. So it will be in Ezekiel, but at a time when even MORE works of Yeshua will have been accomplished.


Tom Bradford’s position is that the reason for the differences between these visions we read of in Ezekiel versus what we read in the Torah is that Ezekiel is speaking of the Millennial Kingdom period, also called the 1000-year reign of Messiah Yeshua, Jesus Christ that immediately follows the Armageddon event.


As He will be literally and physically dwelling in and ruling from Jerusalem, and for a period evil and rebellion will not exist on planet Earth.


For one thing, the numbers of Believers that will be clamoring to live in and around Jesus the King (even though we’ll be able to choose to live anywhere we wish on the planet) are going to be far larger than the territorial allotment of Numbers would ever be able to accommodate.


However, the main thing that happens in the Ezekiel description of the Kingdom land as opposed to the Moses account in Numbers, is that land on the EAST side of the Jordan (more or less the land that Moses permitted Reuben, Gad, and 1/2 of the tribe of Manessah to settle in) is included.


In any case, one negative to all this is that Israel, in its entire history, has NEVER controlled or even inhabited all of the territories God gave to them in Numbers, let alone what is described in Ezekiel.


But, it is key to grasp that whether they ever occupied it or not, the Lord still reserved it exclusively for Israel.


Now what else is so interesting and relevant to us is that the Promised Land boundaries of Numbers 34 include virtually all of present-day Syria and Lebanon. Is it any wonder that Syria and Lebanon are in a constant war (sometimes cold sometimes hot) with Israel?


The government of the reborn nation of Israel has never laid claim to Syria or Lebanon, but all parties are well aware of what the Torah says about it.


Muslims know better than most Christians and Jews what the Torah says about who owns this land, which is why they are willing to fight to the death over it as Satan’s proxies.


More important though is that both Yehoveh and Satan know the score; the people of Syria and Lebanon are living on land promised to Abraham and his Israelite descendants. The fact that earthly governments and institutions (even the Church) deny this means nothing in heaven.


It also cannot be denied that the land as described to Moses, and then later to Ezekiel, is a little different yet then what is explained to Abraham. Look at this map. The thing to understand about what was given to Abraham is far more general in nature than what was specified to Moses.


Plus since tribes moved over time and nations rose up, empires came and went, boundaries changed, and people groups grew, shrank or disappeared altogether. There was much change in place, names, and tribal locations by the time of Moses, and then later Ezekiel.


Beginning in verse 13 we get a summation of some facts: for instance, the Promised Land is to be divided among ten tribes, not 12 as was originally set down.


It was nine tribes plus 1/2 of the tribe of Manasseh who were to get portions. The reason, of course, is that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and 1/2 of the tribe of Manasseh chose to stay OUTSIDE of the Promised Land, and so gave up rights to living in Canaan.


The chapter concludes with an extended listing of the tribes of Israel, and who, at the moment in history, was the prince, the chieftain, of each of the tribes.


Therefore, these ten men would be given the territorial allotment for the tribe they controlled, and then it was up to them to subdivide their territory among the various clans and families within their tribe as they saw fit.





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