Command the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance is to have these boundaries: “ ‘Your southern side will include some of the Desert of Zin along the border of Edom. Your southern boundary will start in the east from the southern end of the Dead Sea, cross south of Scorpion Pass, continue on to Zin and go south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it will go to Hazar Addar and over to Azmon, where it will turn, join the Wadi of Egypt and end at the Mediterranean Sea. “ ‘Your western boundary will be the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This will be your boundary on the west. “ ‘For your northern boundary, run a line from the Mediterranean Sea to Mount Hor and from Mount Hor to Lebo Hamath. Then the boundary will go to Zedad, continue to Ziphron and end at Hazar Enan. This will be your boundary on the north. “ ‘For your eastern boundary, run a line from Hazar Enan to Shepham. The boundary will go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain and continue along the slopes east of the Sea of Galilee. Then the boundary will go down along the Jordan and end at the Dead Sea. “ ‘This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side. – Numbers 34:2-12
This passage sets the boundaries of the land God set aside for the Israelites. Many of them are related either to the presence of a body of water, or in the case of the deserts, a lack of water. These “lines in the sand” were probably controversial and contentious then and they are certainly contentious now. There has been conflict over land, inheritance (oil), and religious beliefs in the middle east pretty much since the time of this passage. It seems odd that what was in essence an act of love and covenant on God’s part has resulted in so much bloodshed and conflict. I understand God wanting to provide for His people and keep His promise of providing a land for the Israelites, but I am having difficulty with the outcomes of this gifting.
There seems to be a dissonance between the loving God of manna and hidden springs, and the God whose gift created millennia of conflict. So what are the options here…1) God intended the conflict when he gave the land to the Israelites; 2) God gave the Israelites the land out of love and the behaviour of the Israelites toward God, each other, and their neighbors resulted in conflict; 3) the Israelites misinterpreted God’s intent or direction with regard to their borders and behavior toward neighbors; 4) something else is going on here that I have not thought of or figured out yet.
Of these options I favor a combination of #2 and #3, although #4 is always possible. When God showed up as Godly condensate in Jesus He spent a lot of time talking and teaching about who our neighbors are and how we are to treat them. Interestingly, he spent almost no time that I recall talking about borders and land. When he did talk about possessions it was usually to tell people that these were things keeping them from a deeper relationship with God rather than a gifted inheritance. This leads me to the conclusion that the Israelites misinterpreted and misused the lines in the sand drawn by God out of love.
I do not think the Israelites are alone in their tendency to misinterpret God’s boundaries. Jesus set all sorts of spiritual “lines in the sand” when he walked and talked with his disciples. These spiritual boundaries were given in love to keep us from hurting each other and to help us grow closer to God. I think it is safe to say these boundaries, given in love, have resulted in behavior toward God, each other, and our neighbors that has caused conflict. The list of divisive issues is long: sexuality and sexual sins, marriage and divorce, worship styles and traditions, God’s grace versus God’s judgement….I am sure there are many others we could name. I think the way the Israelites treated the land they were given, and the way we often treat the spiritual “land” we as Christians were given by Jesus fails the Meribah Test. In other words the actions lead people away, rather than toward, God.
Prayer: God help me to honor the boundaries you have set for me without causing conflict that would lead people away from You.