This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “These are the boundaries of the land that you will divide among the twelve tribes of Israel as their inheritance, with two portions for Joseph. You are to divide it equally among them. Because I swore with uplifted hand to give it to your ancestors, this land will become your inheritance. “This is to be the boundary of the land: “On the north side it will run from the Mediterranean Sea by the Hethlon road past Lebo Hamath to Zedad, Berothah and Sibraim (which lies on the border between Damascus and Hamath), as far as Hazer Hattikon, which is on the border of Hauran. The boundary will extend from the sea to Hazar Enan, along the northern border of Damascus, with the border of Hamath to the north. This will be the northern boundary. “On the east side the boundary will run between Hauran and Damascus, along the Jordan between Gilead and the land of Israel, to the Dead Sea and as far as Tamar. This will be the eastern boundary. “On the south side it will run from Tamar as far as the waters of Meribah Kadesh, then along the Wadi of Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. This will be the southern boundary. “On the west side, the Mediterranean Sea will be the boundary to a point opposite Lebo Hamath. This will be the western boundary. “You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe a foreigner resides, there you are to give them their inheritance,” declares the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 47:13-23
The subject of this passage is borders and “inheritance”. Just a few days ago the world was surprised by the announcement that the United States would locate the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, essentially recognizing it as the capital of Israel. I am not going to wade into this debate or discussion, but it seems that this passage has something to say about borders and how the people of Israel should view their “inheritance”.
God is fulfilling the promise he made when the people of Israel crossed into the Promised Land in the heart wrenching account of Moses having to give up the reigns within sight of the land he had worked so hard to lead the people of Israel to possess (Numbers 27:12-14). The boundaries of the land given to the twelve tribes of Israel is defined by bodies of water. The “lines in the sand” are virtually identical to those described back in Numbers 34:2-12. Back in numbers I concluded that the only way this “gifting” of other people’s land made sense was if the Israelites somehow misinterpreted and misused the lines in the sand drawn by God out of love. This passage seems to bear this conclusion out.
This passage makes it clear that the land given to the people is not intended to displace the people who are dwelling in these lands who are not Israelites, “You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” Not only are the people of Israel supposed to provide for the “foreigners” among them, but they are to consider them “native-born Israelites” and give them the same inheritance as the tribes of Israel.
It seems to me that to this day the people of Israel struggle to live up to the command that God gave them here in Ezekiel to treat foreigners as native-born citizens, presumably this would include Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, and others dwelling in the land defined here as Israel. Of course it is easy for me to sit in my comfortable corner of the United States and say this. I am not faced with a constant threat of violence and terrorist attacks. Perhaps the act of acknowledging what God has commanded would result in changed hearts on both sides and reveal a way forward toward lasting peace. I do not know. It does seems that past approaches to broker peace have not worked.
There is also an application here to the present immigration debate in the United States and perhaps a larger question about how the U.S. has treated the indigenous people of the North America, “foreigners” in the land. I suppose one could call the tribal reservations an inheritance, but we certainly fall far short of treating native people as kin and part of our “tribe”. This is something that has always troubled me and I wonder if there is another way forward to care for native people that would produce a better outcome. I wonder how things might have been different if we had offered membership in our “tribe” rather than isolation on reservations.
The take home for me from this passage is that we should hold all things which we consider our “inheritance” with an open hand. We should do our best to invite the “foreigners” in our midst to join our “tribe” even if it means that our “tribe” changes in profound ways.
Prayer: God You have gifted us with many things. Help us to hold these things with an open hand, always reaching out to those that may feel like foreigners in our midst.